Final Chapter - Part 10: “ The Jagstang: A History Part 3 - Red”
In February 1994, Earnie Bailey discussed changes to the Jagstang with Mark Wittenberg just a couple months before Red was finished. The changes discussed were primarily comfort countours. The contours were not requested by Kurt and by Earnie's own admissions, he offered to put contours in Blue and Kurt never allowed it to happen. Keep in mind, in February 1994, Earnie is not Kurt's tech so it would appear that this conversation may have happened behind Kurt's back. Regardless, Red never recieved them.
While this isn't really my story to tell, it is extremely important, so I will try to be straight to the point and keep personal details out of it where needed. In 1993, there was a relatively large shipment of custom shop guitars that were stolen, enough that it caught Fender's attention. Fender had no suspects at the time. All they knew for sure was that whomever stole these instruments, it was likely one of two type of employees. Either it was a Master Builder or it was someone in the shipping department. Larry reached out to some pawn shops and music stores with some of the serials on his own volition, asking that if any of these guitars come in, to let him know. Eventually, some of these guitars did end up in Hollywood. Larry took this information to Dan Smith and some other ranking members of the company. Because Larry had been the only one to produce any information on these stolen instruments, Larry was treated as the prime suspect and he was heavily questioned about it. From what I understand, Dan Smith and Larry Brooks didn't have a great relationship to begin with. But from that point on, Larry seemed to be under a watchful eye. In late February of 1994, Mark Wittenberg became hospitalized due to a brain aneurysm and died from it. Larry was at the hospital with him that night as they were best friends. Upon returning home sad and heart broken, he pulled up to find that Fender heads were there, searching his property for stolen items. Stolen property was never produced, Larry essentially quit on the spot and got a lawyer.
This wasn't the end of Larry at the custom shop as he did have obligations to complete. He had around 20 instruments left to finish, Kurt's Red Jagstang being one of them. While it is unknown what number this guitar was, we know that it was finished in April 1994 as it was to be shipped to Kurt the day his body was found. Kurt would have recieved this guitar before his death if it hadn't been for a week long wait for a pint of Dakota Red paint. Having just lost another friend, the guitar was left in it's case in the custom shop.
While Red was being made, Dan Smith ordered two MG69 necks from Scott Zimmerman, because Japan wouldn't ship just one. These necks were requested raw. I was fortunate enough to speak with an individual who broke an NDA. Because of this, I can not expose the individual. However, he claimed that he was informed that after Larry left Fender, Dan had the neck pocket of the red prototype routed to remove Larry's signature and replaced the neck with an MG69 neck. We initially matched the red prototypes neck to an MG 69 neck to a 100% match. We initially believed that this was the neck from that very event, but we were mistaken. Dan did order two necks. It turns out, he used both. The fact that there is an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) surrounding the guitar should speak volumes.
Have you ever really stopped and thought about how long it took to build Blue and how long it took to build Red? Because I didn't and it turns out that it's a pretty important detail. I tried to really go into depth in my previous post about the process with Blue. It took 9 months to build. However, Red only took 4 months to build. Red is a different shape and Kurt is no longer just a hop, skip and a jump away, he is now in Europe. A new shape couldn't have been verified, a custom CNC template made, a new shape made in that short of time because it couldn't be done in the original time frame. Larry told me that Kurt never discussed further changes to the shape or that he hated it. Rather, he ordered the red one exactly the same as Blue. Cut from the exact same templates. Red and Blue should be exact twins within sanding tolerances. And yet we have a completely different shape. This implies that there isn't just one Red, there are two.
So what happened to Red 1.0? We don't know. We do know that Fender does not seem to have this guitar in their possession. It exists somewhere.
While I can not prove this 100% and I am absolutely better off not knowing, I am of the opinion that Red 1.0 was victim of a theft after Larry had left the company. The real thief had not been caught with all eyes on Larry. It would have been a prime target, having just been sat to the side, left in it's case to be forgotten. Who wouldn't want to say "I have one of Kurt's guitars, one of only two in existence." What I don't believe the thief had expected was for Fender to be in talks with Courtney Love who gave her blessing for Fender to release the model to the public since that is what Kurt had wanted since the very beginning, to produce an affordable guitar that beginners and pros alike could pick up and play.
Larry was asked about taking part in the production models but ultimately refused. He didn't like that Fender was so eager to capitalize on Kurt's death. Larry and Kurt developed a friendship and Kurt even sent Larry a sweater after the completion of Blue. That isn't the action of a man who hated the guitar. This also wasn't the first instance of Larry refusing to capitalize on the death of a musician. Larry was tasked with building a limited run of SRV strats but refused to do so without the Vaughan family blessing.
When Fender went to retrieve Red, it was gone. It is unknown whether the thief was ever caught, but what would happen next was something rather genius. If they couldn't catch the thief, they could shatter his entire credibility. Without Red 1.0 and with the template also missing, they went back to the cardboard cutouts made by Mark Kendrick and designed a new shape based on an approved and later rejected necked cardboard cutout. This one seems to more closely resemble the Red 2.0 prototype's body shape. They used Larry's Mustang template for the neck pocket, pickup location and hardware location and this would come back to bite them. With Red 2.0 been built around USA specs, the use of Japanese parts suddenly caused problems. Their new pickguard is no longer uniform to the horn and is crudely cut. It also features the pickguard hanging over the round over radius, a feature that is clearly missing from Larry's work on Blue. The control plate and the vibrato plate do not fit the pickguard, nor does the neck heel. It also suddenly features 5 screws on the hump instead of 3. Some of the screws seem to be installed at an angle while others seem to be driven too deep. At least a couple screws appear to be a different type of screw head. The guitar features the same right handed Texas Special but now Red 2.0 sports a DiMarzio H3 which was a neck pickup that was made for Fender.
One of the two necks that Dan Smith ordered wound up on Red 2.0 and this is why the neck heel does not align properly. It was wider at the heel and while they got it to fit, you can see that string alignment is wrong.
Upon completion of Red 2.0, Fender sought out every guitar magazine they could and showcased it. If the thief had not been caught, it was at this moment that their credibility was shot and questioned. If anyone knew that thief had stole Red 1.0, the obvious question would be "how could you have stole Kurt's Jagstang when Fender clearly has it in their possession?" Anyone who was buying from this individual had to question whether the guitars they were buying were legitimate or counterfeit. I personally do not believe that Fender ever caught this employee. Either they are still there and have gone legit or they would have left when the gig was up, likely in good graces with the company. As I have previously stated, I am, and by extension so are you, better off not knowing.
I can not 100% prove that Red 1.0 was stolen, but it is fact that there were thefts at Fender around this time and whomever the thief was, they had access to the custom shop. What I can tell you for certain is that Red 1.0 and the CNC templates for the Jagstang prototype have also gone missing. I can also tell you for fact that the Red 2.0 body does not match Blue, not even remotely close enough to say that it came off the same CNC template. Fender did release the Jagstang and they did showcase the Red prototype. It is an incredibly interesting choice of words since Red 1.0 does not match that description. Red 2.0 IS a prototype however. It is a new shape. It is a production model prototype and that is why it features a 1996 Japanese serial number rather than the blank plate that Larry gave the first Red.
When I showed Larry the above mentioned features of Red, he noticed several things wrong with the guitar. He then asked me for a full photo of the guitar and instantly stated that that guitar was all wrong. He even commented that it wasn't the color that he sprayed. He sprayed a dark Dakota Red. The color that was used on Red 2.0 was a custom color. It was the same color that Kurt had requested for his Mustangs. Scott Zimmerman had sent a Japanese color swath to Fender and the owner of Red 2.0, who wished to remain anonymous, comfirmed that he also has this color swath in his possession, given to him by Fender after winning the auction.
I realize that 27 years can do a lot to a memory, but when I interviewed Larry about Blue, I asked him details that at the time, only Amon and I publicly knew and he answered everything. There were a couple small minor details that he couldn't remember very vividly. I sent him a render of Blue that Amon made and he sent me a picture of him holding Blue in return and they were a dead match.
Larry has not steered me wrong. I fully 100% believe him. I am absolutely honored that he trusted me enough to speak with me about it. I learned things just from speaking with him. I learned about the Jagstangs, I learned about Kurt, Clapton and his strats, SRV, Bonnie Raitt and more. I wish he had felt that he could have come forward and told his side of the story a long time ago. As I understand it, Larry and Earnie seemed to have fought about it to the point that there was almost a lawsuit. Larry just let it go and Earnie, Fender and the Nirvana fans have controlled the narrative for 27 years.
I also want to be clear, in no way am I trying to paint Ernie out to be a bad guy here. He is a vast wealth of information too but I have seen him be mistaken more than once. When it comes to the Jagstang, I don't feel like he spent enough time with it. Maybe a month or two at best. Larry spent at total of 13 months with the Jagstangs and physically built them while maintaining contact with Kurt through the process. If you were to ask me who's input I take more seriously in regards to the Jagstang, Earnie or Larry, I'd pick Larry.
Below is a render that Amon made for what would have been the original Red.
I sincerely hope that you've enjoyed the ride and thank you to all who have helped us along the way. Don't let the memory of this guitar die. It deserves more than that, not just from a Nirvana perspective but as a piece of history.
The specs of Red 1.0:
2 piece Alder body
4 ply white pearloid pickguard with slight bevel
Blank neck plate
Dakota Red nitro finish
3 screws on the hump
Right Handed Texas Special (neck)
Custom Seymour Duncan humbucker (Bridge)
Veneer rosewood fretboard
Pearloid dots, both fret and sides
Vintage fret wire
1 5/8" nut width
Thickness to be determined
Larry Brooks signature in neck pocket
Mods made by Dan:
Removal of signature
Specs of Red 2.0:
2 piece Alder body
4 ply white pearloid pickguard with bevel
Serial number V069200
Custom red color from Japan
5 screws on the hump
Right handed Texas Special (neck)
DiMarzio H3 (bridge)
Veneer rosewood fretboard
Pearloid dots, both fretboard and side
Vintage fret wire
1.574" nut width
Extremely moved string tree
.82 at the first fret*
.91 at the twelveth fret*
*measurments taken from Skystang 3, made by Scott Zimmerman