Friday, February 6, 2015

1987 Fender Japan Jazz Bass Special PJ-36 Review

Hi there!

I have written before about the original run of Fender Jazz Bass Special instruments. One of these was my first decent bass, and they have remained one of my favorite basses of all time. If you are not familiar with these, the Jazz Bass Special was made famous by Duff McKagan of Guns N Roses, and later of Velvet Revolver. These basses were made by Fender at the Fujigen factory in Japan, and were of better quality than the instruments Fender produced in the US. They were originally built 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, and they all got black hardware, (including brass bridge saddles that have been anodized black). 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.

Well, today’s black Made in Japan 1987 Jazz Bass Special has all of this stuff, but it is a domestic-only PJ-36 model that has different specifications than the models we are used to seeing. Starting from the top:

1. Gotoh compact tuners instead of full-size Fender style clover leafs

2. All of the neck, including the headstock is finished in clear instead of black

3. Standard volume-volume-tone set-up for the PJ pickups, with no TBX tone circuit

4. Output jack located on the front of the instrument instead of being recessed into the side

Not having a black neck will be a deal-breaker for most folks, as that is the signature look of the Jazz Bass Special. It is not too big of a deal for me, as these are still pretty awesome, and the lower price point to get into one of these is attractive.

This one is a great bass; the frets and fretboard are still in great shape almost 30 years later. It is light, really light, weighing in at around 7 pounds, 4 ounces. It appears to be largely unmolested, though I do not know if the knobs are original, as I have never seen one of these before. There are big ugly splotches on the body paint where something reacted with it or someone tried to cover up damage.

It is a nice player, and I got a low action out of it with no problems. It has good tone, and I have always loved the flexibility of having the PJ combination.

So, what am I going to do with it? I am not a fan of modifying guitars, but this one is going to get breathed on heavily, as the paint damage is enough to kill any sort of collectability. It is coming apart for a new custom paint job by a local hotrod builder, and it is getting some sort of active electronics package (I am still deciding which one). I will stop short of putting a brass nut on it. Maybe.



  1. hello, my name is ben i'm newbie for
    basses. Thank's for the review..
    i like PJ-36 bass design, the bass color it's simple without pickguard and also multifunction P and J. :)
    if you don't mind, i wanna ask you a several questions.

    1.head shape of the bass is P or J bass ?
    2.on PJ-36 there is no switch on the body bass, how to change Pickups sound from P to J ?
    3.on the back of the body, is that for battery ?
    4.why the paintjob on the neck is satin finish instead of glossy, is the material of wood on that bass top notch quality ?

    I will be appreciate if you answer my question. thank you very much.

    sorry for noob question and sorry for my english.. :)

    1. Hello Ben. Here are a few answers:

      1. It has more of a Jazz Bass head and neck profile
      2. There are separate volume knobs for each pickup
      3. The cavity in the back is for the potentiometers because there is no pick guard everything had to be mounted from the back. There is no battery.
      4. I do not know.

      Thank you!


  2. Hi Rex.
    Thank you! Your infos are great!

    I recently acquired one of these '87 (E7) made in Japan at a second-hand store. Great bass, great pickups!

    With the past years it's colour evolved to some kind of golden white, very unique.

    So, my question is: this one has classic clover leaf tuners, TBX tone pot, pickup switch, black headstock, and so and so... But... also a clean finish neck. No black. Is that originally ok?
    Thank you so much.