This one's for my fellow guitarists.
One of the most common upgrades to CIJ (Japanese) Fender Jazzmasters is replacing the pickups. The Japanese pickups aren't bad, but they're not even close to being real Jazzmaster pickups. Vintage and even modern American Jazzmasters have a warm, dark tone while still retaining that Fender single coil clarity, but the Japanese pickups are almost entirely lacking that warmth. They sound like Stratocaster pickups, and you'll see why in a minute.
You can pay someone else to do the upgrade, but it's not that hard to do yourself. Here's a list of the tools you'll need:
* Small Philips screwdriver
* Basic soldering iron (a $7 model from Radio Shack is fine)
* New pickups
* Possibly some sandpaper - explanation later
* Maybe some foam - explanation also later
There are several Jazzmaster pickup upgrade options. I settled on these:
Seymour Duncan Antiquity II's.
I went with them mainly because they split the difference between what I'll call the "premium" upgrade options and more of the "standard" grade. In the premium grade you've got real vintage pickups, Curtis Novak, Lindy Fralin, Jason Lollar and these Antiquity II's (as well as the even darker Antiquity I's). In the more standard grade you've got the regular Fender American Vintage pickups (as come stock in AVRI Jazzmasters) and the Seymour Duncan Vintage series (as well as the "Hot" and "Quarter Pounders").
The "premium" upgrades are all hand-wound and average around $150 per set (real vintage will set you back more like $500); the "standard" upgrades are machine-wound and average around $100 or less.
The Antiquity II's are the least expensive of the premium pickups and they're designed to mimic a vintage pickup as closely as possible. Curtis Novak will make more exotic pickups that'll fit the Jazzmaster for you if you want, but I wanted something that sounded like the real thing - nothing fancy.
I got mine for $133 shipped. They come in matched sets, so make sure you buy them that way unless you're specifically going for an unmatched sound. I also like that they're chemically aged to replicate both the look and sound of a well-worn 1960's pickup. And they're wax potted, which minimizes microphonic feedback.
By the way, don't assume that Fender's American Vintage pickups are made exactly like the originals just because of the name. They're not. Fender's production of their vintage products hasn't been continuous, and the company has gone through three owners and several factory and tooling replacements. The modern Fender has had to actually reverse-engineer many of their "reissue" parts - they're trying to copy products that they've in some cases actually bought back off the street from vintage dealers to study. What they're doing is no different than what any pickup maker is doing in trying to replicate that vintage tone, but they're trying to keep costs down at the same time (often at the expense of authenticity).
Antiquity II's are known as "the '60s Series", whereas Antiquity I's are "the '50s Series". The only year of the 1950's that the Jazzmaster was sold was 1959, so I'm sure most of the guitars I've heard my favorite bands play were made in the 1960's and that's what I wanted. The difference is in output and the darkness of the tone.
Replacing pickups is really not that hard. Just a few steps and four solder points.
The first thing you've gotta do is take the strings and pickguard off. 13 little screws - make sure you don't lose any, and also make sure to only unscrew the pickguard and not the various parts attached to it. (Just go around the rim, not further towards the inside.) This is what you'll find underneath on a CIJ Jazzmaster. It's quite different than an American Jazzmaster, where brass tubs provide shielding and the wiring is much better organized.
You can get a feel for how the pickups are wired by looking at this. It's really not that complicated. Japanese Jazzmaster pickups are kind of an odd duck in that they only have one wire coming out, which is confusing at first. But it's really two wires in one piece of insulation. So you just have to desolder those two points and then re-solder the new pickups to the same places. It helps to do one at a time. Obviously, remove the pickup covers first.
A wiring diagram comes with these pickups, although I didn't use it and I'm not even sure it would have been all that helpful. (Where are the black wires supposed to actually go? It's easier to just put them where you saw them before.)
This is a stock CIJ pickup (left) next to an Antiquity II (right). The CIJ looks even taller in real life. Here's another shot taken by somebody else (same combo too!). You see how the coil is wrapped tightly around the center of the bobbin, whereas the much flatter and period-correct Antiquity II has the coil spread all the way to the edge. You could literally trim about half that bobbin away on the CIJ pickup and you'd have what amounts to a Strat pickup.
Another view just before installation. The goop on the left side is wax. Don't worry, it's very hard; it doesn't come off. I actually needed to sand a little of it off the edges in order to fit the pickups in the covers - it won't come off with a fingernail.
Post-installation. Antiquity II's come with cloth-covered wire that itself is nicely aged, mainly a cosmetic thing. Cloth-covered wire is generally easier to work with than plastic-insulated wire, though, simply because you can just push it back at the tip of the wire rather than having to cut insulation.
The soldering is nothing to worry about. If I can do it, anyone can do it. The solder points are pretty big; just follow standard precautions for dealing with molten metal. That stuff is hot, and you definitely don't want to make a mess with it and potentially short something out.
Now, there is a small caveat with installing American pickups of any kind in a Japanese Jazzmaster:
A little hard to see there, but the holes don't line up properly with the pole pieces. There are two ways you can solve this:
1. Buy American Fender pickup covers - though these only come in "aged white". And I think the aging is a little too heavy and unrealistic, depending on the color scheme of your guitar.
2. Just enlarge the holes. That's what I did. I rolled up some sandpaper and just ran it through each hole a few times.
I actually took the following later photo to ask someone about my wonky intonation (see the bridge - it was caused by some bad strings), but I think the pickup cover looks fine post-enlargement:
One thing I don't like about the Antiquity II's is that the pole pieces are quite short. I believe the poles were probably measured before the wax potting, which didn't used to be standard on these from what I understand, and the thickness of the wax keeps the pole pieces pushed down a little below the rim of the holes. It doesn't affect anything functionally, it's just cosmetic.
And a final thing to be aware of: because any of the replacement pickups you buy are going to be thinner than the Japanese pickups, you might have trouble getting them to stay at the right height after installation. The pickup foam underneath is not tall enough. You can either rip it out and buy new pickup foam, or do what I did and just stuff a piece of weatherstripping foam from your local hardware store in between the pickups and the existing pickup foam. It works well enough temporarily, anyway.
Oh, you're probably wondering how my guitar sounds after doing this upgrade. Amazing! Exactly like I expect a Jazzmaster to sound. You know, I have a cheap little solid-state practice amp, and I always thought my somewhat harsh tone was just coming from a crappy amp. But when my wife plugged in her Epiphone Les Paul and the tone blew the doors off my Jazzmaster, I knew I had a guitar problem. After upgrading, all's as it should be - my Jazzmaster's got the warmth of a humbucker and the clarity of a single coil. Exactly what I want.
A couple more pics. This below is pretty cool - Seymour Duncan himself measures the resistance of your pickups for you:
That's right in the vintage range. I have heard that the Antiquity II's can get kinda hot on the resistance, but mine are just right. (Because they're hand-wound, no two are the same.) You can probably pick out whatever resistance you want in advance, though - or close to it. The other premium pickup makers will build to order if you have a specific resistance you want.