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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Gear »

Permalink Favorite surf guitar

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www.thesurfites.com

Last edited: Feb 20, 2013 11:38:39

I've got a Jag and a JM. I used to lean pretty heavily on the Jag but lately, I've been favoring the JM - just really depends on what I feel like playing that day. I once had a Japanese Mosrite and while I did dig the tone, I didn't really like the thin neck or the almost flat frets. Strats are cool, but I've always had a problem with the position of the volume knob and it's close proximity to the bridge pickup.

Pretty much all I ever played was Strats, since I started learning to play the guitar. Having had a daily relationship with a variety of Strats for the last 22 years, I've learned how to move my right hand so that I don't trip over the volume knob or the pickup switch. In fact, my pinky is almost always within an easy reach of the volume knob, so I do an occasional volume swell or just turn down the volume a bit to clear up the sound or just check that it's all the way up. But I know the volume control location is a problem for a lot of people.

Here's my take on these guitars. As a matter of full disclosure, I should say that I've owned a Jazzmaster for about nine years now, as well, but I've never owned a Jag, so I can't really say much about it, except what I've heard on records. The short scale was always a turn off with a Jag, as were the individual pickup switches (I do a lot of fast pickup switching within songs).

Anyway, here is a partial list of major vintage surf music users (of course, not counting the Shadows, who I dearly love and who are a major influence on me, but who were not a surf band):

Dick Dale
Jim Messina (lead guitar, the Jesters)
Jim Skiathitis & Theo Penglis (both lead guitar, the Atlantics)
Skip Mercier & Willy Glover (lead & rhythm, the Pyramids)
Bob Spickard & Brian Carmen (lead & rhtyhm, the Chantays)
Jim Fuller (lead guitar, the Surfaris)
Paul Johnson (rhythm guitar, the Belairs)
Eddie Bertrand (during the Belairs era, maybe some during E&tS)
Al Nichol (lead guitar, the Crossfires)
Bobby Fuller (lead guitar, Bobby Fuller & the Fanatics, the BF Four)
Larry Weed (lead guitar, the Original Surfaris - he's also seen with a JM)

Looking at this list, I don't understand why so many surf guitarists are down on the Strat. If it's just a matter of looking different than the 'blooze' guys, OK, I can understand that. But here are a few reason why I think the Strat is the ultimate surf guitar.

First, in my experience it has the right balance between the fatness (as epitomized by the Jazzmaster) and edge (as epitomized by the Jaguar), making it incredibly agressive sounding when necessary. Just listen to DD, Messina & the Atlantics. Crank up the reverb, the Fender amp, put it on the bridge pickup, and start double-picking hard - nothing sounds like a Strat. I think the only time that a Jag sounded as agressive was in the hands of Randy Holden of the Fender IV, but all other Jag sounds tend to be much thinner (that I can think of right now, correct me if I'm wrong). On the other hand, the Jazzmaster just sounds too full and refined to ever be as edgy as a Strat.

Second, the Strat also gives you the option of the mellower, neck-pickup tone, and, more importantly, a good 'reverb-drip' tone. Let's keep in mind that the guys that INVENTED the muted reverb drip all used a Strat! The Chantays first and the Pyramids second - the Astronauts got it all from these two bands (who of course got the muted bass-string alternating-single-note rhythm thing from the Belairs - who of course themselves got it from the Fireballs!). (And don't tell me that Pipeline wasn't recorded with a Strat, but some cheapo thing - I know. However, all the subsequent Chantays songs WERE recorded with Strats, and they've got huge drip!)

Third, the middle pickup: Strat's middle pickup RULES! And it's way underutilized! It's an incredible sound, so warm and 'woody', and the other two Fenders don't have it. (of course, the other two have the bridge/neck pickup combination, which is also a great sound, but you can rig a Strat to do that relatively easily.) I never used it in the Cossacks, but I used it for the New World Relampagos project a lot, and now with the Madeira. The middle pickup also gives you the in-between tone so loved by DD and Jim Messina, which can also sound very agressive (check out Banzai Pipeline).

Fourth, the tremolo. Whereas the JM/Jag trem is very smooth and in many ways perfect for surf, it just doesn't get very agressive. But with a Strat trem, you can shake the hell out of that thing and make the guitar sound like a nervous, hormonally amped-up teenager is playing it, which is after all what we're all trying to do, right? Wink Or you can give the notes a vocal quality by continuously manipulating it as you play, a la Hank Marvin or the Atlantics. Can't really do that as well on a JM/Jag trem.

Fifth, no offset body, so you can lean a Strat against a wall or an amp without it taking a spill!

Anyway, that's my take on the whole thing. I do really love to play the Jazzmaster sometimes, and I used it with the Cossacks for about a third of the songs. But the Strat still rules for surf, IMHO.

Ivan

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube
The Space Cossacks on Facebook

Last edited: Mar 05, 2006 14:39:17

Oh, one more thing: lot of modern surf guitarists go for the Jaguar cause they wanna sound like the Astronauts. Which is ironic, since their lead guitar player Rich Fifield ONLY used a Jazzmaster! The other two guys did switch between a Jazzmaster and a Jaguar, and you can see them with both, but the lead guitar sound is always a Jazzmaster. Which is why it sounds so fat and warm.

Ivan

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube
The Space Cossacks on Facebook

The Jaguar is it for me. I grew up playing a Stratocaster on and off with about 10 other guitars, I could never stick with one guitar. I tried Gibson, Gretsch, even Epiphone. .. Then I got a Jazzmaster and thought I had finally found home. Until my bassist bought a Jaguar, and ironically I never would have played a Jaguar, I always thought a shortscale guitar and a guy who's '6"2 shouldn't work. I guess it does, I kind of get the feeling of how some of the old black blues guys felt with those big hands on the regular scales. I always liked Eddie Bertrand's tone, and sorry Ivan I thought it was pretty aggressive, same with Randy Holden's which we seem to agree on. I also liked the Treblemakers who were about as aggressive as you can get, and I had heard the great sounds on the SPs albums were mostly Jaguars(were not many pictures of those guys), and who could forget Tony Andreason!

I also like the fact that you can put really heavy flats on the Jaguar and still play some good leads. Especially on the frat, and early 60s rock and roll stuff.

I see your points Ivan where the Strat is THE guitar, but I could make arguements about each pickup setting on the Jag, and a case that the trem has a nicer softer touch to it. But haven't we been down this road atleast 2 times in the past? So I'll hold back. I think it all comes down to what you like.

I do like the Jaguar because it's different, sometimes I fill in for rockabilly bands, and it sounds like no one else, and with the 60s rock and roll we are doing lately it's nice to have a slightly different sound. I would like a Jazzmaster and a Mosrite, but I just can afford those right now. Hell, even a sunburst 50s Strat with a maple neck might cure my Bobby Fuller bug. But it is nice being exclusive with one guitar for a few years.

"as he stepped into the stealthy night air... little did he know the fire escape was not there"

reluctant aquanauts

In response to Bill, you're right, Eddie Bertrand's Jag tone was quite aggressive, I fully agree, I just blanked out there. The Treblemakers and Satan's Pilgrims, yep, aggressive but a bit too edgy sometime for my taste. But both of those bands sound great, and are about as surf as it gets. There are many modern players who get a great surf tone out of a Jag, maybe more than back in the sixties.

I'll also agree that the Jag is a more distinctive looking guitar and definitely gives you the 'surf' look right away. I don't mean to detract from the Jag and the Jazzmaster, I really don't. I love to see bands use those. I just want to make sure that the Strat keeps an equal place in the Holy Fender Surf Guitar Trinity, and it sometimes seems that people want to poo-poo the Strat.

And gosh, how I could have I have forgotten Bobby Fuller as a Strat player!! (Did he really play a maple neck Strat? I only remember seeing him with an early sixties rosewood Strat.)

Finally, I'll just add that, though we've gone down this road many times, I feel like we're creating a database now which will be much easier to access for the surf music newbies. So, though we've discussed this in the past, it's worthwhile going through it one more time - and hopefully not many more after that!

Ivan

PS I think there's a photo of Joe Maphis playing a Jag, so you can definitely do other things besides surf music with it, as you point out Bill. And of course there are many alternative rock guitarists that have used through they years...

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube
The Space Cossacks on Facebook

Ivan,
well for old times sake maybe we should really get into it then. But, I think this has been our most civil debate when it comes to our guitars of choice.
I think the best part of this new forum is adding pictures. Here's some Rosewood neck shots.

image

image

I think Bobby got the maple neck Strat later on. Every photo I've seen and in some live tape of Bobby with this Strat he has the neck pickup screwed in down below the pickguard. Might be the secret to Bobby's tone. Rolling Eyes

image

"as he stepped into the stealthy night air... little did he know the fire escape was not there"

reluctant aquanauts

Isn't it great when you finally find that guitar that fits you? I've bought and sold probably 30 guitars in the last three years, before that I had an Ibanez for 10 Embarassed

I always liked the Jaguar sound, but hated the trem and missed the neck pickup. Just on a whem I found a Cyclone II (still hate the name) for under 250 online. I got it and I was hooked. Something about it just works for me. I like the strat trem, the neck pickup, and the mustang body, which practically gives your right hand a resting place for trem picking. I think guitars with rolling or jag trems are really pretty sounding, especially for slow songs, but the jag just doesn't have that punch that the cyclone has to me for heavier stuff. Although, like anything it has its shortcomings, but I think i'll stick with it until I build my own one day. Plus, I love the fact that it's MIM so I can beat the hell out of it.

Before I got the Cyclone, I played an American Tele and I think they are awesome for surf stuff. I'm thinking about right now taking my strat and putting my tele pickup in the bridge, a jag pickup in the center, and leaving the strat pick up up top. I wonder what it will sound like?

I've never played a Mosrite, but I'd have a feeling I'd love them. They say they are really light and the necks are really thin. But sorry, I ain't paying over a grand for any guitar, much less 4 and 5 thousand an original goes for.

BillAqua
Ivan,

I think Bobby got the maple neck Strat later on. Every photo I've seen and in some live tape of Bobby with this Strat he has the neck pickup screwed in down below the pickguard. Might be the secret to Bobby's tone. Rolling Eyes

image

I always wondered why he started with a white rosewood strat, then the sunburst w/t rose wood and ended up with a maple necked.

Do you think he was looking at pictures of Buddy Holly and finally got his dream strat, the one just like his idol?

Its something to think of our heros milling over pics on album covers looking for the smallest detail to try to figure out how their heros got "that sound".

The Thunderchiefs

I wonder if Bobby had trouble hitting the pole pieces on the neck pu.

I have two strats that i've lowered the neck pu on because I alway hit my pick on them when I'm working the trem ala Hank Marvin.

The Thunderchiefs

Ivan, I cannot help but get a cheesy tone out of the Strat. I remember several people saying that in the past. You are just a master of the strat.

And what color is your Jazzmaster?

Of the classic 4 surf guitars, I have only owned a Jazzmaster, but have played some strats, a vintage Jag and an 88 Mosrite. I'm not informed enough to judge, but I do anyway...
I like the jag tone but don't like the scale. The Mosrite has the same problem. Being that my guitar is alwyas tuned lower with pretty big strings, it narrows down to either the JM or the Strat. Ivan is a master of getting surf tone from a strat, but I still don't like them better than the other 3. I am irrational, but I hate strats. Ivan makes a lot of sense, but sometimes taste is beyond rational. I'm always glad to see a surf band that doesn't suffer from "Strat Contamination" (my stupid term).
Ivan proved that our past idols also played mostly strats, and yet my mind refuses to like those "belly button" guitars. Yes, a 69 camaro is cool. But everyone has one.
Now please notice that I was using the negative terms with a tongue in cheek, and I was making fun of my primitive way of thinking, so please don't start the first flame war here becasue of this. It's just a mater of taste. ;)
Gotta go,
Ran

One more thing Ivan.

Practice makes perfect when leaning a offset body guitar against a wall. I never have trouble leaning my Jags.

Do not however balance an acoustic at the top of the stairs without neck support. I thought I was pretty damn special getting it to sit and rest. Then I turned my head and I hear a sound like some punk rock kid playing my acoustic. There was severe rattling for a couple weeks. But not anymore.

Shaun,

I think Bobby had a strong case of hero worship for Buddy. I wouldn't be surprised if that's why he got the maple neck Strat. I'm also surprised he didn't get that first, I'd assume a 50s Strat woulda been cheaper in the 60s than a new one.

I bet he did lower that pickup for strumming reasons. As you know he did a lot of heavy strumming, I bet that was it. He may have had trouble keeping strings on a Jazzmaster or Jaguar's saddles with the way he strummed.

"as he stepped into the stealthy night air... little did he know the fire escape was not there"

reluctant aquanauts

for some reason I find that strats, especially new ones. . .the pickups seem dead on them. I don't know. . .maybe cause so many people play them, I just find them really boring sound wise. That being said, it is all how you play. I used to get a sound out my 100 dollar Ibanez that had people wanting to buy that guitar from me

Hey F you man, what gives you the right to.... got ya. just kidding Ran.

What do I know, I'm just a bass player. But I do like the P bass as opposed to the Jazz Bass, because of the look. When I see a Jazz Bass
I think Funk Band. But Jags and Jazz's do look good for Surf bands.
What I'm really tired of is the sun burst. I like any solid color over a sun burst.
So If I ever do buy a Fender Guitar I'll probably get a Strat, Just because I know they are alot less tempermental. But there is one exception for me. If I can find a Jag or Jazz in a Pawn shop for dirt cheap I'd pick it up for the hell of it. And I 've always wanted a Fender BassVI and that looks like a huge Jazzmaster, So I'd have to give in there.
Just my opinions on the matter.
Jeff(bigtikidude)

kickthe_reverb_
Of the classic 4 surf guitars, I have only owned a Jazzmaster, but have played some strats, a vintage Jag and an 88 Mosrite. I'm not informed enough to judge, but I do anyway...
I like the jag tone but don't like the scale. The Mosrite has the same problem. Being that my guitar is alwyas tuned lower with pretty big strings, it narrows down to either the JM or the Strat. Ivan is a master of getting surf tone from a strat, but I still don't like them better than the other 3. I am irrational, but I hate strats. Ivan makes a lot of sense, but sometimes taste is beyond rational. I'm always glad to see a surf band that doesn't suffer from "Strat Contamination" (my stupid term).
Ivan proved that our past idols also played mostly strats, and yet my mind refuses to like those "belly button" guitars. Yes, a 69 camaro is cool. But everyone has one.
Now please notice that I was using the negative terms with a tongue in cheek, and I was making fun of my primitive way of thinking, so please don't start the first flame war here becasue of this. It's just a mater of taste. ;)
Gotta go,
Ran

Jeff(bigtikidude)

One of my High school frineds had a Ibanez Strat copy and one pick up.
It sounded amazing. He got 5 other Ibanez's after that and all of them sucked big time. I think what was good about it was it had Really good wood, and a simple Strat style trem. All the others had those Floyd Rose
double locking things, and they all sounded like water logged wood, with rubber bands, compared to the older one.
Jeff(bigtikidude)

drpluto
for some reason I find that strats, especially new ones. . .the pickups seem dead on them. I don't know. . .maybe cause so many people play them, I just find them really boring sound wise. That being said, it is all how you play. I used to get a sound out my 100 dollar Ibanez that had people wanting to buy that guitar from me

Jeff(bigtikidude)

On Sunburst

The only sunburst I like is on a vintage Jazzmaster. And that Jazzmaster better have block inlays. I am just not a fan of other sunburst guitars yet for some reason I love the Jazzmaster in sunburst. Also the sunburst has to be vintage. They don't look as good now as they used to.

Ivan, Bill, those are some awesome posts! Thx.

I happen to think that guitars are tools, and like all tools, you need the right one for the job. You can never have enough tools, or guitars! Each one is unique from each other, and we should use them all if we can.

But, what do I know? I don't own any of these, I have a Strat clone that I'm upgrading and will be using for a while, probably forever...I love that clone. But I know I'll buy a JM, a Mosrite, and a DiPinto (among others) in the near future as well. Bless my guitar greedy soul. Twisted Evil

Jeff, I have a Washburn ML custom shop, it has the Floyd Rose tailpiece/bridge, it's a hassle to change the strings on it and set it up properly, so I let a pro tech do it. But, when it comes to dive bombs and heavy tremolo work, the FR is killer. The locking plate keeps it from going out of tune and I can get some serious dive's on it all day and stay in tune. The intonation can be nearly perfect with a FR, and you can get the action so amazingly low, with no fret buzz, even with .13 gauge strings. IMO, the greatest tailpiece's/bridge's ever are the Bigsby, and the Floyd Rose.

As for sunbursts, I'd take a solid color over them anyday. Sunbursts are too common for me, I like to be a bit different.

~Ace

I'm Batman...No not <I>that</I> Batman. :p

0 mosrite users. we're broke bastards Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy

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