Cricket has left us with Bradman or Tendulkar, while car lovers always have that Holden or Ford thing should the conversation go stale. Hell, even guitarists can fill a forum or two on who’d win a shred-a-thon between James Marshall Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So what is the sure-fire topic to ignite any bass player? Well, it’s more like two letters really – P or J?
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And it’s actually a very even contest comparing the Precision, or P-bass, with its sibling the Jazz, or J-bass. Like a parent choosing a favourite child, neither is better than the other. But they each have their moments.
The Precision bass is the first-born legacy of the legendary Leo Fender, who in 1951, made a bass guitar based on a Telecaster that revolutionised the instrument with three things – it could be held, it had frets and it could be plugged into an amplifier.
In fact, it was the frets that gave Precision bass its name, as bassists could play more precisely than on the fretless double basses of the era. And no, the P-bass did not get its name from the unique staggered P shape of the split-coil pickup.
However, the one thing that defines the P-bass is the big, fat bottom end sound you get from this humble pickup. P-bass pickups are specific to the instrument so when you buy a P-bass, you do so because you want more boom for your buck.
The P-bass also has more of a telecaster-style body shape and a slightly thicker neck profile.
Fender upped the ante once more when he developed the Jazz bass in 1960. It featured two single-coil pickups that gave the player more high end and also gave rise to the slap and finger style bassists like Marcus Miller, Jaco Pastorius and Noel Redding, of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The J-bass also provides a more versatile range of tones due to the master tone and two volumes knobs that control the bridge and neck pickups.
The J-bass sound is more predominant in jazz, blues and country songs, while the P-bass gives the right amount of grunt for rock, punk and metal bands.
One thing you can bet your name on is that all electric bass guitars can be traced back to either the Precision or Jazz bass. And there are also jazz/precision hybrids if you really can’t decide.
So, which will it be? A simpler choice may just come down to the style of music you want to play. The P-bass is suited to the smooth grooves of Pino Paladino, whereas the J-bass will give you more snarl and growl, as Jaco Pastorius shows here on stage in 1978 (take a moment and notice his sound is not as smooth or rounded as Paladino’s):
That is essentially the difference between these two classic instruments. They are a legacy of their maker and their time, so either way, you are holding something that demands respect, yet pays it back in double.
Maybe the best comparison is to say that Bradman would have played a P-bass, while Tendulkar was the jazz man.
Michael Weaver is a freelance writer at accross business. Find out more at www.accrossbusiness.com.au.