To a veteran of the bass this may seem like an easy question to answer but if you’re new to it or you just can’t see much difference between them then there’s quite a few features on each that offer different sounds, feel and playability.
Pickups / Electronics
Let’s start by looking at the pickups and electronics as this is one major difference between these two bass guitars. The Precision has what’s called a ‘split coil’ single coil pickup. The E and A strings have the half of the pickup which is closer to the neck and the D and G strings have the other half that’s closer to the bridge. To control the sound with the P-bass you get one master volume and one master tone and that’s it. It’s probably one of the easiest configurations out there for bassists. Tonally they’re darker, fuller, and a bit fatter than the Jazz which makes them ideal for styles like Rock.
Jazz bass electronics are quite different. They use two single coil pickups, one nearer the neck and one by the bridge. This offers a large amount of tonal possibilities as you can change the volume of each pickup to get a different sound. You can even turn a pickup off so you’re just left with the sound of just one. There are two volume controls and one master tone control. The bridge on its own will give a snappy, bright tone whereas the neck will give a mellower, fuller sound. Overall it’s a tad thinner, more treble orientated than the P but you can alter how it sounds quite a lot with the controls which makes them very versatile and ideal for a huge number of styles including Rock, slap, Funk and much more.
Necks & Nuts
This may not be obvious to the eye but the feel of the necks on these two are completely different and often it’s how players choose which one they prefer. The P has a big, thick and chunky neck with a wide nut which makes a bit of a handful. It’s an instrument that was born in the 50s and hasn’t really changed much since. Some people love that it still has a vintage feel but some feel it hinders playability.
This is where the Jazz comes in. The neck is much thinner and the nut is more narrow which makes it extremely easy to play, especially near the first few frets. We’re only talking a few millimeters here but it really does make a massive difference!
The two bodies have a slightly different shape. The P is squarer and flatter at the bottom, more like a Stratocaster. The JZ is a bit more curved and wide, it feels a bit bigger.
It’s getting down to aesthetics now more than anything but the pickguards are quite different. The P has a much larger, longer one where the Jazz has a smaller, shorter one which is linked to a metal control plate.
Which one should I buy?
In summary, they’re pretty different instruments. For easy playing the Jazz may feel a bit nicer and better to play but after a while you could as easily get used to the fatter feel of the P. There isn’t one that’s better than the other, but they do have their strengths for different styles. If you don’t know which one to buy then pop to your local music shop, if they’ve got both models up for sale then give them both a try to see which you like the best!