Jazz music, news and views

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Half-Century of the Fender Jazzmaster

I was reading on Downbeast that Nels Cline is taking part in a tribute concert in New York in September celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fender Jazzmaster. Nels is the first artist that comes to mind when I think of the Jazzmaster, although Tom Verlaine, Thurston Moore (check the gear list), and J. Mascis (who has a signature model) certainly helped make it an icon(oclast)ic axe in the realm of rock. Nels, however, is the one of the bunch who truly circulates in the music scene that's its namesake.

The Jazzmaster was originally marketed towards, indeed, jazz guitarists for its warm tone, but they found it a bit too noisy for the cleaner sounds they were accustomed to. Its trebly cut appealed to the rockers of the era instead, so this instrument found its audience (or artists, rather) all the same.

From Totally Guitar: The Definitive Guide:
The sound of the Jazzmaster was richer and warmer than players were used to from Fender. The name Jazzmaster was not chosen at random, for Fender aimed the different tone at jazz players. But jazz guitarists found little appeal in this new, rather difficult solidbody guitar, and mainstream Fender players largely stayed with their Strats and Teles [Stratocasters and Telecasters].

All in all, the Jazzmaster was a distinct change for Fender, and constituted a real effort to extend the scope and appeal of its guitar line. Ironically, and despite significant early success, this has been partly responsible for the guitar's [the Jazzmaster's] lack of long-term popularity relative to the Strat and Tele, mainly as a result of players' dissatisfaction with the guitar's looks and sounds. Nonetheless, the Jazzmaster remained near the top of the Fender pricelist until withdrawn around 1980.
People always make it out to be an unusual, unruly instrument –- at least because of the tuning difficulties and its noisiness -- but it's a really cool guitar. I believe it gets its rep for being strange from the highly individual "outsiders" it's attracted over the past half-century.

If My Bloody Valentine weren't in the midst of their reunion tour now, Kevin Shields would doubtlessly be sharing the bill with Nels and company (and then I would have to fly to NY just for this show). And, like all those names mentioned above, while the Jazzmaster is Shields’s axe of choice for a reason, his concepts and approach are more important. As guitarist myself, hearing this song and reading this Wiki entry was a revelation. Nels and Shields couldn't sound any more different, but they share a bizarre yet beautiful musical heterodoxy that unlocks the instrument’s potential as well as the minds of their listeners.

Long live the Jazzmaster. And its players.

Update: Downbeast has a pic of a pretty sweet-lookin' poster for the show with this post.

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