When you’ve been waiting six decades for something, what’s a few more months? Fender launched the American Professional Jazzmaster last year with the promise that the 1958 design’s various exasperating quirks had finally been scrubbed out; but while the Am Pro is a fine guitar, the offset faithful will tell you that it isn’t a Jazzmaster for purists.
With its non-rocking bridge, missing rhythm circuit and Stratocaster-in-disguise pickups, it feels like a ‘gateway offset’, designed to appeal to the curious rather than the already converted. Now, though, comes the American Original Jazzmaster… and this time Fender’s sticking closely to the script.
As we saw with the American Original Tele and Strat reviewed last month, the idea of the new range is to preserve the ‘vintage reissue’ spirit but with the freedom to add a few modernising tweaks. So, an open goal to configure the ultimate issue-free Jazzmaster? Not quite. Perhaps because Fender has already played the radical revamp card with last year’s newcomer, this time it’s all about restraint.
And so, for this guitar ‘a few modernising tweaks’ really means just one: a 9.5-inch fretboard radius. Well, the 7.25-inch curve on the old US reissues was a pain for most players, and one of the few things you couldn’t change with a hardware upgrade, so this looks like the most uncontroversially good move since the three little pigs decided to go with wolf-proof mortar.
Other than that, the core specs are in line with the American Vintage ’65 Jazzmaster that this guitar is replacing. The floating bridge has old-fashioned threaded barrel saddles; the vibrato arm is a simple push-in type; the mellow-voiced rhythm circuit remains, with its own volume and tone controls on the upper part of the scratchplate; truss rod access, so helpfully moved to the headstock on the Am Pro, returns to the body end of the medium-C neck; and a peek under the guard reveals that both pots are one meg, for minimum treble bleed. However many of those choices you agree with (and it’s unlikely to be all of them), this is definitely a real Jazzmaster.
Another feature offset fans have had to get used to down the years is a limited colour palette, and that continues here with just three options: sunburst, Olympic White and this metallic Ocean Turquoise. It’s a stunning finish, nicely accented by the tortoiseshell ’guard – though as much as we love a bound neck on a Jazzmaster, its icy-white shade doesn’t really go with the creamy ‘aged’ plastics. The pickguard is easily swapped out should you not be a fan, and the binding will age naturally in the long run.
How do you like your Jazzmasters? Warm and plunky, with a strong percussive thump on the wound strings? Or brisk and breezy, with more bite than body? Our review guitar is a lightweight unplugged strummer, with plenty of freshness but not much going on in the lower mids. Assuming this is a representative sample of the model, it seems the American Original is going to be a zinger, not a plunker.
A clean blackface amp soon bears that out. If part of the reason Jazzmasters are chronically misunderstood is that people find them too shrill, this one isn’t about to change anyone’s mind at the first pluck. We’re not talking about the kind of ear-stabbing harshness you might recall from old Japanese reissues, mind – the top end is certainly crisp, but these Pure Vintage ’65 pickups produce a sugary sparkle that offset fans will recognise with a smile, and there’s no shortage of fullness at the other end of the spectrum. Still, those who prefer jazzier sounds will soon be looking for ways to take the edge off – whether that means changing the pups, installing 250k pots or just turning down the amp tone a tad.
Once you are happy with the EQ balance, this is an easy guitar to fall in love with: the bridge pickup has much less bark than a Tele’s but cuts through in its own distinctive and musical way; the neck pickup can be smooth and moody but maintains a snappy attack even on the lower strings; and the rhythm circuit goes about its mild-mannered work without fuss. But the real heart-stealer is the middle setting, which combines a sweetly scooped midrange with more twinkly chime than two music boxes fighting over a glockenspiel.
Now, if you really want to make a Jazzmaster happy, give it a Klon-type overdrive to play with – this is the perfect way to add light crunch while thickening up the mids and softening down those dangerous transients. It’s a formula that works wonders with this guitar, turning it into a superb tool for expressive (but non-bluesy) medium-gain lead work. Sorry, Stratocasters – you can’t touch this.
It has to be said that our review instrument behaves impeccably throughout the testing period: the strings stay in their saddle slots, the bridge never gets stuck in mid-rock, and the push-in vibrato arm doesn’t work loose either. But these are issues that tend to develop in the long term, so familiar upgrade options from the likes of Staytrem, Mastery and GraphTech remain as appealing as ever.
Fender’s desire to play it conservative with the hardware, if only to keep clear distance between this guitar and the ultra-modernised Am Pro model, is understandable; it just means that, for some of us at least, the 60-year wait for out-of-the-box perfection continues.
Fender American Original ’60s Jazzmaster
• PRICE £1,649 (w/ hard case)
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody guitar. Made in USA
• BUILD Alder body; bolt-on maple neck with 9.5” radius rosewood fretboard; 21 ‘vintage tall’ frets
• HARDWARE Vintage-style tuners, floating bridge with threaded barrel saddles, push-in vibrato arm with up-bend lock button
• ELECTRICS Two Pure Vintage ’65 single-coil pickups, three-way switch, master volume and tone; rhythm circuit switch (neck pickup only), volume and tone
• SCALE LENGTH 648mm/25.5”
• NECK WIDTH 42.4mm at nut, 51.8mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 22.8mm at first fret, 25.8mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 36.5mm at nut, 56mm at bridge (adjustable)
• WEIGHT 3.7kg/8.1lbs
• FINISH Ocean Turquoise (as reviewed), 3-Color Sunburst, Olympic White
• LEFT-HANDERS No
• CONTACT Fender EMEA 01342 331700, fender.com