The history of the electric guitar is intertwined with that of the Fender company and its groundbreaking Telecaster guitar. The histories of both Fender and the Telecaster are described in 'The Fender Telecaster: Plank That Made Good'. This Entry, on the other hand, is about all the other electric guitars and basses from the Fender family. They are listed in order of their release.
The Precision Bass - a New Type of Instrument
The Fender Precision Bass (or P-Bass) was the first mass-produced electric bass guitar and remains the most popular one in the world. It was introduced in 1951 to help the bassist in almost every way. Bass players at the time didn't play guitars - they played those giant oversized violins known as double bass. The P-Bass was not only smaller and easier to play, it was also louder and gave a more focused tone than the double bass. The P-Bass received its first update in 1954, when the body was modified to look more like the Stratocaster1 (see below). The next update was made in 1957, when the headstock and pick-guard were updated (again, to look more like that of the Stratocaster) and the split pickup2 was introduced. Though not advertised as such at the time (Gibson had just got the patent), the new pickup was set up in humbucking mode. These updates took the P-Bass into its current form. Some later high-end models have an extra pickup (a 'J' pickup or a humbucker), but other than that little has changed since.
The Stratocaster - Give Them What They Want
The Stratocaster (or Strat) was introduced in 1954 due to Leo Fender's love of experimentation. Many players at the time were using a tremolo device. Fender could have simply put a tremolo on the Telecaster, but because other players disliked the Tele's body Fender decided instead to release a guitar that had a contoured ash body (based on the P-Bass's body, only with more curved edges), a Fender-designed tremolo device4 (complete with 'ashtray', but not nearly as restrictive as the Tele's), and more complex electronics than the Telecaster: three single-coil pickups (with staggered poles to help balance the inherent differences in the volume of different strings), a three-way pickup selector switch5, and two tone controls. Little has changed about the standard Strat since its introduction in 1954; the first update was the elimination of the one-piece maple neck in 1959 (which was later available as an option); later, in 1977, they added a five-way selector switch. They eventually offered models with a humbucker in the bridge position (some also have an additional one in the neck position).
A short list of people who have used them: Jimi Hendrix6, Eric Clapton*, Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughan*, Buddy Guy*, Gary Moore (Thin Lizzy), David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Pete Townshend (The Who), Joe Walsh, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Robert Cray* and Mark Knopfler* (Dire Straits).
Early Student Models
The Musicmaker was introduced in 1956 as a student model guitar and featured just one single-coil pickup in the neck position. When it was redesigned in 1964, it became known as the Musicmaker II. It was discontinued in 1982 along with the Mustang.
The DuoSonic was introduced shortly after the Musicmaker in 1956. Both Duosonic and Musicmaker had the same body, the difference being that the Duosonic had twin single-coil pickups. It was redesigned in 1964 with the Musicmaker; likewise, it was given the designation DuoSonic II. The DuoSonic II also had reverse wound pickups (putting them in humbucking mode when used together). It was discontinued in 1969 due to the fact that the Mustang (with its tremolo arm) was far more popular.
A short list of people who have used them: Jimmy James7 (Isley Brothers), David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Johnny Winter.
The Jazzmaster - Why Isn't it Used by Jazz Musicians?
The Jazzmaster was originally introduced in 1958 as the top-of-the-line Fender, but despite its name and jazzy tone, it wasn't all that popular among jazz musicians. It featured twin single-coils that were more mellow sounding than the Strat, a dual-circuit scheme (which was horribly over complicated), and a newly designed floating tremolo device8 (which gave more mechanical problems than the Strat's). It became popular among surf rock players, which sparked the birth of its sister, the Jaguar. It fell out of fashion9, though, and was discontinued in 1977. Ironically, this was around the time that the Jazzmaster started acquiring a cult following. It became popular in the alternative rock scene of the 1990s, leading to its re-issue in 1999.
This instrument started a trend in Fender designs. It was their first offset-waist instrument, basically meaning that the dip in the top of the guitar, known as the waist contour, is noticeably shifted away from the dip in the bottom of the guitar, known as the knee contour (yes, there is some offset between the contours on a Strat, but not to the same degree). This is designed to enhance the comfort of using the instrument while sitting10. This is significant because most Fender body designs continued like this after the introduction of the Jazzmaster. It was also their first instrument to feature a rosewood fretboard; though no major development, these are now to be found on any type of Fender.
The Jazz Bass - in the Footsteps of a Giant
The Jazz Bass (or J-Bass) was introduced in 1960 as a Deluxe Model bass. It had a slimmer, more rounded neck, a more contoured, offset-waist body (based losely on the Jazzmaster's, but obviously different), and two bipolar (two poles per string) single-coil pickups. It originally had two stacked control knobs that each controlled a pickup; this has since been replaced by a volume knob for each pickup and a single tone control knob.
A short list of people who have used them: Geddy Lee* (Rush), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Noel Redding (the Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Jaco Pastorius*.
The Fender VI - It's a Bass!?
The Fender VI was a six-string bass (tuned an octave below a guitar) introduced in 1961. It was essentially the first Jaguar, but wasn't called one. It had three single-coil pickups (originally Strat-like, later Jaguar-like), a short scale12 (for a bass), thin strings (for a bass), and the floating tremolo arm that it shared with the Jazzmaster (and later the Jaguar). It wasn't really that popular with traditional bassists as it had thin, closely spaced strings. It was discontinued in 1975, but re-issued in 2006.
A short list of people who have used them: Jack Bruce (Cream), John Lennon and George Harrison (the Beatles, during some songs where McCartney played piano), Robert Smith (The Cure) and Joe Perry (Aerosmith).
The Jaguar - Chrome and Switches
The Jaguar was issued in 1962 as a guitar marketed to surf rockers, following the Jazzmaster's success in the genre. It shared a body and the floating tremolo device with its sister instrument, the Jazzmaster. It set itself apart from its sister with a short-scale neck with 22 frets, smaller pickups, an even more complex dual-circuit system that had six control switches (in addition to the volume and tone control knobs), a spring-loaded string mute (which was prone to detuning the guitar), and chrome hardware. The Jaguar didn't get as far off the ground as they hoped, and was discontinued in 1975. It was re-issued in 1999 for the same reasons as the Jazzmaster.
The Jaguar and the Jazzmaster shared several of the same features that led players to modify their guitars. Most of these were issues with the tremolo device, which offered 20 separate adjustments (in other words, way too many). There were also several places where the string could go through on each saddle (none of them large enough to actually provide a proper hold of the string), making it prone to detuning. One of the more common modifications was removing the standard bridge and replacing it with a Mustang-style tremolo bridge.
A short list of people who have used them: Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Robert Smith (The Cure) and Carl Wilson (The Beach Boys).
Several variants on the Jaguar (with the 'Jag' name) exist, including one with dual humbuckers13 and most recently a bass version with J- Bass pickups and an electronic system that makes use of the Jaguar's switches.
The Mustang - Redesigning the Student Models
The Mustang was introduced in 1964 as an advanced student model. The body was similar to their other student models, but had a slight offset, reminiscent of the Jazzmaster/Jaguar. This body was afterwards applied to all the student models. It features twin-angled, single-coil pickups (each controlled by individual three-position switches14, a short scale neck15, a new floating tremolo device (which wasn't put on any other Fender until Kurt Cobain came up with the concept for the Jag-Stang), and no pickup selector (it instead had two on/off switches). It was discontinued in 1982 and re-issued in 1990.
A short list of people who have used them: Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins).
The Mustang Bass - For the Low-end Student
Introduced in 1964 as a student model bass, the Mustang bass was, well, a Mustang in bass form. It had a short scale (for basses that is), a single split-pickup (single-coil), and a single volume and tone control knob. It was discontinued in 1981 and has been re-issued several times.
The Electric XII - 12 Strings
The Electric XII was introduced in 1965 as a purpose-built 12-string guitar (rather than just adding an extra six strings to an existing instrument, as most manufacturers did). Built on the Jazzmaster/Jaguar body, it featured a completely new head stock (instead of just a Strat headstock with slight alteration) and two split single-coil pickups.
A short list of people who have used them: Jimmy Page16 (Led Zeppelin) and Pete Townshend (The Who).
The Starcaster - Following the Crowd
The Starcaster was an attempt by Fender to make a semi-hollow-bodied instrument. The release date is debated, as is the cancellation date. What's for certain is that it was released in the mid-1970s and discontinued in the early-1980s. It was awkward for a Fender in having a semi-hollow body and twin humbuckers, and it was awkward for a semi-hollow-body in having a bolt-on neck, an offset-waist body and six-on-a-side tuning pegs.
Don't be confused though - this is not the same instrument as the Strat-like version available in retail outlets (non-instrument stores). This came a good bit after, and only shares the name.
The Jag-Stang - For an Artist, By an Artist
The Jag-Stang was a Jaguar-Mustang hybrid as requested by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. In body shape, both halves have elements of the Jaguar and the Mustang. It had a single coil in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge. Each pickup had a three-position switch: off, on, and out of phase (the same switching system as the Mustang). The neck and tremolo arm were that of the Mustang. Kurt had requested one in a blue colour and one in red. He only played the blue one because he died before Fender shipped him the red one. Fender decided not to make any more design changes and released it in 1995, available only in the colours that Kurt had requested. They discontinued it in 2001.
After Kurt's death, the blue Jag-Stang was given to Peter Buck (REM).