Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to admit that there’s no substitute for a Jazzmaster. Just ask Tom Verlaine, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Nels Cline, Kevin Shields, J Mascis . . . Well, you get the idea. More than a handful of rockers are devoted to Fender’s surf guitars, and whether your weapon of choice is a Jazzmaster or a Jaguar, you picked it because it has a unique tone and feel that no other guitar can replicate.
Unfortunately, these fantastic instruments are the victims of one fatal flaw: not-so-threaded bridge saddles, which are prone to string slippage and buzzing. This well-known problem has never been solved – that is, until 2008, when Minneapolis luthier John Woodland decided enough that enough was enough.
Thus, the Mastery Bridge was born, and punks and shoegazers throughout the world rejoiced. Woodland’s patented design keeps your guitar’s strings in place without any buzzing, offering a permanent solution to a persistent issue. No more are the Frankenmasters with bridge shims, buzz stops, or that most audacious of heresies known as a modified tune-o-matic.
While Mustang saddles are a suitable solution for most Jazzmaster and Jaguar owners, you can’t adjust each saddle’s height. The Mastery Bridge fixes that problem, too, with four individually adjustable saddles. This means precise intonation in guitars that are infamous for their tuning problems.
When I swapped out my CIJ Jazzmaster’s bridge for a Mastery, my main concern was that it would get rid of that characteristic jangle that comes from the brass saddles. Not so! I was pleased to find my guitar’s tone unaltered (slightly mellower, perhaps, but still jangly as ever). I also noticed an unexpected bonus. The design of the Jazzmaster stock saddles leads to decreased sustain, which the Mastery Bridge fixes and then some. Even when I’m playing clean, my JM has enough sustain for lead work.
And the best part about the Mastery is that it’s not just for JMs and Jags. The bridge will fit a Mustang, Jag-Stang, Tele with Bigsby – even a Bass VI! And, because each bridge is carefully crafted, inspected and tested, you don’t have to worry about getting a dud.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how much of a dent this upgrade will put in your gear budget. The Mastery Bridge for American-made guitars will run you $165, and if you have a Japanese Fender, it’s $175. So, unfortunately, this is not a cheap upgrade, but it’s a worthy one if you’re the sort of person who can’t live without your JM or Jag.
If you’d rather die than spend $165 on a bridge, don’t despair! There are alternate options. Warmoth sells a modified Mustang bridge with individually adjustable saddles, and Graph Tech now makes two Mustang-style saddles: the String Saver and TUSQ models. These are still great improvements over the stock bridges, and will only run you about $50.