Precision vs Jazz Bass

Precision Bass and Jazz Bass are among the most popular bass guitars out there. However; it is hard to decide which one you should buy. This article covers my (partially subjective) experience on the matter.

Basic differences

PrecisionJazz
Body typeStraightOffset
NeckWideNarrow
Pickup1x split humbucker2x single coils
SoundOne perfect low-mid soundVarious sounds
Typical roleSupportMelodic, slap
Typical ensembleDense mixesAmple mixes

A common Precision Bass has a straight body, thick neck and a single pickup; which will produce a singular low-middy thumpy sound. But the singular fat sound sits in the mix really well, which typically attracts groove players looking for a solid foundation.

A common Jazz Bass has an offset body, thin neck and two pickups; which produce various sounds. It won’t get as thumpy as the P-Bass, but the sound variety typically attracts players playing melodic lines and slapping. 

To me; one of the most significant differences is how those basses affect my note choices. P-Bass makes me play simple, economic and solid lines to fill out the low-mid range. J-Bass makes me play fiddlier and more melodic to support the harmony.

Sonic differences demonstrated within a mix

Perks

PrecisionJazz
Versatility🟢
Natural fit
🟢
Fiddled to fit
Sound variety🔴🟢
Engineer preference🟢🟡
Simplicity🟢🔴
Noiseless🟢🟡
Thump🟢🟡
Comfort🟡🟢
Soloability🟡🟢
Slapability🟡🟢
Speed🔴🟢
Articulation🟡🟢
Tone safety🟢🔴
Guitar stand balance🟢🔴

P-bass highlights:

  • Natural versatility. Precision Bass naturally sits effortlessly right above the kick drum and below the guitars. Therefore, it shines in rock’n roll or crowded bands. It can be heard without being too loud because it occupies a naturally idle space in the sonic spectrum – without clashing and fighting other instruments.

  • Simplicity. Precision Bass is really a plug & play instrument. You don’t have to turn a lot of knobs to sound good. Jazz Bass occupies a wider frequency range and has more knobs; which can be bad tone traps for some players.

  • Noiseless. Precision Bass has a hum cancelling split coil pickup design, which eliminates the 60-cycle hum completely.
Different kinds of Precision basses

J-Bass highlights:

  • Tonal versatility. Jazz Bass has two blendable pickups, and they can be dialed to get various different tones.

  • Thin Neck. If you are a guitarist or have small hands in general, the thinner neck of the Jazz Bass would suit you well. P-Bass has a chunky neck, which is claimed to contribute to its chunky sound.

  • Soloing. If you are going to do a lot of soloing or busy & fast phrasing, Jazz Bass would be a better choice due to its faster neck and articulate bridge pickup sound.
Jazz Bass tone demo

Purchase suggestion

Get both if your budget allows you! Ideally, a serious bassist should own both. Personally, I didn’t find peace until I got a P and J bass. I use them for different purposes (explained above), but in total, I play the P bass much more at this time.

If your budget allows you to get only one bass;

  • Get a P bass if most of the following points apply to you:
    • Simplicity
    • Large hands
    • Safely sounding at least “OK” in any situation (no fiddling)
    • Support / groove playing
    • Noiseless
    • Playing in dense / loud ensembles
  • Get a PJ bass if you want a P bass + an additional bridge / Jaco sound at the expense of the pure P-bass sound
  • Get a J bass if most of the following points apply to you:
    • Tone shaping
    • Small hands
    • Melodic / lead playing
    • Slapping
    • Articulation
    • Playing in smaller ensembles

Links

5 thoughts on “Precision vs Jazz Bass

  1. Pingback: Bass FAQ
  2. I think the criticism of ‘Single coil pickups hum when favored, which is disliked by some players and sound engineers.” is both right and wrong. Single coil pickups do hum when favored. It’s a 60Hz hum. And perhaps some players don’t like it but they would be few and far between because once the music starts, it doesn’t matter – you can’t hear it because the signal to noise ratio is huge.

    You want to hear large hum, listen to a Fender Stratocaster. But when was the last time you heard a 60Hz hum from a Strat while it was playing…unless it’s dead quite, you won’t hear it because the music is so much louder. If single-coil hum were really a major problem, the Fender Stratocaster would NOT be the extremely popular guitar it is across all genres of music and only Gibson’s with humbuckers would be used.

    Personally, I never have the problem because the Jazz pickups are wound in opposite directions and when both are either balanced or wide open, they act as humbuckers. I like to run my Jazz wide open with all three controls (TTV maxed). Then, after dialing in the room, I will leave my amp EQ settings flat (whatever flat is for the room) and boost my low-mids a bit at ~250Hz. It sits very nicely in the mix and the individual notes are very distinctly heard.

    After that, I will change the sound I get by where and how I pluck the strings. The saying “the tone is in your hands” is really true on a Jazz. Pluck on the neck for really warm and deep sounds, pluck against the bridge for the brightest sound, and there’s a plethora of tones located in between the two. I usually start plucking (finger-style) right in front of or over the neck pickup and adjust from there.

    As far as sound engineers go, they could give a crap. Again, it’s a matter of the signal to noise ratio. Remember the old vinyl records? They typically had a S-to-N ratio of 55db, That means that the music would sound 5½ times louder than any hum (the human ear hears 10db as twice as loud). Remember the sound they made in the between the tracks? That sound still existed during the songs themselves but the music was so much louder you never heard the noise.

    Besides, if a sound engineer really doesn’t like it, he can just slap a High Pass Filter on that track at 60Hz. In live situations, a good sound man will often do the same thing on the bass channel just to tighten up the low end.

    Just as an FYI, I bought my first Jazz Bass (a 1965 Jazz Bass) in 1966. It was stolen in 1976 and I bought my current Jazz in 1985. I toured with my ’65 Jazz for three years in the early 70’s and just played weekends after that. I am a bit of a fanatic about what I like in a Jazz Bass though. It took me almost 10-years to find another Jazz that had the same feel to the neck that my 1965 did. I’ve promised to leave it to my son when I pass away. As you probably guessed early on, I am a Jazz Bass Fan.

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