If you're in the market for an electric guitar, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of brand choices you have. Some guitar manufacturers focus on specific musical genres, while others focus on manufacturing instruments for a specific type of music. In this article, we'll take you through some of the best electric guitar brands. We've also offered our top picks for each brand to help you make your decision.
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Top 11 Picks for Best Electric Guitar Brands
Even if you haven't played guitar before, you've probably heard of Gibson, one of the world's foremost guitar manufacturers. In particular, the Gibson Les Paul is widely regarded as one of the best guitars (at least for rock music) in the world. Gibson was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1902. This is the same company that created iconic guitars like the Flying V, the Explorer, the Firebird, the SG, and of course the Les Paul.
Gibson guitars almost always come with humbucker pickups, and this company is one that pioneered the legendary P-90 humbucker. While you can find Gibsons used in many genres, they are especially popular with rock musicians. The company's warm-sounding hollow-body guitars are also especially popular with blues musicians. Of course, many of their guitars are very expensive, and a higher-end Gibson Les Paul is likely to be outside of the price range of many players. If you love Gibsons but are short on cash, you might want to check out Epiphone guitars, described in more detail below.
The Best Picks: If you want to own one of the most legendary electric guitars ever built, we think a Les Paul is a great choice. The Gibson Les Paul Studio is one of the more affordable models, but it still has that legendary Les Paul sound. You can see one in action in this video.
For those with a little more to spend, the Les Paul Standard is a great option as well. Les Paul Standard models sometimes have better features and finishes, but they are more expensive.
While Gibson calls itself the most iconic guitar brand, Fender is the top brand when it comes to sales. Unlike Gibsons, Fender guitars typically come equipped with single coil pickups as opposed to humbuckers. As the company has expanded its offerings, though, it isn't hard to find HSS Strats and Teles, as well as Teles that come equipped with dual humbuckers. Fender guitars are often used in pop, indie, and country music, although they are by no means limited to these genres.
Fender's Stratocaster and Telecaster are easily some of the most popular electric guitar choices out there, and you can find a dizzying array of options for either one. However, the Strat and the Tele aren't all Fender has to offer--the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, and Mustang have all been used by high-profile artists who appreciate the stunning versatility of these guitars. Alongside versatile tone, Fender guitars boast incredible playability--they generally have slim, fast-playing necks and contoured bodies that make playing effortless.
Like Gibsons, Fenders generally aren't cheap guitars. Fender does have a budget brand called Squier, but the brand doesn't enjoy the same acclaim as Epiphone guitars. The guitar community remains somewhat divided on Squiers. This is likely because higher-end Squiers tend to sound relatively good, while cheaper models (like the Squier Bullet) are far from being tonal powerhouses and tend to have tuning stability issues.
It's worth noting that Fender guitars are also among some of the most imitated in the industry--almost every guitar brand has a model that looks almost just like the Stratocaster, and many also make guitars that resemble the Telecaster.
The Best Picks: We think the Player Series is a great place to start if you're considering purchasing a Fender. These guitars still have the same quality builds as more expensive models, but they tend to cost less. Check out this video demo of a Fender Player Telecaster to hear one in action.
Read Our Reviews of Fender Electric Guitars
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#3. Ernie Ball Music Man
Ernie Ball Music Man might not be one of the first names you think of when you picture electric guitars, but they're known for producing quality, uniquely-built guitars in plenty of interesting finishes. The company was founded in 1974 in California, and they've only grown since then. Ernie Ball Music Man also has a somewhat unique Ball Family Reserve collection--each month, they'll release limited editions of existing models that come in unique finishes. These guitars are built with extreme attention to detail, and they often have features not found on standard models. The company also has a "vault," which is a list of very limited run models (sometimes, they've made only a single model in a given finish) for collectors to choose from.
This company has several unique guitar designs, and many are artist signature models. EBMM has worked with St. Vincent, John Petrucci, James Valentine, and other high-profile artists. Ernie Ball Music Man also has a budget brand called Sterling. By most accounts, this is one of the higher-value budget brands, and Sterling guitars sound and feel remarkably good for the price. While some of the components on Sterling guitars may not be as high-end as those on EBMM models, many Sterling guitars are tonally very close to their EBMM counterparts.
The Best Picks: We think the Ernie Ball St. Vincent Signature is a great choice. This guitar has a unique design that's reminiscent of the Gibson Explorer, and it comes with three mini humbuckers with five-way pickup switching for unmatched tonal versatility. You also can purchase it in a dual humbucker version if you want more traditional rock tone. You can see St. Vincent demonstrating this guitar (in the HHH version) here.
#4. Paul Reed Smith
Paul Reed Smith guitars are great rock and pop machines. Like many brands, this one also works with popular artists to develop signature models. The best-known PRS signature guitar is probably the John Mayer Silver Sky. This guitar is essentially built like a Fender Stratocaster, but it comes with PRS standard bird inlays on the fretboard.
Most models also have very contoured bodies, and they also are available in limited-edition finishes. For those who want a collector-quality instrument that stands out from the crowd, their Private Stock Dragon guitars come with stunningly ornate fretboard inlays. For players who prefer the sound of humbucking pickups, many PRS models come in dual-humbucker configurations.
PRS is a relatively new company as guitar companies go--it's been around for 35 years. However, in that time, it's been able to make a name for itself. PRS also makes acoustic instruments, but the company is best known for its electric guitars.
The Best Picks: We think the Silver Sky is an excellent all-around single-coil guitar. If you like the look and sound of the Fender Stratocaster but want something a little different, this guitar is worth a look. This video review lets you see the John Mayer Silver Sky for yourself.
Read Our Reviews of PRS Electric Guitars
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Kiesel is a smaller manufacturer, but their custom shop is one of the best. Kiesel makes a wide variety of electric guitars--you can find headless models, carved top guitars, multiscale guitars, and more. Many of their guitars come in stunning, unique finishes. Kiesel also offers artist signature models from Jason Becker, Chris Letchford, and Greg Howe.
Kiesels are some of the best electric guitars for metal music--they have fast necks, and most have the kind of high-output humbuckers needed for the genre. However, depending on pickup configuration and body style, you can also find Kiesels that are good for mellower genres. Because many of their guitars are somewhat expensive, Kiesel instruments are a goal guitar for many players. Essentially, if you want a shredding machine with an especially unique look, this might be one of the best models for you.
The Best Picks: We think the Kiesel Aries is a guitar worth checking out. This double-cutaway guitar comes in several finish options, and many versions can be made with exotic woods. The Aries series is highly contoured, making it comfortable to play. It also comes in a range of pickup configurations, including HHS and HH. This video demo lets you see one of the members of the series.
Gretsch largely made its name as a rockabilly guitar brand, and their hollowbody electric guitars are legendary. Like many brands on the list, Gretsch also has an acoustic guitar line. However, their acoustics don't have nearly the reputation of their electric guitars. Most Gretsch electric guitars come with their signature body shape--a single-cutaway with two f-holes.
Many are also equipped with a Bigsby tremolo system, which gives them a vintage look and offers you plenty of tonal options. The majority also come with dual humbuckers for sound that varies from sweet to growling. This company also makes several solidbody and semi-hollow models, so there's something for everyone, regardless of your tonal preferences.
Interestingly enough, even some of the brand's acoustic models share traits of their electric guitars--Gretsch makes an acoustic-electric guitar that comes with a humbucker and a whammy bar.
As we mentioned, many guitarists think the Gretsch makes some of the best electric guitars for rockabilly, but they can also be found in country, emo, and even punk music. If you want to make a statement in terms of tone, design, and color, then a Gretsch might be for you.
The Best Picks: While any Gretsch is generally a good investment, we think the G5410T "Rat Rod" electromatic is a great choice. This nice-looking hollowbody comes with Filter'Tron humbuckers and a Bigsby, and its thinner body makes it highly comfortable to play. It isn't necessarily a cheap guitar, but it's a lot more affordable than you may think. This sound-only demo lets you see it being played.
Read Our Reviews of Gretsch Electric Guitars
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We briefly mentioned Epiphone above when talking about Gibson guitars. As the Gibson budget brand, Epiphone offers many classic Gibson designs at a fraction of the cost. And while you may think of Epiphone as a brand that only makes guitars for beginners, it may be interesting to know that some artists, including players from The Strokes, Blink 182, and Kings of Leon, choose Epiphone instruments over their higher-priced Gibson counterparts. Whether you like Les Pauls, Dots, or Explorers, there's an Epiphone model for you.
Of course, as with any budget brand, there's going to be a major quality difference between the bottom-priced models and higher-end ones. The Epiphone Les Paul that comes in many beginner packages is a serviceable one, but it won't sound nearly the same as the Epiphone Les Paul Custom, which comes with Epiphone's ProBucker pickups. Essentially, if you're a Gibson fan on a budget, a higher-end Epiphone might be the best electric guitar for you.
The Best Picks: We think that the better Epiphones are some of the best electric guitars for the money. In particular, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard offers incredible value. It has Alnico II ProBucker pickups and the same legendary Les Paul body shape. This video demo lets you hear it for yourself.
Read Our Reviews of Epiphone Guitars
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Ibanez electric guitars are known for being great metal guitars and rock instruments. The Ibanez name may not be as well-recognized as that of Fender or some other high-profile brands, but it has quite a following of artists--Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Paul Gilbert are among the well-known guitarists who choose Ibanez. The company also is known for its guitar effects, namely for the Tube Screamer pedal, which legions of metal and rock guitarists have on their pedalboards.
This is a guitar brand that makes something for everyone--the smaller MiKro series is ideal for kids learning to play or as a travel instrument. Despite its low price, the miKro has the fast-playing neck that shredders need and the dual humbucker configuration that's preferred by many metal players.
For those looking to spend a little more, the Steve Vai Signature JEM77 or any member of the Prestige or Premium Series could make a worthy addition to your collection. Of course, Ibanez also has a large range of mid-priced guitars that are ideal for those who want a great-sounding instrument without having to shell out thousands.
The Best Picks: While it's more expensive than many guitars, we like the Joe Satriani Signature. This guitar has a unique metallic finish (you can find it in Chrome Boy or Soda Blue) and an unusual double-cutaway body that's sure to turn heads. And unlike some Ibanez models, this one comes with a single-coil pickup as well as a humbucker.
The result is a guitar that can shred but that also has cross-genre appeal. The above video shows Satch himself showing off his signature model. If you're looking for something with a smaller price tag, Ibanez also has a range of more affordable Steve Vai Signature JEM models. Many come in unique colors and are perfect for players who want to make a statement.
Read Our Reviews of Ibanez Electric Guitars
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Like Ibanez, Schecter is a brand that caters to metal and rock music, and it's a prime choice for many players in the genre. Interestingly enough, the brand began as a guitar repair shop run by a man named David Schecter. Though it came from humble beginnings, Schecter ultimately reached great heights--their guitars have been played by the likes of Prince, Papa Roach, Zakk Wylde, Pete Townshend, The Cure, and Avenged Sevenfold.
Many regard Schecters as some of the best electric guitars for rock and metal, but the brand extends beyond that, too--they have some guitars made on the style of the Fender Telecaster and other country/folk/indie-friendly builds.
For those who know exactly what they want, Schecter's Custom Shop also offers a build-your-own option. Like most manufacturers, they have electric guitar options for everyone from the beginner on a budget to the touring artist.
The Best Picks: We think that the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 may be the best guitar for the money that Schecter offers. It has a beautiful carved top and comes with two active humbuckers--perfect for high-output sound that metal players need.
The three-piece mahogany neck is a fast-playing work of art, and Schecter locking tuners help you stay in tune even with heavy tremolo usage and string bending. Best of all, this guitar is surprisingly affordable at under $1000. This demo lets you see the Hellraiser (in Black Cherry finish) at work.
Read Our Reviews Of Schecter Electric Guitars
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Charvel has been around since the 1970s, and the brand rose to prominence thanks to its association with high-level players like Eddie Van Halen. Unlike many larger manufacturers, Charvel doesn't offer budget guitars--each model is designed to be a high-performance tone machine.
Most come with active pickups ideal for players who need quality overdriven tone, and they also come with Floyd Rose tremolo systems for even more tonal versatility. As guitar brands go, Charvel may not be the most easily recognized by the casual music fan, but their guitars are not to be missed if you play rock or metal.
Finish isn't the most important thing when it comes to choosing an electric guitar, but many Charvel electric instruments are designed to stand out. They offer truly unique graphic and textured finishes that you won't find on other brands. If the best electric guitar for you is a high-output, highly playable instrument, these guitars are worth a look.
The Best Picks: Any electric guitar from Charvel is a good choice, but we especially like the Pro-Mod series. In particular, the Pro-Mod DK24 offers outstanding versatility.
It comes with a single coil pickup and two humbuckers, letting you expand your tonal options and have fun doing so. With unusual touches like a caramelized maple neck and a bright day-glo finish, the DK24 is a standout on stage. This demo lets you see and hear it for yourself.
Rickenbacker guitars have a rich history in the world of rock music--they have been the prime choice of greats like Tom Petty and Paul McCartney. Of course, these may not be the best electric guitars for anyone--Rickenbackers have unique shapes and a signature tone.
Most have a double-cutaway design that makes fret access easy, and their wider lower bouts set them apart from more streamlined electric guitars. In fact, the first Rickenbacker body design was called the Frying Pan, and that name suits most Rickenbackers of today as well.
However, the unique shape is not the only way that Rickenbacker guitars break the mold. Many come with non-traditional pickup configurations, and some have semi-hollowbody designs made to give you the best of both worlds--you get some of the bite of a solidbody electric guitar with some of the warmth of a hollowbody.
Most Rickenbackers come either in black or sunburst finishes with contrasting white pickguards--this is part of their signature look. For those who like their unique look and tonal properties, a Rickenbacker just might be the best electric guitar out there.
The Best Picks: We especially like the 325C64. This guitar has the signature "frying pan" shape of many Rickenbacker designs, and it comes with three single-coil pickups for tonal versatility.
The vintage-style pickups are designed to give you smooth and sweet sound, and the tremolo tailpiece makes pitch bending a breeze. This guitar also has a thick rosewood fingerboard for comfortable playability. This video review lets you see one player's opinion of the guitar, and you can also hear it for yourself.
While we've chosen some of the best electric guitar brands around to make this list, it isn't an exhaustive list--you may be looking to buy (or may already own) a great instrument by another manufacturer. Hopefully we've been able to help you get one step closer to finding the best electric guitar for you.
Choosing a guitar can sometimes be a long process, but it's good to take your time, listen to demos, and select something that's right for you. Let us know what you think in the comments. And if you found this list helpful, please don't forget to share!