With NAMM 2018 just around the corner, designers, retailers, and gear-nuts alike are awaiting to see what the industry’s best and boutique builders will reveal in the halls of the show in Anaheim. Over the last few years, gear shows have seen an increase in guitar bodies with twisted, stretched, and brilliantly imbalanced contours. Once indie, now mainstream, the offsets are here to stay.
In recent years, Fender led the charge in the offset invasion with the release of some essential designs ranging from the Fender American Professional Jazzmaster and Jaguar, American Standard Offset Telecaster, Fender Duo Sonic, and an expanding line of Squier guitars including multiple renditions of the Jazzmaster and Mustang. This new expansion of offsets in the Fender and Squier catalogues, however, channels something very old in the brands’ histories. While the previously mentioned models all represent comeback stories for designs that experienced limited success as early as the 1950-1960s, in the decades that followed a number of other offsets struggled to become even one hit wonders.
At least three once oddities, now forgotten favorites, of the offset heritage of Fender and Squier come to mind.
Arguably, one of the most elusive items of Fender’s offset history is the Swinger. Intriguingly, this design that never went far is based on the salvaged materials from two other short-lived offsets, the Bass V and Music Master. With CBS at the helm, the remaining stock from these models were repurposed and redesigned almost on the fly by Fender’s then shop manager Virgilio Simoni. In 1969, the Swinger (a.k.a., the Musiclander) emerged from the shop-turned-hybrid-guitar-lab apparently without any consultation of Fender’s research and design team. With an offset body and curved gouge below the bridge, Simoni’s creation resulted in a production run of but a few hundred before year’s end and its prompt discontinuation. The Swinger, however, was not alone in this fate. Simoni’s second salvaged design—the Fender Custom based on the lingering stock of the Fender Electric XII—went from offset to out of catalogue in the same course.
Fast-forward to the 1980s. At a time when stack amps towered dangerously on stage and both the perms and leather pants of rockers were getting tighter, Fender turned up the attitude and abandoned its traditional designs philosophy…at least for a moment. The experiment was an edgier and more angular design apparently meant to capture the interests of those flocking to the jagged v-style guitars of other American and Japanese manufacturers. In 1985, Fender released the Katana which, while not offset in the same way as the others highlighted above, certainly has a distinct skewed look to it when compared to other v-shaped bodies of the era. The full-fat Fender version featured a set of humbuckers and locking tremolo system, while the younger Squier sibling was stripped down to a single humbucker design. Unfortunately, neither generated enough interest or sales to make it through the year and were promptly pulled from the catalogue by 1986.
Closer to our own time, and one of my personal favorite flash-in-the-pan offsets, is the Squier Super Sonic. By the mid-1990s, offsets had garnered interest from indie and grunge royalty. With vintage models snapped up in pawn shops faster than stolen 16-bit video game systems, Squier designed and launched the Vista series, it’s first break from the designs inherited from its parent company. The series was offset through-and-through. The made in Japan builds included the Venus, Jagmaster, and Musicmaster bass. Yet among these, the Super Sonic takes the prize for being the most offset of the bunch. In fact, upside down might be a better descriptor. With a reverse headstock and body of a nearly flipped Jazzmaster of Jaguar, the design philosophy behind the Super Sonic seems to capture the non-conformist sentiments of the music of the era. While this entry in the Vista series ran from 1996-1998, the Squier Vista lineup is a true testimony to brand’s boldness for pressing in their own design directions as well as a to their ability to build for value without compromising on craftsmanship.
Whatever you’re playing today, whether a pedal with light onset overdrive, a bizarre offset guitar, or over-the-top grinding amp, enjoy your gear and have a great #RiffCitySunday.