Mods, tasteful aesthetics and downright demolitions – the Fender Jazzmaster has been the signature sound for a huge range of artists for decades.
The Fender Jazzmaster was, of course, marketed to be the go-to guitar for the jazz genre. The original had some faults in terms of playability and bridge design, so the initial success of the guitar was halted. Jazz players of the time instead preferred arch tops, especially those made famous by Gibson.
Away from jazz, surf bands such as The Ventures and The Surfaris enjoyed the Fender Jazzmaster for its spangle, comfort, and bright (yet warmer than most) single coil pickups. More recently, indie rock has been key in boosting guitar’s popularity. These days the Fender Jazzmaster and its cheaper version, the Vintage Modified Squier are choice axes for a huge array of artists – from Slipknot to Sonic Youth.
The guitar is lauded for its floating tremolo, wide single coils, comfortable off-set waist body and separate lead and rhythm circuits. Highly customisable and iconic, some artists had their sound defined by Jazzmasters, other defined the sound of it. Here are nine artists and their interesting Jazzmaster experiences.
Perhaps the best-known user of the Jazzmaster is J Mascis. His band Dinosaur Jr features immense distortion and feedback, the guitarist getting a sound out of the instrument that people thought incongruous. He has said that it would be impossible to play Dinosaur Jr songs on another guitar live because of the way he wrote pieces with different pickup switching and the tremolo bridge.
J Mascis was such a token for the Jazzmaster sound and look that Fender created a bunch of signature guitars. These have high action, jumbo frets, and a tune-o-matic bridge, and comes in some interesting finishes, including a purple sparkle – truly a unique guitar for a definitive playing style.
Melbourne band Camp Cope’s front woman Georgia Maq runs one of the J Mascis Signature Jazzmasters, the aforementioned stand-out purple sparkle fitting with her fearless personality. She appreciates the Jazzmaster for its harmonic clarity, saying “I like the Jazzmaster because it sounds like a piano.”
She has changed up the wiring to fit her needs –– the neck pickup is wired straight to the jack with no volume and no tone. This simplicity lends itself to the band’s DIY sound, the bassist playing the melody while Maq’s Jazzmaster takes over the rhythm. Maq uses only one pedal, fully utilising the clean Jazzmaster sound.
Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo began with Fender’s Telecaster Deluxe and Jaguars. Then, after doing some shows with Dinosaur Jr, the Jazzmaster piqued his interest for its similarity to the Jag, yet he yearned for the longer scale. Of course, the best course was to make it his own, ripping out the circuitry, simplifying it, and adding humbucker pickups from a Telecaster Deluxe. This resulted in the what was known as the ‘Jazzblaster’, a Jazzmaster with some extra power and a unique look and sound.
Fender created a signature guitar for the band, not called ‘Jazzblaster’, but pretty close to Sonic Youth’s DIY concoction. Wide range humbuckers fatten out the sound, a Fender Mustang bridge solidifies the model, and the circuitry is simplified on the Lee Ranaldo Signature Jazzmaster.
Paramore’s Taylor York has customised his Fender Jazzmaster for his heavy touring schedule. The rhythm/lead circuit that draws many players to the Jazzmaster has been removed, replaced by the three-way pickup selector.
The jack has also been moved from the pickguard to the lower bout, all in attempt to streamline changes and allow for wild strumming on stage. A humbucker in the bridge and humbucker-sized P90 pickup in the neck beefs out the sound for Paramore’s hefty arena shows.
Robert Smith of The Cure has been known to play a plethora of guitars. But perhaps the most revered sound Smith achieved came from an altered 1965 Fender Jazzmaster. When recording The Cure’s first album, he brought in a cheap as chips Woolworth’s (as it was in the UK) electric guitar. He was forced to buy a new guitar by the producer, and to the chagrin of those who were paying for the recording, he added a middle pickup torn off the Woolworths guitar to his new Jazzmaster.
He reportedly used the guitar for The Cure’s first few albums Disintegration, Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography, colouring songs with atmosphere, emotional richness, and to quote Smith an ugliness that is “virtually unbearable.” Robert Smith says the guitar just sounds like he wants it to, the Jazzmaster an icon for the cult band.
Punk/new wave artist Elvis Costello first came across the Jazzmaster and thought it was a Strat someone had cut a piece out of. He had a play of it, thought “that’s way better than mine” and traded it in, never looking back. It was a battle; his first Jazzmaster had a furniture lacquer on it, and he needed to tape over the rolling lead circuit, but Costello still loved it.
The artist covets it for its ease of playing, as well as the floating tremolo, which give it that “spy movie” sound. Fender made a signature model in honour of Costello as one of the guitar’s most famous players, focusing more on the wood finish look than any major technical changes – though the tremolo is said to be more portable and stick out at an angle closer to a Bigsby style. It is as close to an American ‘62 Jazzmaster as you can get, a supposed replica of the model was used on Elvis Costello’s most famous recordings.
Jim Root tours a lot as the guitarist for Slipknot and Stonesour, and the Jazzmaster helps to accommodate this. Previously partial to Stratocasters, Root created a signature model with the goal of everything he loved about the Strat – such as the simpler electronics and the hard-tail bridge, with the comfort of a Jazzmaster.
The Jim Root Jazzmaster lacks most Jazzmaster-y things – the pickups are humbuckers, the body is more boxy and made of mahogany and the look is incredibly minimalist – but somehow retains the name through the iconic style and scale. The flat black satin finish, in the guitarist’s words, allows the player to wear down the Jazzmaster and let the guitar take on the player’s personality. For such a heavy and austere piece, that’s a beautiful concept.
Troy Van Leeuwun
Troy Van Leeuwun is best known for his involvement in the bands Queens of the Stone Age and A Perfect Circle, but as a session musician, he was involved in tracks from Korn, Limp Bizkit and Chelsea Wolfe. He uses many types of Jazzmasters – a black AVRI 62, an Aztec Gold AVRI 65, even a Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster.
Van Leeuwun also had a signature guitar made for him because of his ambassador status association with the sound. Notably it has a Fender Mustang bridge, vintage style frets, and an ox-blood finish with pearloid inlays, making for a steady and stylish aesthetic.
A purveyor of the American Professional Jazzmaster, Chelsea Wolfe claims that her circular, trance-like style is found in the comfort of the instrument. She feels that playing guitar is instinctual, and that “guitars have songs hidden inside them,” and you just have to coax them out.
Though she plays heavy and drives a lot of distortion through the Jazzmaster, she feels comfortable in playing repetitive and reactive pieces with the guitar. The offset of the Jazzmaster also draws her to it because of its ‘imperfect’ look. The resulting sound is a combination of the brightness of the Jazzmaster pulled through the dredges of her doom folk/metal sound.
There are many things that draw a player towards the Jazzmaster. There are countless stories of ripping out the electronics to simplify the guitar, or swapping out the pickups simply to get the sound and style out of a guitar that is comfortable and full of character.
If anything, these artists that have created a reciprocal relationship with the instrument. They’ve reshaped the Jazzmaster to suit their artistic needs and the guitar has responded by yielding its unique and authentic character in service of the music.