GEAR REVIEW: Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster

From our December print issue.

The new Mexican-made Blacktop Jazzmaster looks like a beautiful reissue of a Fender fan favorite. Sometimes though, looks can be deceiving. The Blacktop has more faults than virtues and disappointingly falls far short of its aesthetic expectations.

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The best part about the guitar, aside from its hot body, is the neck (not surprising for a Fender). A scaled down width and awesome action makes it a pleasure to dance along the 21 frets set in the rosewood board. Whether playing jazzy chords or single note passages, the slender and sleek profile is fast and comfortable.

One of the highly touted features on this new six-string is the bridge humbucker. It provides some real beef to distorted tones, lending a burly chunk to chugging rhythms and squeals to those “ride the lightning” solos. Going clean, the natural tone of this Blacktop beauty sings and sustains.

As for the original Jazzmaster neck pickup? Well some say these pickups are hotter than other Fender guitars, which is just a nice way of saying that they’re noisy. The clean tone suffers substantially, losing the fight with the static. Add a little gain, and the hum is overbearing and unavoidable. It’s a bummer considering the combination of the two pickups also displays these faults, and it severely reduces the axe’s advertised versatility.

The tremolo bridge system is what really sets the Jazzmaster apart from similar sounding (and priced) guitars. The unique design makes working the whammy bar simple and fun. Unfortunately, the tuning suffers quickly, making it ill advised to really slack the strings on stage. The bridge itself is also prone to failure. The loose screws and insecure saddles call for constant maintenance, which is a substantial issue for a brand new instrument.

Coming from Fender, this guitar leaves something to be desired. The new bridge-bucker bangs, but looses its luster when combined with the noisy neck pickup. The tremolo system is convenient and creative, but the tuning is suspect and the hardware is janky. If you really, and I mean really, want a low-cost Jazzmaster then you may be into this instrument, but proceed with caution, and play before purchasing.

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