Fender’s Jazz bass guitar hits 50

Fender.com has a great article celebrating the 50th anniversary of their Jazz Bass Guitar.

It’s a great read, taking us back to the birth of rock n’ roll in the fifties. I’ve summarized some of it here, with my own comments.

The Precision Bass first appeared in 1951. The world’s first commercially successful solid-body electric bass guitar, that delivered three things; ease of use, precise intonation (hence the name) and a loud, booming sound that unwieldy acoustic basses simply weren’t capable of matching.

The Fender Jazz Bass was introduced in 1960. A deluxe bass guitar, the first production Jazz Bass was built in March 1960. In Fender’s summer price list that year, it was listed at $279.50 for a sunburst-finish model. It had two pickups instead of one, giving it a tonal versatility not found in the Precision. The Jazz’s neck pickup contributed the sort of warmth and fullness typical of a Precision. It’s secret weapon, however, was its bridge pickup, which produced a guttural midrange growl and a clear, trebly high end new at the time to the Fender bass sound.

Since the original Jazz Bass guitars had volume and tone controls for both pickups (in a short-lived dual stacked-knob configuration), the tonal personalities of both pickups could be blended many different ways. You didn’t just get one sound with a Jazz Bass; you got an entire palette of pleasing bass sounds, something new in the still-young electric bass experience.

Two big design differences set the Jazz Bass apart from it’s older brother, the Precision.

Most apparent was a feature borrowed from the Jazzmaster guitar; an offset waist, that conveyed a sleeker and sexier look to the Jazz Bass. This Fender innovation came from the practical consideration that the offset waist made the instrument more comfortable to play when seated, as most “serious” players of the time often were. This made the Jazz Bass slightly larger (46 ¼” long, 14” wide) and slightly heavier then the Precision (45 ¾” long, 13” wide,) so there was slightly more body mass to contribute to the tone.

The other major design departure of the Jazz Bass, and the biggest in terms of its feel, was its neck, which was noticeably more narrow at the nut; a slim 1 7/16″ compared to the Precision’s hefty 1 ¾” and thinner front-to-back. This felt substantially different from the Precision’s great tree trunk of a neck, and guitarists who were converting to bass in increasing numbers during that era found the Jazz Bass’s slender neck more user-friendly, especially when it came to playing faster, more intricate passages.

Fender started revising and improving the Jazz Bass almost immediately. Within a year of its release, it was offered in 14 custom colors. The biggest early design change came in December 1961, when Fender dispensed with the two stacked control knobs and reverted to the three-control layout of the 1959 prototype (volume-volume-master tone.) Stack-knob Jazz basses continued to be produced, however, well into 1962 as parts were used up.

Popular bassists known for their work with a Fender Jazz Bass, most of whom have their own signature models endorsed by Fender…
Geddy Lee of Rush
Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane
Noel Redding – Jimi Hendrix Experience
Greg Lake – Emerson, Lake & Palmer
John Paul Jones – Led Zeppelin
Sting – The Police
Larry Graham – Sly & the Family Stone
Timothy B. Schmit – The Eagles
Jaco Pastorius – Weather Report
Adam Clayton – U2

Fender Guitars has created a beautiful limited edition 50th anniversary model, featuring an alder body finished in a Candy Apple Red nitrocellulose lacquer, with design elements from several periods in the instrument’s history, including a 60’s-era lacquer finish, headstock logo, chrome bridge and pickup covers, a 70’s-era thumb rest and bridge pickup positioning, plus modern-era high-mass bridge and Posiflex graphite neck support rods.

Friday, May 21st, 2010
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Posted in Classic Rock, Guitars, Jazz, Pop, Rock & Roll, Soul

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