Price paid: $ 603.9
Sound — 9
The Jazzmaster has a mellower, less mainstream tone than the Strat or Tele due to the wider and flatter wound pickups but its not a problem, it's simply a different tone. Can be smooth at the neck, twangy at the bridge or very unique sounding in the middle position. Is as noisy as any Strat. The CIJ models don't have the correct pickups! They may look wider but if you have a look underneath its exactly like a Stratocaster! I'm not sure why Fender Japan do this because it destroys the whole point of the guitar. So, replace them with the correct type and its fine, and still more affordable than the USA model. I have a Seymour Duncan Vintage '57 for Jazzmaster in the neck (approx 50 and the tone is priceless) and a Seymour Duncan 1/4 Pounder for Jazzmaster in the bridge (also approx 50). Although it would seem, the Jazzmaster is not exactly associated with jazz. Basically it wasn't incredibly popular back in the '60s like the Strat and Tele so, as a used buy, it became a cheap alternative to other models. This resulted in it becoming the guitar to have in the alternative indie/shoegaze scene of the late '80s-early '90s. Additionally a young Jimi Hendrix played it and surf music uses it widely. This guitar actually helped create new genres from its muddy distortion tone and alternative sound (read Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine). The vibrato is very smooth and sublte, only about 1/2 a step max. This guitar shines played clean, with slight distortion/crunch it sounds really good, and with some heavier distortion/fuzz it has its own muddy, 'I'm-not-made-for-this' approach. It really won't do metal and it'll look a bit odd, and its not ideal for soloing due to it's lack of sustain. 9 because it's not a jack of all trades which may be a problem for some and has little natural sustain, but its so unique anyway.
Overall Impression — 9
I've been playing for over 2 1/2 years now, I'm no technical master. I like to play alternative indie/shoegaze aswell as Pink Floyd style rock. In terms of what I want to play/write for, listen to Doves or Elbow and you get the idea. The guitar isn't the focus of this sound so I'm not going to be pushing this hard, it's perfect for sitting into the mix and contributing its unique sound to the overall music (this is perfect as a rhythm guitar or for soft leads). I was fortunate to get this for 330 rather than the shop price of 550-650 (varies a lot). I would have been prepared to pay the full price if there wasn't the need for the replacement pickups. I was drawn to it initially by the looks having first seen it used by Grant Nicholas ages ago, then the tone once I discovered MBV, Sonic Youth and Swervedriver. It's all I hoped for (I was aware of the flaws with the model before I bought one). The only unexpected thing was the colour I ended up getting it in, burgundy mist (pale pink/maroon metallic) which I've grown to really like sunburst is too common anyway. Check out some Jazzmaster/Jaguar websites for lots of extra info/pics if you're interested.
Reliability & Durability — 9
This is a very solid guitar, even though it has its flaws its not fragile and even if you don't do the mods it should serve you well for a lifetime. Hardware is solid, the strap buttons are ok, but you should be using strap locks anyway. I use a backup at gigs in the form of my CIJ '57 Stratocaster but I haven't had to turn to it so far. A glimse of the examples Sonic Youth used (before some twunt stole them all) will reasure you of the durability.
Action, Fit & Finish — 7
My example had old strings ('9s), which I replaced for '10s. A couple of the higher frets had some minor finish flaws which I removed without damage (I think it was some stray glue). I raised the pickups after replacing them because they were a few mm too low, especially the bridge which should be significantly higher than the neck. The body finish and pickguard are flawless, very impressive. All the many parts fit perfectly, the tuners are solid and the switches work, although the main pots are a bit poor; nothing happens until about 3 and there's not much difference after that so either have them max or min. The pickup switch feels quite cheap. Mine crackles a bit when switching and I'm not sure if it's a loose connection or the Switch itself (more likely my dodgy soldering) but I can't usually get the middle setting, I just get the neck pickup, not both. The saddles are rubbish! Strings jump out of the shallow threads. Simply replace them with Mustang saddles (with just the one groove) and problem solved. I still have the originals and its useable unless you play quite hard (I don't). My bridge doesn't buzz either (another common complaint) so I can live with it. 7 for the mods required for a perfected version (pickups/saddles/pots) but it's worth it and not useless without these tweaks.
Features — 10
The guitar I'm basing this review on is my 2003 CIJ (Crafted in Japan) '62 re-issue Jazzmaster. 21 Vintage frets. Maple neck with rosewood fretboard. Vintage tuners, 25.5" scale D-shape neck (best Fender neck by far). Solid basswood body, offset design, this one's finished in burgundy mist. Floating tremelo with locking feature, threaded saddle bridge. 2x passive wide-wound single coil pickups on a 3-way selector. 1x volume and tone controls, switchable rhythm circuit with independent tone and volume controls. It's a very unique guitar, although it shares many parts with the later Jaguar model. It really depends what you use it for as to how useful some of the features are, e.g. the rhythm circuit. I got it because I really wanted the features.