The Legacy of James Jamerson Precision Bass


The Legacy of James Jamerson Precision Bass. James Jamerson is widely regarded as one of the greatest bassists ever. His signature bass lines and innovative playing style made an indelible mark on Motown, soul, and R&B music. This article will explore the man behind the groove, the weapon of choice that helped him create that sound, and how his legacy influenced subsequent generations of bassists.

The Man Behind the Groove

James Jamerson was born in 1936 in Edisto Island, South Carolina. He moved to Detroit, Michigan, with his mother as a child. Jamerson began playing the double bass in high school and played in a jazz trio before his Motown days.

Jamerson became a session musician at Motown Records in the early 1960s. He had a reputation for nailing a song on the first take and was highly sought after by producers. Jamerson played on countless hits, including The Supremes, The Temptations, and Marvin Gaye.

Jamerson’s playing style was characterized by his innovative fingerstyle technique, which involved using all four fingers to pluck the strings. He used chromatic passing tones and syncopated rhythms to create a melodic and groovy bass line. Jamerson preferred to play the Fender Precision Bass, which he customized to suit his needs.

What bass did James Jamerson play?

The Precision Bass: Jamerson’s Weapon of Choice

His instrument of choice was the Fender Precision Bass, and he wielded it with unparalleled groove and finesse. The ’62 sunburst Fender Precision became synonymous with Jamerson’s sound, earning the “The Funk Machine.” This bass was equipped with flatwound strings and delivered a warm, punchy tone that defined countless Motown hits.

Jamerson’s playing style, characterized by minimal sustain and precise note placement, influenced generations of bassists. His original ’57 Precision Bass was stolen, but the ’62 model became his musical soulmate, creating timeless grooves that resonate today. The bass, meticulously crafted to replicate the original, remains a testament to Jamerson’s legacy. With its rich, powerful tone, it embodies the spirit of Motown and the genius of James Jamerson himself. 

The Fender Precision Bass is a legendary instrument that debuted in 1951 and is considered a game-changer for bassists. Before its invention, bassists had limited options and were mostly confined to playing the upright bass, which was considerable, cumbersome, and challenging to amplify. However, introducing the Precision Bass revolutionized the music industry and provided bassists a new level of versatility.

Jamerson modified his Precision Bass, adding a foam mute to the bridge to create a more muted tone and using flatwound strings to achieve a smoother sound. The Precision Bass has a warm, punchy, and articulate sound, partly thanks to its split-coil pickup.

Best James Jamerson P Bass Lines
James Jamerson P Bass

Iconic James Jamerson P Bass Lines

James Jamerson, one of the most influential bassists in popular music history, has left a lasting legacy with his iconic bass lines. His innovative approach to bass playing has earned him a well-deserved place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Jamerson used ghost notes and rhythmic variations to create an instantly recognizable bass line. Other notable tracks featuring Jamerson’s bass lines include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops.

James Jamerson Precision Bass

How to sound like Sting with a PBass

What are the best James Jamerson bass lines?

There is no definitive answer to the best James Jamerson bass line, as different bass players and music fans may have different preferences and opinions. However, some of his most famous and acclaimed bass lines include:

  • My Girl by The Temptations (1965) is one of Jamerson’s most recognizable bass lines. It features a catchy hook that introduces the song and complements the vocal melody. Jamerson uses slides, hammer-ons, and chromatic notes to create a smooth and soulful groove.
  • You Can’t Hurry Love by The Supremes (1966) is another example of Jamerson’s signature style. He plays a busy and syncopated bass line that contrasts with the steady quarter notes on the snare drum. Jamerson adds fills and variations throughout the song, using his index finger to pluck the strings with a deep, staccato tone.
  • I Was Made To Love Her by Stevie Wonder (1967): This classic Motown song showcases Jamerson’s ability to play with a swing feel and a bluesy flavor. Jamerson closely follows the chord changes and the vocal line, adding grace notes, triplets, and bends to create a dynamic and expressive bass line.
  • What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye (1971): This is one of Jamerson’s most celebrated bass lines, where he plays a complex and melodic part that serves as the song’s central theme. Jamerson uses various techniques, such as slides, octaves, arpeggios, and chromatic runs, to create a rich and layered sound that supports the song’s social message of the music.
  • For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder (1968): This is another Stevie Wonder song featuring a brilliant bass line by Jamerson. Jamerson plays a fast and intricate part that matches the music’s upbeat tempo and optimistic mood. He uses his index finger to play rapid sixteenth notes, creating a smooth and fluid groove that fills the space between the drums and the horns.

Legacy and Influence

Jamerson’s influence on subsequent generations of bassists is immeasurable. Bassists such as Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten have cited Jamerson as a significant influence on their playing styles. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, and John Mayer have paid homage to Jamerson’s style in their music.

The Precision Bass remains a staple in modern music, and its enduring legacy can be traced back to Jamerson’s innovative playing style and unique sound.

What made James Jamerson so great?

James Jamerson, the legendary bassist, was truly exceptional for several reasons:

  1. Groove and Feel: Jamerson had an innate sense of groove and rhythm. His bass lines were not just notes but living, breathing entities that moved the music forward. Jamerson’s feel was unmatched whether it was a Motown hit or a soulful ballad.
  2. Innovative Technique: He pioneered a fingerstyle technique that combined precision, speed, and melodic sensibility. His use of chromatic passing tones, ghost notes, and syncopation added layers of complexity to his bass lines.
  3. Melodic Bass Playing: Jamerson treated the bass as a melodic instrument. His lines weren’t merely supporting the harmony; they were integral melodies within the songs. Listen to “What’s Going On” or “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” to witness this brilliance.
  4. Fender Precision Bass: Jamerson’s choice of the Fender Precision Bass was pivotal. Its warm, punchy tone became synonymous with Motown’s sound. He customized his bass, using flatwound strings and achieving a distinctive thump.
  5. Session Work: As a session musician at Motown Records, Jamerson played on countless hits. His versatility allowed him to adapt to various genres, from soul to pop. His bass lines elevated songs by artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes.
  6. Legacy and Influence: Jamerson’s impact extends far beyond his era. Bassists worldwide study his lines, trying to capture that magic. His legacy lives on in modern bass playing, and his name remains synonymous with groove and soulfulness.

In summary, James Jamerson’s greatness lies in his groove, technique, melodic sensibility, and lasting influence on bass playing. He was a true master of the instrument, and his bass lines continue to inspire musicians across generations.

James Jamerson was a master of his craft, and his legacy lives on in the countless hits he played and the bassists he influenced. His innovative fingerstyle technique, melodic approach to bass lines, and use of the Fender Precision Bass helped him create a sound that is still celebrated today. We encourage readers to explore Jamerson’s discography and appreciate the magic of the Precision Bass.

The Legacy of James Jamerson Precision Bass
The Legacy of James Jamerson Precision Bass

James Jamerson Precision Bass Tabs

What’s Going On

TAB notation for the iconic bass line from “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, played on the Fender Precision Bass:


Remember to remember the rhythm and articulation while playing this classic bass line. James Jamerson’s groove on this track is legendary!

You can find the full tab on for a more detailed breakdown.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine TAB

James Jamerson bass lines

By Marvin Gaye.

Played by James Jamerson on the Fender Precision Bass:

[Intro] (play this 4 times)

[Verse 1]

[Verse 2]


[Verse 3]


Find the full TAB on

Remember to groove with that classic Motown feel! James Jamerson bass lines are timeless.

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