George Fullerton’s Fender Jazzmaster

A Master's Pallet
A Master’s Pallet
Fullerton’s signature on the back of Jazzmaster’s headstock.

This Jazzmaster is an interesting example of what went on behind the scenes at the Fender factory with the research and development of body shapes and materials, and during the pre-production phase for new models in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

After having great success with the Esquire, Telecaster, and Stratocaster, in 1958, Fender introduced the Jazzmaster as its top model. Described in the catalog as incorporating “…remarkable new features which provide the ultimate in electric Spanish Guitar versatility and playing ease,” the Jazzmaster mostly missed its intended mark – jazz players – and found its niche after being popularized by surf rock bands in the ’60s.

Many of the Jazzmaster’s specifications built upon existing Fender designs, but were a noticeable departure from the Strat or Tele in an attempt to offer features that would appeal to a new segment of musicians. The Jazzmaster had a contoured body similar to a Strat, but stylized into what Fender literature called an “off-set waist” intended as an ergonomically friendly solution for seated players. While the Jazzmaster had a customary maple neck, it was the first model with a glued-on slab Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with clay dot inlays. In mid ’62, it was given a curved rosewood fingerboard. Those made beginning in late-’65 have a bound fingerboard, and, starting in late ’66, it had pearloid block inlays. The Jazzmaster also introduced “extended range” pickups with separate Rhythm Tone circuit, which enabled players to quickly switch to the neck pickup with a pre-set rhythm tone. The new pickups provided a warm, mellow sound compared to other Fender single-coils and, like early Gibson P-90s, were commonly referred to as “soapbar” pickups, due to the size and color of their covers. The Jazzmaster also offered a new vibrato system with a longer arm and a “floating” bridge, which, according to literature, would enable the guitar to “return to tuned pitch without variance.” The earliest examples of this model were available in two-tone sunburst finish (during the course of 1958, Fender switched to three-tone sunburst) and an anodized aluminum pickguard. Most custom-color examples have greenish-white pickguards, and the tortoiseshell pickguard became standard in late ’59.

A Master’s Pallet
(TOP) Fullerton with his cherished Jazzmaster. Instrument photo: William Ritter, courtesy of George Gruhn.

This particular example belonged to longtime Fender executive and G&L co-founder George Fullerton. One of the earliest Fender employees, Fullerton is credited with many design and engineering innovations, and played a critical role in the development of Fender’s first solidbody models.

In addition, he was responsible for the custom-color finish on this pre-production Jazzmaster. In 1957, Fullerton visited a local paint shop and selected red automotive paint which was sprayed on the body at the Fender factory. The color was originally referred to as Fullerton Red by fellow employees. Custom colors were first offered in the 1956 catalog “upon the player’s request,” but were not standardized until 1960, when this color was called Fiesta Red in marketing materials. According to Fullerton, his recommendation to offer guitars with a selection of custom colors was originally discredited and scoffed at by Fender Sales staff, but, after early examples were provided to music stores, demand proved very high.

While the size and shape of this pre-production body became standard specs for early Jazzmasters, and Fiesta Red became a standard option, the neck on this guitar is representative of Fender’s further experimentation. Though it is unclear if the body was originally fitted with a neck, Fullerton matched it with one dated 7-61 (July ’61)with a vulcanized fiberboard fingerboard. A material typically used for pickup bobbins, it has an appearance similar to ebony, and Fender tested it while seeking an economical fingerboard veneer that would increase neck stability (and thu, decrease the need for adjustment). There is only one other known Fender with this fingerboard material – a 1960 Jazz Bass originally owned by Fender employee Freddie Tavares.

The Jazzmaster was discontinued in 1980, then reintroduced in 2000 as part of Fender’s American Standard Series (made-in-Japan reissues were offered beginning in ’96). It has been introduced to new generations of players by musicians like Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Nels Cline (Wilco), and Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age).

In addition to his years with Fender and G&L, Fullerton later worked as a consultant to the Fender Custom Shop, assisting with the production of the George Fullerton 50th Anniversary 1957 Stratocaster. He succumbed to heart failure on July 4, 2009.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s October 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.