The Fender Precision Bass and Jazz Bass are two of the most popular instruments in the world, used by players in nearly every genre. Since their respective release dates, these two basses have maintained a consistent level of popularity along with their fair share of die-hard fans. But despite outside similarities, the Precision Bass and Jazz Bass are two different instruments, each offering their own feel, tone and playability. While they have both changed since their release over 50 years ago, they have maintained most of their core features as well as their key differences.
The first major difference between these two Fender basses is their body design. When the Precision Bass was released in 1951, its body was a radical departure, featuring deep double cutaways like nothing else in the industry. A few years later in 1954, Fender decided to adopt the contour body form factor of the then new Stratocaster for the Precision Bass, which until then featured more of a solid slab design much like the Telecaster. This contour form factor made the Precision Bass more ergonomic and more comfortable to hold. The Fender Jazz Bass meanwhile, released in 1960, distinguished itself with an offset-waist body, adopted from the Jazzmaster guitar introduced a few years earlier. The benefit of this design was that it moved the mass of the body forward, away from a player’s right arm.
While both basses feature Fender’s modern C-shaped maple neck (and fingerboards made with either maple, rosewood, or pao ferro), they do differ slightly. While the Precision Bass’s neck keeps a more or less consistent thickness that slightly narrows a bit as it reaches the nut, the Jazz Bass features a slimmer neck profile with noticeably narrower string spacing at the nut, giving it a different feel that some players feel allows for easier fingering.
When the Precision Bass was first released, it featured a single chrome-plated single-coil pickup. A few years later, Fender introduced a split-coil pickup design which gave the Precision Bass a more defined and solid bass sound that emphasized the bottom end while lacking a bit of treble. The Jazz Bass on the other hand was released with dual 8-pole humbuckers, giving players a wider range of possible tones. Many players describe the Jazz Bass as having a cleaner, crisper sound with a distinct midrange growl while lacking some of the deepness of the Precision Bass.
As far as today’s musicians go, rock, hard rock and metal bassists tend to favor the Precision Bass while jazz, country and blues musicians usually prefer the Jazz Bass. Despite this, you can easily find both of these basses used in all styles of music as it the choice between the two mainly falls to a player’s own personal preference.
The Right Choice
In the end, the choice between a Precision Bass and Jazz Bass is completely dependent on what looks, feels and sounds right for the player. Whether its the deeper tone of the Precision Bass that calls to you or the slightly slimmer feel of the Jazz Bass that's more your style, both instruments offer a legacy that few other instruments can hope to match.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
Which Fender bass do you personally prefer and why?