Mastery Bridges & The New Rise of Offsets

It’s 2008, and John Woodland is sitting with Bill Frisell, who’s playing a Fender fitted with an early model of John’s Mastery Bridge, which aimed to overcome the deficiencies of a Jazzmaster’s classic bridge. Bill is quite taken with it, and looks up, beaming. "You’re going to make these guitars popular," he tells John.

John Woodland with his sister and first guitar, Christmas 1976
John Woodland with his sister and first guitar, Christmas 1976.

Cut to today, and John—now with many years of success at Mastery—recalls this particular moment with Bill as something of a turning point. "It happened in the same couple months that I’d showed a prototype of our Jazzmaster bridge to a Fender rep. He just laughed at it, told me they only made 400 of those guitars a year and that I’d never do anything with it. I didn’t really care at the time, because I was just making parts for my own clients."

Then Bill Frisell offered his compliments. "Bill’s such a genuine, sweet person, and I thought that was just a nice thing for him to say," John remembers. "But looking back on it, and looking at not just Fender but the electric guitar industry as a whole, all of a sudden small builders began to embrace offset guitars and use our hardware."

Bill was one of a select group of players—others included Nels Cline, Peter Buck, and Thurston Moore—who recognized what was going on and helped spread the word in those early days of Mastery. "It was Bill who suggested us to Elvis Costello shortly after," John adds. "All these people were using our stuff before we even had a website or a product for sale. We had no social media for the first five years. It really became successful by word-of-mouth, which is what I wanted. You know—like the way we all used to discover music."

All of this stemmed from the Jazzmaster’s patchy reputation back in the day, and in particular the shortcomings of its classic bridge. Before Mastery, John worked as a repairer and as a guitar maker in Minneapolis. His favorite guitar was the Jazzmaster, so he was especially conscious of the complaints some of his clients made about that model. And back then he considered his new two-saddle bridge design just one repair among many, another solution to a set of common problems.

New Mastery M10.2 archtop bridge
New Mastery M10.2 archtop bridge.

"Leo Fender took a lot of things from Paul Bigsby," John says. And he should know, because he’s researched Bigsby in great depth and was a contributing consultant to Andy Babiuk’s 2008 book The Story Of Paul Bigsby (Andy credited John with "finding the most impossible Bigsby documents.")

"I thought I might be able to use Bigsby’s business model—he had made a handful of guitars before he created his vibrato. In researching him, I found he would fly out to buy a new Cadillac every year and drive it home. Something clicked: That sounds like a good life! He worked with all these companies, Gibson, Gretsch, Guild, and the rest, and I thought that’s it! Make hardware that lots of different guitar companies can use, instead of trying to struggle with starting another guitar brand."

Black Bobbin JM with Mastery hardware.
Black Bobbin JM with Mastery hardware. Photo by Shelby Pollard (Black Bobbin, Chicago).

John points out that one of the things Leo took from Bigsby and his vibrato was to use a motorcycle’s valve spring. "Leo applied that internally into the Jazzmaster vibrato—as well as the way the bridge, like Bigsby’s, is intended to rock with the vibrato—and it’s an ingenious design."

Ingenious for sure, but not without its problems. John would regularly see the Jazzmaster and Jaguar players among his clients come back from gigs and tours with one recurring complaint, which went something like: "Hey, my E-string’s buzzing and making a weird noise!"

He’d see the classic bridge moved all the way forward or all the way back from the way he’d centered it, he’d see strings hitting the intonation screws—and plenty of the vintage bridges he had to deal with were rusted frozen. "People in grunge bands in the ’90s were playing pretty hard, so the strings would be falling right off the saddles, too. Some of all this was down to neck angle and whatnot, and also to how people played, but a lot was down to that classic bridge."

John sent out test bridges with his insiders, for example to try saddles with different alloys and different plating. "Thurston Moore was the one who came back and said brass is the best sounding of all the saddles," he recalls. "But the problem with brass is that it’s very soft, especially with a vibrato: if a touring musician starts moving those strings, within weeks they’ll cut into the saddles and start causing issues. So we found a proprietary hard-chrome plating company that plated our saddles—and the surface is eight times harder than plain brass."

BilT Revelators with Mastery hardware
BilT Revelators with Mastery hardware. Photo by BilT Guitars.

Everything came together in that "one repair." The Mastery Bridge has two saddles, and it does not rock. It has intonation screws between the strings, and the mounting posts lock. It fits without any mods. It works. John recalls that what he learned in over 20 years of guitar experience took him 20 minutes to draw out. He made that drawing in 2007, built the first prototypes late ’07/early ’08, and early adopters like Nels and then Bill got theirs around the spring of 2008.

"When I first made some bridges, I started to get feedback like: ‘Wow, my guitar’s way more resonant.’ And I’m like: ‘Really?’ I didn’t believe them," John remembers with a laugh. "Then I started to study it more and think about it. In a classic bridge, all your string energy is transferred solely down to these two small cone-point screws on the bottom of the mounting posts. We have a two-saddle bridge system that translates around sixty pounds of tension per saddle, and our mounting post system conforms to the inside diameter of a thimble so that it doesn’t rock."

Novo Serus J with Mastery hardware. Photo by Novo Guitars.
Novo Serus J with Mastery hardware. Photo by Novo Guitars.

A few years into his Mastery business, John spotted a shift in attitudes. "Around 2012, I noticed large corporations started looking at small builders, like myself and like a lot of other small builders that were using our products—they were looking to see what was happening in the market, the market trends. I’m glad Fender took notice of that, and that the offset guitars are more celebrated now than they used to be."

It’s clear that offsets by Fender and by other makers have proliferated in relatively recent years, and it’s tempting to conclude that Mastery played a part in that. Take a look, for example, at the increase in the number of offset models that Fender has offered during the period that Mastery has been active.

When Mastery began in 2007, Fender had just one Jazzmaster and three Jaguar models on its regular pricelist, adding a J Mascis Jazzmaster later that year. Five years later, Fender had considerably bolstered its line to five Jazzmaster models and eight Jaguars, and the total for the offset pair has stayed pretty steadily high, the current website showing around a dozen Jazzmasters and four Jags, firm evidence of the continued demand for these models.

Aside from new models, here at Reverb the sales stats reflect the arc of interest in vintage examples of Fender’s offsets. Reverb’s first year was 2013, but its data becomes sizable and therefore more relevant from 2015. Between that year and 2023—currently Reverb’s last complete year of data—vintage Fender Jazzes and Jags increased in price by 104 percent, while vintage Strats and Teles (let’s call them traditional Fenders) also rose in price, but by 78 percent.

Another interesting stat from Reverb is that, by volume, vintage Jazzmasters and Jaguars outsold the traditional vintage models during that same 2015–23 period by about 45 percent. Of course, this volume is likely because of the major price differences between the two groups. Despite the 104 percent increase in average selling price for offsets over those past eight years, they still, on average, go for about a third of the price of vintage Strats and Teles.

Shelton Galaxyflite with Mastery hardware
Shelton Galaxyflite with Mastery hardware. Photo by Shelton Electric Instruments.

It’s not just Fender itself. The number of smaller makers reinterpreting the offset shape and style has grown too. During the time that Mastery has been active, any stigma that floated around a guitar without a big-name brand on the head has blown away.

"The public has embraced small guitar builders like they never have before," John reckons, "and we’ve supplied hardware to many of those makers all through this time." Mastery’s website notes many of the builders it works with, featuring BilT, Collings, Creston, Deimel, Harvester, Novo, and Prisma, and namechecking over 30 more, from Abacus to Yanuziello.

Since its original Offset bridge, Mastery has added Tele, Rick, and hardtail bridges as well as some vibratos, all made in America, and is in the process of releasing a new M10 line that includes bridges aimed at SG and Gretsch players, along with plans for several further products.

John at the wheel of his ’71 280SL
John at the wheel of his ’71 280SL

"I think I have about six or seven years left in me doing this, mainly for health reasons," John says. "But I have a lot of design work to get done and products to finish before I hand the keys to someone else. And for me it always comes back to Paul Bigsby, how his story mirrors what happened to me early on. Like how a guitarist comes to me and says: ‘I’m having an issue—can you fix this?’ It’s a great time for guitars that we live in now, and I really want to leave the guitar community a better place than when I started."

About the author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. His books include Electric Guitars: Design & Invention and Legendary Guitars. Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at

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