The Jazzmaster, introduced in late 1957, was envisioned as Fender's top-of-the-line electric guitar. Despite its name, jazz players never flocked to it, and it found its strongest adherents instead among the punk, new wave and avant-garde players who started picking them up in pawn shops right around the time Fender decided to stop making them in the early 1980s. They're best known as the signature instrument behind surf music and much of New York's punk music.

What differentiates the Jazzmasters from other Fenders is the bridge and the circuitry, which gives the instrument its characteristic hollow, twangy sound.

(For examples, listen to: "Walk Don't Run," by The Ventures, Zoot Horn Rollo's playing on Captain Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica, Television's "Marquee Moon," (especially the title song), or the entire "Psychic Hearts" LP by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.)

Many players, upon buying a Jazzmaster, often replace the bridge with one from a Fender Mustang. The reason: On a JM bridge, the strings run at a shallow angle over bridge saddles that resemble screw threads, complete with sharp edges. The result is that even moderately hard playing causes the strings to jump out of the saddles or break. The Mustang saddles have deeper grooves and the barrels of the saddles are unthreaded. (See for a photo of both, side by side, to see what we're talking about.)

The shallow angle of the strings over the bridge gives the guitar less sustain than, say, a Les Paul or a Stratocaster, where the strings are pulled over the bridge at a sharp angle. However, it does make the guitar quite "twangy," which made it a favorite among surf-rockers. Jazzmasters feature prominently on Beach Boys and Ventures LPs.

Company founder and resident genius Leo Fender intended the Jazzmaster to replace his then-top-of-the-line Strat. It didn't happen, though. By 1982, Fender stopped making them in the U.S. Fender Japan, however, began reissuing the 1962 model in 1986; Fender U.S. began reissuing the '62 model in the States in 1999.

The consensus of reviews says that the '62 reissue is faithful to the original, in finish (it is covered in the nitrocellulose lacquer that was then in use, and should age like a vintage guitar), in sound (the pick-ups and circuitry are the same) and in playability (the bridge is the same problematic Jazzmaster bridge.)

The instrument owes part of its sound to the pickups and wiring arrangement that were newly designed for it. Unlike the Strat, the Jazzmaster has two wider "soap bar" pickups, which cover more string length and therefore have a fuller sound. The circuitry allows for two different tone settings, which are selected by a small switch mounted on the pickguard above the neck. The "rhythm" circuit affects the neck pickup, while the "lead" circuit has a three-way toggle switch that selects either pickup alone or both of them together.

The bigger pickups, while picking up more of the steel strings, also picked up more hum - a constant bane of single coil pickups. To correct this, the pickups were of opposite polarity, so that when both of them were selected, they cancelled the hum, effectively turning both pickups into one large humbucking pickup.

- Photos of the inside of a '58 Jazzmaster. - Old Fender Jazzmaster ads - "Great Recorded Moments in Jazzmaster and Jaguar History" from Fender's site. Two of the 13 LPs listed are Mike Watt records featuring Nels Cline's playing