Demystifying the Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar Pt. 4: Pickup Lines

Of all of the things that cause confusion about these guitars, perhaps the most common misconceptions about Jazzmasters (and to a lesser extent, the Jaguar) surround the pickups. Because they’re so odd-looking and unfamiliar, people have all kinds of crazy ideas about what exactly is going on under the cover. I mean, it’s not often that most players have occasion to dismantle a vintage Jazzmaster guitar for the sake of exploration, so the befuddlement is understandable.

You know what’s not helping, though? Fender. God bless ‘em for introducing more and more models these days with non-standard pickup complements – a qualified win for modders and players seeking variety. Their current offerings are rife with sounds not normally associated with offset guitars, and for all of the faults a few of them have, Fender’s really woken up to the notion that offset guitars are cool. This is good.

Because Fender’s introducing so many new models with different pickups, the result is that there’s more confusion than ever about what you’re actually getting when you buy a Jazzmaster. Single-coils? P-90s? Wide Range Humbuckers? High-output ‘buckers? Yeah, they’re all there now, and some are hidden under Jazzmaster pickup covers. Go to and type ‘Jazzmaster’ into the search bar, and you’ll get an army of models that have little in common with one another save for the body shape. Holy hell! How’s a girl or guy to keep all of that straight?!

In this article, we’ll try to do away with some of the misinformation and show you exactly what’s under the hood in both the Jazzmaster and Jaguar as well as some of the variations you’ll find out there in the marketplace. We’ll also dive in to some definitions and specifics so that you can make an informed choice when you go to buy your next offset guitar.

A shot of Mojotone's Jazzmaster bobbin

Compare this shot of Mojotone’s Jazzmaster pickup with that of the Strat pickup below.

Open Coils

The Jazzmaster pickup is a true single-coil pickup. From start to finish, these units are made of one coil of wire turned around the pole pieces, and in principle works just like those found on Fender’s more popular models, the Stratocaster and Telecaster. The construction of Jazzmaster pickups does have some notable differences when compared to other more common single-coil pickups: whereas a Stratocaster pickup is about 7/16” tall and wound tightly to the rod magnets, true Jazzmaster pickups are 1/8” tall and the windings extend nearly to the edge of the 1 1/2” bobbin.mojotone-classic-stratocaster-electric-guitar-pickup-single-strat-

This wider surface area translates to a wider frequency response (since the coil itself covers a far greater area of the string’s vibrational length) and, because the wire travels father with each turn, a hotter pickup. (Jason Lollar does a brilliant job of explaining this on his website) The Jazzmaster unit also uses rod magnets just like a Strat or Tele, differentiating it from a P-90, which it most certainly is not.

Don’t Drop the Soap[bar]

DV019_Jpg_Regular_306915.715_cremeOften, you’ll hear people refer to Jazzmaster pickups as ‘soapbar’ pickups, and they should be forgiven for doing so; that big, white cover certainly has a soapy quality, especially on older models where the covers have a more satin finish than shiny new parts. This really is erroneous as pickup nomenclature goes, as the term began its existence as a way to help distinguish between two varieties of Gibson’s P-90 pickup design of the mid-1940s, the other being the “dog ear” mounting style which is commonly found on Les Paul Jr. and 330/Casino guitar models.

The P-90 “Soapbar” is a P-90 pickup which has a rectangular shape with rounded edges and with both the pickup and mounting screws contained within the coil bobbin. Wikipedia mentions that the nickname probably came about with the introduction of the Les Paul model in ’52, on which the pickup covers were white. These, of course, looked like bars of soap to consumers, and thus the name stuck. (Funnily enough, the Jazzmaster pickup looks more like a bar of soap to me than P-90s, but I digress.)

If we’re just talking about the covers, the Jazzmaster pickup’s very mounting scheme differs from the definition of the term ‘soapbar’, but again, that’s such a slight difference that there’s no shame in having used it. I mean, what matters is what’s inside, not where the screws mount, right?

To be clear, standard Jazzmaster pickups are NOT P-90s in both design and intention: the P-90 uses bar magnets beneath the coil, which magnetizes the pole piece screws and imparts a louder, midrange-focused personality. P-90s are also wound tightly around the bobbin and usually have hotter output, with most vintage examples in the 8-9.3Kohms output range. Jazzmaster pickups use rod magnets, generally live in the 7.4-8.4 range. Not a big difference, but notable.

The louder, dirtier sound of a good P-90 contrasts with the Jazzmaster persona, which has ample yet softened top end and a fatter overall signal with a more thumpy bass response, remaining clear and separated with even the most outrageous fuzz pedal. If adjusted closer to the strings, the Jazzmaster pickup has no problem pushing an amp into overdrive. When it comes to the tone of JM pickups, think more twang than bite, more boom than woof, more punch than kick.

Here’s a  visual reminder to help you tell the difference between these pickups:

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 12.37.35 PM

Offset Obfuscation

Adding to the din of confusing specifications are Fender themselves, with more varied offset models than ever. For instance, the Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster might look stock, but it actually does have P-90 pickups hidden beneath Jazzmaster covers. Same goes for the Squier J. Mascis Jazzmaster, a fantastic guitar in its own right. Oh! I almost forgot to mention another offender, the Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI, which looks as though it has a Jazzmaster pickup in the bridge position but it’s actually a humbucker!

As for obvious pickup changes, the Blacktop line of Jazzmasters has a Jazzmaster pickup in the neck paired with a humbucker in the bridge position. Then there’s the Kurt Cobain Jaguar, the Modern Player HH and the Jaguar HH with – you guessed it – dual humbuckers. Additionally, Fender’s Lee Ranaldo signature model comes equipped with re-voiced Wide Range humbuckers. Did I forget anything?


Oh yeah.

Builders other than Fender are also muddying up the definitions, some offering classic designs with fully-custom options and different pickup layouts that bring more familiar sounds to the offset table. For instance, Fano’s JM-6 model has a stoptail and a TOM style bridge with P90 pickups, much like what you’d expect from a Les Paul. Now, that’s a GREAT guitar, let there be no mistake. I bring this particular guitar up because it’s been handed to me with the attached claim that it’s ‘just like the real thing!’ which isn’t Fano’s intention at all! Man, they make nice stuff…

And, while we highly recommend Japanese-made Fender Jazzmasters as a more cost-effective alternative to their AVRI counterparts, we always recommend swapping out the pickups. Why? Because they’re essentially Strat pickups in an oversized bobbin – just a thin, tall coil the same height as a Strat pickup masquerading as something much, much cooler. These don’t even SOUND like Jazzmaster pickups, and they usually feedback like crazy! Bum deal.

The Creamery shows us the difference!

The Creamery shows us the difference! (the reissue is Japanese)

Sound Decisions

By now it’s become clear to you that there are plenty of “stock” variations between the various models offered from the factory. Luckily, we live in a time where there are more choices than ever when it comes to aftermarket pickups, and more than just brand name. For instance, Jason Lollar offers some of my favorite pickups for the Jazzmaster, and almost every guitar I own has his lovely upgrades installed. Did you know he also has a model of P-90 that’s housed in a Jazzmaster bobbin? It’s loud, authoritative like a good P-90, and has plenty of bite and growl, just like you’d expect from a Les Paul or SG Jr.

Then there’s offset hero Curtis Novak, a man that’s my first stop when I’m on the hunt for something that’s way off the beaten path while retaining a more stock appearance. Sure, he does the tried-and-true Jazzmaster pickup (also a great pickup), but he also creates stranger hybrids that absolutely beg to be played, like the JM-180.

Say you love that hallowed P.A.F. tone? Using dark magick, Novak has stuffed one into that familiar cover, and the result sounds exactly the way you want a vintage Gibson pickup to sound, and the only way you’d know it is that the pole pieces are shifted toward the neck. Maybe you love P-90s, maybe you’re a big fan of Telecaster bridge pickup? Guess what, he does that too! Or, perhaps you’ve been bitten by the DeArmond/Rowe Industries Gold Foil bug, in which case the only prescription is Novak’s Gold Foil-in-JM-housing design. It not only sounds like the best, loudest Gold Foil ever made, but having the gold color poking out of the holes in the pickup cover is like the best little secret you just can’t wait to tell.

If you’re like Other Mike and myself, you have a huge soft spot in your heart for the look and sound of vintage Mosrite guitars, especially the Ventures model. From the way they hang on a strap to that full-yet-springy sound they have when plugged in, to play one is to know the pinnacle of surf-rock coolness. Well, Novak does that, too!

Still confused? If you’ve read this far and are still wondering what the hell a Jazzmaster’s supposed to sound like, check out some sound clips of Lollar, Novak and Seymour Duncan’s amazing Antiquity I and II pickups, as well as those of actual vintage guitars.

For more great options, here are some other manufacturers you should look into: The Creamery, Lindy Fralin, Porter Pickups, and Mojotone.

Jaguar: a Kitteh of a Whole Different Breed

A rather quick note about Jaguar pickups: they’re far less confusing. Jaguar pickups are a lot like Stratocaster pickups in terms of construction and sound. The main difference is that Jaguar pickups utilize a notched metal surround known as the ‘claw’, which helps eliminate some of the hum associated with single coil pickups. Jaguar pickups are mounted directly to the body, whereas Strat pickups screw to the pickguard.

Jaguars can be much brighter overall than Jazzmasters, which is due in part to the reduced scale length; the Jaguar’s 24” makes for a springier, more twangy sound than the 25.5” standard scale. As aftermarket pickups go, there aren’t as many options for Jaguar users, with most manufacturers making a standard unit and not much else. Novak is one of the few exceptions, offering top-notch Jag replacements, Danelectro-style Lipsticks that drop right in, and even a top-mount version of a Jazzmaster pickup for those looking for a bit more oomph for their chromed-out shortscale.

“Is that a single coil in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was even worth getting into all of this; people have been calling JM pickups ‘soapbars’ for ages, and although it’s not really so it may be part of the guitar players’ lexicon, so who am I to try to change it! Still, I believe precise language is important especially when discussing guitar electronics and sounds, and if we’re all on the same page communication will be much easier and we’ll all get a lot more done!

-Michael James Adams

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32 thoughts on “Demystifying the Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar Pt. 4: Pickup Lines

  1. Ryan Cline says:

    Thanks guys, awesome article! so, the J Mascis Squire Jazzy, you’re saying that guitar is worthy? I’ve thought of them as cheap cut outs, but I do dig the look and the feel… Would love your further input.

    • mmguitarbar says:

      The Squier J. Mascis model is one hell of a fun guitar, and when it comes to vibe at an affordable price, we couldn’t love them more than we do. Seriously, really great guitars! Don’t discount them because of the ‘Squier’ brand – these and the VM series are serious guitar bang for buck. Thanks for writing in!

  2. Kent says:

    It’s nice to have someone school me on the differences between these pickups–it has always confused me! On a related note, what do you think of the new(ish) Fender Marauder with the Modern Player Jazzmaster + Triplebucker pups?

  3. Max says:

    This has been the single most helpful article for me. Thanks so much! Just wondering, would it be worth it to modify a Jaguar to have humbuckers instead of single coil pickups? I enjoy both sounds, and I thought it might be possible to make a humbucker sound slightly more like a single coil if I wanted (through fiddling with guitar tone nobs, etc) rather than the other way around, although I’m not sure…

    • mmguitarbar says:

      There are very few HBs on the market that do a good job of splitting to a good-sounding single coil. Among them, Lollar’s Imperial pickups are my favorites. As for modding the Jag, it’s your guitar! If you want ‘buckers, go for it!

      Of course, you can find single-coil sized HBs out there in the event you may not want to route the body.

  4. I was slightly confused when thelonious and the dog showed up…
    Jazzmaster pickup —soapbar
    P90 -(sounds like)- woof
    Jazzmaster Pickup -(sounds like)- Master of Jazz (T.Monk)

    I’m considering getting the modern player jazzmaster and modding it out. I like the neck a lot but would like the rhythm circuit controls. I’m also considering putting choice pickups into it but not sure what would give me the sound I want. Something that has a full and clear jazzy tone but can also get brighter sounds… pickups that sound good distorted… its hard to decide.

    Thanks for writing this article

    • mmguitarbar says:

      That sounds awesome! Bear in mind the MPs aren’t routed for the Rhythm Circuit, so you’ll need to address that bit. I’d always recommend replacing the pickups on these guitars, personally, and there are plenty of great options out there. Check out Novak, Lollar and The Creamery for p90s in JM covers!

      Thanks for reading!

    • mmguitarbar says:

      Tyler, I think you may have confused the cheeky meaning of that graphic. It’s like this:

      ‘Dog Ear P90’ – Corgi Puppy
      ‘Soapbar P90’ – a bar of soap
      Jazzmaster – Jazz Master (Thelonious)

  5. Tonio says:

    In fact, Fender Classic Player & Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster don’t have P-90. The pick-ups are hybrid of P-90 and Jazzmaster pick-ups. A winding size of Jazzmaster, but with adjustable poles and the magnets under the winding.

    • I hate to be a stickler, but the windings, magnets and adjustable pole pieces are what makes those pickups P90s. The bobbin is oversized, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are indeed P90s. There’s nothing ‘Jazzmaster’ about the design, save for aesthetics. :/

      Check out a GIS for those pickups, where you can clearly see the windings being tall and close to the poles, rather than the Jazzmaster’s wide-and-flat coil shape.

      • Tonio says:

        I apologize, you’re right. I should have written “I think” instead of “In fact”. It’s very difficult to find good informations about those pick-ups and I’m very happy to have them now. Thank you for that!
        I have a question. Are the pick-ups the same on the J Mascis and on the Classic Player?

  6. Sean Burnell says:

    Great piece.
    I recently picked up a TVL signature Jazzmaster. Great playing and well thought out guitar but I’m not 100% sold on the stock pups so your info on replacements is much appreciated.
    I’ve always been more of a P90 and Bucker player so I’m admittedly a bit swayed in that direction but I do want to retain what makes the Jazzmaster special – I wouldn’t put a bucker in my 6120. Hell, I won’t even put a Filtertron into my Sparkle Jet.
    Thanks again – now the hunt begins.

  7. isriel says:

    Good series. I’ve thought about getting a Jag on many occasions and this series answered a lot of questions I had about the guitar. Not sure I’m any closer to buying one to be honest, but would be keen to hear your thoughts on the ’65 American vintage models that are around nowadays vs. the originals, and then Mexican (classic player) vs. “American Vintage” – for a newcomer to the model anyway. Would you expect the same behaviour from the bridge on these brand new ones vs. the originals?

    I’m in Australia, so those original models are a lot harder to come by. All I’ve seen recently are “Vintage”, with the American built ones a couple of thousand $ more than the Mexican built.

    • Hey, thanks for writing in!

      The new AV65 series is great, and with recent price slashing, they’re more affordable than ever. If you’re okay with waiting a bit, Fender just recently announced their ’60s Classic Jazzmaster and Jaguar guitars, with nitro finishes and other great features that make them a steal. I’d keep an eye out for those rather than recommend any current Mexican offering Fender has going. The modified trem position just ruins the guitar for me. And yeah, same bride issues essentially, save for the CP which has a TOM bridge installed. For me, that’s a big no.

      Keep an eye out for ’65s and ’60s Classics. They’re going to be great!

  8. Jackson Hart says:

    That is one of the best Jazzmaster chunks of information I have ever been lucky to stumble upon. Thanks for that wonderful examination and explanation of something most guitar players don’t know the true facts on. Great, great piece.

  9. Paul L says:

    I keep coming back to these articles – it must be at least 18 months now on my bookmarks! Sorry I can’t frequent your store as I’m in the UK, but these have answered many of my questions and kept me on the offset bandwagon when occasionally I’ve wavered…

    I can vouch for the Creamery pickups for UK followers. I have a shoreline gold Japanese Jazzmaster and as you mentioned the stocks were sort of a cross between a strat and something unpleasant being done to a cat with a microphone. I went for the Darkstar creamery pickups which are hotter and darker – but somehow still sound like a Jazzmaster with all the thump and separation with silky treble. Bit of a magic trick that.

    I put one of the Creamery extreme JM shaped humbuckers in the bridge of my J Mascis Squire too. The bridge P90 was perfect as it was, but now I have an almost Les Paul set-up but in the far better looking Jazzmaster shape (agree that’s a great guitar for the money – though the factory had actually forgotten to wire up my bridge pickup entirely – but then I guess Squier have to be cheap somehow!)

    Also – on the offset sorta family – I grabbed one of the Squier Bass VI. Put a bespoke triple Creamery set in there and along with a staytrem Bass VI bridge and my own brass scratchplate – it’s now easily better than the Pawn Shop version.

    Since reading your series, I’ve also bought a Kurt Cobain Jag, a Johnny Marr Jag (didn’t intend to end up with so many artist signature jobs, I guess I just like the changes made to these instruments) and saving my pennies to buy some really beaten up old JM and just mod it mercilessly in line with some of the beautiful franken-masters you’ve posted about on here!

    Keep up the good work. Sorry you’re not making any money out of this information (frankly I would have paid for this series alone!) but I’d be getting on to Fender and The Creamery who’ve made quite a few thousand out of me and my bandmates – half because of your website! Commission surely?

    • This was such an amazing comment to read, Paul! I am so, so glad that my quaint articles helped you find guitars that you love, and also that we’ve spent so much time in an honored position on your browser. Seriously, thanks for this.

      And there’s no need to worry about the monetary side of things; we do this because we love it, and making a living off of it is just bonus. We’re excited about these things, and connecting with other players that share our enthusiasm is tops. So glad you’re giving money to our pal The Creamery, too!

      Good to have met you, friend. And so you know, we do ship worldwide 😉

  10. Erin Skinner says:

    Hi Mike!
    Thanks for the great series of articles on the Jaguar and Jazzmaster. I have a question about the Classic 60s Jaguar. I’ve found them on multiple websites (Chicago Music Exchange, Guitar Centre, etc.) but nothing about them on the Fender website. Pardon me if this is a naive question but how can they sell them if the model is not acknowledged on the Fender site?

    To make matters more interesting, I live in New Zealand. It can take a long time for guitars to get here and when they do, the selection is pretty limited. I am in the market for a Jag and the price and features of the Classic 60s are enough to pique my interest. Have you heard anything about them? Do you know where a chick in New Zealand can get some detailed information on the model? Thank you so much for your help!

    Christchurch, NZ

  11. Bob Vabulas says:

    What is your opinion of of the “Duncan Designed” pickups in the Squier VM Jazzmaster and Jaguar (and Bass VI)? How do they compare to the originals?

    • I’d get something else, quite honestly. They’re fine for an affordable guitar, but there are so many great options out there, you’re missing out if you don’t throw another set in there!

  12. Michael says:

    Great article! Any thoughts on Fender’s Pure Vintage ’65 pickups for JMs and Jags? They are certainly affordable options, but how vintage sounding are they and how do they compare to SDs, Lollars and Novaks?

    • The AV65 pickups are certainly great (I prefer the Jag pickups to the Jazzmasters, personally) but while they’re great and you don’t NEED to change them out for good sound, I still prefer the aforementioned pickups, all of which retain more of the early Jazzmaster sound and output. The Lollars are like a ’58 pickup new, the Antiquity Is are like a 50-year-old pickup, and the Novaks can go anywhere in between depending on what your needs are.

  13. JorisBlack says:

    Hey there, thanks a lot for this article! Quick question though: I recently bought a Troy Van Leeuwen sig Jazzmaster, and Fender is still confusing me. It has what they call “American Vintage ’65 Single-Coil Jazzmaster” pickups. So are those the “proper” Jazzmaster style pickups? Do you by any chance know how Lollar pickups sound different from those?

    • The AV65s are the new models found on all AV65, Road Worn and ’60s Lacquer models. Your pickups are the “proper” design and sound pretty great from the factory. I still vastly prefer Lollars, Novaks, Duncan Antiquity Is and At The Creamery pickups, though. The Lollars will be slightly hotter with a slight increase midrange presence more like a black-bobbin pickup, and will be well-balanced thanks to the radiused poles.

  14. Austin Pate says:

    This a GREAT article, well written and understandable!

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