Fender Precision Bass vs Jazz Bass Review

The Fender Precision Bass is a classic, but how does it compare to the Jazz Bass?
The Fender Precision Bass is a classic, but how does it compare to the Jazz Bass?

Fender Bass Guitars

The Fender Jazz Bass and Precision Bass are classic instruments built by one of the biggest names in the music world. Fender bass guitars are used by the best bassists in the industry, and it’s been that way for over sixty years.

If you are in the process of searching for a new bass, or if you’re just dreaming about that perfect instrument, you’d be smart to have Fender at the top of your list. The only problem is deciding which Fender to choose!

The Fender Precision Bass made its debut in 1951, and quite literally changed music. No longer did a bassist have to lug a massive upright bass around. Of course many purists still did (and many still do today), but others plugged in and cranked up, embracing this newfangled technology called the “bass guitar.”

The Jazz Bass would come along almost a decade later. This new instrument featured a more diverse array of sounds, and a slightly different feel. But we’ll get to all of that! By the early 1960s the Jazz and Precision basses had taken the forms we know today, and while there have been improvements to hardware and technology along the way, the standard designs have stuck.

That’s about enough with the Fender history! The point of this article is to help you to understand the differences between the Fender Precision Bass vs the Fender Jazz Bass, and hopefully get you closer to making a decision about which bass is right for you.

On to the gear!

American Standard vs MIM vs Squier

It’s important to realize that Fender reaches out to all levels of player and budget with almost every instrument they build. The Precision and Jazz bass guitars are no different. Of course the best of the best are American-made Fender guitars and bass guitars. But even they vary in appointments, materials and, to some degree, quality.

For the working or intermediate player, Fender has the Standard series. These instruments are built in Fender’s factories down in Mexico, and because of this have earned the nickname “MIM”, as in “Made in Mexico”. These are very good instruments, and will come in at around half the cost of an American Standard bass.

For beginners and the budget minded, Fender gives us the Squier brand. Squier bass guitars are built to Fender specs, but cost significantly less than either an MIM Fender bass, or the American-made version. Because of this they are a great option for newbies, but even some veteran players appreciate Squier for the value.

As you can probably guess, the specs vary wildly between these different levels of Fenders. So, for the purpose of this review, we’ll be looking at the Fender American Standard Series. It is generally true that the same comparisons we’ll make between the American Standard Jazz and Precision basses will be accurate for the other Fender and Squier lines.

P Bass vs J Bass Construction and Materials

Both bass guitars feature a similar double-cutaway design, but there are some differences. The Precision Bass has a slightly bulkier body, something like an over-sized Stratocaster. The Jazz Bass is a bit more contoured. Both bodies in the American Series are Alder with a Urethane finish. Alder is a bright-to-midrangy tonewood utilized in many Fender guitars and basses.

Both basses feature modern “C” shape maple necks with 20-fret rosewood or maple fretboards and a 34-inch scale.

On paper these basses look almost identical, but the Precision Bass has a bit more substantial feel. This is largely due to the difference in body shape, but also due to a slightly wider nut width.

According to Fender's website the Jazz comes in a 1.5" at the nut, where the Precision measures 1.625". It’s a subtle difference, but one veteran players will notice.

Obviously there are aesthetic differences as well. The Precision Bass has a larger pickguard that extends down to the volume and tone knob. The Jazz Bass has as smaller pickguard, which some J Bass players remove so that more of the wood is shown. The pickguard on a Jazz Bass is much easier to swap out than on the Precision Bass.

Both basses are available in 3-color Sunburst, Olympic White, Black, Jade Pearl Metallic, Mystic Red and Mystic Blue, with either the rosewood or maple fingerboard.

So, with the exception of a different body shape and a slightly wider nut for the Precision Bass, which can make it feel a bit heftier, its seems we’re looking at very similar instruments. But as we move on to electronics we’ll see some major differences pop up.

Musicians Talk About the Precision Bass

Fender Pickups, Electronics and Sound

Fender must have known they already had something great going on with the Precision Bass when they introduced the Jazz Bass back in the early ‘60s. It wouldn't have made sense for them to change everything, but a few tweaks were in order. They made the body a little sleeker, and they gave their new creation a different sound.

The Precision Bass has a deep, punchy tone thanks to a Fender Custom Shop Split Single-coil pickup mounted just in the right spot. A single volume and single tone control manage the sound. It’s a simple but effective design that has helped to shape the sound of rock music for decades.

Many musicians have come to rely on the Fender P Bass for heavy, aggressive sounds that power through a mix packed with distorted guitars. But it’s an instrument equally at home crafting smooth jazz, or holding down the bass line in a country standard.

This is the original electric bass, and it has stood the test of time.

The Jazz Bass has a different set of tricks up its sleeve. Two Fender Custom Shop Fender Single Coil Jazz pickups are controlled by a pair of volume knobs (one for each pickup) and a tone control.

The J Bass is a bit brighter, and offers more flexibility thanks to its dual pickups. Jazz players love it for its velvet-smooth tones, but cranking the pickups will bring growl that any rock bassist will find more than usable.

Every Jazz Bass player learns to find just the right blend between the two pickups to nail that tone they want.

Fender Jazz Bass Sounds

Precision vs Jazz Tone Shaping

You may be thinking, since the Jazz Bass has an extra pickup, you can go with the J Bass and turn off the bridge pickup when you want it to sound like a P Bass. If only things were so simple! The Precision and Jazz basses have their own unique vibes, and once you’ve been around for a while you can tell them apart by ear easy enough.

Still, it’s a little too easy to generalize and say the Precision Bass is punchy and aggressive where the Jazz Bass is smooth and more flexible. Geddy Lee is a great example of a bassist who uses the Jazz Bass for heavier rock music, and he sounds pretty darned good to me.

It’s also important to note that both basses, at least the American Standard versions, utilize passive electronics. This means you won’t have the sweeping tone-shaping options that you see in many modern basses that feature three-band EQs and other bells and whistles.

The sound of the Precision and Jazz bass is all about wood, construction quality and simple but effective electronics. Oh, and your hands. Remember, the most important factor governing the tone of your bass is you!

This brings me to my last point about sound, and a little anecdote:

A few years back, by happenstance, I saw a jazz band perform. They had an old-timer on bass and this guy had to be in his 70s. He was playing a Precision Bass that, from the looks of the case, he'd probably owned for decades.

His tone was round and deep, as you’d expect from a P Bass, but also had a special vibe to it. It was so smooth, so textured, and every note just seemed to melt into the next. I was in awe of this guy’s sound, even after several decades as a musician myself.

A couple of very import points were reinforced to me that day. First, as a musician, if you keep your eyes and ears open you never know who you can learn something from.

Secondly, tone really is in your hands. This guy’s sound came from him, not the bass and not his amp. It was a mojo all his own, honed by, who knows, maybe 50 or more years of playing bass. Amazing.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stick around and talk to the guy after his set, but man I would have loved to pick his brain.

Which Bass Should You Choose?

By now maybe it is clear which instrument is right for you.

Fender MIM Jazz Bass
Fender MIM Jazz Bass

If not, take a step back. Remember that, while we’ve seen that both can be used for any style of music, if you haven’t yet found your sound stick to the basics.

  • If you play in a heavy rock or metal band the Precision Bass is probably a better choice. It has the guts to hang with heavy guitars, especially if you plan to play with a pick.
  • If you play rock music you need to choose between the punch of the P Bass and the growl of the J.
  • If you play in a cover band the Jazz Bass might give you the flexibility you need to cop the right tone in each song.
  • If you play country or blues the Jazz Bass brings a brighter sound that might serve you better.
  • For Jazz players it may seem like the choice it clear, but remember my anecdote about the old dude with the P Bass.

Of course you really can’t make a bad choice, and hopefully this article helped to outline the differences and similarities between the Fender P and J Basses. They’re both great instruments, and unfortunately this is one of those cases where you’re probably going to eventually want one of each. Which will you choose first: Precision Bass or Jazz Bass? Good luck in your decision!

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