Some people don’t like Jazzmasters. This makes me sad, but it’s true. These strange guitars are an unusual offset shape, and the stock bridge is famously problematic.
Once you play a Jazzmaster that works for you, however, it’s an experience unlike anything else. It’s not the easiest guitar to play (it fights you a bit,) and it can look goofy, but the sound can be smooth and punchy in a way that makes your nipples poke-out.
In this article I present nine of the best Jazzmaster pickups available for purchase. These are excellent options if you’re looking to improve on stock pickups.
But first let’s take a look at the history of the Jazzmaster. Just read it. This is good information. Have you ever seen someone playing jazz on a Jazzmaster? Neither have I.
History of the Jazzmaster
The Fender Jazzmaster was born in 1958 with the goal of being a classy follow-up to the Stratocaster and a way to corner the jazz guitar market. Fender had been having a hell of a time getting the jazz cats on board.
Neither of these goals were achieved, but the Jazzmaster did go on to find success in some surprising ways.
Fender was not thinking about rock ‘n roll when they designed the Jazzmaster. In fact, they thought rock was a passing fad. Fender wanted to be taken seriously by serious musicians.
The jazz scene was of course dominated by large hollow body electrics, and that didn’t appear to be changing.
The plan at Fender was to offer jazz guitarists some features they could not refuse. The shape of the Jazzmaster provided excellent balance for playing seated, as most jazzers did.
The pickups and switches provided a futuristic look perfect for the birth of the space age. The tones were smoother than the Stratocaster and Telecaster. What could go wrong?
Everything went wrong. Fender didn’t consult jazz guitarists about what they would like in a new model. Jazz players were traditional, and a new company in California with a solid body guitar got a big nope from the entire scene.
But surprisingly, the Jazzmaster did sell.
A young guitarist named Don Wilson of The Ventures played a Jazzmaster on the 1960 hit “Walk, Don’t Run.” This was one of the first popular surf songs and teens wanted what Don was playing. The Jazzmaster became the surf guitar. The name should have been changed to the Surfmaster. I would buy one.
Other famous guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix flirted with Jazzmasters, although the Strat remained their main instrument.
The 1970s arrived with a desire for more powerful pickups and amps. The Jazzmaster disappeared from popular culture during this period, but it would again resurrect in a surprising manner.
Once sales of the Jazzmaster tanked, prices followed it down into the basement. This was good news for struggling musicians who didn’t have much to spend on an instrument.
Punk kids like Elvis Costello started playing the Jazzmaster and it became kind of cool again for a bit. Unfortunately, sales weren’t great and Fender ceased production of the Jazzmaster in 1980.
Fender Japan saved the day in 1986 when they released a 1962 reissue Jazzmaster. This model remained in production through 1999.
In 1999, the Jazzmaster went back into production in the US. By this point a whole new generation of alternative rock guitarists had rediscovered the instrument, and some, like J Mascis and Lee Ronaldo, wound up with signature Jazzmasters.
The Jazzmaster may be quirky, but it’s a survivor, and it looks like it’s here to stay. Let’s look at the best Jazzmaster pickups.
The Best Jazzmaster Pickups
Now that we know what we’re working with, here are 9 of the best pickups for your Jazzmaster. Follow the links for more details and to check prices.
Curtis Novak JM-FAT
This pickup has all of the dynamics and range of the JM-V with emphasized midrange and nice high end bite. There are no brittle tones or muddy lows. This should be the stock Jazzmaster pickup sound. It’s like a beefier Fender.
The midrange boost works wonders on overdrive tones, and the clean sounds are crystal clear. I heard that 80s rap stars The Fat Boys were named after this pickup, but I can’t find a source.
Bootstrap Lake Surfer
Open, bright Fender Single coil tones. Quiet and able to handle gain. Shimmery and glassy clean sounds are amazing. Hotter than original Jazzmaster pickups and slightly less sharp. Punchy sounds abound. Highly recommended for the price point.
Don’t pull yourself up by the bootstraps, allow Bootstrap pickups to pull-up your Jazzmaster with tone!
Fuller and Smoother than a vintage Jazzmaster. Full tone from the neck pickup. Nice note articulation with overdrive. Like your great aunt, never thin. No brittle tones to be found.
These sound excellent in every position. Rounded high end with fat midrange and bouncy bass. If your tone makes you feel like you’re failin’, go online and order a Fralin.
The neck pickup is juicy and thick. The bridge pickup is a bit jangly with edgy cleans. Lots of fun with heavy surf reverb. Snappy and smooth. Chimey and balanced.
I hope it’s alright if I say that these can get a bit twangy. Much cleaner than the stock pickups. Look, what do you want to hear? Just go buy these!
Seymour Duncan Antiquity II
These Alnico 5 pickups really shine with echo, modulation, and reverb. Hot and bright sounding; spiky tones with overdrive. Precise with nice dynamic range. 60s surf tone is immediately apparent.
Hum canceling in middle position. Crisp and glassy with an updated ’60s Jazzmaster tone. Mr. Duncan, you have done it again. These single coils truly make my pants tight.
O.C. Duff ’65 Noble Surfer
These feature black fiberboard bobbins, Alnico V flat poles, and cloth leads. Thick midrange with more controlled highs than stock pickups.
These are right in the sweet spot of great Jazzmaster tone. Not too hot, but still capable of handling some fierce overdrive. I need more Jazzmasters so I can replace more pickups.
Mojotone ’59 Clone Jazzmaster
Hand-wound with a specific winding pattern. What is it? Is it secret? Reverse winding for hum canceling. Vacuum potted coils.
These pickups sound powerful and clear. Well-balanced, warm, and fat, like Santa on a tightrope. No shrieking when you crank the volume and gain. Rounded and beefy tone. Really spectacular.
Fender Vintera ’60s Modified Jazzmaster
These pickups have a vintage, bright character. Highs remain clear while shrillness is removed.
Upper mids are boosted at a frequency that is very pleasing to the ear. Sorry I can’t be more technical.
Plenty of gain and texture when overdriven. Scooped sound and overall extremely balanced.
J90s are fairly loud with the modern wind. I haven’t played the vintage wind, but reviews (understandably) state that they’re more subtle.
Crisp, tight, and creamy, these are perfectly designed for their position. J90s take distortion well, and there are no ice pick tones audible at the high-end. These are juicy. Great stuff.
I know you’re broke. Can you borrow any more money from your brother-in-law? You need to buy these pickups now!