NGD - Squier Jazzmaster (Pics + Review)

Discussion in 'Standard Guitars' started by KhzDonut, Oct 21, 2014.

  1. KhzDonut

    KhzDonut Luthier, Gamer, Heretic

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    For the last 14+ years I've been working in the guitar industry, as everything from a grunt sweeping floors and sanding bodies to doing fretwork, assembly, and setup. I haven't actually BOUGHT a guitar since I was probably 19 or 20. I've always just had access to the tools to build my own, either as Parts-Casters or as from-the-ground-up builds.

    The time finally came for me to try something different career-wise, so once I got a crazy idea for a Jaguar/Jazzmaster/Offset kind of build... I had a problem.

    What's a guy to do that's not working at a guitar factory anymore?

    That's right: it's time to pick up the cheapest possible mod-kit available: A Squier Jazzmaster during a Guitar Center 15%-off sale. (I was going to just buy a used one for a little cheaper, but I figured this way I could exchange it should I get a real lemon. Of course, the feeling of guilt I feel for actually giving Fender money may eventually be the thing that haunts me in the afterlife... *shivers*)

    So anyway, here it is:

    [​IMG]

    Or for a less InstaGrammy view:

    [​IMG]

    I bought it specifically to mod the holy hell out of it, so really it could be a complete piece of crap and it would still do the job, but the less terrible it is the easier the process will be.


    Review:

    Keep in mind, I've spent the last 12 or so years building my own guitars, with every tool available to me. Buying guitars just doesn't occur to me at this point, and when I pick something up off the shelf the only thing that DOES occur to me is that I could build something I liked/suits me better, and for most guitars under the $1k mark there's almost always a major quality complaint. So for $300, I'm not expecting much beyond "it kind of plays in tune"

    But still, it's worth noting what was done right, and what was done wrong (or merely a product of necessary cost saving measures)


    Factory Setup - 1/10
    So first off, whatever strings they put on these at the Squier factory must be made out of recycled lead paint chips and bits of old shipwreck hulls, because they're not brilliant. Putting a new set of strings on and doing a rudimentary truss rod/bridge adjustment brought this thing from a 1/10 to a 4/10 easily. Straight out of the box it was like trying to play a tightrope from the ground. Super high action. Super crummy, corroded, dirty-looking strings.

    Surprisingly, intonation is only sub-par. The nut is slotted slightly high and the notes at the first fret go a little sharp as a result. The 12th fret was almost in tune with the factory strings, but I switched to a heavier gauge to accommodate C-Standard and of course that threw things out of sorts a bit.


    Fretwork - 7/10
    Nothing wrong with it, per se. Nothing brilliant. Low action results in a lot of post-9th-fret buzzing on the high strings, and there doesn't appear to be any fall-away past the 12th fret. Not something that particularly bothers me (not a shredder) but it's one of those things that, whether or not it bothers me personally, is something that should be done correctly. Here, it isn't.

    Still, overall, the guitar WORKS, and that's the important thing. The fact that it works MUCH better than I had expected is certainly a pleasant surprise.

    However, for the same money I got a crummy $300 Steinberger Spirit from the now defunct MusicYo.com like 15 years ago and it had a much better factory setup and fret leveling was vastly superior. (though, to be fair, it had very flat fret crowns from all the leveling, which is a point against them)

    Fit and Finish - 6/10
    The finish isn't terrible. Whoever sanded the body basecoat did a more than adequate job. No major mistakes, no lumpy spots. There's shrinkage in the finish, which I didn't expect. Usually the Asian guitars have very thick polyester finishes with less shrinkage and more sanding errors.

    Where the sanding really took a dive was the back of the neck, which is dumb because that's the only part that really matters.

    There are lumps and inconsistencies going all the way up the back of the neck. Towards the headstock and heel you can feel the characteristic dips and subsequent lump that comes from using a bladder sander to rough-sand the neck. It comes from that extra moment you spend at each end of the neck before you change sanding directions (if you go back and forth on the sander, which is quicker but tends to dig at the ends more than if you lift-off at the ends). You see this on pretty much any neck before it gets final sanding, but in cheaper guitars or ones that come from places with less skilled employees you see these lumps and inconsistencies left on the guitar.

    It doesn't affect playability, but it's kind of crummy.

    Electronics - 2/10
    I can't speak about the "sound" of the pickups being good or bad because when it comes to Jazzmaster pickups I have no frame of reference. This is a first for me. I will say that I've heard recordings of people using Jazzmasters that I like the sound of, but I haven't figured out how to get a sound I like from these yet. Time may change that, but I had planned on replacing the pickups anyway so it's a bit of a moot point for me.

    The pots appear to be of average quality, and I probably won't have them in long enough to test their failure rate. I'm always wary of concentric pots, but I think that's more paranoia than a justified concern.

    One of the weird things about the pots is that the bottom knob on the concentric pots is detented. It's really weird

    [​IMG]

    I'm sure guys with more experience with old Fenders probably wouldn't be as surprised by that, but this is a first for me.

    The pot for the neck pickup had not been tightened down enough and just spun freely, so at first I thought it was the OTHER pot that was working incorrectly. Upon further inspection, I found out they were BOTH supposed to be "clicking" as they turned. Felt a little dumb.

    Plus, the shielding is nearly non-existent, and pretty much completely ineffective. This thing picks up interference like pac-man eats pellets: relentlessly and unashamedly.

    One of the pictures below shows the pick guard off, and you can see that they didn't even bother putting shielding paint in the control cavity around the pots, and the backside of the pick guard only has a layer of shielding over the pots, so every component in the guitar is only shielding from ONE side. Brilliant.

    Hardware - 2/10
    I award the hardware one point for actually being able to DO the job it is intended to do.

    I award another point for the fact that the truss rod can be adjusted at the headstock. It's really nice having a Fender-style guitar that doesn't need the neck to be removed to do basic maintenance. Of course, one-way vintage truss rods, one-piece necks, and skunk-stripes are all designs which were antiquated about 40 years ago, and the fact they're still in use on modern production guitars is mind-boggling to me.



    Design And Overall "Stuff That Should Be Different"

    Some things about this guitar are just plain bad design.

    For instance, the bridge is raised:

    [​IMG]

    From the looks of it, the reason for doing this is so that the angle of the neck pocket didn't have to change from the tremolo model to the flat-mount model. I would have thought just changing the neck pocket angle would be a more economical change than designing and producing a new bridge just to accommodate it, but I'm sure they had their reasons for doing it this way (however, it's a little hard to trust that they were GOOD reasons)

    Also, while the bridge height adjustment posts are just as you'd expect to see, with ferrules in the body, the back-most screw is actually just a standard wood screw keeping the back-end of the bridge down. You can use it to "adjust the string break angle" (according to Fender) which it does perfectly well, but this is the first time I've seen a flat mount bridge where adjusting the height or break angle involved using a fairly large wood screw in a relatively soft wood like Alder as a primary adjustment method.

    I mean, am I crazy or is that just kind of weird and/or sloppy design?

    Also, another sign of the whole thing being a fairly ad-hoc design is that the bridge is essentially free-floating and only held in place by the tension of the strings

    [​IMG]

    One thing I can say about the design, is that it works and does the job relatively well. It's just sort of mind-boggling to see how the design process must go on some of the budget guitars currently on the market. It seems like there would be cheaper and easier ways to do half of these things, ultimately saving a lot of time and effort and money that could go into producing a better quality product. Again, it's hard to judge without actually being there for the design meetings, but it's still weird to me.

    And I mean, c'mon. To intonate this bridge you have to loosen the strings pretty much entirely just to get to the set-screw that keeps the bridge saddle in place.

    [​IMG]

    That just seems like sloppy design to me. All of this seems like it was just to avoid changing the angle of the neck pocket 1-degree so it could use a normal through-body hardtail. That seems like a really backwards solution to me.



    Neck Back Shape

    The back shape on the neck is very uncomfortable for me, for a couple reasons. First, I like flatter necks. I don't like them super thin (Ibanez/Jackson) but I don't like them chunky and round. But that's me, and not everyone feels that way, so I realize that in and of itself it's not a design "flaw."

    The neck on this is round, but it has no "shoulders." That is to say that as you get closer to the fingerboard it tends to just get "sharp" feeling. This is, I feel, a design flaw.

    Observe the side dots:

    [​IMG]

    You can see the side dots on the flat area near the heel of the neck, but you pretty much can't see the 12th fret side dots at all. It's like they're UNDER the fingerboard at this angle. That's not something I'm used to seeing on a neck that isn't being waved in front of an employee's face by a screaming supervisor right before he fires the guy for over-sanding a neck.

    They did a reasonably good job of beveling the fret ends for comfort, and even some parts of the fingerboard edge are slightly rounded, but most of it looks like this:

    [​IMG]

    If you looked at the reflection on the very edge of the fingerboard you can see how very crisp and sharp it is. No "rolled edges" on this particular model. You'd almost worry more about cutting your hands on the fingerboard than on the fret ends, which were mostly ok. Not a lot of protruding, sharp, or burred fret ends, which was a pleasant surprise.



    Also, this surprised me:

    [​IMG]

    I thought these were all made in South Korea, not Indonesia.

    It doesn't matter what country a person is from, it doesn't make them incapable of creating the highest quality (or lowest quality) of instrument. I was just obviously misinformed as to the origin of the current run of Squiers.

    Also, I'm not a traditionalist, sentimentalist, or Fender fan, so there's plenty about this guitar that, even it were a Fender Custom shop guitar with the highest standard of build quality, I'd still say needed changing because I don't think things like chunky square heels, string-trees, one-way truss rods or one-piece necks with skunk-stripes are actually good design features.




    Overall Conclusions:

    If you're in need of a "beater" a "modder" or a "practice/learner" guitar, then by all means, grab one of these and have it set up to play to the best of its capabilities. There's certainly worse on the market.

    If you want something that you'll be happy with for a long time, then I'd say pay twice the price for a Schecter or some other mid-price guitar. I haven't played a lot of lower-price guitars lately, so I don't know if Ibanez is still producing good things in that price range, but I remember them being better than this at the $600-700 mark, and the last S-Series Prestige I played was one of the best playing/sounding stock guitars I've played outside under the $2k mark. Maybe it was just a magical anti-lemon of awesome, but whatever the case may be, there's much better out there for not a lot more money.

    This thing is going to get modded to hell and back, so by the time I'm through with it it won't even be the same guitar.

    Oh yes... It will be glorious... :evil:
     
  2. NeglectedField

    NeglectedField SS.org Regular

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    What a downer! Certainly hope that quality inconsistency doesn't apply to their basses.
     
  3. gunch

    gunch Riff Chugman

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    Very neat write-up man. Looking forward to the mods :yesway:
     
  4. KhzDonut

    KhzDonut Luthier, Gamer, Heretic

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    I dunno about their basses, you could ask Fluff, I know he has one.

    Thanks, glad you liked it.




    And for your viewing pleasure, I started a mod thread over in the luthiery section, so feel free to check it out.

    http://www.sevenstring.org/forum/lu...vm-jazzmaster-mod-project-im-gonna-wreck.html

    Time to use skill and finesse (and a hammer) to turn this thing into a dream guitar.

    [​IMG]
     

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