I have long been a fan of the Fender Jazzmaster. I love its quirky circuit switching, offset waist and range of tones. But I don’t own one for the simple reason that the bridge is a bit crap. Its the only weakness in an otherwise stellar guitar. Recently, however, a chance encounter led me to discover the Offset Mastery Bridge, a beautifully engineered replacement for the stock Jazzmaster bridge. All of a sudden, the acquisition of a Jazzmaster makes perfect sense.
Sheila, friend and fellow band member, owns many guitars, some of which she’s had customised at Feline Guitars, in Croydon, Surrey. A few weeks back, Sheila suggested that I accompany her on a visit to Feline. She wanted to try some Bare Knuckle pickups she was considering as replacements for the stock pickups in her Chris Shiflett Telecaster Deluxe and valued a second opinion. Sheila spoke highly of Feline. I’d never been there and was keen to see what it was like. So, one rainy afternoon, off we set.
Sheila introduced me to ace luthier and owner of Feline, Jonathan Law, who talked with us for some time about the tonal characteristics of the Bare Knuckle pickup range and demoed a few. Sheila decided which pickups she wanted fitted to her Fender and then we talked guitar stuff for a while. For some reason we got into conversation about my fondness for the Jazzmaster and I bemoaned its fatal flaw, the bridge, explaining that this single weakness in its design was the reason I didn’t own one. Out of nowhere – it may even have been his pocket – Jonathan produced the weirdest looking bridge: the Offset Mastery, a replacement for the notoriously problematic bridges that are fitted to a wide range of Fender Jazzmasters and Jaguars. Jonathan explained how it worked and I was sold.
For many players, Fender’s original design for the floating bridge used on Jazzmasters and Jaguars caused three major problems:
- excessive mechanical buzz
- a back and forth swaying action
- strings would jump out of their saddle slots – even with only moderate pick attack.
Leo Fender designed the Jazzmaster/Jaguar vibrato system so that the bridge would rock back and forth when the whammy bar was in use. He designed it this way to improve tuning stability. The problem is that the bridge doesn’t always return to its zero position. The saddles on the original bridge design had multiple shallow slots which meant that under moderate or heavy pick attack the strings were liable to jump to a different slot or jump off the saddle completely.
Over the years, players have been innovative in their attempts to improve the stability of the bridge. Solutions have included altering the angle of the neck to increase the break angle of the strings over the bridge to stop rattles and buzzes, wrapping bridge posts with foil tape to lock them into place within their thimbles, or replacing the stock bridge with that designed for the Fender Mustang, which has saddles cut with a single, deep groove for each string.
Periodically, Fender has modified its Jazzmaster and Jaguar models in an attempt to resolve problems associated with the original bridge design, including fitting tune-o-matic/adjusto-matic style bridges to some models. But I have never been completely convinced by the various modifications. They either don’t work that well or are not congruent with the look and feel of the Jazzmaster.
Now, thanks to the Offset Mastery Bridge, designed by John Woodland, there is solution to all the problems outlined above. In addition, John Woodland’s bridge improves playability and tone. It is designed to fit the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, Bass IV, Telecaster with Bigsby Vibrato and Jag-Stang.
The patented Offset Mastery Bridge is crafted in Minneapolis using the highest quality materials. It is used by guitarists such as Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Elvis Costello, Troy Van Leeuwen, Bill Frisell, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. If you own a vintage Jazzmaster, you won’t want to tinker with its original spec. But if you’re a gigging musician and your Jazzmaster is a workhorse, the Offset Mastery Bridge is a game changer.
John Woodland’s bridge features a unique, patented two-saddle design. Four screws are used to adjust intonation instead of six, allowing the strings to run freely from the saddles to the vibrato without any chance of interference from the front of an intonation screw or back of a baseplate. Each saddle features two drop-in swivels. This enables each of the individual intonation-adjustment screws to work independently for precise intonation. The deep saddle grooves make it impossible for strings to pop-out under heavy pick attack. Saddle height can be adjusted precisely, so the bridge can be set-up for any common fingerboard radius, from 7.25″ onward.
The bridge improves tone and playability in three ways. The brass saddles are plated in a unique hard chrome finish to reduce friction while tuning or actuating the vibrato. The bridge is designed to facilitate over 50 lbs of downward string tension on each saddle. Much more tension than that applied by most bridges. This added tension per saddle transfers more string-to-body energy, giving greater resonance. With other offset bridges, the only metal-to-metal contact between the floating bridge and the body is at the bottom of the mounting post adjustment screws. The Offset Mastery Bridge fits snugly into the diameter of vintage and modern Fender-style thimbles. This creates full contact between the bridge, thimble and body and ensures that the bridge will not change position. This also has a dramatic impact on the transfer of string-to-body energy and, therefore, resonance.
Fitting the bridge is easy. The Mastery website provides a demonstration video and full instructions. Guitars originally equipped with Fender’s floating style bridge and stock body thimbles require no modification. Guitars using AOM or TOM style bridges require Mastery thimbles to be installed. But the Mastery website provides a full list of Fender’s model variations and the bridge kit required for each.
Mastery also makes a beautifully engineered Offset Vibrato. But that’s an article for another day.
Images supplied courtesy of Mastery.