Old School: 1963 Fender Jazz Bass

1963 Fender Jazz Bass in case

In our last edition of Old School, we shared Mark Anderson’s 1963 Fender Shoreline Gold Precision bass.

This time, we’re showcasing Fender’s Jazz bass from the same year, and specifically Jay Fortier‘s ’63 Jazz.

Fender introduced the first Jazz in March, 1960, becoming the company’s second bass model after the Precision.

In 1963, Fender replaced the below-string mutes with a simpler all-string mute, glued to the inside of the bridge cover, and the original slab fingerboards were replaced with round-laminated fingerboards.

The ’63 was a pre-CBS instrument, making it among the most sought after basses by players and collectors.

Jay has owned his Jazz since 1966, and shares the story behind this beauty. (Check out the photo gallery below).


1963 Fender Jazz Bass #97343

How long have you owned it?

I bought it from a friend in October of ’66.

How did you come across it?

I actually saw it the day it came out of the box in ’63! I was 14 years old. At that time, you could be a Fender dealer without having a store front, and my cousin had a dealership that he ran from his home. My neighbor was in his early twenties, and was in a band from our hometown of Manistee, Michigan, called the “D-Notes”. He ordered the bass and a Bassman Amp. The amp came in first, and was totally beautiful in all it’s blonde glory! It sat waiting for it’s partner for several months.

The bass had been ordered in custom black, fretless. When it finally came in, Jim (my neighbor) called me to come help him open it up, as he knew how excited I was about it. We cut the box open, pulled out the brown Tolex case with darker brown leather ends, and opened it up. I watched dismayed as his expression changed to disappointment when he saw it… it was NOT fretless! He had waited nine months for it, and it wasn’t what he wanted.

My cousin called Fender, and was told they did not make a fretless Jazz. They offered to send a fretless Precision neck, but would not budge on leaving the frets out of a Jazz neck, I have no idea why. Jim told me at that time to start saving my pennies, as he would be selling it soon.

He kept it for a while, but my cousin was actively trying to re-sell it. I didn’t have the money yet, and it got sold to someone else. As luck would have it, I wound up becoming friends and playing in a band with the new owner, and was finally able to purchase it from him when he was getting married and leaving the band. I bought it from him, with a ’65 Fender Band-Master Amp, for $475. He still plays, although it’s more guitar than bass these days, and has often reminded me of what a great deal it was!

Stock or customized? Give us all the specs!

Well, it’s kinda both, actually. Functionally, it is totally stock, except for one plastic knob on the tone pot, and the addition of Schaller strap locks. The original brown case was severely damaged in ’72, and, not realizing the implications of future vintage value, I trashed it (ouch!) and replaced it with a new black case (with logo).

The custom element is that it was ordered in black, and has a matching black headstock (a custom color option) with a gold Fender logo decal. There are no other graphics on the headstock.

I have used many types of strings over the years, including black nylon, flatwounds and half-rounds. I was thinking that I was trying to protect the fretboard and frets, but eventually I realized that the sound and punch of round-wounds was what I needed, and I had to go for it and take my chances. Surprisingly, considering the age and amount of use it gets, the fretboard and frets are still in decent shape. I have used Fender, Ernie Ball, GHS, Hartke, and for the past several years I’ve settled on D’Addario EXL165 (.045/.065/.085/.105).

Any special characteristics?

In addition to the black headstock with gold logo, it has a couple other minor things about it. It came with a strap button installed on the back of the headstock, and two holes in the back of the body for use with a “Body Belt”, a Fender accessory available for a short while in the early 60’s. It was an adjustable, wide leather belt, similar to a weight belt that you wore around your waist in place of a shoulder strap. I think Jim had one with it, but it had disappeared by the time I got the bass.

In the late 60’s, when a couple black lights were a standard part of our light set-up, I let a persuasive young art student decorate it with psychedelic shapes of adhesive day-glo strips… cool at the time, maybe, but in the long run, not a good idea. There is still evidence of it today, even though it was physically cleaned off many years ago. Close inspection reveals many “ghosts” in places where the finish was affected. Also, I had foolishly neglected to tell her that the logo was a decal and not to put anything on it, so there are some small traces of adhesive still embedded in it, as I couldn’t risk using any type of cleaning solution on it.

I had the neck straightened professionally in the 80’s, as it had developed the “Jazz Bass bow”. It was repaired correctly, and is in perfect playable condition today. An action and feel unlike any other I’ve ever tried, before or since. The original pickups are getting weaker and slightly microphonic, but it still sounds great, and I’ve learned to adapt to the condition. I thought about having them rewound, but I’m leaning more toward keeping them totally original, replacing them with new ones for daily playing, and putting the originals in the case.

What’s your favorite story about the gear?

Telling how I got it is fun, and I enjoy seeing people’s reactions when they look at it up close, and are interested in the “road warrior” aspect it has taken on. It almost has a local “status” of it’s own!

The finish on the top curve where my arm rests is worn clear to the wood, and is naturally polished by my arm as smooth as a baby’s butt! The back is severely stressed, to say the least, and shows many years of belt buckles, buttons, snaps, a rough life on the road, rock and roll, and whatever, most with a story of their own! You can actually feel the depression in the belt-buckle “mini canyon”.

There is a spot on the front where the heel of my hand rests/moves that has worn through the paint and most of the white coat below. I’ve been told by a few knowledegable individuals that the factory may have painted the custom black over an already-painted body, in this case white, as this doesn’t appear to be a primer coat, and I’m told they were not usually primed anyway.

Any notable bassists (other than yourself, of course) play the same instrument/use the same gear?

I’ve seen a couple in the same color combination (black w/red tortoise shell) on the body, but it’s rare to see one with the matching headstock. I have seen a couple red ones over the years. Chris Hillman, one of my early influences, had/has a P-bass that resembles it.

Do you use it on gigs?

Yes, it gets played a lot. I have a few others that get quite a bit of use, too, but JB is always on hand!

What else do you want to share about your gear?

I was fortunate to have access to this bass and other gear through my cousin and others when I was young, and have been privileged to own it. I enjoy playing it and talking with others about it.

Jay’s 1963 Fender Jazz Bass Photo Gallery

Any other vintage gear?

  • 1979 Guild B-301 bass
  • 1963 Fender Stratocaster, custom finish
  • 1958 Guild T-100DP guitar
  • 1962 Guild M20 acoustic guitar
  • 1974 Ampeg B15S Portaflex amplifier head
  • Two mid-60’s Ampeg B18 cabs modified with 60’s-era JBL D140F 15″ speakers
  • 1963 Gibson Falcon amp
  • 1964 Fender Reverb Unit
  • 1972 Fender Vibrosonic Reverb Amp
  • 1975 Fender single-10 pedal steel guitar
  • 1940’s or 50’s Kay string bass, refinished, w/Fishman pickup
  • 1927 Wurlitzer grand piano (5 ft.)

Tell us a little about yourself.

My cousin eventually had a music store called “This Ol’ House of Music” in Manistee. I worked with him for a while, and have worked in other music stores in Grand Rapids over the years, and done audio engineering for live and studio projects. I went to Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI for a while, and graduated from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI.

I’m married, blessed with three children (all very musical), and three grandchildren. I’ll be 63 in April (2012), and I’ve been playing since I was 14. I tell people who ask that I play “everything from bluegrass to jazz”, and I literally do!

I’ve been blessed to have been involved with many bands and recording artists and projects, and I currently play in five projects, three of which are quite active. One is a classic rock/country-rock trio called “ODR / Old Dudes Rock” which has a steady weekend schedule. Next is “Bo White and The Bluezers”, a six-piece blues-rock band that plays festivals and special events, and thirdly, “Extravagramza”, a variety trio that has a steady (2-1/2 years so far) Sunday gig at an Amvets.

I played for about eight years with “The Kingtones”, a somewhat legendary local band that celebrated 50 years together before retiring. The band was inducted into the “Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame” in 2010. I happened to be in the group photo that was used for the induction, and I’m proud of to have been part of their legacy.

What did we miss?

Not much… I’m very pleased and honored to have a chance to share some of my story and the story of this great bass with other “gear heads” like me! I’d love to hear from anyone who wants more info on any of my gear, or who just wants to chat about stuff. (Post your comments and questions for Jay below.)

I enjoy being part of your page. Thank you for the opportunity, and keep on holding that bottom line, fellow bassists!


If you own any vintage gear you'd like us to spotlight in "Old School", we'd love to hear from you! Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Share your thoughts

  1. Thank you so much for posting this, I am honored. I have one correction: In “The Fendermen” (1965) photo, the bass is held by Don Pelarski, my friend that I bought it from in ’66.

    • Sorry about that Jay. All fixed.

    • Nice Bass Jay, I’ll give you $235.00 for it. How often can you buy something and sell it 45 years later and not loose a dime.

    • Hi Don, nice to hear from you. I see you’re STILL comin’ around with these ridiculous low-ball offers! LOL! Thanks for the great deal “back in the day”, and a lifetime of friendship and music. I’m glad we got to share our “15 minutes” over this.

  2. Congratulations Jay on this showcase article. You deserve it friend, for all your contributions to the West Michigan Music Society.

  3. That is one sexy instrument…..probably plays like butter.

  4. Thanks Jay, I enjoyed reading your story! Yes, that is a great bass indeed! Continued success to you and everyone you anchor with your 63′ Jazz!

  5. Beautiful bass and a great story, Jay. The fact you’re still rocking at 63 inspires me. Keep rocking!

  6. Fantastic Bass. I’d never heard of the Body Belt before now. But actually have wished for something like it. I have a ’63 Jazz in Sunburst and noticed one hole that has been filled in the same spot on the back. I suppose it could have been a body belt hole? I can’t find anything on Google about these things though. Mine is an L series though, and although it says ’63 on the neck butt, I wonder if it might have been sold a bit later than that.

  7. Here’s an update: I recently had new (2013) Fender Jazz Bass replacement pickups installed, and the originals went in the storage box with the chrome front pickup cover and the felt mutes. It sounds SO good! Thanks, everyone for your interest and nice comments. Rock on!

    • Skully

      Do the new pickups sound appreciably better?

      • Jay Fortier

        Yes, Skully, it made a huge difference, and it sounds great. It was a good move, and the originals are still intact. The body actually got a couple new “beauty marks” in the process, as it had to be routed out a bit, and the clamps added to the distressed look a bit…not that you could really tell, anyway! Thanks for your comment and interest.

  8. That is an awesome instrument, and I even like the phycadelic colours on it in the 60s.