Fender Vintera II ‘50s Jazzmaster – is this the best Jazzmaster Fender has made in the last decade?
Blending vintage-correct features with a more affordable price tag than the American Vintage range and that all-important rosewood board, this might be the ultimate bang for buck offset in Fender’s range.
Fender Vintera II ’50s Jazzmaster. Image: Adam Gasson
We guitarists are a demanding bunch. Remember last year when Fender released the American Vintage II ’66 Jazzmaster with a period-incorrect headstock shape, and despite the fact that it was an otherwise fantastic guitar, the offset aficionados got their pitchforks and torches out in droves?
And don’t even get me started on pau ferro – has any wood species earned more derision from guitar fans over the last few years than our friend Machaerium scleroxylon once it started becoming a fixture on affordable Fender fingerboards in place of the then CITES-restricted rosewood?
But fear not, fans of classic deep brown ’boards – four years after CITES eased restrictions on rosewood, Fender has finally worked through some of that stockpile of pau ferro they must have had and for the Vintera series at least, rosewood is back on the menu.
Josh Gardner already checked out the ’50s Stratocaster from Fender’s Mexican-made vintage-inspired Vintera II range last month, but that maple ‘board guitar was missing the headline item from the Vintera’s range-wide overhaul – time then, for me to get to grips with the Vintera II 50s Jazzmaster, complete with that all-important rosewood fingerboard.
The Vintera range has always offered a seriously impressive mix of vintage vibes and features without the price tag, and for the Vintera II that’s no exception. Here we get a lovely Desert Sand poly finish (also available in Sonic Blue), while the gold anodized pickguard would imply that this guitar is designed to reflect a late ’50s version – Fender began experimenting with this in around 1958/59.
As you’d expect from a ’50s-aping Jazzmaster, you get a pre-CBS ‘patent pending’ vibrato assembly, and a bridge complete with the much-maligned threaded saddles. There’s also of course the all-important slab rosewood fretboard.
It’s not all vintage accuracy however; delving under the hood we find that the new Vintage-Style 50s Jazzmaster pickups are wound on grey bobbins instead of the black ones their 50s originals would have sported. Is that splitting hairs at this price point? Probably, but the more you know!
As you’d expect from a ’50s-style guitar, we get a very vintage feel to the neck – Fender describes it as a ‘late 50s C’ and there’s of course a vintage-accurate 7.25” radius. In the hand it’s a slim and comfortable handful, while the rosewood ‘board feels great under the fingers.
The vintage tall frets might not be the most rigorously authentic thing in the world but it’s a practical compromise that enables the guitar to still be played in a 21st-century manner – this a guitar that lends itself to massive string bends for those that feel so inclined.
Plugging it into my Fender ’68 Custom Deluxe Reverb I immediately find myself gravitating towards the neck pickup – it really is impressively reminiscent of the warmer bell-like jangle of my favourite vintage 58’ model.
As a rule, the bridge pickup is usually my least favourite position on a Jazzmaster, but I find myself shocked at how the Vintera II retained tonal clarity while never sounding obnoxiously thin on the front position.
Paired with a bit of dirt courtesy of the 1981 Inventions LVL this Jazzmaster soars with enough bite and responsiveness that cutting through a mix would be a total nonissue.
Most players will shy away from the wooly charms of the rhythm circuit on the upper horn, but I’ve come to embrace it! The Vintera saves its biggest surprise for last, however – when I flick on to the rhythm circuit I’m with a sound that, while noticeably darker than normal, didn’t have any of that trademark muddiness.
It’s probably more usable for most people like this, but if you’ve come to appreciate the ‘someone threw a wet blanket over my amp’ sound of a classic rhythm circuit, be warned!
The Jazzmaster has become perhaps the most ubiquitous guitar of recent years, and has become a fixture with a whole new generation of indie-rock guitar players. With that in mind, the Vintera II ’50s Jazzmaster looks likely to be one of Fender’s most important and potentially most popular instruments.
Thankfully then, this guitar seriously ups the ante of its predecessor and delivers a gorgeous guitar that is a tonal behemoth. In what could’ve been an incremental upgrade Fender instead chose to look back at one of the most coveted eras of the Jazzmaster and delivered a guitar that is impressively close to vintage for a price point that’s still pretty reasonable. The best all-round Jazzmaster Fender makes? Don’t sleep on it…