Fender Jazzmaster Ultralight

Jazz guitar amps have traditionally been small, solid-state affairs intended primarily for those who worship at the altars of Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, and Tal Farlow, and they offer little or nothing in the way of high-gain options or built-in effects. The glaring inequity between amps designed for archtop players and the feature-laden combos and heads aimed at the solidbody crowd has not been lost on Fender, and the company has taken the huge step of coming up with something that meets the needs of trad-minded jazz guitarists, but is also decked out with amenities that make it suitable for a multitude of styles. The Jazzmaster Ultralight is a small, powerful, and tonally flexible amp that packs footswitchable clean and overdrive channels, as well as built-in digital effects that can be deployed independently on both channels.
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The Jazzmaster head measures a mere 1214" wide x 41" high x 81" deep. It sports a pair of chromed rack-style handles on the front panel, and its sides are capped with curved pieces of sunburst-finished maple. Two of the four securing nuts were missing on one side piece, however, causing it to feel a bit wobbly. A pair of matching maple strips are applied on the top surface, and the metal enclosure of the Mexican-made amp looks like it could stand up to a fair amount of abuse.

The head along with the footswitch, Speakon-style speaker cable (which is very hefty), and power cord all pack neatly into the included gig bag. All combined, the total weight is a shade over 12 lbs. The matching closed-back cabinet—which is equipped with a single 12" Jensen-made Special Design neodymium-magnet 2-ohm speaker—weighs 16 lbs and is rated for 250 watts.


The Jazzmaster’s controls are logically arranged. There are two inputs, with one padded 6dB for better clean headroom with high-output guitars. You adjust your clean tones using the top row of knobs. The bottom row affects the overdrive sounds. The Bass, Mid, and Treble controls are active, and both channels have their own Effects Select and Effects Level controls. Mix level is the only adjustable parameter on these preset effects, but you can activate the effects on both channels via footswitch.

Small pushbutton switches are employed for the Voice, Channel Select, Tuner Mute, and Ground Lift functions, and power is indicated by a classic Fender jeweled pilot light. When you flip on the main switch, it takes about five seconds for the light to come on, which is likely due to a self-diagnostic routine. According to the manual, the pilot light will begin flashing if an overload condition caused by a faulty or improperly connected speaker cable, incorrect speaker impedance, or overheating is detected.


Getting good sounds from the Jazzmaster is simple. This amp has the clean thing covered, so it’s just a matter of setting the level and twiddling the well-voiced (and not overly aggressive) tone controls to get the sound you want. Tested with a variety of

Gibson, Fender, and PRS guitars—as well as with a new Benedetto Bravo—the Jazzmaster made dialing in a dark, smooth jazz vibe as easy as gripping a b5 chord. On a gig held in the cavernous barrel room of a winery, the amp had plenty of clean volume, and it delivered an impressively full and clear sound from its small speaker cabinet. The tones blossomed nicely with a little reverb, and the spring and the chorus/reverb presets were particularly cool for chords and fingerpicked parts.

With the Drive channel’s Gain knob at about nine o’clock, the amount of grind is on par with what you’d get from an Ibanez Tube Screamer. The Jazzmaster’s warm distortion and tube-like response to dynamics make it easy to forget you’re playing a solid-state amp. The Gain control can take things into the seriously distorted realm, but along with the Santana-approved sustain comes a sizeable increase in noise (Oh well, at least there’s no noise-gate weirdness to contend with. The hiss is pretty noticeable as you turn the Gain past the halfway mark, and it gets downright annoying at settings of three quarters or higher. This is only an issue on the Drive channel, however, and it’s worth noting that the effects do not contribute appreciable noise on either channel—no matter how high their levels are set.

I obtained the best overdrive sounds by keeping the Gain below 12 o’clock and using some delay (mostly the 450ms setting) to give the tones a little bounce. These settings yielded plenty of stringy detail, and I could control the heaviness of the grind by simply altering my picking attack. It was also fun to throw some tremolo or Vibratone on the distortion tones, and it makes you realize how superbly convenient the Jazzmaster is for those situations when you don’t want to bother with pedals. A phase shifter preset would be a nice addition but, overall, the effects are well conceived and implemented.

Ultra Cool!

Though the name might make you think otherwise, the Jazzmaster could be a perfect tool for any player who needs kick-ass tones in a package that’s easy to lug. By taking advantage of the best aspects of solid-state technology, adding a bevy of smart features, and borrowing some licks from modern bass amps (i.e., power, compact size, and ultra-positive Speakon speaker connectors—a rarity on guitar amps), the Jazzmaster successfully breaks with the past to give guitarists something radically