The Jazzmaster of the Past…
Fender is one of the oldest and most popular manufacturers of musical instruments today. They helped usher solid body electric guitars into existence during the 1950s which has since become their most influential period. From 1950 through 1959 Fender released three core guitars that were each meant to be at the top of the line with each debut, including the Jazzmaster.
The Jazzmaster arrived in 1959 and was a radical departure from both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster which were already very successful. Originally this guitar was designed to entice jazz musicians who were not typically known for playing with solid body guitars. The offset shape of the guitar was designed to be exceptionally comfortable while playing sitting down and balances well when standing up. The bridge featured a new tremolo system that offered greater tuning stability with a bar that was easier to reach.
At the heart of the guitar were its electronics which featured large single coil pickups that were similar in appearance to Gibson P90s but had a different method of construction and their own distinct sound. Jazzmasters also featured a unique “rhythm circuit” that when engaged gave a slightly darker tone to the guitar’s neck pickup. The rhythm circuit also had separate volume and tone controls which could be used to dial in a “preset” tone on the fly.
By 1980 the guitars were gone, production ceased and discontinued. Thankfully the Jazzmaster did not stay discontinued for long as today they still offer it in a variety of configurations and price points.
Although the Jazzmaster never quite took off with its intended audience, it began to develop an underground following with guitarists who were attracted to its unique sound and aesthetics. During the 80s into the early 90s Jazzmasters could be found for lower prices than vintage strats and teles.
A lot of players in the emerging indie and alternative rock scene began to use Jazzmasters. There were a lot of popular mods that players used to make their guitars a little more suited to their own needs but one of the more popular ones was changing the pickups.
Although the original pickups were highly regarded for their tone, some players preferred humbuckers which handled the higher gain tones with less noise and gave the guitars a thicker more modern sound. With this in consideration Fender unveiled the Player Series Jazzmaster.
Introducing the Player Series Jazzmaster
Fender Player Series instruments are all made with pride in Ensenada, Mexico. The intent behind the series is to offer high quality affordable instruments that are built well enough to be enjoyed by players at all levels of ability. Overall the Player Series in general offers an excellent value for their relatively low cost when compared to Fender’s American-made instruments.
The Player Series Jazzmaster takes a modern approach while still offering a vintage inspired look and sound. The body keeps the original contours while the hardware gets a beefier bridge and set of tuners. Instead of the original single coil pickups, Fender provides a fantastic set of Alnico II humbucking pickups. The pickups have a nice amount of clarity with plenty of output to push a tube amp into overdrive. In lieu of a rhythm circuit you have the ability to split the coils via a push pull pot on the tone knob arguably making it the most versatile guitar in entire Player Series lineup.
With the push pull engaged I was able to capture that sweet single coil sound that made Fender famous in the first place, but with the humbuckers engaged I had no problem taking the same guitar to punk rock and even some rather extreme metal territories. It’s also worth noting that there is a hum canceling position available with using the guitar in its single coil mode.
The neck features a Pau Ferro fretboard which is currently a more sustainable alternative to rosewood. Pau Ferro has an appearance that is similar to rosewood but is a bit lighter in color ranging from reddish hues to deep chocolate brown. The grain tends to be a bit more intense/striking than rosewood. It is also less porous than rosewood and has a feel that is closer to ebony. Because the wood is less porous it does not need to be oiled as much or nearly as often, overall it requires little maintenance.
Previously, Pau Ferro fretboards were seen on the Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan signature model which was introduced in 1992 and it is nice to see Fender implementing a high quality wood with sustainability in mind on the Player Series guitars. The tremolo on the guitar is quite nice and holds up to extended use without slipping out of tune once it’s dialed in.
For this review I paired the guitar with Fender’s Bassbreaker 30R which, much like the Player Series Jazzmaster, is a versatile powerhouse of its own and one of Fender’s few High Gain options. Once I unzipped the gig bag I was in awe of just how cool the instrument looked. I felt as if it would look good on stage with just about any band regardless of genre.
One of the things that surprised me the most was how comfortable it was to play, and as a result I played it as often as I could have. For the price point, the pickups were among some of the best I have heard and I would likely not consider changing them for quite some time, if ever. I also found the sheer range of tonal options quite useful and inspiring which overall, made for a guitar that was very hard to put down.