What is there to say about the Fender Jazz that hasn’t been uttered thousands of times before? It’s one of the most successful bass designs ever. Nearly every bass company out there has to come up with a Jazz variation at some point in their production schedule. Leo Fender pretty much hit bullseye with the Jazz’s offset body, slim neck and twin single-coil pickups, creating a benchmark that has more than stood the test of time. As vintage examples have become rarer and risen in price, finding a classic 60s model for a reasonable price has become increasingly difficult. Of course, the reissue models are out there, but this particular specimen has come from the fabled Custom Shop and relic’ed as ‘New Old Stock’ from 1964, down to the smallest detail. At a tad over £2000, it’s not cheap, but take a moment to consider the prices of similar vintage models. If you found a 1964 example in as good condition as this one, you’d have to pay top dollar. So how does this particular Jazz fare as a bass on its own merit?
Resplendent in a Sonic Blue gloss finish, and with a matching headstock and faded white three-ply scratchplate, this bass really does look the business. Without an identical original instrument of the same vintage, it’s difficult to make a direct comparison, but everything looks in order, and the chrome pickup and bridge covers are the icing on the cake. If you were asked to picture a classic vintage Jazz in your head (non-sunburst, mind), this would probably be the perfect example.
From head to toe, this is a veritable time-machine piece, from the Fender decal and headstock transfers (although a Custom Shop transfer has been fitted on the back of the headstock) to the reverse tuning machine heads that operate very smoothly. The one-piece C-shape maple neck is finished in a glorious nitrocellulose lacquer as per the remit, which makes it incredibly slick to play. The slim piece – in terms of depth – of pale rosewood timber for the fingerboard is another characteristic familiar to necks of this period. Clay dot position markers have been incorporated and the truss rod adjustment can be found at the body end of the neck, requiring a Phillips screwdriver in order to adjust it.
The neck’s playability instantly grabs your attention: Jazz necks are slim, it’s what they are known for, after all. Yet this is a serious piece of work by the Fender Custom Shop. The fretwork of the 20 vintage fret neck is immaculate, with gleaming frets with no sharp edges, while the camber of the board and the radius and slimness of the neck at the nut are so wonderfully sleek, you may find it difficult to put down. The four-bolt neck join is adequate, although there’s a minor gap there – but the neck didn’t show any evidence of shifting or moving, despite some rugged manipulation.
The overall build quality is great, but you do wonder whether some of the very minor imperfections are meant to be there as per the original, such as the small gap between the scratchplate and control plate. Nevertheless, the bass has been well put together. The thumb rest and covers (ashtrays, as they have become known) give it an authentic vibe and the pickups and bridge are exactly what you would expect to see as part of the legend.
Playability And Sounds
Picking the bass up, it’s surprisingly well weighted without being overly heavy: sitting with it on your lap, it does display some headstock bias but this ceases to be an issue once on a strap. Initial acoustic frimmicking shows this to be an acoustically vibrant and resonant bass, not necessarily a characteristic bestowed on all Jazz basses. It also becomes clear that this is a comfortable instrument to hold and wear: the qualities that have made this bass design so popular over the years are in abundance, as this bass feels incredibly welcoming to the player in terms of how it plays and responds.
Plugging in, all the sounds you would expect to hear emanating from a Jazz can be found: tightly defined punch, a rounded bottom end and a degree of midrange honk, especially from the bridge pickup and trebly growl should you require it. Even now, with all of our modern technology, complex amps and active circuitry, there is still something pleasing about the tones of a passive Jazz. In terms of style or technique, it truly lends itself to anything you wish to throw at it, with an even string volume across the whole bass and responsive controls that increase and decrease the volume and tone through the whole turn of the control rather than the rather erratic response to which some Fenders are prone. It’s pleasantly surprising to find that all of the niggles that befall some Fender basses appear to have been eradicated on this particular bass.
The bass plays like an old friend and feels so familiar: the tone control is responsive in giving the bass some tonal light and shade, but it’s important not to underestimate the effect the two volume controls can have on the tonal response. Solo the neck pickup for a fat reggae tone as favoured by Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett of the Wailers, solo the bridge pickup for the twangy tone that many a funk, jazz or fusion player has demanded, or have some fun mixing the two pickups together to find a tone that suits you. Bear in mind that no one ever lost an audition because they played a Jazz bass!
Quite how this beauty matches up to an original 1964 Jazz is debatable, but regardless of how close a copy it is, there is no denying that this is a wonderfully fine bass to play. I can honestly say it is one of the finest Jazz basses I’ve ever played. It is immensely playable with plenty of character, hardware that functioned very well, a wide variety of familiar tones and a prime example of the period it represents. As I played the bass more and more, I could see, feel and hear exactly where the asking price was going – and on that basis, I can heartily recommend taking a trip to Twyford to try this very fine example of a truly classic bass.
Fender Jazz Bass Custom Shop 1964 ‘New Old Stock’
Colour: Sonic blue
Body: Select alder
Neck: Maple C-shape with nitro lacquer finish
Pickups: Vintage jazz bass single-coil x 2
Controls: Volume (neck pickup), volume (bridge pickup), tone
Tuners: Reverse tuning, open gear machineheads
Bridge: Standard Fender bridge
Made In: USA (Fender custom shop)
Nut Width: 38mm
Neck Join: Bolt-on, four-bolt
Scale Length: 34” (864mm)
Weight: 4.3kg (9.4lb)
Left Hand Model Available: Yes
Gigbag/Case: Deluxe black hardcase
What We Think
Plus: A great example of a period piece, visually what you would expect, coupled with great playability and a tonal palette that can be heard throughout the musical universe
Minus: On the pricey side, but then it is a Custom Shop product
Overall: A very fine instrument with a pedigree to match
Build Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9
Value For Money: 8