A Brief History of the Jazzmaster

Behold the Jazzmaster: offset icon and eternal third child of Fender six-strings. Jazzmasters have never been as widely played as Stratocasters or Telecasters, and Fender has released fewer variations and limited editions over the years. Even the rarest vintage Jazzmasters fetch less on the market than their Strat and Tele counterparts despite an increased interest in the indie rock mainstay over the past decade or so.

All the same, the Jazzmaster remains an absolute classic with an unmistakable offset body shape that's been endlessly imitated since the model launched in 1958. Here are some staple Jazzmasters taken from the price guide. Click on the images below to learn more about each model.

1959 Jazzmaster

Designed by Leo Fender, the Jazzmaster was introduced at the 1958 NAMM show and was marketed as a high-end Jazz guitar.

New features introduced by Fender included two plastic-covered soapbar pickups, a rhythm/lead circuit slider, as well as an innovative floating tremolo system.

Part way through 1959 Fender switched from the anodized aluminum pickguard seen above to a 3-layer tortoiseshell celluloid pickguard (though some custom colors used a white pickguard). Examples with the earlier aluminum pickguard are more valuable.

1962 Jazzmaster

In 1962, another change would occur as Fender transitioned from a thicker slab-style rosewood fingerboard to the thinner veneer fingerboard.

The Jazzmaster was actually the first Fender production guitar to feature a Rosewood instead of Maple fingerboard.

For more on mid-'60s Fender transition era, check out this post about Fender and the CBS takeover.

1969 Jazzmaster

By the end of the '60s, a few updates had been made to the original design. Neck binding was introduced in 1965 and block inlays replaced dots in 1966.

With the Jazzmaster and other models, single-piece Maple fingerboards were also available as an option starting in 1969.

Production of the original Jazzmaster ended in 1980 amidst another transitional period for Fender. The model was reissued by Fender Japan starting in the mid-'80s, and then later in a number of signature and reissue models.

J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster

Designed to the specs of indie rock pioneer and Dinosaur Jr frontman, J Mascis, this signature Jazzmaster's most standout feature is probably its wild Purple Sparkle finish.

Other than that, the design is quite similar to the original Jazzmaster down to the aluminum pickguard. Mascis also elected to include an Adjust-o-matic bridge (similar to a Gibson Tune-o-matic) which is a common mod by Jazzmaster aficionados.

This model was later made by Squier with a gold and white color scheme.

Elvis Costello Signature Jazzmaster

The Elvis Costello Jazzmaster came out in 2008 and featured a specially designed tremolo arm as well as a distinct walnut stain finish. This guitar was modeled after Costello's original Jazzmaster which can be seen on the cover of his 1977 record, My Aim is True.

2012 Lee Ronaldo Signature Jazzmaster

Following in the wake of the J Mascis model, Fender introduced two new custom models in 2009 for Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth.

In the spirit of the band's panache for modifying and experimenting with their guitars, these guitars lack the tone and circuit controls of most Jazzmasters featuring just a single master volume knob. Ranaldo's model also wields two wide-range style humbuckers like those from a '70s Telecaster Deluxe.

2012 Blacktop Jazzmaster

As part of the Mexican-made Blacktop series, the Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster was designed to offer an affordable Jazzmaster capable of capturing modern hard-rock tones.

This Jazzmaster features a spartan single volume and single tone knob layout, but retains the floating tremolo system of the original. It also packs a humbucker in the bridge position in place of a second soapbar pickup.

Buying Guide: Jazzmasters
Learn everything you need to know to choose the right Jazzmaster for you.
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