Fender 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.
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.
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 solos.
To me; the most significant difference is how those basses affect my note choices. P-Bass sound resembles a thick straight marker line, which makes me play simple, economic and solid lines to fill out the low-mid range. J-Bass sound resembles a thinner but wavy line, which makes me play fiddlier and more melodically to support the harmony.
First of all, relax. You can’t really go wrong either way.
Versatility: Both basses have been used in all genres across the history of music. So, you can play any style of music with either bass guitar. Some people associate P-Bass with rock, but Michael League of Snarky Puppy uses a P-Bass in jazz context. Some people associate J-Bass with funk & slap, but Geddy Lee uses a J-Bass in rock context. I rest my case.
Familiarity: Sound engineers, recording studios and band leaders know both basses very well, and they are happy to see an industry standard bass in your hand. They know in advance how the bass will behave.
Aftermarket: Being proven industry standards, there is a very large aftermarket for both basses. You can find spare parts easily, they are very modifiable and can be sold / purchased easily on e-Bay.
Precision Bass Perks
You should prefer the Precision Bass if the following perks apply to you.
Simplicity: Precision Bass is really a plug & play instrument. It’s natural low-mid oriented sound sits in the mix really well, and you don’t have to turn a lot of knobs to sound good. Jazz Bass 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. So if low noise is a priority for you, P-Bass has the upper hand here. Jazz Bass is silent only if you balance both pickups; if you favor any pickup, you’ll get hum. Some Jazz Bass pickups are hum-cancelling, but they don’t sound vintage; which can be good or bad depending on your tonal goal.
Thump: Precision Bass naturally produces a thumpy, chunky sound with bumped low mids; which covers the low end of the sonic spectrum really well. You definitely hear and feel that deep warm vibe. Jazz Bass can get close to that, but it won’t sound & feel the same.
Jazz Bass Perks
You should prefer the Jazz Bass if the following perks apply to you.
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 bridge pickup sound. However; some modern P-Bass players solo and sound equally well with the help of pedals; such as octave-up. Obviously, you can solo on a vanilla P-Bass too; but the vanilla Jazz seems to cut through the mix better.
Tonal Versatility: Jazz Bass has two blendable pickups, and they can be dialed to get various different tones. Some typical tones are:
- Neck pickup favored: Warm thumpy sound, resembling the P-Bass (but not as thumpy)
- Pickup balance: Scooped sound, suitable for slapping
- Bridge pickup favored: Growly sound, resembling the MM-Bass (but not as growly & bassy)
- Bridge pickup solo: Jaco (enough said)
Don’t confuse tonal versatility with genre versatility. Both basses are extremely versatile, and can be used in any genre, really.
Versatility of the P-Bass is based on its singular but perfect tone; which sits in the mix really well, but that has some drawbacks:
- If you need any other tone than the P-Bass thump, you are out of luck
- Some players prefer a less dominant sound on certain types of music
- Tonal singularity might limit your musical discoveries
Versatility of the Jazz Bass is based on tonal diversity, but that has some drawbacks:
- It won’t get as warm & thumpy as the P-Bass; which is a drawback for some players
- More tonal options = more bad tone traps
- Single coil pickups hum when favored, which is disliked by some players and sound engineers. There are noiseless Jazz Bass pickups out there, but they sound different.
With the appropriate playing technique, an experienced player can get many different sounds out of the P-bass as well. But the tonal versatility of the J-Bass is easily accessible and much higher, which is preferable for some players.
There is no clear winner here. That’s why both basses are still best-sellers. You have to evaluate the perks & disadvantages according to your own needs, and decide for yourself.
I have one of each. I lean towards the…
- J-Bass for…
- Jazz, Latin, Fusion, Acoustic
- Soloing, slapping, tapping
- P-Bass for…
- Blues, Rock, Pop, Electronic
- Picking, sub-woofing
But if I had to live with a single bass, I would pick the P-Bass. It fulfills the main role of the bass guitar (subjectively) better in most of the musical styles that I play often. For soloing, I can use additional pedals to add an octave-up or color the sound.
In case you want to hear a sound comparison, here is a video.
Finally; here are some buying tips:
- Each bass is a little different than others of the same model. Play them all before deciding.
- Fresh / dead strings can sound quite different when testing basses.
- Beware of dead spots / wolf tones (check Google)
- Basses with PJ pickups may look like the best of both worlds; but they are in fact “Precision” basses with an extra pickup. They can’t reproduce all of the classical J-Bass sounds, and some players even state that their P-Pickup doesn’t sound like a vanilla P-Bass (I don’t know if that is true).