Telecaster vs Jazzmaster – Which Fender Guitar Should You Pick?

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Fender guitars are incredibly unique and some of, if not the most, iconic guitars ever. Apart from the famous Stratocaster, Fender also makes the equally famous Telecaster, and slightly less famous Jazzmaster.

But how do these guitars compare? Are they the same, with just a few small differences? Or are they two wildly different beasts?

Let us take a look at how these two icons stack up, and maybe discover which one is the right one for you.

Build & Design

In terms of build-quality, these are Fender guitars. That means that you are getting some of the finest made guitars around, regardless of whether you are going with a Telecaster or a Jazzmaster. Design is where they differ quite a bit.

Right off the bat you will notice that Telecasters are a bit smaller than Jazzmasters. Teles sport a more ‘compact’ design.

Teles also tend to be a bit lighter than Jazzmasters. As someone with some mild back problems, Teles appeal to me much more than Jazzmasters. This makes a Tele a bit easier to control and play, at least in my opinion.

Even though Jazzmasters have larger bodies, they are still comfortable to play. Their bodies are slightly rounded on the edges and they feature a nice contour at the back.

This makes them sit snuggly against your body and gives your arm a nice spot to rest on while you are playing. The Tele’s slightly ‘blockier’ design does mean that you will need to adjust a bit to get comfortable with it.

I play with my guitar a bit higher up against my body. So, the slightly sharper top edge of a Tele’s body does cut into my arm a bit from time to time.

For the neck, both guitars feature a C-shape neck. This means that the neck is not only comfortable to play, but smooth and fast.

One thing that is a bit odd to me is that the Jazzmaster’s frets feel a tad larder than the Telecaster’s. I am pretty sure it is just because the Jazzmaster is a larger guitar overall, but it does feel like the frets are just a little bit wider.

Controls

The second thing you will notice that differs between these two guitars are their controls.

Telecasters generally have a straightforward 3-way pickup selector, volume knob, and tone knob. But Jazzmasters will often also have three additional switches at the top of the guitar.

These controls are used to switch between rhythm and lead modes, as well as controlling the volume and tone in rhythm mode.

Simply put, switching to rhythm mode deactivates the neck pickup and volume and tone knobs. These controls just provide greater control over the guitar’s tone.

The other major difference is that a Jazzmaster has a floating tremolo, while a Telecaster has a fixed bridge. If you are into using a whammy bar, then you will obviously prefer a Jazzmaster.

I personally don’t use the whammy bar too often, so I don’t really have a preference here. Although, I do believe in rather having the option and not needing it, than needing it and not having it.

Pickups

Another big difference comes in the form of the pickups on each guitar. Telecasters generally have your standard single coil pickups, although you can get models with humbuckers.

Jazzmasters, however, come with pickups that are often mistaken for P90s. In reality these pickups are known as ‘soapbar’ pickups.

While they are somewhat similar to P90s, they are slightly flatter and wider, and their tone is slightly sharper. This is what made Jazzmasters so popular in the ‘60s, especially among surf rock guitarists.

This sharper tone works quite well with reverb and tremolo, a defining feature of surf rock.

Sound

While both guitars have that distinctly Fender tone, I do believe that each has its own unique sound.

The Jazzmaster Sound

Despite what the name might suggest, Jazzmasters aren’t limited to jazz. But they also aren’t the best at jazz, ironically.

I certainly love the way they sound in a jazz setting, but I think there are plenty of hollow and semi-hollow bodied guitars that sound better.

For me, though, I think that Jazzmasters sound best with some dirty overdrive added. These guitars were made for genres like alternative, grunge, and punk.

These guitars can easily have a big, crunchy distorted sound, while still having that signature Fender jangle. The only downside is that they don’t sustain quite as well as Teles, which would have helped to make their tone even more monstrous.

They aren’t just grunge machines, though. Their clean sound is bright and shiny, but with just a touch of warmth. This gives them this nice mellowness, I feel.

Even though I think there are guitars that are better for jazz, these guitars still sound amazing. No jazz band is going to turn you away when you show up to a gig with one of these.

The Telecaster Sound

You will likely be fairly familiar with the Telecaster sound. Along with Stratocasters, these guitars helped to make Fender as recognizable as it is today.

Teles have that unmistakable Fender twang that made them especially popular among country guitarists. In many ways, country music wouldn’t sound the way it does if it weren’t for the Telecaster.

And just like the Jazzmaster, Teles aren’t limited to just country music. In fact, Teles are more versatile than Jazzmasters, at least in my opinion.

Their bright, twangy sound makes them perfect for genres like country, but they also have a nice bottom-end. This rounds out their tone quite nicely, making them fit into practically any genre quite easily.

I would say that the Tele’s sound is thinner than the Jazzmaster’s. The Jazzmaster just has a bit more weight to it.

The clean tone of a Tele is still quite special. Open chords are especially wonderful to play, having a nice airiness to them.

Teles shine particularly bright when you add some reverb to their clean tone. They just have this shimmering quality that very few guitars, even other Fenders, can beat.

But because you have the option of getting Teles with different pickups, its sound isn’t as set as a Jazzmaster’s. A Tele with humbuckers will fatten up the tone, making it even more aggressive and punchy than a Jazzmaster.

Which One to Choose?

As with anything else in life, the choice between a Jazzmaster and a Telecaster isn’t quite cut and dry. It is definitely going to come down to your own preference.

I personally like Teles a bit more than Jazzmasters. They are a bit more comfortable to play, and their tone is a bit more versatile.

But, if you are a grunge or alternative player in the vein of Nirvana, Soundgarden, etc. I would highly recommend going with a Jazzmaster instead of a Tele.

Final Verdict

Regardless of which guitar you choose, neither one is a bad choice. I have had hours of fun playing on both guitars. And even though I prefer Teles, I am very fond of Jazzmasters.

No matter which one you decide to pick up, I am positive that you won’t be disappointed.

About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

Leave a Comment