To lovers of metal and rock music, the electric guitar is more than just an instrument. It’s a symbol of innovation, rebellion, and passion that has shaped the sound of music for generations. From the sultry blues to the high-octane riffs of rock and metal, the electric guitar has been at the forefront, providing musicians with the tools to express their creativity and connect with audiences worldwide.
With so many brands out there, each promising a unique blend of quality, playability, and tone, it can be a symphony of choices for both budding guitarists and seasoned shredders.
But fear not. We’ve strummed through the noise to bring you a list of the finest names in the business. So, here are 15 of the best electric guitar brands that have become the go-to for guitar heroes throughout the decades.
Starting our list is Rickenbacker, a brand synonymous with the jangly pop-rock sound of the ’60s. Famously played by John Lennon of The Beatles, these guitars are known for their distinctive tone and stylish design. Peter Buck of R.E.M. famously has only two guitars — a Rickenbacker 330 and 301, highlighting the unique sound of these guitars that has captivated musicians for years. While vintage models can fetch a pretty penny, the brand continues to produce guitars that offer that classic vibe with a modern twist.
Yamaha might be known for its vast array of products, but when it comes to guitars, they’re all about versatility and reliability. They are the brand of choice of some of the household names in music, with Mike Stern even having a custom-made guitar, made for him, and named after him. From affordable entry-level models to high-end professional instruments, Yamaha caters to every player’s needs without compromising on quality. Their Pacifica series, in particular, has been praised for its excellent value and playability.
Gretsch guitars ooze rockabilly cool and have been the cornerstone of ‘that great Gretsch sound’ since the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll. Artists like George Harrison and Brian Setzer have wielded these beauties, known for their twangy tones and eye-catching designs.
“It’s the guitar that I’ve grown up with and it feels like putting on a pair of old jeans. That guitar is pretty much part of me,” Setzer once said about his 1959 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins hollow body. Whether you’re chasing vintage tones or a modern edge, Gretsch offers a lineup that’s as visually stunning as it is sonically pleasing.
There is a reason why Ibanez is every Shredder’s Choice. With a reputation for fast necks and versatile sounds, their guitars cater to the most technical of players. Steve Vai, an icon of virtuoso guitar playing, has his signature series with Ibanez, which includes the famous JEM. “I designed a guitar for Ibanez and then they started manufacturing it – it’s called the Jem – it’s 26 years old and I still play it” Vai states, reflecting the brand’s commitment to catering to the needs of high-performance players. Whether it’s metal, fusion, or anything in between, Ibanez delivers with precision and flair.
11. PRS (Paul Reed Smith)
Paul Reed Smith Guitars strikes a chord with its blend of artisanal craftsmanship and modern innovation. Renowned for their gorgeous finishes and versatile sound, PRS guitars have found favour with rock royalty like Carlos Santana and Mark Tremonti. “I jumped at the idea to play one of PRS’ guitars.
PRS was one of those guitars that I could never afford in high school or college and had always wanted to play one,” Mark shared a testament to the rich history and the holistic quality of PRS instruments. Offering models across various price points, PRS ensures that excellence is accessible to all.
10. Jackson Guitars
At number ten, we have Jackson Guitars, a brand synonymous with the high-octane world of heavy metal. Known for their aggressive styling and sharp, pointy headstocks, Jackson guitars are designed for speed and precision. The brand gained prominence in the 1980s when Randy Rhoads, the iconic guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, collaborated with Jackson to create the now-famous Rhoads V model. In an interview, Mark Morton of Lamb of God praised his Jackson signature model, stating, “It’s the perfect instrument that can deliver the heavy riffing and the solos.”
Jackson’s compound-radius fretboards and high-output pickups cater to the needs of metal guitarists looking for that extra edge. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman, as well as Slipknot’s Mick Thomson, are just a few who have wielded Jackson’s axes to forge their bone-crushing sounds.
9. ESP Guitars
Ninth on our list is ESP Guitars, a brand that has become a staple in the metal community. With its roots in Tokyo, Japan, ESP has been crafting guitars since the late ’70s, offering both custom shop masterpieces and more accessible LTD models. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica have long been associated with ESP, with Hetfield once saying, “ESP is always up for the challenge, and making something unique and one-off for me.”
ESP is revered for its durable construction and versatile tonal options, accommodating everything from Hetfield’s rhythmic chug to Hammett’s soaring leads. The brand’s commitment to quality ensures that each guitar is capable of withstanding the rigours of touring while delivering consistent performance night after night.
8. Schecter Guitar Research
Coming in at number eight is Schecter Guitar Research, a company that began as a parts supplier but quickly evolved into a full-fledged guitar manufacturer. Schecter guitars are known for their diverse range, offering models like the Hellraiser and the C-1 Classic, which provide both aesthetic beauty and sonic versatility. Avenged Sevenfold’s Synyster Gates, known for his intricate solos and harmonies, has his own signature Schecter model. When he was asked what drew him to Schecter, he said “Pretty much the feel. I’m definitely a tone guy as well, but I just like things that play well.”
Whether it’s the deep growls required for metal or the clear tones needed for cleaner passages, Schecter delivers with aplomb. Their instruments have been embraced by bands such as Disturbed and Papa Roach, showcasing the brand’s wide appeal.
7. Charvel Guitars
At lucky number seven, we find Charvel Guitars, a brand that played a pivotal role in the development of the “Superstrat” in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Charvel caters to players who demand high performance and effortless playability. Eddie Van Halen famously used a Charvel-built Frankenstrat before launching his own brand. As Joe Duplantier of Gojira reflects, “The main aspect of it(Charvel guitars) that I like is that it stays solid. It stays in tune even when you drop tunings…”
Charvel’s compound-radius fingerboards and high-gain pickups make them ideal for virtuosic solos and powerful riffs. Artists like Jake E Lee and Warren DeMartini have also contributed to Charvel’s reputation as a go-to brand for rock and metal guitarists.
6. Gibson Guitars
Finally, at number six, we honor Gibson Guitars, a name that resonates with history and prestige. While Gibson is often associated with blues and rock through the iconic Les Paul and SG models, metal artists have also embraced these guitars for their rich, sustaining tones. Slash, known for his work with Guns N’ Roses, has been vocal about his guitars. He once said, “I’ve got one that I’ve been using for the last few months that plays amazingly, so I’m just really stoked about it.”
Gibson’s thick mahogany bodies and powerful humbucking pickups provide the warmth and sustain that have defined countless classic rock and metal records. Legends like Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Zakk Wylde also play Gibson Guitars.
The iconic Fender is a brand that has become synonymous with rock ‘n roll. The Fender Stratocaster, affectionately known as the “Strat,” is often regarded as the quintessential electric guitar. Its sleek design and versatile sound have made it a favourite among legends like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
Eric even once said that the Fender Telecaster was the best all-around guitar. Fender’s impact on music is immeasurable, with other models like the Telecaster also being instrumental in shaping the sound of modern music. The Telecaster’s bright, cutting tone has been a staple for artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards, proving Fender’s versatility across genres.
At number four, Epiphone stands out as a brand offering quality guitars with a rich history. Known as Gibson’s sister company, Epiphone produces models like the Casino, which became famous in the hands of John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles. My Epiphone, that’s my electric guitar, that is the one,” said Paul McCartney during an interview with Rolling Stone. Epiphone provides an accessible entry point for beginners while still being revered by professionals, making it a brand that spans the spectrum of musicians.
3. Taylor Guitars
Right with the very best acoustic guitar manufacturing brands stands Taylor Guitars. With a modern approach to guitar making, Taylor has earned its place at the top by offering a blend of innovative designs and traditional techniques. Artists like Taylor Swift have praised the brand, with Swift commenting in an interview with Acoustic Guitar magazine, “I love playing Taylors because they have such a full sound.”
Taylor’s commitment to sustainability and clear, balanced tone has garnered a diverse following, from fingerstyle virtuosos to strumming songwriters. Their Expression System® pickup technology also sets them apart, providing amplified acoustic sound that’s as natural and vibrant as it is unplugged.
2. Martin Guitars
Steeped in rich musical tradition, Martin Guitars have been the cornerstone of acoustic excellence since 1833. Known for their superior tone and craftsmanship, Martin’s instruments have been the go-to choice for legendary musicians like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. “The quality of a Martin guitar is unparalleled, and its sound has become an integral part of American music history,” as stated by Chris Martin IV, CEO of C.F. Martin & Co. Their iconic dreadnought series, particularly the D-28, has set the standard for acoustic guitar tone, offering deep bass and ringing highs that are not only clear but warm.
1. Music Man
Music Man, established in the mid-1970s by Leo Fender and associates, has carved out a niche for itself with its unique designs and high-quality instruments. The brand gained prominence with models like the StingRay bass and the John Petrucci signature guitars. These instruments are known for their versatility and innovative features, such as active electronics and distinctive pickup configurations. Steve Lukather, guitarist for Toto, has praised his Music Man guitars, saying, “They’ve been my main guitars for years because they’re just built so well.” Music Man continues to push the envelope, combining traditional craftsmanship with modern technology to create instruments that cater to the needs of today’s musicians.