Offset guitars have become incredibly popular in recent years. What is behind their enduring popularity?
What is an Offset Guitar?
Offset guitars come in many varieties, but what they all have in common is a striking asymmetrical body design, with an exaggerated waist and horns that gives them a characteristic ‘leaning’ appearance that sets them apart from traditional single and double cutaway designs. The original offset guitars were introduced by Fender in the mid-to-late 50‘s. The student sized Duo Sonic, introduced in 1956, was Fender’s first step in the offset direction and was quickly followed by the Mustang and full-sized Jazzmaster models.
Fender Duo Sonic
With its lightweight design and short scale neck, the Duo Sonic was a hit, and the Mustang had a similar appeal, but the Jazzmaster wasn’t quite as well received. In 1958, Fender applied for a patent for the offset body style, which was granted a year or two later, featuring a design that was concerned primarily with the needs of the seated guitar player. The offset body style was initially designed for Jazz players who played in the seated position, which is where the Jazzmaster got its name. The exaggerated asymmetrical waist and horns of the offset design made the Jazzmaster balanced and extremely comfortable to play while seated, and its innovative pickups and circuitry gave it a sonic versatility that was brand new at that time.
When the Jazzmaster came out in 1958, it was thought that it would replace the Stratocaster as Fender’s top selling model. With its balanced body style, and mellow sound coming from newly designed Alnico single coil pickups, and brand new Rosewood fingerboard, it was thought that it would ultimately have a wider appeal than both the Stratocaster and Telecaster.
What’s in a Name?
Despite its name, the Jazzmaster would ultimately never catch on with Jazz guitarists, appealing instead to Rock and Roll guitarists. In the early ‘60‘s, Rock n’ Roll music bloomed into instrumental ‘surf’ music, and the popularity of the ‘surf’ sound led Fender to introduce new offset guitars to capitalize on the demand. This led to the release of the Jaguar in 1962, with its short scale neck and thinner and more percussive sound, which combined the Jazzmaster body style with traditional Strat-style single coil pickups, and complex circuitry that made it extremely versatile once you mastered all of the knobs and switches it was initially outfitted with.
The Jazzmaster’s design would be very influential in years to come, spawning guitar and bass models with a similar offset body design including the Jazz Bass (1960), the VI (1961), the Jaguar (1962), and the Electric XII (1965) from Fender, as well as the Guild S-200 T-Bird (1964), and a series of knock-offs that are too numerous to list whichyou can read more about here.
Fender Mustang P90
The Advantages of the Offset Design
Offset guitars are so popular today largely because of the distinct advantages that they offer players. When first encountering offset guitars like Jaguars, Jazzmasters, and the Guild T-Bird (which was recently reissued), the first thing you wonder is what is up with all of these switches? The complex circuitry found on early Jazzmaster and Jaguar models was actually meant to make switching between lead and rhythm tones easier.
The story goes that Forrest White of Fender had seen pioneering electric guitarist Alvino Rey at a gig in Ohio struggling to change from rhythm to lead sounds. Later, when Rey visited the Fender factory, White told him that they were coming up with a solution to his problem. The Jazzmaster was the first guitar designed for easy switching between rhythm and lead voicings. In the process, Leo Fender invented one of the first solid body electric guitars with a truly versatile sound.
Balance and Comfort
Regular guitar bodies are designed with recesses that are directly opposite to each other. If you look at Strat, Tele and Les Paul body styles, they are symmetrical in design and tend to be a bit awkward when you are playing in the seated position. This is largely due to the way your picking hand rests on the body of the guitar relative to the recess on the bass or upper side of the body. The offset guitar moves that recess three to six inches in the direction of the headstock, promoting comfort and ease in the resting position of the pick hand.
Shifting the waist of the guitar’s body toward the headstock, also makes the guitar feel more balanced while playing in the seated position. Instead of resting the guitar against your body, you can play comfortably with the treble side horn resting on either leg. The Les Paul and Strat Style guitars tend to rest directly against your body, while the Jazzmaster and other offset guitars, like the D’Angelico Bedford, make fewer physical demands on the player. Watch in the video below how lightly the horn of this offset D’Angelico Bedford rests on the player's leg. The offset design is so well balanced it is possible to play all day long in total comfort.
Many offset guitars, like the Duo Sonic, Jaguar and Mustang, as well as newer designs like the reissued Guild T-Bird, the D’Angelico Premier Bedford and the Eastwood Liberty MS150 have short scale necks that are designed for ease and player comfort. A short scale neck reduces string tension, making bends and vibrato easier, giving these guitars an uncommon amount of expressiveness. Many offset guitars also come with a silky smooth finish on the neck that makes the fretboard extremely easy to navigate, while the offset body style with its asymmetrical horns offers easy access to the highest register of the fingerboard. No matter what style of music you play, offset guitars generally have neck shapes and scale lengths that make playing easier and more comfortable.
When the Jazzmaster came out, it had a tone that was distinctly its own. While new pickups and advances in pickup switching gave it a more versatile sound, they also gave the Jazzmaster a fuller and richer tone than the Strat or Tele, which is why it became so popular among instrumental artists, especially those looking for a unique, new tone to use in surf music.
This rich and full tone would continue to be a desirable feature for many years. Though the popularity of offset guitars waned in the 1980's, when Strat and Super Strat styles were most popular, in the 90's, when guitarists like Kurt Cobain and other alternative musicians like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and My Bloody Valentine, among others, came onto the scene, it sparked an offset guitar revival that continues to this day.
The vintage looks, full, rich and versatile tone, and silky playability of modern offset guitars make them suitable for just about any musical style, which is why you can expect them to continue to rise in popularity for the foreseeable future.
Offset Guitars Available From Adirondack Guitar
Today, as offset guitars continue to grow in popularity in indie music circles, more and more manufacturers are releasing them, giving today’s players a number of options to choose from. While originally designed with pickups voiced for mellow Jazz tone or light and twangy tones, today you can find offset guitars with a wide array of voices suitable for blues, rock, alternative, shoegaze and metal.
We have offset guitars available in all price ranges, from entry level affordable to custom shop levels, with a wide array of premium appointments. Read on below to learn more about the offset guitars available from Adirondack Guitar.
The Sterling by Music Man StingRay SR30 is a classic offset double cut powerhouse that is surprisingly versatile, making it perfect for just about any musical situation. Dual Music Man spec humbucker pickups with a 3-way toggle allow you to blend pickup voicings for rock, blues, jazz or metal, while premium appointments like a Music Man spec fulcrum tremolo and a silky smooth Hard Maple neck give the StingRay SR30 a luxurious feel that is not common in this price range.
The Eastwood Liberty MS 150 is a replica of the classic Japanese-made design from 1968, a design which was inspired by the Jazzmaster and other offset surf guitars released in the early 60‘s. Featuring the same quirky offset double cutaway body design as the original, the Eastwood Liberty sports a bolt-on maple neck with a 24 3/4“ scale length and a 22-fret rosewood fingerboard that is beautifully playable.
The electronics on this offest doublecut give it a tone and versatility that is at once classic and unique. Featuring impressive Vintage EW P-90 pickups with independent volume controls, on/off pickup selector switches, and a rhythm/individual volume control, with a single master tone knob, this Eastwood Liberty delivers impressive sonic versatility, serving up full and rich Jazz, Blues and Rock tones that will have you jamming away all day!
The second design in D'Angelico's exclusive partnership with the Grateful Dead, the Premier Grateful Dead Bedford is a modern sonic wonder! With its unique offset body style which is both lightweight and well-balanced, the Bedford features a super slim neck that is satin smooth and incredibly playable, perfect for any serious guitarist, and the Seymour Duncan designed pickups with coil splitting capabilities ensure that you will be able to get any sound you want from this guitar, from blues to jazz to hard rock. Simply put, this guitar is a powerhouse! You don’t have to be a Deadhead to love this guitar!
The Left Handed G&L Doheny takes the offset bolt-on guitar into brand new sonic territory thanks to the addition of G&L’s newly designed Magnetic Field Design™ or MFD jazz pickups with PTB passive tone circuit that allows you to dial the twang up or down as desired. The result is a surf guitar with more jangle than twang, delivering a full and warm tone that is rich in harmonics. Don’t worry, the twang is still there, but the Doheny also delivers more in output, featuring greater sonic range than its predecessors, making it an excellent option for just about any style of music.
Perfect for blues, jazz, surf or rock, the highly versatile Jetstream 390 Oceanside Green Guitar from Reverend offers superior playability with a unique design, and gorgeous oceanside green finish. This amazing and surprisingly affordable premium guitar, delivers both clean and distorted tones with enough twang for surf, but enough kick for rock. Available lefty or righty, this offset sonic marvel delivers the versatility and playability modern musicians are looking for, with premium appointments that make it a joy to play!
Reverend offers a ton of offset beauties -- too many to list here. Go to our website to find more!
The Ernie Ball Music Man Left Handed Axis Super Sport, in an eye-catching Trans Gold Flame finish, features a lightweight basswood offset body with a quilted Maple top and a sculpted neck joint that allows unfettered access to the highest register of the 22-fret maple fingerboard. The Maple neck is treated with a light hand-rubbed oil finish and sports a 10“ fretboard radius, giving it next level comfort and buttery playability.
The key to the versatile tone of this incredible Ernie Ball Music Man lefty Axis is its pickups. Equipped with custom designed DiMarzio humbucker pickups with a 5-way pickup selector switch that allows you to split the coils on the bridge and neck humbuckers and blend them together in ways that create unique sounds. If you are looking for a guitar that can do everything from Blues and Country to Alternative and Hard Rock, this Axis is perfect!
To round out the picture of this powerhouse guitar you have a variety of premium hardware appointments that only add to its luxurious feel and professional studio quality sound. Featuring a Music Man designed Floyd Rose style tremolo with Schaller locking tuners, the Music Man Axis Super Sport delivers stable tuning and rock solid intonation no matter how much, or how aggressively, you use your trem.
Developed in the 1960‘s as an ideal student guitar, the Duo Sonic HS is now a modern classic with the versatile sound and smooth playability of a much more expensive instrument. Featuring a 24“ scale length and a scaled down offset body, the Duo Sonic has a light and slinky feel, with a buttery playability and sonic versatility that will give you increased control of your playing and total command of your sound. Small enough for students and anyone new to the guitar, this used Duo Sonic is also sonically versatile enough for players at any experience level to enjoy.
This used 2017 Fender American Professional Jazzmaster, in Mystic Seafoam, is in excellent condition and delivers the versatile tone and sophisticated styling that is loved by musicians across a variety of genres. Featuring a highly resonant Alder body, a silky smooth Maple Neck, and incredibly versatile Michael Frank-designed single-coil Jazzmaster pickups with the proprietary Treble Bleed circuit giving you enhanced tonal control, this Fender American Pro Jazzmaster has the fat tone and silky smooth playability to make it a favorite guitar among professional musicians in many genres.
This gently used Guild ST-200 T-Bird is a reissue that is very faithful to the original in tone and looks. Featuring an iconic yet quirky asymmetrical ‘offset’ double cut body with versatile LB-1 Guild pickups, this used T-Bird delivers the classic sound you need with electronics that allow you to set your controls to whatever tone you desire. The Mahogany neck is extremely comfortable and easy to play, while the Hagstrom Style Tremolo system gives you the total picture of a revolutionary guitar with idiosyncratic features that make it an underground classic.