A vintage Jazz Bass® has the tone that many of us dream about. It growls, it cuts, it slaps, and it does all the things that we dream a J Bass would do.
The folks at Fender got it right in their pre-CBS era.
And bass players have been chasing that tone ever since.
As you might expect with anything vintage, a pre-CBS Jazz Bass is not an easy thing to come across, and if you do, well you better be ready to shell out anywhere from $15k for a player grade example, all the way to north of $30k for an example that plays and sounds great.
Just like you and I, pickup manufacturers have also been chasing that ever-so-elusive pre-CBS Jazz Bass® tone. They’ve gone out in the wild and found particularly good-sounding examples and dissected them to figure out where the magic comes from.
And from that point, they’ve created their own reproductions that emulate those legendary tones and made them available to bass players everywhere.
So even if an “all-original” early 60’s Jazz Bass® is not an option, high-quality, faithful reproductions of its bass pickups are available. And since pickups make up a huge part of the tone of a bass, your tone will definitely be taking a step into the bygone era of the early 60s.
What does a 1960s pre-CBS Fender® sound like?
Jaco Pastorius, John Paul Jones with Led Zeppelin, and Flea during his albums in the early 2000s, are but only some examples of what an early 1960s Jazz Bass® tone sounds like.
It’s easy to see that although these 3 bass players used the same bass, their tone sounds different. That’s because they used 3 different signal chains (strings, pedals, amps, etc...), in addition to the fact that they have very different playing techniques.
The common tonal ground is their slight mid-scooped clarity and signature J Bass® growl. Also worth mentioning is that even though pre-CBS Jazz Basses® had solid QC, there was still a noticeable variance in component values. This is to say that even between J Basses® of the same year, you’ll find that they can sound quite a bit different.
The Best Vintage Voiced Jazz Bass Pickups
Here is our list of some of the best vintage-voiced Jazz Bass® pickups you can get today. These pickups are the interpretation of all of their designers and include their vision of what a pre-CBS Jazz Bass® should sound like.
We’ve also tested all of these pickups under the same conditions (same player, same riffs, and same signal processing) so that you can hear them for yourself and choose the one that fits the best with your idea of the perfect J Bass® tone.
It’s important to listen to the demos with some high-quality headphones or studio monitors. Your phone or computer speakers simply aren't capable of reproducing the entire spectrum of bass frequencies. In some cases, the differences can be subtle, so listening to each video side by side can help you pinpoint them easier.
Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Jazz Bass Pickups
According to the documentation on these pickups, the Antiquity IIs aim to reproduce the tone of a pair of mid-60s pickups.
Compared to some early 60s examples, the Antiquity IIs sound a bit fuller in the mids, and have less of a low-mid presence and a smooth top end. This makes them great in a mix since they hold plenty of mids to cut through.
The Antiquity IIs are made in Seymour Duncan’s Custom Shop facilities in the US and feature other true-to-vintage spec details such as being wax potted and have cloth pushback hookup wires.
Kloppmann pickups are produced in a small shop out of Germany. Kloppmann’s have gained popularity among bass players as some of the best-sounding vintage voiced pickups for J Bass®.
Andreas Kloppmann, before starting to wind his own pickups, spent a couple of decades looking for the best-sounding examples of 1960s J Basses. The JB61 is based on a pickup that he thought sounded noticeably better than the others.
Kloppmann pickups are handmade with extreme attention to detail to make sure that all the nuance of this coveted year of J Bass® manufacturing shines through.
Lindy Fralin Jazz Bass Pickups
We like to describe the Fralins as the prototypical 60s Jazz Bass® tone. It has all of the characteristics that one would expect.
The low-mid growl, sparkly top-end, and dynamic response are all there in the Fralin J Bass® pickup. Even though it's not based on a specific year, or a particular pickup, it has all that early 60s mojo in spades.
The Fralin Jazz Bass® pickup is made in the USA with alnico-5 magnets and also has a couple of options. You can get it with overwinding for a bit more output and a slight bump in the midrange and with raised center magnets to better fit your fretboard radius.
Even though the folks at Nordstand are known for their modern interpretations of classic pickup designs, the NJ4 is a true single coil and it oozes with vintage vibe.
Compared to the Fralin, it feels a bit more punchy due to its tighter low end and has a hefty amount of presence in the high end without getting harsh.
The NJ4 isn’t modeled after any particular year. Instead, we like to think of it as a greatest hits of early '60s J Basses. In our experience, this pickup has a way of working with just about every type of Jazz Bass® out there. Whether they’re vintage spec or have a more modern take, the NJ4 hits it out of the park.
Admittedly, there’s more to an all-original pre-CBS J Bass® than its pickups alone. But as you can see and hear in our demo videos, the right choice of Jazz Bass pickups can make even an affordably priced bass, such as our test-bed Squire J Bass® sound really really good.
If you’re still on the fence as to what pickup will scratch the vintage itch on your J Bass®, give us a call or shoot us an email. We’ll be happy to help you find the right setup for your Jazz Bass® so you can take your current bass from good to breathtaking.