The perfect misfit that’s never been used for what it is supposed to be used.
The year: 1958. The Telecaster already exists and thanks to that delicious 'twang' finds fans among country musicians. The Stratocaster has just come out of its diapers and blues guitarists especially love this baby. With these two models Fender has struck gold and this enables Leo to lay the foundation of the empire that the Fender-brand is today.
But there is just one thing... Those pipe-smoking turtle-necked jazzcats don’t want anything to do with the skinny stringed boards from the West Coast. They rather stick to their Gibson arch tops and hollow bodies. They may not be the most comfortable guitars, but that sound, folks! That Sound! Thicker than a Strat. Rounder than a Tele.
It's high time for Fender to come up with something. That's why they launch something new during the NAMM-show of 1958: a handy guitar with two thick soapbar pick ups and some smart buttons and switches for a fuller sound. Perfect for jazz musicians! With the Latin saying: nomen est omen in mind, Fender christened the instrument: the Jazzmaster.
It became not so much a failure, but a glorious mistake. A perfect misnomer, really. Because despite the name and its sound, the jazz scene would to have none of it.
Fortunately for all of us, the then emerging surf rockers did know what to do with these 'Strats on steroids'. Those thick white soap bars may look like P90 elements, but they certainly aren't. They are unique Fender elements that don’t sound 'crunchy', but deliciously 'plunky'. And that little vibrato stick, also known as a tremolo, came in real handy in a guitar orchestra.
Just listen to Tim Conlon. He teaches the ultimate Surfrock Lesson on his Jazzmaster: Wipe Out by the Surfaris.
In the Netherlands, Indorockers, like Andy Tielman, were especially fond of the Jazzmaster and thanks to all those lovers from unexpected musical backgrounds, the Jazzmaster did become a modest success. Fender quickly made a slightly more tailored variant of the Jazzmaster: the Jaguar. It has the same body, but a slightly shorter neck, which makes it play just a touch easier and gives the sound a bit more bite.
A few years later, the Mustang followed as a simpler and cheaper student version. This whole line of Jazzmasters, Mustangs and Jaguars became go to guitars for anyone who is looking for something a bit strange but yet very tasty!
Just listen to I want you by Elvis Costello. Starts acoustically, but after 51 seconds, a unique sound blasts through your speakers. By now, you can guess what it is. Costello once traded a Telecaster for a Jazzmaster, and has stayed true to it throughout his career. He even has a signature model.
With the popularity of the Jazzmasters, Jaguars and Mustangs, it has gone up and down in recent years. In the 1980’s, Fender even stopped making them for a while. But on the verge of oblivion, some of the most beautiful things arise. First Kurt Cobain dusted off a Jaguar and gave the world Grunge. Radiohead and Arcade Fire later took over the Jazzmaster baton for Indie rock. One woman with a Jazzmaster now takes the sound of a Jazzmaster to a new level: Madison Cunningham:
To this day, the Jazzmaster remains a popular instrument for the alternative scene. One of those guitars you buy, because your Dad already has an expensive Stratocaster. One that he rarely plays, but you still can't touch it. EVER! When you finally buy your own guitar, you go for something different. Something with a bit more edge to it. Not the cliché everyone else plays. The best news is: there is a Jazzmaster or one of its offspring for any budget, because Fender now makes these models from a very affordable Squier up to the exclusive Ultra series.
Other builders such as Rivolta are now also putting a modern spin on the Jazzmaster. All of them are beautiful misfits that offer guitarists a lot: from glorious clean to screaming overdrive, these guitars have it all! Hang on…almost ‘all’… as long as you don't play jazz.