Jazzmasters have merged back into the mainstream several times since their release in the late 1950s. Everyone from the Ventures to Elvis Costello to several grunge bands in the ’90s have found inspiration from these offset-bodied guitars, but early Jazzmasters can be quirky instruments. Their single-coil pickups were a bit noisy, the bridge design allowed strings to easily slip out of place, and the two separate control panels could be confusing. All of those issues have been solved with Fender’s new Special Edition Blacktop Jazzmaster HH Stripe, which is no slouch in the looks department either. The candy apple red racing stripe keeps the instrument from looking like just another black guitar (while also inviting some “cover me in stickers” personalization by the owner), and the gloss urethane-finished body and neck with nickel and chrome hardware further the slick appearance.
Because Jazzmasters are a popular choice among experimental noise rockers, I plugged the Blacktop HH into my Divided By 13 BTR23 amp and a pile of oddball effects and mustered up my best Nels Cline, Thurston Moore, and Kurt Cobain impersonations, taking advantage of the behind-the-bridge string-noise capabilities that are available thanks to the floating vibrato tailpiece. Listen to the intro to “You Know You’re Right” by Nirvana to hear this technique at play. Using different delays, distortions, octave pedals, and ring modulators, the Blacktop Jazzmaster HH barked out the requisite pings, clinks, and other metallic and chaotic sounds, but when it comes to functionality and electronics, the HH Stripe is stable and simple.
The uncovered Hot Vintage Alnico pickups pronounce the high and low frequencies and bear an even sizzle for pumping out gained-up punk rock chords. The controls are laid out in an intuitive manner and the skirted, amp-style knobs have a buttery glide. However, the guitar’s treble frequencies quickly diminish as the Volume knob is rolled down—something that could be fixed by adding a treble bleed cap to the volume pot. The 3-way toggle switch also has just the right amount of tension between slipping out of place too easily and requiring too much force to move quickly. One throwback feature that I was thrilled to see was a slab rosewood fingerboard, as veneered ’boards just don’t seem to provide the same girth and support to notes that slabs do. The 6-saddle adjustable bridge is reminiscent of the original type, but it’s such a relief to be able to play a Jazzmaster with authority and conviction and not worry about the strings slipping out of the saddle.
Overall, the Blacktop Jazzmaster HH is a very inspiring instrument and a natural for anyone who’s into experimental music and sounds. Sure, you can use this guitar for a variety of other styles too, but its unique capabilities and inviting price tag are probably the best reasons to spring for this updated version of a true maverick from Fender’s golden age.
SPECIAL EDITION BLACKTOP JAZZMASTER HH STRIPE
PRICE $499 street
NUT WIDTH 1.65" synthetic bone
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale
FRETS 21 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Standard die-cast
BRIDGE 6-saddle vintage-style adjustable with “floating” tremolo tailpiece
PICKUPS Hot Vintage Alnico Humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way toggle switch
FACTORY STRINGS Fender 250L, .009-.042
WEIGHT 8.4 lbs
KUDOS Sturdy bridge. Slab fretboard.
CONCERNS Rapid high-end loss when the volume is rolled off.