Author of historical fiction and lover of music. I love writing gear reviews to help out other musicians.
What's more important: fitting in or standing out? Each person has his or her own perspective, of course, and every guitarist will trudge that path as well. Judging from the best-selling guitars on earth, you'd assume most guitarists are perfectly content to go with the flow- not that there's anything wrong with that. However, for the brave souls wanting to forge a new path and shoulder a guitar different from their fellow brethren in arms, here is a list of unusual guitars under $1000 that are without a doubt worth every cent.
Fender Pawn Shop Offset Special
When Fender released the radically weird Pawn Shop series of guitars in 2011, most guitarists didn't know what to think. What business did Fender have innovating after all the decades of doing what it does so well? The Pawn Shop series, after the shock wore off, ended up doing well for Fender, however, and 2012 and 2013 saw the success continue with an expanded line of models. To be honest, any of the Pawn Shop series could be sitting right here but I'll limit it to only two.
The Offset Special was introduced in 2012 and is something of a Frankenstein's monster of guitars. Upon first glance, it's probably the most "normal" of the guitars listed here. However, it's the sum of its parts that truly set it apart as an oddity. Can you imagine someone actually coming up with the following idea: "What would happen if we took a Strat, married it to a Jazzmaster and then had their offspring wedded to a Thinline Telecaster?" The thought is so absurd it absolutely had to work... and did.
With the shape and contours derived from the Strat, the pickups and bridge stolen from the Jazzmaster, and that incredible f-hole taken from the Thinline Tele, you have such a unique guitar it's impossible not to be in awe of it: whether you're offended at its audacity or enthralled with its boldness is up to you. This is a cool guitar though, strongly suited to noise rock and even jazz style music as well.
Fender Pawn Shop Super-Sonic
I'll be honest here. The first time I saw the Pawn Shop Super-Sonic during the 2013 Winter NAMM announcements, I was horrified. It seemed to be a guitar that would completely throw its wearer off balance in every way possible. This was an upside-down guitar, for crying out loud, and not in the good upside-down way. Everything looked absolutely and completely wrong with this guitar it suddenly... started to feel just right!
If you're one of those people who don't like others to say of you, "What does he think he's doing?" this is most likely not the guitar for you. With three paint finishes- all sparkly and flaky- you'll have no choice but to draw all the attention while on stage. The pickups are Atomic humbuckers and can definitely lay a path of destruction as the name implies. These aren't chimey, bright, or sweet but brash and aggressive, well-suited for rock and above. The Super-Sonic is most definitely a guitar worth checking out, plays great and sounds so surprising you really must get your hands on it to hear and feel the difference.
Schecter Ultra III
Schecter is normally equated with decently priced harder-edged guitars. While they make plenty of guitars worth checking out, I find their Retro series to be truly unique and well worth the price in every way.
Late last year I saw an Ultra III hanging in the storeroom at a local guitar shop and instantly did a double-take. On a wall surrounded by the typical culprits- Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, PRS, etc, it was impossible not to be completely drawn to the Ultra III and plug it in. I was not disappointed.
If Gretsch made a solid body electric guitar in the 1950s, this is most likely what would have been created. With three growling Gretsch-inspired pickups, each with its own three-way selector switch (off/on/coil-tap), the tone is king on the Ultra III. Add to it the ultra-cool Bigsby vibrato and a body and set neck made entirely of mahogany and you have a dark, warm and dangerous guitar that has no equal on the market.
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Another awesome victim of Schecter's Retro line, it's easy to see where the inspiration for the Stargazer came from. For those lovers of Rickenbacker guitars who don't have the cash or patience to wait for one of their classic guitars, you may want to check the Stargazer out. Its a similar style but a very different sound and feel make it worth taking a look at.
With a split pickguard and an odd placement of the volume and tone knobs (neck volume is nearest to the split in the pickguard, bridge volume closest to the bridge itself, and the two-tone knobs remaining), Schecter believes there can be beauty in non-uniformity. Add to this the stable TonePros bridge with a fancy tailpiece and you've got a new guitar that looks like it sprung from the 1960s. Dual humbuckers (with coil-tapping) scream and are well suited for just about any style out there, contrary to how vintage it looks. It also has a set maple neck topped with rosewood to make each note sing, with an ash body for nicely balanced tonality.
Eastwood Wandre DLX
For those who have yet to experience the sight of an Eastwood Guitar, I'm glad to be the one to introduce you. Founded in 2001 with the goal to bring popular vintage models back into the limelight, Eastwood (who also has a line called "Airline," see below) has been well-received among critics and famous musicians since its inception. Eastwood's marketing campaign is quite simple but revealing in its three words: "I get it."
The Wandre DLX is rather asymmetrical to say the least. In fact, it would most likely feel equally at home in a modern art museum as it would in the player's hands. It features three tantalizingly uncommon mini-humbuckers for a clearer and brighter tone than is common in its larger humbucking brothers, with individual on/off switches for each pickup. A weight-relieved chambered mahogany body gives warmth plus less strain on your shoulder, as well as a Bigsby vibrato to add to the vintage appeal. Star inlays on a rosewood fretboard and maple bolt on neck make this a truly weird and unique guitar that needs to be experienced and definitely taken seriously.
Airline is another branch of Eastwood guitars and doesn't lose any of the zany, fun or odd appeal in any of its models. Each guitar is based off the original Airline models sold by Montgomery Ward in the late 1950's-1960s and used by artists such as David Bowie, The Cure and brought again into the public light with the popularity of The White Stripes throughout the first decade of the 2000s. While the original models were constructed of fiberglass, current models under the direction of Eastwood are made of wood.
Once again incorporating three humbuckers- these being hot full sized pickups- the 3P can make some noise. Each pickup has individual volume and tone knobs and there is a master volume knob as well. While at first glance the guitar seems overly complicated, it's actually a very basic design. Adding to the craziness is the Bigsby vibrato and asymmetrical headstock. Body wood, like the Wandre DLX, is chambered mahogany and the neck is the same as well. While its unique features and tonally precise control options allow it to span a wide range of musical genres, the guitar itself will most likely draw lovers of noise rock towards its unusual look.
Ibanez Iceman IC500
Everyone needs a grandpa and the Iceman is certainly qualified for the title on this list. While it may not look like any grandpa you've seen recently, the Iceman puts these other wee ones to shame from a longevity perspective. Making its debut as the Ibanez Artist 2663 in 1975, the Iceman gained worldwide attention as being the guitar of choice for Paul Stanley of KISS in the late 1970s. Attention returned to the Iceman in the 1990s when Stanley started using the Iceman again, followed by System of a Down's Daron Malakian in the 2000s.
Well suited to the heavier side of music these days, the IC500 has a mahogany body with a three-piece mahogany and maple neck, topped with rosewood. Couple the set neck with the fixed string-thru bridge and you have a guitar that sustains nicely for soloing. Dimarzio D Activators are the pickups of choice, great pickups for heavier styles of music, that function much like an active pickup without the batteries or sterile clean tone. Both the neck and bridge pickups share the same overall volume and have tons of headroom for clarity in chording or soloing.
So again, to repeat my first question: to fit in or stand out? While none of these guitars will out-sell the heavyweights in the guitar industry, each is a great guitar nonetheless. Sometimes it's hard to be different from the crowd, but for those brave enough to take the plunge, here is a great starter list to consider. Let us know of any others you consider to be delightfully weird in the comments section below.
© 2013 Robert Allen Johnson
Nazo Music on June 12, 2020:
Great Page and Good Info