- Offset Guitar Buyer's Guide
What is an offset guitar?
The term ‘offset’ could be loosely used to describe something that is imbalanced, or off to one side. In guitar terms, it refers to an asymmetrical body shape, often with accentuated curves on one side.
The earliest examples of the offset guitar concept are widely considered to be the Fender Jazzmaster and Gibson Firebird. These bold instruments were originally released in 1958 and 1963 respectively. Since then, many other manufacturers have taken a swing at the idea, including Ibanez, Reverend, Duesenberg and more.
Shape aside, the specs of an offset guitar can vary wildly. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular offset models on the market...
Fender’s Jazzmaster arguably started it all. Released at the ’59 NAMM Show, the intention was to break into the upmarket jazz crowd. It was designed to offer a turbo-charged solid-body electric guitar experience. In reality, it found favour among the surf rock scene, thanks to its eye-catching looks and punchy tone. Nowadays, it comes in many forms!
Fender Jazzmaster key features
- The ‘first’ offset, with a unique trailblazing body shape
- ‘Soapbar’ singlecoil pickups
- Proprietary 6-saddle floating bridge
- Unique dual-circuit switching: ‘rhythm’ and ‘lead’
- Additional controls for dual-circuit tones
- Attractive multi-ply pickguard that mirrored the body shape
How does Jazzmaster switching work?
The Jazzmaster’s switching was designed to offer an even more diverse tonal palette than the Stratocaster. It revolves around the fact that you’ve got two circuits to play with, as mentioned above: ‘rhythm’ and ‘lead’.
Jazzmaster controls in summary
- Rhythm / Lead switch – this selects the circuit. The Lead circuit is a bit more familiar, offering control over both pickups via the 3-way switch and master volume/tone controls. The rhythm circuit bypasses the main controls, and uses only the rhythm (neck) pickup and the thumbwheel volume/tone controls.
- Rhythm tone & volume – as mentioned above, these control only the rhythm (neck) pickup, and only when the Rhythm circuit is engaged.
- 3-way pickup switch – this only works when you’re using the Lead circuit. Use the bridge pickup, neck pickup, or both pickups together.
- Master tone & volume – again, only in use when you’re using the Lead circuit. They control the tone and volume of both pickups.
It’s worth noting that while this was the original version of Jazzmaster switching, a lot has changed. Many Jazzmasters come with altered circuits, with some even just offering a simple 3-way switch without the dual circuit. It’s down to preference!
The Fender Jaguar was released in 1962 as a top-of-the-line instrument. Appointments like additional switching and a shorter scale length made it their most feature-packed instrument to date. As with the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar now comes in lots of configurations, but the original iteration is the most sought-after. Here’s a closer look:
Fender Jaguar key features
- Shorter 24” scale length
- Dual singlecoil pickups (usually!)
- The same dual-circuit switching as the Jazzmaster
- Three additional switches for extra pickup controls
- Pickguard combines multi-ply plastic and chrome plating
How does Jaguar switching work?
Jaguar switching is almost identical to the Jazzmaster, with a few additions. You can select either the Rhythm or the Lead circuit using the top switch. The former only uses the neck pickup and thumbwheel controls, while the latter uses the 3-way pickup switch and master controls.
The addition is the 3 switches. These are neck pickup on/off, bridge pickup on/off and bass cut on/off. In summary, you get a little more control with the Jaguar!
The Mustang was released in 1964 as a student guitar – that’s to say it was more accessible and affordable than its counterparts. It’s more widely known for its popularity on the ‘80s and ‘90s alt-rock/grunge scenes. They’re known for their smaller bodies, short scale-lengths and biting tones.
Fender Mustang key features
- Shorter 24” scale length
- Light, compact body with subtler curves than the Jazz/Jag
- Simple accessible circuitry
- Dual singlecoil pickups
- Originally had a dynamic vibrato bridge for a more direct response
The Mustang has been through several production runs, but is now a permanent fixture across a number of Fender’s ranges. Other configurations feature P90 pickups, fixed bridges – and of course, the Mustang Bass!
Gibson Firefird / Thunderbird
Introduced in 1963, the Firebird was designed by Raymond H Dietrich, who worked for Chrysler and Lincoln at the time. It’s easy to see parallels between the Firebird and the futuristic curves of automobiles at the time.
Its bass counterpart, the Thunderbird, was released at the same time to impact the bass market – previously dominated by Fender. Both the Firebird and Thunderbird most commonly featured two pickups, Mahogany bodies and fixed bridge designs.
Gibson Firebird key features
- Through-body design for maximum resonance
- Dual pickups, originally mini humbuckers
- Dual controls for volume and tone
- Mahogany and Walnut multi-piece neck
- Broad horned design with right-angled pickguard
The Firebird has seen many iterations over the years. These include versions with P90s, humbuckers or triple pickups, as well as wild finishes, signature models and Epiphone own range of more affordable options.
Squier are known for producing affordable version of Fender’s most popular products. Nowadays, they offer their own varieties, including the affordable Bullet line up and the cutting-edge Contemporary series.
Squier’s offsets include the usual suspects; Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang and so on. If you fancy offset looks, modern playability and an accessible price point, Squier is a great way to go!
Best Alternative Offset Guitars
Designed by Leo Fender himself, it’s easy to see the resemblance between the Doheny and…certain other offset guitars. Usually found with either P90s or humbuckers, the Doheny also features the G&L Dual Fulcrum tremolo and some super cool finishes.
These slick G&L double-cut guitars are made for straight-up, no-frills rocking out. They’re often found with a humbucker in the bridge and a P90 in the neck, with a hefty Mahogany body for extra resonance.
The Ibanez Talman was introduced in 1994, and while its production has been on and off, it found favour among the alt/punk rock scene. It’s become a cult favourite, notably championed by The Offspring guitarist, Noodles.
Reverend Double Agent
Many of Reverend’s models could be considered offset, but none pull it off with quite so much gusto as the Double Agent. Combining curves with jagged angles in gloriously retro fashion, they feature a humbucker/P90 combo and some seriously slick finish options.
Fender Duo Sonic
The short-scale Fender Duo-Sonic actually predates the Mustang, and has similarly been in and out of production ever since. While not quite enjoying the same cult status as Fender’s other offset models, the Duo-Sonic’s fixed bridge and HS pickup combo gives it a cool alt edge.
The Meteora is a more angular offset offering from Fender. It’s made a number of appearances in their line-up over the years, mostly as limited runs. But it’s undeniably sought-after – I mean, look at it!
German manufacturers Duesenberg are known for making retro-style guitars that are fully loaded with modern appointments. The Paloma features a subtle offset design, HSS pickup config and a Duesy radiator trem. Rad.
What’s the best affordable offset guitar?
As mentioned earlier, a number of brands offer great budget offset options. Whether you’re looking for an all-rounder with slick looks to boot, or a no-frills rock machine, you don’t have to break the bank.
Here’s a selection of some of the best cheaper/entry-level offset guitars that are great for beginners or guitarists looking for something a bit different:
Best affordable offset guitars
We hope you’ve found this guide to be useful. If you’ve ever wondered what an offset guitar is, you might be feeling a bit more informed by now. If you’ve got any questions about our offset guitar selection, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!
In the meantime, why not check out our other buyers’ guides while you’re here?