I admit to having been seduced by the current Jazzmaster craze. I have always liked the look of the body, with its asymmetric design offering an implication of motion. Too, as a modern guitarist, I liked being able to play behind the bridge.
First some background.
When I had a chance to review the Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster I jumped at it. To the other Jazzmaster attributes, it added a humbucker in the bridge position, and lacking any instruments with humbuckers, I actually bought it after the review. Though the stock Jazzmaster pickup in the neck position sounded great, after years of playing nothing but DiMarzio hum-cancelling single coils I couldn’t hang with the hum. As long as I was going to change it out I figured I would give a Sheptone direct replacement humbucker a try. It sounded like a PAF, so I now have a dual humbucker Jazzmaster.
My Jazzmaster jones made me want to try a more vintage model, with single coils in both positions and the classic dual wiring system. Fender was kind enough to send me the Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster.
This Chinese-made model streets for between $379 and $399—about what you might pay for a Jazzmaster back when Tom Verlaine and the Sonic Youth crew were snapping up the originals. It is pure vintage, save for bigger frets, a tune-o-matic bridge replacing the original Jazzmaster design, and no bridge lock.
The white guitar, with its anodized gold pickguard looks terrific. I have experienced feedback issues with anodized pickguards in the past, but the Jazzmaster exhibited no squeal, even at high volume through a fuzz. The J Mascis approved large frets were well finished and the setup was excellent right out of the box—literally, for this price a box is all you get: no case or bag.
The vintage pickups proffered the classic, distinctive, Jazzmaster low output tone: warm, but with some twang. The bridge pickup had enough of a midrange bump to push amps and overdrives nicely. The neck had a blues bite, and together they were perfect for chime or chug. Though they hum, the signal to noise ratio was more than acceptable; stay away from the amp and find the right angle and you will be rewarded with relative quiet, even in higher gain situations.
The tone and volume pots were smooth; the main tone knob was great for vintage woman tone sounds. Switching to the rhythm circuit revealed where the instrument got its name: the neck pickup engaged with a dark but articulate sound, perfect for traditional jazz playing.
Once I had purchased the Blacktop Jazzmaster, the first thing I did was have the bridge replaced with a Mustang bridge. Thanks to Matt, at 30th Street Guitar in NYC, I learned that this is a standard quick, cheap fix for the “popping out if the saddle” issue endemic to the breed. (Those that can afford over $200 often go for the Mastery Bridge). With the J Mascis Squier, no such mod is required: the strings sat nice and secure in the tune-o-matic style bridge that comes with the guitar. The only quibble was the tremolo arm, which kept falling out of its socket; plumber’s tape will, no doubt, fix that.
If you are looking for this classic model to add to your arsenal of instruments, look no further than the Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster. Fender offers Jazzmasters for two and three times the price, but it is hard to imagine doing much better.