Fender occupies a long impressive list of guitars to their famed arsenal, none more so than the iconic Telecaster and Jazzmaster.
As of writing, both could possibly be the most desirable instruments to add to any proud guitar owners collection in today’s guitar circle.
With my past experiences with both guitars, I will outline the main differences what set them apart and make them both individually awesome. Question is, are you a Tele or Jazz man? Let’s find out…
History of the Telecaster
The Telecaster was born in early 1951 originally named the “Broadcaster.” However, Gretch quickly caught wind of this new guitar on the block and filed a lawsuit on release, the reason was that Gretch already possessed a line of drums sporting a similar name (Broadkaster.)
Fender quickly changed the name to the “Nocaster” while in a transitional phase and in the summer of 1951, Fender christened the guitar as the “Telecaster” the recognizable name guitar players worldwide know and love.
On its birth, the Telecaster
Best of all it was affordable, comfortable, the design was simple, it sounded killer and was easy to repair and modify. All the key ingredients for a successful guitar.
With its early foundations set, the Telecaster conquered the country, blues
Birth of the Jazzmaster
The Jazzmaster announced itself in 1958 and based on its name, was originally designed, marketed and put forward to Jazz players as an innovative, smooth and classy jazz companion.
Its unusual shape carried a purpose, it was designed to be the most comfortable in the sitting position which is how most jazz guitarists play.
Unfortunately, the Jazzmaster was never embraced by jazz players (possibly for its unconventional looks and sound.) However, surf rockers picked up this new guitar and soon there was a tidal wave and wash of popularity with the Jazzmaster and surf rock back in the early 60s.
Both the Jazzmaster and its cousin the Stratocaster dominated the surf rock decade. Defining the era tonally with the sound of iconic, twangy and thin clean tone drenched in the iconic reverb of the ‘Fender Twin Reverb’ amplifier.
However, as time moved on the Jazzmaster’s heyday was over with Fender discontinuing production in the 80s due to poor sales.
This was until the punk decade regenerated the guitar bringing it back from the dead. As of writing this, The Jazzmaster is well and truly back with a resurgence during modern times being popular with genres such as modern rock, alternative, and indie.
How Do They Sound?
The meat and potatoes to this comparison post are how both guitars sound and the variances in tone. Granted both guitars are manufactured by Fender meaning they naturally give off that classic, ‘rich’, ‘spanky’, and ‘chimey’ tone.
However, the Telecaster and Jazzmaster do it slightly different both using their own individual flair and flavor. Therefore, it is down to the guitar players own individual tastes to decide which dish they prefer.
The Jazzmaster Tone
The Jazzmaster’s ‘chimey’ and ‘jangly’ tone has regenerated itself from the 90s era to become popular with a number of modern styles of music such as alternative rock, indie, punk and many more.
The Jazzmaster has a slightly more hollow and mellow tone with a modern twist compared to its Telecaster and Stratocaster cousins with
Not exactly the jazziest sound you will hear compared to the traditional warm sounding hollow and semi-hollow body jazz guitars ironically the genre the Jazzmaster was designed for.
This incredibly thin and bright tone is what made it so desirable with surf rock guitar players during the 60s.
Fast forward to the modern era with the abundance of distortion/overdrive the Jazzmaster combines with gain and saturation incredibly well for spanking crunch tones.
Factor in the tone shifting capabilities via the bridge and rhythm pickup the tone can be shifted in all directions for players tastes making it very versatile in a number of genres.
Playing around with the Jazzmasters unique rhythm and treble controls you can dial in a massive range of tones allowing darker, warmer and brighter selections.
Although the Jazzmaster is as equally as versatile in a number of genres and styles. In my opinion, it sounds at its best when slapped with a mild amount of dirt in the bridge position combined with aggressive power chords for a modern alternative rock or punk rhythm tone.
When combined with distortion, the tone sounds ‘jangly’ and ‘crunchy’ offering a nice range of frequencies lending itself to a solid ‘in your face’ rhythm tone. For me, the Jazzmaster to my ears just wants to be spanked with power chords and full-bodied rhythm to make the most of its sound.
You have to appreciate the distortion mainly because it sounds slightly ‘quacky ’ making it unique and individual perhaps thanks to the bridge and tremolo system influencing the sound.
The only caveat is that the Jazzmaster is known to not sustain as much as the Telecaster which is something to be aware of if you happen to be a keen lead player.
Twangy Telecaster Tone
The Telecaster compared to the Jazzmaster is rewound for sounding ‘thin’ and ‘twangy’ when there are single coil pickups at the helm. This twangy tone has immortalized the Telecaster for producing the best country lead tones with models adopting the single coil pickup in the bridge position.
Compared to the Jazzmaster, the Telecaster although both guitars sound bright and articulate the Telecaster has slightly more bottom-end giving it the best balance when it comes to frequencies.
To my ears, it has the best blend of high and low frequencies with one not overpowering the other. The guitar has the perfect blend of sonic characteristics hence why the Tele is famed for being a versatile and great overall sounding guitar.
Whereas the bridge pickup of the Jazzmaster although sounds great is incredibly bright and can melt your face off at high volumes which may not be to every guitar players tastes. Keep in mind, this all comes down to individual preferences.
The All Rounder
The Telecaster is so versatile in sounds and more importantly can do them well. I would say this guitar is a lead monster with its thin and bright tone but also has the ability to clean up beautifully for some tasty crunchy rhythm tones.
Some guitars try to do everything but end up pleasing no one, however, the Tele is an all-rounder but carries the most weight when it comes to blues, rock, country and modern music just so if you happen to be a big fan.
Both guitars thin sound would suit playing in a band with a guitarist wither a thicker sound say from a Les Paul or semi-hollow body guitar.
This combination of thin and thick can compliment each other well and distinguish both guitars in a mix. The thin sound from both guitars would cut through any mix allowing their voices to be heard easily on stage.
Final Say on Tone
In my opinion, the Jazzmaster has a unique and edgy sound I agree that the Telecaster sounds better in most departments, tone, character, and frequencies. However, the Jazzmaster just brings something different to the table hence why they are so popular in today’s modern music.
The Telecaster has a well rounded classic sound regardless of what pickups are at the helm they combine perfectly with clean, mild overdrive and medium distortion a perfect guitar to add to any collection.
Unlike the Jazzmaster, the Telecaster does not come with ‘set in stone’ pickups. Luckily depending on company and model the choices available for pickups are single coils, humbuckers, and even models with P90s.
Traditionally a large percentage of Telecasters are more famed for having single coils so it makes sense to discuss them first.
For the brightest and
Single Coil or Humbuckers?
Single coils also sound great with low and mild amounts of distortion for a crunchy and defined rock rhythm tones.
Telecasters with stock humbucker pickups naturally fatten up the tone losing some of the brightness and twang but repaying with a thicker and warmer tone which lends itself better to rock and heavier music when applied with distortion.
This could be selected for a player who uses distortion requiring a pickup to cancel the annoying ‘hum’ and ‘buzz’ known as 60 cycle hum, especially when playing through a loud amplifier on stage.
The Jazzmaster includes a unique feature to most guitars with its ‘soapbar’ pickups which are commonly mistaken for P90s.
These pickups are flatter and wider than most single coil pickups traditionally adopted by most Fender guitars including the Telecaster. The sharp and piercing clean tone these pickups produce is the main reason why they became so popular with surf rockers back in the 60s.
They look like Humbuckers?
On first glance, players will be mistaken for assuming these pickups can produce the same warm and beefy tones as they are bigger than the size of a humbucker.
When in reality they are piercingly bright and
Regardless, these pickups allow the Jazzmaster to be versatile in a number of genres, give throw most genres at this guitar and it will do it.
The pickup design is a traditional 3-way switch. The rhythm pickup tone and volume are controlled by the tone switches at the top of the body which is a unique circuitry and configuration.
The Telecaster is a simple ‘plug-in and
Switching to neck, middle, and bridge pickup or combination of two with the 5-way selector versions. This configuration has stayed with the Telecaster since the first design which has worked so well in simplicity over the years.
The floating tremolo is what sets it and the Telecaster apart when it comes to features allowing the player the freedom and control for interesting soundscapes and vibrato which in my opinion sounds best when combined with bright, lush clean tones.
Although players have questioned the tremolo systems design combined with a bridge that can cause the dreaded ‘bridge buzz’ depending on model and design. Fender and Squire have corrected the buzz with a different bridge and tremolo designs over the years.
When the Jazzmaster gets it right however, the tremolo is a feature that can really appeal the modern circle of players offering the icing on the cake when it comes to individual sound and tone.
The Jazzmaster includes not one, but two tone circuits giving the player the control of the bridge pickups with the volume and tone knob while the neck pickup is modified with the tone reels. This design has stayed with Jazzmaster since which is completely unique to the guitar.
Playability and Comfort
Comparing both the Telecaster and Jazzmaster when it comes to comfort is hard to set apart. Back during their early design and construction days, Leo Fender recognized that all of his guitars must be constructed with comfort and playability with the highest priority.
Granted the Jazzmaster was designed for the sit-down Jazz players yet they still created a highly comfortable guitar regardless of sitting or standing.
The Jazzmaster comes with more ‘real estate’ in the form of a larger offset shaped body. yet makes up for it with a well-positioned belly contour for comfort although it is the heavier guitar out the two.
In contrast, the Telecaster is one block of wood with strings but it is an incredibly light and very forgiving shape which is why it is known as one of the most comfortable and playable guitars.
Both Guitars sport the traditional Fender “C shape” neck rewound for being comfortable, fast and provide a good balance of weight and control in the palm of the hand.
The neck feels smooth when transitioning from lead runs to playing simple chords. It feels accurate, comfortable and it just works.
Overall both guitars are perfect guitars to sink a lot of hours into one playing session without any issues in the playability and comfort department.
Which One For You?
Before we get into it, both these Fender creations are brilliant precision instruments worthy of any guitar collection.
The winner is the one that appeals to you the most in many departments, that being tonally, visually and creatively as a guitar player. It also comes down to your personal requirements in a guitar. If I had to toss my coin into the hat however…
The Telecaster is a guitar that has proven its worth and dominance over the years with its classy looks, simple design and killer sound and the most versatile option of the two.
For a guitar that can do pretty much anything, the Telecaster is a solid option. I would go for the Tele if I was a heavy rock n roll fan for blues, rock, country as this is where it can really be at home.
Yet I would use the Tele for modern genres but utilize it for a core modern sound with a slight classic twist pointing back to its rock n roll roots.
For me personally, the Jazzmaster looks vintage and modern sound definitely makes it the edgier and wildcard choice compared to its usual Fender cousin the Telecaster.
Combine that with its unusual looks, floating bridge and visual appeal the Jazzmaster is the choice for more modern styles of music but can also play blues, rock and any other styles which you throw at it. For a unique sound however and for attempting to stand out from the crowd, the Jazzmaster would be the guitar choice for you.