Jazz Bass vs. Precision Bass

Probably the most talked about dilemma in bass history is which axe to choose, the Fender Jazz or the Fender Precision.

Both instruments are legends in music, and both have been time tested to the nth degree.

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 the choice is not easy.

When I first started playing I bought a Fender Jazz partly because I liked the name but mainly for the thin neck, and that was my main bass for several years. Eventually, though I got the desire to own a P-Bass and that started my flip-flop affairs between the two basses.

The Jazz Bass

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

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.

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. 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 more funky, and the bass sound took a greater up-front role. The Jazz Bass became a funk machine especially the 70’s models which 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…great tone, playability and versatility, not to mention durable as heck.

When I hold a J-Bass I feel 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 Jazz will most certainly be a favorite of bass players for generations to come.

The Precision Bass

Leo Fender introduced the Precision Bass in 1951 and literally changed music forever. The original version had one single coil pickup and a slab body but over the years it evolved and 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 it’s 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.

The Precision just seems to sit perfectly in a mix, and 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.

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

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 verse. 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.

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