The original patent drawing for the P Bass*
You know, sometimes it just seems like EVERYONE and their mother plays guitar. I get it; it was the first instrument that drew me into musicianship and probably the same with many of you out there. I can still remember seeing all of the greats from my childhood masterfully nailing down sick solos and commanding such attention – and the ladies – while the lowly bass players sat in the sidelines, methodically stomping their boots to beat. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jimmie Vaughan (no disrespect to Stevie, he just didn’t work with my lead); yes, the guitar and their players sure get all of the attention. Well you know what, bassists are people too! And so with that said, I would like to take some time today and give a little much needed attention to the often forgotten moderator of the back beat – the electric bass guitar. But more specifically, I want to take the time to answer one of the more interesting questions that I have come across new bass players and those looking to get in one some of the low timbre action; what’s the difference between a Fender Precision and a Fender Jazz bass? Great question but one that requires more than a simple answer – and don’t expect the guys at Guitar Center to have the answer for this one! With that said, one of the best ways to fully understand the key differences between the Precision and the Jazz – two of the world’s bestselling electric basses by the way – is by taking a look at how they came to be. Let’s get started!
The History of the Fender Bass
Back in the day when big bands were all the rage and one King Oliver could easily snap the britches off any young flapper dame with a just nod of his head, there were no such things as electric basses. The electric guitar was barely making its way in for that matter. Anyways, if you wanted a deep back beat you had to use a standup bass. These things were huge and expensive. Although they worked well at the time for their purpose in jazz, they were easily drowned out by brass and hornsof the big bands and as the guitar became amplified, they no longer were able to keep up with the growing dynamics at the time. In came the Audiovox Manufacturing Company who created the first true electric bass. Well, turns out it wasn’t as popular as it didn’t work as well as they’d hoped for.
By 1951, in came one Leo Fender who did know what he was doing, having created the Telecaster only a few years earlier to immense success. Using a similar build and body style as the Tele – only slightly bigger – he created what we now know as the Fender Precision bass. The name “precision” came from the fact that players could have much more precise control over their instrument as opposed to those bulky uprights. Not only could you hold it in your hands like you would a guitar but Fender’s creation also added frets – unlike the fretless setup of the uprights – and best of all, it could be amplified! Along with the Telecaster, the Precision Bass set the foundation for rock and roll as we know it today – just a few guys with their instruments playing as loud as a big band but with much less equipment.
The Precision was a huge success, so much so that Leo Fender decided to create a new “upscale” line of basses which he dubbed the Jazz Bass. This new line came with two pickups instead of one which used a low noise configuration that would cancel hum much more effectively than the single pickup setup of the Precision at the time. Not only that, the Jazz Bass also included a different body style, new pickguard and knobs as well as a slimmer neck for faster playing. Low and behold, this new bass was also a complete success and eventually both the Precision and Jazz bass evolved into what we know today.
The Key Differences
Alright, I know what you guys want to hear, what are the differences as far as tone and sound goes. Well, most people out there will tell you that the Precision has a wider range in frequency, especially in the lows. Don’t confuse this for a muddy sound – simply think a big bottom end, although it does lack a bit of treble. The Jazz Bass on the other hand has a very distinct mid-range growl. It tends to sound very crisp and full but lacks the deepness of the Precision. As far as today’s musicians go, rock, hard rock and metal bassists tend to go towards a Precision while jazz, country and blues musicians usually prefer the Jazz Bass. In actuality though, you can find both of these basses used in all styles of music all the time so in the end it really depends on the player and what he or she is going for.
Which One is Right for You?
If you are a guitar player who has never really messed around with a bass in his life, you might want to consider a Jazz Bass since the smaller neck profile will make it easier for you to make the transition – there’s nothing worse than owning an instrument that’s a pain to play since chances are you won’t even want to use it after a while. On the other hand, the Precision bass has more of that rock bass tone that you might be going for. Honestly though, they are both outstanding basses that have had outstanding success across all genre of music and also come in plenty of different models. Jazz Bass or a Precision Bass, you simply can’t go wrong.
Now let's take a look a closer look at some of these fine looking instruments!
This Fender's American Vintage 57 Precision Bass pays tribute to this landmark instrument with accurate detailing,including electronics and hardwarefrom the split single-coil pickups to the vintage tuning machines and nitrocellulose lacquer finish. A true Fender classic.
The new Left-handed American Standard Precision basses features new high-mass vintage bridge, a thinner finish undercoat that lets the body breathe and improves resonance, new and improved Fender tuning keys that keep the classic look but are 30 percent lighter, a richer and deeper neck tint for a more elegant appearance, a great-looking glossed maple or rosewood fingerboard and satin back for smooth playability, a new Fender-exclusive SKB molded case and a gorgeous new Blizzard Pearl finish option.
Fender's Standard Precision Bass incorporates the best of the old and new, offering a modern single-coil pickup, shielded body cavity, medium jumbo frets, a vintage-style Fender Bridge, tinted neck (now available with a maple fretboard), three-ply parchment pickguard and a 70s-era logo. The Standard Precision Bass. Plug one in and listen for yourself.
Fender’s new American Deluxe Jazz Bass delivers the modern features that bassists demand in a sleek, familiar design. A newly designed preamp circuit delivers deeply exhilarating active and passive tone, and powerful-yet-quiet new N3 noiseless pickups present more clean headroom and EQ range than ever. Other features include active/passive switch and passive tone control for even more tonal options, and classic Jazz Bass block fretboard inlays and binding.
Select instruments for select individuals. Introducing Fender Select series guitars and basses-true players’ instruments that put more than six decades of Fender experience and expertise on outstandingly appointed display and bring a wealth of high-end features and elegant design options to discerning musicians everywhere. With choice tone woods, figured tops, strikingly beautiful finishes, figured and quartersawn maple necks with compound-radius fretboards, specially voiced Fender Select pickups that deliver masterful tone, and other first-rate features, the U.S.-made Select Series puts Fender’s top-line best in capable hands-yours.
The Fender Select Jazz Bass elevates our most sonically versatile bass to the height of alluringly refined elegance and power, with a striking Amber Burst gloss-lacquer finish and flame maple top. Its modern “C” shaped quartersawn maple neck has Posiflex graphite support rods, a satin lacquer finish and rear-headstock “Fender Select” medallion. The smooth-playing compound radius rosewood fretboard (9.5”-14”) has 20 medium jumbo frets and stylish white pearloid position inlays. Two brand-new dual single-coil Fender Select Jazz Bass pickups pump warm and full low end, snarling midrange and ringing highs.
Other premium features include a three-ply pickguard (parchment-black-parchment), High-Mass Vintage bridge (top-loading or strings-through-body), Fender/Hipshot vintage-style tuners with tapered shafts, black Jazz Bass knobs, “stealth” string retainer and nickel-chrome hardware. Custom G&G Fender Select case, strap, cable and polishing cloth included.