Streamlined for ergonomic playability, modernity and innovation, the Fender Jazz Bass redefined the way the bass guitar could and would be played.
Fender hit the world by storm with its revolutionary approach to electrical instrumentation manufacturing in the 1950s with the introduction of the company’s mainstays: the Telecaster guitar and the Precision Bass.
Despite its misleading name, the Fender Jazz Bass is not commonly recognised as an instrument associated with the genre of jazz. It is, however, recognised for its ergonomic design, playability and versatility, forever changing the course of the instrument’s capabilities and further, redefining the way the bass would be played.
The P Bass had already made its mark as an unruly powerhouse throughout the ’50s for its thick tone and smooth playability. It allowed for the loud, booming sound that unwieldy acoustic basses simply weren’t capable of producing.
With the introduction of the Jazzmaster guitar in 1958, Fender decided to design a new bass to accompany it. Welcome to the Jazz era.
Fusion Genres and Innovative Playing Styles
It was named the Jazz Bass as Fender felt that its redesigned neck – narrower and more rounded than the P Bass – would appeal to jazz musicians. The new design was quickly adopted by bassists who were not particularly Jazz-leaning, but those seeking versatility, streamlined playability and tones previously unattainable.
The Jazz Bass has since excelled in a multitude of genres, including hard rock, mellow folk, laid-back reggae or funky R&B. Another upside: the Jazz Bass has one of the best slap tones of all time.
The two biggest takeaways for the variance in design from the Fender P Bass to the Jazz Bass was the addition of two single-coil pickups and the thinner 38mm neck. Fender’s new design introduced two narrow, eight-polepiece pickups instead of one, giving it a unique tonal versatility not found in the Precision.
The neck pickup contributed the warmth and fullness typical of a Precision but its secret weapon, however, was the bridge pickup, which produced a guttural midrange growl and a clear, trebly high end new at the time to the Fender bass sound. The thinner neck allowed players to seamlessly move around the neck and in turn created a fresh outlook for the way the instrument could be played.
The Bass of Doom
The Jazz bass has had diverse champions throughout its life, including John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Flea, soul session legend Jerry Jemmott and many more.
But if there is one person synonymous with taking the bass guitar to new heights of innovation, technicality and modernity, it’s Jaco Pastorius. Jaco is considered one of, if not the best bassists of all time and his preferred instrument was the Fender Jazz Bass. Although Jaco was known to personally modify his Bass (sometimes only hours before a performance) to further suit his playing style, the Fender Jazz Bass was the fixture of choice.
Fender introduced the Fretless Jazz Bass in the mid-80s, however in his heyday, Jaco would carve out the frets on his 62′ Jazz Bass and seal the fretboard with epoxy resin. Fender would later remodel this DIY intuitiveness with a Jaco Pastorius signature model released in its 1999 Artist Series.
This live performance of Jaco Pastorius is a classic example of the tonal properties and playability of the Jazz Bass.
Building on the Original
Although Fender created these iconic mainstay instrument models there have been countless replications and imitations that re-appropriate, integrate and often improve on the original designs.
Take Sadowsky Guitars for example. This high-end Guitar and Bass company began manufacturing quality instruments in the late ’70s in New York. Sadowsky has essentially taken Fender’s well-established and proven formula for producing guitars and basses and have adjusted the specs by using higher quality materials. These high-end instruments often retail between $5,000 and $6,000 – a little above Fender price tags.
Then we have what you could consider the opposite end of the spectrum. Cheaper made imitations. For example, ‘lawsuit’ era made guitars by companies like Ibanez, Greco and Tokai to name a few. Many of these companies have taken the ergonomics and style of the Jazz Bass and more often than not, mutated them adding extra tone knobs, pickup switches and ashtray covers.
Take a look at the Ibanez 2365B below:
From the introduction of the first Jazz Bass model in 1960, Fender has released multiple variations on the original take. These range from Artist series to American Professional series all with variations in build quality and hardware. Fender is continuously bringing new life into their classic models to keep up to date with modern technology, equipment and design.
Fender’s introduction of the Jazz Bass allowed players to push the boundaries of the instruments capabilities and explore uncharted territories. Unrivalled in tone and design at the time of inception, the Jazz Bass revolutionised the full potential of the electric bass guitar.