Fender has made some of the most iconic guitars in music history. It can actually be quite difficult to decide between all the different designs and models.
It might have been an easy choice if Fender’s only great guitar was the Stratocaster. But somewhat unfortunately, Fender also makes the very incredible Jazzmaster.
So, how do you choose between these two fantastic guitars? How do you know which one will suit you better?
Well, let us look at just how these guitars compare to each other and figure out which one is the better option for you.
Since both the Jazzmaster and Stratocaster are made by Fender, you can be forgiven for thinking these guitars come in one design and that is it. But the truth is, despite sharing a name, the guitars in both these ranges are as varied and different as the two ranges differ from each other.
The ranges also come in versions that are more budget and beginner-friendly to high-end professional guitars, and everything in between. So, regardless of your skill or budget, there will likely be a guitar for you.
At the budget level, you shouldn’t expect to find any Fender-made Strats or Jazzmasters. Instead, Squier makes the budget versions of these guitars.
Don’t let this put you off, though. I and many others feel that the quality of Squier-made guitars has gone up dramatically over the last few years, making them a great choice for beginners and those on a budget.
The Affinity series might be my favorite and offers both the Jazzmaster and the Stratocaster. They are a great middle-ground between the lower spec’d Bullet series and higher Deluxe.
The Affinity Jazzmaster isn’t quite the carbon copy of the classic Fender version. It is more of a modern reimagining. For me, it feels better suited for hard rock and grunge, especially if you go for the humbucker version.
But, even the single coil Jazzmaster sounds a bit hotter and more aggressive. Cranking the volume, I hit a nice sweet spot where the Jazzmaster has a decent amount of growl. But it doesn’t lose any of the snap you can expect from a standard Jazzmaster.
It is also a very comfortable guitar to play. I don’t find myself adjusting the guitar much while standing or sitting. The C shape neck is a bit on the thicker site for my taste, but still comfortable and fast enough for a great playing experience.
On the Stratocaster side, the Affinity Stratocaster sticks much closer to its Fender counterpart than the Jazzmaster. It sounds and feels close to how you would expect a Strat to.
Of course, the Squier Strat isn’t made from the same quality of materials as a higher-end Fender. That means there are some noticeable differences.
While I do think that it sounds great, it isn’t quite as crisp or vibrant as a Fender. This is something you’ll only really notice if you’ve played Fenders for years or compare the two side by side.
That is largely due to the body being made of Poplar which isn’t a very colorful tonewood. The upside is that it is a bit lighter than a standard Strat, but otherwise, they feel nearly identical.
At the intermediate level, there are both Squiers and Fenders to choose from. I think this is the best range to look for a guitar since it is so expansive and diverse.
Both guitars sound and play like their standard Fender versions, but with a bit of that vintage warmth and tone. They let you tap into that old-school Fender sound without having to sell your house to buy a genuine vintage Fender.
This is where we come to the Fender side of things. As far as intermediate-level Fenders go, I would look no further than the Player series.
This is what I think of when I think of a modern, standard Fender. The Player series is a great introduction to first-time Fender players.
The Player Jazzmaster is perfect for playing jazz, of course, but also great if you are into genres like surf rock. The sound is a bit more rounded and bottom-heavy than a Strat. The cleans are a bit fuller and the humbuckers give it a nice growl when needed.
The Jazzmaster is certainly a versatile guitar, but does lean more to a heavier sound. If you are looking for that classic Fender twang, then I would go for a Player Stratocaster.
The Player Strats also come in a number of different colors and pickup configurations. This gives a certain degree of customization to the look and sound of your guitar.
For a professional level Fender, there is one series that immediately comes to my mind: the American Professional II.
The American Professional II series is, for me, the peak of modern Fender guitars. These are the best sounding and playing guitars Fender has made in years.
The American Professional Stratocaster and Jazzmaster are actually quite similar to the Player series of guitars. If you are looking for a fatter, fuller sound, then the Jazzmaster is the better choice. If you want that classic Fender sound, then go with the Strat.
The big difference between the two series comes in the materials and electronics used in their making. Both are much higher quality than the Player series. This means that an American Professional guitar just has a fuller, more vibrant, and most importantly, balanced sound.
They also fit your body a bit more comfortably and have a slightly smoother playing experience. I have noticed that American Professionals feel a little weightier than the Player series, but not so much as to make a difference in comfort or playing.
How the Guitars Differ
I briefly touched on it, but there are a number of ways in which Strats and Jazzmasters differ. Both in terms of looks and sound, the differences set these guitars apart and add to each one’s appeal.
The most obvious difference between the Strat and Jazzmaster is in the shape of their bodies. While both are double cutaway shapes, the Jazzmaster’s body is a bit offset.
I think of the Jazzmaster as being kind of parallelogram-shaped and the Strat is more symmetrical. While this difference makes the Jazzmaster more striking, I feel it also offers a bit of an advantage over the Strat.
The Jazzmaster has a deeper cutaway at the neck which makes reaching higher notes a bit easier. Jazzmasters also sit a bit more comfortably against the body, especially when sitting down.
Their tremolo systems also look slightly different. But both are floating tremolos that function the same and I don’t find any real difference between them other than appearance.
Their electronics are fairly similar, with some minor differences. Firstly, while both guitars usually have single coils, Jazzmasters normally have wider single coils.
These wider single coils are less sensitive to hum. This means that they produce less noise and can handle higher levels of gain much better than a Strat.
There are Strats that come with humbuckers to reduce noise, but humbuckers change the overall sound of a guitar quite a bit. Wider single coils don’t change the sound all that much while providing protection against noise.
Sound is where the most important difference is between Strats and Jazzmasters. This will also likely be the biggest deciding factor for most when choosing between them.
Strats are known and renowned for their brightness and twang. Jazzmasters on the other hand have a warmer, more rounded, and slightly fatter sound.
If you play a lot of clean or low gain music, a Strat will likely be the better option. The cleans on a Strat do sound a bit crisper, especially if you play a lot of chords and want a sparklier sound.
Jazzmasters do sound great clean, but they really shine on high levels of gain. They have a bit more punch and don’t become quite as muddy as Strats when you start to crank the overdrive on your amp.
Which One Should You Choose?
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, albeit, in an ideal situation, you could just choose both. But you likely will have to decide between the two, in which case you should take the following into consideration.
Whenever choosing between two guitars, it simply comes down to what you need. If you are looking for a heavy rocking guitar, I would say go for a Jazzmaster. Despite what the name suggests, these guitars aren’t just meant for jazz clubs.
However, if you want that true Fender sound, you are more of a blues player, or you just want to be safe, then get a Strat. The Strat is an iconic guitar for good reason. It is a versatile workhorse of a guitar and you won’t be upset that you chose it over a Jazzmaster.
Regardless of whether you want the all-purpose Strat or the harder rocking Jazzmaster, neither of these guitars are really a better choice than the other. Both have their appeal and different guitarists will be drawn to each for different reasons.