Jazz Bass Vs P Bass. We have all heard them, but do we know the difference? In this article we take a deep dive into the differences between the two iconic instruments. Where do they come from? Who plays them? What do they sound like? Which one should I play? 

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Precision Bass. Photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash.
Precision Bass. Photo by Oleg Ivanov on Unsplash.

P Bass 

P Bass was the de facto, go to instrument for bassists in nearly every style of music. It is making it’s comeback now because of its full, fat sound without piercing highs. The bread and butter of the P Bass is it’s ability to “sit in the mix” and serve the music. It is popular with round wound or flat wound strings, though a good sets of flats is particularly desirable on a vintage P Bass. Typically, they have slightly wider necks and lighter bodies, giving them that full sound. This is partially due to the fact that the players using P Basses were switching from Upright Bass. 

The Precision Bass gets its name from the pickup, a precision pickup. 1951 single coil The design of the pickup was created to get rid of the signature hum that was heard from a J Bass. Visually the difference is very obvious. The P Bass is centered in the body of the bass and has two offset coils 1957. They slightly overlap in the middle. They are the original “humbucker” pickup and they work by having one of the two coils magnetized north and the other magnetized south. Then, they were wound in opposite directions (clockwise v counter clockwise) and run in series (they work together, but not at the same time. Power goes from one to the next). The offset overlap actually helps to widen the tonal range of the pickup (more bass but also more treble). 

It is perfect for Rock and R&B, but can be used in nearly any style of music. Some Artists that are known for using a P Bass are James Jamerson, Carol Kaye, Duck Dunn, Sting, and Duff McKagan. 

Jazz Bass. Photo by Gesiel Amaral on Unsplash.
Jazz Bass. Photo by Gesiel Amaral on Unsplash.

Jazz Bass 

The Jazz Bass is the tool of legends like, Marcus Miller, Jaco Pastorius, Geddy Lee, and fFea . It is known for a scooped sound that has a big bottom end and clear highs. It doesn’t not sit in the mix like a P bass does, rather it cuts through more aggressively. This makes it the perfect tool for a bassist that wants to be heard or play intricate lines that can become muddy if the tone is too warm. J Basses are known for having thinner necks and slightly heavier weight bodies, making them more accessible for guitarists to switch over to or for players with smaller hands. 

Jazz Basses do not use a single offset pickup like the precision bass does, but instead it uses two separate pickups, one on the neck and the other on the bridge. The have a brighter sound due to 1) being single coil pickups tuned to pick up higher frequencies and 2) the bridge pickup being located, well, close to the bridge. The strings are tighter there and therefore have a brighter sound than at the neck. 

Which One Should You Play? 

If only the answer were that easy. It boils down to two major things:

What sound do you need? What is your preference? 

I personally prefer the sound and feel of a J Bass. Something about it makes me feel different that a P Bass does. The crispness and sharpness of the sound speaks to me and the way I want my music to sound. However, I generally find myself playing a P Bass lately. 

The P Bass has the sound that checks all of the boxes for my current projects. The Jazz Bass didn’t fit into the music the way that P Bass does. The warmth and fullness is what I need for the right sound. In my case, my needs trump my preference.  

Are There Other Options? 

Of course! The most common alternative is the Musicman style pickup. This has a more growly sound and is used by Joe Dart.  

There are also new pickups out that use infrared lasers instead of magnets to read the string’s vibration. The advantage is near infinite sustain because the magnetic field doesn’t slow down the string. The drawback is that it picks up every overtone, harmonic, ring, or accidental touch. Because of that, if you choose to play this style instrument you will need to perfect your muting technique (though, you should probably do that anyways). 

One of our favorite options is the P/J Style. It is exactly what it sounds like: A Precision neck pickup and a Jazz bridge pickup. This provides one of the largest tonal varieties that you can ask for. 

The most common options are P and J basses because of their versatility and familiarity. Either way, you can’t go wrong as long as you use the sound that will serve your music. 

Links 

Seymour Duncan on Pickup Styles: https://www.seymourduncan.com/?post_type=post&s=Jazz+Pickup

Fender on Jazz Bass vs P Bass: https://www.fender.com/articles/how-to/precision-bass-or-jazz-bass-which-is-right-for-you

Spotify Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/bpelkdoz61rtjou6fivwjuq1u/playlist/0Y3sjgSWWZQjZUBFUZy0Tp?si=XGIHrisfT629iz__t6xz0Q 

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/JustTheBassics/ 

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/justthebassics 

Other Episodes: justthebassics.com/podcast 

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