Fender Jazzmasters started their comeback in the 1990’s, but recently, they’ve really come back with lots of models and different series brought out by Fender and Squier. Some of these different models have the 1950’s or 1960’s look of the original models, but the Jazzmaster is popular enough to have very modern-looking models as well. All these different Jazzmasters come from several countries of manufacture — including the USA, Mexico, Japan, and so on. Aside from the price differences and the Fender or Squier brands on the headstock, what’s the difference?
To start with, the American-made models are still the flagship models of the line. These include true reissue Jazzmasters, signature models, Custom Shop, and the cheapest one of the bunch, a now-discontinued American Special model that trades the tremolo for a Gibson-style stop tailpiece and stacked humbuckers in a Jazzmaster pickup shell.
The Japanese Fender models are reissue styled, and tend to be second to the American models in terms of price. If you’re really on a budget, you’re left with the Squiers and some of the made-in-Mexico models, and these are what I’m going to focus on here.
These import Fender-branded Jazzmasters from the last few years have come from series like Classic Series (including Road Worn), Classic Player, Blacktop, Standard Series, or the made-in-China Modern Player. The Classic Series guitars also have a decade as part of the model name, and are the most traditional with the biggest price tags. Classic Player Jazzmasters may look vintage, but Fender has made sure to say they’re not reissues. One odd difference is the pickups in the CP Jazzmasters have adjustable polepieces, like Gibson-style P-90’s, and I understand that their tone is much the same too–hotter with more midrange. The standard bridge has also been replaced with a Gibson-style “Adjustomatic.”
The Blacktop and now Standard Series Jazzmasters have black pickguards/plastic parts and humbucking bridge pickups. The rhythm circuit of traditional Jazzmasters (roller knobs above the neck pickup) is also gone. This picture is a Blacktop Jazzmaster with a replacement tortoiseshell pickguard and two white Jazzmaster pickups, and you can see that the cutouts for the rhythm circuit hold no knobs. Otherwise, they have the traditional tremolo and bridge, and color choices are less retro and more modern.
Although the Modern Player series have been discontinued, you might still see one of the Jazzmasters on the used market. Like the name would suggest, these had two humbuckers, no rhythm circuit, non-traditional bridge, and a maple fretboard as an option.
In the Squier corner, the Vintage Modified series and the J. Mascis signature model have been available for some time now. More recently, Squier introduced Affinity series versions as the lowest-cost Jazzmasters, and rolled out the Deluxe Jazzmaster. The VM series Jazzmasters are made in Indonesia and are similar in concept to the reissues, complete with 60’s-approved color choices and pickguards, tremolos with traditional bridges, and Duncan Designed Jazzmaster pickups (which showed up as neck pickups on the Mexico-made Blacktop models).
There is a VM Special model which goes for more of a mid-50’s-inspired look with a maple fretboard and two-tone finish, as well as an odd non-tremolo bridge that seems to be unpopular with its owners. The J. Mascis Jazzmaster is available in white only, and has a gold-colored aluminum pickguard, tremolo, and a Gibson-style bridge to go with P-90-voiced pickups like the Classic Player series. The Deluxe Jazzmaster takes the same specs, but changes the color scheme to Candy Apple Red with black pickup covers.
If you’re on a budget, you might not be considering buying a hardshell case for your Jazzmaster. If so, one gig bag to fit Jazzmasters (typical Strat or Tele-sized bags are too small) is the Stagg Universal gig bag STB-10UE.
In the next post, I’ll go into detail on the similar Jaguar guitars. Like the Jazzmaster, Jaguars have gone through a lot of changes since first appearing in 1962. Recent Jaguars and similar models now have options like P-90’s, humbuckers and a variety of bridges. There’s also the Mustang, a small-bodied, short-scale member of the offset family that’s more popular than ever.