Keep it simple — choose a Fender or Gibson as your next electric guitar. There’s a genuine reason why they’re the two most esteemed brands: nearly all the greatest players ever used either a Fender or Gibson, or at least a copycat built by another brand.
Also, buy the guitar that inspires you to race home through rush hour traffic just to touch and feel the fretboard and strings! Live dangerously and let your gut feelings lead the way. In other words, get the guitar you’ll fall in love with; you’ll spend more time with it, and be a better player for it.
In an ideal world, you’d buy Clapton or Hendrix’s Stratocaster!
In 2004, Clapton’s most beloved guitar, Blackie, was sold for $959,000; at the time, the sale set the record for the most expensive guitar sold. Blackie’s strings sung on songs like “Cocaine”, “I Shot the Sherriff”, “Wonderful Tonight”, and “Farther Up the Road” — parting with his vintage beauty must have hurt Clapton like a painful divorce.
Now, cut to Hendrix & his mystical stratocasters. Known to set his guitars ablaze onstage, one stratocaster which succumbed to Hendrix’s ritualistic pyro-sacrifices was a stratocaster which Howard Parker, a roadie for Hendrix in 1968, later gave to a guy named Frank Zappa. Throughout the following years and into the 70s, Zappa simply hung it upon his wall as an ode to Hendrix.
You’ll probably need to get something else though
Unfortunately, not all of us have the deep Bezos pockets to buy Clapton’s “Blackie” stratocaster at Christie’s, or the sheer luck to simply be gifted Hendrix’s mystical instrument.
However, beautiful instruments are out there for the normal person. By being open to buying on places like eBay, Reverb, and Amazon, you’ll be more likely to snag a sweet deal on an instrument you have no business (yet) owning! Trust me; in 2011, I bought a 1930 Gibson L1 acoustic guitar for $1,400 on eBay, which I still brag about!
And now, here’s the list I’ve put together for the electric guitars I’d recommend you to buy. It applies to both beginners and advanced players, since there are options for the economical models of the instrument, as well as the pro models.
Ask a passionate music listener which guitar defined rock & roll the most, and the majority would say the Fender Stratocaster. It was the axe of choice for the greatest to ever do it, such as Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few.
Its story begins in the 50s, when Leo Fender dreamt this guitar up. Funnily enough, people said it was too ‘surfy’ to be a blues guitar, and yet artists like Buddy Guy broke rules early on, redefining it as the strato’master’ of the blues. In the next decades, what sonic rules will the Stratocaster defy? Maybe the decision is in your hands…
Before showing you places where you can get your own artifact packed with tonal terror, witness the master wield his Stratocaster at the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. In many ways, this concert alone began the Stratocaster revolution that we’ve seen reverberate ’till today.
Like a fine wine, Fender’s done well to continue building Strats from their original materials; an aery, lightweight body made of porous Alder; a reliable neck made of hard maple; and, a fingerboard built with reverberating rosewood, or doubling down on the hard maple.
To control your cacophony of colors, you’ve got a 5-switch to control the instrument’s 3 single-coil pickups. Watch how a master manipulates these knobs — fast forward and watch Jeff Beck’s right hand at 0:49…
Will you be the tonal spellcaster who uses a Stratocaster?
Please, if you can, treat yourself with an American Standard; this is the Porsche Carrera which Nashville professionals, Clapton, and Stevie Ray alike have built their careers with. Using eBay, you can often snag a steal of a deal, with a used Strat.
Still absolutely excellent are the Mexican-built strats. People get these wrong all the time; if you think the Mexican-built strats are of low quality, someone may have slapped your tone bone. They’re excellent creations with ferocious sounds that melt walls.
If you’d like to cause the walls around you to crumble as you slash a power chord, then you might be seeking a Gibson Les Paul. Serving as the legendary sound of bands such as Led Zepplin, Kiss, Guns N’ Roses, and even early Jeff Beck, the sonic booms which emanate from Les Pauls have intimated many a grandmother.
Back when drive-in movies were the craze, diners had those rollerskate waitresses who would take your order, and Elvis was just graduating high school, the Les Paul had its beginnings. The year was 1951 when Fender scared Gibson with its solid-bodied Broadcaster. To serve a tone-filled counterpunch, Gibson consulted the legend himself, Les Paul (yes he was an actual person, and this was his signature guitar), to consult Gibson on a competitive design; the Les Paul guitar was spawned and the rest is sanctified history.
If you find an original, mint 1959 Les Paul in your grandparents’ attic, then celebrate; it could be worth north of $700,000.
It’s practically needless to point out the continentally-sized meteor impact which the Les Paul has landed, but — as a nice dose of reminder — watch Jimmy Page scatter the Les Paul’s sonic stardust on Since I’ve Been Loving You, Live In Madison Square Garden 1973.
The secret sauce of a Les Paul include a tough maple top for that tonal punch and an earthy mahogany back. Its neck is also sweet, earthy mahogany, coupled with a rosewood fingerboard. The turnkey to the Les Paul’s success perhaps lies in its dual humbuckers, which make it a killer with each crunch of a chord.
You won’t regret getting a real Les Paul. It’ll break your bank, but you’ll never be happier that you can’t afford next month’s groceries. Try snagging a deal on eBay worth bragging about.
If you’re looking for more versatility than your step dad’s swiss army knife, then look no further than the Fender Telecaster. Now switching to the analogy of a hooker, the Telecaster has taken the innocence of Blues, Metal, Rock, Jazz, and Country music. In fact, gettin’ serious here, perhaps the greatest player ever, Django Reinhardt, used a Telecaster when he “went electric” so it goes without saying these have badass roots.
The Telecaster was initially called the Broadcaster, but due to trademark concerns with Gretsch’s Broadkaster, the guitar was renamed as the Telecaster
With Hollywood’s dreaminess close at hand, Leo Fender, in his trusty Fullerton, California shop, dreamt up the Telecaster in 1950. Funny how Leo, who never learned how to play guitar, somehow knew exactly what every guitarist needed most — that being the baddest guitar ever.
To witness the weavings of a Telecaster master, listen to Danny Gatton play Sleepwalk with his one-of-a-kind 1953 Telecaster.
Beyond the sweet alder or ash body woods, alongside the maple and rosewood comprising the neck, part of the secret ingredients of the Telecaster include its beautifully accessible knurled tone and volume knobs, making it easy to squeeze in a tone swell or volume swell, for maximal effect. If you’d really like to alpha your guitar gear game, consider attaching a Bigsby tremelo bar to your next Telecaster with the help of your local luthier.
Simply due to the sheer tsunami wave of influence which BB King and Chuck Berry conjured with their iconic guitars, the Gibson ES-335 ranks 3rd place, with its luscious, thick tones, and ornamental inlays and curves which ooze tone. So much lore has surrounded BB King’s famed “Lucille” ES-335, as his young self ran into a fiery juke joint to save his beloved guitar, you’d think that alone would enshrine this treasure. Yet, Chuck Berry’s greatest musical partner, beyond Johnny Johnson’s piano playing, was his trusty, cherry-red ES-335.
Are you fit for a finessing of your guitar collection? If you’d like to add a musical Mona Lisa to your boudoire, then look no further than the Gibson ES-335. It’s lucious, thick, curvy, and oozing of tone.
From Chuck Berry’s iconic, cherry red ES-335, to BB King’s lovely Lucille (which is, for practical purposes, an ever-so-slight variation of an ES-335), the musical murals which color the halls of rock have largely been inspired by the juice of those gentlemen’s guitars
Among Les Paul’s legendary inventions, pioneering musical invention aside, was his early prototype invention called “The Log”; a Frankenstein-like guitar electric guitar with a center, wooden block parting the chambers of its otherwise hollowbody, thus making it “semi” hollowbodied. Building upon this design, and gaining a boost from its Gibson Les Paul model, Gibson marched forward and used “The Log’s” inspiration to develop the Gibson ES-335 in 1958. Since then, many besides BB King and Chuck Berry have sanctified the instrument; in fact, its an ES-335 which Marty McFly wields in Back to the Future!
Nerd time. Among Les Paul’s (the person’s) legendary inventions was “The Log”; a Frankenstein-esque electric guitar with a lumpy little log (don’t worry, it was made of wood) parting the chambers of its otherwise hollowbody into two halves, making it a “semi” hollowbody. Gibson loved Les Paul’s Log so much that they added their own log into a new design of theirs — the esteemed ES-335. Actually, in addition to Chuck and BB, guess who else sported an ES-335? You (may have) guessed it! A high school kid named Marty McFly at his mom’s prom.
Speaking of other players who championed the gorgeous ES-335, watch Eric Clapton, playing alongside John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell, as he oozes feel from his cherry red ES-335 in 1969.
Ready to get lascerated by the ES-335’s sonic loveliness? Listen to Clapton wield this Chuck-Berry-esque cherry red ES-335, as he plays with John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Mitch Mitchell.
With perfect pearloid inlays set upon a rosewood fingerboard, the maple body, finished in nitrocellulose gloss, will surely motivate you to spend an extra $10,000,000 on your outfit just to keep up with its beauty.
Are you on the Highway to Hell? In that case let me introduce you to my two-horned friend named: Gibson SG.
Think this insidious animal is simply built to squeal Thunderstruck at a junior high birthday party? Think again.. pull out your dad’s CD of Duane Allman singing Statesboro Blues through his SG, or visit the ol’ Youtube and witness Big Mama Thornton’s rompous revival-esque concerts, with her stunning Gibson SG custom. You’ll notice how this Poseidon of an instrument covers vast oceanic caverns of sound, most of which remain yet unexplored…
As the heir of the Duane Allman throne, and arguably one of the greatest guitarists alive, listen to how Derek Trucks induces his SG to moan, purr, and scream like a haunted spirit.
Want to hear an SG’s tonal tenacity played at maximal capacity? Then watch Derek Trucks twang his SG to Timbuktu.
With earthy mahogany, stunning nitrocellulose lacquer, a slim-tapered rosewood fingerboard, dual humbuckers to instigate sinister stimulations of sound, the SG will give you glee.
Like the Les Paul or ES-335, you can live your whole life playing a true Gibson SG Standard, and constantly feel in awe of it. It’s no small buy, though it will entrance people for the next 100 years or more if you take care of it.
Want to make your grandmother and mom jealous of your guitar and still be cooler than everyone? Get the geet that John & Paul played. Coming in at a clean tie for #6, we’ve got the Epiphone Casino and the Rickenbacker 325. These geets inaugurated an epoch of rebellion like the world ain’t never seen before, and you can wield them too.
Let’s start with the Epiphone Casino. As history goes, Gibson was so scared of how good Epiphone was that they bought Epiphone out (as you do in corporate suit world) in the 1950s. Slowly, Epiphones became economical alternatives to Gibson, but — some models such as the Casino persisted with the same, threateningly incredible quality.
You know those songs like Ticket To Ride, Drive My Car, and Taxman? Those were played on Casinos. A guy named Paul McCartney began using one in 1964, and his bandmates, George and John, loved the guitar so much they bought Casinos of their own! Listen to McCartney’s solo on Taxman below.
If you think you’ve gotten jacked when you hold an Epiphone Casino, it’s probably actually because, being a full hollowbody guitar, it’s just lighter. As far as its snarly wildkat-like tone, simply bow down to its beautiful P90 pickups.
Match your mop top with a true Epiphone Casino. They’re pricy, but when it shows up at your door you’ll see why.
On the note of the Rickenbacker 325, it came about when Elvis was king. In 1958, Rickenbacker debuted its Capri series of guitar, which included the awe-inspiring 325. Once that guy named John Lennon made it his guitar of choice, the Rickenbacker execs probably could’ve retired on a sandy beach for the next 1,000 years.
From I Want to Hold Your Hand, to I Saw Her Standing There, and Day Tripper, the 325’s distinctive round sonorous sound is stamped throughout the Beatles’ early work. Take a little break and jump into the time machine — here’s Day Tripper by the Beatles.
With maple flavors on its body and neck, and rosewood lining the fingerboard, its quite the hunk of hardware. You might find that it’s been released as both semi-hollow and solid-body forms — either will provide the tonal mountaintops of sound.
By 1962, you could say Fender & Gibson were pretty well like the USA & USSR; they were space-racing into the sky with new models each year. Finally, Fender unveiled its atomic bomb in 1962 — the Jaguar.
As history would jokingly have it, even though the Jaguar was a perfect laboratory-like distillation of Fender’s greatest ideas in a single machine, they stopped producing it only 12 years later. Why? Because Hendrix and Clapton shot Fender in the foot; they made the Stratocaster so popular that it drowned out their lovely new baby.
But, by the 70s, punk musicians uncovered this buried treasure. Craving the copious knobs to dial-in tonal perfection, the Jaguar revival continued into the 80s and 90s when musicians like Thurston Moore, John Frusciante, and Kurt Cobain made the Jaguar their aural animal of choice.
Much of the masterpiece, Nevermind, was recorded with Kurt Cobain’s Jaguar. Tap the vid to revisit this lovely stuff.
If you scour the jungles of the interwebs, you’ll find Jaguars built with Fender’s distinctive alder woods, array of switches and knobs, and vicious Pure Vintage ’62 single-coil pickups.
If you’d like to carry on that hardcore legacy, then you can choose your Jaguar of choice here. Know also that not only punk and grunge rockers; in fact, even Hendrix was periodically spotted taming a Jaguar.
The man who introduced those audacious overbends (which Hendrix and Stevie Ray would quickly add to their arsenal) selected the Gibson Flying V as his axe of doom. His name is Albert King.
Back to that space-race between the USSR & USA— er.. Gibson & Fender, the president of Gibson, Ted McCarty sat in his office in the 1950s, puzzled at how to combat the dazzling Stratocaster. Bingo. Create a line of futuristic models. Thus, the Flying V was born.
Listen to Jimi Hendrix as he channels his inner Albert King. This is him making his Flying V moan over Red House.
An all mahogany body and neck, alongside a rosewood fingerboard, you’ll have to search for your jaw, as it will fall to the ground when you see how stunning this thing really is.
If you’re naming the architects who built those halls of rock n’ roll, don’t forget the diddley bo strummin’ Bo Diddley… the man wrote beauties of songs including the self-titled Bo Diddley, You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover, Who Do You Love, and Roadrunner.
In a Les Paul (the person) kind of way, Bo Diddley was a connoisseur of building his own geets. In fact, by the late 50s, Bo Diddley partnered with Gretsch, who was trying to ride the Fender-Gibson revolutionary wave, and build Diddley’s designs with Gretsch parts.
One of three masterpieces which resulted from the collaboration was the custom-built Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird; a guitar which Diddley later gifted to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
Gibbons was a protective daddy of the guitar, recording with the geet here and there, but never daring to take the one-of-a-kind instrument on the road. Later on, Gibbons approached Gretsch insisting they should produce the guitar en masse, and starting in 2005 they did just that.
Listen to Billy Gibbons wield this unique axe, which is now often used anytime ZZ Top plays live.
Lightweight, thanks to the routed body, the Billy-Bo is resonant as anything you’ll here. Your fretting hand will grip its earthy mahogany neck, which is also used on the body’s back and sides. Rounding out the wood department is a veneer of sturdy maple, making for a bright sound. In its pickup slots, you’ll find two trusty TV Jones pickups, giving the Gretsch its Hercules-esque tonal horsepower.
Also, this is a ranking of the greatest guitar models ever…
While I was at this buying guide, I couldn’t help myself but also use this as an opportunity to squeeze in my snobby thoughts and rank the greatest electric guitar models ever. Organized by historical importance as well as beauty of sound. Do you agree or disgree with the ranking? Feel free to shit on me in the comments (at the very bottom of the article).
Thus, you can now rest easy about what electric guitar you should buy. These timeless models have remained futuristic, outlasting the decades, passing fads of generations, and the impulses of corporate suits. If you’re going to buy an electric guitar, there’s a 95% chance it’ll be one of those models above, or a modern copy of one of those models above.
One quick reco for you.. don’t fall in love with the real estate in Indecisionland. Either run to the guitar store, test drive these pups, and get yours now, or resolve to save up and get one soon. The sooner you move past this step, the sooner you can melt your neighbors’ faces with illegal decibel levels.