The best Fender Jazzmaster players you need to hear

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The best Fender Jazzmaster players you need to hear

fender jazzmaster players
Words by Peter Hodgson

Fender Jazzmaster players who are doing something totally different with the offset model

The Fender Jazzmaster may have ‘jazz’ in its name but this highly venerated offset solid body electric guitar is the preferred weapon of a huge range of guitarists from blues to indie to metal – but surprisingly few jazz guitarists. Maybe it just looks too cool: the asymmetrical body shape shape seemed to suggest movement and energy at a time when jazz players were wrapping their arms around gigantic hollow bodies, resulting in fewer Fender Jazzmaster players than perhaps initially hoped.

Fender Jazzmaster

When the Jazzmaster was released in 1958 it seemed particularly futuristic, with a new tremolo bar design and a complex control system which gave players access to separate lead and rhythm circuits with independent volume and tone controls in addition to the regular master volume, tone, and pickup selector layout. The rhythm mode engages the neck pickup alone, along with a slight treble rolloff and its own volume and tone thumbwheels. It’s an elegant solution when you’ve figured out how to use it, but it must have seemed a little daunting to players of the time.

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From a distance the Jazzmaster looks a lot like the Jaguar (1962), but in addition to having different pickups, the Jag has a shorter 24” scale length compared to the Jazzmaster’s 25.5”, and a more complex control system which adds individual pickup on/off switches and a selectable high-pass filter (nicknamed the Strangle switch).

The Jazzmaster has been the weapon of choice for a huge variety of players including Tom Verlane of Television, Elvis Costello, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Steve Drozd, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Wilco’s Nels Cline, and many, many more – including the following Fender Jazzmaster players, each of whom coaxes something totally different out of the model.

Kevin Shields

My Bloody Valentine mastermind Kevin Shields has been honoured with his own signature Jazzmaster which pays tribute to his iconoclastic use of the instrument in an indie context on the albums Say Anything (1988) and Loveless (1991).

One of Shields’ innovations was to cradle the Jazzmaster’s oversized tremolo arm in his hand while layering rhythm guitar tracks, introducing a slightly seasick wavering quality to his lush soundscapes.

Witness the psychedelic majesty of “Only Shallow” from Loveless:

J Mascis Jazzmaster

Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis was forging his own path on a Fender Jazzmaster while Kevin Shields was doing his thing over the pond.

Mascis is a true guitar hero in a musical sense – hugely identifiable style, over-the-top lead lines that would make any shredder jealous – but he has no interest in the trappings of guitar stardom as we typically think of it. A lead guitar god with humility? Who does that?!?

Mascis has his own signature Jazzmaster models through Fender and Squier.

Here’s J talking about his beloved Jazzer.

Jim Root Jazzmaster

Slipknot (and former Stone Sour) guitarist Jim Root has a knack for selecting classic designs and updating them to a metal context. His signature Telecasters turn that design from a country plucker to a scary fucker with the addition of EMG pickups and a deadly black-and-white colour scheme, and his Stratocaster is equally brutal.

But his Jazzmaster model really turned heads when he appeared onstage playing a prototype. Stripped back to just a volume control, a pickup selector, and a pair of active EMG humbuckers, Root’s model takes advantage of the design’s stage-friendly body shape but strips away any potential for a mis-hit switch – and eschews the tremolo system entirely in favour of a hardtail design.

Here’s Root talking with Matt Sweeney about his Jazzmaster:

Paul Dempsey

Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey has played a pretty big range of guitars over the years (and recently started plucking a Stratocaster after years of tending away from that model).

But he is often seem with a Jazzmaster in hand, and has recently taken to using the Fender American Acoustasonic Jazzmaster, a hybrid instrument which offers electric and acoustic sounds, and an extremely comfortable neck that allows acoustic players to experience a more electric-like playing experience at the same time the electronics give electric players access to acoustic tones.

Here’s Dempsey performing Situation Room from the latest Something For Kate album, The Modern Medieval, on his Acoustasonic Jazzmaster

Georgia Maq

Camp Cope’s frontwoman Georgia Mac is one of many, many players who use a J Mascis signature Jazzmaster, appreciating the guitar’s piano-like sonic clarity.

It’s something you’ll notice the second you plug a Jazzmaster in: every note in a chord speaks clearly whether you’re playing clean, fuzzed out, or in-between. In fact, it’s those in-between, clean-but-dirty tones that really seem to represent the best of what a Jazzmaster does (and maybe why jazz players didn’t quite connect with the instrument).

Maq’s Jazzmaster is modded to send the neck pickup directly to the output jack, bypassing the rest of the controls and the neck pickup entirely.

Here’s some live Camp Cope for ya.

Head to Fender for more on the Jazzmaster range.