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The Evolution of the Fender Mustang

1955 to 1956 was a big year in the world of music. Electric guitar driven & Rock N Roll music was creeping into the charts, with artists such as Bill Hayley & His comets and Elvis. They were charting in the billboards and influencing a whole new generation of electric guitar players. With the price of a Fender guitar at the time ($249.50 USD), they weren’t considered an accessible guitar to most people. Fenders new idea was to build a student model guitar at a budget price ($149.50 USD), and so, production began and in April & June 1956 and the Fender Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic entered the market.

Both models had features such as a 22.5inch (3/4 scale length) and 21 frets. The Musicmaster had a single coil pick up at the neck, single piece maple neck and anodized scratchplate. At its release in 1956 to 61 it was only available in 1 colour, Desert Sand. The Duo-Sonic had a soft v, one piece maple neck, 2 single coil pick-ups (neck & bridge) and like the Musicmaster, was only available in Desert Sand with an anodized scratch plate. In 1959 when the Fender catalogue was updated, these 2 model guitars had some cosmetic changes. Gone with the one-piece maple neck and replaced with a rosewood veneered fingerboard on a maple neck. This was in line with changes made to other Fender models at the time. Also, the anodized scratchplate was replaced with white plastic. Later on in 59 saw the guitars colour change to a Tan colour, cream plastic scratchplate and dark brown pickup covers.

Fender Cat.Original

More changes in 1961, gone with the Tan colour and in with both the shaded sunburst (sienna sunburst) and back with the white plastics. In 63 colour changes again to White with tortoise shell scratchplate and white pickup covers.

In 1964 came the release of the Fender Mustang that joined the student guitar range with the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic. The Mustangs overall look was styled very close to the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic with 2 single pickups (neck – bridge) and the addition of a Fender Dynamic Vibrato Tailpiece. The Fender Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic had some major changes at this time. Rosewood or maple fretboard options, larger headstocks (also known as the 70’s headstock) and volume and tone controls mounted on a separate metal plate. The Duo-Sonic’s 3 way pick up switch was drop and replaced with 2 pickup switches. The 3 guitars also had some new colour options, Red, White and Blue. These 3 colours closely resemble the then later named Dakota Red, Olympic White and Daphne Blue (which is one of my personal favourites!)

All 3 models now had the option of 24inch 22 frets and 22.5inch and 21 frets (3/4 scale length). With this new option came the rename of the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic to the Musicmaster II and Duo-Sonic II, the "II" not always being used on the headstock decal.

1969 saw the Duo-Sonics production come to an end, most likely due to the popularity of the Fender Mustang with its Vibrato Tailpiece. The Mustang also had a new release: The Competition Mustang, replacing the standard mustang. Available in Competition Red with cream stripes, Competition Burgundy (blue) with light blue stripes and Competition Orange with dark orange stripes. The stripes design consisted of 3 stripes (thin – thick – thin) and were only on the front of the guitar on the forearm contour. One other big changed was the addition of the forearm contour and back contour, bodies before this were slab style. Side note: The 2010-2011 Japanese Fender 69 reissue Mustangs were based on this newer model. Another new short scale student model was released this same year, the Fender Swinger (aka Musiclander or Arrow). This guitar was a cash grab model using old left over parts from the Fender Bass V and Musicmaster. It was marketed as another cheaper student model but due to the lack of advertising and quirky design the guitar was unpopular.

1972 saw the Fender Mustang competition come to an end along with pearl scratchplates and back with white plastic scratchplate. Some new colours are available on the mustang, 3 tone sunburst, natural, walnut, black, white and blonde. Ash is now used on blonde and natural finishes. Some minor changes come to the Mustangs in 76, one piece maple necks are now an option, black scratchplates are added along with black control knobs and trem tips. Ash bodies are now used on the mustangs along with the full fender range. Late 70s see the colour Antigua added as a new colour for the mustang along with serial number moving to the headstock from the neckplate.

In 1982 the Musicmaster and Mustang guitars were discontinued, this coincided with the start of Squier guitars being manufactured in Japan. The Japanese Squier's were the first time cheaper models of the Stratocasters and Telecasters were available. In the 90’s came the Reissue Mustangs and Duo-Sonics, mainly due to the spike in demand for the 2nd hand Duo-Sonic’s, Mustangs, Jaguars and Jazzmasters or "offset" guitars. The big influence? The 90s Grunge/Rock scene, with bands like Nirvana, Sonic Youth and RHCP often using these student model guitars.

In 1993 Fender releases a Mexican Fender Duo-Sonic with a 22.7” scale and available in 3 colours Torino Red, Black and Artic White. They had a small run and were dropped in the line up in 1997. It was releases again in 1998 as a Chinese made Squier Affinity model and dropped again 1 year later.

2012, the Fender Custom Shop had been working on a new model guitar, something different from the current range. Welcoming back the Fender Mustang with the "Pink Loud" and "Free Spirits" models. These 2 models are the first from Fender US since the 80’s.The Free Spirits $4500us and the Pink Loud $5000us, putting them out of most people’s reach.

NAMM 2013 Fender Custom Shop release the Fender Mustang Wall. With a journeyman relic finish, slab bodies, no contours, pearloid pickguards and aged white pickup covers and switches. 2 of each colour were produced and there are rumors' 4 of each were made. These also had a nice price tag of $6000us. 

Here are some notable guitar players who have used these models: 

  • Jimi Hendrix, Duo-Sonic when he backed up the Isley Brothers during a 1964 tour
  • David Byrne, who largely used a Duo-Sonic on the Talking Heads’ first two albums, Talking Heads: 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food
  • Rory Gallagher, who had a 1978 Duo-Sonic that saw frequent action on the road around ’82
  • Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo, who favored a pair of Musicmasters throughout Ween's lengthy career
  • Liz Phair, who even featured her 1969 white Duo-Sonic on the cover of her self-titled 2003 album
  • Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Dweezil Zappa and Johnny Winter
  • Kurt Cobain - Nirvana

Fender has released some reissue and new models over the years in the Musicmasters, Duo-Sonics and Mustangs.

2008-2011 – Duo-Sonic: Squier Classic Vibe. This model has similar specs to the 50s model, maple fretboard with a Desert Sand finish and anodized scratch plate, Basswood body, C neck shape, 24” scale and the treble pick up ¾ of and inch further from the bridge.

2011 – Mustang: Fender Pawn Shop series Mustang Special. Offset mustang body, 24” scale, Humbucker pickups and hardtail strat bridge.

2012 – Mustang – Kurt Cobain Mustang. This model is based on Kurt’s modified mustang that he used on the In Utero Tour. Japanese made, Seymour Duncan JB Humbucker (bridge) and standard mustang neck pick up, angled Fender adjustomatic bridge. Released in 3 colours: Fiesta Red, Sonic Blue and Dark Lake Placid Blue with competition stripe, by 2015 Sonic Blue was the only colour being manufactured. Quick side note: the Kurt Mustang was the first Mustang to be sold in Europe in both right and left handed models. Squier Vintage Modified Mustang. With similar spec to the vintage models, but with modern materials. Also, a 2 Humbucker version is released in the Squier Bullet range.

2013 – Mustang – Fender Modern Player Mustang. Modern take on the vintage model, 2 Fender MP90 pickups (similar to P90’s) 9.5” neck. Came in Daphne Blue and honeyburst. Fender American Special Mustang. This model is the first mustang made in the US since it was discontinued. AM Special Mustang was another modern take on the mustang, keeping the same shape and scale length but with 2 Fender Atomic Humbuckers, 3 way switch wiring, Adjustomatic bridge and fixed tailpiece.

From 2016 to now Fender has released a variety of Duo-Sonic, Mustang and Musicmaster models. Currently Mustangs are available in both Squier and Fender models and the Duo-Sonic in Fender models along with a Shawn Mendes Musicmaster, which was a limited release in early 2020.

Check out the Fender Player Series