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The 11 Best Electric Guitar Brands of All Time

09/02/2024

Whether you’re going from acoustic to electric, purchasing another electric, or beginning your guitar journey with an eight-string shredder axe, the brand of guitar you go for is one of the most important decisions.

Some people showcase their undying loyalty to a manufacturer by plastering an array of their guitars on a wall and vowing to never stray ever from their beloved brand, while others prefer to test the waters and go for the model that works best for them, no matter who made it.

But why do guitarists have such fondness for certain brands? Whether it’s because of their spectacular build quality or their iconic sounds, the best electric guitar brands are truly legendary and have been endorsed by renowned artists over the years. In this article, we’ll discuss 11 of them in detail, expanding your knowledge of the guitar world and helping you choose the right brand for you if you’re in the market for one.

In a hurry?

At a glance, here are the three best electric guitar brands:

BrandWho they're suited toOur guitar recommendation
GibsonIntermediate to advanced guitarists, rock and blues enthusiastsGibson Les Paul Modern Studio
FenderBeginners to professionals, all genresFender American Pro II Stratocaster MN
IbanezAdvanced guitarists, metal and rock genresIbanez RG421S-SEM

The best electric guitar brands

1. Gibson

Gibson guitar headstockYear founded: 1902

Who they’re best suited to: Intermediate to advanced guitarists, rock and blues enthusiasts

Famous guitarists: Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), and Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)

Possibly one of the most recognised electric guitar brands, Gibson is a name that resonates deeply with guitarists. Founded in 1902, the brand has more than a century’s worth of experience in crafting instruments that define genres and inspire musicians.

Gibson are particularly adored by rock and blues enthusiasts, with their models boasting a rich, warm tone and exceptional sustain that make them ideal for these genres.

Gibson’s iconic Les Paul and SG models have stood the test of time. Known for their solid build and excellent playability, these guitars have been the instrument of choice for many legendary guitarists.

The Les Paul model, with its unmistakable single-cutaway design and dual humbuckers, offers a versatile sound palette that ranges from smooth and mellow to crunchy and aggressive. The SG, on the other hand, is loved for its lightweight design and fast-playing neck, offering comfort and speed for those intricate solos.

Carrying a higher price tag than other brands out there, Gibson utilise premium materials and employ meticulous craftsmanship to ensure that every guitar delivers superior sound and durability. This is why you’ll find some vintage Gibsons that still sound as good as they did back when they were first released – the longevity of these guitars is second to none.

Our recommendation: Gibson Les Paul Modern Studio


2. Epiphone

Epiphone Casino guitarsYear founded: 1873

Who they’re best suited to: Beginners to intermediate players, value-conscious guitarists

Famous guitarists: John Lennon (The Beatles), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), and Gary Clark Jr.

Epiphone’s roots stretch back to 1873, and over the years they have built up a sterling reputation. Initially recognised for their mandolins and banjos, Epiphone entered the guitar market with a bang, producing instruments of remarkable quality and affordability.

Epiphone’s range of electric guitars caters to a wide spectrum of players – from beginners just starting out to intermediate players looking for a reliable workhorse. The brand is particularly appreciated by those seeking high-quality instruments that won’t break the bank.

Epiphone’s models are inspired by their sibling company, Gibson, and include affordable versions of iconic designs such as the Les Paul and SG.

These guitars retain the classic aesthetics and tonal characteristics of their Gibson counterparts while being significantly more accessible price-wise. This makes them an excellent choice for budding guitarists wanting to emulate their rock heroes without investing heavily.

However, Epiphone guitars are not merely budget versions of Gibson models. They have their own unique charm and character, and many musicians, including legends like John Lennon and modern blues virtuoso Gary Clark Jr., have chosen Epiphone for its distinctive tone and playability.

Our recommendation: Epiphone ES-335


3. Fender

Fender American Pro II Telecaster MNYear founded: 1946

Who they’re best suited to: Beginners to professionals, all genres

Famous guitarists: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen

Established in 1946, Fender have been a pioneer in the electric guitar industry. They cater to a wide range of players, from beginners finding their musical voice to professionals looking for top-notch quality and performance.

Since you’re reading this article, you probably already have a deep interest in guitars… and so it’s probably redundant to tell you that Fender are most well-known for their iconic Stratocasters and Telecasters. But let’s talk about these guitars anyway – as they’ve shaped countless music genres and are the hallmarks of the brand.

The Stratocaster, known for its comfortable contoured body and versatile three-pickup configuration, has been a favourite among many legendary guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Its bright, chiming tone and smooth playability make it a go-to choice for various styles, from rock and blues to country and jazz.

The Telecaster, on the other hand, has a distinctive twang and robust build. With its two-pickup, solid body design, the Tele has become a staple in country music but is equally at home in rock, blues, and jazz.

It’s not just the Strat and Tele that Fender are known for.

Kurt Cobain championed the Jaguar with its innovative electronics and lead and rhythm switching system. The Jazzmaster, a retro-styled guitar with punchy single-coil pickups, has been played by the likes of Elvis Costello and Thom Yorke of Radiohead, whilst the Mustang’s gritty tone is ideal for grunge and alt-rock guitarists, with John Frusciante and Bilinda Butcher being advocates of the guitar.

All Fender guitars share a common trait: excellent build quality. The brand is committed to delivering instruments that are durable, playable, and sonically superior.

Our recommendation: Fender American Pro II Stratocaster MN


4. Squier

Squier Sonic SeriesYear founded: 1890

Who they’re best suited to: Beginners and intermediate players, value-conscious guitarists

Famous guitarists: Avril Lavigne, Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro), and Deryck Whibley (Sum 41)

Squier are an American brand that were acquired by Fender in 1965, however, they have a long-standing history that began in 1890. Renowned for producing quality guitars at a more accessible price point than their parent company, Squier are often the first choice for beginners and intermediate players.

Models offered by Squier mirror those of Fender, with Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster, Mustang, and Jaguar guitars all available. These instruments retain the classic aesthetics and tonal characteristics of their Fender counterparts, making them great for guitarists who are on a budget but aspire to have that Fender sound.

Despite their affordability, Squier guitars are built to a high quality – something you’d expect for a brand owned by Fender! Their solid craftsmanship provides a substantial foundation for new guitarists and a reliable tool for more experienced players.

Better still, many Squier owners use their guitar as a canvas for their unique modifications, allowing them to personalise their guitar as they develop their playing style and preferences.

Squier guitars have found their place on stage with famous artists such as Avril Lavigne, Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro, and Deryck Whibley of Sum 41. This testifies to the fact that the brand isn’t just for beginners or budget-conscious musicians, but also professionals who need performance-worthy instruments.

Our recommendation: Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster MN


5. Ibanez

Ibanez S621QM, Dragon Eye Burst and Ibanez RG370AHMZ, Blue Moon BurstYear founded: 1908

Who they’re best suited to: Advanced guitarists, metal and rock genres

Famous guitarists: Paul Gilbert, Jake Bowen, and Lari Basilio

Ibanez, a Japanese guitar brand owned by Hoshino Gakki, have been a cornerstone in the electric guitar industry since 1908. Recognised for their excellent craftsmanship and versatility, Ibanez guitars cater predominantly to advanced players, particularly rock and metal guitarists.

The brand offer everything from standard six-string electric guitars to seven, eight, and even nine-string models. These instruments are known for their sleek designs, fast necks, and high-output pickups that deliver a powerful, aggressive tone — perfect for shredding solos and heavy riffs.

The RG series, in particular, is a revered range of guitars that has been advocated by Steve Vai and Mick Thomson. The S series, on the other hand, is designed for riffing and high-speed playing, which also makes them perfect for metal players.

Many guitarists have collaborated with the brand and developed signature Ibanez models; these artists include Paul Gilbert, Jake Bowen, and Lari Basilio. The guitars reflect the style and preferences of their namesakes, giving fans the best opportunity to experience the sound and setup of their guitarist heroes.

As well as high-end models, Ibanez also offer a selection of affordable yet good-quality guitars in the GIO series that are suited to budding musicians on a budget.

Ibanez’s blend of quality, versatility, and forward-thinking design has solidified their status as one of the best electric guitar brands. Whether it’s for hard-hitting metal or rock, they’re a reliable brand with a solid reputation that has stood the test of time.

Our recommendation: Ibanez RG421S-SEM


6. Gretsch

Gretsch ElectromaticYear founded: 1883

Who they’re best suited to: Intermediate to advanced players, rock ‘n’ roll, country and blues guitarists

Famous guitarists: George Harrison, Chet Atkins, and Brian Setzer

Founded in 1883, Gretsch are one of the oldest electric guitar brands, and their instruments have had a huge impact on various music genres, from rock ‘n’ roll and country to blues and jazz.

Gretsch’s hollowbody electric guitars are particularly renowned. They produce a distinct, resonant tone that has become a defining characteristic of the brand.

The Electromatic Collection, for example, offers hollowbody guitars with two humbucking pickups such as Black Top Filter’Tron or Broad’Tron, and some have a Bigsby tremolo bridge.

Gretsch guitars are known for their vintage aesthetic and quality craftsmanship. Their guitars have a unique look, with iconic features such as the large headstocks, thumbnail fretboard inlays, and the G-arrow control knobs all contributing to the brand’s timeless appeal.

The brand have attracted a number of high-profile players over the years. George Harrison of The Beatles, country legend Chet Atkins, and rockabilly icon Brian Setzer are just a few of the famous guitarists who have chosen Gretsch as their instrument of choice.

Our recommendation: Gretsch G5420T Electromatic Classic Hollow Bigsby


7. Yamaha

Yamaha electric guitar headstockYear founded: 1887

Who they’re best suited to: Beginners and intermediate players, versatile guitarists across various genres

Famous guitarists: Carlos Santana, James Taylor, and Joe Bonamassa

Yamaha are renowned for their extremely broad range of instruments, including electric guitars. Their catalogue of guitars extends from beginner instruments to masterpieces made in Japan, catering to a wide spectrum of guitarists.

Known for blending quality and affordability, Yamaha aim to provide value for money, offering guitars that are well-crafted, sound great, and have easy playability. This makes Yamaha an excellent choice for beginners and intermediate players looking for their first or next electric guitar.

The Pacifica range, in particular, is accessible to players on a budget, whilst not compromising on quality. More recently, however, in NAMM 2024, the brand brought out a selection of new Pacifica guitars that are geared towards advanced musicians looking to spend a little more on their guitars for some premium features.

It’s not just various ability levels that Yamaha cater to but also genres. From rock and blues to jazz and country, Yamaha guitars are a popular choice among versatile guitarists who want to explore different sounds and styles with one instrument.

If you’re worried that Yamaha guitars might not have the same status as other brands like Fender or Gibson, don’t be. These guitars have been endorsed by several famous guitarists – Carlos Santana, James Taylor, and Joe Bonamassa, to name a few!

Our recommendation: Yamaha Revstar Standard RSS20


8. Jackson

Jackson Dinky guitarYear founded: 1980

Who they’re best suited to: Advanced guitarists, those with a preference for metal and rock genres

Famous guitarists: Randy Rhoads, Phil Collen, and Adrian Smith

Jackson, an American guitar brand established in 1980, are a well-known name in the electric guitar industry. The brand’s instruments are characterised by their distinct shapes, finishes, and tones, which are designed with metal and rock musicians in mind.

Known for their thin necks, Jackson guitars are ideal for guitarists whose fretting hands are constantly moving up and down the fretboard. This makes these guitars particularly suitable for advanced players and high-speed riffing.

Jackson’s most notable guitar models include the revered Rhoads series, named after the legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads. You’ll recognise these guitars for their unique, aggressive body shapes and high-output pickups, delivering the classic Jackson tone.

While the brand caters predominantly to advanced players, it also offers entry-level models such as the JS12 Dinky. This guitar is a great introductory instrument for casual players, offering the signature Jackson quality at a more affordable price point.

Our recommendation: Jackson X Series Dinky DK3XR HSS


9. SubZero

SubZero Paradigm Electric Guitar, Black Burl BurstYear founded: 2003

Who they’re best suited to: Guitarists looking for affordability and versatility, perfect for stage and studio

Famous guitarists: Erik Bickerstaffe and Connor Sweeney (Loathe)

SubZero guitars are known for being an ideal entry point for beginners, delivering a mix of affordability and quality that suits a wide range of guitarists.

At a cheaper price than more premium brands, SubZero guitars are still equipped with quality materials and electronics that make for great sound and easy playability.

For example, the Paradigm Semi-Hollow Electric has a pair of P90 pickups and a mahogany and basswood body, resonating well with the hollow nature of the build.

Despite the guitars being geared towards budding musicians, they’re also suitable for gigging musicians who need a durable, powerful guitar to perform on stage. The band Loathe are a great example of musicians who have relied on SubZero to give them the warm, versatile sound they need.

Our recommendation: SubZero Paradigm Electric Guitar


10. PRS Guitars

Three PRS guitars stood up against an ampYear founded: 1985

Who they’re best suited to: Intermediate to advanced players, particularly those who play rock, blues or jazz

Famous guitarists: Carlos Santana, John Mayer, and Mark Tremonti

Founded in 1985, PRS, or Paul Reed Smith Guitars, are a Maryland-based manufacturer known for their high-quality electric and acoustic guitars, basses, and accessories. The brand have carved a niche in the market, becoming a favourite among those who play rock, blues, or jazz.

In fact, it was only four years before the brand opened for business that Paul Reed Smith made his first guitar. His strive for innovation led him to create a compensated nut for improving intonation and the PRS tremolo system, inspired by Carlos Santana who wanted a guitar with a vibrato that stayed in tune.

The craftsmanship of PRS guitars is renowned. Each instrument is meticulously made, ensuring that it not only looks stunning but also delivers an outstanding sound and feel. This attention to detail has helped PRS establish themselves as a premium guitar brand.

PRS offer a range of models that cater to different player needs and budgets. From the high-end Custom 24 and McCarty models to the more budget-friendly SE series, PRS ensures that there’s a guitar for every player. Despite the price differences, each PRS guitar is built with the same level of care and precision.

Their guitars have been played by many famous guitarists, namely Carlos Santana, John Mayer, and Mark Tremonti.

Our recommendation: PRS Silver Sky John Mayer MN


11. Rickenbacker

Three Rickenbacker guitars stood in front of Fender and Marshall ampsYear founded: 1931

Who they’re best suited to: Advanced guitarists, those with a preference for classic rock and jangle pop

Famous guitarists: George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Peter Buck

A trailblazer, Rickenbacker made their mark in 1931 by producing the world’s first solid-body electric guitars. Over seven decades later, it continues to uphold its reputation as a premier guitar brand. You might know the brand as a creator of some legendary basses, but their guitars are worth shouting about, too.

What sets Rickenbacker apart is their vintage twang. One of Rickenbacker’s most iconic models is the 360, a semi-hollow electric guitar known for its sleek design and distinctive headstock. It comes with a rich history of being played by many iconic guitarists such as George Harrison and John Lennon.

Their retro styling and sound make the guitars suitable for classic rock and jangle pop – if you want to capture the sound of the ‘60s, this is the brand for you!

However, because of their high-quality materials, hardware, and craftsmanship, these guitars aren’t cheap. Therefore, they’re more fitting for advanced or professional guitarists who prefer a premium brand than beginner guitarists.

Our recommendation: Rickenbacker 360 12-String

Things to look for in a guitar brand

When choosing a guitar brand, there are a few things to consider to ensure you opt for the right one for you. For example, it’s a good idea to look at the history of the brand. Established brands often have a rich heritage and proven track record of quality. They’ve had time to refine their craft and build a reputation in the music industry.

Famous musicians who have used guitars from a particular brand can also serve as a benchmark for their quality and sound. If a brand has been chosen by renowned artists, it’s likely that the brand produces high-quality instruments that deliver exceptional sound. This also works the other way around, have a look at what guitars your favourite band or artist uses – this might be the brand for you!

Tying in with the history of the brand, its reputation is another crucial factor. Reviews, recommendations, and testimonials can provide insight into a brand’s reliability and customer satisfaction.

And of course, there’s the price point. While expensive guitars often equate to higher quality, many affordable brands offer excellent value for money. It’s about finding a balance between cost and quality that suits your budget and needs.

How to choose the right electric guitar for you

Brand

As we’ve (hopefully) shown in this article, one of the first steps in choosing an electric guitar is working out which brand suits you best. Some people are die-hard Fender fans, whilst others prefer an Ibanez or Jackson axe to suit their metal riffing. Test out some brands (our showroom in York is a great place to start!) and find your style.

You should also keep in mind the average price of guitars per brand, for example, unless you’re a complete aficionado, you probably won’t opt for Rickenbacker. If you’re a beginner and on a budget, Epiphone or Squier might be the ones for you.


Guitar body shape

The shape of a guitar has a huge impact on both playability and looks. You should first know what style of playing you’ll be using the guitar for – if you like that old school rock and blues, you could look at a Gibson Les Paul, whereas if you want to be doing some serious high-speed riffing, consider an Ibanez RG. The Fender Strat and Tele are great all-rounders.


Pickups

Advanced guitarists will know this, but if you’re a beginner, here’s the low-down on pickups. The two you’ll most commonly come across are single coils and humbuckers.

Single coils tend to produce a clearer, brighter, more twangy sound than a humbucker – great for blues and rock playing. Humbuckers, on the other hand, have a bit more power behind them, ideal for rock genres and distortion. As the name suggests, they block the hum that can be found in single coils.

You’ll see various pickup configurations on guitars, with usually three at max. – one at the bridge, one at the neck, and one in the middle. It’s a good idea to test out some guitars and find the combination that you like the most.


Build quality and hardware

The build quality and hardware of an electric guitar are crucial to its performance and durability. Ideally, you want an electric guitar that will last and can withstand the rigours of regular practice and performance.

While the wood used for a guitar doesn’t have a huge impact on tone, it’s good to be aware of it as it will determine the instrument’s weight. Having said this, if you opt for a hollow or semi-hollow guitar, the tonewood will affect the sound – maple is often utilised in these cases as it complements the airy tone of a hollow-body guitar well.

You should also pay attention to the hardware, including elements such as the bridge, tuning heads, and cables. High-quality hardware enhances the guitar’s sound, playability, and overall longevity. It’s usually the case that the more you pay, the better the hardware will be, therefore improving tuning stability and the tonal sustain.

However, if budget is a concern, opt for a cheaper guitar from a reputable brand – chances are that the quality of the build and hardware is held to a good standard.


Neck profile

Whether a guitar neck is thin or thick will have an impact on your overall playing experience. If you’re going to be flying up and down the fretboard or doing some serious shredding, a sleek, thin neck might be for you. Blues and rock guitarists, however, tend to go for fatter necks. The only way you’ll truly know which is the most comfortable is to try some for yourself.

Frequently asked questions

What guitar did Kurt Cobain use?

Kurt Cobain was a fan of the Fender Jaguar and Mustang. In fact, he conceived the idea of the Jag-Stang, a guitar that merges the two shapes and uses an HS configuration. You can find more about Kurt Cobain’s setup here.


What guitar do Metallica use?

Metallica uses a range of guitars, primarily ESP models equipped with EMG pickups. James Hetfield endorses his signature ESP Snakebyte, both the standard and custom baritone. If you want to find out more, take a look at our dedicated article about James Hetfield.


Does the brand of electric guitar matter?

The brand of electric guitar will impact your overall experience with the instrument. It’s important to go with a reputable brand that are known for creating high-quality products. Budget should also be a consideration here as some brands are a lot more expensive than others.

Find out more

We hope this guide to the best electric guitar brands has helped you choose the right one for you. Whether you’re a beginner looking for your first instrument or a seasoned guitarist looking for another to add to your collection, knowing the history and mission of a brand, as well as its reputation, is all great stuff to be aware of. Check out our range of electric guitar brands via the link below!

 

Content Writer - Guitars

Maisie is a pianist who's interested in pop, rock, and the role of women in music. She spent her degree focusing on music journalism, specifically the way in which female artists are portrayed in the media. Sometimes, she plays guitar, but this is very rare.

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