In 2016, the Fender Jazzmaster is at an all time high in popularity. This beloved guitar didn’t start its life so revered, though. As the name entails, the Jazzmaster was originally designed as a guitar for the gigging jazz musician when it was introduced in 1958. With its contoured body that catered to a sitting performance, the groundbreaking vibrato design that, to this day, is still regarded as one of the best, and the added versatility of the rhythm circuit, on paper the Jazzmaster seemed perfect. Unfortunately it wasn’t accepted by the jazz community for the most part and largely failed in the Gibson ruled market.
The Jazzmaster soon found its home in other places, specifically within the surf rock scene that was blooming around the time of its introduction near Fender’s California factory. This model is still one of the most popular among that genre, but very quickly branched out and can now be seen being played in just about any musical situation. The Jazzmaster is famously used by members of Sonic Youth, Wilco, Radiohead, The Ventures, Elvis Costello, and Dinosaur Jr. among many others.
The signature Jazzmaster brightness and articulation is so iconic, but, mechanically, it’s one of the more misunderstood industry standard guitars. The pickups are often mistaken for the Gibson designed P90 when they in fact, not only sound totally different, but are also made from totally different components. The P90 pickup is wound on a single bar magnet with adjustable pole pieces in the form of screws, giving it that characteristic mid bite and higher output. With Jazzmaster pickups, the pole pieces themselves are magnetic and are directly wound on. While less so than the pickups, the rhythm section is often the source of confusion and is sometimes completely ignored. Through the use of non-standard value potentiometers and capacitors, the rhythm section cuts off the bridge pickup and makes the neck pickup sound significantly warmer and tamer. There's still the use of a tone and volume control like what's normally available, just in the form of the roller pots.
Due to the unpopularity of the rhythm circuit, it’s not uncommon to see players cut off the end of a pencil eraser and shove it in place above the switch to prevent it from being activated. This is an easy, cheap and reversible trick for those that dislike the rhythm circuit. Despite having one of the best vibrato systems ever designed, another common complaint comes from the stock saddles. With the stock saddles, most players, even those who aren’t particularly heavy handed, will knock the strings out of the saddles with just a few strums due to the high amount of shallow grooves . This is often times fixed by replacing the stock saddles with those from a Mustang because of the single, deeper groove. This isn’t always a perfect solution, but is a tried and true option that many players have been using for years.
Fender Mustang Bridge, left, Fender Jazzmaster bridge, right.
The Jazzmaster did get discontinued in 1980 due to dwindling popularity in the late 70’s, but was soon after reintroduced in 1984. It's been going strong ever since, and is currently one of the most popular guitars available. This is arguably the most beloved offset guitar of all time, and shouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon.