Young Miles' new Squier Mini Jazzmaster! | My review, and subsequent pop punk mod!
Rewind to January and the Winter NAMM show, which seems like a lifetime ago now! One of the coolest product announcements I saw was from Squier, introducing another classic shape to their 'mini' series, with my beloved Jazzmaster! I was incredibly keen to see these hit UK shores as our young son loves to strum the guitars in the house. Needless to say though, he finds it incredibly difficult to sit with the full sized counterparts, so I have been on the lookout for a 'mini' 3/4 or 1/2 sized guitar for him to have a go with. Inspiring a young person to want to play an instrument is such an important thing to me, and I must say, Miles has known many guitar-savvy words from a very early age, 'Jazzmaster' being one of them, so this little mini version was the perfect fit! 

Fast forward to May, a good few weeks into Covid-19 lockdown here in the UK, and the Squier Mini Jazzmaster was officially released, so I couldn't resist getting one for Miles. Of course I had already had some modding ideas bouncing around my head too, as Miles has become obsessed over the past year or so with Pop Punk music, Blink 182, Sum 41, New Found Glory to name a few. He's even wearing his favourite T-Shirt, a Blink 182 one, in his last School photo! So me being me, modding it so he had a little mini pop punk guitar was on the cards all being well... But it wasn't looking promising...Around the same time, after a discussion over on an Offset Guitar group/forum, it seems there was already some incredibly bad press doing the rounds on YouTube about how bad these new Mini Jazzmasters were. I was gutted to say the least after months of waiting, but wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt and see one for myself first hand, so I took the risk & ordered one. Luckily for me, I didn't have to go through the refund procedure and I'm very glad I did order as my experience was a far far cry from those negative ones on YouTube. So I thought I'd share my thoughts on it, the good bits, some of the bad bits too in case it helps others out there interested in these cool little offsets for their children too.

*Please note, the photos are all after my little bit of modding, if you're wondering why it looks different to the standard model.

Squier Mini Jazzmaster review and modding

Initial impressions
I bought ours from GAK for £139 including shipping. The guitar arrived, and straight out of the box I was already very impressed. First of all, Squier have done a great job with the overall look. Some mini or 3/4 versions of guitars can look odd, dimensions sometimes don't look right, or pickups and controls can look too 'busy' on the pickguard making it look all bloated or squashed. But this looks superb, and for a Jazzmaster fan like myself, it certainly brought a big smile. My son asked for the olympic white one when I first shown him the photos of them, which upon box opening looked to me like the slightly yellower version of Olympic white rather than a very bright white you sometimes get. They do offer these in a nice Daphne blue and seafoam green though which look equally superb I must say.
Overall weight was a little over 5lbs, so sure, not the lightest guitar in the world, but it's comfortable, not cumbersome and the little man could pick it up, just about anyway.
Naturally you grab the guitar by the neck to pick it up, and when it comes to a budget, £100 ish guitar you fully prepare your palms to get shredded to bits on sharp fret ends...But that didn't happen here! Very neatly finished, with the tangs shy of the fretboard edge and seemingly filled with either the satin neck lacquer or glue, either way, it feels very smooth on this particular guitar which was a pleasant surprise considering my usual experience of budget instruments. Also a relief for me, knowing my son was going to be holding this that he wasn't going to cut his hands on sharp frets (also one less job I'd have to do with a fret end dress!). So very impressed by this, and hopefully others out of the factory are equally as well finished.

Squier Mini Jazzmaster review and modding

Finish/Pickups
Speaking of the Olympic white colour previously, the paint finish is very good. Nice and flat, no orange peel effect anywhere and the maple neck/board is nice too. From the factory, these come with a white pickguard, loaded with 2 generic spec humbuckers, a 3 way toggle switch, single volume, single tone and the jack socket. My son was super eager to plug it in (as he loves to 'rock and roll' in his words), so a quick tune up and we were hearing those humbuckers for the first time. I personally thought, for a mini sized, essentially youngsters budget guitar, the sound was way more than acceptable. Sounded nice clean across both pickups, and it took drive fairly well too. I didn't experience any negatives regarding the guitars tone considering it's intention. If I'm being picky, which is natural when I specialise in guitar electronics, the volume pot acted more like an on/off switch which is more common with linear taper pots(this guitar has logarithmic volume and tone though) or with low quality import type pots, but they operated without crackling and everything felt pretty solid so not the end of the world all things considered. I would very happily have left the wiring and pickups as they were, they are more than capable of the task at hand, and certainly fine for a youngster to plug in and enjoy playing.

Set-up
From a player point of view though, man those strings were wayyyyy too light gauge for the tiny scale length. I imagine that will cause some less experienced owners confusion due the effect that has on playability and sound of this little guitar. This one came with 9s on and with the scale length in mind, they are way too floppy and do make for a difficult time playing notes cleanly, even for me, let alone a young beginner. I figured this would be the case though, most budget guitars come shipped from far east factories with 9s on, but worth bearing this in mind if you don't plan on changing strings straight away. I'll discuss this a little more when I get to the modding part of this article. The factory strings will feel really slack at standard pitch, but in terms of the factory set-up it was very impressive. Intonation was good, nut slot height was comfortable at the 1st fret meaning the open strings vibrated cleanly, action was the usual 2mm at the bass side on the 15th fret, and just shy of 2mm on the treble side at the 15th, go to set-up measurements for most factories so no quibbles there at all. Even the string radius was achingly close to being set correctly, so I was pleasantly surprised by all of this. Whether all of them leave the factory like this, maybe not, but this particular one was playable out of the box for sure. 

Squier Mini jazzmaster review and modding

Hardware
Hardware wise, you're greeted with a 6 saddle, top loading hardtail bridge, and some modern type tuners which have vintage type buttons too. Sure, they're not going to be the greatest pieces of hardware in the world, it's a sub £150 youngsters guitar after all, but I feel they are perfectly acceptable. The 6 saddle bridge is essentially like a strat bridge, each saddle can be individually adjusted for both intonation and string height/radius meaning accurate set-up can be achieved. The tuners, although feel fairly stiff to turn, work just fine and hold tuning on this particular guitar. Aesthetically, the hardware choices do give the guitar a nice look, with a touch of vintage vibe to them due to the retro 6 saddle bridge and vintage style buttons on the tuners. The plastic nut on this particular guitar did definitely need a little work though. Despite the guitar only being shipped with 9 gauge strings on, the slots were still way to small for the gauge, so what might initially seem like an issue with the tuners, was in fact just the nut 'grabbing' and snagging the strings when tuning and playing. So a quick refinement with my nut slot files and all was well, playing cleanly without any pinging and tuning issues, and allowed the tuners to do their job when needed too. Again, if you're looking at one of these guitars, then it may need the nut slots correcting to help with it's playability/tuning stability. But I have no real issues with the hardware choices on this model.

Squier Mini jazzmaster review and modding

Comfort/Playability
Comfort wise, this guitar is great! They have retained the arm contour as well as the tummy contour, and the usual rounded body edges are present too meaning it's a lovely guitar to sit and play (even at my 6'5" stature!) so I have no concerns about it being uncomfortable for Miles to learn with. It has a little bit of 'neck dive', but overall it's comfortable to sit with. One thing I will note here though, is if you plan on buying a strap for your child to use with this guitar, bare in mind that for some reason the strap buttons fitted to this guitar are TINY. I'm not quite sure why they have even bothered to fit these as it's unlikely any strap will fit onto them easily. So the strap you buy will either have to have tiny strap button holes so it doesn't fall off, or you'll have to fit some regular strap buttons like I decided too. A small detail, but one I thought was important as I imagine many parents will buy this guitar, maybe an amp and a strap for their children and it would be a shame to see the guitar dropped due to the strap not fitting the guitar's tiny strap buttons. So something to bare in mind. I decided to just fit some old spare Schaller Strap lock buttons on there, zero chance of the strap slipping off then. 

Squier Mini jazzmaster review and modding

In Summary
I would say realistically, a 5 or 6 year old upwards is going to comfortably be able to learn with one of these Mini Jazzmasters and enjoy doing so. Size wise, the scale length, etc is ideal for them and the guitar looks achingly cool which I'm sure would help a youngster feel inspired to pick it up and learn to play. In terms of overall quality, the instrument I received from GAK after purchasing is brilliant and I'm personally very happy with the purchase. No regrets, no real frustrations with quality at all and do feel it is good value for money. Sure there are cheaper mini sized guitars out there, but it is nice to have a licenced brand/product here which overall is of great quality for the money. I have mentioned a few of the minor issues in my summary above which hopefully helps those interested in one of these guitars for their children, but overall this guitar is great. The hardware is up the the job, I personally would recommend a higher string gauge, to help with string tension and make it a little more controllable to play! The factory 9 gauge strings feel way to floppy on this guitar and do indeed make it feel a bit of a challenge to play. Or you could tune up a pitch to increase the string tension. Set-up wise out of the shipping box, it was pretty much ready to go. All of them out of the factory might not be as good as this one was, but If you are unsure though, either ask the store when you purchase it to give it a set-up, and in particular I would highly recommend getting the nut slots addressed as chances are, they will need a little adjustment to ensure the strings aren't snagging there which can cause tuning and playing issues. This was a quick 2/3 minute task for me to do, and instantly made the guitar play nicely in tune. The factory pickups and electronics are absolutely fine, I played them through my amp and it genuinely sounded nice. But the good news is, that the bridge string spacing is pretty standard meaning you could always fit other pickups easily in the future if you do so wish. 
Main question really is would I recommend the Squier Mini Jazzmaster given the experiences of buying one myself? The answer is yes. But if you're still concerned by some of the more negative reviews online, perhaps when the world is in a better place, head to your local Squier dealer and try one in person and see for yourself. I essentially wanted to do that, and was very happy I did and am 100% happy with the guitar I have bought for my son to learn with.


Onto the modding fun!
As mentioned earlier in the article, my son is a huge Pop Punk fan, even at his young age which is both brilliant and hilarious to me! 'Chip off the old block' as I spent my youth loving the very same. So I wanted to further encourage him to want to learn when he's inspired to, and decided to make the guitar a little more 'him' and a little more Pop Punk! A pickup synonymous with Pop Punk thanks to Blink 182's Tom Delonge, is the Seymour Duncan Invader. After realising the string spacing on the Mini jazzmaster was regular, I spotted one 2nd hand for a superb price, so snapped it up comfortably knowing it would fit into this guitar fine. I took the pickguard off to find that the control cavity for the electronics is routed pretty closely to the controls, but the pickup routing is 'bathtub' style meaning you could realistically put any combination of pickups into this without any further routing. Something some of you modders might find useful anyway.

Squier Mini Jazzmaster Review and modding

The 2nd hand Duncan pickup arrived, and it was in great condition which was a nice bonus. Should I want to sell it on in the future this makes things a little easier. I lifted out the original fully loaded pickguard and have kept that safe should I want to put it all back in the future. As I needed a new pickguard for the single pickup set-up, I would have to make this myself as replacements (especially modded ones) aren't readily available yet. I have a fair few scraps of pickguard material in my office, and found a single ply black sheet with enough space to cut this mini JM item from, so set to work drawing the outline and cutting out. I just used a coping saw for this, which is time consuming but easy enough. I wanted this to be Pop Punk inspired where less is definitely more, so a simple bridge humbucker, one volume and the jack socket was all I needed here. It isn't quite perfect, but overall looks great and I love how much it has changed the look of the guitar! Fun little project and Miles is very smug that he has the same pickup as 'Blink 182' haha!

Squier Mini jazzmaster review and modding

I just wired the Invader pickup to a CTS 500k pot, and a Pure Tone jack socket, super simple and low in cost with my access to those parts. I also decided to fit 11 gauge strings, it sounds drastic I know. But with the tiny short scale of the guitar, 11s on this don't feel like 11s on your full scale guitar. It plays more like a regular scale guitar with 10s on really, but really tightens up the playing experience, notes are easier to play, chords ring out better and overall has vastly improved the enjoyment of playing this cute little guitar. I'm actually really enjoying pickup it up to play! Miles won't get a look in if he's not careful haha! Rather surprisingly too, the truss rod settled very quickly with the change to 11s. Another nod to the overall quality of this guitar, the neck is very stable on this particular guitar.
I mounted it all back up, fitted a Tele style barrel control knob in chrome to nicely match the other hardware and it's ready to be enjoyed! All in all, as I managed to get the pickup 2nd hand, had a scrap piece of pickguard material and of course, access to the electronics parts and able to easily carry out the work myself, the mods cost around £55, and could likely get that back in the value of the Seymour Duncan pickup which is good to know. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I really do hope it helps others interested in the Squier Mini Jazzmaster, I've been as honest as possible with every detail of my experience in purchasing one of these guitars for my son to learn with. I personally feel the guitar we bought is a great little instrument, and more than happy to hand it to my boy!

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