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What Makes Jazz Bass Pickups So Special?

Aside from the Precision Bass, Fender’s Jazz bass became one of the most widely used electric basses ever since it was released in the early '60s.

And if you’ve ever played one, you begin to understand why the J Bass has such a strong grasp on the electric bass market. 

It works extremely well in most types of musical scenarios. 

Rock, pop, funk, jazz, you name it, you’ll find a J Bass in that genre.

Building on the success and practicality of the J Bass, many builders used the J Bass pickup in their designs and gave it their twist to make it fit their vision. 

That is why today you can find J Bass pickups in basses that range from $250 from brands like Squier and Ibanez, all the way to beautifully handcrafted boutique basses that are over $8k from builders like F Bass, Sadowsky, and Fodera. 

What about the J Bass pickup makes it the pickup of choice for so many builders? 

In this article, we’ll work through that question as well as shine a light on some of the coolest Jazz Bass pickups available. 

A bit of J Bass history

Originally called the Deluxe model,  the Fender Jazz Bass was released in 1960, not just as a sleek evolution of the P-Bass, but as a different model that offered increased tonal possibilities. 

While other electric basses of the era, like the Gibson EB-1 and Fender’s own Precision Bass, were equipped with a single pickup, the Jazz Bass had two single coil pickups. 

The two pickups were powered by Alnico V magnets and two pole pieces per string which had not been seen in other basses.

This design birthed a brighter, snappier articulation, a departure from the warmer thump of the P Bass.

But the true genius lay not just in the design of the pickup, but in the strategic placement. The bridge pickup delivered a punchy growl. The neck pickup offered a smoother and thumpier tone, reminiscent of a P Bass. 

And when both pickups are on full volume, you get what many consider the voice of the J Bass. 

A slightly mid-scooped tone that has a signature low-mid growl, a beefy low-end, and brightness that allows the bass to be heard in a mix. 

It’s this tonal versatility that attracted so many bass legends like Jaco Pastorius, Flea, Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney, and many many others to pick up the Jazz Bass. 

J Bass Tone Throughout the Decades

The J Bass tones of the early 60s are without a doubt legendary, but they were only the beginning. The Jazz Bass® continued to evolve and Fender made changes to the design to reflect the trends of the time. 

This is why you’ll find that in the vintage voiced J Bass world, there are two main eras: the 60s J Bass tone and the 70s J bass tone. 

The 60s is what the majority of us think about when we consider J Bass tone. Some examples of famous players using J Bass tone are Flea, Jaco Pastorius, and John Paul Jones.

In the 70s, the J Bass had some changes to its design, mostly in the pickup placement and design. The pickup had some small modifications which gave it a different character. 70s J Bass pickups have a tighter low end and a brighter top. These attributes were compounded by a change in the placement of the bridge pickup, which was moved closer to the bridge. 

The 70s J Bass tone is the tone you hear from Marcus Miller and Geddy Lee. 

If you want to hear a true apples-to-apples comparison to hear the difference between 60s and 70s style pickups, here are a few videos that you can listen to side by side. 

The Kloppman JB61 and Aguilar 4J-60 are reproductions of 60s-style pickups. 

The Kloppman JB71 and Aguilar 4J-70 are reproductions of 70s-style pickups. 

Click on these links to check out sound samples of the Aguilar 4J-70 and 4J-60.  Click on this link where both the JB61 and JB71 Jazz Bass Pickups are on the same page.

Sound samples are at the bottom of each product page.

Keep in mind that each of these manufacturers used different pickups as references and they each have their proprietary manufacturing techniques, so they will sound different from each other, but you’ll still be able to get the overall character of each decade. 

Jazz Bass Pickups as a tonal platform

By the time the 70s hit, Fender wasn’t the only manufacturer building J Bass pickups. The design had taken off by that point and you could see them in a variety of basses from many different manufacturers, each with their take on the J Bass. 

Photo of a Sadowsky 4 String Jazz Bass - One of the well known Jazz Basses by builders besides Fender

Inevitably, the same thing happened with the J Bass pickups. It didn’t take long for pickup designers to use the foundation of the J Bass and expand it in entirely different directions to meet their specific use cases. 

Some manufacturers started building overwound versions of the J Bass pickup to get more mids and output, some others created hum-canceling versions, and others created basses with J Bass pickups with active preamps. 

Today we have a wide variety of pickups in the J Bass shape that range from accurate vintage replicas to completely modern designs with their own tonal identity. 

In no particular order, here are some of our favorite J Bass pickups.

Vintage Voice J Bass pickups

If your dream bass is a vintage pre-CBS Jazz Bass but you don’t want to spend the stratospheric prices that they can command, you’re in luck, because several pickup builders have created painstakingly accurate reproductions of their favorite examples from the 60s and 70s. 

  • Aguilar 4J-60 and Aguilar 4J-70: These pickups have become a good choice for bass players and builders looking for authentic vintage tones combined with modern reliability. The 4J-60 is the 60s-inspired model and sounds exactly like you would expect a 60s J Bass pickup to sound like. The 4J-70 is the 70s version and it has a tighter low end and more scooped mids which make it perfect for slapping or if you want a more present higher end. 
  • Kloppman JB61 and JB71: Kloppman is a small boutique pickup builder out of Germany who takes pride in making obsessively accurate reproductions of classic pickups. The JB61 and JB71 are reproductions of Andreas Kloppmann’s favorite examples of pickups from the 60s and 70s. 
  • Nordstrand NJ4: This is a true single coil from the folks at Nordstrand. It's a well-balanced vintage-voiced pickup that gives you all the dynamics and snap that you would expect from a single-coil pickup. 
  • Lindy Fralin Jazz Bass: Fralin’s J Bass pickup is their take on the classic 60s sound. The cool part is that they offer it in a couple of different variations. You can get them overwound for a little more output and mids, and you can also get them with raised center poles in case your bass has a vintage radius neck. 

New Vintage J Bass Pickups

The new vintage category of pickups is for those players that want their J Bass to sound like a J Bass, but have some modern comforts. This is where you’ll find pickups with slightly higher output, hum-canceling designs, and slight variations to their voicing that help them work better in a given musical context. 

  • Bartolini 9CBJD: This is the hum-canceling version of Bartolini’s classic line. In Bart-speak, this means that it’s their closest version to a vintage voiced J Bass pickup, but with completely silent operation. Great if you love classic J Bass tone, but can’t have noise in your signal. 
  • Nordstrand NJ4SV: These are Nordy’s version of the hum-canceling pickup. These are so good that they're nearly indistinguishable from their true single-coil counterparts. The NJ4SVs are perfect if you want a vintage voiced 60s tone and look without the hum. 
  • EMG JV: EMGs are what first comes to mind when you think of modern bass tone, but JVs do a great job at sounding vintage while still keeping all the benefits of an active pickup. The EMG JV sounds like a bright and punchy 60s voiced J Bass pickup, so if you like EMGs but want traditional sounds and looks, these are a great option. 

Modern J Bass Pickups

Modern bass tone means different things to different people. For some pickup builders, it’s hi-fi sounding full-range pickups, for others, it means super high output. For us at FBT, we categorize modern as any pickup that is looking to be its own thing but in a J Bass casing. Here are a few pickups that will give your J Bass a unique voice. 

  • Bartolini 9J1: The 9J1 is one of the first designs from Bartolini and is a great example of the Bartolini sound. Classic Barts have unique weight in the low-mids that give them lots of growl, a tight bottom end, and a mellow top end. Their voicing makes your bass sit great in a mix, which is one of the reasons why they’ve been the aftermarket pickup of choice for many bass players since the late 70s. 
  • Nordstrand Big J Blade: The Big J Blade pickups are a punchier and more aggressive take on the J Bass pickup. What makes them unique is that they use an exposed blade magnet, which not only looks cool but also plays a big part in giving them their signature sound. They come in two versions, “Warm & Wooly” and “Clean & Clear”.
  • Delano JMVC4: These German-made pickups use a distinctive-looking large pole-piece design. They’re often described as the result of  “if a Music Man pickup and J Bass pickup had a baby”, the JMVC4 would be the result. 

A Jazz Bass used for testing preamps at the Fat Bass Tone Shop

One Bass To Rule Them All

The J Bass pickup, with its dual single-coil design and iconic growl, has become a symbol of bass guitar versatility and innovation. From its roots in the 60s, the J Bass pickup has proven its ability to adapt to any genre and playing style.

Today, the J Bass pickup landscape is as diverse as the music it fuels. From boutique reproductions of vintage tones to cutting-edge designs pushing the boundaries of bass sound, there's a J Bass pickup for every player's sonic vision. 

And if you’re still on the fence about which Jazz Bass pickup is the one for you, feel free to give us a call or send us an email. We’ve helped thousands of bass players find their tone, and we can certainly help you too.