Introduced by Fender as early as the 1950s, the best offset guitars have never been more popular. Offering a distinct alternative to the traditional Strat, Tele or Les Paul body shapes, the offset has continuously found a home in unintentional places.
On its introduction in 1958, the Fender Jazzmaster was the first professional offset guitar produced. Fender attempted to create a solid body specifically tailored to appeal to professional jazz players, but instead it found a home with surf rockers and gospel bands. As styles changed and subcultures emerged, bargain bucket Jazzmasters were soon found in the hands of struggling post-punks and shoegazers.
These alternative music subcultures which serendipitously stumbled upon cheap second-hand offsets are what people primarily relate those quirky guitars with. Renowned musicians and innovative alternative artists such as Tom Verlaine of Television and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine have prominently wielded distinctive asymmetrical offset guitars. Both became influential figures for the musically disenfranchised, with an offset being the main weapon in their guitar arsenal.
Today, we are lucky to have a whole selection of different styles of offset guitars to choose from. Although the Jazzmaster is the crème de la crème for many seeking an offset, recently emerging brands like Reverend and EVH are producing exciting variants of their own. Whether you’re looking for a jangly single coil Jaguar, a rip-roaring double-humbucker option or an art-deco masterpiece, there is an offset out there for you.
Best offset guitars: Our top picks
It’s hard to look past a Jazzmaster for the best offset guitar, and currently Fender’s American Ultra model is the finest money can buy. With modern appointments like a tapered neck heel, 10”-14” compound-radius fingerboard, new body cutaways and Ultra Noiseless pickups, the Ultra is our best offset premium option.
For those not on a limitless budget, the Sterling by Music Man Albert Lee is a handsomely charming and quirky pick. With its dual humbuckers, this instrument exhibits remarkable versatility, effortlessly transitioning from country twang on the bridge to edgy rock tones on the neck. Equipped with a 5-way selector switch, positions 2 and 4 split the humbuckers into a spankier single coil sound, covering all sonic bases. This interesting little guitar is very modestly priced and a whole lot of fun.
Best offset guitars: Product guide
The Ultra Jazzmaster is Fender’s first real attempt at blinging up the famous offset to modern specifications. Often saved for Teles and Strats, the Ultra is a long-awaited reinterpretation of the Jazzmaster's usual switching, neck profile, pickups and hardware.
Instead of activating a rhythm circuit, the upper slider puts the pickups in and out of phase. When out of phase, the two roller knobs work as independent volume controls for the bridge and neck pickup. It doesn’t stop there, as Fender has also introduced an S1 switch on the volume knob. This puts the pickups in either series or parallel, with the former option offering a souped-up, beefy tone. So if the darkened rhythm circuit was never your cup of tea, try out the Ultra – the tonal possibilities are much more significant.
The Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazzmaster pickups are a drastic deviation from the usual buzzing you get with vintage-style Jazzmaster pickups. They are quite a bit mellower and much less harsh. The comfortable 10”-14” compound radius fretboard feels super fast and the neck heel contour alongside the backside lower horn contour makes playing up the neck a breeze.
While the Ultraburst finish may bear a resemblance to the familiar 3-Colour Sunburst commonly associated with Jazzmasters, it even showcases a subtle deviation. The addition of reflective metallic flake within the finish adds a captivating visual appeal when observed up close
Traditionalists look away now – this is not the guitar for you. However, for players who value contemporary features and advancements, the Ultra Jazzmaster stands as the ultimate choice on our list.
Much like Fender has Squier, Music Man has Sterling. An affordable sub-brand that delivers famous Ernie Ball Music Man models at more modest price tags, Sterling by Music Man widens the playing field by offering fantastic instruments on a budget. No other Music Man model satisfies our offset cravings like the Sterling by Music Man Albert Lee HH.
Originally preferring a Telecaster, Albert Lee started playing an Ernie Ball Music Man after picking up an early prototype in 1987 during a Christmas party. It eventually became the session player's primary guitar, and Ernie Ball honoured him with a signature model in the '90s. To our delight, the Californian company released a Sterling edition for those of us on a tighter budget, and boy, are we glad they did.
Featuring dual Sterling four-conductor humbuckers and a 5-way selector switch (with coil splits in positions 2 and 4), this guitar offers a versatile range of tones. From country twang with the coil split bridge to bluesy rock tones in the neck, there's not much this pointy-edged offset can't handle.
The AL40 body shape boasts a distinctive and well-balanced design. Although the scale length is a standard 25.5”, the overall size of the guitar feels surprisingly compact and will feel great for those with shorter arms. The fulcrum tremolo is quite Strat-like and adequately maintains tuning stability during play. Additionally, the neck profile is inoffensive enough for most players to feel at home.
The brilliant offset design is complemented by its stunning Daphne Blue finish and tortoiseshell pickguard. If you're on a budget and in search of a fantastic offset guitar that looks great, look no further.
Reverend has been making waves in the guitar world, attracting renowned endorsees like Billy Corgan and Greg Koch, who have joined their ranks with exclusive signature models. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that one of their highly regarded offset models secures a prominent spot on our list.
The Jetstream 390 is loaded with impressive features that far exceed its mid-priced range. The immediate talking point about this offset is the three Reverend 9A5 P-90s. They are punchy and have an undeniable presence that will cut through any mix. The six-bolt-on roasted maple neck is incredibly strong and is a pleasure to play, and Reverend’s choice of Korina for the body wood makes this a very manageable, lightweight guitar for longer sets.
Other appointments include a Wilkinson WVS50 IIK tremolo, Reverend Pin-Lock machine heads and a unique bass contour control, providing the option to roll back some low end if needed. These guitars are crafted in Korea and undergo additional quality control in the United States. Upon approval, they are individually hand-signed on the back of the headstock, adding an extra touch of character.
There is an array of finishes to choose from, but we can’t look past the Periwinkle – it’s stunning. Although we adore the Jetstream’s design we appreciate that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you like what you see, go out and experience the pleasure of playing one yourself.
Read our full Reverend Jetstream 390 review
D'Angelico earns the badge of being the classiest offset guitar on our list. While it may come as a surprise that this New York jazz guitar company has secured a spot, its presence is well-deserved.
The Deluxe Bedford SH serves as the semi-hollow iteration of D'Angelico's best-selling solid-body model. The comfortable offset body has been crafted with resonant alder that is well-balanced between the lows, mids and highs. The trio of Seymour Duncan pickups have been selected with versatility in mind. The SM-1b mini-humbucker delivers an abundance of high-end bite, and when cycling through to the STR52-1 single coils you achieve everything from gritty spank to warm, sweeter tones in the neck position.
D'Angelico's signature Art Deco styling remains ever-present and small details like matching backplate and F-hole-inspired pickguard are really classy. The show stopper with D’Angelico is always the headstock. On the Deluxe model, the stair-step machine heads, designed by Grover, take centre stage. Equipped with Grover’s Super Rotomatic Locking tuners, these machine heads ensure quick and easy string changes.
As with all semi-hollow bodies, the risk of feedback runs particularly high, especially if you like cranking the gain. If you’re the next Jim Root looking for a suitable offset, this won’t be the guitar for you. However, if you’re looking for a classy, elegant offset, you’ve found the winner.
The Jaguar is sometimes mistaken for its older sibling, the Jazzmaster, but this shorter-scale offset certainly deserves its own space and recognition.
Released in 1962, the Jaguar was the last release in Fender’s original line-up and was marketed as a high-end option. With elaborate circuitry, shorter scale length, tall, narrow pickups and a boatload of chrome, it was Fender’s fanciest guitar to date.
We’re pleased to tell you that all of these iconic features are present and correct on this Squier Classic Vibe ‘70s Jaguar. Equipped with 22 narrow-tall frets, a floating bridge with a dynamic vibrato tailpiece and a comfortable C-shape neck profile, this affordable option gives you the Jaguar vibe at a very reasonable price.
Squier has opted to use a Mustang saddle instead of a traditional Jaguar one, saving you from having to perform that upgrade at a later date, because, let’s face it, the Jaguar’s saddle is pretty useless. However, what we’re most impressed with are the pickups. The characteristic Jaguar sound is certainly there: tight, very present and with a noticeable bit of punch, particularly through a cooking Blues Junior.
We also have to mention the ‘70s headstock. Are there many things better in this world than a Fender offset with the big ‘70s headstock? We can’t think of many!
In what was considered a revolutionary design when it was released in 1963, the Gibson Firebird turned many heads when it debuted. Designed by legendary car designer Raymond Dietrich, Gibson wanted to defy the traditional notion of what an electric guitar should look like. The result was the remarkable Firebird with its smooth curves and elongated design.
The Epiphone Firebird in Vintage Sunburst successfully embodies that trailblazing design that Dietrich concocted. Most important is the reverse headstock and 9-ply neck-through-body which offers a ton of sustain. Pair this with the ProBucker FB720 mini-humbuckers and this axe sings. The pickups offer a combination of top-end sparkle and low-end growl, occupying a unique sonic territory between single coils and humbuckers. If you’re looking for something different from your Strat and Les Paul, the Firebird is a great option.
The only potential detractor we can think of is the Firebird’s size. It is quite a big guitar and perhaps won’t be the best option if you have smaller arms or a tiny car – this thing won’t fit in your boot! However, this is a small quibble and Epiphone has done a fantastic job at capturing the Firebird’s mojo at a fraction of the cost.
Read the full Epiphone Firebird review
Fender’s Performer series sits nicely between the Mexican-made Player series and the top-end Professional II series. Made in Corona, California, the Performer Mustang blends traditional Mustang appointments with modern features to benefit the working musician.
The first traditional appointment to note is the ‘65-slab body that Fender has utilised, meaning there are no body contours. Secondly, Fender has stuck with the ‘dynamic’ vibrato system that was found on ‘60s Mustangs. Although Kurt Cobain famously ‘hardtailed’ his dynamic vibrato, we like the extra bit of wiggle it can add to dreamy chords.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the lack of pickup selector switches usually found on a ‘Stang, this is a much simpler set-up. The Performer series guitars are equipped with Yosemite pickups, and the Mustang variation of these are articulate and responsive. Utilising the Greasebucket Tone System allows you to roll off the highs without the tone getting murky and the satin-finished modern C-shape neck profile hits the sweet spot.
If you like the look of the Performer, all you have to do is choose whether to pick up the Sonic Blue, 3-Colour Sunburst or Vintage White version. Our money is on Sonic Blue.
Read the full Fender American Performer Mustang review
Offsets have become a viable option for shredders and metalheads, largely thanks to Jim Root of Slipknot and his signature Jazzmaster. However, EVH should also be credited for attracting that brand of players to offset guitars.
The EVH Wolfgang offset body shape was introduced to the market in 2009 and made in Fender’s Corona factory. Van Halen’s company have diversified their range since that USA flagship model, and now offer the Wolfgang WG Standard, an affordable, Indonesian-made variant that hits all of the right notes.
Features best suited for fast players include a 12”-16” compound radius, a baked 22-fret maple fingerboard, black speed control knobs and an EVH-branded Floyd Rose Special bridge. Although some players don’t get along with a Floyd Rose, it is imperative for those Van Halen-esque dive bombs and it feels right at home here.
The controls are what you’d expect on a dual humbucking guitar; a 3-way selector with an overall volume and tone control. The direct-mount Wolfgang humbucking pickups are hot, warm and ideal for those squealing lead lines which are further enhanced by the 500k pots which do a great job at letting through those high frequencies. If you’re looking for a shreddable offset, for a great price, give the Wolfgang WG Standard a go.
Best offset guitars: buying advice
What makes an offset guitar?
So, what actually is an offset guitar? Did someone leave a Stratocaster out in the sun at the factory when Fender first created the Jazzmaster? Well, not quite. The offset design of the Jazzmaster was very intentional. Although they come in many different shapes and designs, an offset can only be described as such if it has an asymmetrical waist. This is why offset guitars can look like they are leaning to one side, as they have an unbalanced design. Leo Fender designed the first ever Jazzmaster like this to make it a more comfortable instrument to play whilst sitting down, to better appeal to jazz players.
What are the benefits of an offset guitar?
First things first, offsets look fantastic. The off-kilter appearance of an offset guitar gives it a distinctive look that sets it apart from your standard Strat or Les Paul style design. The best offsets are designed with flowing contours which culminate in a visual impression of movement, for an intriguing aesthetic.
However, apart from the obvious aesthetic bonuses, they are also very comfortable instruments to play. Since an offset waist is shifted towards the headstock, the upper bout doesn’t get in the way of your picking arm like it can on a standard design. Since the lower horn on an offset usually doesn’t protrude nearly as much, access to frets higher up the neck is much easier.
Also, offset guitars have a habit of slightly tilting upwards whilst playing standing up, allowing you to grab those big power chords with ease. So not only do offsets look great and feel comfortable, but they can aid your playing too.
Are offset guitars more expensive than regular shapes?
Although the Jaguar and Jazzmaster were released as premium models in Fender’s catalogue, nowadays you don’t have to break the bank to pick up an awesome offset. As our list has shown, brands like Squier, EVH and Sterling by Music Man are offering great deals on solid offset designs right now.
Sure, you can still treat yourself and spend big bucks on expensive guitars like the Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster, but the market is so diverse now you can get a solid offset at a fraction of the cost.
How we choose the best offset guitars for this guide
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Here at MusicRadar, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing, creating and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything music gear related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.
When choosing what we believe to be the best offset guitars available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.
First and foremost, we are musicians, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best offset guitars on the market right now.
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