Fender American Professional Jazzmaster
By Phil O'Keefe |
Fender American Professional Jazzmaster
An American original returns in updated form
by Phil O'Keefe
The Fender Jazzmaster has a long and somewhat storied history. This model, which was the top-of-the-line Fender when it was introduced in 1958, was designed by Leo Fender as an instrument for Jazz guitarists, but it never made many inroads there. Instead, it saw initial popularity with Surf musicians, and later still (after it was discontinued in 1980) it became a popular choice among New Wave and Alternative players. While it's been in and out of the lineup in various guises since then (including everything from vintage reissues to Custom Shop creations to affordable Squier versions), it hasn't returned as a part of Fender's American-built "standard" lineup - until now. That's right, the American Jazzmaster is back as part of Fender's revamped American Professional Series. Let's see what Fender has changed - and what the've retained.
- Outside of Custom Shop versions, vintage reissues and signature models, standard production American-built Jazzmasters have been out of the Fender lineup since 1980; which coincidentally was just as they were about to see a resurgence in visibility and popularity due to their use by New Wave (Elvis Costello, Ric Ocasek) and Alternative (Kevin Shields, J Mascis, Thurston Moore, Lee Renaldo, Nels Cline) musicians in the 1980s and 1990s.
- The Fender American Professional Jazzmaster retains many of the classic design elements of the originals, but has several changes and updates too. The alder body has the same "offset waist" design that the original Jazzmaster launched with back in 1958, with the waist of the guitar being closer to the neck on the bass side, and set back more on the treble side of the body. This helps to make it a very comfortable guitar to play while seated.
- Playing comfort is made even better with the inclusion of the classic forearm and tummy body contours on the front and back of the body, respectively.
- The body comes in your choice of four colors - Sonic Gray, Three Color Sunburst, Olympic White or Mystic Seafoam, which is the color of the guitar I was sent for review. I'm a longtime fan of Fender's vintage seafoam green color, and this new color is similar, but a bit different. It's a metallic color, so it has some sparkle to it, and it's a bit brighter and even flashier-looking than regular seafoam. It's a beautiful color that I like quite a bit.
- With the exception of the Olympic White model (which has a black pickguard) all models come with a mint or parchment shaded pickguard / scratch plate.
- The American Professional Jazzmaster sticks with the 25.5" scale length of the original Jazzmasters.
- The neck is maple, and is finished in a satin urethane on the back and gloss urethane on the front, which I think is kind of a "best of both worlds" approach - it looks nice and glossy from the front, but feels much smoother on the back, improving the playing feel.
- The neck width is 1.685" at the nut. There are 22 Narrow Tall frets which are well-polished and seated. There are no distracting sharp edges to annoy you. The body end of the fingerboard has a small "overhang" to make room for the extra fret - vintage Jazzmasters have only 21.
- The neck pocket is nice and tight on both sides, without any significant gaps. The entire guitar was set up well out of the case, requiring only minor tuning adjustments.
- The neck has what Fender calls a Modern "Deep C" profile. It's a bit meatier in the shoulders, and a bit thicker from front to back than some of their previous models. It's not likely to be your favorite neck if you have small hands (like me), but those with regular-sized mitts should find it plenty comfortable.
- Neck thickness is 0.860" at the first fret according to my digital calipers.
- The maple fingerboard has a 9.5" radius. Flatter than the original's 7.25" radius, it makes note bends much easier on the newer models, with less risk of fretting out. Black dots on the fingerboard as well as on the side of the neck help you keep track of where you're at as you're playing.
- The headstock is adorned with a fairly traditional looking Jazzmaster decal. A single string tree helps keep the high E and B strings in place. The American Professional Jazzmaster comes equipped with a bone nut.
- On the back side of the headstock you'll find a set of Fender's Standard Cast / Sealed staggered tuning machines. These are as smooth and reliable as the last time I used them - they're very good machines with a 14:1 gear ratio.
- The neck is equipped with a Bi-Flex (™) truss rod with a 1/8" American Series nut, which can be adjusted at the headstock, making it much easier to do than when the adjustment is located at the other end. The truss rod is installed from the back of the neck, so there's a "skunk stripe" on the back.
- The neck attaches with four bolts, and the plate is marked in a manner that leaves no doubt that this guitar originated in Corona California. Fender also included a Micro-Tilt adjustment, which means there's no need for neck shims, so setups are greatly simplified.
- There have been some changes made to the electronics. For starters, the upper-horn "rhythm circuit" switch and flush mounted wheel-style secondary volume and tone controls have all been eliminated, making it a simpler and more straightforward guitar to use.
- You still get the standard master volume and tone controls, and they're still located in the traditional positions. These use high-quality 500k CTS pots and and come equipped with cool looking white "witch hat" knobs.
- A treble bleed circuit has been added to the volume control, which helps prevent the tone from changing and darkening as you turn down the knob.
- The two single coil Jazzmaster pickups have been redesigned by Fender engineer Michael Frank. Fender calls them V-Mod Jazzmaster pickups. They're a bit overwound and hotter than your typical vintage Jazzmaster, with a slightly fuller tone that beats any vintage Jazzmaster that I've ever heard. But just because they're overwound don't be mistaken - they don't sound "dark" at all. In fact, they're plenty bright, with a poppy sounding attack that really stands out in a busy mix.
- The three-way toggle switch for pickup selection is still here, but it's been relocated to the upper horn where the rhythm circuit would normally be found on a vintage Jazzmaster. I really like this placement, and I found I was much less likely to accidentally hit it in the new location.
- There are some notable differences in the hardware department too. The Fender-branded floating "tremolo" (vibrato) has the traditional locking mechanism, but the tremolo arm now screws in like a Strat's, which I personally prefer.
- Fans of playing behind the bridge will be happy to note that the vibrato plate is in the traditional position, and hasn't been moved forward like it is on the Classic Player Jazzmaster.
- The original threaded bridge saddles have always been one of the weaker areas of the original Jazzmaster design, and one that Fender has thankfully addressed with the new American Professional Jazzmaster. Instead of saddles with two individually adjustable allen screws (which can tend to vibrate out of position, leading to unwanted buzzing and rattles) Fender is using Mustang-style saddles. These are rattle-free and result in much better sustain, and because their string slots are deeper and better defined, they also keep the strings in place much better, without the tendency for them to "pop out of place" like they sometimes do when you play a vintage Jazzmaster with a bit too much enthusiasm.
- Fender includes a really nice form-fitting heavy-duty molded case with the American Professional Jazzmaster.
- The rosewood fingerboard option is more expensive, adding about $50 to the guitar's price tag. Furthermore, it doesn't appear to be an option that's available with all the available colors - currently it's the only choice available on the Sunburst and Sonic Gray colors, with maple boards being exclusive to the other two colors. Rosewood has always been the more commonly used fingerboard wood on Jazzmasters, with maple being much rarer, so it's good to see maple being offered for a change.
- Those who like to use the original Jazzmaster's extra "rhythm circuit" controls (which were mounted on the the pickguard in the upper horn) will no doubt be disappointed to see them gone, but to be fair, they make using the guitar a bit more complicated, and many players never bother to use them.
- Players with smaller-than-average hands may find the new neck profile uncomfortable and fatiguing to play for long periods of time.
In a lot of ways Fender has refined the traditional Jazzmaster and made it more appealing to modern players. The new fingerboard radius, along with the taller frets, certainly make it a much easier guitar to solo and bend strings on, and most of the types of mods that many players feel are necessary on earlier Jazzmasters have already been done for you. The Mustang-style saddles alone make the guitar much more playable and stable - Jazzmaster players won't have to keep a bottle of blue Loctite around anymore to prevent rattles, and any worries about the strings getting knocked out of place are gone now too.
The new V-Mod pickups are the best-sounding stock pickups of any Jazzmaster to date. Unlike some of the pickups found in Jazzmasters manufactured overseas (which are really Strat pickups hidden in Jazzmaster housings), they're "real" Jazzmaster pickups, only better. I'm sure Fender will get a lot of kudos for them - I can imagine there will be many players who will want to install a set in their older Jazzmasters.
Some players may take issue with some of Fender's decisions here or there - traditionalists will lament the loss of the rhythm circuit controls and some players may even dislike the flatter fretboard radius or taller frets. Some players with smaller hands will probably not dig the larger profile of the Deep C neck either, but I suspect the majority of players will see most of these changes as improvements and not flaws. Ultimately though, the only way to know if this guitar is right for you is to visit a Fender dealer and give one a try.
The new American Professional Jazzmaster is probably the most stable and solid-feeling Jazzmaster yet, and with the new pickups, it sounds great too. It's definitely a guitar that will appeal to a lot of today's players. It's great to see Fender bringing such a classic guitar back to their American Professional lineup in such improved form. -HC-
Have questions about the Fender American Professional Jazzmaster, or comments about the review? Then check out this thread in the Electric Guitar Forum and join the discussion!
Fender American Professional Jazzmaster ($1,499.00 MSRP / "street", $1,549.99 MSRP / "street" for the rosewood fingerboard-equipped version)
Fender's product web page
You can purchase the Fender American Professional Jazzmaster from:
Maple Fingerboard version:
Rosewood fingerboard version:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.