Bassists have been arguing over whether the J or P bass is superior for ages. By the end of the day, the answer comes down to personal preference. More specifically, it comes down to what type of tone you prefer. The first question to ask then is what the difference between P and J bass pickups is.
The main difference between J and P bass pickups is that Jazz basses have single-coil pickups while Precision basses have a split-coil pickup. Because of this, the J jazz can output unwanted humming noises, but in return, it has more tonal options than the P bass.
In many ways, the debate over whether the P or J bass has the best tone comes down to “customizable vs iconic”. Thus, you might already have an idea of which of the basses you find preferable.
Below you will learn what the main differences between the Precision and Jazz bass pickups are. I will show you why people choose one over the other, and I`ve added a sound example of both basses being played at different settings.
Single-coils vs split-coil
Jazz basses have two single-coil pickups, while precision basses have a split-coil pickup.
This means that in a P bass, two coils are wired together, but they effectively work as one pickup. Because of this, the coils are humbucking, which cancels out buzzing and humming in your output signal. This makes for a cleaner tone, but also results in you only having 1 volume knob and fewer tonal options.
J basses, on the other hand, have two single-coil pickups. This means that you can experience some buzz in your output signal. However, this also means that you have a volume knob for each of the pickups.
This means that you can blend the pickups together however you like. As a result, you have a lot more tonal options than on the P bass. On the J bass, the bridge pickup offers a bright tone, while the neck pickup has a darker tone.
Related reading: This Is What The Knobs On An Electric Bass do
In terms of how the pickups are set up, the P bass is convenient and simple. It has fewer options than the J bass, but the options it has are great and iconic.
The J bass allows you to be more creative and flexible with your tone. However, you will need to develop an understanding of how to blend the pickups together well to make the most of your instrument.
Jazz bass vs precision bass sound
The P bass offers a classic bass tone that sits well in a mix. It is a tone that can be easily audible without feeling intrusive to the other instruments in a band.
Precision basses have been used in a multitude of genres such as pop, punk, and heavy metal. Still, many people mainly associate the tone of the P bass with rock music. This is in part due to bassists such as Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Duff McKagan (Guns `n Roses), and Sting (The Police) all having played P basses.
The Jazz bass has also been used a lot in rock music. Most notably, Geddy Lee (Rush), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), and Greg Lake (Emmerson, Lake, and Palmer) all played J basses. However, due to its versatility, jazz bass players generally sound vastly different from one another. As a result, the jazz has less of a recognizable tone than the Precision bass.
It can be harder to make a J bass sit well in a track than a P bass. On the flip side, it offers enough options to find a tone that fits better with the track overall.
Due to the versatility of the J bass, you can make it resemble the sound of the P bass somewhat. On the other hand, Making a P bass sound like a J bass will be difficult. Thus, if you want to get as close as possible to having the best of both worlds, getting a Jazz is preferable to getting a P bass.
Related reading: How To Make A Jazz Bass Sound Like A Precision Bass
Alternatively, there is a bass that sits somewhere between P and J basses. These are P basses with an added pickup and are called PJ basses. The added pickup gives you the option of giving the bass a brighter tone, which makes it resemble that of the J bass. The downside is that it cannot fully resemble the sound of the Jazz bass, and the 3-open coils can create a noticeable hum.
Below is a short and sweet comparison of the J and P bass pickups sounds, by Jules Guitar. In a couple of minutes, he showcases how both the Jazz and Precision bass pickups sound with different tone settings. The video also showcases what the sound is like when slapping, playing fingerstyle, and playing with a pick.
The two single-coil pickups on the Jazz bass offer more versatility than the single split-coil pickup of the precision bass. The P bass offers a classic and recognizable tone that has been used in a variety of genres and sits well in any track.
With that said, you will rarely go wrong with either a J or P bass. If you want to get a J bass, but do not want to deal with the hum of its single-coil pickups, you could also put a humbucker in it. Alternatively, you can get a PJ bass if you are looking to get something in between a P and a J.
Also, keep in mind that there are other differences between the P and J bass than just their pickups. Most notably, the P bass has a noticeably thicker neck, especially at the nut. Thus, if you are deciding between getting a Jazz or a Precision bass, do not solely base your decision on which has the most preferable pickups.
Chances are, that if you are interested in the differences between J and P bass pickups, you care deeply about bass tone. I do too. An often overlooked step in getting a great tone is to make it clean enough. I have written about how to get a cleaner bass tone here: 6 Helpful Tips For Getting A Cleaner Bass Tone