I’m a guitarist. Like most guitarists, I have a favorite model of guitar: the Fender Jazzmaster. First, just a little history about the guitar. Fender first released the Jazzmaster in the late 1950s as a mode of reaching out to jazz musicians. However, most jazz musicians ended up still using the other brands due to the Jazzmaster’s innate ability to produce feedback, something that jazz doesn’t really call for. But the model gained a huge following among surf rock bands of the 1960s, the first place where the instrument came to prominence. Still, with a warm tone and a lack of sustain, most 70s rock guitarists favored the mighty Gibson Les Paul, while Fender purists went back to the Stratocaster. That left Jazzmasters as pawn shop guitars, cheap yet high quality. So, many notable bands have picked Jazzmasters up since the 1950s, and many guitarists use primarily Jazzmasters. Below are some of my favorite songs recorded using the model.
1) The Ventures – “Walk, Don’t Run”
The Ventures helped to invent the surf rock genre – not much else needs to be said about this group. Both in the studio and during live performances, they used a Jazzmaster on their early recordings (such as “Walk, Don’t Run) until Mosrite eventually came along with flashy models that appealed to the surf rock crowd as well. “Walk, Don’t Run” represents surf rock in its earliest days when it largely consisted of guitar, bass, and drums mixed with Eastern influences and when the Jazzmaster (and Jaguar) dominated the surf rock scene.
2) The Cure – “One Hundred Years”
Robert Smith of The Cure is known for primarily using Jazzmasters, especially during the band’s earlier work. He specifically had two Jazzmasters named “Black Torty” and “White Torty” used in The Cure’s early days. The first track off of the band’s fourth studio album Pornography, “One Hundred Years”, has always infected me with its beat along with its dreamy yet evil-sounding guitar parts. While not the most uplifting song, its extremely catchy and represents a snippet of some of the band’s best work.
3) Dinosaur Jr. – “They Always Come”
J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. is an outspoken Jazzmaster enthusiast, as the model has been used on almost all of the band’s material. Fender has even released a signature Jazzmaster model for Mascis. The song “They Always Come” off of Dinosaur Jr.’s album Bug has always stuck with me as one of my favorite songs by the group. Considering that Dinosaur Jr. is a band that is primarily guitar-driven, the use of the Jazzmaster shapes their raw sound even more.
4) Radiohead – “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”
Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is known to occasionally use Jazzmasters during live performances, but he has also recorded several amazing studio versions using the guitar. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” is one of my favorite songs off of Radiohead’s masterpiece of an album In Rainbows, and Thom’s use of the Jazzmaster gives the song a really warm, fluid feel. I linked to the Live From the Basement session since it’s an awesome version of the song and you get to see the Jazzmaster in action. Radiohead is also known for recording “Airbag” from OK Computer using a Jazzmaster.
5) My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”
Jazzmasters have been very popular among shoegaze bands since the genre’s inception, and so it only makes sense that the guitar would be pictured close up on My Bloody Valentine’s remarkable album Loveless. Guitarist/vocalist Kevin Shields uses the model almost exclusively. The opening track from Loveless is a practice in producing a raw wall of guitar, and no doubt that the Jazzmasters great ability for feedback certainly brings the track to a new level.
6) Sonic Youth – “‘Cross the Breeze”
Ah, finally, a place where the Jazzmasters feedback ability is properly utilized! Sonic Youth used primarily Jazzmasters as they had a great ability to produce prepared guitars due to their enriched overtones and feedback. And Sonic Youth was a band that enjoyed preparing guitars, that’s for sure. Many of the musical aspects that made Sonic Youth so innovative and unique in their early days was their ability to use Jazzmasters to produce sounds not thought capable before by attached random objects to their guitars and manipulating them in order to achieve specific effects. My favorite song off of Daydream Nation shows the band making great use of the feedback as well as just pushing the Jazzmaster to its limits, with Thurston Moore often beating the guitars beyond use.
7) The Flaming Lips – “Mr. Ambulance Driver”
Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips uses primarily his ’67 modified Jazzmaster, and “Mr. Ambulance Driver” shows off how great the guitar sounds clean. The song also shows off how well the guitar layers on top of itself with multi-tracked guitar parts. There are so many sonic possibilities using a Jazzmaster, so it only makes sense that the multi-instrumentalist from a great psychedelic band like The Flaming Lips would use one.