Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 54

COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat
Introducing the
Jazzmaster, 1958.

Both sides of the
always-informative
hangtag.

sion from Broadcaster to Jaguar a process of
refinement.
The Jazzmaster was certainly different from
the Strat, and indeed any other guitar at the
time. By the late '50s, Leo's twangy creations
had caught on with country players and emerging rockers (the 1954 introduction of the Strat
could have hardly have been better-timed) but
were still looked down upon by serious jazz
players. The Jazzmaster was intended to woo
them to the Fender camp - Gibson endorsers in particular. Leo couldn't understand
why these sophisticated players stuck to their
old-fashioned hollowbody electrics instead of
what he saw as his vastly superior solidbody
technology.
To compete with hollowbody electrics, the
Jazzmaster was given pickups that used a wider
coil designed to spread the magnetic field, giving
a slightly less-aggressive twang. Its major physical development was the longer body's offset
waist, designed primarily to make the guitar
rest comfortably in a seated position. The pat-

ent for this feature explained its advantages but
doesn't delve into the liquid-sculpture aesthetic.
The Jazzmaster added a "classier" rosewood
fingerboard that conveniently resisted wear
better than lacquered maple.
Aside from the body, Leo was proudest of the
Jazzmaster vibrato, which re-worked a floating
unit originally designed for the Strat but initially
judged inadequate; Leo's original used roller
saddles, which robbed the guitar of sustain.
In '58, it was given six serrated-top adjustable
saddles and the whole unit moved laterally with
the action of the arm. Posts descending from
the base of the bridge sat in wells sunk into the
body, with height adjustment via Allen screws
bearing down against the bottom. This meant
the unit balanced on just two tiny screw points.
The rocking bridge prevents the strings from
sawing over or hanging up on the saddles, a
concept previously employed by Paul Bigsby.
Additionally, each saddle could be raised or
lowered by two Allen screws. This design worked
with flatwound strings like Fender's Mas-

VINTAGE GUITAR

54

January 2018

tersounds (gauged
.013 to .054) fitted
to the Jazzmaster's
251/ 2" scale. Later,
though, it would
cause trouble.
Another feature of
the Jazzmaster that
has often baffled the
uninitiated is the
rhythm circuit. This
originated with a
guitar built by factory manager Forrest
White; it allowed the
player to switch from
a pre-set deep rhythm tone to a fully flexible lead
tone at the flick of a switch. Tone and Volume
controls for the rhythm setting were little rollers
cut through the pickguard just above the pickups, next to a switch that bypassed the standard
wiring and engaged only the neck pickup in
this mellower mode. Often considered an early
example of Fender over-design, the feature was
ignored by most players. Today, players with a
certain technique tend to accidentally engage it,
so they simply disconnect the circuit. Still, these
features marked the Jazzmaster as a trendsetting
guitar, and the subsequent Jazz Bass and Bass
VI followed its pattern in many ways.
In '62, Fender introduced a new top-line guitar, the Jaguar. Its layout was similar, but in some
ways it was a backpedal from the Jazzmaster,
with different handling characteristics and a
more Fender-like sonic signature. The main
difference was a shorter scale - 24" - intended to
enhance playability. The pickups were a return
to a more Strat-like format with a bright, punchy
twang enhanced by a metal "claw" baseplate


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open

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Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - IFC
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