American Whoa: The American Pro Jazzmaster’s Peculiar Pickups

An American Pro Jazzmaster came into my life recently and I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I’m loving the light weight and solid feel of the guitar, and for a guy that’s not such a huge fan of maple fretboards I’m delighted to have one close at hand. Those same concerns I had in my December review are still present, mainly the selector switch placement and the proximity of the E strings to the edges of the fretboard. I’ll be posting more of my long-term impressions down the road, but do go back and read that review if you’d like the full scoop.

After the last week of ownership, I have to admit that I’m not entirely thrilled with the sound of the guitar. The pickups leave me a bit cold, lacking some of depth of sound and dynamic range of other Jazzmaster pickups. They exhibit an almost Strat-like quality which I initially attributed to the new design, or perhaps the use of 500K pots and a treble bleed network, both of which can have an effect on the sound.

It wasn’t until I popped off the covers that I discovered the shocking reason for my dissatisfaction: these are not Jazzmaster pickups at all – they’re Strat-like coils in oversized bobbins.

As we’ve described previously, traditional Jazzmaster pickups have wide, flat, relatively hot coils wound right to the edges of the bobbin, which is why they possess such a wide range of bright highs, present low-mids, and round bass. Because of their size, Jazzmaster pickups sense a wider aperture of the string’s vibrational length than most, producing the dynamic, three-dimensional sound that makes Jazzmasters so damn sonically spectacular as well as unusually versatile.

Fender sells the sound of the newly-designed V-Mod pickups as “hot, vintage-inspired tone with plenty of punch and definition.” Vintage-inspired or not, the pickups found in the AM-PRO are a far cry from the sound and construction of traditional Jazzmaster pickups, which is kind of the reason folks buy a Jazzmaster in the first place. Wound tall and dense, the V-Mod pickups have much more in common with overwound Strat pickups or even P90s, minus the bar magnets and adjustable poles.

While I won’t go so far as to say they’re bad-sounding pickups I do feel vindicated in suspecting that I wasn’t getting the full experience. The sound is, to my ears, more narrow in scope and toward the sterile side comparatively; lows are there but rigid, and while highs aren’t biting, they also aren’t as sparkly. Again, they’re not bad, just not Jazzmasters.

Puzzlingly, this new pickup design isn’t new at all; these pickups are eerily similar if not virtually identical to those found on Japanese Jazzmasters since the mid-1980s. This Strat-in-a-Jazzmaster-cover construction is a hallmark of MIJ/CIJ guitars, generally considered the weak link of those models. In fact, swapping out for better pickups is always my first suggestion to players looking for more out of their import Jazzmaster. Check out this comparison shot of a Japanese pickup (left) next to a Lollar: (right)

I took this photo years ago, and the brand-new V-Mod pickups look just like the MIJ

It’s perplexing, then, that Fender would double down on such a design for their new, more modern take on the guitar. Along with the omission of the Rhythm Circuit, I suspect that this was an attempt to broaden the appeal of the instrument, to homogenize the new line so that none of the models stray far from each other. From that corporate perspective it almost makes sense to stuff a Strat pickup into a Jazzmaster, but in doing so they’ve undermined one of the most fundamental and desirable aspects of the guitar: the sound.

Look, I’m a reasonable if not opinionated guy, and I’m sure there are plenty of folks who like these pickups. Who am I to dissuade them! One of my Instagram followers was just telling me how much he loves his MIJ pickups, and I wouldn’t dream of shaming him for enjoying his guitar. I may personally find them lacking and if asked I’ll quickly suggest a replacement of superior quality. Otherwise, my motto is “Chase your bliss.”

But for those looking to spend their hard-earned money chasing Jazzmaster tones in an affordable and updated package, I’m afraid you won’t find it here. Bluntly, this guitar won’t sound like a proper Jazzmaster without modification, and at $1500, having to spend more for the ‘correct’ tone may be a mark against the American Pro series to some. To others like myself, for whom changing pickups is as routine as brushing teeth, same as it ever was.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual player to decide whether or not this is a dealbreaker. And really, I’m not so sure it should be, the guitar’s great fun all around. However, I also won’t pretend I’m not disappointed; perhaps it wouldn’t be so if the specs were a little more forthcoming, letting potential buyers know what they’re getting. Fender’s been vague on this issue in the past – just look at the “special design hot single coil Jazzmaster pickups” of the Classic Player line which are actually P90s through and through.

To simply call them “Jazzmaster pickups” is misleading, when in reality they are not. Beneath those big, white covers isn’t just a combination, it’s a compromise; the guitar sounds good enough, yet lacks the signature tone and feel you’d expect from such an instrument. And while there’s nothing wrong with a good Stratocaster pickup, like many other “crossovers” that aim to straddle two very different traditions, I can’t help but feel the end result is only half as effective as either.

As for me, I’ll be swapping pickups on this one sooner than later.

MIJ on top, V-MOD on bottom.

24 thoughts on “American Whoa: The American Pro Jazzmaster’s Peculiar Pickups

  1. Tom says:

    hi mike,
    wow. that (to me) is a downer, for all the reasons you described.
    i’m yet to lay hands on my AM Pro JM, but reading this really puts me off – as you said, the (original) JM pups design is what makes for the distinct sound, how on earth could fender resort back to the old odd japanese “trick”. :-/
    well. I’d plan for a review on my site once my order finally arrives, but I guess I’m opinionated already.

    • Tom says:

      … and I’d love to read about a/your before/after experience, should you decide to swap the pickups for “real” JM ones.

    • Well, don’t let me keep you from happiness! There’s a lot to love about the AMPRO model even if I’m not doing the best job of talking about what I actually like about the thing. There are just a few head-scratchers as far as specs go, and like I said in the blog, I would have swapped pickups on almost every model in the catalog anyway.

      I really hope that you dig the guitar, but I’m excited to read your thoughts when you get one!

      • Tom says:

        tonite the AM Pro JM was waiting for me at our rehearsal space (the benefits of sharing the same space with the local store’s guitar geeks) 🙂 First, unfiltered impressions:
        I have mixed, but over all positive impressions from the first round/couple hrs noodling on it.
        The neck feels very good. The action’s very good. The tuning is very stable and no problems with the bridge. Are the strings too close to the fretboard? not decided yet, but it wasn’t much of a problem (in comparison, the stock bridge’s spacing on the marr jaguar was way more “too close to the edge”). I had no problems with the selector switch, but I can see that this could get in the way, if one plays nearer to the neck (which I sometimes like to do because of the mellower sound). the tonal range is good, and the guitar equipped with the factory setup (just slightly adjusted action) delivers a mighty punch, and can delivery a very aggressive twang, and plenty in between. I have not analyzed the controls, and since I recently rediscovered my love of the treble loss at an standard volume knob — if played with a responsive tube amp — I’m not sure if the treble bleed wiring is to my liking or not. I love the color, and a maple neck on a JM is unusual, but I like it. The guitar feels and sounds very good. It sounds very Fender. But again, it sounds more like a “traditional” single coil guitar, not typical “Jazzmaster” like. But currently I find this not too much of an issue, because it sounds like a good sounding guitar should sound (what a sentence), ha. More later over at offset.guitars, when I dug in some more.

      • I love your thoughts here! I’m with you on the treble bleed. I have one on Artoo, my Thin Skin Jazzmaster and I’ve gotta say, I’ve kind of fallen out of love with the whole concept, thanks in part to my ’61 Jazzmaster which has no such network on it. I think I’ve come around to appreciating what a turned-down volume pot does!

  2. Karl Brennan says:

    Hey Mike,just to chime in,i find incredible even insulting that after all the work you have done to expose,educate and ultimately endorse the true nature of the jazzmaster that Fender would backpedal and fob us off with the American pro.it looked really good some years ago with the 65 reissue but its back to business as usual.please dont be disheartened and keep up the good fight.

    • Karl, that’s the nicest thing anyone ever said about me. I appreciate it. But hey, I don’t take it so personally, I’m just glad that folks like yourself have kept up with my obsession all these years. But I agree, it’s a strange move for sure.

  3. I rarely open emails and typically just delete the crap that comes from entering contests and signing petitions, Guitar Bar Is One Of The Few Exceptions. I always enjoy the info.
    Is it me or do you have a special thing for offset guitars?

  4. Robert MacKay says:

    Ah ha, I thought my new Jazzmaster had some sort of Sratsville sounds coming out of it. re my other post. Now I know why.

    • Robert MacKay says:

      It seems that the names that Fender gives to their Guitars is only a reference the the Body shapes. I am sure glad that a couple of stores allow me to try a Guitar and if I don’t like it and send it back in new condition they give me a full refund. I live in Yukon so this helps me a lot. I have to pay the shipping but that is a lot cheaper than me flying down to Vancouver and back. Plus I get to try them with my own Amps etc. I am sending the pro Jag back because I already have a much nicer sounding Tele in my collection already 😉

  5. Mark says:

    I messed around with one and had the same reaction to the e string’s placement. Is a mastery bridge a drop in replacement on these? will that change/improve the string spacing/placement?

    Would it be easy to move the placement of the switch to the bottom horn based on the body’s routing? How difficult would it be to mod it so that it has the ‘traditional’ electronic setup with ‘strangle’ switch and keep the treble bleed?

    Sorry for all the specific questions! these have been on my mind since I first saw the lineup and I figure you’d be the one to know. Part of me just thinks, ‘hell give me the mystic seafoam color on a Squier J Mascis model and I’d be fine with that.’

    • Hey! Don’t ever apologize for specific questions, that’s why I’m here! Incidentally, I’ve covered some of them over on Instagram. My handle is Puisheen if you’re interested.

      Anyway, to your queries:

      Mastery and Staytrem are both drop-in replacements on the model, thankfully. Instead of mucking with the body thimbles as they have on the Roadworn and Classic Lacquer models, they’ve used the traditional size and placement and have added a nylon insert to keep the stock bridge stable. Mastery and Staytrem both boast 52mm string spacing, so both of them will definitely fix the E string issue.

      The body isn’t routed like other Jazzmasters, so moving the switch would be a labor-intensive solution. As for the strangle switch, which is only found on the Jaguar, I think the switch plate routing is the same so you’d need a plate and switches and you’d be set. I’m not certain about the Treble bleed though, but I’m sure it could be kept.

      That Mystic color is the greatest color ever!

  6. Jacob says:

    Hey Mike,

    I know this is about the JM, but what’s your opinion on the new Jaguar?

    Thanks!

  7. ignacio says:

    Hey, great review, i m really far away from the u.s.a, so, the chances of me testing one of this new JM are really low, i ve been cheking youtube test of this american professionals jazzmaster and i ve heard the same thing, a strat sound, but not a bad sound, i love jazzmasters and i still want one of these, couse i think i can get an alternative sound, i know its not the traditional sound, but i think i can take a new sound out of these babys.
    i have a question for you, im in argentina, the guitar haven t get heare yet, would you recomend this guitar? i know its a tough question, it depends in many factors, but if you have to do an overall analysis.

    thanks for your time

  8. Shawn Bragg says:

    Thanks for validating my opinions on the new Jazzmaster that I purchased without playing, and have been trying so hard to love. I have been contemplating a pickup and pot swap myself, and your review may be the clincher. Thanks!

    • Shawn Bragg says:

      Afterthought: I have added a Staytrem and it was a direct replacement to the American Professional Jazzmaster, no messing about.

      BTW, what do you think of the Duncan Antiquities?

      • Duncan’s Antiquity Is are some of my favorite pickups out there, and they do a great job of capturing the darker, louder sound of the earlier pickups. I’ve compared them directly to those on my ’61 and it’s staggering how close they are to each other.

        And yeah, Staytrem is indeed a direct replacement for the AMPRO, as is Mastery, etc.

  9. Micah says:

    Hey there,

    After months of pining, I think I’ve decided to buy my first Jazzmaster. I came across your insta handle and have been learning from afar. So thanks for the random tidbits of knowledge.

    My take from your feedback is that changing out the pickups would be required to achieve that classic jazzmaster tone in the new AmPro model.

    In your opinion, would I be better off just starting with a Squier J mascis and modding that out? Thinking Mastery bridge and Antiquities in a J Mascis might be the call. Thanks for your time.

    Also I have a MIJ Jaguar HH (has the original Dragsters) that I want to tinker with. Any suggestions for some cool pickups that fit into the humbucker size holes?

    • Truthfully, if you wanted classic Jazzmaster, you should really go for one of the Squier VMs instead. For starters, you’ll have to do a lot less work installing a Mastery, which won’t fit in the TOM insterts of the Mascis, meaning you’ll need to pull them, fill in wood, and redrill for new thimbles. Secondly, the vibrato on the Mascis is moved forward which alters the feel and tonal response of the guitar. The VM is vintage spec, and a far better platform to begin with. Antiquity Is are great pickups for sure.

      As a note, the AMPRO has 500k pots instead of traditional 1meg, so again, if you want classic Jazzmaster you’ll need to substitute.

      As for the HH, Fender’s never been good with standard humbuckers. Honestly, I’d replace them with any other humbucker I liked first and see if that does the trick. Duncan, Lollar, Bareknuckle, any of them.

      • Micah says:

        Thanks for the prompt, insightful response, much appreciated!

        For the HH jag I was thinking more of a single coil/ non-Humbucker option in a humbucker size. Just curious if you ever come across something funky like a gold foil or p90 or similar, in a bucker shape/size that would fit without serious modding necessary. Wanted a more jangly sound than the HH provides

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