In the beginning

I’ve been a huge fan of Johnny Marr since the early 1980s. So when Fender issued the Johnny Marr Signature Edition Jaguar in 2012 I was delighted. Did I want one? Maybe. Probably.

jm jag 1But I wasn’t entirely sure.

Yes, it looked amazing. But it wasn’t cheap and I didn’t really like the colours that it came in.

For a while I thought about buying one and having it re-sprayed. But I didn’t think I could bring myself to buy a perfectly good guitar and then take it to bits.

And then one day the universe sent me a sign. I found someone on who’d taken a Johnny Marr Signature Edition Jaguar, broken it down into its component parts and put them all up for sale separately.

I knew what I was going to do next.

(Navigate your way through the list of ‘last posts’ on the right to read everything in chronological order.)

Posted in #MarrJag | Leave a comment

My visit to Caveman Vintage Music, Los Angeles

If you read the post about the vibrato unit (Good Vibrations) you’ll know that I elected not to buy the one off the original #MarrJag. That meant I was going to have to get one separately, obviously.

Vibrato & trem: not won

The unwanted vibrato unit

I looked online. They’re easy to come by, but not cheap. Over £100 for an original Fender part, or I could buy one in the US and have it shipped over. To be honest, I wasn’t in any hurry to do that again.

And then, because you never know what life has in store for you, I decided to go and visit my brother, who lives in Southern California about an hour’s drive from downtown LA.

It was all very last minute, unscheduled, and unplanned. But I decided one of the things I would do would be find a guitar shop (before I set off from the UK) that looked like an interesting place to visit and hope I’d find what I was after there.

Like any big city, there are a lot of guitar stores in LA and a quick search on Google found loads of them. I immediately discounted any big chain type establishments, you know the kind … all the obvious big name franchises in place, lots of stock but despite that not a lot of choice.

In the course of my online research, I found this place – Caveman Vintage Music, in Chinatown, LA. The 1974 movie Chinatown (set in Los Angeles in the early part of the 20th Century) has been one of my favourite movies for decades, so I took the store’s location in that part of town to be a good omen.

On Sunday 3 April, I visited Caveman Vintage Music and instantly fell in love with the place. The word vintage is all too often used far too liberally. But here at 650 North Spring Street, Los Angeles it really means something. This shop is full of the most amazing, genuinely vintage, not to mention rare and obscure, guitars… and basses… and amps… and pedals… and percussion… and vinyl… and more besides.

2016-04-03 14.44.57Sitting behind the counter was Eric. I explained I was looking for a Jaguar vibrato unit and he had one … well, a non-brand reissue (but as soon as I saw it I realised it would allow me to do something a Fender original part wouldn’t – that’s a story for another time). At just $40 is was a bargain. I bought it and a Caveman Vintage Music T-shirt.

Like everyone else I met during my time in Southern California, Eric was great; helpful, friendly, interested, and interesting. We had a chat, I told him about the #MarrJag project, we agreed we thought it was odd that someone had dismantled one in the first place, he let me poke about the store looking at stuff, taking pictures, etc. If I lived in LA I’d be begging Eric for a job. No, I’d work there free. Failing that I’d end up in there buying interesting guitar after interesting guitar.

I hope he reads this. Caveman Vintage Music is one of the coolest – possibly the coolest – guitar store I’ve ever set foot in. If you ever get the chance, pay it a visit. Failing that, you’ll find Caveman Vintage on Facebook too.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, tremolo, vibrato | Leave a comment

Interesting local customs

The seller of the disembodied Marr Jag lives in New Jersey, in the USA. That meant everything I’d bought would take around two or three weeks to arrive and would have to pass through UK customs.

I’m not a very patient person by nature, so all-the-waiting was never going to be easy. But I had tracking numbers from the US Postal Service which meant I could keep track of their progress. But that was interesting up to a point; I didn’t even know there was a Jamaica in New York.

Del 1

The business of logistics and delivery is pretty slick and efficient, thanks in no small part to the exponential growth of online shopping over the last 10 years or so, and the growth in cross-border trade. Just a few hours after seller handed over one of the parcels of guitar bits to the US Postal Service, it was on its way and already in a different State. All things considered, taking less than a week to get from the US to the UK seems pretty quick to me.

That’s when it all started to slow down and go a bit wrong though.

I had been issued with tracking numbers for each of the three consignments (body, neck, everything else) of #MarrJag parts, and was checking on their progress regularly (see earlier comment about being impatient). Along with being able to see what progress they’d made, I was able to see an estimated date of arrival – usually a range of dates.

Imagine my surprise, then, when one day the tracking system showed the word ‘delivered’ against one package when nothing had actually yet arrived.

A day or two later I received a card in the post informing me that there were import duties due to be paid on something that had come from the US. I went online and paid it. Thing is, the reference number for the customs charge bore no resemblance to the tracking number, meaning there was no way of knowing which of the three packages it referred to.

The next day, I got another card… same thing, but different amount. I went online and paid that.

And then I waited.

After about three days, the package that had supposedly already been delivered was finally delivered. It was the everything else parcel, and I carefully unpacked and examined the pick-ups, switches, etc. Everything was there, everything was fine.

Not long after that, the body arrived. It too was fine. A few more dings on it than I had been expecting, but that wasn’t a problem.

Three weeks then went by with no sign of the neck anywhere. According to the tracking system it was being processed by UK customs. I had visions of it having been lost, or irreparably damaged.

At this point, I realised just what a stupid idea this had all been. Had the everything else box gone missing the whole project would have died miserably. The lack of a neck would be similarly unhelpful.

Eventually a card appeared … more customs charges to pay. I was into three figures at this point.

I went online to pay and arrange delivery, when I noticed my address was incorrect. Instead of ending with a 5, the house number now ended with a 6. The house that corresponds with the incorrect address doesn’t even exist and the spot where it should be is about half a mile from my house. Had I not noticed, the parcel would have been delivered to a non-existent house where no one would recognise my name, put two and two together, etc.

The staff at ParcelForce (the delivery company) were great, thankfully. Checking the address, calling me back, and so on. So, the following day I finally had all three consignments.

The neck had been packed into a tube – the kind you might use for a rolled up poster. It was well packed, wrapped in bubble wrap. In fact it was a very snug fit. When I removed it, it became clear that being in a tight space hadn’t done it any favours – one of the tuning machine heads had been damaged and was no longer functioning properly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in #MarrJag, customs | Leave a comment

At your bidding

OK, so the two largest and – to all intents and purposes – most significant parts of the guitar were in the bag. Well, in a couple of boxes actually. But you know what I mean.

Now the pressure was on to make sure I got my hands on the other important parts of the guitar. From the list of available parts there were a few I decided I could live without – the case, as mentioned, and the vibrato unit, which is easy enough to replace with a standard issue item.

Of the remaining items I’d decided that I had to have the switches at all costs – without them the whole project would be undermined.

In an open auction there’s only one way to make sure you get what you want … out spend the other bidders.

All the items already had bids on them when I joined in and I quickly found out I wasn’t the only person who saw the significance of the switches… I put in a bid and was almost immediately out bid. That pattern repeated itself for a few days (there were about six days left in the auction) until I decided enough was enough.

I set my ‘maximum bid’ to a level that I was sure no one else was going to be crazy enough to match.

It’s not a particularly clever strategy, but it worked.

I did the same thing with the other key piece I wanted – the bridge. That worked too.

The pick-ups were not irreplaceable, but knowing the closest approximation (from Bare Knuckle) would set me back £140 meant I knew what my realistic bid in the auction should be… high enough to make me the likely winner, not so high that it didn’t make sense.

That also worked.

The neckplate had a different kind of significance for me. Put simply, I was less concerned with having it as I was about making sure no one else did; after all, what possible use could it be to someone who didn’t have the rest of the guitar?

I put a fairly chunky bid in for it, and won that one too.

The other item up for sale was a bundle of all the tags and paperwork that came with the guitar, along with the strap and lead that accompanied it.

Again, I wasn’t overly fussed with that stuff but stuck a bid in anyway, and it came good for me.

I did put a bid in on the vibrato unit, but not a very high one.

Someone else won, which is what I anticipated.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, auction, bay, bidding | Leave a comment

Business time

Having considered all the angle and possibilities, and decided what my next move would be, I had to get in among the bidding action.

body ebayThis was made marginally easier for me in that the neck and the body were listed as Buy it Now sales. So I did. Bought them now, I mean.

But not before I’d exchanged messages with the seller to ask about combined shipping. No problem, he assured me, all the way from New Jersey.

If I bought the neck and the body he’d send them together, to cut down on shipping costs. Furthermore, he said, if I was prepared to pay him direct – IE not through ebay – he’d include the neck plate and give me a discount on the total price.

neck ebayThe discount was tiny. Not enough to make flouting ebay’s rules worth considering.

So I just bought them via ebay.

He sent them separately, without combining them to reduce my shipping costs as he’d said he would. Which was disappointing, but in the scheme of things it barely mattered.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, body, neck | Leave a comment

Open and shut case

The Marr Jag comes in its own special case, which I really like the look of.

caseIt’s got a bit of a vintage vibe to it and is lined with blue crushed velvet – what’s not to like. The cases are made by a company in Los Angeles called G&G, who – I think – make cases for Fender, under license. I’m not completely sure about that.

What I am completely sure about is that having read the FAQ section of the G&G Cases website they sound like a bunch of what folks in California would know as assholes.

Added to which, I’d read a few reviews and discovered some owners weren’t hugely impressed with the build quality; the chief grumble was along the lines of I had one of their cases from back in the day and it was great, these modern ones aren’t as good.

Who knows. Not me. What I did know was that the case was not a priority.

Apart from anything else, being such a big and bulky item the shipping costs were likely to exceed the price of the case.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, case | Leave a comment

Good vibrations

Another of those fix-an-old-problem modifications Johnny Marr oversaw on the production of his Jag relates to the vibrato or tremolo unit – in particular the arm.

Jag close up 2Keeping the tremolo arm sitting at an angle that’s convenient for you while you’re playing is a challenge with Jaguars, apparently. The arm succumbs to gravity and starts pointing at the floor, making it difficult to grab and use while you’re playing. There are stacks of DIY cures for this, but the Marr Jag has a bespoke tremolo arm fitted with a little plastic sleeve that keeps the arm securely in place.

It’s made by another UK company, StayTrem, and they sell them as separates/upgrade parts.

Taking everything into account, I decided the vibrato unit and tremolo arm were the least of my concerns. Even supposing I got my hands on all the main components, there was going to be a period of time taken up with the re-spray and subsequent re-build. The vibrato unit and tremolo arm could wait.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, body, trem, tremolo, vibrato | Leave a comment

A bridge too far

Speak to a guitar bore about Fender Jaguars and soon enough they’ll say something about the bridge – well, I would anyway.

bridgeThe bridge is the thing the strings rest on. It plays an important part in the overall sound of the guitar, and particularly in it staying properly in tune.

Regular Jaguar bridges have a reputation for not pulling their weight. They don’t stay still and they cause the guitar to go out of tune – in short.

The Marr Jag has a non-standard bridge, based on some of the elements in the bridge from a Fender Mustang, and is more securely anchored into the body of the guitar.

Could I opt for a regular Jaguar bridge? You bet. Did I want to? No, of course not.

Apart from anything else, the bridge on the Marr Jaguar is held in place with thicker screws, which probably mean bigger holes and – as prosaic as it might sound – I didn’t fancy being stuck with holes too big for any of the more commonly available modifications to fit into.


Why didn’t I call this section ‘take it to the bridge’…? Well, I love clichés as much as the next person, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Posted in #MarrJag, body, bridge, Mustang | Leave a comment

I am not a number

Every guitar has a serial number – a unique identifier that can tell you what it is, where is made, and when.

640px-1966_Fender_Telecaster_(SN159266)_neck_joint_plateAs with everything else that had come off the Johnny Marr Jag I was looking at on ebay, the neck plate was up for grabs too. The neck plate is a small metal plate with the serial number engraved on it. This is not important in terms of a guitar’s utility. It has no bearing on the sound or playability whatsoever.

At best it’s a provenance thing, allowing you to demonstrate a guitar’s authenticity. Now, I’d already decided that remaining authentic wasn’t important… I was planning on a re-spray, after all. I’d no intention of trying to pass the thing off as an authentic Johnny Marr Jag.

Then I thought, what’s to stop someone else buying the neck plate, attaching it to a regular Jaguar, and then trying to pass that off as a Johnny Marr Signature Edition? And if that same person got hold of that switch I’d mentioned previously, they’d have a hybrid that could look like the real thing.

From that moment on things took a different turn for me and the whole thing started to feel like a bit of a mission.

I imagined some shadowy dude somewhere or other planning to defraud someone by selling them a crappy old regular Jaguar with a few authentic Johnny Marr Jag parts attached to it.

Was I going to let that happen..? I should coco. Take that, Mr Shadowy Dude!


Image copyright: ArtBrom from Seattle – 1966 Fender Telecaster (Creative Commons)

 

Posted in #MarrJag, neck plate, serial number | Leave a comment

The It Switch

The more I thought about all the other bits and pieces that make up the Johnny Marr Jaguar, the more I realised that just buying the neck and the body (even the pick-ups too) wasn’t going to cut it.

jag close up 3One of the most obvious and significant differences is the circuitry inside the guitar that lets you switch from one pick-up to another, or use both in different arrangements, in order to modify the sound, or tone, of the guitar.

The switch on the Marr Jag is completely different to that of a regular Jaguar. Sure, I could easily put a regular Jaguar switch and circuitry in there, but that wasn’t what I wanted.

The original switch, fitted to standard Jaguars and used to erm, switch each pick-up on or off, was a bit bonkers. It operates like little light switches (on / off) and was prone to being inadvertently struck mid-strum by guitarists who could easily end up effectively turning themselves off while playing.

The modification of the switch on the Marr Jag is more than ergonomics or aesthetics though. It offers a different combination of pick-ups, and therefore a different sound.

It was clear that I needed the original switch to accompany the body and the neck.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, switch, volume | Leave a comment

Pick me up before you go go

Pick-ups are important. They’re little magnets wrapped in thousands of wire coils that turn string vibrations into loud guitar noises.

Jag close up 2The magnetic field – created by the magnet in the pick-up, no less – detects string vibrations caused when the guitar is played. The vibrations create a signal which is relayed along a cable (more usually called the guitar lead … never to be confused with the lead guitar) to an amplifier and then out through a loud speaker.

The very first pick-ups for musical instruments were invented almost 100 years ago in the 1920s. But their development really took off in the late 1940s. Originally there were several different approaches to building pick-ups – they weren’t all electro-magnetic, but that was the approach that worked best, attracted the most attention and led to the explosion in use and popularity of the electric guitar.

Different pick-ups have different characteristics, and will therefore affect the tone of the guitar. I’m not on a mission to sound like Johnny Marr, but his guitar has a great tone – a great range of tones, to be more exact, which is what I was more interested in emulating.

So it quickly became obvious that I was going to need the same (or at least very similar) pick-ups.

The pick-ups on the Johnny Marr Signature Edition Jaguar are specially made by a Cornish company called Bare Knuckle and were custom designed to be reminiscent of a 1962 Fender Jaguar in Marr’s collection.

You can’t buy them. They were specifically made for the Johnny Marr Signature Edition Jaguar and licensed to Fender.

However, you can buy something very similar from Bare Knuckle for £140. I know because I asked them. That was good to know – it meant I had a sense of what I should be prepared to bid, and the knowledge that there was a serious alternative should the originals elude me.

 

Posted in #MarrJag, pickup | Leave a comment