Considering how prevalent the instrument is, choosing the best electric guitar for your needs can be more than a bit overwhelming. I mean, the amount of choice you have in selecting an electric guitar is mind boggling. There are hundreds of styles, all of which are made with different materials and come in at different price points. This article will give you a guide to what you should look for in an electric guitar, as well as give you some great recommendations!
- The Basics: Electric Guitar 101
- What Should I Look For In An Electric Guitar?
- Electric Guitar Terminology
- Top 10 Electronic Guitars
The Basics: Electric Guitar 101
When you consider how much guitar players love to debate the merits of different models, materials, and features in electric guitars, it’s kind of funny just how simple the instrument actually is. At the end of the day, an electric guitar is pretty much just a piece of wood with magnets screwed into it that makes noise.
For the average electric guitar, the mechanics at play are actually pretty simple to wrap your head around. The vibration of the strings is transferred to an electronic signal by your pickups, and that signal is transferred to the speakers of your amplifier.
What Should I Look For In An Electric Guitar?
Well, that’s actually kind of a hard question to answer. No matter what genre you play, you’re going to want a guitar that will work well with that type of music. Shredders wouldn’t be caught dead using a vintage Epiphone Archtop, and blues guitarists probably aren’t going to pick up a solid-body Ibanez with DiMarzio pickups.
So first things first, you need to decide what you want your electric guitar to do. If you want to break out your skin tight leather pants and release your inner Eddie Van Halen, you need to find a guitar that will help you do so.
As a general rule of thumb, single-coil pickups (like what you’d find on a Fender Stratocaster) are used for lighter genres, while humbuckers (like what you’d see on a Les Paul) are used for heavier ones. For a more detailed look at what kinds of guitar will fit for different genres, check out the recommendations below.
Also, you should try to go out and demo a few guitars so that you can find what type of style works for you the best. I have big hands and long arms, so I like big guitars with beefy necks. But you’re not going to know how different models compare until you spend some time trying to figure out what you like.
Electric Guitar Terminology
Humbucker: A humbucker pickup is what you’d find on something like a Les Paul. This pickup uses two magnets to cancel out the “hum” (static interference) that you get with single-coil pickups. The sound of this type of pickup is generally a bit warmer than a single-coil, and it generally handles distortion better.
Single-Coil: Single-coil pickups only use one magnet. This type of pickup generally sounds a bit thinner, but it has a better upper-mid to treble frequency response.
P90 Pickup: P90 pickups are the middle ground between single-coil and humbuckers. They tend to be bit warmer than single-coils, but they still have the same hum.
Tremolo/Bigsby/Floyd Rose: Tremolos, Bigsbys, and Floyd Roses are all different types of bridge configurations that allow player to change the pitch of the strings by shifting the arm.
Semi-Hollow: A semi-hollow guitar has two hollow chambers, giving the guitar a bit “woodier” of a sound. This body style is more prone to feedback than a solid body guitar, but less so than a fully hollow body.
Hollow: A hollow guitar (like the Epiphone Casino) has one hollow chamber. This type of body style has an almost acoustic sound, but it’s incredibly prone to feedback.
Active Pickups: Active pickups allow guitar players to achieve higher amounts of gain, though they require an external power source (generally a 9-volt battery) to do so.
String-Through (or String-Thru): In a string-through bridge, the strings go through the body. Generally this bridge configuration is considered to have more sustain than other types.
How Much Should I Spend?
The cost of your instrument should reflect how much time you’re going to spend with it and what you’re going to want to do with it. If you want a guitar that you can gig with and take into the studio, your instrument is going be an investment and the cost will reflect that. But if you just want to pick up the guitar for a hobby, you don’t have to break the bank to get a decent instrument.
In my experience, a good gigging guitar will generally fall into the $500 to $700 range. Of course you can spend more than that, but you don’t really have to. If you plan on heading to the studio one day, you should expect to spend around $900 to $1400.
But if you plan on just playing around the house for your own enjoyment, I’d recommend you try to find a guitar that you like that’s at least in the $200 to $300 dollar range. That price range is kind of the sweet spot for cheap guitars, because they’re generally made with enough care that they can be set up to play and sound just fine without too much of an investment.
Top 10 Electric Guitars
Since the electric guitar is such a diverse instrument, I tried to select a wide enough variety of models so that almost everyone would be able to find something appealing. I hunted through my favorite forums, and used my own experience as a musician, to try and cover as much ground as possible.
And like every article in this series, it’s important to clarify what “best” means in this context. That $10,000 dollar custom Gibson might be the best option for you, but it doesn’t matter how great that guitar sounds to someone who can only scrape together $500 or less.
So remember, “best” in this context is going to mean different things to different people. This article was written with the intention of being applicable to everyone from the dedicated professional to the budding musician, so the list of guitars below are going to be diverse enough for most people to be able to find something they like.
So without much further ado, here are the best electric guitars.
Gibson Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar
The guitar that made Les Paul a household name, the Gibson Les Paul is among one of the most iconic guitars ever produced. Originally introduced in 1952, the Les Paul was a combined effort on the part of Gibson’s president Ted McCarty, factory manager John Huis, and Les Paul. A little known fact is that Les Paul was a highly respected inventor in his own right, achieving his first patent in his teens. He designed the original flip-up harmonica holder, which actually went on to be used by Bob Dylan.
Originally, the Gibson Les Paul came equipped with two P-90 pickups, as well as a trapeze style tailpiece (like what you’d see on an a hollow or semi-hollow bodied guitar). The model has seen dozens of different models and revisions in the decades following its release, some which were widely celebrated and some that were not. What we now consider to be the traditional Les Paul configuration (Tune-o-matic bridge and dual humbucking pickups) was introduced in 1953, and was marketed under the moniker “Gibson Les Paul Custom.” The guitar experienced a bit of a slump in the early 60s, as the instrument was considered old fashioned and unwieldy. However, following its adoption by notable musicians such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards Gibson revived the Les Paul and has been producing it ever since.
The most recent update to the Gibson Les Paul, the 2016 Gibson Les Paul Standard marks a return to form for the company. The 2016 model departed from the unpopular features found on the 2015, and as an added bonus Gibson even reduced the price. If you happened to like the features introduced in 2015, check out the High Performance line. The High Performance series retains a lot of the elements of the 2015 line-up, such as the controversial robo-tuners. .
Unlike the High Performance series, the 2016 Gibson Les Paul Standard features specifications based on historic Gibson designs. The guitar features traditional Grover tuners, a historic nut width, and the traditional Gibson Les Paul neck heel.
The Gibson Les Paul Standard also features the maple cap unique to the design, enhances both sustain and overall resonance. The guitar also features two Burst Bucker pickups, which are said to be the closest Gibson has come to reproducing the famed PAF tone. PAF pickups were the original humbuckers used on early Les Pauls. They were designed by the venerated Seth Lover, who went on to become one of the most respected names in aftermarket guitar pickups.
Though the 2016 Gibson Les Paul standard is geared more towards reproducing a classic Les Paul design, it does feature some modern innovations. The nut is made from Graph tech as opposed to the traditional bone, and the guitars come in a push-pull configuration. The push-pull design allows guitar players to “split” the humbucking pickups, which provides a close approximation of single-coil guitar tones. The guitar also features a modern Slim-Taper neck profile, a neck profile which is significantly thinner than the “baseball bat” necks you’d find on a vintage Les Paul.
There’s not a guitar player alive who isn’t at least partially familiar with the classic Les Paul tone. Though the design has seen a wide variety of tweaks and changes over the decades, the fact of the matter is that a Les Paul is always going to sound like a Les Paul.
This guitar is perfect for classic rock, blues, and believe it or not jazz. The Les Paul was originally intended to be a dedicated jazz instrument, and though it hasn’t been widely used for the genre in recent years it is still capable of producing a quality jazz tone. The Les Paul is also a very convincing reggae guitar, as evidenced by its use by Bob Marley. While the Les Paul has been used for everything from reggae to jazz, the instrument is most suited towards good old rock and roll. However, the instrument can perform well in almost any context. Though to play genres requiring heavy amounts of gain you may have to invest in a set of high-output pickups.
As far as quality is concerned, the 2016 Gibson line-up marks a return to the quality control that Gibson maintained in the early 50s and 60s. There’s no widespread reports of the issues that plagued the design in recent years (generally sloppy fretwork, though occasionally more significant problems). In fact, with the recent drop in price there’s never been a better time to purchase a Gibson Les Paul.
The 2016 Gibson Les Paul Standard provides the value that Gibson made its name on, and the guitar is a worthy successor to one of the most notable instruments the world has ever seen.
Fender American Stratocaster
Suggested Genres: The Fender Stratocaster is a classic for a reason, and this guitar can chime, roar, and twang with the best of them. If you plan on playing genres that require low to medium amounts of gain, you’ll find that this guitar will perform well in almost any roll imaginable.
ESP LTD EC-1000
Suggested Genres: Though the guitar shares a lot of common ground with a Les Paul aesthetically, the ESP LTD EC-1000 is definitely a guitar more suited to heavier genres. The active EMG pickups give you that high-octane growl that you’ll need drive a rhythm section, and the Tonepros Locking TOM Bridge and Tailpiece give you the sustain necessary to achieve the wailing solos that define heavier genres of music.
Godin 5th Avenue CW Kingpin II Electric Guitar
Suggested Genres: No matter how much you tweak it, the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is never going to be a guitar that performs well with higher amounts of gain. However, if you plan on playing genres that fall under the banner of “Americana” (roots rock, blues, jazz) this guitar will serve you just fine.
Gretsch G5422TDC Electromatic
Suggested Genres: While the Gretsch Hollowbodies have always been known for their great rockabilly sound, the G5422TDC is more than capable of performing well across a wide variety of genres. The punchy twang that you can only find in a Gretsch will give you a great blues, punk, or funk sound.
Suggested Genres: A shredder’s delight, the Ibanez JEM7V is recommended for genres that require lightning fast lead guitar work, as well as the high-output tone of humbucker pickups.
G&L Tribute ASAT Classic
Suggested Genres: I don’t know about you, but when I look at the G&L Tribute ASAT Classic I see a guitar that just screams country. But don’t let its appearance fool you; the ASAT is more than capable of performing well in any genre where single-coil pickups are commonly found.
So if you plan on playing something along the lines of blues, country, or funk, this guitar will serve you very well.
The Loar LH-280-CSN Archtop
Suggested Genres: So obviously the Loar-LH-280-CSN isn’t the kind of guitar that’s going to wind up in the hands of a deathcore player, but surprisingly it actually is a pretty flexible instrument. You can easily pull out great blues, jazz, and rockabilly tones with little to no tweaking on your part.
Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V
Suggested Genres: With the humbucker in the bridge, the Yamaha would be a good fit for moderately heavy genres like mid-90s punk. However, the single coil pickups in the neck and middle position open the guitar up for a lot of lighter genres as well, like surf, funk, and reggae.
B.C. Rich Warlock
Suggested Genres: Look at this guitar. This isn’t the kind of guitar you’re going to take down to your nearest dive bar and pick out old honky-tonk tunes on. This is the kind of guitar that you’re going to rock with man. The BDSM pickup is pretty hot (has a high output), so it doesn’t really have a lot of utility outside of genres like thrash or metal. However, if that’s what you’re into this guitar will serve you well.