Jazzmasters are some of the coolest, vibey-est guitars out there and we absolutely love them. But what are the best strings for Jazzmasters? Here’s our take…
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As I’m writing this, today is a new guitar day for me. I got this Fender Mexican Jazzmaster in the mail just this morning, and I got a sweet deal on it because the pickguard’s a little bit chewed up… I guess whoever had it before me tried to adjust the truss rod without taking the pickguard off, which was kind of silly. But pickguards only cost 30 bucks or so, and beyond that, I don’t really care that much anyway. I’m just really happy to have gotten this great guitar on a deal. I’ve been playing it for a few hours already since it showed up, and I really, really love it.
Jazzmasters are really cool, unique guitars, but they need a specific set of strings—in my opinion—to sound their best, which we’re going to get into today.
So to those of you who don’t know much about the Jazzmaster, it was introduced for the first time at NAMM in 1959. God, what I wouldn’t give to see what a NAMM was like in 1959… I feel like it was a lot different than it is right now. I wonder if it was more crazy, or less crazy. I’m not really sure. At any rate, that’s when they came out.
Initially, Fender was trying to take a little bit of a business away from the semi-hollow and hollow world, since people were mainly playing those guitars for jazz at the time. They figured this was going to be the solid body guitar that was going to work great for jazz. It’s got a couple little interesting little kooks about it as a result. Most notably, this rhythm circuit up above the pickups, it’s basically a separate volume and tone control for the neck pickup. When this circuit is engaged with this switch, it’s only the neck pickup that you’re hearing. And then when you flip it down into the lead position, that’s when you get your typical volume, tone and pickup selector controls active.
Their thought was that if you were playing actual jazz, you were going to want that nice smooth, soft and warm rhythm section for your rhythm playing, and then you’d flip over into a little bit of a brighter and louder attack for your leads. Of course, that’s not really what people ended up using it for, but those controls did influence a lot of players in a lot of different ways.
A couple other interesting things about these guitars, one is is was the first Fender to come standard with a rosewood fretboard. Almost every single Jazzmaster that I can think of seeing, has a rosewood board on it. And the other interesting thing is that it needs really long strings. You have a long string length going from the bridge to your tailpiece, and then up above your nut, you have a long way to your tuning pegs, just like on any Fender. As a result, you definitely need long strings for Jazzmasters.
In my opinion, most any standard strings will have enough length. You just might have things a little bit tight at your high E, and not have to clip off a ton of length. We certainly make our strings long enough to not have to worry about that here, but it is something to keep in mind.
Now, for the first couple of decades the Fender made this guitar, they saw a lot of popularity in surf music. But it eventually kind of fell out of fashion in the ’70s, when people started playing music with humbuckers and really, really heavy guitar tones became popular. They discontinued it in 1980, which I think is kind of funny, because that’s right around the time, or a little bit before these really started to get picked up by a lot of the guitarists that made them famous. People like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr., Nels Cline from Wilco, as well, have made them really, really popular, and they’ve kind of brought them back a little bit more recently. For a long time, it was really hard to get a hold of one if you really wanted to. But now, they’re all over, which is why I had such an easy time finding this guy.
What Strings Are Best for Jazzmasters?
Like I’ve said on this before, obviously, you can play whatever gauge strings you want on whatever guitar you want. If you like .007s on your Jazzmaster, that’s totally fine. But for me, I find that I need a little bit more tension on these guitars. Certainly, I have a very long scale length, I have some extra room behind the nut and behind the bridge right here, which affects things a little bit as well. It makes things generally a little bit more slinky.
But ultimately, for me, with the way that the trem system is set up, if I have too light of a gauge, I don’t feel like it works just right. I need a little bit more fight there, so I need a little bit heavier tension than something like .009s would really provide me, to make everything work there.
So for this one, what’s actually interesting is my ideal gauges for a Jazzmaster aren’t even anything that custom. It’s literally our Balanced Medium Gauge set. I find that these work perfectly. In this set, we got an .011 on top, then a .014, a plain .018, we’re not doing a wound third or anything like that on this guitar, even though you could if that’s what sounded good to you. Then we have a .028, a .038, and a .050 at the very bottom to round everything out.
For me, this set gives me just enough tension so that I feel like everything’s working right on the trem system. It has just enough fight to it at that 25.5 inch scale length, that it really, really works for me. And the added slinkiness from having that extra distance of string behind the nut and behind the bridge, really kind of offset the tension of these .011s as well.
One other thing to think about—a lot of older Jazzmasters especially have problems with this—when you look down at the tailpiece, there’s some areas that strings can rub and can cause some breakage. For that reason, 11s are an especially good choice. Something like 9s or 10s, I think break a little bit too easily on old Jazzmasters. Newer ones don’t have as much of these problems, but a lot of players will go with things like Mastery Bridges, and other aftermarket parts to solve this. For me, just going with a standard set of 11s, I don’t have to do anything funky to them. I don’t see a lot of breakage on these at all when I’m using something like 11s. So, that’s another reason why I would choose that 11 to 50 set for really any Jazzmaster.
This guy shipped to me with some non-Stringjoy strings—I won’t say the brand, but they make a lot of strings up in Long Island, and they’ve got funny colored ball ends. So we’re going to get these off, and we’re going to put on our set, and we’re going to see what it sounds and plays like.
All right. Now we have an 11 to 50 set here on this Jazzmaster. I forgot how much of a pain these old vintage style tuners can kind of be. I don’t have any other guitars that have those on them right now. But they’re not too bad. We were able to make it work. And overall, I think everything sounds great. A set of 11s just brings out that glassy top end of a Jazzmaster to me, gives me some power down on the bottom end. Just kind of does everything right. I find that with these guitars, you don’t have to go too far out to get everything perfectly dialed in. 11 to 50 will do it just fine.
So for all those reasons, I love an 11 to 50 set on my Jazzmaster. But I know everything’s a little bit different for different players out there, and I would love to know what you prefer on your own Jazzmaster that you have at home. Let us know down in the comments.
I know a lot of great guitarists that I mentioned earlier in the video, probably play totally different gauges than me, and it certainly works great for them. There’s no right or wrong answer. But if you’re me, 11 to 50 is the trick. And if you don’t know what to do, I would recommend giving it a try on your own Jazzmaster, or even a Jaguar as well. That shorter scale, I think even responds well to an 11 to 50 as well, on the Jaguar side.