Fender’s offset legend was designed for versatility— with wide single-coil pickups, floating tremolo, and both a “lead” and “rhythm” circuit, this guitar’s endless tonal capabilities can be heard across a myriad of genres. In this first installment of this Jazzmaster series, we’ll discuss the history of the guitar and a few of its most notorious players. I’ve also included a Spotify playlist, featuring those classic Jazzmaster sounds, that I recommend listening to as you read along.
Fender first marketed the Jazzmaster to, you guessed it, the jazz guitarist. The offset body was originally conceived to accommodate a sitting musician. The new wider single coils, as opposed to the narrower incarnations in the Stratocaster or Telecaster, were designed for a mellow tone more conducive to jazz music; however, the guitar was quickly commandeered by a burgeoning scene of surf rock musicians, popularizing a reverb-drenched tone synonymous with the Jazzmaster and the 1960’s.
In the years since it’s early identity as a surf-rock guitar, the Jazzmaster has gone on to make defining impressions in country, rock, alternative, shoegaze, and indie music. While the offset body style being a token to instant hipster-aesthetic-sweetheart status, this guitar’s prolific resume is a testament to its infinite tonal capabilities— affording players a classic Fender tone with more room for customization, thanks to the separate lead and rhythm circuits. A few of the notable players, new and old, who’ve helped define the Jazzmaster’s legacy include:
Featured on the cover of his debut album, 1977’s My Aim is True, the Jazzmaster’s snappy single-coils created the tonal foundation under Costello’s encyclopedic lyrics. It’s important to discuss the “cool” factor in the Jazzmaster conversation, and to me, Elvis Costello has always exhibited such an indefinable level of “cool.” As a fan of his work, the visual appeal of the guitar itself coincides with the signature look of his early albums, and the guitar tone of tracks like “Alison” and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes,” create a monument in Jazzmaster history.
ESSENTIAL JAZZMASTER TRACKS: Besides the ones mentioned above, “Less Than Zero,” “Blame it on Cain.”
In a genre classically dominated by the twang of the Telecaster, Chris Stapleton’s signature reverb-drenched tone comes from a Jazzmaster and a Princeton Reverb. Featured below is Stapleton’s SNL performance, where you can hear an isolated example of the tone in the intro to “Midnight Train to Memphis.” He’s also juxtaposed to a Telecaster-playing Sturgill Simpson, who’s twangy leads compliment but don’t outshine the darker tone of Stapleton’s Jazzmaster.
Fender’s also released a Chris Stapleton signature ’65 Princeton Reverb, which you can find on our site here: https://www.alamomusic.com/fender-62-princeton-chris-stapleton-edition-120v/
ESSENTIAL JAZZMASTER TRACKS: “I Was Wrong,” “Second One to Know,” and “Hard Livin’.”
One of the most tasteful and virtuosic players I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing live, Nels Cline first made a name for himself as a solo artist before becoming the key to Wilco’s guitar sound in 2004. In a live setting, the guitarists of Wilco cycle through a large number of guitars and pedals— a highlight of the show, however, is when Nels brings out the 1959 Jazzmaster for “Impossible Germany.” My favorite live solos are the ones that combine what you know from the album version with live improvisation, and that’s what you get from Nels on this track— when he crescendos into the climax with Jeff Tweedy’s harmonized melody line, the solo seems as cathartic to me as the first time I heard it. Featured below is my favorite live rendition, performed on KCRW:
While the dedicated Nels fan might see my song choice as a bit pedestrian, I can guarantee any Wilco record you hear after 2007’s Sky Blue Sky, will feature a Nels Cline flourish, at the very least, and you will be thankful to hear it.
ESSENTIAL JAZZMASTER TRACKS: “Impossible Germany,” “Side with the Seeds,” “Ashes of American Flags” (The live version from Kicking Television).
To see our current available Jazzmasters, please visit: http://bit.ly/2ksphXM.
The three players mentioned above barely scratch the surface of the Jazzmaster’s history. Stay tuned for the next installment of the series where I’ll discuss more players and styles, as well as a more in depth look at the tonal capabilities of the guitar’s lead and rhythm circuits. If you’re interesting in playing or purchasing a Jazzmaster, visit our website or come into our store. Below, you'll find our Jazzmaster comparison video, featured on our YouTube channel.