There was a time when offset-body guitars were a niche concern. Although they first found favour with 1980s noiseniks thanks to their relative affordability compared to more celebrated vintage Fenders, the Jazzmaster and Jaguar soon attracted a devoted, almost cult-like following.
Now, in 2020, offsets are as cool as they’ve been since the early days of grunge, with guitar players of every style and genre embracing their varied wonders, expressive vibrato systems and quirky switching. There are now more offset options for prospective buyers than ever before – and as you can see from our list, $1000 will get you a lot of guitar…
Fender Player Duo-Sonic
Originally launched in the 50s as a student guitar, the Duo-Sonic has over the decades gone through several iterations without compromising on stripped-down simplicity. Its latest guise is as a short-scale MIM offset guitar that’s ballsy, punchy, lightweight and compact enough for smaller players or beginners.
Duo-Sonics and grunge will be forever associated, and as such it’s entirely appropriate that these new guitars offer a brash and snarly range of tones that are perfectly suited to Nirvana-style powerchords or more modern schools of noisenikery.
The reborn Mexican-made Player Duo-Sonic comes in two flavours, SS and HS, with both featuring a master volume and tone and a three-way switch. The 50s spirit is kept alive with three classic colour options for each model – Sienna Sunburst, Ice Blue Metallic and Crimson Red Transparent on the HS, and Seafoam Green, Desert Sand and Tidepool on the SS. Okay, so the short scale length isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s an essential part of the Duo-Sonic recipe, and one that has a deep offset association all of its own.
The phrase ‘offset guitar’ often brings to mind twangy surf guitar and noisy garage rock, but that’s not all it can be. The Epiphone Explorer, from the new Inspired by Gibson range, is indeed inspired by the original Gibson Explorer that debuted in 1958, albeit with modern upgrades.
The Explorer sports a pair of Gibson’s in-house ProBucker humbuckers – made with 18% Nickel Silver unit bases and covers – to ensure you get as close to that classic PAF tone as you can regardless of your budget.
Like any good rock axe, the Explorer has a solid slab of mahogany for the body while the set mahogany neck has a flat and fast 12-inch radius ’board and shred-friendly SlimTaper D-shaped profile to guarantee you’re comfortable all the way up to the 22nd fret.
Available in any colour so long as it’s black, and sporting quality Grover tuners and a Graph Tech nut, this is one asymmetric axe that’s more than ready to rock hard.
Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster
Given that the Californian company invented the genre, it’s no surprise that Fender features heavily in this category. Fender produces more varied and affordable offsets than anyone else, and perhaps no other model is more crowd-pleasing than this new Vintera 60s Jazzmaster.
The introduction of the Vintera range back in 2019 overhauled the top end of Fender’s Mexican-made line with upgrades and enhancements to make the instruments feel more vintage-authentic than their predecessors. This Jazzmaster is no exception.
An alder body and bolt-on maple neck provides the classic vehicle for Jazzmaster jangle, which comes courtesy of new vintage-voiced 60s single-coils and a classic floating vibrato. The Vintera range features an array of appealing neck shapes, and this Jazzmaster’s effortlessly playable thin-C profile feels both authentic and enjoyable.
Guild S-200 T-Bird
The T-Bird is perhaps the most weird and recognisable body shape that Guild has ever produced. The original Thunderbird has been wielded by the likes of Muddy Waters, Zal Yanovsky and most recently by Dan Auerbach, who helped bring the guitar back into the limelight. Strapping one on, it’s hard not to channel that scuzzy garage-blues spirit, but this S-200 isn’t a one-trick pony.
With its myriad knobs and switches, there’s an awful lot of scope to shape the sound of the guitar’s twin Guild LB-1 Little Bucker pickups, with the old-school Tremar vibrato unit further enhancing the versatility.
Pick of the knobs is a rather useful low-cut tone capacitor, which sucks the low-end frequencies to give those ’buckers more of a single-coil vibe. It looks weird, but it’s set up to do plenty.
Squier Classic Vibe Starcaster
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.
For 2020, however, Fender has made the Starcaster more accessible than ever before, adding a range of new models to the Squier line, including an Affinity model and a Contemporary Active, for those that favour active pickups. This Classic Vibe is the most faithful to the original, though it also recalls the player-friendly tweaks of the recent Chinese-made Fender.
Instead of the 1970s original’s six-saddle bridge, we have a more generic Adjusto-matic and stoptail combination, while the master volume knob has been ditched in favour of a classic two volume, two tone arrangement.
Pickups are the same Wide Range humbuckers seen in the 2013 reissue and with 3-Tone Sunburst, Walnut and Natural finish options, this definitely has the vibe that attracted the likes of Jonny Greenwood and Dave Keuning to the originals.
Originally debuting as a part of Fender’s USA-made Parallel Universe series back at NAMM 2018, the Meteora was one of the hits of the show and quickly earned a place in the hearts of many guitar players.
Following its success as a limited-run USA-made instrument, Fender has sensibly released a lower-priced version of the Meteora, but much of what got guitarists so excited about the original has been retained.
Of course, that wild, retrofuturistic offset body shape is the main talking point, paired here with a decidedly un-Fender-y dual-humbucker layout and Adjusto-matic bridge.
Unlike the USA version, however, we get a pau ferro board, and a trio of classic (and dare we say it, even better looking) finish options – Candy Apple Red, Surf Green and Lake Placid Blue.
The Firebird is one of the coolest guitars in rock, but those looking for an affordable interpretation of Gibson’s reverse-bodied classic face fairly slim pickings. Thankfully, Epiphone’s new Inspired by Gibson range has been introduced to help you look as cool as you can, without hurting your wallet.
The traditional 9-ply mahogany/walnut neck-through-body on this model provides rich, warm tonality and incredible sustain, and the SlimTaper neck features a bound, indian laurel fingerboard and acrylic trapezoid fingerboard inlays. It’s all to ensure this model does its best to convince the uneducated that this model is indeed from 1963, not 2020.
With Gibson’s ProBucker pickups and CTS pots, along with a Graph Tech Nu Bone nut, this killer guitar offers serious tone and playability for an extremely competitive price.
Fender Player Jaguar
Introduced in 2018, the Player series is Fender’s most affordable Mexico-made range of electric guitars and features all of the company’s classic guitar designs overhauled, with a variety of player-friendly tweaks to the conventional recipe.
As you’d expect, the Player Jaguar retains the essential elements that made the Jaguar a classic design, most notably the short, player-friendly 24-inch scale length and 22 frets.
Gone, however, is the usual Jaguar single-coil bridge pickup. Instead, it’s replaced by a humbucker – aping so many grunge-era mods – while the neck single-coil is still present and correct. Also gone is the idiosyncratic switching, though we do get an extra switch to coil-split the humbucker. The Jaguar vibrato is retained and we also get a variety of eye-catching finishes, including Tidepool blue and Capri Orange.
Italia Modena Challenge
The Trevor Wilkinson-designed Italia brand has gained a reputation for producing unique and eccentric electrics that nod to the catalogue guitars of the late 50s and early 60s. The Modena Challenge is no exception, with its unique and undeniably retro-vibed German-carved Korina body standing out from the crowd in a pair of metallic finishes – Goldburst or Turquoise.
As is often the case with Wilkinson-designed instruments, there’s no skimping on the hardware side, with Wilkinson E-Z Lok machineheads keeping tuning nicely stable in combination with the Bigsby vibrato. A trio of Filter’Tron-style Wilkinson double-coil humbuckers completes the package and adds a great deal of sonic versatility.
Rivolta Mondata II
Dennis Fano knows a thing or two about building exciting and interesting offset guitars and his Rivolta brand has enabled guitarists who can’t quite stretch to his pant-wettingly good Novo brand to sample a bit of the magic.
The Mondata II strips away all of the excess to create a simple but hugely playable twin-pickup electric guitar that feels notably different from the usual offset crowd.
The solid mahogany body features a German carve with raised centre section that harks back to the Firebird and to complement that, we also get a pair of mini-humbuckers, in this case a pair of Fumante units.
With two controls and a toggle switch, plus a trusty tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece, this is an offset for those who don’t want to over-complicate matters.
Reverend Jetstream 390
Many offset guitars use Fender’s hallowed Jazzmaster and Jaguar as their inspiration, but the Jetstream from Reverend takes its own path to electric eccentricity with an angular postmodern body shape. There’s something undeniably retro-futuristic about it and that’s not hindered by a choice of colours that includes some classic DuPont-style hues.
On the pickup front, the trio of overwound alnico V P-90s gives you a nice blend of rauch and twang. If you want classic in-between quack, then head to positions two and four, but those extra winds come in handy when you turn up the wick, giving a thicker and hotter tone that’s perfect for raunchy blues.
If you want more sonic flexibility, Reverend’s much-loved bass contour knob will keep your low end taught, while high-quality components including a Wilkinson WVS50 IIK vibrato, pin-lock tuners and a comfy roasted maple neck make things even more reassuring.
Eastwood Univox Hi-Flyer Phase 4 DLX
The original Univox Hi-Flier Phase 4 was a late-70s instrument made for Univox by the Japanese manufacturer Matsumoku. This Eastwood replica is very faithful, both in spirit and offset weirdness, to the guitar famously used by Kurt Cobain in Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box video.
Often mistaken for a Mosrite due to their similar body shapes, the Hi-Flyer might not exactly be overflowing with sonic options, but if punk and garage rock are your vibe, then this will deliver with bags of personality.
With its German-carved basswood body and ‘reverse’ horn layout, the Hi-Flyer certainly doesn’t feel like many other guitars, but with a pair of P-90 pickups and a bolt-on construction, it’s solid, reliable and offers plenty of punky snarl.
And if you can’t resist channeling a bit of the Hi-Flyer’s original surf DNA in your playing, the DLX has you sorted with a Jazzmaster-style vibrato system with roller bridge for extra-smooth jangles.
Fender Vintera ’60s Mustang
Don’t think this student guitar is just for beginners – over the decades, everyone from Kurt Cobain and Thurston Moore to Mac DeMarco and Matt Healy have been captivated by the Mustang’s charms.
Originally intended as a student guitar, the Mustang is a short-scale instrument, so it’s entirely appropriate that the new 2019 Vintera guitar continues that trend with a 22-fret, 24-inch scale neck that also sports a vintage-correct 7.25-inch fingerboard radius.
The old-style appointments continue with revoiced Mustang single-coil pickups that are designed to give more of that classic 60s sound, plus a vintage-style control layout, which includes individual on/off sliders for each pickup.
The classic Mustang vibrato looks just like it always has, but under the hood it’s been redesigned to be more stable and easy to use, while not sacrificing any of the vintage mojo.
G&L Tribute Doheny
G&L was founded by Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt in 1980 after Leo left the company that bore his name and, unsurprisingly, G&L’s instruments have always harked back to those classic designs he created in the 50s and 60s.
The Doheny is G&L’s take on the Jazzmaster design, but featuring various tweaks that streamline the model for the modern player. Instead of the Jazzmaster’s floating vibrato, here we get a more straightforward Dual-Fulcrum system and instead of the involved switching and wiring arrangement, we have a simple three-position selector switch and three knobs for Leo’s PTB (passive treble and bass) tone circuit.
Pickups comprise a pair of Leo Fender wide-bobbin MFD single coils, which are inspired by Leo’s much-loved G&L Jumbo MFD ASAT designs.
D’Angelico Premier Bedford
D’Angelico is better known for its big jazzboxes than its unconventional offsets, but the Bedford is an interesting and left-field addition to the brand’s stable for 2019. The New York brand’s instruments have always been heavy on art-deco aesthetics, and so it’s no surprise that even when they’re working on an offset, the designers at D’Angelico can’t resist throwing in a unique flourish to the pickguard.
Tone-wise, however, this is very much a modern instrument. A humbucker in the bridge and single coil in the neck offer plenty of versatility, with separate tone and volume controls providing blend potential in the middle position. The basswood body comes in a variety of interesting finish options, including the love-it-or-loathe it black with blue tortie pickguard.
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