How to choose between the J-Bass and the P-Bass

Precision style Bass vs. Jazz Bass style Bass Guitars

The P-Bass is a classic, but how does it compare to the J-Bass?

The J-Bass and P-Basses are classic instruments. Both P bass guitar and J bass guitars are used by the best bassists in the industry, and it’s been that way for over sixty years.

If you are in the process of searching for a new bass, or if you’re just dreaming about that perfect instrument, you’d be smart to have Freya at the top of your list. The only problem is deciding which model to choose!

A little history

The Electric Bass made its debut in 1951, and quite literally changed music. No longer did a bassist have to lug a massive upright bass around. Of course many purists still did (and many still do today), but others plugged in and cranked up, embracing this newfangled technology called the “bass guitar.”

Apart from an update in 1957, the P-bass has remained essentially unchanged to this day.

The J-Bass would come along almost a decade after the first P-Bass. This new instrument featured a more diverse array of sounds, and a slightly different feel. By the early 1960s the Jazz and Precision basses had taken the forms we know today, and while there have been improvements to hardware and technology along the way, the standard designs have stuck.

That’s about enough with the history! The point of this article is to help you to understand the differences between the Precision Bass vs the Jazz Bass, and hopefully get you closer to making a decision about which bass is right for you. You can count on either to get the job done, but personal preference may differ.

Here’s a quick look at both the Jazz and Precision Basses:

The P-Bass

The Precision Bass is punchy and powerful, with a full sound. To me (& remember this is a personal choice – Robert) it is the perfect bass for rock, played with either fingers or a pick, strung with Roundwound Strings or Flatwounds.

Despite the name given its stablemate below, the P-Bass does very well in jazz too. In fact, it can find a home in just about any genre.

The J-Bass

Even though I think very highly of the Precision Bass, the Jazz Bass is possibly a little more flexible. It has a slightly slicker feel, and the pickups allow you a little more flexibility. as you can blend the two and get any sound in-between.

Like the P-Bass, the Jazz transcends just about every musical genre. It’s been used for rock, blues, metal, and yes, of course, jazz.

P Bass vs J Bass Construction and Differences

Both bass guitars feature a similar double-cutaway design, but there are some differences. The P-Bass has a slightly bulkier body, whereas the Jazz Bass is a bit more contoured.

Both basses feature a 34-inch scale, this is the ideal scale length for most players.

On paper these basses look almost identical, but the P-Bass has a bit more substantial feel. This is largely due to the difference in body shape, but also due to a slightly wider nut width. It’s a subtle difference, but one veteran players will notice.

Obviously there are aesthetic differences as well. The Precision Bass has a larger pickguard that extends down to the volume and tone knob. The Jazz Bass has as smaller pickguard, which some J-Bass players remove so that more of the wood is shown. The pickguard on a Jazz Bass is much easier to swap out than on the Precision Bass.

So, with the exception of a different body shape and a slightly wider nut for the Precision Bass, which can make it feel a bit heftier, its seems we’re looking at very similar instruments. But as we move on to electronics we’ll see some major differences pop up.

Pickups, Electronics and Sound

The P-Bass was well established when the J-Bass was introduced back in the early ‘60s. It wouldn’t have made sense for them to change everything, but only a few tweaks to the original design were in order. They made the body a little sleeker, and they gave the new bass a different sound.

The P-Bass has a deep, punchy tone thanks to a split single-coil pickup mounted just in the right spot. A single volume and single tone control manage the sound. It’s a simple but effective design that has helped to shape the sound of rock music for decades.

Many musicians have come to rely on the P-Bass for heavy, aggressive sounds that power through a mix packed with distorted guitars. But it’s an instrument equally at home crafting smooth jazz, or holding down the bass line in a country standard.

This is the original electric bass, and it has stood the test of time.

The J-Bass has a different set of tricks up its sleeve. Two Single Coil pickups are controlled by a pair of volume knobs (one for each pickup) and a tone control. These pickups configure into a humbucker style when the volumes are set at the same level, so you can have anything from a thinner single-coil sound to a fat HB sound

The J-Bass is a bit brighter, and offers more flexibility thanks to its dual pickups. Jazz players love it for its velvet-smooth tones, but cranking the pickups will bring growl that any rock bassist will find more than usable.

Every Jazz Bass player learns to find just the right blend between the two pickups to nail that tone they want.

Precision vs Jazz Tone Shaping

You may be thinking, since the Jazz Bass has an extra pickup, you can go with the J Bass and turn off the bridge pickup when you want it to sound like a P Bass. If only things were so simple! The P and Jazz basses have their own unique vibes, and once you’ve been around for a while you can tell them apart by ear easy enough.

Still, it’s a little too easy to generalize and say the P-Bass is punchy and aggressive where the Jazz Bass is smooth and more flexible. Geddy Lee is a great example of a bassist who uses the Jazz Bass for heavier rock music, and he sounds pretty darned good to me.

It’s also important to note that both basses utilize passive electronics. This means you won’t have the sweeping tone-shaping options that you see in many modern basses that feature three-band EQs and other bells and whistles.

The sound of the P and J basses is all about wood, construction quality and simple but effective electronics. You can go with a high-end bass if you want, but often intermediate-level bass guitars offer the best value while still sounding great.

Oh, and your hands. Remember, the most important factor governing the tone of your bass is you!

Tone really is in your hands.

Which Bass Should You Choose?

By now maybe it is clear which instrument is right for you.

If not, take a step back. Remember that, while we’ve seen that both can be used for any style of music, if you haven’t yet found your sound stick to the basics.

  • If you play in a heavy rock or metal band the P-Bass is probably a better choice. It has the guts to hang with heavy guitars, especially if you plan to play with a pick.
  • If you play rock music you need to choose between the punch of the P Bass and the growl of the J.
  • If you play in a cover band the Jazz Bass might give you the flexibility you need to cop the right tone in each song.
  • If you play country or blues the Jazz Bass brings a brighter sound that might serve you better, though the P-Bass is very popular in these genres too..
  • For jazz players it may seem like the choice it clear, but again, the P Bass is also very popular here.

Of course you really can’t make a bad choice, and hopefully this article helped to outline the differences and similarities between the P and J Basses. They’re both great instruments, and unfortunately this is one of those cases where you’re probably going to eventually want one of each. Which will you choose first: P-Bass or J-Bass? Good luck in your decision! You’ll probably end up with one of both at some point!

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