As alternative rock became increasingly normative in the music industry in the early 1990s, Fender’s approach to signature guitars took on a different shape, literally. Suddenly artists and fans were more at home in a thrift or pawn shop than a prestigious and pricy custom shop. In a decade that saw both Fender and Squier re-issue and experiment with a series of offset designs (anyone remember the Cyclone, Duo-Sonic, Stagemaster, Tornado, and Super-Sonic?), hardly any are as iconic as Kurt Cobain’s signature, the Fender Jag-Stang, or significant for gear history as Courtney Love’s signature, the Squier Venus.
A Frankenstein in the best sort of way, the Jaguar-Mustang hybrid envisioned by Cobain in 1993 embodies the genre of music Nirvana helped pioneer out of Aberdeen, Washington: there is a thread of unexpected familiarity combined with new tones, dynamic range, an almost combative handling, and non-conformist visage. Unfortunately, it was not until after Cobain’s passing that Fender brought the Jag-Stang to market, first in a run of made in Japan models from 1995–1999 then a short burst of production in the Artist series re-issues from 2003–2005. After more than two decades of a cult-following of Jag-Stang faithful, Fender has yet again channelled Cobain’s heritage, with a full library of his favorite guitars, including replicas of his Jaguar, Mustang, and of course the offspring of their mid-1990s hook-up, the Jag-Stang.
Come 1995, Hole broke into the Billboard charts with Courtney Love at the helm. Two years later, Love had a signature axe of her own. The Squier Venus was released in 1997 under the Vista series and was another experiment in mixed media instrument design. The Venus bears passing resemblance to a Stratocaster, could pass as a first cousin of a Rickenbacker, but is a spitting image of the design of the little known manufacturer Mercury, a brand which Love can be seen playing in the music video for “Doll Parts.”
While both models attracted small cult followings and are still kicking around on the used market, perhaps what is most intriguing about this pair is what they signified at the grungy intersection of music and gear history in the 1990s. At least three points come to mind:
First, given their highly publicized marriage in 1992, Cobain’s and Love’s custom guitars remain the only pair that might be described as a sort of “his and hers” in the signature market. While their guitars were never billed or marketed as such, Cobain and Love remain the only couple to each have their own signature models. Second, both models represent a surprising twist in Fender’s approach to signature designs. At the time, Fender’s line-up included an extensive library of signature Stratocasters and Telecasters, yet nothing that was designed with the artist in mind from the ground up including body shape. Finally, with the release of the Venus, Courtney Love became the first ever female rock artist to attain signature status. Prior to this, Fender’s signature catalog included but a single guitar for a female musician, famed country artist Bonnie Rait.Whatever you’re playing today, hopefully this tour through but two items of the ever-expanding library of signature models gave you a good read over coffee and a hint of inspiration to pick up your own guitar over the weekend. Have a great #RiffCitySunday, and don’t forget to share a picture of the rig you’re playing today with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.