1966 Fender Mustang, as made famous by Kurt Cobain
OK, Kurt's is a lefty, with an untypical combination of white pick-ups and switches on a tortoiseshell scratchplate, but this 66 Mustang kicks as hard as any of Kurt's. Brilliant player. All you need to do is come as you are.
Mustangs, modified Mustangs, the hybrid Jag-Stang. Guitars forever associated with Kurt Cobain during his days with us, and forever after. When Smells Like Teen Spirit exploded onto our screens and into our senses in 1991, it was 69 Competition Mustang that Kurt made his own. By the time of In Utero in 1993, he was toting four Mustangs, 3 in blue (or sonic-blue), and 1 in red, nicknamed the "Oranj-Stang". Ever the experimenter, it didn't take Kurt long to take the stock Mustangs and modify them to his own needs - a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker in the bridge position, a new bridge, a back-to-black neck pick-up, and the white pearl scratchplate that's more familiar on the red and blue Mustangs. Nearly all the ingredients for the Jag-Stang, prototyped and played while he was alive, produced for the market following his sadly early death. If you want to cross-compare, see our 1996 Jag-Stang here
He wasn't the only experimenter. We all know Leo Fender designed and built a few guitars. So, it's easy to forget what a smart businessman he was too. Seeing an entirely untapped market for younger, beginner players that couldn't quite stretch to a Stratocaster or Telecaster, Leo introduced the first of his "student" guitars, the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic, in 1956. It was a brilliant idea. Rock and roll had only just gone mainstream, and almost every teenage American boy (yes, mostly boys) fancied their chances on the rock and roll train. The Mustang followed in 1964, adding the technological glories of tremolo and pick-up phase options to the Duo-Sonic mix. Pandora's Box could be yours for less than $200!
From Jimi Hendrix to John Frusciante to Matt Healey, it's one of those iconic guitars that's easy to love and hard to put down. The shorter-scale rosewood fretboard just begs bends (and overbends) - and if that's not enough, you've got the tremolo to take it further. Easy to play, full of sonic possibilities, it's no surprise this one's been adored by the edgier of the guitar gods ever since its first release. What a ride!
See & Hear It In Action
Come As You Are, Roseland Ballroom, July 1993 : Kurt with the original unmodified Oranj-Stang and a pure joy, have-a-go lead solo.
A lovely clean groove for a 66 Mustang, courtesy of Greg's Guitars: Greg's Guitars coming up trumps once again, with some lovely clean blues on a 66 Mustang. Showing off the range of tones from this hugely versatile guitar.
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Number of Frets
Fender "F" Individual Tuners
Fender Single Coil
Fender 6-barrel adjustable rocker bridge; Dynamic Fender Vibrato
Fender first introduced the Mustang in 1964. It was the third of their "student guitars", following on from the single pick-up Musicmaster and the two-pick-up Duo-Sonic, all three designed with a shorter scale length and an offset (asymmetrical) waist to make them easier to play sitting down. If you want to cross-compare, check out our 1962 Fender Duosonic.
Released last, but then a template for the next designs of the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic, the Mustang was offered with a 22" or 24" scale length. Plus the added features of Fender's (then patent pending) Dynamic Vibrato (marketed as "the low-priced model with tremolo"), and two slider switches, one for each pick-up, enabling In-Phase/Off/Out-Of-Phase signals - a joyous 8 different tones for the budding guitar god.
It was originally available in Fender stock colours: Red, White and Blue. Over the years, the red on this one has aged beautifully, and it's easy to see why these mid-60s Mustangs are often described (apparently incorrectly) as Dakota Red.
This one, from June 1966, sports the bigger headstock from the period, with the gold, black-edged "transition" logo, used between 1960 and early-1967 when new owners CBS brought in the gold-edged black logo. Seems like a pretty long transition period. More specifically transitional to this 1966 model is the 2 Patents/1 Design in the logo (these seem to multiply over the years), and the lack of an "Offset Custom Body" decal, phased out completely by 1967. Fascinating, I know.
Looks-wise, it's all to love, no question: the octagonal tuner buttons, the 7.25" rosewood fretboard, in fabulous condition for its age, the uncontoured slab body the beautiful yellowing to the pearl scratchplate, and that body back - a guitar that has been loved, gigged, and loved some more, just to be sure.
All original, including a its lovely orange plush case. The only thing missing is the tremolo bar, which is a modern Allparts replacement.
This is an absolute joy to play. The shorter scale-length makes a doddle of bends (and overbends), there's a tonne of fun to be had with switching between pick-ups and phasing, and, yes, there's all those associations with the 90s guitar gods that brought this beauty back into the limelight. Not to mention modern players like Matt Healey and Kurt Vile. Like it's namesake, this Mustang will not be tamed!
Sources & Links
Short Scale, Big Sound: The Fender Mustang Story: The history behind the guitar, in Fender's own words. Bringing the story full-circle, with today's Classic Series 65 Mustang.
And more of the same from Vintage Guitar and Bass: Always a first-stop for top insights into vintage guitars, this time celebrating "the instrument that millions of 60s and 70s student guitarists learned to play on."
Fender 1965/1966 Guitar Catalogue: Hats off once again to Vintage Guitar and Bass for this image of the original 1965/1966 catalogue. It's the blue one . . . in the black and white photo ;-).
Mr Maxima's Mustang Story: All of the above are great, but if you want the down-and-dirty detail, Mr Maxima's insights into the specs and modifications over the years is absolute gold-dust. The only thing I can't find in this is the specific Patent/Design numbering sequence that's on this particular Mustang. But there's plenty of other 66 Mustangs out there with the same sequence, and there's an over-geek line that should probably never be crossed . . .
Kurt Cobain's "Oranj-Stang" Mustang: He may be more famous with a blue (or sonic-blue) Mustang over his shoulders, but one of the earliest Mustang sightings is with a stock red model, back in July 1993, before the modifications that would go on to inspire his Jag-Stang. Includes a fabulous clip of the guitar, soundtracked to howling feedback. Thanks to Ground Guitar for the info.
Jimi Hendrix's Mustang: No pictures, but thanks to Equipboard for highlighting once again Jimi's love for those student guitars (just like the Duo-Sonic).. He didn't do too badly, all things considered.
Fender Logo Guide: OK, it's not essential reading, but just so you have it, this tells you everything you need to know about the changes in the Fender logo in the pre-CBS years.