Fender introduced the Jazz Bass in 1960 as a “deluxe” model to augment the Precision Bass. Since its debut, the Jazz has stayed remarkably similar to its original design. There have, however, been many smaller changes over the years that are important not only to Fender Jazz bass history in general, but also as valuable year indicators for vintage Fender bass buffs.
The 1960 Fender Jazz Bass
The 1960 Fender Jazz Bass had two single-coil pickups with stacked knob concentric controls. The top knob would adjust the pickup volume, and the bottom knob would adjust the tone of that pickup.
The bridge was identical to the threaded saddle that was found on the Fender Precision Bass, but the mute system was more complicated. Instead of a simple foam strip glued under the bridge cover, the Jazz featured an individual mute for each string. The mute holders were screwed into the body and were hidden by the bridge cover.
The new, thin Jazz Bass neck, which was only 1 1/2″ at the nut, had a slab Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with “clay” dot position markers. It was rumored that Leo Fender used old floor tile material for the “clay” dots, but it’s generally believed now that it was a type of wood putty.
The Fender Jazz Bass Throughout the 1960s
By late 1961, Fender changed the stacked knob controls to a simpler three-knob design. The first two knobs controlled each pickup volume, and the smaller third knob served as a master tone. The individual mute system was also changed around this time to the more basic foam strip that was used on the Precision Bass.
Sometime in 1962, Fender changed the slab rosewood fingerboard to a radiused laminated rosewood board which was much thinner.
In 1964, Fender changed the clay dot markers to faux pearl dots. They also replaced the nitrocellulose pickguard with a vinyl one. Fender also moved the offset contour decal out to the ball end of the headstock around this time.
In 1965, Leo Fender sold his company to CBS. The era before this time is now known as the pre-CBS years by collectors, and it encompasses the most coveted of Fender’s instruments.
Binding is added to Fender Jazz necks in early 1966, and later that year “mother of pearl” block inlays are set into the rosewood fingerboards. These features are not added to Precision basses.
The smaller, thinner vintage frets are replaced with medium jumbo frets in mid ’66. Fender starts using its own tuning machines, known as “paddle” or “lollipop” tuners on the Jazz the same year. The tuners no longer turn backward for tuning up.
Fender starts offering maple cap fingerboards with black block inlays and black binding for Jazz Basses during the years of 1967-68, although they are quite rare. The following year, Fender switches from nitrocellulose finishes to polyurethane for the neck and body. The headstock face remains nitro due to chemical reactions with the decal. Also in 1969, Fender starts using a much larger logo on the headstock.
The Jazz Bass in the 1970s
In 1970, Fender replaces the threaded bridge barrels with single slotted versions. The bridge pickup is moved about 1/4″ back towards the bridge on the Jazz sometime in late 1970. This has a significant impact on the sound, giving the Jazz Basses of this era a tighter and brighter tone. This change lasts until about 1982.
Ash is used on all natural-finished bodies starting in 1970, and Fender starts offering one-piece maple necks for the Jazz bass in 1972.
Sometime in 1974, Fender moves the finger rest from under the G string to above the E string, turning it into a thumb rest. Black pickguards start to replace tortoise shell guards around this time as well. Maple fingerboards on the Jazz at this time feature pearl block inlays and white binding.
In 1975, Fender starts using three-bolt necks with bullet truss rods on all Jazz Basses. This feature is never used on Precision Basses.
The logo on the Jazz is made smaller in 1976, and the serial numbers are moved from the neck plate to the headstock. The offset contour decal is no longer used.
In 1977, Fender replaces the normal skirted control knobs with Stratocaster style knobs with numbers. This change lasts until about 1983.
The 80s and the Jazz Bass Reissue
In 1980, Fender started offering white covers for the pickups, and gold hardware was available on some models.
Fender introduced its vintage reissue series in 1982, offering a 1962 Jazz Bass model with classic design features, such as stacked knob controls, nitrocellulose finish, vintage-style tuners and bridge, and a slab rosewood fingerboard. The Precision Bass models are available in ’57 and ’62 models.
As you can see, Fender Jazz Bass history is full of small adjustments that the company made to the instrument over the years. Some Jazz Bass collectors love the changes, while others don’t. Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite Jazz Bass year and why.