How the '74 Jazz Bass Got Its Mojo
The mid-70s were an iconic era for the Jazz Bass.
By Mike Duffy
And the bass that Jaco Pastorious, Flea and Geddy Lee popularized over the years has earned a spot amongst the most important instruments in musical history, with the mid-1970s holding a special place in that lore.
Those were the years when artists like Parliament Funkadelic’s Bootsy Collins, Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White and, yes, Jaco, brought bass playing to another level.
One of the Jazz Bass’s most lauded innovations came in 1974, when the neck – with maple fingerboards – received white binding and block inlays. In addition, at the time the pickups were slightly different than what was typically out on the market, as they boasted enamel wire and were dipped in shellac.
Harking back to that year, fans of those original ’74 Jazz Basses can now make their own through the Fender Mod Shop, which now offers limited-edition ’74 Jazz Bass necks and pickups.
“The mid-‘70s Jazz Bass is extremely popular,” said Mike Lewis, who heads up the Fender Custom Shop. “The block inlays are very compelling, and the pickups are wound with enamel wire and are dipped in shellac instead of wax. The original wire was formvar, which was brighter sounding. The enamel has highs that are a little bit rolled-off, and the midrange is more accentuated. It’s a growlier tone.”
The specs of the pickups give the ’74 Jazz Bass a unique tone.
“The shellac does an excellent job of potting to eliminate microphonics, but the sound of the pickup is really different,” Lewis noted. “It’s open and clear. Combined with the highs being slightly rolled-off, it makes it really big and punchy.”
The neck, however, offers a broad-shouldered “U”-shaped profile with a bound fingerboard that gives the maple neck substantial fret-hand feel and outstanding comfort. And that’s not to mention the beautiful block inlays.
In all, the Jazz Bass represents the evolution of the Precision Bass, using artist feedback to change the game in modern music.
“Fender invented the electric bass, and at the time, we didn’t know how people would even use it. Would it be played with the thumb or the fingers or with a pick? We tried to make it sound like a stand-up bass,” Lewis said. “Some of the very first electric bass players were guitar players or standup bass players. The original Precision Bass was pretty squared-off and kind of bulky. It was a gorgeous design, but eight or nine years after that, people started looking for more tones and features.
“So, the offset body was developed, the two pickups, a thinner neck. The Jazz Bass was a little streamlined. To me, I always think about how the Jazz Bass came into existence after getting input from players.”
*Build your own Jazz Bass with a ’74 neck and pickups through the Fender Mod Shop here.