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Fender Troy Van Leeuwen Jazzmaster review

QOTSA man's clever signature model

  • £1306
  • €1559
  • $1690
The Oxblood finish is a new one, and it's a marvel - revealing shades of red and purple

Our Verdict

A good-looking, intelligent take on one of the world's most individual guitars - sonic experimentalists will love it.

Pros

  • We love the Oxblood finish. Useful tweaks make it a playable beast. Great build quality. Excellent tones.

Cons

  • Slightly rigid vibrato.
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The Oxblood finish is a new one, and it's a marvel - revealing shades of red and purple

Fender Troy Van Leeuwen Jazzmaster

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The Mustang bridge addresses the feared Jazzmaster string-pop

The Mustang bridge addresses the feared Jazzmaster string-pop

Bridge

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There's a heavy-duty toggle instead of the usual plastic slider here

There's a heavy-duty toggle instead of the usual plastic slider here

Controls

J Mascis, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have all had a hand in reshaping the Jazzmaster, and Queens Of The Stone Age/A Perfect Circle guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen is the latest alt-rocker to add his name to Fender's signature list.

"A number of aesthetic and practical alterations make it an altogether more usable beast"

Although a relatively recent convert to the Jazzmaster (his previous signature model was the discontinued Yamaha SA503 TVL semi), Van Leeuwen has appointed his 'master with a number of aesthetic and practical alterations that make it an altogether more usable beast.

The first draw is the gloss polyester Oxblood finish, with matching headstock. It's a classy look in conjunction with the four-ply tortoiseshell pickguard.

Aside from the finish, the Van Leeuwen's only real identifying mark is his signature on the rear of the headstock. Elsewhere, the TVL Jazz channels a mid-60s vibe, accentuated by block inlays, fretboard binding and 'witch hat' control knobs.

There are tweaks to the playing experience, too. Van Leeuwen is a regular user of both lead and rhythm circuits, so while the rhythm roller controls return, the easily knocked slider has been replaced with a robust two-way toggle.

Gone, too, is the oft-maligned string-popping Jazzmaster bridge, replaced by the more reliable Mustang version.

Van Leeuwen's actual model features a Mastery bridge, but we're willing to accept the Mustang offering as a compromise. A pair of American Vintage '65 single coils fill the pickup cavities.

Feel & Sounds

The TVL Jazz's neck is based on a mid-60s Jazzmaster, and the gloss urethane-finished C shape acquits itself well for chunky rhythm playing, thanks to vintage-style frets and a comfortable 184mm (7.25-inch) radius.

We continue to be impressed by the high standards of construction coming out of Fender's Ensenada factory, and the TVL is no exception: aside from a slightly rigid vibrato action, there's very little to fault at this price point.

"This isn't a guitar for traditionalists, and Van Leeuwen's take offers a sizeable palette of sonic colours"

This isn't a guitar for traditionalists, and Van Leeuwen's take offers a sizeable palette of sonic colours. The Mustang bridge copes with all shades of aggressive styles, and offers a slight, smooth roll with the floating vibrato for Kevin Shields-style 'glide guitar'. After some string stretching, vibrato-based tuning problems were practically non-existent.

The pickups channel the Jazzmaster's warmth and subtlety beautifully, with a sweet top-end that translates well to funk styles in the mixed-pickup position, and gets pretty edgy at the bridge - dial in some reverb, and you're in classic surf territory.

The rhythm circuit is a love-or-hate-it feature: for some, its moody neck pickup tones may seem too dark. However, for players who ignore the circuit, there is some compensation: roll down the rhythm circuit's volume control, and the two-way toggle doubles as a killswitch, perfect for a bit of stuttering faux-tremolo action.

Although Van Leeuwen plays in two heavy, riff-focused bands, his contributions are more textural than crushing, and the American Vintage single coils provide a canvas ripe for effects-based manipulation.

Plug in a fuzz pedal for a rich crunch - while the pickups are no gain monsters, they're always articulate, enunciating chords with great clarity. The rhythm circuit comes into its own in more gained-up territory, with the reduced high-end presence recalling QOTSA's woolly distorted tones. Add some chorus and delay and you're in A Perfect Circle and The Cure territory.

Van Leeuwen displays a clear understanding of the Jazzmaster. His Mexican-made take evokes the spirit of the American Vintage '65 model, with functionality tweaks and a stunning finish. Existing Jazz hands will love it, and its practical tweaks might just entice a few Strat or Tele users looking to spread their wings.

Michael Brown

Mike is editor-in-chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He's spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, and a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.