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Thurston Moore made the jazzmaster really famous. | Photo: Paul Hudson, CC BY 2.0
Thurston Moore made the jazzmaster really famous. | Photo: Paul Hudson, CC BY 2.0
Ondřej Bezr - Fri, March 17, 2023 - 08:00

10 Guitarists Who Swear by the Fender Jazzmaster

The Jazzmaster is a guitar with a peculiar story. Fender started making it in 1958 with the vision to take over – as the name suggests – the jazz scene, which was dominated by semi-acoustic guitars. Jazz players didn't catch on, but the sound and the look of the offset body attracted surf rockers and the instrument was first introduced to the general public by the band The Ventures. Even so, it didn't exactly make a big breakthrough. Fender discontinued production in 1980, returned to it again in 1984, and since then has offered many modifications of this model. The guitar eventually became the flagship instrument of the alternative guitar scene. The reason for this is rather mundane and will be explained a few lines below by one of those who made the Jazzmaster famous – Thurston Moore.

Here is a list of ten guitarists you could or still can see with a Fender Jazzmaster. And as I always say about such lists: if you don't find your favourite player among them, don't stone the author. This is my personal selection, which does not aspire to be definitive.

Joe Pass

The genius of the modern jazz guitar school and, among other things, a wonderful accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald, is one of the very few jazz musicians who tried Jazzmaster for a while before returning to the semi-acoustic Gibson – which, after all, the company offers as his signature model. Nevertheless, the recording of Pass's playing is informative and interesting because we tend to associate the Fender Jazzmaster with a completely different sound and different playing techniques than what we can hear below.

Elvis Costello

One of the first rock figures who showed sympathy for the neglected guitar. Even on the cover of his 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True, English New Wave singer Elvis Costello is photographed with a Jazzmaster, and the guitar became his signature instrument for years to come. In 2008, the Costello-Jazzmaster connection was confirmed with the release of his signature model edition.

Tom Verlaine

This January, the American New Wave classic, frontman of the band Television, passed away. He was one of the earliest proponents of the Jazzmaster on the rock scene, although we could also see him with other models, such as the Fender Stratocaster. This great guitarist, whose sound determined his band's career, appreciated especially the Jazzmaster's distinctive tremolo, which was characteristic of his playing.

Robert Smith

"It's a brilliant guitar, though I actually bought it because of how it looked." Few will be surprised by this statement from The Cure frontman. Smith has been playing a modified Jazzmaster with one pickup added since the band's debut album, Three Imaginary Boys (1978). His perhaps subtle, but certainly sonically original playing style was associated with the Jazzmaster for years. Nowadays, we see him with other instruments, but as you can see below, he still has his old Jazzmaster.

Thurston Moore

The leading figure of the former Sonic Youth is one of the biggest personalities associated with Jazzmaster. Together with his colleague Leo Ranaldo, they taught this guitar to play really loud, to wail, to sound in strange non-standard tunings, they took it apart, and in general, pushed the guitar playing a step forward. But the reason why his main instrument has always been the Jazzmaster is entirely different than aesthetic: "I started playing the Jazzmaster in the mid-eighties. I hadn't had a nice guitar until then, and none of us had any money in the beginning, so we used cheaper instruments bought at pawn shops in New York. We picked up anything that didn't cost much and was functional and adapted it to our needs," Moore told UNI magazine eight years ago. If only he had known then that he would contribute significantly to the fact that those cheap guitars would become instruments people would invest loads of money in...

Lee Ranaldo

Although Lee Ranaldo has played acoustic guitar in many of his solo and band projects since the breakup of Sonic Youth, Jazzmaster is still an integral part of his sound. Whenever he plays an electric instrument, you can bet it's 99 per cent a Jazzmaster. If you want to do some digging, take a peek at Sonic Youth's still-active website, where under the Gear tab you'll find a list of all the instruments that were in the band's possession, with appropriate comments. Jazzmasters predominate, of course. After all, it's no coincidence that in 2009 Fender launched signature Jazzmaster models of both Sonic Youth guitarists, Ranaldo and Moore.

J Mascis

The frontman of Dinosaur Jr is another player who is hard to imagine with anything other than a Fender Jazzmaster guitar. He owns a large collection of them and there have been two versions of his signature models on the market: the Japanese Fender has been selling a purple glitter version since 2007, while the cheaper Squier introduced a white version in 2011, both with a gold pickguard and Mascis-designed feature modifications. Even more interesting are several of Mascis' recent videos, where he talks enthusiastically about the Fender Telecaster (Mascis' signature Telecaster model is currently on sale) and claims that the "Tele" has always been his number one guitar in the studio.

Kevin Shields

The frontman of My Bloody Valentine is another of the musicians who not only transformed the music scene at the turn of the 80s and 90s and initiated the then fashionable alternative style of "shoegaze", but is also one of the great experimenters of guitar playing. The Fender Jazzmaster, whose design is ideal for working with various distortions, tunings, vibrato and feedback, helped him to accomplish that.

Nels Cline

This versatile guitarist, a member of Wilco since 2004, is another player characterised both visually and sonically by the Fender Jazzmaster. He was inspired by the previously mentioned Thurston Moore, who he has worked with, among many other musicians from all genres from jazz to rock to country. "The whole time I was growing up, Jazzmasters were considered joke guitars, not serious guitars. I played my Jaguar, but I was fascinated with these Jazzmaster guitars after hearing Tom Verlaine of Television and Sonic Youth using these guitars," he says.

Troy Van Leeuwen

It's not that he doesn't play other instruments, the Queens of the Stone Age guitarist also likes to use Telecasters and Jaguars, but he's mainly associated with the Jazzmaster because in 2014 Fender introduced his signature model. It was at NAMM, the world's biggest music trade show, where the company presented one more model from this latest collection of signature Jazzmasters, dedicated to Jim Root, guitarist of heavy metal band Slipknot.

Tagy Fender Jazzmaster Thurston Moore

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Foto: František Vlček, Lidové noviny