Precision Bass and Jazz Bass are among the most popular bass guitars out there. However; it is hard to decide which one you should buy. This article covers my (partially subjective) experience on the matter.
Executive summary: I would own both (with different strings) if possible.
|Pickup||1x split humbucker||2x single coils|
|Sound||One perfect low-mid sound||Various sounds|
|Typical role||Support||Melodic, slap|
|Typical ensemble||Dense mixes||Ample mixes|
A common Precision Bass has a straight body, thick neck and a single pickup; which will produce a singular low-middy thumpy sound. But the singular fat sound sits in the mix really well, which typically attracts groove players looking for a solid foundation.
A common Jazz Bass has an offset body, thin neck and two pickups; which produce various sounds. It won’t get as thumpy as the P-Bass, but the sound variety typically attracts players playing melodic lines and slapping.
It’s worth mentioning that they affect my note choices differently. P-Bass makes me play simple, economic and solid lines to fill out the low-mid range. J-Bass makes me play fiddlier and more melodic to support the harmony.
As a starting point, you can sum up my subjective perk points below and see which bass corresponds to your needs better.
|Sound variety||🔴 -1||🟢 +1|
|Band versatility||🟡 0||🟢 +1|
|Engineer preference||🟢 +1||🟡 0|
|Simplicity||🟢 +1||🔴 -1|
|Noiseless||🟢 +1||🟡 0|
|Thump||🟢 +1||🟡 0|
|Comfort||🟡 0||🟢 +1|
|Soloability||🟡 0||🟢 +1|
|Slapability||🟡 0||🟢 +1|
|Speed||🔴 -1||🟢 +1|
|Articulation||🟡 0||🟢 +1|
|Tone safety||🟢 +1||🔴 -1|
|Guitar stand balance||🟢 +1||🔴 -1|
- Natural versatility. Precision Bass naturally sits effortlessly right above the kick drum and below the snare. Therefore, it shines in rock’n roll or crowded bands. It can be heard without being too loud because it occupies a naturally idle space in the sonic spectrum – without clashing and fighting other instruments.
- Simplicity. Precision Bass is really a plug & play instrument. You don’t have to turn a lot of knobs to sound good. Jazz Bass occupies a wider frequency range and has more knobs; which can be bad tone traps for some players.
- Noiseless. Precision Bass has a hum cancelling split coil pickup design, which eliminates the 60-cycle hum completely.
- Tonal versatility. Jazz Bass has two blendable pickups, and they can be dialed to get various different tones.
- Thin Neck. If you are a guitarist or have small hands in general, the thinner neck of the Jazz Bass would suit you well. P-Bass has a chunky neck, which is claimed to contribute to its chunky sound.
- Soloing. If you are going to do a lot of soloing or busy & fast phrasing, Jazz Bass would be a better choice due to its faster neck and articulate bridge pickup sound.
Get both if your budget allows you! Many bassists own one of each for different situations.
If your budget allows you to get only one bass;
- Get a P bass if most of the following points apply to you:
- Large hands
- Safely sounding at least “OK” in any situation (no fiddling)
- Support / groove playing
- Playing in dense / loud ensembles
- Get a PJ bass if you want a P bass + an additional bridge / Jaco sound at the expense of the pure P-bass sound and some J sounds.
- Get a J bass if most of the following points apply to you:
- Tone shaping
- Small hands
- Melodic / lead playing
- Playing in smaller ensembles
If you can’t lean towards either direction, here is an alternative approach:
- Get a P if you perceive basses as percussions with strings
- Get a J if you perceive basses as guitars with thick strings
My subjective preference
In my current orientation; I have a P with flats, a PJ with nickel rounds and a J with steel rounds.
- My P with flat wound strings works well for a fat mellow warm support sound; as well as larger bands where I have limited sonic space. My default choice for latin and jazz.
- My PJ with nickel round wound strings works well for a balanced support sound with some top end. Works especially well on smaller bands where I need to fill sonic estate. I blend the J pickup rarely though. My default choice for pop and rock.
- My J with steel round wound strings works well for a modern articulate spotlight sound with a scooped articulation. My default choice for funk and metal; as well as slapping / soloing / noodling.
If I had to get down to only one bass, I’d play a good PJ with nickel round wound strings because it can give the classic P sound and some J sounds too. But I’d miss the P and J eventually. However; I could justify and live with other choices too.
- Justification for J: It can produce sounds which P can’t, and lean towards the P sound too.
- Justification for P: Extra J sounds aren’t needed frequently by a typical bassist, and P sits in the useful bass frequencies naturally.
In either case, I recommend round-wound nickel strings on a desert island bass. They are neither as bright as steels nor as dead as flats, can lean towards either direction.
Did you decide, but wonder which P or J bass to get? Check the article From Components to Sound: Composing Your Perfect Bass .
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