By Dave Eichenberger
Wow, that is quite the title, isn’t it? We here at Seymour Duncan are passionate about our bass pickups, and we have several of them ready to transform your Jazz Bass into everything from a vintage tone machine to a savage beast. While the Precision Bass might get more of the spotlight on heavier rock stages, there has never been a better reason to investigate the different sounds available on Fender’s younger design. Certainly, it is good for jazz, but it doesn’t mean that is all it can be used for. This article will provide a little history of the Jazz Bass, have a look at why it is different than its older sister, the P-bass, and show you the path to getting the sounds from in your head to out of the Jazz Bass in this pickup roundup.
It was a different time…
The origins of the Jazz Bass started at the end of 1950’s, when Leo Fender decided that the Precision bass (introduced in 1951) needed an upscale model much like the Stratocaster was seen as an ‘upscale’ version of the Telecaster (at the time). Leo developed the familiar Jazz Bass pickup, the offset body, the thinner neck, and concentric pots. These pots were later traded in for the familiar volume knobs for each pickup, and a master tone control.
Compared to the Precision (as the first real electric bass guitar, was so named because the frets provided precision tuning), the Jazz had a narrower nut, and an offset style to balance its heavier body better. This made the Jazz bass easier to play, and harder to lean up against a desk. Since just after the introduction, the Jazz introduced its most common electronic configuration: a volume knob for each pickup, with a master tone knob.
Line ‘Em Up
The Jazz also sounded different than the Precision bass. While the deep, thuddy tones of the Precision were a hit for those trying to mimic an upright, the Jazz Bass had a brighter sound, with higher harmonics present designed to blend better with Leo’s bright-sounding guitar line.
Apollo Jazz Bass
One of the complaints about traditional single coil pickups is that they are susceptible to noise at high volumes or in areas with high electrical interference. The new Apollo Jazz Bass Set is designed to eliminate that by having two coils side-by-side under a regular Jazz bass pickup cover. This effectively makes each pickup a humbucker, which cancels out the hum even when you have one pickup’s volume on zero. The Apollo’s tone has even treble and bass, and is slightly scooped in the middle, like a traditional Jazz bass pickup. It is available in separate bridge and neck models, and can even be ordered for two different 5-string spacings: 67/70mm and 70/74mm. All Apollo models restore articulation and punch missing from traditional J-Bass pickups.
Quarter Pound Jazz
Designed to give your stock Jazz a kick in the pants, the Quarter Pounds add output and expanded bass response so that your Jazz approaches active basses in output, and the Precision in tone. Notes jump out of the Quarter Pounds, and they come in calibrated neck and bridge models. The neck version is RW/RP for noise-cancelling when both pickups are used together, too. They are available in a 5-string set too, although with their extra-large poles, they don’t require two different string spacings. And for those who can’t make up their minds, we offer them in a P-J configuration, too.
Vintage & Hot Jazz
If you love the sound of a traditional Jazz bass (and who doesn’t), we have several options. The Vintage Jazz Bass pickups are made to sound like the original Jazz bass pickups in the earliest instruments. Available in both neck and bridge models, you get hum-free operation when both pickups are used together. If you would like a hotter mid-focused pickup for better balance and punchier tone, we make the Hot Jazz bridge and neck just for you.
Classic & Hot Stack
If you like the vintage sound with a little more output, a little more bass, and dead quiet performance, the Classic Stack neck and bridge pickups provide a classic sound for modern instruments. The bridge pickup is slightly louder to balance better, and slightly wider to fit perfectly in modern American Fenders. Five string players aren’t left out either, as they have a special blade version of these Stack pickups for the neck and bridge of their instruments. If you like loads of output, and balanced EQ, check out the Hot Stacks. Also available in neck and bridge models, they give you all the power without the noise.
Antiquity I & II
The Antiquity Jazz pickups are built to replicate the earliest Jazz pickups in sound as well as looks. Put it this way: if you happen to have an early ‘60s Jazz bass in the attic, you might have a hard time hearing and seeing the difference between your stock Fender pickup and our Antiquity neck and bridge models. In the early 1960s, the Jazz bass was new, and the Antiquities capture the sound and look of a bass that is almost 60 years old. For those into the sounds of the late 1960s, the Antiquity II neck and bridge models replicate the sound of that era, and the slight change in tone of Jazz pickups of that era. All Antiquities are handmade in our Custom Shop, with the same materials used in vintage pickups.
While we make many different Jazz bass models, what you create with them is up to you. Just when you think no one could play bass like Jack Bruce, Jaco came along. When everyone thought no one could play like Jaco, Victor Wooten came along. Who will be the next generation’s bass virtuosos? Have great rhythm, big ears, and a wonderful tone, and it might just be you.
Who are your favorite Jazz Bass players? Do you have a favorite bass solo?