Jazzmaster - Lee Ranaldo Signature review by Fender

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  • Features: 6
  • Sound: 7
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 6
  • Reliability & Durability: 6
  • Overall Impression: 6
  • Reviewer's score: 6.2 Neat
  • Users' score: 9.6 (10 votes)
Fender: Jazzmaster - Lee Ranaldo Signature

Price paid: $ 1200

Purchased from: Fender rep

Features — 6
All vintage. Vintage nut with narrow string spacing, a vintage neck radius, vintage tuners, 3 way pickup selector, no extra electronic circuits aside from volume. Mustang bridge, maple neck, 21 frets, rosewood board, anodized aluminum pick guard. Fenders new wide range humbuckers. Included a case and some pretty dumb stickers. However, there's a few good reasons that these vintage features were abandoned by fender once guitar manufacturing was perfected in later decades and I'll get to that in a minute.

Sound — 7
Neck pickup sounds clean and smooth with extended lows and clear highs. Bridge pickup sounds very "rock" with scooped midrange and a bit of distortion. I rather like both. Don't care for the middle pickup position. Paired with my Vox AC15 C1, this guitar can still be quite bright even with 75% rolloff of my amps tone. Makes me wish it had a tone knob. It's also a very resonant guitar, with all that string length off the back of the bridge. Its cool, but sympathetic vibrations can cause unplucked strings to start ringing.

Action, Fit & Finish — 6
The action has to be a bit higher than I prefer. Since it has a vintage radius neck, notes above the twelfth fret tend to fret-out easily when bent if the action is too low, even after a proper setup. The sweet spot isn't unbearably high, but I prefer lower. Only problem with live playing is that occasionally the high e string will pop out of the mustang bridge during aggressive soloing. It's happened twice on-stage. Otherwise tuning stability is quite good. I make extensive use of the tremolo and it takes punishment pretty well.

Reliability & Durability — 6
The nitro finish is extremely thin on this guitar. There's basically no protection so abuse shows up pretty quickly. I can tell its gonna get beaten up fast. Have had a hard shell fender and a parker fly for 12 years and they are still in better shape than this one after 6 months on the road. No rhythm/lead circuit like a traditional Jazzmaster, but I actually think removing them was a good idea. Most Jazzmaster players I know have those taken out anyway. Strap buttons are fine. But the vintage tuners are way too tedious to restring this guy onstage so keep a backup handy.

Overall Impression — 6
This guitar could have perfectly bridged the gap between Fender's pricey AVRI Jazzmaster, and their lower cost classic player. It's got quality hardware and a reasonable cost at the minor expense of a tone knob and electronics. However it is a very niche guitar and the all vintage specifications really hold it back. I wrote this review for the purposes of informing people what I wish I had known going in, and what I only really discovered once I got intimate with the guitar. And that is, this is a RHYTHM players guitar. If you play lead, you are not going to like it one bit. 

Vintage radius and long scale neck, vintage nut spacing, and thin vintage fret wire all conspire against note bending. Its one of the stiffest guitars I've ever played. It has an absolute maximum bending range of 2 steps over the twelfth fret due I think to how close the strings are together, and it fights you all the way up. Even if you can accept that max note bend range, the string tension is still extraordinarily tight. You've got to have iron claws to pull off fast bending techniques. It's kind of my workout guitar right now... Kind of like running with weights on.  

This is I suppose what Lee wanted.. A stable guitar that could handle his odd gauges and tunings. And that it does quite well. But versatility is not its strong suite. Make sure that's what you want going in. If it is, it's a beautiful guitar.

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