The first Fender Stratocaster reached the market in 1954. At the time, it was just another guitar that offered the same promises as other brands and models.
If you asked someone at the time how history would remember the Fender Strat, it would be unlikely that they would describe it as the quintessential instrument of their generation.
This instrument has transcended from its original purpose as a musical tool to become an archetype. It’s one part cultural symbol, another part artistry, and the rest of the recipe involves the musician’s individuality.
A Fender Strat is the perfect guitar for almost any genre, including jazz.
Fender Stratocaster for Jazz?
The Fender Stratocaster is a fantastic choice for jazz musicians because of the different timbres it can create. You also have the trem bar available as an option for additional individualization, making it much easier to achieve each note and chord’s preferred tone and character.
There is some truth to the idea that good jazz comes from the musician instead of the instrument.
If you know what you are doing, it is possible to make any instrument sing a beautiful melody or offer harmonies that deliver a natural hook.
It is also true that some electric guitars are a lot easier to play when your preference is to create something funky within the jazz genre.
If you’re playing on a 335 or an LP, you can replicate the tone from a Fender Strat reasonably well.
You’ll also discover that it takes a lot more effort to create the melodies or harmonies you want to play during your favorite jazz number.
You won’t find as much versatility as a musician with other electric guitars outside of the Stratocaster. That trem bar is a tool that can unlock plenty of creativity.
How to Play Jazz on an Electric Guitar
Playing jazz on an electric guitar requires some specific skills. Even though this musical genre operates under the guise of improvisation, you need to understand basic musical theory and how to play different notes and chords on the instrument to be successful.
This guide assumes that you can already play the guitar well, understand jazz standards, and won’t get lost when soloing because of complicated chord progressions.
Although your instructor will likely ask you to practice arpeggios and scales for several hours each week, you don’t necessarily need to memorize every chord shape to have a successful experience playing jazz on a Fender Strat.
It often helps to take a holistic approach when playing this way. That’s why I prefer to follow these four steps to ensure that the result I can achieve is pleasing to the ear as a musician or a listener.
◼️ What Are the Four Steps to Playing Jazz Guitar?
Here is the methodology that I follow when playing jazz guitar on my Stratocaster:
- Increase your overall repertoire. I like to spend about 30 minutes each day learning a new jazz tune. It’s a lot of fun to pick out a new song, learn the melody, and then build the chords with my own personal style.
- Practice the comping. I found it worked better to learn the basic chords first when learning how to play the accompaniment on a great jazz tune. Once those standards are met, it’s much easier to reach into your bag of tricks to create something entertaining.
- Solo the progressions. I like to improvise with basic tools while getting to know a new tune. Once I become familiar with it, I practice lots of solos to create that signature sound to reflect my authentic musical voice.
- Refine the harmony. Once you get beyond the beginner stage with a jazz guitar, start working on your chord melodies to create a more refined performance. I found this final step to be the most difficult, but also the most enjoyable, part of the creative process.
Once you’ve completed those four steps for a selected jazz number, you just keep repeating the process for every song that you want to practice and play.
It really is that simple to get better with your playing in this genre, especially when you do the work on a Fender Strat.
Best Reason to Choose a Fender Strat for Playing Jazz
Although every musician can come up with their own pros and cons for choosing a specific guitar, jazz players find that a Fender Strat delivers these unique benefits consistently.
1. You get to use single-coil pickups.
The iconic sound that comes from a Fender Strat is based on the single-coil pickup. You’ll find that not all of them are created to shame, especially if you have a P-90.
If you grab something that produces a vintage sound, you’ll get that gutsy midrange needed to give a jazz number that extra punch it wants.
2. The maple neck delivers an incredible playing experience.
Most Fender Strats use a maple neck. From there, you have the choice of getting a maple or a rosewood fingerboard.
Although each musician has personal preferences to consider, I 100% adore the one-piece design that uses all maple products for jazz.
The rosewood tends to be warmer than I want it to be, with not as much snap to the notes.
3. The design makes it easy to approach how jazz gets played.
If you look at the average electric guitar from one of today’s top brands, trying to figure out how to take it apart or finish the regular maintenance on it can be challenging.
If you have a Les Paul, you’re not getting that neck off unless you have the skills of a luthier.
With a Strat, it only takes a few minutes with a screwdriver to update or repair your instrument.
Although this benefit might not matter to some musicians, I’ve always found it an empowering experience to work on my guitar. That translates into more creativity for my music.
4. You get the five-position switch.
Fender used to provide a three-way switch on their Strat. After musicians started experimenting with different placement options to create new sounds, the brand updated the design to give you five options.
When you combine that benefit with the different setups possible with this instrument, you can develop a signature sound that works for jazz or any other genre without as much effort as it takes for other models.
5. It is a super affordable option.
Unless you plan on playing stadium gigs in the next couple of months, you don’t need to invest in an expensive guitar to experiment with your different jazz styles and sounds.
The MIM Player Strat from Fender delivers an outstanding value for the price, with many veterans relying on this instrument to create that legendary Strat sound without breaking the budget.
If you need to save even more because you’re unsure of what to expect, the Squier designs sound great while providing a crazy low price.
6. It is easier to handle the weight of the guitar.
When you practice with other guitars for a few hours, it’s not unusual for your shoulders to feel a little sore. Although you could invest in a percussion massager to feel better, you could put that money towards a new Fender Strat.
The lightweight design might only be a couple of pounds lighter, but it still makes a world of difference – especially if you’re more of a hobbyist than a professional.
7. The scale length is a unique benefit to consider.
When comparing the scale length for a Strat next to many popular Gibson guitars, you’ll find nearly an inch more to consider with the Fender design. It is 25.5 inches (on average) compared to 24.75 inches.
The longer measurement means that you’ll get a snappier and brighter sound, which works well when you want to start learning how to play jazz on the electric guitar.
Whenever you can put more distance between the bridge and the nut, you’ll get this result.
What Is the Best Fender Stratocaster for Playing Jazz?
Although you could spend the money to buy an authentic Fender Strat guitar, I prefer playing the Squier Classic Vibe 70s.
With this option, you can choose an SSS, HSS, or LH HSS setup to craft your signature sound.
I love how the design is inspired by the 1970s guitars that Fender produced. Although it comes with the Squier name on the instrument, everything is authentic and designed internally.
You’ll get the glossy neck finish that the instruments from this era had, nickel-plated hardware, and alnico pickups that sing beautifully.
The poplar body and back give the tone some crispness while the maple neck plays the way you’d expect from any Fender Strat. It’s even available as a left-handed guitar for those who need the alternative design.
It provides a comfortable C-shaped neck profile while keeping the fingerboard radius relatively thin.
The frets are narrow and tall for jazz players, offering a faster playing surface that’s perfect for those solos and improv moments.
The throwback design even includes the headstock markings from that era. It’s an old-school piece that delivers a modern sound while sticking to a reasonable price.
A Final Thought on Playing Jazz with a Fender Stratocaster
The Fender Strat has had an intriguing journey since the 1950s. It has become an incredible guitar that manages to hold its own in any musical genre. From the black-and-white TV shows that featured bands to the stadium tours musicians play today, a Stratocaster brings a signature sound to life.
When people think of the classic Fender tone, it is typically from a guitar with the SSS design.
Although most musicians would argue that this setup makes the most sense for playing jazz, I’ve found that it can be fun to use an HSS instead.
By adding a touch of depth, distortion, and crunch to some of my favorite jazz pieces, I can turn something predictable into a riff that people will remember.
You don’t even need a hook with your improve to encourage the listener to hang around to hear your next interpretation – it’s that good.
Almost any Strat can deliver this signature sound effortlessly. When you’re on a budget, I’d recommend using the Squier Classic Vibe 70s to see what you can produce when playing those melodies or solos.
There are plenty of imitators out there. Don’t be fooled by their marketing claims! If you want the best electric guitar for playing jazz, investing in a Fender or Squier instrument is your best choice.