Precision Bass and Jazz Bass Differences
A Jazz bass is an offset instrument, much like a Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster but with a long lower horn cutaway. It’s defined by its bridge and middle single-coil pickups.
The P bass has a double cutaway like a Strat but larger and chunkier. These have two specific pickup configurations, either a P or PJ pickup sets. This means it has split coils in the middle position and if it’s a PJ, has a Jazz pickup in the bridge.
There are loads of applications for the two bass guitars. Although both historically have vintage voicings, guitar builders make these shapes for various genres, from classic rock to indie funk to jazz and punk to metal. There’s one out there for you, whatever you play.
The fundamental differences:
- Body Shape - Strat S-shape style vs offset.
- Neck Width - wide and consistent vs thin taper.
- Neck Profile - chunky vs slim.
- Pickups - split-coil vs single-coil.
P Bass/Precision Bass
Why should you buy a Precision, or the commonly known P bass? It was first introduced by Fender in 1951 to replace the upright classical style bass as the need for volume grew. Modern variations haven’t changed considerably since 1954.
The P bass utilises a thick body and a chunky neck profile. Even new models hark back to mid 20th century designs because they tick all the boxes for retro style. The most prominent change made early on in its life was the ‘slab’ body being updated to feature more contours.
This is the bass you want for full-on power. The hum-cancelling split coil pickup provides a huge, full range tone that sits in a mix extremely well for a lot of styles of music. Saying that, it’s not really a versatile instrument. It does a good job for an old school, boomy sound but it doesn’t really cut it for super modern tones. It’s kind of a one-trick-pony, but it’s a great one nonetheless. Using a plectrum with this bass is ideal to get grunt out of the sound.
Famous players include James Jamerson, the man behind most Motown hits in the 60’s and 70s, Steve Harris from Iron Maiden and Nate Mendel from Foo Fighters.
J Bass/Jazz Bass
The Jazz bass was introduced in 1960 as a streamlined, ergonomic construction more akin to a Jazzmaster guitar. Like the Precision, Fender nailed it so well the first-time round, they didn’t need to change much for decades.
The offset shape body and back contours are designed with comfort in mind. Hardware-wise, it is fairly similar to the Precision, but obviously depends on the company. The two biggest defining factors are the pickups and the neck.
Most companies that make Jazz shapes equip it with single-coil pickups, making it an extremely versatile bass. You’ll get more treble and middle out of the sound than the P’s lower register. If you’re a fingerstyle or slap player, the Jazz will suit you.
While all newly-built P and J basses have modern ‘C’ shape necks, the Jazz neck tapers off to a slim 38mm nut width. This is unlike the P’s 43mm and consistent size down the whole neck. Ironically, the Jazz will generally offer more precision than a Precision.
Bassists known to play a Jazz include John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Noel Redding from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Rush’s Geddy Lee.
Alternative J and P Bass Manufacturers
Fender were the original company to design the Precision and Jazz basses in 1951 and 1960 respectively. They quickly became the industry standard for all genres of music. Nowadays, Fender offer the very same old school style in dozens of specs, finishes and niche features. They also make cheaper models under the Squier brand aimed more towards the beginner market.
However, there are loads of manufacturers that have been inspired by Leo Fender's original designs and provide fresh takes on a classic instrument.
Sire Marcus Miller
Legendary bassist Marcus Miller has become synonymous with Sire. Made in California, these basses are perfect for funk and jazz. Think of any assortment of specs and they’ll have it in their P and V ranges. Want a left-handed fretless five string? Done.
Whether you’re a traditionalist or new age player, Sire offer instruments of exceptionally high-quality. They also load many of their basses with the amazing Heritage-3 preamp. This opens a host of EQ’ing possibilities, with the likes of cut/boost for treble, mids and lows, active/passive switch, blend knob and coil-splitting.
Leo Fender’s last company before his passing. He believed the guitars and basses he made at G&L were the best he ever made. He even introduced new shapes like the Kiloton and CLF Research, which have stylistic similarities but feature completely different pickups, hardware and playability.
But he still reinvented those original P and J basses with the JB and L-100 series. These featured classic pickup configurations, however benefited from Magnetic Field Design, that allows you to adjust each pole piece, and adds more output to the pickup. Also at the forefront of technology is the cutting edge saddle lock bridge. This keeps the neck, tuning and intonation extremely stable.
Japanese company Ibanez take a more contemporary approach to the P bass. Much like a super-strat, Ibanez have taken the vintage design and modernised it. This resulted in the ATK. It’s not completely true to the P bass shape but close enough to resemble its origins. It also has a humbucker pickup in the bridge instead of the classic single coil and the neck profile has been drastically streamlined. TMB range is of closer ilk to a Jazz, having clearly been inspired by the vintage design.
Another modern company with a fresh take on old designs. They don’t make anything resembling a Jazz, but they’ve taken the Precision, sharpened it and kitted it out with two humbucker pickups, thinner necks, more frets and more controls in the JS series. Jackson also have a signature Dave Ellefson bass from Megadeth. That might give you more of an indication of what they’re about.
Although both basses do have a lot in common, such as number of frets, scale-length and in most cases, similarity in hardware and woods, it is possible to loosely categorise the two.
The Jazz benefits from the slimmer neck and more modern pickup frequencies. This is a versatile bass that can cover jazz, funk and rock, fingerstyle, picking and slap. If you’re all about accurate playing and love switching between genres, this is the one for you.
The Precision is flat-out built for aggression. It might not be as quick to play, but thick neck users won’t have any time adjusting to the P. Its sound is tried and tested over countless records. You simply couldn’t get the rumble of a Precision out of the Jazz single coils. But if you are after a mix, many P basses have the PJ pickup configuration to give it some versatility.