Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo’s Evolving Fender Jazzblasters

There’s no denying it: offset guitars were once on the fringes but have come to center stage. Before these designs became the main act, however, two noise engineering guitarists wielded them as a new generation of rock and rage defined itself. So what made the Fender Jazzblaster arsenal of Sonic Youth so iconic?

Let’s back the story up for a moment to get a bit of perspective. New York City, 1981. Sonic Youth forms as a four-piece offering up sounds that were unconventional yet forward-thinking, experimental yet unforgettable, and frantic yet hypnotic. The band made their mark in underground shows and climbed the ladder of indie success. By 1990, they signed on with Geffen Records and went on to release some of the most chart-topping albums in the Sonic Youth discography (e.g., Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star [1994]).

For all the variety and evolution of their sound, however, one of the staple things you’ll find on nearly every track, set, and image of Sonic Youth are the tandem guitarists, Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo, sporting Fender Jazzmasters. By the late 2000s, Fender tag-teamed with both gents to offer up signature models that distilled their most common mods to the vintage design. But what was it about their arsenal of heavily modded Jazzmasters that made them so iconic to deserve this honor?

Arguably, a key design approach over the years was to simplify while making the instrument more aggressive. Both did away with the often confusing and routinely underutilized set of switches for the rhythm circuit up top. To break from tradition even further, the lead circuit was distilled to but a single volume pot.

Arguably one of the more common mod jobs for both—and for many owners of Jazzmasters—occurred on the bridge and tail piece. Ronaldo swapped out Mustang saddles for the finicky vintage Jazzmaster designs to aid in stability. Some of their guitars at times also featured the infamous Mastery bridge to keep strings in-line and make them indestructible for whammy bar assaults and alternate tunings. Eventually, Moore’s signature model adopted another staple for bridge stability and sustain, the Adjusto-matic bridge.

Ronaldo also notched up the angst factor by loading a pair of humbuckers in place of the traditional squashed single-coil Jazzmaster pickups. Originally, Ronaldo’s guitar was modded with a set of pickups from a Tele Deluxe, which covered a wider range of the EQ spectrum. Moore on the other hand retained the Jazzmaster single-coils to retain some sonic sparkle for Sonic Youth.

With all their evolution over years of studio and on-stage sonic rage, it’s no wonder the variety of heavily modded Jazzmasters wielded by Moore and Ronaldo became known simply as “Jazzblasters.”

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