Jazz Bass vs Precision Bass: The Ultimate Fender Fight

Probably one of the most argued and passionate dilemmas in bass history centers around the Fender Jazz Bass vs Precision Bass debate. For many bass players, once you decide on a Fender, the decision over which axe to choose, the Fender Jazz or the Fender Precision, is one that takes much thought and consideration.

Both instruments are legends in the music world. Over the years, musical legends themselves have created their specific sound playing these amazing instruments. And, both basses have been time-tested to the nth degree.

The Jazz and the P Bass are both used by amateurs and pros alike. And, for a lot of people, myself included, the decision is so difficult that you have to have both. However, many bass players, especially beginners, can only afford to choose one. And, we get it, the choice is not easy.

When I first started playing bass, I bought a Fender Jazz partly because I liked the name if I’m honest. But, the real reason I went with a Jazz in the beginning, was mainly for the thin neck. It felt so good in my hands that it ended up as my main bass for several years. Eventually, though, I did develop a really strong desire to own a P-Bass, and that started my flip-flop affair between these two basses.

The Jazz Bass

The Fender Jazz Bass, to me, is probably the most versatile bass in history. I’ve always loved its sweet, focused tone and narrow, fast neck. With two single-coil pickups, you have a myriad of possible tones right underneath your fingers. Even small adjustments with either knob can give you vastly different sounds.

This versatility is probably the main reason that the Jazz can do pretty much any style of music…whether it’s hard rock, mellow folk, laid-back reggae, or funky R&B. Plus, there are many bassists who think that the Jazz bass has the best slap tone of all time.

The Jazz Bass Early Days

Introduced in 1960 by Fender, the Jazz was conceived as a deluxe model that would be easier to play and brighter sounding than the Precision bass. Leo Fender hoped that the bass would appeal mostly to guitarists that doubled on electric bass when necessary. The name was borrowed from the recently released Jazzmaster guitar, which had a similar body shape.

Although it was always less popular than the Precision throughout the 1960s, the Jazz became a favorite during the 1970s when the musical climate turned a very seriously funky corner. During this time, the bass sound took a greater up-front role. The Fender Jazz Bass became a funk machine, especially the 70s models. These models had the back pickup closer to the bridge, giving a more trebly, cutting tone.

Countless notable bassists have used the Jazz, including John Paul Jones, Larry Graham, Geddy Lee, Aston Barrett, Marcus Miller, and of course, Jaco Pastorius. It’s a classic bass for a reason. It has great tone, amazing playability, and its versatility can not be beat. Not to mention that the Jazz is durable as heck.

When I hold a J-Bass, I feel like I can play almost anything. Even though I string mine with flatwounds, it still has that snap and growl that’s made it so popular. Truly a great bass, the Fender Jazz will most certainly be a favorite of bass players for generations to come.

The Fender P Bass

Leo Fender introduced the Precision Bass in 1951, and it literally changed music forever. The original version had one single-coil pickup and a slab body. But, over the years it had evolved quite a bit. By 1957, the P-Bass reached its final version. A split-coil hum-bucking pickup, contour body shape, and larger headstock.

The Precision has a deep, warm tone with a strong mid-range presence. It is without a doubt the most played electric bass in history and probably the most copied design too.

When I first got my Fender P-Bass I was blown away by its strong “in your face” tone. Being more familiar with Jazzes it was sort of a revelation to play a bass with only one pickup. I loved the simplicity and directness of the bass. I was also surprised by its versatility, especially the tone knob which has an enormous effect on the sound of the bass.

Where the Precision Bass Shines

The Precision just seems to sit perfectly in a mix. Although it may not be as pretty sounding as a Jazz on its own, in a band setting it really shines. It fills in a lot of sonic space and doesn’t clash with guitars and drum tones. It’s no wonder that it’s been the favorite bass of so many record producers all these years.

My P-bass did take a couple of months to get used to. Eventually, though, I fell in love with my Precision’s wide C-shaped neck, which I now find very comfortable. I also think the extra wood adds to its powerful tone. I now feel that I can play almost any style with my P-Bass. Also, it’s so reliable and sturdy that I have no worries about anything going wrong.

And now, Jazz Bass vs Precision Bass for me just means, “Which bass am I grabbing tonight?”

The list of famous bass players who have used the Precision Bass is almost endless. The great Motown legend James Jamerson, who called his 62 P-Bass “the funk machine,” Donald “Duck” Dunn, Carol Kaye, Pino Palladino, Steve Harris, Willie Weeks, Sting, Paul Simonon, George Porter Jr., and countless others all used a Fender Precision.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been favoring my Precision over my Jazz, but that, of course, could change at any moment. I’ve come to realize that both basses have their own strengths, and whether you prefer one over the other is all a matter of personal choice. Of course, many bass players have both, and those two basses cover a lot of ground.

I know some bassists that will only play a P-Bass and don’t like the Jazz sound or vice versa. I’m definitely not one of those people. I love both basses and can’t imagine not having each in my arsenal at all times. Now, as for a P/J Bass, well that’s for another article.

So, How Do You Choose Just one?

Sometimes you really do need to choose just one, because clearly, we don’t all have several hundred dollars laying around to buy bass guitars whenever we want, right? So, how do we narrow down the choice so that we can pick up our first Fender bass guitar?

There are a few things that can help when choosing between these two.

Hand size

If you’re just starting out, and you have hands on the smaller side of the spectrum, then a Jazz will most likely feel better as you learn. Getting around the neck can be a challenge, and the Fender Jazz might be just a bit more forgiving than the P Bass.

However, if you have larger hands with longer fingers, the Precision might be your best bet. It might feel like you have a little more real estate to move around on the fretboard than if you settled on a Jazz Bass.

What you’re used to

Let’s say that you’ve played a bit, but maybe you were using a short-scale bass or some smaller replica of one of these two basses. If you’re already used to something smaller, and it feels pretty good, you may want to stick with something on the smaller side and go with a Jazz.

What kind of music you play…MOSTLY

I think most of us can agree that both the Jazz and the P-bass are super versatile instruments that can cover a lot of musical ground if you ask them to. And with the amount and quality of pedals and hardware out there, you can get almost any bass to sound the way you want.

However, if you’re primarily playing in styles like funk or reggae, and you don’t really intend on branching out all that much, a P-bass might be your best friend.

Jazz Bass vs Precision Bass Final Thoughts

There are loads of other ways to decide what bass to buy. You might even just go with what’s on sale at your local music store…because it’s in your budget. Whatever gets you playing sooner is, I think, the right choice. You can always switch it up later.

One final, and probably crucial, suggestion is to simply go into a store and play them both. Pick up a Jazz, mess around with it and see how it feels. Then, switch to the Precision and see how your hands like that one. Playing them for a short while should pretty quickly tell you what you prefer. Go with your gut instinct.

The Jazz Bass vs Precision Bass debate has one great upside, though. Whatever you choose, you’re going to end up with a stellar instrument.

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