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Fender Mustang

2005 Mustang
2005 Mustang

The Fender Mustang is an electric guitar by the Fender Musical Instruments Company, introduced in 1964 as the basis of a major redesign of Fender's student models then consisting of the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic. It was produced until 1982 and reissued in 1990.

It attained cult status largely as a result of its use by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Early examples are generally seen as the most collectable of all the short-scale Fender guitars.

The Mustang features two single coil pickups with an unusual switching configuration, and a unique tremolo arm shared with only its derivative the Jag-Stang. It was originally available in two scale lengths:

  • 22.5 inches (3/4 length), the same as the existing student models.
  • 24 inches (confusingly known as full scale but still shorter than Fender's 25.5 inch standard scale).

These were made available by having two different necks, the 22.5 inch scale with 21 frets and the 24 inch scale with 22 frets, both matched to the same body. The reissue is only available with the 24 inch neck.


In August of 1964 Fender released a new guitar called the Mustang, an economy model intended for more advanced students and featuring a new, original Leo Fender designed tremolo arm. The few surviving examples in original trim are now worth a hearty $5,000 each.

Profiles of a 1956 Musicmaster (left) and a Mustang, both with 22.5" necks and Musicmaster headstocks.
Profiles of a 1956 Musicmaster (left) and a Mustang, both with 22.5" necks and Musicmaster headstocks.

The Mustang has an offset waist, reminiscent of the Jazzmaster, but its overall styling closely followed the existing student models the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic, the slight waist offset being the main change. After the release of the Mustang, the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic were redesigned using the Mustang body; These were branded the Musicmaster II and Duo-Sonic II but the decals were not consistently applied.

All three Mustang-bodied models (Mustang, Musicmaster II and Duo-Sonic II) were offered with optionally the 21 fret 22.5-inch (or 3/4 scale) neck, or a 22 fret 24-inch neck, but the 24-inch was overwhelmingly more popular and 3/4 scale examples are rare. 24 inches is still relatively short, the same as the Fender Jaguar but a full inch and a half shorter than the Stratocaster and three-quarters of an inch shorter than the Gibson Les Paul. The short scale neck makes this guitar perfect for people with small hands, and also enhances the ability to use the tremolo arm for upbends.

This short scale, combined with a unique and extremely direct tremolo arm and the use made of it by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, would make the Mustang a cult guitar in the 1990s. Before that, its relatively low cost and marketing as a student guitar made it an obvious candidate for aftermarket upgrades, particularly pickup changes and also amateur finishes. Its wiring with the original pickups also led itself to custom modifications.

In 1964 Fender also issued the Fender Mustang Bass. A new bass body was designed for this with a similar offset body style to the Mustang guitar, and a short (30-inch) scale was used. A Fender Musicmaster Bass and Fender Bronco Bass also exist using the Mustang Bass body and neck.

In 1967, a fourth variant, the Fender Bronco, was added to the Mustang-bodied range. The Bronco had a single pickup, like the Musicmaster, but in the bridge rather than the neck position, and yet another Leo Fender designed tremolo arm. As well as the Mustang body it used the 24-inch 22 fret Mustang neck.

In 1968 Fender released the "Competition" Mustang with "racing stripe" paint and painted headstocks. After mid '71 matching headstocks were no longer applied.

In 1969 Fender discontinued the Duo-Sonic II. Since the modal was only produced for five years, it is a rare Fender that has growing collector value. Many players also prefer the Duo-Sonic II to the Mustang because it lacks the impractical and difficult to maintain tremolo bridge.

In 1982 Fender discontinued both the Mustang and the Musicmaster II. These were the last Mustang-bodied models, as the Bronco had been discontinued in 1981. The Mustang Bass had also been discontinued in 1981.

In 1990 Fender re-issued the Mustang, largely as a result of the vintage movement prevalent at the time. Among grunge and punk rock guitarists, Fender's discontinued models (budget models such as the Duo-Sonic and high-end models such as the Jazzmaster and Jaguar) had become extremely popular; Such models had Fender quality, but were less expensive secondhand than vintage Stratocasters and Telecasters. (Musicians that led movements against materialism could hardly afford to be seen with expensive guitars, at least in theory).

The reissued Mustang is available in only the 24-inch scale. As of 2006, the only current Fender guitar with a 22.75 inch (approximate) scale was the 22.72 inch Stratocaster Junior. Other Fender student guitars included the Fender Cyclone at 24.75 inches (Gibson Les Paul length), and the Squier-branded Bullet Mini, a hard-tailed Stratocaster lookalike with a very short scale of 20.75 inches. The reissued Mustang also used alder for the body-wood (the originals were made of basswood) - as of the 2006 modal year, basswood was again utilized after players expressed concerns over the instrument's weight.


The Mustang has two angled single-coil pickups, each with an adjacent on-off-on switch, and a master tone and volume control.

The Mustang is unusual in having neither a pickup selector nor a circuit selector switch, instead just using the two pickup switches to allow the pickups to be used either singly or in parallel. The second on position reverses the phase of the selected pickup, allowing the pickups to be either in or out of phase when in parallel. This phasing option was also unusual for 1964.

It also meant that, as both pickups were floating with respect to ground, it was possible to modify the wiring to put the pickups into series either in or out of phase without excessive noise. The unusual switching could also be replaced by a conventional pickup change switch using the unused body routing already provided for compatibility with the Duo-Sonic, requiring only modification of the pickguard, and freeing the two eight-terminal pickup switches for other uses. As with many student guitars, aftermarket pickup additions and changes were also popular.

Tremolo arm

The Mustang introduced the Fender Dynamic Vibrato tailpiece, which together with a floating bridge forms the Mustang trem or 'stang trem system. The floating bridge concept is common to the Fender floating tremolo developed for the Jazzmaster, but on the Mustang the saddles have only a single string slot, while on other Fender guitars there are multiple slots to allow limited adjustment of the string spacing.

The tailpiece was unique when introduced and remains the most unusual feature of the Mustang; Only the Jag-Stang shares this particular mechanism. While not nearly so popular as the Stratocaster synchronized tremolo, some guitarists prefer it over all other tremolo mechanisms. Most notably, Kurt Cobain incorporated it in his custom design which became the Jag-Stang.

No previous Fender student guitar had a tremolo arm at all, and the subsequent Fender Bronco used a completely different mechanism, without a floating bridge.

The Mustang was the last of the Fender floating bridge models to be withdrawn, and the first to be reissued.

Mustang Players

Some noted players of the Fender Mustang are:

  • Blixa Bargeld (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Einsturzende Neubauten)
  • Adrian Belew (He actually used a custom made Stratocaster/Mustang combined body shaped guitar - see the album Twang Bar King- and now uses custom shop Strats and Parker guitars.)
  • Graham Coxon (Blur)
  • Danny Bonaduce
  • Eric Burdon
  • David Byrne
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Jason Falkner
  • John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers as well as close friend;
  • Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of The Mars Volta
  • Matthew Good (as evidenced in the video to 'Everything Is Automatic')
  • Yoshiaki Manabe of Japanese rock group the pillows
  • John McLaughlin
  • Moe
  • Liz Phair (she actually plays a Duo-Sonic and a Musicmaster)
  • Elvis Presley
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Shakira
  • Steve Turner (Mudhoney)
  • Bill Wyman
  • Billy Corgan
  • James Frost (The Automatic)
  • Johnny Winter (up through "The Progressive Blues Experiment")
  • John Thoman (of Chris Cacavas' Junkyard Love)


In the late years of Kurt Cobain's life he wanted a custom guitar between his favorite guitars, the mustang and jaguar. So he brought the blueprints to Fender. Soon they constructed the guitar and sent it to Cobain, he was extremely dissatisfied with the prototype so Fender took it back and re did the guitar almost completely, though Kurt did not like this guitar as much as the Jaguar or Mustang he liked it more then the orginal Jag-Stang. He gave Fender the permission to mass produce the Jag-Stang.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Fender Mustang