Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth fame was a big fan of the Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Fender Jaguars throughout the 1980s, but late in the decade he and bandmate Thurston Moore came across the Fender Jazzmaster.
“We liked it immediately because it was similar to the Jaguar, and then when we discovered that longer scale that it has, somehow we both immediately gravitated towards that,” said Ranaldo.
Around that time, Sonic Youth was on a few bills with Dinosaur Jr., and in seeing what J Mascis was doing with his Jazzmasters, it cemented the coolness factor of the offset Fender guitar.
But Sonic Youth has always marched to its own beat, so even though Ranaldo and Moore both adopted the Jazzmaster as their go-to instrument, they made it their own with a series of modifications.
Sonic Youth guitar tech Nic Close recalled an exchange he had with Ranaldo about their mods during his interview for the gig.
“I said, ‘I know you guys are using a lot of Mustangs and Jazzmasters, and I know those things have a lot of crazy circuitry,’” recounted Close. “Lee said, ‘Oh, no, we just rip all that out.’ I don’t know who the first person to rip the electronics out of a Jazzmaster for Sonic Youth was. When I walked in, it just seemed obvious. How could it be any other way? At least for Sonic Youth. I assume they ripped the stuff out themselves early on.”
The circuitry wasn’t the only thing to go.
“We’ve streamlined a lot of the electronics on the guitars to suit our own needs,” explained Ranaldo. “We don’t really have any use for tone controls or all the different knobs and switches that were on Jazzmasters or Jaguars, so we’ve kind of stripped it down to a jack point, volume knob and toggle switch to switch between the pickups.”
As for the pickups, Ranaldo favored the humbucking pickups from his Tele Deluxe because of their “thickness.” And due to the intense output of those pickups, the band began referring to Ranaldo’s Jazzmaster as a Jazzblaster.
An additional mod tip was shared by another Sonic Youth guitar tech, Jim Vincent, who chose a Mustang bridge for Ranaldo’s Jazzmaster in order to improve functionality.
“For Lee, we discovered that you can take those Fender bridges, which wobble, and take out the saddle from the Jazzmaster, which has all the slots for the strings,” said Vincent. “You can put in a Mustang saddle, because it only has one slot per string. And before you do that, you wrap a couple of winds of electrical tape around the male part of the bridge, stuff it back in and it’s locked in – no wobble.”
Check out this video below from a few years back with Ranaldo and click here to learn more about #fendermods.