Jaco Fretless Bass

aco Pastorious was a bassist with groundbreaking style and technique, best known for playing a fretless Fender Jazz bass. Jaco’s bass was originally a standard-issue 1962 fretted Fender Jazz bass that, according to Jaco, he personally removed the frets from, or, also according to Jaco, he bought used already defretted.

(Fender did not start selling fretless basses until the 1970′s; their rise to the top in the low end of bass guitars was mostly attributed to the success of their “precision” bass, so-called because it had frets, and thus it was easier to play precisely in-tune than on fretless upright basses.)

In honor of Jaco’s infamous stylings, Fender currently makes two different fretless basses:

  • Jaco Pastorious Jazz Bass
  • Jaco Pastorious Tribute Jazz Bass

What are the differences? To a first approximation: the Tribute bass, like Jaco’s original, has a coating of epoxy resin on the fingerboard; the Tribute bass has been pre-distressed to look kinda sorta like Jaco’s bass after his years of maintaining it in less than pristine condition; the Tribute bass has a suggested retail price of about twice as much.

This review is not about the Tribute bass.

1962 Reissue Jazz Bass

Aiming for a faithful recreation of what Jaco’s fretless might have been like when it was brand new, this bass is essentially a “reissue” of the 1962 Fender Jazz bass. Before Fender moved out of their old facilities in Fullerton, California, they still had all of the original assembly tools they used in 1962 and could more authentically do a 1962 reissue; today’s reissues are in spirit and in design rather than in pure authenticity.

In any case, some of the reissue-specific features include:

  • Reverse turners: turn the opposite way to tighten / loosen strings.
  • Vintage-style pickups.
  • 1960′s placement of the bridge pickup: slightly further away from the bridge than modern designs.
  • Smaller fingerboard radius than modern designs.
  • Standard vintage-style bridge (modern designs include a string-through-body option).
  • Truss rod not readily adjustable without removing the neck.
  • Includes chrome pickup covers (not attached by default).
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer finish: more easily damaged and more prone to wear than modern polyurethane finishes, but some players prefer the “worn nitro” look.

Most of these variations I either like or have no particular preference about. I do wish the truss rod was more easily accessible, but I don’t often need to make adjusments, so it’s not a big deal for me. If you adjust your truss rod a lot, this is worth considering.

Be especially careful about the nitro finish if you are moving the bass from a cold environment to a warm one, or vice-versa, for example bringing the bass inside after leaving it in your car during the winter. If you open the case immediately, the sudden change in temperature could cause surprisingly fast damage to the finish. Better to let it sit and acclimate to the temperature for a while.

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