Thursday, August 07, 2008

Upgrading CIJ Fender Jazzmaster Pickups

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

That's it!

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.


  1. Anonymous1:03 PM

    i like, i was thinking about getting those or some kind've really hot pickups like the quarter pounder. Not sure though.

  2. Anonymous12:25 PM

    Fantastic blog! I've been looking all over the web for no-nonsense JM upgrade information and I'm amazed at how complicated or simply *awkward* most of it is.

    Two entries I've found useful - the one about bridge posts (Loctite!); and this one is great too.. especially because it's well illustrated! Keep them up.

    What's ideal replacement for the foam under the pickups?

  3. Thanks for the compliments!

    As far as the foam goes, you can try here:

    You'll notice that two of the products they have in the category are just weatherstripping foam. You can just buy this in a hardware store. It just has to be very dense, and you want neoprene so it doesn't stick. I'd buy the taller one between the two sizes they list at GPR.

    I haven't actually replaced my pickup foam (I've just put some other foam I had lying around on top of it, so in effect it's taller), but I've seen other people who say the hardware store weatherstripping is actually the exact same foam Fender uses.

  4. Anonymous9:35 PM

    I enjoyed the article and info contained within. I just sold a '62 Jazzmaster for a friend and never having played one, let me tell you, I was impressed with it's sound which is so Fender like, but not. Leo was quite a designer. The necks on a '62 are perfection. I really have to get myself one someday; sad to say it would have to be a Custom Shop to get it right.

  5. Hey, great article, it's difficult to find mods for jazzmasters. I was wondering, I own the new mim version, will i be able to use the semours on them?

    I've been having tone issues ever since i bought my amp (vox valventronix ad50vt-xl) It sounds pretty damn muddy when i set the gain up pretty high, but when i check out video reviews, all the other guitars scream with tone, so i assumed it was my guitar.

    I'm hoping a new set of pups would solve the issue. Hope i made some sense.

    sweet color btw!

  6. I don't see why you couldn't use these same pickups in a Classic Player Jazzmaster. From what I've seen, they are wired pretty much the same way as a CIJ. I'm pretty sure all JM's are actually wired in the same way, the only difference is just the type of wiring used and how well it's organized. You'll probably just need new pickup foam, because the Classic Player pickups are taller than regular JM pickups just like the CIJ's are.

  7. Hi everyone!

    I currently upgrading the looks of my MIJ Jazzmaster with a gold anodized pickguard and it doesn't really fit my body (I'll need to drill new holes etc..) but the bigest issue would be the pickup covers that won't fit. And it's going to get hard to fix so I was thinking about removing the PUs covers and just take two of the covers' screw to screw them using that hole in the middle of the PU. I think it actually looks quite nice but now the copper's exposed and I was wondering what material I should put around the copper? In a way Teles' bridge PU are the same, and there's like waxed fabric or something around the copper.
    Could anyone help?


    great post Jeff BTW


  8. Anonymous2:01 AM

    If the coils are potted (waxed) you may not have to worry so much as long as you don't physically hit (and break) the coil. I suppose part of that lies in how much coil is exposed. The MIJ pickups have a lot more exposure than that of the true style JM pups. If your covers are too big for the pickguard you may consider sanding the guard down to fit the covers.

  9. I purchased a MIJ jazzmaster and it sounds like a strat. i play in an indie rock type of band with music similar to Brand New and The Early November. Any idea what kind of pickups i should look into? i need something that really projects but has a fat tele sound to it..

    Seymour Duncan SJM-1 Vintage for Jazzmaster?
    This is what it sounds like:

  10. I'd probably ask Curtis Novak to custom wind some pickups for you if you're looking for a tele sound. I don't think any of the standard JM pickups will give you quite that sound, but Curtis can probably do something that will.

  11. Ah Jazzmasters....they’re so cool.....we dig ‘em. And, we are here to expand the tonal possibilities for these retro music machines. Until now it’s been a mostly one trick pony scenario.....but that is over. Rio Grande now offers more sonic options for your Jazzmaster than can be found anywhere. Our famous Texas BBQ humbucking set, the ever sensitive Bluesbar and Jazzbar P-90’s, the snarling Crunchbox and Punchbox, and the historic Muy Grande and Tallboys for Strat tones. Who could ask for more.....what’s left anyway? Well, we can think of a few...maybe later. Enjoy!

    P.S. not on the website for pix.....

  12. Anonymous5:42 PM

    I'm looking for humbuckers to put in my CIJ jazzmaster. Maybe SD custom customs....would this be possible??? Any Ideas??

  13. Anonymous4:58 PM


    thanks a lot for the advice - i read this page and many others and decided the best thing would be upgrade my CIJ JM with the Antiquity IIs....

    To be honest, the sound isn't as radically improved as i would have liked! When clean, it's great for strumming chords, but there is little tone or body on single notes, and there's not a useable note to be found when playing through the bridge pickup. I've bought the buzzstop, that helped tease a little more sustain out of it. I've been googling this like crazy, but is there anything you could see that i might have done wrong?! I can't work out why this guitar doesn't sound as full as the JMs i see Sonic Youth/My Bloody Valentine/Stephen Malkmus using...And it's driving me mad!

    I've tried it through numerous amps and it just doesn't produce any of the punch i get from a strat or tele.... i know it's SUPPOSED to be different but i'm finding i have to use boosters/overdrive rather than anything clean to get any 'ring' out of it...

    Any ideas guys?

    Sorry for the epic post! And thanks again for this page, it's been a massive help.



  14. Well, MBV and SY use a particular set of effects and a lot of their sound does come from that. I'm not too familiar with what Stephen Malkmus uses. A friend of mine wired up for me a home-built Fender Blender to vintage specs, and when playing through that thing my JM sounds *exactly* like the intro to "Soon"... and none of my other guitars do. So it's definitely partly the JM, partly the effects, and I'm sure partly the amp.

    I don't think you can really objectively judge how the pickups sound with any effects on, though. I mean it's difficult to use a bunch of effects as a starting point to try to replicate a sound, I just said that because that might be one reason why you're not getting to where you want to be. When I first put in my pickups, it was playing clean where I noticed the biggest difference initially. That's mostly the sound of the guitar. So if you do hear a difference playing chords clean vs. the original pickups, then you do probably have the right starting point to go on adding effects and playing with different amps.

    Your problem could also be as simple as raising the pickups. It sounds like you might just have low output. Did you see my other replies about the pickup foam? The CIJ foam is very low, because the stock pickups are very tall. If you haven't either replaced it or augmented it, then your pickups are probably too low. Check that.

    re. sustain - this is a whole separate issue on the JM. JM's weren't really built for sustain so it's not surprising that yours has less than your other guitars. Again, the guys that get a lot of sustain out of JM's are doing it mostly with either effects or feedback or both. Or they've replaced the bridge, which some people say helps. I don't really care much about sustain, I don't play in a way that requires much of it, so I like my stock bridge and everything else. But YMMV.

  15. Anonymous2:21 PM

    Thanks for the speedy response Jeff. I've ordered some more foam. Btw, i was referring to the guitar's clean sound, and the clean sound of the respective artists... Mine just doesn't sound so strong!... I'll let you know how i get on.



  16. Anonymous5:30 AM

    Hi Jeff

    I've not put the foam in yet, but thought i should ask: The distance between my pickups and the strings is around half a centimetre. Is that correct? I can't imagine them needing to be much closer!

  17. ewan wallace11:13 AM

    Hi there,

    Cheers for the page, I'm finding it very useful. I've got the exact same red CIJ Jazzmaster you have, and I'm after new pickups.

    Have you any thoughts on the Canadian company 'thepickupwizard'? There's a set on eBay made by these guys which look promising to me. I think they can do them to spec too.


  18. i made this same mod yesterday and then saw your post when researching the "foam" issue. it was deja vu. for the folks asking about tones... i actually have found this to be a very versatile guitar with antiquity II pups... remember to roll back your volume a bit. these are 1meg pots in a jazzmaster (250k is typical of other fender single coil guitars), so they are super bright when wide open, especially on the bridge pickup. i recommend neck pickup for more sustaining single note stuff, and roll off bridge volume at different levels for chording depending on whether you want it smooth strummy, "chime-y" clean, or chicken pickin'/surf/spy movie sounds. should be able to achieve anything from "severed lips" to "watching the detectives". if you are going for j mascis, i think the diagram of his rig on guitargeek will illustrate the monumental task of replicating his signature tone... ;-) point is, you buy a jazzmaster to sound like a jazzmaster, and the duncans get you pretty close for the money.

  19. Jérôme1:26 PM

    Very useful again,
    Have replaced my old Japanese pickups with Antiquity II as well. But I don't know the right height for them,
    I'm waiting for the answer!


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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