Offset Guitars: My Selected Bunch!
When Leo Fender designed and released his Stratocaster in the early 1950s, I doubt he could have been aware of the design standards he would set for the years to come. His asymmetrical Stratocaster was soon followed by the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Coronado and many others. These guitars were as different as possible but had at least one common denominator: their body shape was very asymmetrical, yielding a very comfortable guitar! I wish to take a moment to highlight these guitars’ differences, unique features and tonal characteristics!
The Fender Jaguar
The Jaguar was launched in 1962 as a sibling of the Jazzmaster. Several features of the Jazzmaster were incorporated in the Jaguar, for instance the offset waist design and the floating tremolo as well as a dual circuitry: lead and rhythm. The Jaguar was intended to up the ante: improve on the Jazzmaster’s design. But as the Jazzmaster failed to appeal to jazz players, so did the Jaguar fail to amaze surf players, despite the marketing being aimed strongly at them. It wasn’t until years later that the Jaguar was popularized with the surge of indie-bands. The shorter scale facilitated easier playing and a ‘warmer’ tone than the longer scale of the Strat and the Tele. The fact that the guitar was discontinued and the only Jags and Jazzmasters available were by consequence secondhand must have helped a bit in lowering their price. Because they were relatively cheap on the used market, I bet many musicians weren’t as hesitant about chopping a hole to fit a new pickup in it than with a Strat or Tele from the same era. Strangely enough the Jaguar can do some great jazz-chops as well, as Luke Cyrus demonstrates so well in this clip:
I have to mention Johnny Marr: I’m a huge fan of The Smiths. The riff he’s laying down there, on a Jag as well, is just mesmerizing!
If you want to get a tone from your brand new Jag to be as close as possible to what these previous clips showed, you may want to consider the Seymour Duncan Jaguar Antiquity pickup set. This clip shows all sorts of tones you can coax from your Jag with the Antiquity set!
The Fender Mustang
The Fender Mustang is an oddball in this list. All the guitars I mention here were marketed as higher-end guitars, aimed at the pro musician, full with demands and wishes. The Mustang was ‘just’ a student model, a practice guitar! But they sound amazing nonetheless! They’re not as quacky as a Strat or as twangy as a Tele: they have a unique character of their own. Something of the middle ground. Of course, the Mustang’s popularity rose sky-high when Kurt Cobain (ab)used his Mustang: it proved that this relatively simple instrument could rock your socks off! Since it has been adopted by many indie bands who wanted a more unique sound and look. It’s of course only logical that their predecessors, the Musiclander and the Duo-sonic, surfed along the immense popularity of the Mustang. Phil X is putting a Duo-Sonic through its paces in this clip:
I highly recommend you watch this clip to see what the Antiquity Mustang pickups sound like! I absolutely love that sound, which is reminiscent of what Phil was doing, but with a unique character of its own.
The Fender Jazzmaster
Ah, there we go, my personal favorite. Do you know why a specific design is your favorite? It might be the shape, but there are often other very compelling reasons not to go with one design! It is often attributed to the use of your hero on such guitar. I am very fond of Elvis Costello and J.Mascis, and both gained fame with the Jazzmaster. But because these two fellows’ musical voices are so extremely different it might be hard to pinpoint the unique tonal characteristics of the Jazzmaster. Or maybe it’s the definite lack of thereof. Is it the chimey bridge pickup that offers such a wide platform for tones, depending on the right amp of course? Or perhaps the smooth yet crystal clear sound of the neck pickup, remenescant of the Strat, but with a wider harmonic response due to the coil being almost twice as wide? I don’t know. But I do know that the Jazzmaster feels comfortable in so many styles, it’s hard to see this guitar in a different light than being that screaming, squeeling guitar that J.Mascis makes of it. Elvis Costello sure knows how to rock on the Jazzmaster!
And because I simply love Dinosaur Jr: it’s such a quirky song, but the Lung has got some great time changes and some nice chording as well, not to mention going from kinda clean to full blast overdrive:
Seymour Duncan offers a nice range of pickups to go with the Jazzmaster, but my favorite is still the Antiquity (which is what J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. uses). It gives you that classic 60s tone without having to fight so much to get it. This guy demonstrates the amazing sounds of the Antiquity set. This is what Seymour himself has to say about the Jazzmaster:
The Jazzmaster® pickup was one of my favorite sounds during the ’60s. I wore out many phonograph needles listening to groups like The Ventures and players like Roy Lanham who got amazing sounds from the Jazzmaster®. In combination with the floating tremolo, the Jazzmaster® pickup has a unique tone that was heard on many mid- and late-’60s recordings. Check out album covers from the great ’60s instrumental bands and chances are, you’ll see a Jazzmaster®.
In an effort to compete in the hollow body guitar – range, Fender launched the Coronado in 1965. it featured a double cut thinline design, with large F-holes. The neck was a bolt on maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard with larger block inlays. The pickups were built by DeArmond, which wasn’t usual for Fender (and frankly, still isn’t!). The guitar could also be equipped with a tremolo of just a fixed bridge design. It’s not truly an offset guitar but the tone was unlike anything I’ve heard: it’s got the bite and clarity of a ‘Fender’, but with the added chime and sparkle of a Gretsch, I’d be inclined to say. For years, this guitar was immensely unpopular until it was discovered by the indie and grunge scene at the end of the 20th century. Now, the Coronado has been reissued, albeit with some minor modern updates. But despite the modern installment, let’s listen to their vintage counterparts:
If you want a real, true replica of the original pickups, don’t hesitate to contact the Custom Shop. The amazing team of craftsmen (and women!) of the Custom Shop are always happy to help you out.
The Starcaster was released a decade after the Coronadod and suffered a similar fate: unpopular at first but it grew on the public later on. This full maple thinline hollow body had Fender’s Wider Range humbuckers (which were also loaded in the Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Custom). Perhaps the Starcaster’s ill-fated history was in part due to the public image of fender: thin solidbody electrics with single coils. Because the sound was to die for. At least, in my opinion. It’s got the chime and sparkle I want in a Fender but it’s got beef, low end girth and woodyness that I also want in a semi hollow. Thankfully I’m not alone since Fender reissued this amazing guitar in 2013 as well, next to the Coronado. Perhaps it isn’t as true to the vintage specs as some of us want it to be, but with some tinkering at home and some Seymour Duncan Custom Shop love I’m sure we can get those new guitars to sound just like their vintage counterparts. Let’s listen to an oldie, so we know what we’re working towards!
If you want a real, true replica of the original pickups, or any other design or tone you have in mind, be sure to contact the Custom Shop. The’re just one call way to help you where they can.
The Talman is a guitar lineage designed by Ibanez and introduced in 1994. These visually unique guitars share little features with other guitars, making them in my book a truly original design by Ibanez, together with their Iceman. A whole line was launched with a wide range of options in terms of hardware and pickups. The Talman series still has some major advocates and proves to be a popular guitar to this day, even though the line of electrics was cancelled in 1998. The line continues to live, though, as a series of acoustic guitars. Just listen at this clip. You’ve gotta slip a few seconds of monologue, but the sound the guitarist is coaxing from this instrument is superb!
The amazing thing of the Talman is that it uses ‘standard’ pickups, so you can slide in any standard humbucker, (strat) single coil or P90 of your choosing (if your guitar is routed for that pickup!) and rock out, fast! You can also get a pickup in one physical format with different ‘guts’ under the hood, for example a true humbucker in a P90 casing, if you so desire. Click here to see all the possibilities Seymour Duncan has to offer! All to make your Talman just a bit more versatile!
The Surfcaster continues to enjoy major popularity, despite being cancelled for almost a decade! The Surfcaster was a guitar designed by Jackson/Charvel and built in Japan. With its ‘retro’ styling and lipstick pickups, you’d think the Surfcaster wasn’t popular but it actually was! I’ve even seen several some petitions to reintroduce this guitar. There’s speculation that the construction of this guitar was discontinued by Fender after they acquired the Jackson/Charvel brand because it may have been too much competition for other guitars in the Fender line up or because Fender simply wanted to reboot the Jackson and Charvel brands and bring them ‘back’ to their respective heydays. In any case, the Surfcaster remains a popular guitar and when one pops up int he second hand market, these guitars usually don’t last long! Just listen at the diversity of tones this guy can coax from the Surfcaster!
If you get a hold of a Surfcaster and you want to get a tone that sparkles and chimes even more, be sure to look at the lipstick replacement pickups. These pickups are a direct drop-in replacement pickup for your Surfcaster (if your guitar is routed for these pickups, or strat-sized singlecoils, of course!). Some Surfcasters are routed for a humbucker, which makes it even easier to tune your tone: just get your favorite humbucker, wire it in place and you’re ready to go!
I’m frankly surprised at how many offset guitars were used by indie guitarists. I never gave it much thought, but as I think about it, it’s logical that it was that group of people who used those guitars. Some guitars have a huge appeal to me, for instance the Jazzmaster. Others aren’t really my thing, like the Talman. But I bet there’s one for you. If you haven’t tried it, just give it a go: I’m sure you’ll be surprised!