After getting to interview flor for Ultimate-Guitar.com (read it HERE), their guitarists McKinley Kitts and me started talking about his really unique guitar choice. McKinley rocks out on stage with a Squier Vista Series Jagmaster, an affordable model guitar built in Japan sometime in the late ’90s. I actually have had my eye on Reverb looking for one of these for awhile, but you have to be careful, the cheaper ones are made in the 2000’s and aren’t nearly as good as the ’90s models.
The great conversation we had got me thinking, is this HH Jaguar-Jazzmaster hybrid model incredibly underrated? I posed that question to McKinley and that resulted in a short but awesome interview where he tells you exactly why he plays the Jagmaster and why you need to try one for yourself. Let’s jump into our first installment of a new series called “Under-appreciated Guitars According To The Pros Who Use Them”.
Hi McKinley, thanks so much for the great show in Boston the other night and for answering all these questions! Let’s start with how you came to get your beloved Squier Jagmaster?
MK: I stumbled upon my first Jagmaster accidentally, I was selling a camera lens on Craigslist & a guy offered me his sunburst JM as a trade. I was hesitant at first, as my understanding of Squier at that time was that it was a budget/introductory line exclusively. The guy swore up & down I was getting a great deal, and that the ‘Vista Series’ Squiers are as good as anything higher end. I decided to trust him. Six years later and with the addition of two more JMs, I’m so glad that I did.
Once you got it, how did you end up coming around to making it your main guitar?
MK: I own & have owned a lot of guitars, pretty diverse collection all-around. The JM kept being the most reliable, even with its simple tuners & older electronics. It was a workhorse, and for our constant fly-dates and rigorous schedule, I needed a guitar I could rely on. I have a custom Lincoln guitar that was my other main, but it is really long so it doesn’t fit in my flight case. Amazing instrument though, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.
What are some specific specs or features on the guitar that make it feel or sound so good to you?
MK: I was immediately comfortable with the neck, and that’s probably why it’s still my constant. Especially on my olympic white model, it’s so smooth and perfectly suited to my hands. The short-scale 24” neck makes it a lot of fun to play, and on tighter stages with production I don’t ever feel like I need to worry about knocking into anything. The electronics are great for my tastes as well, simple controls and consistent tone. I get the bite I need with the varying selections, but lately I’ve kept it an even blend. I love being able to plug in and love my sound without any major adjustments. These guitars are so consistent.
What are some of the most memorable reactions you’ve gotten from gear snobs or confused record producers or collaborators?
MK: It’s such a common thread, guitar players shocked that I’m playing a Squier. Especially at our level, with festival plays & headline shows getting bigger and bigger. We have amazing gear and lighting production, but I’m still rocking my Jagmaster! We played a festival in Brighton, UK when I met our Fender rep after our set. He immediately walked up & gave me his card. I’ve absolutely added a lot of Fenders to my collection since we met, but I would never turn my back on what is tried and true!
How key has the Jagmaster been in you developing your sound or musical style? Is there anything you think only the Jagmaster can do for your sound?
MK: I am all about comfort. These guitars just feel right. Tone can be adjusted on your pedal board, amp, in the PA, etc. But the way that the wood feels on your hands is something you can’t fake or compensate for. When I walk on stage for a flor set, I’m walking out feeling confident that I am holding the instrument that allows me to be my best every night.
You said you had a couple of these great guitars, what made you pick one as the favorite? Do you find any differences between models?
MK: I have three now. Same Japanese-made 90s Vista Series models, but in Olympic White, 3-Color Sunburst, and Candy Apple Red. I play the white one almost exclusively now, as it came in the best shape. Neck is essentially flawless.
Other guitarists are going to kill me for telling this story, but I swear I’m being serious.
We shot a music video for our single ‘slow motion’ out in the Salt Flats of Utah. The concept was the band performing in a glass box, with sand falling over us as the song progressed. Unfortunately, my white JM got absolutely covered in wet sand. In the electronics, the tuning pegs, anywhere it could go. My guitar tech opened it up and cleaned it as best he could, but the tuners are enclosed and the sand was trapped in there. Over time, it seems as if the sand has settled amongst the gears, and I’m being totally honest when I tell you that this guitar holds itself in tune better than anything else I own now. The sand gave me organically locking vintage tuners, which sounds insane but it really seems to be true.