The One: Marcus Miller's 1977 Fender Jazz Bass - BassPlayer.com

The One: Marcus Miller's 1977 Fender Jazz Bass

With its jumbo pickguard, transparent blonde finish, maple neck, BadAss II bridge, stock pickups, and little “MM” applique letters, Marcus Miller’s 1977 Fender Jazz Bass is one of the most iconic basses in music.
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With its jumbo pickguard, transparent blonde finish, maple neck, BadAss II bridge, stock pickups, and little “MM” applique letters, Marcus Miller’s 1977 Fender Jazz Bass is one of the most iconic basses in music. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t always have that pickguard—and that it wasn’t the bass he was encouraged to buy.

“Everyone said get a pre-CBS Fender, but I didn’t want a used bass; I wanted a shiny new one with the smell of a new case!” Marcus Miller told Bass Player in 2010. He first picked up a ’75 Jazz and went on to own several ’77s. “The run of my basses, 1975 to 1978, had the bridge pickup moved back, and they were criticized for the three-bolt neck, having too much finish, and being heavy. But it turned out to be a very versatile bass, and when I got into the session scene, it was all about versatility.” Things only got better after New York luthier Roger Sadowsky installed a Stars Guitars preamp in 1979, extending the pickguard in the process. (When it was destroyed by a direct box surge at Media Sound Studios in 1983, Sadowsky replaced it with a Bartolini TCT preamp.)

Miller, who turns 57 this month, retired his main ’77 J-Bass years ago. But he still uses backups from the same era, modified just as the original was. Despite his impressive collection of other 4-strings, fretlesses, 5-and 6-strings, and uprights, no studio or live Marcus Miller performance would be complete without a blond ’77.

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THINK FENDER JAZZ BASS and what comes to mind? Jaco Pastorius’s fretless canvas? Larry Graham or Marcus Miller’s thumb thunder? John Paul Jones or Geddy Lee’s progressive punch? While Leo Fender’s Precision Bass stands as an iconic symbol of the first mass-produced electric bass guitar, his Jazz Bass, an arguably perfected upgrade introduced nine years later, in 1960, is better defined by the musicians who manned it. In truth, much about the instrument has a sense of irony, including the fact that the P-Bass’s perennially younger, sleeker, sexier sibling has turned 50 this year. Richard Smith, Fender historian, author, and curator of the Leo Fender Gallery at the Fullerton Museum, observes, “What’s interesting is how an instrument named for and targeted toward jazz musicians instead became the choice of rock & rollers, and made its mark very quickly. Timing-wise, the electric bass was making the huge transition from ’50s-style music to ’6