Electric Bass history goes parallel to electric guitar history, as before this technology started there was no other instrument that would play those notes acoustically.Before the bass, the only option was the double bass which allowed players to play in the F key.
When the electric bass appeared, at the beginning it wasn’t very much accepted. However, very fastly it gains worldwide renounce.
There were many designs from different brands over the year. Still, the two most famous basses and probably the most wanted are by far the Precision Bass (Or P Bass) and the Jazz Bass.
Their rivalry is like the Stratocaster versus Les Paul fight.
The Precision bass was the first bass that actually was viable commercialized in history. Even though there were previous versions that were very similar, it wasn’t until 1951 when Fender started to manufacture them. It was created as a mix of an electric guitar and a double bass, as Leo Fender (Founder of Fender’s instruments) wanted to provide the bass players the ability to have a lighter instrument, that was easy to carry, and still to be able to be played very loud.
The sound of the P Bass is very powerful and aggressive and opposite to the jazz bass it may have a less defined sound, which makes it ideal for hard playing.
It is built commonly on a solid body with four strings and a split coil humbucking pickup. This makes the bass to be able to pick up very high and deep frequencies from the instrument.
At the moment this bass was created, and for more than a couple of decades, the bass was considered a passive instrument that would go hand to hand following the rhythm of the drums, especially on the first and third bit of each bar.
The combination of bass plus drums would be essential for keeping up with the rhythm and pace of the songs.
However, eventually the bass players started to play more powerful riffs and more active songs making this passive new instrument, that was always number two after the guitar, a new mainstream instrument.
One of the great features that the electric precision bass brought to the table was the volume and tone knob.
Now, after more than 60 years of its creation, we take this for granted. However, this instrument allowed the player to get different sounds while playing the same notes the same way.
When the tone is low the sound is fat and heavy when the tone is high; it turns into a treble more edgy sound with much more presence.
Again, this may sound elemental right now, but imagine having that option at that time. Bass players would have to play each note differently to get different sounds.
Again, when talking about these mainstreams basses, it is impossible not to call the Jazz Bass, Fender Jazz Bass.
Over the years many brands manufacture and copy these basses, but it was Fender who made the dream come alive, so calling it Fender Jazz Bass may not be right, but for sure it is not wrong.
The Jazz bass was the second model of basses’ manufacture by Fender, and the biggest difference was the sound. The frequency that the jazz basses reproduce is much brighter and richer in tone focusing more on the middle and high frequency more than the fat tone bass fundamental note.
This, makes this instrument like a guitar, it is a more active instrument that is why it is usually preferred by bass players that wants a more noticeable sound.
It is the weapon of choice when playing funk, blues, heavy metal and of course jazz (There is a reason why it is called jazz bass).
In jazz, the beat is usually different than the classic 4/4; there are much more variations like 6/4, 12/8, 12/4, and the bar progression may last as long as twelve chords (Where in other music is usually four bars).
Throughout this pattern, the bass notes are much like an actual riff more than a sound that goes parallel to the drums. Some modern songs may even have bass solos, something inconsiderable at the time.
One of the techniques introduced by the jazz bass and its nature was the famous slap bass playing technique, in which since the mics can pick up a higher frequency when played properly, the bass can also sound like drums.
The technique is not easy as it needs a lot of coordination of both the left and right hand. But, if mastered, the slapping bass sound is an incredible sound wanted by all bass players.
The main difference with the P bass is the mics. The body and strings are similar, however, on standard models, the jazz bass has two pick-ups located one on the bridge and one on the neck.
In general, there are independent volume and tone knobs allowing wide combinations of sounds, plus with the mic selector (3 positions) it wides the parameter even more.
I usually don’t like conclusions that state, both are great choices. But in this case, that is the case. Both basses are great and had their moment in history that change music.
Ideally, I would recommend any bass player to get one of each, then depend on the song or music sheet, which bass is better. However, if you are on a budget and purchasing both is not an option, then this would be my conclusion:
If you like being a passive bass player (This may sound bad, but I think it is great if you are that guy), then go for the precision bass and become one with the drums.
Focus mainly on providing a perfect rhythm for the song, and you will be thanked a lot, especially by the guitar player.
If you feel your notes and sound should have more freedom and presence, then the jazz bass is a great choice.
Active bass players are essential for great sounds; however, it is important that you know when to be that guy, and when you just need to focus on playing the rhythm part. If the bass player goes crazy, then the whole song goes crazy, this is guarantee.