There’s something about offset guitars that attracts a devoted, almost cult-like, following. Perhaps it’s their idiosyncratic good looks or their tendency to have a unique feature set – but you can’t deny that no matter what kind of guitarist you are, there’s a special place in your heart reserved for offset guitars.
The term itself is a tricky one. But in our case, we define “offset guitars” as instruments with either a ‘butt’ on one side of the body or, simply, an offset waist. And in determining the best offset guitars under $1,000, we looked at: feature set for the price and uniqueness within its archetype.
1Ibanez Talman TM303M
Ibanez doesn’t only build metal axes – think of the Talman series as the Japanese brand’s answer to Fender guitars. It’s no Jazzmaster or Jaguar, though: the TM303M is more a Strat-Tele hybrid. It’s arguably the most versatile and unique offset guitar on this list, and, at only $400, represents a tonne of value.
- Unique Strat-Tele pickup configuration
- Vintage-spec’ed C-shaped maple neck
- Locking machine heads
- Retails for $399
The most eye-catching elements on the TM303M are its pickups. A Tele-style single-coil sits in the neck position, while Strat-style single-coils occupy the middle and bridge positions. All are ‘in-house’ alnico-based pickups, and the neck and bridge units are vintage-voiced.
The wiring on the guitar is just as unique. A three-way switch lets you pick between bridge, neck and both simultaneously, with a master tone and volume knob controlling the neck and bridge single-coils. The middle pickup, on the other hand, has a dedicated volume control. This allows you to blend in any amount of the middle single-coil you’d like. And if you wanted to solo that pickup, you’ll have to set the neck/bridge volume to zero.
From chiming cleans on the neck pup to the brash – but never harsh – spank of the bridge unit, the single-coils here make the TM303M versatile enough for blues, country, rock, funk and other genres you tend to find Strats and Teles on.
Besides these, the TM303M doesn’t surprise that much. It has an alder body, C-shaped maple neck modelled after 50s- and 60s-era guitars, a flat 12-inch-radius maple fretboard, and a six-saddle string-through hardtail bridge.
Originally launched in the 50s as a student guitar, the Fender Duo-Sonic has over the decades gone through several iterations without compromising its heritage of simplicity. Its latest guise is as a short-scale MIM offset guitar that’s ballsy, punchy, and lightweight and small enough for slighter players or beginners.
- Short, 24-inch scale length
- Modern C-shaped neck with a 9.5-inch fretboard radius
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Also available in HS configuration
- Retails for just under $500
If a Jaguar is too complicated and a Jazzmaster too unwieldy, the Duo-Sonic is the Fender offset you’re looking for. Like the slightly heavier and bigger Mustang, the Duo-Sonic is a brash, in-your-face guitar meant for raucous styles of music such as grunge and garage rock.
There are two versions of the Duo-Sonic: in SS and HS configurations. The stock pickups, single-coil and humbucker alike, are rich in harmonics with an assertive midrange punch. Which makes the Duo-Sonic ideal for whether you’re holding down big open chords or serving up solos this side of The Strokes. Master volume and tone knobs with a three-way switch are all the controls on the guitar.
The other specs on the six-string are similarly straightforward. It has an alder body, C-shaped maple neck, and a 9.5-inch radius maple or pau ferro fretboard (depending on the finish and pickup configuration) with 22 medium jumbo frets. A string-through hardtail bridge completes the appointments on this affordable, no-nonsense guitar.
The Starcaster is one of Fender’s stranger and lesser-known guitars: a semi-hollow archtop with an offset body. Its original run only lasted from 1976 to 1980, but, encouraged by a buoyant vintage market, Fender reissued the model in 2013. And the new edition retains many of the features that made it such a cult classic.
- Far from your typical Fender electric guitar
- Laminated maple semi-hollow body with alder center block
- Two reissue Fender Wide Range humbuckers
- Retails for under $700
There’s an enigmatic quality about the Starcaster’s offset, double-bound semi-hollow body and fin-like headstock that appeals to contemporary indie rock guitarists. It has found its way into the arms of such players as Jonny Greenwood, The Killers’ Dave Keuning, Band Of Horses’ Tyler Ramsey and Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, among other eclectic musicians.
Fender did implement several modern upgrades to the Starcaster, though. The reissue has an Adjust-o-Matic bridge, 9.5-inch-radius maple fretboard, and a comfortable C-shaped maple neck that’s slimmer than those on many Gibson ES models. And where the first Starcasters had a maple centre block, the reissue has an alder one. Similarly, the master volume knob on the original was deemed extraneous and nixed in favour of dedicated tone and volume dials for each pickup.
This Starcaster’s pickups, meanwhile, are faithful to its forebears. It has two reissued Fender Wide Range humbuckers that give the guitar its fat, full and bright tone. Although they have been subject to criticism by purists who’d prefer identical copies of the Seth Lover originals, these reissued pups are certainly sufficient, especially at this price point.
4Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX
Many offset guitars tend to be retro-inspired models. Not the Epiphone 1984 Explorer EX. While the original Gibson Explorer made its debut in 1958, this modern Epiphone version soups up the specs with a pair of active EMG humbuckers. So no surprises here: this is a guitar made for molten metal.
- Stripped-down Explorer aesthetics in all-black or white/black colourways
- Two active EMG humbuckers: the 85 and 81
- Mahogany body and set neck
- Retails for about $750
Sleek, progressive and considerably high in output, the Explorer EX is one of the very few offset guitars designed for the more extreme genres of music. Metal, hard rock and even heavier punk rock sub-genres are right up its alley, while those who play ‘looser’ genres, such as blues and indie rock, should look elsewhere.
It all boils down to the pickups. The Explorer EX has the classic EMG 85/81 combination that appears on countless metal axes, and is revered for the hot cleans on the neck humbucker and aggressive bite on the bridge unit. Couple these with the guitar’s resonant mahogany body and set neck, and you’ve got a solid riffing and soloing machine.
The Explorer EX’s other specs are fairly common among Gibson and Epiphone models. It has a 24.75-inch scale length, a 12-inch-radius rosewood fretboard, and a SlimTaper D neck profile. Grover tuners round up the other notable appointments on the China-made instrument.
5Reverend Jetstream 390
Most offset guitars tend to lean on the eccentric side, and none more so than the Reverend Jetstream 390. Besides dripping with retro good looks, the South Korea-made instrument has a unique pickup configuration, tonewoods, and other bells and whistles that – at under $1,000 – will send the guitar geeks into raptures.
- Single-bound korina body in a unique offset shape
- Three Reverend P-90s voiced for raw, ‘open’ tones
- Roasted maple neck in a comfortable medium oval shape
- High-quality hardware and electronics
- Retails for just under $1,000
The Jetstream 390 is built for electric blues, rock ’n’ roll, and twangy, gutsy styles such as surf and even alt-country. Sure, it may possess the quirky looks requisite of offset guitars, but it’s the Jetstream’s feature set and specs that earned it a place on this list.
Three proprietary P-90s – they’re all alnico V pickups – are the source of the guitar’s brawny tone. The bridge model is slightly overwound, making it thicker and hotter than a vintage-spec’ed P-90. And the neck and middle units offer more clarity and ‘open-ness’ than your average P-90. A five-way selector switch gives you a wide palette of options, too.
Other highlights on the Jetstream 390 include: a Wilkinson WVS50 IIK tremolo system, an exceedingly comfortable roasted maple neck with a 12-inch-radius maple/blackwood fretboard, a solid korina body, and Reverend’s iconic Bass Contour knob. Even details such as the string tree, output jack and pin-lock tuners have been carefully adjusted and improved upon. Not bad at all for a guitar under $1,000.
6Eastwood Univox Hi-Flyer Phase 4
Touted by Eastwood as a faithful replica of the guitar Kurt Cobain toted in the Heart-shaped Box video, the Hi-Flyer Phase 4 is an all-out grunge and punk rock machine. It isn’t the most versatile or premium axe around, though, so think twice if you need your offset guitar to command a wide tonal palette.
- Unique body shape
- Two hot humbuckers that are brash yet clear
- Satin-finished maple neck and glossy maple fretboard
- Wraparound hardtail bridge improves resonance
- Retails for $899
Eastwood’s Hi-Flyer Phase 4 is a reissue of the Univox Hi-Flyer, which is, in turn, a copy of the Mosrites favored by the Ventures. But after several iterations – dubbed “phases” – the Hi-Flyer became less about surf and, through the late Nirvana frontman, eventually solidified its punk and garage-y reputation. Which is where Eastwood’s version comes in.
A thin, offset basswood body with a German carve and a slanted neck pickup retain the guitar’s surf vibes. However, the two open humbuckers have the brashness and overwound quality that the grungier genres demand. Still, they’re clear as day – even with your amp or distortion box cranked. That clarity also makes the Hi-Flyer a good match for any pedalboard setup.
Elsewhere on the guitar, you’ll find a bolt-on, satin-finished maple neck with a 21-fret, glossy maple fretboard. It’s comfortable to play, and, with only a three-way selector switch and master volume/tone knobs, dead easy to get to grips with.
While the Hi-Flyer is by no means the best offset guitar in terms of features and specs, it earns its place on this list for its uniqueness, singular purpose and, we’ll admit it, that Cobain connection.
7BC Rich Mockingbird MK7
What looks like an all-out metal and hard rock guitar is, in reality, not quite as straightforward. Sure, the Mockingbird MK7 may possess the ‘pointy’ looks befitting of an 80s hair band’s instrument. But an elegant figured maple top and a wealth of (slightly befuddling) controls make this offset guitar much more than a shredder’s dream.
- Unique aesthetics: bound body and neck, ‘diamond’ inlays and a quilted maple top
- Two split, high-output humbuckers
- Plenty of tone-tweaking controls
- Shred-friendly: slim neck, flat fretboard, 24 jumbo frets and Floyd Rose system
- Retails for under $700
The biggest highlight on the Mockingbird MK7 is its Varitone knob. This six-way rotary dial opens up more tones: it gets progressively darker at higher settings, but adds more growl at the same time. There’s a slight filter to it, too, almost as though it’s manipulating your upper mids.
That Varitone control is one of many. There are three other mini toggle switches: two to split either humbucker, and another for phase reversal when you’ve got both pickups engaged at once. The former two sparkles up your tone, while the latter adds ‘quack’ to your strums. Two volume dials, a master tone knob and a three-way selector switch complete the raft of controls. Like we said, this guitar isn’t solely for metalheads and Slash fans.
The humbuckers themselves are warm and not as aggressive as the instrument’s shape suggests. They yield surprisingly good cleans and are, expectedly, thick and rounded when distorted.
The MK7’s other specs are also great for its price tag. It has a quilted maple top, mahogany body, three-piece set mahogany neck and a rosewood fretboard. Meanwhile, its slim neck, 13.75-inch fingerboard radius, 24 jumbo frets and licensed Floyd Rose Special locking vibrato prod the MK7 towards shred territory.
8Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster
If you’re lusting over a vintage-spec’ed Jazzmaster but don’t want to plonk down thousands of bucks for it, the Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster is right up your alley. The offset guitar retains many of the old-school specs that propelled the model to fame, with a few modern enhancements to appeal to contemporary players.
- Original rhythm and lead circuits, and their corresponding controls
- Duncan Designed alnico V single-coils for that syrupy Jazzmaster tone
- Floating vibrato system
- Modern 9.5-inch fretboard radius and C-shaped neck
- Retails for under $400
Despite its low price, this is not a guitar for newbies. The circuitry’s complex, the bridge is notoriously wonky, and it feels huge when you’re playing sitting down. But it is the most authentic Jazzmaster you can get for the price – even more so than the new Fender Players.
The Vintage Modified Jazzmaster has the tried-and-tested dual circuitry of the original models from the 60s. The Rhythm circuit activates only the neck pickup, while the Lead circuit lets you pick between neck, bridge and both at the same time. Each circuit has its own dedicated master volume and tone controls. (In comparison, even Fender American Professional Jazzmasters don’t boast this feature.)
A non-locking floating vibrato system and the vintage-style bridge – with those ‘grooved barrel’ saddles that many players consider unstable – are the other vintage-style specs on this guitar.
Now, on to the modern appointments. A pair of Duncan Designed JM-101B alnico V single-coils gives this Squier that coveted clear, syrupy and mellow Jazzmaster tone that works brilliantly with effects – which is one reason why you’ll find many shoegazers, post-rockers and experimental musicians toting this iconic axe.
9Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special
This made-in-Mexico Classic Player Jaguar Special is for those who’re looking for bright jangle, a shorter scale length or eccentric good looks in their instrument – or all three at once. It’s not an easy guitar to master, but once you do, it’s able to deliver sparkling cleans and robust clipped tones that are great for indie, rock, pop and more left-of-field genres.
- Very bright tones, which can be dialled down if need be
- Classic Jaguar Rhythm/Lead circuits and switching system
- Short, 24-inch scale length
- Single-coils that are wound much hotter than vintage units
- Modern 9.5-inch fretboard radius
- Retails for about $800
The Jaguar Special, like all of Fender’s other Classic Player models, are vintage-inspired, but with a few modern enhancements. In this case, the tonewoods, ‘loose’ string feel of a short scale length, complex circuitry and peculiar switching system from the original Jag remain.
There are two circuits, Rhythm and Lead, which behave identically to those on the Jazzmaster. Rhythm activates only the neck single-coil, and yields a much darker tone; Lead lets you engage both pickups via a pair of on/off switches. The switch allows you to jump from soft chords to loud leads at the flick of a switch. Additionally, each circuit has a separate pair of volume and tone controls that you can think of as presets. And a third switch – informally called the “strangle” – cuts the mid frequencies for even more jangle, perfect for strumming chords.
Where updates are concerned, the two single-coils are far hotter and offer more mids than vintage ones, while an Adjust-o-Matic bridge means you’ll never suffer from the instability of the ‘screw’ barrels on most other Jags and Jazzmasters. That said, there are those who enjoy the imperfections that the original bridge brings. And lastly, the fretboard radius has been updated to a flatter 9.5 inches.
Like the Duo-Sonic, the Fender Mustang was released as a student guitar—albeit, in the 60s – but has since come a long way. The offset guitar is now known for its bright and punchy tone, smallish size, and, of course, its role as the main instrument of many alt-rock legends, Kurt Cobain included.
- Short, 24-inch scale length
- Lightweight, with a thin body
- Simplified circuitry
- Retails for under $500
Unlike a vintage Mustang or the Squier Vintage Modified models, this MIM Mustang is stripped-down and assertive. Gone are the complex circuitry and switching systems – you only have a three-way pickup selector, and a volume and tone knob to negotiate.
While they’re modelled after the pickups on the original Mustang, the two single-coils here are wound for a slightly hotter output. They’re not at their optimum when played clean, so you’ll want to crank up the gain. Couple the pups with the short, 24-inch scale, and you can produce percussive slaps the harder you hit the strings. And thanks to their pronounced midrange, the pickups also lend themselves well to effects, be it a fuzz or reverb. Or both.
Other modern appointments on the Mustang include a flatter, 9.5-inch radius fretboard, a Strat-style hardtail bridge, and a C-shaped neck. Tonewood-wise, the six-string uses alder in its body, and maple for its neck and fretboard.
11Eastwood Mach Two
The Eastwood Mach Two is a replica of the Mosrite Mark II guitar, one of Johnny Ramone’s most favored guitars – so we simply couldn’t leave this unique specimen out. With a high-output single-coil and a hot mini humbucker, this is a guitar that offers a touch more versatility than the other Eastwood on this list.
- Faithful replica of Johnny Ramone’s Mosrite
- Powerful pickups in the form of mini humbucker (neck) and single-coil (bridge)
- Mosrite-style adjustable roller bridge
- Retails for just under $1,000
With a high-gain amp, this axe snarls like a wolf. A mini humbucker at the neck and single-coil at the bridge are responsible for its aggressive nature – the former, in particular, has all the fatness of a regular humbucker but with an added punchiness and brightness.
The rest of the controls are simple: volume and tone knobs, and a three-way pickup selector switch. And tonewood-wise, the Mach Two has the typical combination of an alder body, bolt-on maple neck and a rosewood fretboard.
If this one seems familiar, that’s because it is an upgrade of the older Jimmy Page model. The ’59XT is, thanks to its pickups, a more aggressive beast altogether. And if you’re looking for something outside of your typical Strat or Les Paul, you’d be hard-pressed to find an offset guitar as unique and eccentric as this for under $500.
- Vintage-inspired good looks
- High-output P-90 (neck) and classic lipstick humbuckers (bridge)
- Wilkinson tremolo bridge for added versatility
- Maple neck and rosewood fretboard on a semi-hollow body
- Retails for $499
Snobs may scoff at the ’59XT’s chambered Masonite body. But plug the guitar in, crank up the amp, and the rich, fat and velvety tones that it’s capable of will zip the lips of any naysayer. It’s one of the best offset guitars for old-school rock, punk and other jangly genres.
Slapped onto its semi-hollow body is a P-90 and a lipstick humbucker, the latter of which is coil-split. Both are known for their slightly dirty tone and musical midrange bump. Even these pickups are offset: the treble end of the humbucker is tilted towards the bridge, and vice-versa for the P-90. This levels out the tone of the bass and treble strings, especially when you’re strumming.
The other highlight on this guitar is its smooth and sensitive Wilkinson tremolo system. This allows for deep dives and warped pitch changes that frequently appear on anything from surf to psychedelic rock to new wave. It’s an enjoyable little add-on to a guitar that’s already loads of fun.
The ’59XT isn’t the most versatile guitar, even at the $500 mark. But for a dedicated offset axe for rock that drips with retro coolness, it doesn’t get much more value-for-money than this.