Fender taps into the current wave of offset love with a series of modernised Mustang and Duo-Sonic reissues. Do these undersized little beasties pass muster? By Peter Hodgson

Fender’s offset guitars are enjoying a huge revival at the moment. The fat tones of the Jazzmaster, the bright punch of the Jaguar and the warm charm of the Mustang - there are plenty of players who are tapping into the tones of these instruments as an alternative to Strat, Tele and Les Paul sounds. Though all of these guitar shapes date back to the ‘50s or ‘60s, they tend to look a bit more in line with ‘80s post-punk than their Stratocaster and Telecaster brothers. Fender seems to have carefully observed the changing fortunes of their offset guitars on the vintage market, because they’ve recently put more attention into their Jazzmasters and Jaguars. Now it’s the Mustang and Duo-Sonic’s turn. 

Originally conceived as student guitars with shorter scale lengths and less fancy appointments, the Duo-Sonic and Mustang have found favour among modern indie andalternative players. The new Offset (capital O) series updates these guitars to more contemporary standards: more stable bridges, more comfortable necks, new electronics and a new look. Or as Fender describes it, “We took timeless designs with an asymmetrically offset waist, added new pickups for heavyweight tone, updated the neck profile and splashed bold colors on the scrappy flyweights.” We’ve already looked at the Offset Mustang (check out our last issue, if you haven’t already), so this time, we’re taking a peek at the Offset Mustang 90, the Offset Duo-Sonic and the Offset Duo-Sonic HS.

THE SERIES
One of the main factors in this series’ general sound is the shorter scale length. It measures 24 inches from nut to bridge, compared to the more common 25.5” found on Teles and Strats. This makes the strings feel looser and it gives the guitar a noticeably darker sound. This is consistent across the Offset guitar series, as is the neck profile - a comfortable modern “C” shape which has that weirdly welcome Fender quality of feeling right at home for a broad range of players. It’s not likely to be many players’ all-time favourite neck shape, but it’s so easy to get along with that it doesn’t require the learning curve of some more idiosyncratic shapes. 

OFFSET MUSTANG 90
While the Offset Mustang reviewed last issue had relatively faithful pickups compared to the originals, the Offset Mustang 90 has a pair of P90-inspired single coils for fatter, rawer tones. It has a ‘60s-inspired rosewood fretboard on a maple neck, an alder body with gloss polyester finish and 22 medium-jumbo frets. The fingerboard radius is 9.5”, which is pretty standard for Fenders these days (compared to the rounder 7.25” found on vintage examples). 

The pickups are Fender Mustang MP-90 models. There’s no indication that the neck and bridge pickups are wound any differently from each other. The electronics include simple master volume and master tone knobs and a three-way pickup selector switch. The knobs and output jack are all mounted to a single plate. The bridge is a six-saddle string-through-body hardtail Strat model with bent steel saddles, in place of the notoriously fiddly Mustang bridge. 

The Mustang 90 pickups have a vintage output, and they sound simultaneously warm and aggressive - bluesy yet rocky. The neck pickup in particular has a full-bodied, dark-yet-rich quality which is great for mild overdrive. Complex chords retain their definition, too, even under the weight of this pickup’s low end: it’s incredible for slide guitar. The bridge pickup is brighter, punchier and grittier, not as full-sounding but with its own bitey charm. Put the two together and the neck model somewhat overpowers the bridge - this was also the case with the single-coil version reviewed last issue. You’ll get a little bit of high end zing from the bridge pickup added to the fullness of the neck, rather than a truly balanced, equal sound. 

FEATURES
• ​Alder body
•​ Maple neck and rosewood fingerboard
•​ 22 medium-jumbo frets
•​ 24" scale length
• 9.5" fingerboard radius
•​ Two Mustang 90 single coil pickups
•​ Master volume and tone controls
•​ Three-way pickup selector
•​ Pearloid pickguard
•​ Strat Hardtail through-body bridge
•​ Fender Standard Cast/Sealed tuners

PROS
•​ Comfortable neck
• Great gritty blues/indie/vintage tones

CONS
•​ Pickups are a little noisy

OFFSET DUO-SONIC
This is the guitar that feels the most classic and authentically vintage out of the range, despite its modern playability upgrades. The neck and body both look very similar to the Fenders of the ‘50s - especially in the Arctic White finish. Alas, as soon as you pick it up to play, it feels a little more modern. 

Again, this guitar features a glossy polyester-finished alder body with a maple neck. In this case, the fingerboard is maple too, but once again the 9.5” radius neck and 22 medium-jumbo frets remain consistent. The pickups, three-way pickup selector switch, master volume, tone pots and output jack are all mounted to a mint pickguard, and the bridge is a through-body fixed Stratocaster type. 

The pickups are a pair of Duo-Sonic single coils - they sound clear and detailed, but not quite as harsh as ‘50s singles. The bridge pickup has a little bit of edge and bite, and it’s great for fuzz-box freakouts. The neck pickup has a bluesy, gritty vibe, and the maple fingerboard gives this guitar a little more of a high-end snap compared to the rosewood-boarded HS version. This translates into a guitar that’s great for aggressive mid-gain strumming, but is also capable of delicate chord work. It’s also a nice country guitar when running with a totally clean tone. 

FEATURES
• ​Alder body
•​ Maple neck and fingerboard
•​ 22 medium-jumbo frets
•​ 24" scale length
•​ 9.5" fingerboard radius
•​ Two Mustang 90 single coil pickups
•​ Master volume and tone controls
•​ Three-way pickup selector
•​ Pearloid pickguard
•​ Strat Hardtail through-body bridge
• Fender Standard Cast/Sealed tuners

PROS
•​ Great clean tones
• Comfortable neck

CONS
•​ Not well suited to heavy distortion

OFFSET DUO-SONIC HS
A modernised version of a student instrument originally released in 1956, the Duo-Sonic HS takes the basic Duo-Sonic blueprint and updates it with a hotter bridge pickup for more chunky tones. Of all the guitars in the series, this is the most sonically flexible. Once again, we have an alder body with a glossy polyester finish, along with the same all-in-one pickguard/pickup/controls/output configuration. This model also differs from the single-coil version in that it has a rosewood fingerboard, which gives the guitar a naturally darker tone. The neck pickup is the same Duo-Sonic single coil, but the bridge is a Duo-Sonic Humbucking model. 

The darker voice of this guitar is perfect for stoner rock and fuzzy shoegaze. There’s plenty of character in the ultra-clean tones as well, especially when you add a little reverb to allow the notes to hang in the air a bit. The bridge pickup has some crunch and chunk to it, but it can be coaxed into a gentler, smoother attack as well. The neck pickup sounds full and warm, if not a little too dark for some players. Others will love it. And, this guitar seems to have a real sonic sweet spot when you hit the middle position on the pickup selector: the fullness of the neck single coil and the power of the bridge humbucker combine for an ultra-fat, edgy and gritty roar.

FEATURES
• ​Alder body
•​ Maple neck and fingerboard
•​ 22 medium-jumbo frets
•​ 24" scale length
•​ 9.5" fingerboard radius
•​ Duo-Sonic single coil and Humbucking pickups
•​ Master volume and tone controls
•​ Three-way pickup selector
•​ Pearloid pickguard
•​ Strat Hardtail through-body bridge
• Fender Standard Cast/Sealed tuners

PROS
•​ Very versatile
• Comfortable neck

CONS
•​ Tones may be a bit dark for some

THE BOTTOM LINE
Although playability is remarkably consistent across all three guitars (after all, they share the same basic body and neck shapes, and Fender’s Mexican production is incredibly precise these days), they each have their own distinctive sounds and flavours. The Duo-Sonic HS is the most versatile, but also the darkest; the Duo-Sonic has more of a classic ‘50s vibe which especially favours cleaner tones; and the Mustang 90 is a smoky-voiced, gritty and angry little bugger. These are all great guitars that are well worth checking out, but you’ll find pretty quickly which one is right for you. 

CONTACT
Fender Music Australia

Ph: (02) 9666 5077
Web: fender.com.au