The name Fender conjures up many image associations. From Strat, to Tele, Precision to Jazz bass, Fender’s builds are known for their classic tone and ergonomic contours. Among this team, the Mustang was one of Fender’s earliest offsets and one of a select few designs coming in both six-string and bass models. So where and when did this dark horse enter the story?
Fender had been tinkering with a few short-scale “student” models in the mid- to late-1950s. Both born in 1956, the Duo-Sonic and Musicmaster were well received alongside the now staple stock of Stratocasters and Telecasters. In August of 1964, however, the Mustang debuted as the third in the student series. But something was a little off, literally.
The most noticeable design feature of the Mustang was its body shape: a little stretched, slightly elongated on the upper horn, and a bit of weight gain on the tail end. A slight nod to the Jazzmaster but a little leaner for a look all its own. In 1966, Fender took the student model philosophy to the bassists and released the Mustang Bass. In patriotic red, white, and blue, the Mustang six-string became the most successful of the Fender student models with an initial production run that lasted until 1982.
By the early 1990s, alternative and punk rock had developed an understandable knack for all things a little left-of-center. Perhaps not surprisingly, innovators of these genres were drawn to Fenders now classic lines of offsets, including the Mustang. Back in the day, you’d find them on stage with My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, and Nirvana. In 1990, Fender reissued the cult classic out of their now fabled Japanese factory. This was Fender’s first ever reissue. In these years, the Mustang also offered up half its DNA to Fender’s first hybrid: the Fender Jag-Stang.
Following the turn of the millennium, the Mustang’s cult following grew to the extent that it deserved a broader reissue reach. Starting in 2012, Squier picked up a few ponies in their line, not least the sleek throwback of the Vintage Modified Mustang. In 2016, Fender itself renewed and extended their Mustang lineup with a classic Mustang, the Mustang 90 (loaded with P-90s), and the Mustang Bass PJ (which channeled the 1966 model).
Whether Fender knew it or not at the time, their early offset forays into student guitars would prove to be prophetic. With offsets gaining steam over the decades and now holding a prime place in many manufacturers catalogs, it’s designs like the Mustang that prove sometimes the best new ideas are based on something very old.