Video: Fender Precision vs Jazz Bass. Can You Hear the Difference?

It’s a question that we’re all familiar with. We’ve watched the heated debates unfold on forums and in practice spaces – we’ve taken sides ourselves. And somehow, after decades of batting it around, the question of Precision Bass vs Jazz Bass is still fun to talk about. So, let’s consider.

With the popularization of the electric guitar in the '50s, bands began getting louder and louder. The large, cumbersome and unchanging double bass was struggling to keep up, and bassists were having an increasingly difficult time cutting through the mix and being heard. In 1951, revolutionary engineer Leo Fender introduced the world to the modern electric bass.

Designed as a louder, punchier, and more portable alternative to the double bass, the P-Bass – and later, the J-Bass – changed the way bassists of all genres approached the instrument and performed live. Today, both the Precision and the Jazz bass are revered as classics that remain in high demand.

In the video above, we sample sounds from vintage and modern Jazz and Precision basses. The modern basses are from the newly launched Fender American Professional Series and showcase all the latest components and innovations from Fender.

Basses used in this video

Vintage 1958
Precision Bass
Pickups: Original P-Bass Split-Coil
Nut Width: 1.735”
Current Price: $7,000-$13,000
Year Introduced: 1951
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Vintage 1961
Jazz Bass
Pickups: 2x Original Jazz Bass Single Coil
Nut Width: 1.438”
Current Price: $16,000-$23,000
Year Introduced: 1960
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American Professional Precision Bass
Pickups: V-MOD
Split-Coil
Nut Width: 1.625”
Current Price:
$1,499
Year Introduced: 2016
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American Professional Jazz Bass
Pickups:
2x V-MOD
Nut Width: 1.5”
Current Price:
$1,499
Year Introduced: 2016
Shop Now

A Closer Look at the Precision Bass

As mentioned in the video above, the original Precision Bass was first introduced to the market in 1951, and the design we think of today as the Precision Bass was introduced in 1957. It was dubbed “precision” because of its fretted neck – a deviation from the fretless necks of double basses.

The P-Bass was also the first Fender instrument to feature the now ubiquitous double-cutaway body shape seen on the Strat in 1954. The ‘51 models featured one single-coil pickup, which was ditched later on in favor of a split-coil in the middle position. The edges of the double-cutaway were also beveled in ‘57 for a more comfortable playing experience.

Sonic Calling Cards of the Precision Bass

As you can hear in the video above, the tone of the vintage P-Bass is deep and punchy, and a few twists of the tone knob will give you a surprising amount of control over your sound. That being said, with just its single split-coil pickup, it’s not a very versatile instrument compared to later basses.

But with it’s deep, solidly resonant and round tone, the Precision Bass offers a tonally rounded bass for most musical needs. After all, this was the instrument James Jamerson used to lay down the bass parts on many of Motown's biggest hits.

Champions of the Precision Bass

A Closer Look at the Jazz Bass

Three years after the updated P-Bass hit the markets in 1957, Fender introduced the Jazz Bass. And although similar to the P-Bass at first glance, the Jazz Bass came packing a slew of noteworthy design differences.

At the 1958 NAMM show, Fender debuted their newest and most radically designed guitar – the Jazzmaster. This guitar featured an offset-waist body that the J-Bass adopted, making it a little sleeker and easier to play while sitting down than the P-Bass despite its slightly larger body. Weight varies based on build materials, but the J-Bass is generally slightly heavier than the P-Bass because of its shape.

One of the most notable differences is the fact that the J-Bass's neck tapers, becoming thinner at the nut and making playing easier and faster for smaller hands.

Sonic Calling Cards of the Jazz Bass

Instead of sticking with the single split-coil pickup of the P-Bass, the J-Bass features two single-coil pickups – one at the bridge position and one at the middle position. This makes the bass not only more tonally versatile, but also provides a larger mid-range and a more defined high-end presence.

Fender purportedly intended to compete with Rickenbacker’s mid-heavy 4000 series that went into production in 1957 with the J-Bass’s extra treble. They also intended to sway a second wave of double bass players who didn’t make the switch in ‘57 away from their bulky instruments.

Later, some of the best funk bassists in music adopted the Jazz Bass, and developed the "slap" sound that has become a signature capability of the J-Bass.

Champions of the Jazz Bass

Overall, the Precision and Jazz Basses are more alike than they are dissimilar. To paraphrase Jeremy in the above video, choosing which of these models to use over the rest of your career could really be determined by a coin flip. The only disservice here would be to choose which is your favorite before giving both of these classics a shot.

We do recognize, though, that everyone has their preference, and there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition. We’re eager to hear about your preferences and observations on this classic divide, so drop us a comment with your two cents below.

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