50 years of nonstop rockin’ and more on its game than ever
It feels a bit strange to be reviewing the Fender Jazz Bass. Most products I review are new and I give readers a first heads-up about them. The J Bass is the polar opposite. It has been around for 50 years, and virtually all bass players are fully familiar with its charms.
It has been and still is Fender’s best-selling bass. It was Leo Fender’s second design, and improved upon his first, the Precision Bass, with a more contoured body, a slimmer neck, and two separated pickups with independent volumes. Where the P Bass did one thing really well, the Jazz was more tonally versatile. Jazz, funk, blues, rock, reggae, country, Latin—players of all stripes have found the Fender J Bass suitable for their music. I’m one of them. My decades-old Jazz has long been my main axe, maintaining that position against all newcomers. The places where my arm and thumb have worn away the finish and polished the alder make it all the better. It wears its wear proudly.
There’s not much I can say about the Fender Jazz Bass that most bassists don’t already know, and to praise its virtues would be preaching to the choir. What I can do is give you an update on how the current-day American Standard Jazz Basses are living up to the J Bass legend. I was curious myself. I had MF send me one straight off the warehouse shelf—a sunburst just like the old one I play. Would it be better, the same, or not as nifty as my vintage warrior?
Taking it out of the case was a hit. It was my axe except beautifully new. The chrome hardware gleamed. The finish was flawless. My first impression was that it was a dead ringer for mine when it was new. On closer inspection I began to see subtle differences, changes that modernize and improve the bass’ playability without altering its essential Jazz Bass character. The upshot was that I found the current-day American Standard Jazz Bass to be a much better axe—more resonant, easier to play, easier to tune, and quieter.
It’s not that surprising that the new J Bass is better. After 50 years or so, Fender has refined the process to perfection. Also, modern computer-controlled woodworking machinery is so much more precise and uniform that all the parts are perfect in shape and fit. In the old days, when buying any bass you would try out as many as you could to find the sweet one. These days, it’s easy to find sweet ones because of greater consistency in the manufacturing process.
A nicer neck
There are more specific improvements that Fender has made. The neck, for example, has been significantly upgraded. The finish on the back has been given a satin treatment that is slicker to allow your thumbs to slide more freely. On the older Fender basses it was a thicker finish that tended to resist easy thumb movement.
Other neck improvements that have been made over the years include graphite reinforcement, which gives the neck added strength. Another is an improved neck pocket with 30% less body paint in it resulting in a tighter fit that gives the instrument more resonance. What really impressed me was the neck’s broken-in feel. One doesn’t expect that in a spanking new axe. The frets have been fully worked and the edges of the fretboard rounded to give it a worn-in feel the first time you play it.
An especially important upgrade has to do with the bridge. On the old Fenders, the bridge was the one component most often changed. Players often swapped out the stock unit for a heftier bridge from DiMarzio or BadAss that was more stable and transferred more vibrations. The new bridge is heftier and eliminates the need for alteration. It has a 12-gauge rolled steel plate, machined brass backstop, and more precisely machined intonation screws. It holds settings better and especially enhances the instrument's high end.
The tuners retain the original key-style, open-gear design, and have the same 20:1 ratio, but they are simply machined to tighter tolerances to make them smoother and easier to control. It’s not fair, of course, to compare them to tuners on a vintage Jazz with years of wear on them, but they are also 30% lighter than the original tuners, which improves the overall balance of the Fender bass.
The case of the case
One thing that is radically new is the Jazz Bass case. It’s a rectangular case made by SKB exclusively for the Fender Jazz and is stronger and offers greater protection than the vintage wooden case. Its new-design latches are easy to open and close, and stay latched more securely. The case also can be locked for added security and the locking mechanisms are ATA approved. It’s lighter than the old-style cases and a better design for touring.
All-in-all, I’m not ready to turn in my old Jazz Bass for a new one. The times we have spent together have instilled loyalty and it still is a great axe. For those of you looking to buy a bass, the new ones have all the Jazz vibe you could ask for and are really well made instruments that, if anything, have an edge over their vintage counterparts. You can’t go wrong with a new American Standard Jazz Bass from Fender.
Features & Specs
- Alder body
- Graphite-reinforced neck with modern C shape and satin polyurethane finish
- Rosewood or maple fingerboard with rolled edges
- 20 medium jumbo frets
- Fender/Hipshot pen-back cast machine heads
- 2 U.S. Jazz Bass single-coil pickups
- 3-ply pickguard
- Volume/volume/master tone controls
- HMV Bridge (high mass vintage)
- Chrome hardware
- Thinner undercoat
- Improved neck pocket
- New-design lockable hardshell case
- Available in fretless, 5-string, and left-handed versions