Battle Axes: 20 Best Electric Guitars For Every Player

We’re pretty sure that, at some point in every red-blooded boy’s life, there emerges a desire to be a rock star of some kind. While that compulsion almost always fades as quickly as it arrives, sometimes it evolves into a love of making music and, by proxy, a love of the instruments that help make that music. And perhaps no instrument has captured the hearts of people both young and old quite like the guitar.

Choosing a guitar is an experience all its own. If we were to pick something to compare it to, it would have to be like car buying — as the process shares a lot of similarities. And, like cars, there’s no one answer for every person. But there are a few common threads one can follow to find the ideal instrument for your specific musical tastes, personal style, and budget. Of course, since the process is so uniquely personal, narrowing down the perfect guitar for every player is an impossible task. Instead, we’ve put together the following collection of brands and series to help narrow down your search without robbing you from the joy of finding the Excalibur to your King Arthur. These are the 20 best electric guitars for every player.

Choose Your Weapon

A Quick Primer

There is no definitive list of the best guitars for every single player in the world.No matter what anybody tells you, there is no definitive list of the best guitars for every single player in the world. Yes, that sound contradictory to what we’re doing here, but allow us to explain: playing an instrument is an extremely personal experience. What one person looks for in a guitar is going to vary wildly from the next person — but there are a few things you can keep in mind when searching to ensure you’re getting the best for what you need out of your electric. Just remember, before you buy any guitar, you should try it out first. See how it feels in your hands, see how it plays, see how it looks, and see how you look holding it. Once you’ve checked off those boxes, the following features are some other things to keep in mind:

Body: Obviously, body shape is a determining factor in choosing a guitar, but that’s typically only personal preference. What we mean to examine here is the material out of which a body is made. In electric guitars, the body material is less important to the shape of the sound of the instrument, but it does still have an impact. Most guitars are made of wood — and common types include ash, basswood, alder, maple, Korina, mahogany, poplar, rosewood, walnut, and more — but there are alternative options like acrylic, metal, and more. Whatever the case, it will affect the way the guitar sounds, as well as the price (the rarer the wood, the more expensive), strength, and weight of the instrument. You could write a dissertation on how woods shape guitar sounds and still not cover everything, which makes it hard to distill things down. Your best bet, however, is to do a bit of research and see which sounds the best to you.

Neck: Unlike the body of the guitar, the neck doesn’t shape the sound of the instrument, per se. Rather, neck woods are important for their rigidity and ability to stay straight over time, as the tension of the strings will put a lot of pressure on the wood and cause it to warp and bend, making them harder to play. Many guitars have something called a “truss rod” which is used to straighten a guitar neck once it’s become warped, but not all guitars have them. Similarly, some necks are “bolt-on” (meaning they can be removed from the instrument with a simple set of tools), whereas others are “thru-neck” (meaning they’re integrated into the construction of the guitar and require a professional (or a very skilled amateur) to alter or fix. Popular neck woods include maple, mahogany, and cedar — though there are more than that available, depending on the manufacturer.

Pickups: One of the most important factors in determining the “shape” of the sounds a guitar can produce, pickups are the magnetic transducers housed in the center of a guitar’s body under the strings. These devices, when electrified, pick up the vibrations produced by the strings and transmit them through the rest of the guitar’s system, out through your cable, and into your guitar amp (where they’re amplified and emitted through a speaker). There are a ton of different pickup styles and layouts — ranging from single-coil, to humbuckers (AKA double-coil), to hybrids, and so much more. There are so many, in fact, you could write an entire book on pickups alone. What we can distill for you here is this: the two main types (single-coil and humbucker) differ in the “thickness” or “chunkiness” of the sound. Single-coil is more common for rock, jazz, and lighter styles of music. Humbuckers are more common with metal, hard rock, etc. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it will help you decide which is better for you.

Scale: Walk into a guitar shop and you might hear someone mention the “scale” or “scale length” of an instrument. This, in simple terms, is a reference to the length of an instrument’s neck — which also determines the number of frets and the range of notes that can be played. A standard scale guitar tends to be in the 25-26″ range (but can be a bit longer), “short scale” is below that mark, and “baritones” are typically around 28″. The way you play the instrument usually doesn’t change in regards to the scale (outside of obvious fret-number limitations), so this tends to boil down to personal preference more than anything else — with exception given to advanced players, who might use every fret on the fretboard.

Strings: Most guitars from any given manufacturer or shop are going to have six strings. There are a few builders, however, that make other options. In fact, if you know where to look, you can find someone who will make you a guitar with as many strings as you can imagine. Some of the most common, however, are 12-strings, 7-strings, and 8-strings. Twelve-string guitars tend to be the second most common variety, as they actually function in the same manner as six-strings (with two strings doubled up in the same position) and offer up a full almost-ethereal sound — as can be heard on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Seven- and Eight-stringed guitars are typically used by advanced prog-rock and metal players and are far rarer.

Budget

Under $500

Everyone needs a starter guitar.Everyone needs a starter guitar and, honestly, if you’re not a seasoned player you shouldn’t be spending more than $500 on an instrument from any category. That being said, don’t think that a sub-$500 instrument means you’re getting bottom-of-the-barrel quality, as there are actually quite a few surprisingly excellent guitars to be had that might be considered “budget-friendly” by most. The biggest pitfall of this price range is that it’s not always easy to tell whether a guitar is priced low because it’s terrible or if it’s just a happy coincidence. To curb that pitfall, we’ve put together the following five brands/series that are definitely worth a second glance.

Ibanez Artcore

Hollowbody and semi-hollowbody guitars tend to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum, as building them takes a bit more effort and skill than standard solid-body electrics. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find some killer budget-friendly options if you know where to look. And Ibanez’s Artcore series is probably the best out there. Ranging in size and style from full-sized to thinline, if you’re looking for a beginner’s guitar for jazz, rockabilly, swing, or even just some straightforward rock, this is probably the collection you should be considering.

Entry Price: $300+
Primary Style: Hollow Body

Purchase: Ibanez

Mitchell Guitars

A few years ago, the folks at Guitar Center were looking to start their own in-house brand of instruments. This would allow them to better control the flow of inventory, design instruments that fit the trends in their sales metrics, and (most importantly) cut down on overall costs and, therefore, reduce premiums for customers. Mitchell Guitars is that brand. And while most picky players might scoff at their relatively low price and the fact that they’re owned by Guitar Center, sit down and play one and we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Then, take a look at the materials, features, and overall build quality and you’ll likely be even more impressed. Honestly, Mitchell is one of the best value propositions on the market today.

Entry Price: $100+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Mitchell

Squire By Fender

Far and away the most prominent budget brand, Fender’s line of Squire guitars has been around for so long that comparing their initial releases to those that they’re offering today is like night and day. That is to say, “budget” was once synonymous with “bad,” but things have changed quite a bit. Now, it’s gotten a lot harder to tell the difference in quality between a Squire and a standard Fender. The difference is still there, but it’s not as vast — which is excellent news for anyone with a tight budget. If you’re looking for a decent-quality starter guitar with an iconic silhouette from a trustworthy brand, you can always rely on Squire.

Entry Price: $130+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Squire

Sterling By Music Man

Not everyone knows that Music Man was actually started by Leo Fender — the same mad genius who changed the face of music forever with Fender Guitars. And while he eventually ended up starting another brand (G&L) before he passed in 1991, a lot of his spirit can still be found in the offerings of Music Man. Their Sterling series is not entirely under the $500 price point, but they do have quite a few offerings that are — and they’re really impressive considering that fact. You’ll not see as many Music Man offerings in guitar shops as you might Fenders or Gibsons, but that doesn’t mean you should look past the ones you do come across.

Entry Price: $220+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Music Man

Yamaha Pacifica

Yamaha has a reputation as being a “jack of all trades” brand — and with good reason: they make everything from motor vehicles, to home audio equipment, to pianos, to (of course) guitars. But that doesn’t mean that the things they make are necessarily bad. In fact, their Pacifica line of electric guitars is actually quite well-reviewed and widely considered to be a superb option when shopping on a budget. The line is fairly limited (there are only a few options), but what you get is definitely worth looking into, especially if you’re the type who likes to avoid the rank-and-file options on the market.

Entry Price: $180+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Yamaha

Mid-Range

$500-$1,000

The sweet spot between build quality, material soundness, and reasonable pricing.Think of this range as the sweet spot between build quality, material soundness, and reasonable pricing — at least when it comes to standard six-string (and some 7-to-12-string) guitars. Barring a financial windfall of some magnitude, the likelihood is that most of the instruments you play throughout your life as a musician will likely fall in this range, as manufacturers and the collective tastes of consumers the world-round have dictated it as such. Within this category, you could easily avoid being dissatisfied with the wide range of options and even find your dream guitar. Granted, you’re not gonna get the most premium options here, but that’s perfectly fine for the vast majority of players.

Danelectro

Danelectro has a unique story, as the original company only operated from 1947-1969 — failing after they were purchased by MCA and marketed almost exclusively to small shops, which just wasn’t enough to maintain the brand. In the 1990s, however, an importer bought the rights to the name and began selling Chinese copies of old Silvertone and Danelectro guitars. Today, they operate on limited offerings for very reasonable prices and have somewhat of a cult following — especially amongst more avant-garde independent musicians. The most noteworthy feature of these instruments, besides their obvious unique appearance, is the silver “lipstick” pickup with its signature twangy treble-heavy sound.

Entry Price: $399+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Danelectro

Eastwood Airline

Like Danelectro, Airline was originally an older brand — known for selling in mail-order catalogs — that went defunct and was subsequently purchased and reestablished. In this case, it was a brand called Eastwood that brought them back from the grave. Their revived popularity began thanks to Jack White, who famously played a red ’59 2P during his time with The White Stripes. With a heavy emphasis on unique silhouetted vintage replicas, Airline is the perfect series for anyone looking for reliably good sound in an uncommon package.

Entry Price: $499+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Danelectro

Epiphone

Originally an independent brand founded way back in 1873, Epiphone was eventually sold to Chicago Musical Instrument Co. in 1957 — the same conglomerate that bought Gibson back in 1944. Originally kept intentionally separate from Gibson, Epiphone eventually became more like a sub-brand to the more popular Gibson label, manufacturing more budget-friendly versions of their famous guitars — like the Les Paul, Explorer, SG, the Flying V, and more. Today, they maintain that path, though on a bit of a higher level than Fender’s Squire label, in price and (sometimes) quality. For those who like Gibson’s fabled guitars, but can’t quite afford their often absurd prices, this is your best bet.

Entry Price: $119
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Epiphone

Gretsch Electromatic

Gretsch is probably the number one name in the guitar world when it comes to hollowbody instruments, which is bolstered by their signature artists — including the likes of Brian Setzer (The Stray Cats), Tim Armstrong (Rancid), Bono (U2), Chet Atkins, Bo Diddly, and more. But a lot of their offering start at over $1,000. They do, however, have a more reasonably-priced, yet still well-made series called Electromatic, which includes hollowbody, semi-hollow, and solid body offerings. In fact, the best-selling Gretsch guitar of all time is the 5120 — a single-cutaway model inspired by the 6120 and a part of the Electromatic series. For lovers of jazz, big band, swing, rockabilly, the blues, and more, you can’t go wrong here.

Entry Price: $300+
Primary Style: Solid Body, Hollow Body, Semi-Hollow

Purchase: Gretsch

Supro Americana

Originally a sister sub-brand to Airline under the Valco umbrella, Supro is another revived name from the earlier days of guitar manufacturing. And while the current brand was built on the manufacturing of guitar amps, they also brought guitars back into their line of offerings. Famously played by David Bowie, Supro’s current line of offerings all feature the same basic silhouette — reminiscent of Gibson’s Les Paul — but offer a variety of colors, pickup styles, layouts, and more. Their Americana series, however, is probably most true to their “reso-glass” roots: guitars made with a chambered mahogany body with a resonant molded top, offering up unique sonic characteristics rarely found elsewhere.

Entry Price: $699
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Supro

High-End

$1000+

As you improve as a player, your taste in instruments will likely become more discerning.As you improve as a player, your taste in instruments will likely become more discerning. And while you could certainly get away with staying under the $1K mark and finding some tremendously reliable, well-built instruments, you might also find yourself wanting a guitar that’s a bit more elevated. Whether that’s in regards to materials, craftsmanship, or because you want a more exclusive release is entirely up to you. What we can tell you is this: short of ordering a custom instrument, the following picks are some of the best high-end six-strings on the market. Just remember, these brands and collections have an average price of above $1,000 — so their entry price might fall below that limit.

Fender American Professional

The current standard when it comes to six-string guitars, Fender is unrivaled. And if it weren’t for the fact that they have their own in-house custom shop, their American-made offerings would almost certainly be considered the pinnacle of what they do. Of course, they’re also a lot more affordable and easier to get your hands on by comparison. Still, it’s a hefty fine if you want to play something with this pedigree. Of course, that price is also extremely warranted, as these guitars would sound excellent if you played them through a 1980s ghettoblaster. Pick one of these up and you’ll see that Fender is the current standard for a reason.

Entry Price: $1,050
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Fender

Gibson USA

Gibson has not been doing supremely well as of late, at least from a financial standpoint, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lowered their build standards — especially when it comes to their American-made guitars. In fact, despite their bad press, the quality of their instruments has actually improved in recent days and, while their offerings have slimmed down quite a bit, they’ve managed to refocus and bring back much of what was once-beloved about their overall brand. If your musical tastes fall into the realm of AC/DC, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin, Gibson is a good brand for you to consider.

Entry Price: $799+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Fender

Guild Newark St. Collection

Not every guitar manufacturer sets out with plans to take over the industry. Instead, some just want to make excellent instruments made to be in the hands of players. Guild is one such brand. Founded in 1953, they’re not boastful or bombastic — instead, letting their instruments do the talking. Or rather sing. And sing beautifully they most certainly do. If that’s not good enough, however, their reputation — fueled by a relatively small but dedicated fanbase — is plenty solid enough to make up the difference. Guild doesn’t mess around; they just make really excellent, beautiful guitars.

Entry Price: $599+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Guild

Kauer Guitars

There are a lot of boutique brands on the market, thanks to consumers who are smart enough to recognize that you don’t need a big-name label to get a killer product. But Kauer still manages to stand out against the crowd thanks in part to their absurdly superb instruments and a small-but-dedicated staff that doesn’t take what they do too seriously. Kauer Guitars — helmed by Doug Kauer out of Elk Grove, California — is a refreshing light in the dark, both for their unwavering commitment to making top-tier instruments, as well as the transparency of their business. The guitars are expensive, to be sure, but they’re worth it if you’re serious about musicianship. And if you really want the red carpet treatment, they’ll build you a custom you’ll never want to set down.

Entry Price: $2,750+
Primary Style: Solid Body, Semi-Hollow

Purchase: Kauer

Puresalem Guitars

Offering one of the more reasonably priced overall lineups of any brand that can be called “high-end,” Puresalem’s slogan — “Bow down upon our church of acid rock.” — does a pretty good job of describing what, exactly, they’re all about. In short, they make bold instruments for bold players, which can be seen in their eclectic list of artists — which ranges from members of The Flaming Lips, to ZZ Top, to the Eagles of Death Metal, and so many more. And one of the coolest things about this brand is that they don’t charge extra for left-handed guitars. It’s something they didn’t have to do, but it also speaks a lot to their character, which is a sure sign of trustworthiness and dedication to their customers.

Entry Price: $899+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Puresalem

Holy Grail

Cream Of The Crop Customs

Skip the middle man and build a custom instrument to your exact specifications.Just as there are a lot of hot supercars out there, there are tons of options in regards to high-end guitars. Of course, like hypercars, there’s also an upper echelon of instruments only accessible to people with very deep pockets. If you want something that’s truly unique, you’re going to have to ride right on past the big-box retailers and instead go straight to the source. Lucky for you, there are a number of brands out there that will let you skip the middle man and build you a custom instrument to your exact specifications — even if they’re absurd, so long as you know where to look. The following options are unrivaled, thanks to the talents of expert luthiers, an elite selection of materials, and their unique nature.

ESP Custom Shop

‘Insane’ is probably the word that best describes ESP’s custom shop and the guitars they’ve consistently put out over the years. With a heavy focus on metal and hard rock playing styles, we’re not sure if there’s an idea they couldn’t tackle in one way or another. Just take a look at some of their builds and you’ll see stuff that ranges from the simple and elegantly beautiful to insane over-the-top fantasy-inspired axes (sometimes literally). Of course, that wouldn’t mean much if the builds didn’t actually function well, which they most certainly do, thanks to premium woods, top-of-the-line pickups and electronics, and more. If you want an insane one-of-a-kind guitar the ancient gods themselves would be happy to shred upon, this is the place to start.

Entry Price: $3,000+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: ESP

Fender Custom Shop

Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there a more dedicated and talented collection of expert luthiers than under the roof of the Fender Custom Shop in Corona, California. It’s just further proof that, when it comes to guitars, this is the era of Fender. What’s even better is that, while they’ll definitely build you an unbelievable custom that meets your exact (and even absurd) standards, they also sometimes reveal limited runs created by the mad scientists under their employ. Of course, there’s a big caveat: the prices for these unequaled instruments starts in the thousands. But that’s what you’ve gotta pay if you want an instrument made by the same hands that made axes for the likes of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Entry Price: $3,500+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Fender

G&L Custom Shop

Leo Fender and his early guitars changed the face of instrument building forever. But, what many people may not know, is that the company that bore his name was actually sold to CBS in 1965. After a period of consulting with the brand, he went on to found the brand that became Music Man and then, eventually, founded G&L Guitars, alongside his colleagues and old friends George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt. Though Leo passed away in 1991, his brand is still up and running, following in his footsteps and crafting the spiritual successors to what Leo called “the best instruments I have ever made.” They actually have quite a few standard offerings that are purchasable on a budget, but their most elegant offerings come from their custom shop. If you’re a fan of Fender guitars, but you’re looking for something a bit less corporate, you can’t go wrong with G&L.

Entry Price: $1,000+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: G&L

Ruokangas Guitars

In a lot of industries, there are traditions that dictate where the best products come from — like watches from Switzerland or denim from Japan. That used to be true for guitars (the best makers tended to be American), but the world has become a much smaller place and now you can find superb luthiers from all over. That’s exactly the case with Ruokangas Guitars, a small six-person operation helmed out of Finland by a man named Juha Ruokangas. Hinging on top-quality materials and an unheard-of level of creativity, this brand defies the odds to create some exceedingly impressive and refreshing instruments, breathing new life into familiar silhouettes through unique materials (like Arctic Birch) and an unusual perspective.

Entry Price: $5,000+
Primary Style: Solid Body

Purchase: Ruokangas

Suhr Custom

Ask guitar fanatics and builders alike who makes the best custom instruments out there and you’ll probably hear the name Suhr uttered more than a few times. In fact, that’s how the brand was built: offering remarkably customizable guitars made with superior materials. And while they make a few standard offerings that can be found in music shops around the world, the linchpin of their business comes from the fact that they’re primarily a customization firm. And perhaps the best part of what they offer in that regard is an online customizer. From top to bottom, you can build your dream guitar, control all the bits that go into it from woods, to pickups, to shape, to the color of the hardware, and so much more. For a remarkably bespoke instrument that you don’t have to imagine in your head before seeing the finished product, you can’t beat Suhr.

Entry Price: $1,995+
Primary Style: Solid Body, Semi-Hollow

Purchase: Suhr

How To Buy Your First Guitar

Even if you know the price range you can afford, picking a guitar is a lot more than just grabbing one off the wall at a shop. Find out everything you need in our complete guide on how to buy your first guitar.

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