What Are the Differences Between the Fender Jazz Bass and the Fender Precision Bass?

by Paul Argodale
Know Fender, know Rock and Roll.

Know Fender, know Rock and Roll.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Rock and Roll owes its existence to an egg salad sandwich-eating failed accountant. Leo Fender created the hardware that ran the software of Rock music. He took the guitar out of the hands of skilled craftsman and put it onto the assembly line without sacrificing art and beauty. He invented the solid body electric bass and the electric piano. He hired gifted designers and managers and everyone who worked for him loved him.

The Precision Bass

The double-bass had long enjoyed a place in the rhythm sections of popular music combos, but as they grew into the conurbations of swing orchestras bassists found themselves lost the roar of woodwinds and the jangle of newly electrified guitar. Leo Fender offered salvation in 1951 with the original Precision Bass, thusly named due to its fretting, a feature familiar to guitarists but hitherto not found on basses. The original riffed on the look and finish of the Telecaster guitar, with a maple neck, ash body and one single-coil pickup set dead center between the bridge and neck.

The P-bass Sound and Players

The subsequent and wider known version featured a split single coil pickup set slightly closer to the bridge and a more strat-like body. This is the P-bass we know today. You can hear it on every Pink Floyd album with Roger Waters. It is the sound of punk, both classic and contemporary: think the iconic image of Paul Simonon trying to smash one on the cover of the Clash's "London Calling." Mike Dirnt of Green Day plays nothing but P-basses.

The Jazz Bass

Fender introduced the Jazz Bass in 1960. Featuring two single-coil pickups with pairs of poll pieces on either side of each string, the Jazz Bass offered a smooth and deep tone in contrast to the mid-range snap of the P-bass. The slightly narrower neck offered easier fretting for the small fingered. The offset waist, looking like a strat pushed and pulled out of symmetry, pointed towards the coming of psychedelia. Like the precision bass, it featured a solid ash body and a maple neck, but added a rosewood fingerboard.

The Jazz Bass Sound

With its two pickups, the Jazz Bass offers greater tonal range, but it especially shines in the smooth, low, mellifluous range. You can hear those tones in the chromatic runs of Led Zepplin's John Paul Jones, the concept rock of Geddy Lee and Rush. Unlike the Fender Jazzmaster guitar, the Jazz Bass actually found a following among Jazz musicians, most notably Marcus Miller, whose slapping technique relied on the powerful Jazz Bass pickups, and Jaco Pastorius, whose use of harmonics made much of the depth and smoothness of the Jazz Bass sound.


  • "Fifty Years of Fender"; Tony Bacon; 2000

About the Author

Paul Argodale has written for the "Village Voice" in New York City, as well as several specialized academic journals. He holds a Master of Arts in applied linguistics and a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and philosophy.

Photo Credits

  • Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images