With the late-summer 2012 debut of the new American Vintage series ’65 Jazzmaster model, Tech Talk thought now would be a good time to review the traditional Jazzmaster control layout.
We say “traditional” control layout because there have been several specialized Jazzmaster models in recent years designed with simplified control layouts—such as the Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster HS, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore models, and the Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster Special.
Today, however, we’re talking about the classic Jazzmaster configuration. When the guitar was introduced in 1958 as Fender’s new top-of-the-line instrument, one of its several notable firsts was an elaborate dual-circuit design with separate volume and tone controls. The “lead circuit” had fairly standard controls for a Fender guitar—single master volume and master tone control knobs on the lower bout, and a three-position pickup selector toggle switch on the same side of the guitar on the upper bout. The Jazzmaster, however, also featured a warmer, darker-sounding second circuit—the “rhythm” circuit—with its own separate volume and tone controls on the upper horn in the form of two inset control wheels. A small slider switch on the upper horn let the player choose between the lead and rhythm circuits.
The Jazzmaster, then, had a lot of controls. Traditional models have kept this same design all along, as seen today in the Fender American Vintage ’65 Jazzmaster and Classic Player Jazzmaster Special, and the Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster and Vintage Modified Jazzmaster.
The Lead Circuit
The Jazzmaster’s lead circuit is pretty straightforward. As noted, there’s one master volume knob and one master tone knob on the lower bout. The pickup selector switch gives you the neck pickup alone, both pickups together or the bridge pickup alone.
The lead circuit is activated by setting the upper horn slide switch in the down position; that is, toward the neck.
The Rhythm Circuit
Moving the upper-bout slider switch to the up position—that is, away from the neck—activates the Jazzmaster’s rhythm circuit, which is entirely separate from the lead circuit.
In the rhythm setting, the bridge pickup is deactivated and only the neck pickup is operational. More than once, an unaware guitarist has mistaken a Jazzmaster in rhythm mode for one with a faulty bridge pickup. So let’s be crystal clear about this—when the guitar’s slider switch is in the rhythm (up) position, only the neck pickup is on.