Offset body shapes are used on loads of popular electric guitar and bass guitar models, but what is the point in them? In this article, I’ll explain exactly what an offset guitar is, the pros and cons of the unique shapes, and give you plenty of examples.
What is an Offset Guitar?
An offset guitar has an asymmetrical body shape causing it to look unbalanced and lean towards a certain angle. The most common offset design, is when the guitar’s upper horn leans towards to the neck. The most iconic examples are the Fender Jazzmaster, Mustang and Jaguar.
There are a number of different types of offset body guitars, and the design can be seen on electric guitars and bass guitars. The most popular offset guitars are made by Fender and include the Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Mustang electrics, and the Fender Jazz Bass. Other examples include the Gibson Firebird which has a more “boxy” shape, and the Explorer-type shape.
Offset guitars are characterised by asymmetrical upper and lower halves. An easy way to spot this is by looking at the bridge. If it does not look like it is in the centre of the guitar (even though it would be if you measured it), it is likely to be an offset shape.
When most people think about an offset guitar, they probably will be picturing a Fender-style offset. This is characterised by the following things:
- Angled waist
- Upper horn angled leaning towards the neck
- Lower bout leaning away from the bridge
Some Fender guitars have all three of these features e.g. Jaguar and Jazzmaster. Some will have just the angled waist and leaning upper horn e.g. Mustang.
Other examples of offset guitars may have one or more of the features described above, however the most recognisable “offset” feature, is the angled waist. There is a quite a bit of debate on guitar forums over which guitars are considered offset, and which are not.
It is generally agreed that a guitar’s body is offset, if the waist angle is at least 10%. I’ll be going through plenty of examples of guitars which cause some debate later in this article.
Examples of Offset Guitars
- Fender Jazzmaster
- Fender Jaguar
- Fender Mustang
- Fender Jazz Bass
- Gibson Firebird
- Gibson Explorer
- PRS Vela
- Ibanez Iceman
Advantages and Disadvantages
So what’s the point in an offset guitar?
Offset guitars were designed to be more comfortable to play.
The shape is designed to be more balanced when in the sitting position, since the knee will rest closer to the bridge rather than towards the neck of the guitar. They also tend to tilt upwards at the neck when standing, often making them easier to hold than symmetrical guitars which are often referred to as “neck heavy”.
However, a lot of offset guitars such as the Jazzmaster and Jaguar have large bodies, particularly when compared to something like a Strat, which some players may find to be too cumbersome and heavy. Although there are smaller offsets out there such as the Fender Mustang.
Fender and Squier Jazzmaster
The Jazzmaster is the original offset body guitar. It usually has two single coil pickups which look like P90 pickups due to their wide design, and alder body, maple neck and fretboard, and a 25.5″ scale length. They also have a tremolo and unique switching.
As well as the offset design setting this guitar apart from most other guitars of its time, it also has some interesting controls. It has a rhythm and lead circuit which are activated using a switch. The different circuits produce different tones, as well as provide access to the different controls on the guitar.
Squier Jazzmaster models start at around $230 and range up to around $500. Fender Jazzmaster guitars start at around $750-$800 and go up to over $2000.
I’ve written a full guide to the Jazzmaster’s controls here if you want to learn more about them.
Fender and Squier Jaguar
The Fender Jaguar has an offset waist, two single coil pickups on most models, an alder body, maple neck and a short 24″ scale length. It also has a rhythm and lead circuit which changes the tone of the neck pickup, and affects which other controls on the body are activated.
The Squier Jaguar models cost around $450-$500 and the Fender models start at around $800 and range up to just over $2000. Custom shop models are more expensive.
There are quite a few different Jaguar models, and some have different controls, so I’ve written a full guide to using a Fender or Squier Jaguar which will take you through all the variations and how each guitar’s controls work.
Fender Jaguar (image links to Amazon)
Fender and Squier Mustang
The Fender Mustang is a small and lightweight offset body guitar which was famously used by Kurt Cobain. It has an alder body, two single coil pickups, a maple neck and a short 24″ scale length.
The lightweight body, offset design and short scale length were designed to make this a very comfortable guitar to play. It also features a tremolo, 3-way pickup selector and a single tone and volume control. Some Mustangs also have a phase switch for each pickup.
The Fender Mustang was built as a student’s model, so is cheaper than the Jaguar and Jazzmaster, with the most expensive Fender American Performer model of the Mustang costing around $1100-$1200. The cheapest Mustang is a Squier version which costs just less than $200.
Squier Mustang (image links to Amazon)
Which Fender/ Squier Offset is Best?
The Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Mustang are often compared to one another. I won’t go into too much detail here on the differences because I have written some in-depth guides comparing the guitars which are linked below.
The Mustang is the most different sounding and looking of the three, and has a lighter and smaller body. The Jaguar has a shorter scale length and sounds crisper but also a bit darker than the Jazzmaster which sounds more warm and full.
Other Offset Guitars
Now we’ve been through the guitars you would typically consider as “offset”, let’s take a look at some of the more controversial designs.
The Gibson Firebird can be considered offset if you compare the asymmetry of the upper and lower halves of the guitar. However, the waist is not offset, so some would argue that this is not a traditionally offset guitar.
It does have a unique shape compared to most guitars, with a leaning design, which causes it to look offset.
There are multiple similar shapes available by other brands such as the ESP Phoenix pictured here.
The PRS Vela is an example of an offset guitar due to the asymmetrical waist design, leaning upper horn and lower bout.
It usually has two humbuckers, come in multiple colours, and can come in a solid body or semi-hollow design. It can be found in the S2 line of PRS guitars which is their mid-range line of American guitars ranging between $1000 to $1800.
The Fender Meteora is one of the less well-known offset body shapes, and overshadowed by its’ siblings, the Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Mustang.
It has an offset shape due to it’s asymmetrical waist and leaning upper horn and lower bout.
Models are quite hard to come by, and usually have two humbucker pickups.
The Ibanez Iceman is another controversial one.
A lot of players consider the Ibanez Iceman an offset guitar due to its lack of symmetry, however, it is not offset in the traditional sense.
It has a symmetrical waist despite the upper and lower halves of the guitar looking quite different, making it a regular rather than an offset body by definition.
Another controversial shape is the Explorer. Initially introduced by Gibson, this Z-shape has been replicated by many other brands such as ESP, Jackson, Hamer, BC Rich and Washburn.
The Explorer is not considered a traditionally offset guitar due to the symmetrical waist. However, it does have asymmetrical upper and lower halves, causing it to look offset and have a shifted centre of gravity compared to most regular shapes.
Offset Bass Guitars
There are many offset bass guitars including the Fender Jazz Bass, Fender Mustang Bass, Schecter Stiletto, Schecter Hellcat and ESP B-1004. These bass guitars have an asymmetrical waist which is designed to make the instrument more comfortable to sit and stand with.
Here’s a bit more detail on some of these examples.
Fender Jazz Bass
The Jazz Bass has an offset waist and angled body. The more affordable versions are made by Squier and the most premium versions are made by Fender and can cost several thousands.
They usually have two single coil pickups, a master tone control, and a volume control for each pickup.
The Schecter Stiletto is an offset body bass guitar which comes in 4 and 5 string versions. It has a dual humbucker pickup configuration, master volume control, blend control and 2-band EQ controls.
This bass is designed for heavy metal players and comes in a few different sleek colour options.
The Jackson Spectra bass guitar has a slightly offset waist and a dramatic upper horn causing it to look very asymmetrical.
It comes in a variety of unique colour options, has two humbucker pickups with coil split function and active and bass voicing options.
In the market for a new guitar? I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.
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