Fender Jazz Bass vs Precision Bass

Four and five string players will instantly recognise Jazz and Precision basses. But what separates the two, and what's the best one for you? In this article we’ll explore sound, specs and special features, the companies making them and the bassists who made them popular.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

What’s the difference between the Jazz bass and the Precision bass?

A Jazz bass is an offset instrument, much like the Fender Jaguar or Jazzmaster guitars with a long lower horn cutaway. Its defining feature is the middle and bridge single-coil pickup combination.

The P bass has a double-cutaway like a Strat, but larger and chunkier. Precision basses have two specific pickup configurations, either a P or PJ pickup sets. This means it has a split coil pickup 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 produce smooth to gritty vintage tones, guitar builders tailor 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.

Jazz Bass & Precision Bass Comparison:

  • Body Shape: offset vs Strat-style
  • Neck Width – thin taper vs wide and consistent
  • Neck Profile – slim vs chunky
  • Pickups – single-coil vs split-coil

Fender Jazz Bass – Key Features

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 around, there wasn’t much in the way of change for decades.

The offset shape body and back contours are completely designed with comfort in mind. Hardware-wise, it’s fairly similar to the Precision and any small incremental changes depends on the decade it was made or modelled after. The two biggest defining factors are the pickups and the neck.

Fender Jazz Bass - Andertons Music Co.

Most companies that make Jazz basses opt for a double single-coil pickup configuration, making it an extremely versatile bass. You’ll squeeze more treble and middle frequencies out of the sound than the P’s deeper, growling tone. If you’re a fingerstyle or slap player, the Jazz will suit you because of its clarity and punch.

While most newly-built P and J basses are equipped with 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.

Popular Fender Jazz Basses

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Fender Precision Bass – Key Features

Why in this instance should you buy a Precision bass over the more ergonomic Jazz? It was first introduced by Fender in 1951 to replace the upright classical style bass as crowds grew larger and larger and live music needed to be louder. Modern variations haven’t changed considerably since the original 1954 model.

The P bass utilises a thick body and a chunky neck profile. Even new P basses hark back to the mid-20th century design, because it ticks all the right boxes in the way of retro, old school style. The most prominent alteration made early on in its life was the ‘slab’ body, updated to feature more contours and ‘fit’ the player better.

Fender Precision Bass - Andertons Music Co.

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 lots of styles of music. It does an excellent job if you’re adding a bit of overdrive or even modulation. Using a plectrum with this bass is ideal to get a proper grunt. It’s kind of a one-trick-pony, but it’s a great one nonetheless. If the tone is as good as what you get from a Precision, you can apply it to plenty of musical styles.

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.

Popular Fender Precision Basses

Click here to shop all Fender Precision basses!

What are the best J and P Bass Alternatives?

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 more affordable models under the Squier brand aimed for beginners.

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 Bass Guitars –  Whether you’re a traditionalist or a modern player, Sire offer instruments of exceptionally high-quality, lending themselves to loads of genres. Designed alongside bass legend Marcus Miller, the range offers top-notch preamps and a huge choice of configurations for a competitive price.
  • G&L Bass Guitars – 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 reinvented the original P and J basses with the JB and L-100 series, featuring classic pickup configurations with cutting-edge appointments.
  • Jackson Bass Guitars – Another modern company with a fresh take on old designs. They don’t make anything completely resembling a Jazz, but they’ve taken the foundational P bass building blocks, sharpened it up and kitted it out with two humbucker pickups, thinner necks, more frets and more controls in the JS series.
  • Schecter Bass Guitars – A company offering a punchy, contemporary take on the Fender formula. The aptly-named J-Bass is their offset design, while the Model-T is an uncharacteristically old-school instrument that retains comfy modern playability.

Popular Fender Bass Alternatives

In Summary

Although both basses do have a lot in common such as the number of frets, scale-length and in most cases, hardware and woods – it is possible to loosely categorise the two.

The Jazz benefits from the slimmer neck and wider tonal range. This is a versatile bass that can cover jazz, funk and rock, fingerstyle, picking and slap without too much adjustment. If love hopping between different playing styles and genres, this is the one for you.

The Precision is flat-out built for aggression. It might not be as smooth to play, but thick bass 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-coil pickups.

Enjoyed reading this piece? Why not check out more of our Learn & Labs content while you’re here? Or if you want to do a bit of shopping, check out our Jazz Bass and Precision Bass selections.

Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a copywriter for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and headless or pointy guitars.

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