Telecaster vs Jazzmaster: History, Legacy & Differences Compared

By Richard •  Updated: 05/17/23 •  28 min read

What’s the difference between a Stratocaster and a Jazzmaster? Let’s explore their history, legacy, tonal qualities and what type of music they’re most suited to…

OK, so you’re looking at buying a guitar. You like the idea of a Telecaster but you’re also rather smitten with the Jazzmaster’s unique style. Maybe you’re a grunge-head or a shoegaze fan? If so, a Jazzmaster is an obvious choice. But then the Telecaster is just so damn versatile…

Which is best? How are they different? With a history spanning over 70 years, there’s quite a lot to cover and this comparison, give or take a few thousand words, is the longest article we’ve EVER published, so strap in and relax, and if you’ve got ‘em, smoke ‘em, because we’re about to go down the rabbit hole…

In this hugely long article, we’re going to look at, examine, and detail every possible aspect of both guitars so, by the end, you’ll not only be exhausted and have some serious eye-strain but you’ll also be a veritable expert on ALL things Telecaster and Jazzmaster.

Let’s do this…

The History of Fender’s Telecaster & Jazzmaster

Telecaster vs Jazzmaster

The Birth of the Telecaster: Origin and Design Philosophy

Born in the 1950s, in Fullerton, California, the Telecaster was the first solid-body electric guitar that was commercially successful. Its birth can be attributed to the innovation and creativity of Leo Fender, George Fullerton, and Freddie Tavares.

The design philosophy behind the Telecaster was based on Leo Fender’s practical approach to guitar manufacturing. Unlike other guitar makers at the time, Fender was not a musician himself but a skilled technician and inventor.

His goal was to create a simple, affordable, and durable guitar that could be easily mass-produced, and which met the needs of musicians in terms of sound, playability, and durability. The Telecaster was the product he envisioned to do just this – and its design was highly controversial when it first launched.

The Telecaster, originally named the Broadcaster, featured a solid, single-cutaway body, a bolt-on neck, and two pickups. It was made from ash, a wood known for its bright, resonant sound.

The body was designed to be simple and easy to manufacture, using a single slab of wood, unlike the traditional hollow or semi-hollow designs. The bolt-on neck allowed for easy replacement or adjustment, a feature that touring musicians greatly appreciated.

Evolution of the Telecaster over the Years


The Telecaster has remained fundamentally unchanged over its seven-decade history. However, there have been several noteworthy modifications and variations.

Firstly, due to a legal threat from Gretsch, who owned the rights to a drum set named “Broadkaster,” Fender was forced to drop the Broadcaster name. For a period in 1951, the guitar was simply known as the ‘Fender,’ but by late 1951, it had officially been renamed the Telecaster.

Over the years, the Telecaster has been produced with a variety of different tonewoods, finishes, and pickup configurations. Rosewood fingerboards were introduced in the late 1950s, and custom colors were made available in the 1960s.

The Custom Telecaster, with a double-bound body, was introduced in 1959, and the Thinline and Deluxe models, featuring semi-hollow bodies and humbucking pickups, were introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Throughout its evolution, the Telecaster has been prized for its bright, twangy sound, and its versatility, making it a popular choice across various music genres, including country, blues, rock, and jazz.

The Inception and Design Goals of the Jazzmaster


In 1958, Fender introduced the Jazzmaster as a top-of-the-line instrument, aimed at jazz guitarists. Leo Fender’s design goals for the Jazzmaster were to offer a warmer, mellower tone compared to the Telecaster and Stratocaster, and to provide players with more sonic options.

The Jazzmaster featured an offset-waist body, designed for comfort when played sitting down, a common practice among jazz musicians. It also had a unique floating tremolo system and separate rhythm and lead circuit controls, offering a wide range of tones.

Progression of the Jazzmaster through the Decades

However, the Jazzmaster didn’t find its intended audience among jazz musicians, who largely stuck with their traditional hollow-body guitars. Instead, it found favor with surf rock guitarists in the 1960s, who appreciated its smooth tremolo system and bright, clear tone.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Jazzmaster gained a new lease on life with alternative and indie rock musicians, who were drawn to its unique look, feel, and sound. Fender responded to this new audience by introducing reissues and new models, such as the Japanese-made reissues in the 1980s, and the American Vintage series in the 1990s.

These reissues retained many of the original design elements but sometimes used different materials or construction methods to meet modern manufacturing standards and player preferences.

Design Differences: Telecaster vs. Jazzmaster

best harley benton telecaster

Both the Telecaster and, to a lesser extent, the Jazzmaster have had a huge, cultural impact on music across nearly every conceivable genre since their release in the 1950s and 1960s.

From The Beach Boys to Jack White, every man and his dog, at one point in their careers, has picked up either a Telecaster or a Jazzmaster. But these guitars, both literally and tonally, are very different beasts.

How different? Here’s a breakdown of the Tele and Jazzmaster’s key design attributes, features, and electronics, so you can see exactly how they differ in a side-by-side comparison.

Also, the table below is based on Fender’s models, not other third-party variations (which is another kettle of fish entirely).

SpecsFender TelecasterFender Jazzmaster
Body ShapeTele-styleJazzmaster
Body WoodAlderAlder
Neck ShapeDeep CDeep C
Neck WoodMapleMaple
Neck ConstructionBolt-onBolt-on
Fretboard MaterialMapleRound-laminated Rosewood
Scale Length25.5″25.5″
Number Of Frets22, Narrow Tall21, Narrow Tall
Frets MaterialNickel SilverNickel Silver
Type of Bridge2-Point Synchronized Tremolo with Cold-rolled Steel BlockJazzmaster/Jaguar Bridge with Panorama Tremolo
Tuning MachinesFender Standard Die-castFender Standard Die-cast
Pickups3 x Fender V-Mod II Single-coilDual Fender V-Mod II Jazzmaster Single-coil
Pickup Selector5-way blade pickup switch2-way slide switch (rhythm/lead)3-way toggle switch
Controls1 x master volume, 2 x tone (push/push add neck)2-way slide switch (rhythm/lead)3-way toggle switch
Weight8.5 lbs (3.85 kg)8.5lbs (3.9 kg)

Body Style Comparison

Telecaster vs Jazzmaster

First up, we delve into the body styles of these two guitars. Both the Telecaster and Jazzmaster feature Fender’s renowned double-cutaway design, but they differ significantly in shape and contours.

The Telecaster is known for its single-cutaway, slab body design. This simple, yet effective design gives it a unique, timeless look. It has a flat top with no contours, and its top horn is shorter than the bottom, giving it a distinct asymmetrical aesthetic.

On the other hand, the Jazzmaster, part of Fender’s offset series, offers a more ergonomic and modern look. Its body is asymmetrical, with the waist “offset” to the bass side.

This design was originally intended to make it more comfortable to play while seated, catering to jazz players. The Jazzmaster’s body also features sleek contours for the arm and belly cut, enhancing player comfort.

Neck and Fretboard Differences

C shape neck vs d shape neck

Moving on to the neck and fretboard, the Telecaster typically features a “C”-shaped neck profile, making it comfortable to grip for a wide range of hand sizes. The original models have a 7.25″ fretboard radius, providing a vintage feel. However, modern Telecasters often have a 9.5″ radius for a more contemporary playability.

The Jazzmaster traditionally has a slightly different neck profile, often described as a “D” shape. This offers a slightly flatter playing surface, better suited to chordal playing. Additionally, the Jazzmaster’s fretboard radius is typically a more flat 9.5″, although vintage models also have the 7.25″ radius.

Hardware Comparison

In terms of hardware, the Telecaster is known for its simplicity and reliability. It typically features a string-through-body bridge with three brass or steel barrel saddles.

This design contributes to the Telecaster’s characteristic twang. The Telecaster’s control system is straightforward, with a 3-way pickup selector switch, one volume control, and one tone control.

fender pickup selector (tele vs jazzmaster)

The Jazzmaster, conversely, is equipped with a more complex hardware setup. It has a unique floating tremolo system, allowing subtle pitch modulation. Its bridge design often features individual saddles for each string, permitting precise intonation adjustments.

The Jazzmaster also has a unique lead/rhythm circuit switch, with separate volume and tone controls for each, giving it an additional layer of tonal versatility.

Pickups: Single-Coil versus Wide-Range Humbucker

The Telecaster traditionally features two single-coil pickups, known for their bright, punchy sound. The bridge pickup offers the classic Telecaster twang, while the neck pickup provides warmer, rounded tones. Together, they provide a wide tonal palette, from biting lead tones to mellow rhythm sounds.

The Jazzmaster introduced a different kind of pickup to the Fender lineup: the wide-range single-coil.

Unlike the Telecaster’s pickups, Jazzmaster pickups are wider and flatter, providing a fatter, warmer tone that’s perfect for jazz and blues. They are also equipped with a metal claw around the coil, which reduces hum and focuses the magnetic field, enhancing the guitar’s sustain.

Unique Features of Both Models

The Telecaster’s simplicity is arguably its most unique feature. Its no-frills design, combined with robust build quality, has made it a favorite among many guitarists. The Telecaster’s sound, particularly its bright, piercing “twang,” is unmistakable and has become iconic in genres like country and rock.

On the other hand, the Jazzmaster’s unique offset body design sets it apart. This body design was quite innovative when it was introduced and has since become a staple of Fender’s design ethos.

The Jazzmaster also features a separate rhythm circuit, offering additional tonal options not found on the Telecaster. By flipping the switch to engage the rhythm circuit, players can quickly shift to preset mellow, bass-heavy tones, which are perfect for jazz and rhythm playing.

Moreover, the Jazzmaster’s floating tremolo system, with its lock button, provides players with a greater range of vibrato effects while also maintaining impressive tuning stability.

This feature has made the Jazzmaster popular with experimental genres like surf rock and shoegaze, where extensive use of the tremolo arm is common.

The Telecaster, with its simple design and bright, punchy tone, has become a staple of rock and country. Meanwhile, the Jazzmaster, with its offset body, unique pickups, and separate rhythm circuit, is versatile and comfortable, making it popular among jazz, blues, and indie rock players.

Although plenty of stoner rock and metal bands use Telecasters too – and Strats. Jim Root of Slipknot has used Fender guitars since day one, and Brant Bjork ALWAYS plays Strats.

Sound Profiles: Telecaster vs. Jazzmaster

What Pickup Do Jazzmasters Have

When it comes to the world of electric guitars, few models hold the same level of iconic status as the Fender Telecaster and Jazzmaster. Both models embody the spirit of innovation that Fender has become known for. However, each guitar offers a unique sound profile that sets it apart in its own special way.

The Signature Telecaster Tone

The Telecaster, born in the early 1950s, was the first solid-body electric guitar to gain widespread popularity. This guitar is often associated with a wide range of music styles, including country, rock, blues, and jazz, thanks to its versatile tonal palette.

At the heart of the Telecaster’s sound are its two single-coil pickups. The bridge pickup is known for its bright, twangy tone, while the neck pickup offers a warmer, fuller sound. When combined, they create a well-rounded tone that’s both rich and resonant.

A key characteristic of the Telecaster tone is its “twang”. This refers to the guitar’s sharp attack and bright, cutting sound, particularly prominent when the bridge pickup is engaged. This twang is what makes the Telecaster a favorite among country and rockabilly players.

However, the Telecaster is far from a one-trick pony. Its neck pickup can produce a smooth, warm tone that’s perfect for blues and jazz. Moreover, by manipulating the guitar’s volume and tone controls, as well as pickup selection, players can coax a wide variety of sounds from this iconic instrument.

The Distinct Jazzmaster Sound

The Jazzmaster, introduced in 1958, was initially intended for jazz musicians, but it quickly found favor among surf rockers, indie artists, and experimental musicians. This guitar’s unique sound profile comes from its special design and features.

The Jazzmaster’s pickups, while they may appear to be standard single-coil pickups, are actually quite different. They are wider and flatter, which allows them to pick up a larger area of the string. This results in a warmer, thicker tone compared to the Telecaster, with less emphasis on the treble frequencies.

The Jazzmaster also includes a unique “rhythm circuit” switch. When engaged, this switch isolates the neck pickup and activates separate volume and tone controls, allowing players to switch quickly between two different preset sounds. This lends itself to a greater tonal versatility, perfect for players who frequently switch between rhythm and lead roles in their performances.

Unlike the Telecaster’s twang, the Jazzmaster’s sound is often described as “woody” and “mellow”. It’s this softer, more nuanced tone that has made the Jazzmaster a favorite among many alternative and indie rock guitarists.

Comparative Sound Analysis

Comparing the Telecaster and Jazzmaster side-by-side, it’s clear that both guitars offer a wide range of sounds, but their core tones are distinctly different.

In the end, whether you choose a Telecaster or Jazzmaster depends on your personal sound preferences and the style of music you intend to play. Here’s some quick tips of the type of music and/or genre best suited to Telecasters and Jazzmasters:

Playability: Telecaster vs. Jazzmaster

different guitar types

When it comes to iconic guitars, two models that immediately come to mind are the Fender Telecaster and Jazzmaster. Both have a rich history and have been the instrument of choice for countless musicians across genres.

However, the playability of these two guitars varies considerably, depending on factors like neck profile, weight, comfort, action, and string tension. This article will delve into these specifics, helping you to understand the playability of both instruments and which might be the best choice for your needs.

Neck Profile and Playability

The Tele

The Jazzmaster

Weight and Comfort

The weight and overall balance of a guitar significantly contribute to its comfort level. An excessively heavy guitar – like classic, 1950s / 1960s Gibson Les Paul models – can lead to fatigue and discomfort during long performances or practice sessions.

The Telecaster is known for its relatively lightweight, owing to its solid, yet slim, body design. This makes it a good choice for those long gigs or studio sessions. Additionally, the Telecaster’s body shape is generally quite comfortable, with its single cutaway allowing easy access to the upper frets.

The Jazzmaster, by contrast, is slightly heavier due to its larger offset body. This weight can give the guitar a solid, substantial feel, but it is noticeably heavier than both a Strat and a Telecaster. The offset waist design is brilliant for seated playing, however, as it sits perfectly on your lap.

Action and String Tension

Action and string tension are other vital elements that affect playability. They influence how hard you have to press to fret a note and how much physical effort you need to put into your playing.

Telecasters are renowned for their ability to handle low action without excessive fret buzz, which can make playing easier and faster. The string tension on a Telecaster is generally higher because of its longer scale length (25.5 inches), providing a snappy, responsive feel.

This higher tension can be great for rhythmic playing styles or those requiring precise intonation, but it may be a bit harder on the fingers for beginners or players used to lighter tension.

Jazzmasters have a shorter scale length (also 25.5 inches, but due to the behind-the-bridge design, the effective scale length feels shorter), which results in slightly lower string tension.

This reduced tension makes the strings easier to bend and gives the guitar a slinkier feel. The Jazzmaster’s unique floating tremolo system can allow for a lower action, but it can also be a bit more challenging to set up and maintain.

Genre Suitability: Telecaster vs. Jazzmaster

Harley Benton Telecaster Pickups

Both the Fender Telecaster and Jazzmaster have played a vital role in shaping the sound of various music genres. They’re both classics, revered for their unique tones, superior build quality, and iconic designs.

Whether you’re a seasoned musician or a budding guitar enthusiast, deciding between a Telecaster and a Jazzmaster can be a tough choice, especially since guitars from Fender are not cheap. In this detailed overview, we will delve into the genre suitability of these two legendary guitars.

Telecaster in Various Music Genres

The Fender Telecaster, with its simple design and bright, cutting tone, has been a staple in many music genres since its inception in the 1950s.

Jazzmaster’s Versatility Across Genres

The Jazzmaster, originally designed for jazz musicians in the late 1950s, didn’t quite take off in its intended genre. However, it found its home in a wide range of other musical styles.

Telecaster vs. Jazzmaster: Price and Value

Telecaster vs Jazzmaster: History, Legacy & Differences Compared

Fender Telecaster

The Fender Telecaster, first introduced in the 1950s, has since become a staple of rock, country, and blues music. As of 2023, the price range for a new Fender Telecaster can vary significantly depending on the model and where it’s manufactured.

American-made Professional II Telecasters can range from $1,400 to $1,600, while Mexican-made Player Telecasters typically come in at a more budget-friendly $700 to $800.

Fender’s more affordable Squier brand offers Telecaster models for as low as $200, making it a viable option for beginners or those on a tight budget.

Fender Jazzmaster

The Fender Jazzmaster, first introduced in 1958, was initially designed with jazz musicians in mind, but it quickly found favor among surf rockers and later indie musicians for its distinct tone.

The pricing for the Jazzmaster follows a similar pattern to the Telecaster. American-made American Professional II Jazzmasters are priced between $1,500 and $1,700.

The Mexican-made Player Jazzmaster is more affordable, falling in the $700 to $900 range. Squier also offers Jazzmaster models, with prices starting as low as $300.

Value for Money: Which One Offers More?

Guitar string gauges

Fender Telecaster

The Telecaster’s primary value lies in its versatility and ruggedness. This guitar is renowned for its “twangy” sound, which is a result of its distinct single-coil pickups.

It’s a workhorse guitar that’s simple in design but offers a wide range of tones, making it a versatile choice for various music genres. If you’re looking for a guitar that’s durable, reliable, and offers a classic tone, the Telecaster is certainly a valuable investment.

The budget-friendly Player Series and Squier models offer excellent value for money, providing the essential Telecaster tone and playability at a fraction of the cost. However, keep in mind that these models may lack some of the refined features and superior build quality of the American-made models.

Fender Jazzmaster

The Jazzmaster, on the other hand, offers a unique value proposition. Its unique circuitry, featuring a rhythm and lead circuit for different tonal options, combined with the warmer, full-bodied sound of its distinctive soapbar pickups, make it a favorite among those seeking something a bit different from the norm.

The Jazzmaster is also known for its offset waist body design, which adds to the comfort and playability of the instrument.

Similar to the Telecaster, the Player Series and Squier Jazzmasters offer excellent value for those on a budget, delivering the unique features and tone of a Jazzmaster at a more affordable price. However, these models may not have the same level of craftsmanship or premium materials as their American-made counterparts.

Maintenance and Durability: Telecaster vs. Jazzmaster

Electric Guitar Scale Length Comparison

It’s often said that the sound of a guitar is only as good as the maintenance it receives. This rings true for any guitar, from the humblest beginner’s model to the most high-end custom creation. But how do the Tele and Jazzmaster compare? Is one more high-maintenance than the other? Let’s dig and find out…

Maintenance Requirements


First on our list is the Telecaster, a model renowned for its simplicity and reliability. The Telecaster is a workhorse, often chosen for its straightforward, no-nonsense design.


The Jazzmaster, with its unique features and sophisticated design, requires more maintenance than the Telecaster.

Longevity and Durability

Harley Benton TE-52 Vintage Series


The Telecaster’s design, characterized by its simplicity and robustness, contributes to its exceptional longevity. Its solid body and bolt-on neck design offer durability and easy repair.

The lack of a complex vibrato system also minimizes potential issues. The electronics are straightforward, meaning there’s less that can go wrong. The Telecaster can withstand heavy use and even abuse, often looking better with a bit of “road wear.”


The Jazzmaster, while being a fantastic instrument, doesn’t quite have the same reputation for ruggedness as the Telecaster. The complex bridge and vibrato system can require frequent adjustments and are more susceptible to damage. Its electronic system, while offering a wide array of tones, is more prone to issues over time.

Making the Choice: Telecaster or Jazzmaster?

Telecaster vs Jazzmaster: History, Legacy & Differences Compared

Back in the 1950s – and pretty much right up to the 1990s – there really wasn’t that much choice when it came to Telecasters and Jazzmasters. If you wanted one, you either bought one from Fender or got a cheaper model via Squier – or smaller, usually Japanese boutique brands.

Nowadays, you’re literally spoilt for choice (especially when it comes to Telecasters), as plenty of guitar brands (Schecter, ESP, Charvel, and Harley Benton to name just a few) all make Tele-style electric guitars.

And there’s basically a Tele-style guitar for every genre of music out there; Fender makes a ton of variants – some with single coils, some with humbuckers, and some with single coils and humbuckers. Or you have pure metal options like Jim Root’s Signature Tele and Jazzmaster models.

For rock, blues, metal and anything heavy, you really cannot go wrong with a Telecaster. From the playability to the overall tonal quality, the Telecaster – in its many variants – is a near-perfect guitar for 99.9% of guitarists that want to play music with a rock and/or metal-bent.

If you’re more into avant garde and/or experimental stuff, think post-rock like Mogwai or Explosions in The Sky, then a Jazzmaster is going to be more your speed. It has way more tonal options than the Tele and, traditionally speaking, a much warmer, smoother sound which lends itself well to lo-fi, post-rock, experimental kinda music.

Me? I love Teles. I own a few and they’re all brilliant, so if you want my advice (as a guitarist that likes to play heavier stuff with a touch of mellowness), go with a Telecaster.


Richard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.

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