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Analysis: Elvis Costello’s Jazzmasters

It seems, in fact, that Elvis had two Jazzmasters. His first came during recording of his debut album “My Aim is True”, when he traded the Telecaster he’d been using for a Jazzmaster he’d seen in the window of a guitar shop (in time for the new acquisition to appear in his hands on the cover). This first Jazzmaster had been finished by it’s previous owner in a DIY fashion, resulting in a far from smooth finish which can be seen clearly in the videoclip for “(I don’t want to go to) Chelsea”. Also of interest are the two holes in the pickguard (which remained after two controls which are visible in very early pictures of the guitar were taken out) and the black tremolo arm tip, which seems to appear around the time the extra controls are removed.


The brown jazzmaster in the videoclip for ‘(I Don’t Want to go to) Chelsea’


Note that this guitar seems to have a distinct line in the finish between the tremolo plate and the bottom strap button and at some point, it also received a new fretboard, missing front fret markers and inlaid with his stage surname “Costello”.


The brown jazzmaster with the ‘Costello’ inlay



The brown jazzmaster with the two extra controls and the finish line clearly visible. The controls appear to be a two-way selector switch and a rotary control.

Sometime after, Elvis picked up another Jazzmaster. This second guitar is easily distinguishable from the first by virtue of the smaller, older, fender logo on the headstock. It is this guitar which was to become Elvis’ main guitar for the vast majority of his recording career, appearing on almost every album to his name, and at almost every electric gig he has performed.

It appears that it became his guitar of choice very quickly, and early shots of the guitar seem to show that for a very brief period, it had a light finish. Detail shots taken on May 5, 1978 show Elvis playing this new Jazzmaster with a natural finish, the wood patterns plainly visible. It also seems to have always had a non-standard bridge, similar to a Gibson tune-o-matic.


Very soon however, this guitar was professionally customised as well, returning to Elvis’ hands with the words “Elvis Costello” set into the fretboard, and sporting what Elvis later described as a “Not entirely attractive grey finish.”; a grey burst.


The new ‘greyburst’ jazzmaster makes an early TV appearance on ‘Countdown’.


The ‘greyburst’ in the videoclip for ‘Oliver’s Army’


Jerry Garcia playing the ‘greyburst’ jazzmaster during a jam with Elvis in the ’80s


Steve Nieve plays the ‘greyburst’ in the ‘Oliver’s Army’ clip


Few images of the ‘greyburst’ are available from this early time, since Elvis appears to have picked up two strats (a red 50’s model and a white contemporary model) quite soon after and kept them in rotation for the next couple of years (at least, in most videotaped appearances). Once he returned to the Jazzmaster however (by way of a Rickenbacker and several Gretschs), the ‘greyburst’ became far and away his most used guitar for the rest of his career.


Elvis’ White Stratocaster


The Red 50’s Stratocaster with matching headstock which Elvis used for (among other things) his performance of ‘All You Need is Love’ at Live Aid.

The first Jazzmaster would return to favor sporadically, (though now with a new red finish) in time for the video shoot for “Every Day I Write the Book”, later also appearing in the clip for “Thirteen Steps Lead Down”. It had also, by this time, received a new pickguard, and the holes from the removed hardware are no longer present. Despite these changes, it is clearly identifiable as the brown JM because of it’s distinctive neck inlay, headstock logo and the fact that it retains the obvious “stripe” in the finish below the bridge.

The (now) red jazzmaster in the video for 'Thirteen Steps Lead Down'

The (now) red jazzmaster in the video for ‘Thirteen Steps Lead Down’



Having been so well used, and exposed to the elements, the finish on the grey burst Jazzmaster has faded and yellowed substantially, and in recent years, the unusual bridge the guitar originally sported (see below) has been replaced with a mastery bridge, a common modification for the offset-body models made by Fender.


The original non-Fender bridge



Elvis with the ‘greyburst’ jazzmaster during the ‘Spectacular Spinning Songbook’ tour.

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In 2008, Fender announced the Elvis Costello signature Jazzmaster (Seen below next to a mock up of the greyburst). Similar to Elvis’ original, it featured a brown wood stain with a clear finish, dot inlays and the larger Fender logo on the headstock. It has since been discontinued, but one can still be seen regularly in the hands of (for example) Jessica Dobson, formerly of The Shins, now fronting her own side project “Deep Sea Diver.” Interestingly, her Jazzmaster sports a black tremolo tip, as Elvis’ did in the “Chelsea” video.


sMLollapalooza 2012, WWD


One thought on “Analysis: Elvis Costello’s Jazzmasters

  1. Pingback: James Mercer’s Guitars | Ordinary Blog

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