The introduction of the Jazzmaster
Eager to establish their position as an innovative manufacturer and to enter into Fender’s uncharted Jazz territory Leo was in the mood for experimenting. Fender wanted to build a new top of the line instrument that was different to anything else they had made before. They tested different pickup styles, tremolo’s, fretboards and body shapes/designs; in fact the Jazzmaster went through a longer R&D process than most other Fender models to date, however taking into account how busy they were during this period this is no real surprise. It’s also worth mentioning that the Strat was still a relatively new model, so they would have wanted to allow time for it to establish itself before unleashing a new model onto the market.
One important feature of the Jazzmaster that was to become standard on all Fender models was the Rosewood ‘slab board.’
By now Fender had had a few years to judge how well their instruments faired with working musicians regularly putting them through their paces. It became apparent that the clear finish on Fender’s Maple fingerboards was not coping too well; guitars being used regularly would soon start to show fingerboard wear/pitting through to the wood. Manufacturers like Gibson had been using Rosewood fingerboards for years, which had shown it could stand the test of time… so Fender followed suit.
They took an existing Maple neck, milled the top flat and glued on a slab of Rosewood which could then be shaped and fretted as normal. Early prototypes still feature the “skunk stripe” on the back (where Fender used to add the truss rod) but this was no longer needed as they could now route a channel on the flattened Maple neck and insert the truss rod before adding the Rosewood board on top. This would strengthen the neck itself, and would eliminate the need for the ‘skunk stripe’ on the back. It would also give Fender’s instruments a slightly more mellow tone which, combined with the aesthetic appeal of the dark, figured Brazilian Rosewood, make this a collectible features to players and collectors today.
Dec 1960 slab Brazilian Rosewood board.
The slab Rosewood board featured “clay” dot markers (made of white filler not actually clay) rather than plastic markers. These markers could be spread into to the holes on the fingerboard, eliminating the need for pre cut plastic holes, thus saving them time and money. The photo below shows lines in the dots where they would have plained and shaped the board after the dots were filled. Over time the natural oil from the Rosewood would bleed into the dots which gives them their darker appearance, and often a darker ring around the edge.
When Fender made the decision to use slab Brazilian Rosewood boards across all models, they held fire until the Jazzmaster was released in order to make the most of it’s launch, and to name this as a key feature for their new innovative top-line model.
Today, this is a very collectible feature on all Fender models… and the Jazzmaster was there first!
In ’62 Fender changed the slab board to a veneer board on all models.
Dec ’63 veneer Rosewood board.
The Jazzmaster decal upon its release had no patent numbers (see above.) The logo remained the same until early ’61 when it featured 3 small patent numbers at the bottom which later in the year became five as shown below.
The electronics and circuitry in the Jazzmaster allows the player to preset two different tone/volume settings, giving the ability to change between a rhythm and lead sound at the flick of a switch. One circuit (lead) uses the Vol/Tone knobs on the treble side and the pickup selector switch, and the other (rhythm) bypasses the pickup switch and allows the two roller knobs on the bass side to modify volume and tone.
The trem/tailpiece is another great feature of the jazzmaster. See the photos below showing the design. These were stamped “PAT. PEND” until late ’61/early ’62 when they showed Pat No. 2,972,923 (as shown below.) They also feature a locking mechanism to aid tuning if the player broke a string, and the ability to tighten the tremolo spring from a screw on the face of the tremolo plate (unlike the Strat where you would have to remove the back plate.)
Patent Pending Tremelo:
Tremelo route from a 1960 model:
A later Patent Number Trem:
At the time of the Jazzmaster’s release, Fender were using “Single Line” Kluson tuners. The “single line” refers to the single “KLUSON DELUXE” stamp running vertically down the rear of the casing. From 1958 to 1960 they are stamped on the bottom side with “D-169400 PATENT NO.” Earlier examples were stamped “2356766 PAT. APPLD” which was present on all Kluson Deluxe tuners prior.
Kluson ‘single line’ tuners
The single line Klusons remained until ’64 when they changed to double-line (a vertical “Kluson” stamp, and a vertical “Deluxe” stamp to the right.)
Aesthetics & Finishes
In 1958 Fender added red to the existing (2-tone) sunburst finish to produce a new 3-tone Sunburst. This was the standard finish used on the Jazzmaster, but Fender offered custom colour options upon its release. Early custom colour slab board models are very rare and very collectible, therefore generally command a much higher price than sunburst models.
Another very noticeable and attractive feature of the earliest Jazzmasters was the anodised pickguard. This provided a striking look and helped shield the electrics beneath. It was clear-coated on the front to increase smoothness, then buffed to a shine. Fender changed this to a tortoise celluloid guard in the summer of ’59 (custom colour Jazzmasters nearly always had white guards.) This was probably because (despite looking great) the lacquer on the anodised guards didn’t hold up too well against pick wear.
Buying and Investing
The value of original sunburst Jazzmasters has more than doubled since 2002 (ref – US Vintage Guitar Magazine Price Guide), and in my opinion the Jazzmaster still retains excellent investment potential. They are currently a fraction of the price of an equivalent Strat or Tele despite originally being Fender’s higher spec model; Obviously this is largely down to the iconic status of these models, but i think with the Jazzmasters reputation, looks and quality we will see an increase in the coming years. In fact this has been evident already this year, no doubt due to their current affordability compared to other models of this period.
Anyone looking for a very versatile, great playing and sounding vintage Fender without breaking the bank should see the Jazzmaster as a serious contender!