Friday, January 7, 2011

Fender Jazz Bass Special


Some folks have requested that I write about the original run of Fender Jazz Bass Specials, and I am happy to oblige. One of these was my first decent bass, and they have remained one of my favorite basses of all time. I have owned bunches of them, making me a pseudo-expert.

If you are not familiar with these, Jazz Bass Specials were made famous by Duff McKagan of Guns N Roses, and later of Velvet Revolver. These basses were made by Fender in Japan in the early years that were known for the best MIJ guitars, and were of better quality than the ones produced in the US. They were originally produced from 1985 to 1987 (or so).


The ”special” part of the Jazz Bass Special is that it has a Precision Bass body shape with a Jazz Bass profile neck and a P/J pickup configuration.

The bodies are probably basswood, as they are light. They have a control cavity routed in the back so there is no pickguard (this also makes it easier to add active electronics). I have had them finished in black, red, Sonic Blue, and of course, the yellowed pearl white of Mr. McKagan’s basses.


The necks all have a glossy black headstock, and a rosewood fretboard. They were available fretted or fretless. The backs maple necks were either clear coated, or painted glossy black. The glossy black ones are much more desireable.

The pickup s are passive with volume/volume/TBX (tone) controls with a 3-way pickup selector. Many times Jazz Bass Specials have been modified with active electronics, such as EMG or the Seymour Duncan pickups (the ones with the little toggle switches) that were so popular back then.

They came with black hardware, which had some issues with the finish. The neck plates and bridges oxidized badly and developed an ugly, chalky appearance over time. This led to a lot of bridge replacements, which is a shame: there are really nice brass saddles underneath that black finish.

Often times, the knobs were replaced, too. They came with F-logo plastic knobs that had a nubbly rubber grip around the edge. Good luck finding replacements if they are missing, because Fender does not sell them, and I never see them for sale on eBay. I am thinking about re-issuing them myself.

Anyway, these are great basses. They sound good, play very well, and generally come in under 9 pounds. Plus they are pretty cheap. These are still a great deal, with unmolested examples in good condition selling for about $500.

I would pick up one of these original Jazz Bass Specials Japanese before considering one of the low-quality newer re-issues.

Mahalo!

42 comments:

  1. Just wondering if these came with smaller tuning knobs.

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  2. Hello!

    As far as I know, they all came with the larger tuners. Thanks!

    Rex

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  3. I got one as my first bass and played it for eight years. Stolen. and I have been looking for eight years since. Hard to find. Miss it.

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  4. Bought mine in 1990, still use it today, never had to get another... it can sound like an acoustic stand up, and even sound like geddy lee's rickenbacher when using blue steel cryogenics... missing the f-insert of the volume knob, the bridge original and has that ugly chalky look, everything is stock, except for a hipshot detuner that did not require modification, still have the original key though.

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  5. Bought one on Ebay in 2009. It had active electronics installed with EMG pickups. I replaced the stock bridge with a Hipshot Brass Bridge which added more sustain to the action not to mention about 2 lbs. to the weight of the body. I bought this bass for recording, and it does the job well, the active electronics really aid in getting just about any kind of sound that I need. I predict that these bad boys will go up in price dramatically in the coming years. They are a home project studio's best friend and secret weapon.

    Question: You mentioned that that glossy painted black necks are more desirable (mine's a clear-coat finish). Why is that exactly? Are the necks that different?

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  6. I have one of these basses, but mine only has the P-bass pickup. There's no J-bass pickup at the bridge, nor a routing hole where one should be, it was made without it. I can't find another one like it. Why is mine different than every other one i see online?

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  7. Somebody probably swapped necks on it at some point...

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  8. I had an 87 all black (neck too) P only with everything original. I bought it on Craigslist for $400 and sold it a year ago for $850 I miss it to this day... should have never sold it.

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  9. Heres a few pics of it on flickr ... I loved that thing...
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/crowdigitalimaging/5498582350/

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    1. That's not a Jazz Special.. What's pictured is a Precision Bass from the same era.

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  10. Bought one of these new in 1987 (I think) in "Razz Berry" - a bright pink color. Chose that over others in a sea foam green color. Came with a genuine Fender hard case, got it for a steal at $199. They were liquidating a bunch of them in these two colors.

    It is the only bass I've ever owned - it plays great, the neck is incredible, the variations in tone it can produce are shocking (mega growl metal to almost Alembic tonality) due to the ability to blend the P and J pickups. I've been offered big time money for it (last offer was $1200), but I'll never sell it. When I do pick up another bass to try out, like at a music store or maybe belongs to a friend, I always want to play my bass instead and everyone who plays it want to too.

    I am curious about a couple things. My bass has a natural finish satin neck, not black. The headstock is black, though. Most of the other JBS's I see, the neck is gloss black, but not all. Any idea when they made this change? Also, how can I decode the serial number on the headstock?
    Thanks!

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  11. well you should have E7XXXXX serial and that stays for 87. that is the year they stopped paint necks gloss black. i constantly research all available info over internet on these basses and have a lot of guitars cataloged. would help lovely if more info needed. :)
    Artem

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    1. Artem, the serial on my bass is E9 and the neck isn't clear coated, it's satin - almost an unfinished feel to it.

      Do you have a website, myspace or facebook page with the info on these basses? Would really like to know more about mine. I'm beginning to think that the Razz Berry and seafoam green ones are the rare ones...
      Ed

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  12. I HAVE ONE OF THOSE BASSES , RAZZBERRY , NATURAL FINISH NECK , MADE IN 1988 , IS LIKE NEW , ALMOST NEVER PLAYED , 0 CHIPS OR DENTS , IT STILL HAS A STICKER IN THE BACK WITH SOME INFO . IT CAME WITH THE ORIGINAL FENDER HARD CASE IN VERY GOOD CONDITION FOR ITS AGE , I PAID 6,000 mexican pesos ( 475 DOLLARS ) in 2011 .

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    1. If you don't mind me asking, what are the first 2 digits of the serial number on the headstock? I'm still trying to decode the serial number on my Razz Berry and It'd be nice to compare. Nice bass BTW...

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  13. bought one in ireland last year cost 290 euro gave my amercan precision to my son as i found it too heavy and the neck too wide. I am getting old and the hands are getting arthritic so the jazz bass special was much easier for me. whoever gets one hang onto it. a fine bass. In fact a friend of mine has the black power bass special bought from noel redding. I wonder what that is worth.

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  14. Please do reissue those knobs yourself haha. Mine are starting to strip on the core so I'm going to need new ones soon.

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  15. Does anyone know which are the original pickups mounted on these basses? Brand, models, any useful infos are welcome.

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  16. trust rod adjuster difficult to set...got 1 special jazz bass but without selector...

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  17. My first bass was a Fender Jazz Bass Special (MIJ) all black, black hardware - still have it. Still love it and play it everyday. I just picked up a fretless version with a Graffiti Yellow body and the rest all black. It's awesome! I've never seen one in this color so I took off the neck and it is original/factory color! Is this a rare bird?

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  18. I have one I bought in the late 80's. Frettless ,all black ,except for the back of the neck. Love it .

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  19. I believe these have truss adjustment at the butt of the neck. It has to be removed to adjust. pita

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    1. The truss rod adjustment on my Jazz Bass Special is up by the headstock. It's never given me any issue adjusting it (then again it hasn't needed a lot of adjusting either).

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  20. My local pawn shop has one for $700 that's too much, it's in good shape, non original knobs, ugly chalky hardware, but it sounds and plays amazing. I'm thinking I'll offer $450 and if they day yes I'll take her home.

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  21. I have one of these basses, I bought it in late 85(new)with the case. It's a silver grey color, and my favorite bass. I have a p bass special and an banes 5 string and no ether of them play like my jazz bass special, yeah; the hardware got nasty and chalky,but that does not bother with how great this bass sounds after all these years. The knobs are missing the "f" caps. Like I said, still my favorite bass of all that I own. A nice set of blues steel strings and I can attain that Steeve Harris sound...

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  22. I have one that was fretless although it had fret markers as though someone had taken the frets themselves. I replaced the neck with a maple MIM but kept the black machine heads. Thinking of replacing the pickups and changing the knobs to those silver ones.

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  23. Hey Rex, Picked up an 87 E series Jazz bass special, very good condition, plays well sounds great but needed some fret work. That done, I noticed that the neck radius is more of a 10 than the jazz necks 7.25. Any comment on this aspect of this great bass. Thanks, Sonny.

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  24. Hello Rex

    I got a E series like your (same shinny white color).
    Any news from the knobs front ? (the F caps of mine are long gone).

    Luc

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  25. Nothing to update on the knobs, Luc - too many irons in the fire...

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  26. I have a 1980's Hondo fender fretless jazz special copy.Have you ever seen one?I'm thinking someone threw a Hondo neck on the fender mij body.

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  27. OMG I JUST BOUGHT ONE ON SEMI DECENT CONDITION FOR 80 BUCKS

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  28. Wish I could find one with a maple board!!!

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  29. Just bought an '88 fretless in silver. The neck has been replaced with a USA maple. Beautiful tone and endless combinations. :)

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  30. I have been playing a black Power Jazz Special since 1989, which I bought second hand from The Bassplayer in Annandale Sydney. Loved it from the day I bought it. I was re-setting the bridge and action yesterday and It still sounds great. I gigged with it for over 20 years. Such great tone variation and feel. The only thing I have replaced on it is the bridge which I replaced with a Bad Ass bridge, as the original one seemed a bit cheap. I did that back in about 1992. Have been doing some fun research on this bass and found some great threads on the PJBS. It seems like a well respected "Cool" Bass which is a bit sought after. Glad I have one.

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    1. Serial Number on my PJBS is
      E7949XX which I think was made between 84 and 87?? is there any way to find out exactly what year it was made?

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    2. According to a Japanese reply on a different page, your serial number starting with a 7 indicates 1987

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  31. My bass E517XXX is a pearl white (yellow now) version from 1985 Fuji-gen, but mine is quite heavy in weight (around 14lbs, almost 7kg. It is made of a composite resin of some sort. Any comments on this build? Been rockin my Jazz Special since 1993.

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  32. Thanks for your article. I bought my Jazz Bass Special brand new in '87 and it's my gigging bass today. Pickups went through some changes, replaced the knobs, but the fundamentals of the instrument are utterly indestructible: love it. Black finish neck.

    The metallic gray body finish has yellowed slightly - kind of a pewter gold.

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  33. Got mine here in the Philippines for about $160. Secondhand but still rocks. Only problem I have is that this one is fretless and I am planning to convert this into a fretted one.

    Great bass can't wait to gig this. :)

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  34. Rex,
    I'm wondering if you could provide some assistance regarding my serial. All of the Jazz Specials that I've had the pleasure of seeing have all had their serials on the front of the neck just under the logo. My serial however, is located on the neck plate. It is an "A" series. I've looked up the serial and it checks out. I should mention that my neck is glossy black and was purchased from a gentleman in Japan. As far as I know, I'm the first American to have owned this bass.
    All of my basses have names that somehow correlate to the instrument itself. My Jazz Special's name is McDuff. What can you tell me about my instrument? I'd like to sincerely thank you for your time and assistance.
    Respectfully,
    Michael Campbell
    Toledo, OH

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    1. Hi Michael! I have seen these before, and there were Jazz Bass Specials in Japan before they came here, and they had a lot of different version, even some short-scale ones. Documentation on these is non-existant, but if you pull the neck there will me a model code, and maybe even a penciled in manufacturing date. Thanks for checking in! Rex

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  35. Love my 85'. But what's the deal with some jazz bass specials having no selector switch Rex?

    Thank you
    Michael

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