As the name implies, the Jazzmaster was designed to serve as Fender’s foray in the Jazz world. The revolutionary dual tone circuit was designed to make it easy for Jazz players to toggle between comping chords and soloing, all with the flick of a switch. This is part of why this instrument was introduced in 1958, it was the most expensive instrument in the Fender line. It was also the first instrument Leo Fender designed to feature a Rosewood fingerboard.
Although the Jazzmaster met with resistance from hollow body purists in the Jazz world, it has been madly embraced by the likes of The Ventures, Elvis Costello, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Jesus Culture, and Hillsong. If there was ever an anti-hero guitar in the Fender line, the Jazzmaster is it!
In celebration of the Jazzmaster’s 60th, we wanted to do something a bit different. To help bookend the story of this iconic instrument we interviewed Fender’s Joey Brasler and Hillsong’s Michael Guy Chislett.
Joey is the Vice President of Product Development at Fender for Electric Guitars and Basses. As you hear him talk about the Jazzmaster, you quickly realize that this project was in the hands of someone who had a deep affection for the instrument itself, as well as the man who invented it!
[WM] Joey, thanks for joining us! You and your team at Fender are responsible for the trio of 60th Anniversary Jazzmaster guitars. Can you add some depth of field to what you do?
[Joey Brasler] We are responsible for dreaming up the next several years worth of guitars that are going to thrill musicians. We have to spec them up carefully for our R&D team so we can get prototypes and find out if we really had the right idea in the first place. After that we plan the product, working carefully with the new product team, manufacturing, sales, and marketing. We are the hub of the electric guitar and bass world at Fender.
[WM] You’ve worked for a number of the well-known companies in the business including Line 6, Yamaha, and Guitar Center. What are some of the roles you’ve had and how did they prepare you for what you’re doing now?
[Joey] My roles were not all product roles. For instance, my role at Line 6 was in a sales leadership role. My role at Yamaha was product, sales, and marketing combined. My role at Guitar Center was in marketing for four years, and then as director of purchasing guitars and basses for seven years. Having the perspective of being the creator of product, the seller of product, the marketer of product, and being responsible to the end user who will purchase the product gives you perspective.
[Joey] When Jimmy Page was asked about the history of Led Zeppelin, he exclaimed proudly, “We were right!” It is a proud, wonderful history of a guitar that weaved in and out of different genres and has served many different kinds of musicians. We have all kinds of plans for it to continue serving musicians until the end of time!
[WM] There are three 60th Anniversary Models. How did you decide to choose these three specific models to market?
[Joey] We on the product development team were musicians and customers who loved the guitar before we ever got into the business. So, we see our job is not just to bring standard issue guitars, but also to bring spectacular guitars with a rich varied history – and a whole bunch of fun. That’s what thrilled us when we were young and that’s what thrills customers still today.
You may or may not know this, with the 60th Anniversary ’58 Jazzmaster, we’re paying homage to the first Jazzmaster anybody ever saw, but not the first Jazzmaster that you could buy from a dealer. On the cover of the 1958 catalogue there’s a photo of the stunning new Jazzmaster in a two-tone sunburst lacquer finish, an ash body, black pickup covers, a gold anodized pick guard, and chrome Telecaster knobs. That’s what’s on the cover of the ’58 Fender catalogue! Nobody ever got to buy that actual guitar because when the Jazzmaster arrived in dealer showrooms it had a three-color sunburst, Alder body, white pickup covers, and a set of white Strat knobs – a very different look! We wanted to make the ’58, the first Jazzmaster anyone had ever seen but no one could ever actually buy.
Well, now you can buy it, and that’s what the ‘58 is. It has vintage style pickups, a nitrocellulose lacquer, two-tone finish, maple neck with a 7.25 radius rosewood fingerboard, 21 ‘vintage tall’ frets so it’s easy to play, and vintage style trim with the cool hemlock button just like in 1958. You’d have a hard time finding a better six-string to play Jazz on. It also comes in a vintage style case with a 60th Anniversary logo inside the case and a Certificate of Authenticity. We wanted to make a true one of a kind limited edition guitar that you’ve never seen. Not just the one that you could’ve bought off the wall in ’58, but one you couldn’t get but you knew it existed somewhere. It’s super exciting.
The Limited Edition 60th Anniversary Classic Jazzmaster, is a tribute to the fancier Jazzmaster that launched around 1966. With the second one we wanted to get to a place where they had transformed into something really visual. Something really fun to hold in your hands and get onto a stage with.
Unlike the ’58 they come in a choice of four different colors: vintage blonde, black, daphne blue, and fiesta red. They all have nitrocellulose lacquer finish, a four-ply tortoiseshell pick guard and a pair of classic ‘60s single-coil Jazzmaster pickups. It’s got a bound modern C-shaped neck, 9.5” radius fingerboard, big pearloid blocks on the fingerboard, and a matching head cap in all of these great vintage colors. It doesn’t get any classier than that.
This guitar is made in our Ensenada plant, made in Mexico. Phenomenal guitars, all limited in number. This one was the closest to something you actually could have bought in 1966. It’s very flashy and very fun and very historic, because they really existed.
For the third one in the trio we wanted to go a little Parallel Universe on you. This is sort of where the modern ethos of the Fender company comes in, as you’ve seen in the Parallel Universe series. At the heart of the 60th anniversary Triple Jazzmaster, you’ve got custom-designed Tim Shaw humbucking pickups under classic Filter’Tron looking covers. The middle and neck pickups are sort of a vintage hot output. As humbuckers they have plenty of punchiness. They’re still open sounding and the highs are just a little hotter. The bridge pickup is something else completely. It’s a higher output pickup, so it’s a completely different design, and it gives it sort of a louder, tougher voice so you can drive the input of an amp.
We wanted this to be a fun modern Jazzmaster, nothing like any Jazzmaster that’s ever come before. The body is made in Corona, California and features a nitrocellulose lacquered daphne blue finish. It’s got the vintage style floating tremolo but with the updated bridge that matches the 9.5” radius rosewood fingerboard. It’s got a ‘60’s oval C-shape, so it’s kind of modified.
The electronics include a 5-way switch like a Strat would have so you can get all the combinations that you can get in a Strat with three pickups. But, it’s got a mini toggle on the upper horn that when you’re in position three of the 5-way switch, you can either have the middle pickup alone as you usually would on a Stratocaster or when you flip that mini toggle you can get the neck and bridge together as you can get only on a Telecaster. We wanted to throw some electronic fun in there.
It’s got a tortoiseshell pick guard, aged white witch-hat knobs, and pearl dot inlays. We just wanted to make this a modern dream machine. Something completely different and fun to round out the trio of 60th Anniversary Jazzmaster offerings!
[WM] Do you know who has possession of that first Jazzmaster?
[Joey] I have no idea where it is, anything could have happened to it between ’58 and now. It was a prototype and Leo liked to give guitars away. There were Country guys that would come in and help him make decisions about pickups and things like that. He might have loaned it to a guy and never gotten it back. There are a lot of guitars that disappeared over the years and we have to look at pictures. Fortunately, there’s a rich vintage guitar world out there. We can go to one of our vintage dealers and look at real early ‘50s, mid ‘50s and late ‘50s guitars.
[WM] Given the breadth of offerings in the Jazzmaster line, who comes to mind from your perspective when you think of Jazzmaster users?
[Joey] Jazzmaster users are players who have done some searching for their sound. A lot of young musicians start out on Telecasters and Stratocasters, which are guitars that you begin playing and you immediately recognize their sound. Both of those guitars are easy to play, and you get out of them exactly what you would expect. Most young musicians who are interested in guitar and have done any kind of reading on the Internet are familiar with the sounds of Telecasters and Stratocasters. They know what to expect when they begin playing them.
Jazzmasters have a surprise treasure chest inside them. When you begin to play one and you hear all those zingy overtones coming off the strings behind the bridge, it’s something you don’t expect. The way that they feel is something you don’t expect, it almost feels like half electric and half acoustic because of the string length. The tremolo is a much gentler touch and a much more vocal sound. Everything about it invites some sort of exploration. You have to have it in your hands, play it, and discover it for yourself. It’s a trip worth taking and there is a lot of self-discovery, a lot of beautiful sounds and songs in that guitar. I think it’s a guitar to be discovered, and you get more and more out of it the longer you play it.
What’s interesting about Jazzmaster players, if you look at the list of famous players who use them, it’s the guitar they play. You almost never see them playing other guitars. The reason is they discovered their tone, their sound, and themselves in that guitar. Guys who play Strats and Teles usually have both and there’s a whole stage of guitars. When you talk about Elvis Costello, Jim Root, James Madison, Nels Cline, and Thurston Moore – all those guys, that is their guitar. And why? Because it’s so unique and once you get your fingers on it, it’s just your go-to guitar. I don’t know how to say it any better than that. It’s this magical guitar that begs to be discovered and pays you back in spades once you do!
[Joey] As you said earlier in the interview, Leo wanted to create a guitar specifically for Jazz players. The Stratocaster, Telecaster, and the P-bass were all already doing very well in the market and the one place where he hadn’t made a big dent was with Jazz players. So, he thought he was going to put his magical brain toward creating a guitar just for them. He believed that Jazz magic could happen on a solid body and he was out to prove it.
The first thing he did was create an offset body that felt as good to hold when you were sitting down as when you were standing up. He wanted it to have beautiful balance and be something that Jazz players, who at that time sat down mostly, would be really comfortable with. He created that body new for Jazz players! Think about that… the offset body was created for Jazz players!
He also knew that the pickups on the Strat and Tele weren’t going to do it for Jazz players. So, he decided to build a much wider pickup so that the winding of the pickups would grab sound from a wider part of the string, creating a big warm sound. That’s what Jazz players liked, so he built brand new pickups just for this guitar. I won’t get into what’s under the pickup, but if you go online and look up what they are they are so completely different from anything else he’d ever done before. And they are warmer and smoother sounding.
He also created the lead circuit. The lead circuit on the Jazzmaster is a second complete set of volume and tone controls. Why does a guitar need a complete second set of volume and tone controls? Jazz players did two things. They would be soloists so they’d be kind of upfront. He created this other circuit so that you could pre-set a comp sound for when you’re playing more quietly with a warmer sound behind a singer or another soloist. With the flick of a switch you can have pre-set a completely different sound. It’s not like switching pickups because you’d have to flip the switch, turn your tone and volume controls. On the lead circuit, you flick one switch and you’re into a completely different preset, a softer comping sound to support the other musicians. It was completely new. What a thoughtful thing to do for the musician!
He also created a brand new floating tremolo and bridge. It’s very soft, gentle, and vocal. You grab it and make delicious chorus-y vocal sounds. The anchored tailpiece added the extra string length behind the bridge. If you look at the hollow bodies that everyone was using back in the ‘50s, the strings went over the bridge and all the way back to the tail piece. Not like a Tuno-o-matic bridge. What this produced was a whole different feel on the fingerboard, a different touch. So that’s what Leo did to emulate what hollow bodies do.
By the way, in ’58 the Jazzmaster was the first Fender guitar ever to offer the warmer sounding Rosewood fingerboard. He looked at all the guitars that the Jazz guys were playing and said, “This can’t have a Maple neck!” So that was a brand new feature for Fender on this guitar.
With all those new inventions: the body, pickups, bridge and everything, Leo viewed this guitar above every electric guitar he’d built. The ’58 Jazzmaster launched as Fender’s top of the line guitar.
Jazzmaster 60th Anniversary Limited Editions
When I think of worship guitar players who rock the Jazzmaster, Michael Guy Chislett is at the very top of the list. Michael’s not only the Grammy-winning, guitar playing Hillsong producer, he’s also the guy that producer-extraordinaire Butch Walker tapped to be his go-to session and touring guitarist ‘back in the day’. While Michael would far prefer to be placing a mic rather than talking into one, that humility is part of what makes him the epic legend he is!
[WM] Michael, when did you start playing Jazzmasters, and what drew you to them?
[Michael Guy Chislett] They were always on records I loved. I went through a big My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth phase. Growing up in the ‘90s these guitars were everywhere, but impossible to find in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. When I met “Fender Billy” (Fender artist relations maestro) in 2006, I had broken the neck off an old green Strat that was actually Joel Houston’s. I asked Billy what the ’62 reissues where like and he said, “Incredible!” and that’s all I needed to hear!
[WM] The last time we got together, I vividly remember the way you turned your pick sideways and dug it into the strings on your Jazzmaster to replicate the sound of the Edge’s Strat on “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. These guitars are classically Fender, but also have their own voice. When you pick up a Jazzmaster, be it in the studio or on stage, is it for that classic Jazzmaster tone, the versatility, or some combination of the two?
[MGC] We don’t use the word versatile very often when we talk about guitars! We like our Jazzmasters to sound like Jazzmasters, Strats to sound like Strats and our Teles to sound like Teles! When we come up with ideas, we usually have a sound in mind. Fender really nailed these types of guitars a long time ago, they are part of history. I have learned to play pretty quietly so that laying into the guitar brings out brighter sharper tones, something the Edge is great at. I used to watch the POPMART concert film every day when I got home from school!
[WM] Your Jazzmaster is from the Fender Custom Shop as I recall. Was it custom made for you, or did you find it at a store?
[MGC] Fender did a few guitars in the ‘60s with block inlays that are hard to find and pretty expensive, and some of them haven’t aged well. The Custom Shop route seemed to be the best idea. The other thing is that I wanted was an Ebony fretboard. To me, Ebony has a brighter, more pronounced top end. My old friend Marcus Beaumont, who I grew up with had a few ideas on changing the radius and a few other things so the whole guitar worked with a Mustang bridge.
I will say that in the few years since getting the Custom Shop Jazzmaster, Fender has done an amazing job of nailing the new Jazz/Jag reissues. For a pretty long time I felt like I was moving against the fashion by playing a Jazzmaster, but now they have become widely acceptable. Fender has done a great job marketing these.
[WM] What are some of your favorite things about these instruments?
[MGC] If you have a chance to own a Jazzmaster, I recommend sitting with it for a while before changing any of the electronics. The functionality and limitations are what make these instruments so cool. I use the dip switch all the time because it rounds off all the top end. That sound is so cool for slide guitar or doubling hooks. The Jazzmaster has its own lane and it’s just as important as the lane the Stratocaster sits in, so please don’t put pickups in it to make it sound like a Strat or a Les Paul!
[WM] Always great to catch up Michael! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
[MGC] I’m sitting here in Columbia at the hotel getting ready to play tonight, we have had a great time traveling around the globe seeing what God is doing! Always a pleasure Doug, our friendship spans something like thirteen years!