For those who are newer to guitars, it can sometimes be tough to establish where to start looking when shopping, whether it’s for a first guitar or your first upgrade. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of leaning on the one brand you’ve heard of, or the one your friend has without ever learning more about what else is out there.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ve provided a comprehensive guide to 10 of the biggest brands in the world of electric guitars. For each brand, we’ve started with an introduction to the company’s history, and a little bit of information on what they’re most known for today.
In addition, we’ve highlighted 3 models from each brand – an entry level model from their lineup, an intermediate model that sits around the middle of the price range, and a flagship model that showcases what the brand is capable of.
Keep on reading to learn more about each of these top electric guitar brands.
- Final Thoughts on the Best Electric Guitar Brands
Epiphone was originally founded as a mandolin maker in the Ottoman Empire. The Founder, Anastasios Stathapoulos, eventually moved to New York City in 1908 and passed on the business to his son Epaminondas, who would make the company’s very first guitar in 1928.
In 1957, Epiphone was acquired by Gibson, and they quickly became known for their high-quality hollow and semi hollow guitars, and have been popular with some of the biggest names in music, from Paul Weller to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Today, Epiphone offers a wide range of proprietary guitars, but they are most well known for their licensed copies of Gibson models, which are widely considered to offer some of the best value in the guitar world.
The Epiphone SG Special E1 is based on the Gibson SG, and features many of the same core features. To keep costs down, this version comes with a bolt on neck rather than the set neck you’d traditionally find in an SG. It offers 2 humbucking pickups with a single volume and a single tone knob, which keeps the controls simple for those taking their first steps with a guitar. Check out our full Epiphone SG Special review.
The Epiphone Les Paul Junior is from Epiphone’s “Inspired by Gibson” range, making it about the closest thing you’ll get to a US made model in this price range. It was inspired by the Les Paul Junior, which was originally a student model, but went on to become a punk icon thanks to its low cost, unfussy design, and its snarling P90 pickup.
The Epiphone Slash Les Paul Standard is a replica of Slash’s Appetite for Destruction era Les Paul Standards. It’s made using high end components including AAA grade flamed maple for the top, CTS pots, and custom humbuckers based on the original Slash signature.
ESP (Electric Sound Products) is a Japanese guitar manufacturer, founded in Tokyo in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya. ESP started out by making their own versions of famous models like the Gibson Les Paul and the Gibson Explorer, amongst others, and became embroiled in the so called “lawsuit era”, and as a result, their guitars could not be legally imported into the US.
Towards the late ’80s and early ’90s, ESP began developing their own original designs and signature artist models, primarily targeting the emerging heavy metal scene, and this is where the brand really took hold in the west. ESP guitars have famously been used by the likes of Kirk Hammett of Metallica, George Lynch of Dokken, and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer. Today, ESP continues to produce high-quality guitars favored by metal and hard rock players around the globe, as well as budget versions of those guitars under their LTD banner.
The ESP LTD EC-10 is a Les Paul Style solid body guitar with a pair of hot ESP designed humbucking pickups. It’s the most affordable model in the ESP lineup, sitting at the entry level of the LTD line. It looks fantastic, and even comes with a gig bag, which represents incredible value at this price.
The ESP LTD Phoenix is one of the most contemporary designs in the line up, and it looks absolutely sensational. It has a Thunderbird style body, but that’s about where the similarities end. It’s loaded with a single EMG 81TW pickup with dual internal preamps in the bridge position, giving both single coil and double coil tones. It’s aggressive in both looks and sound, and really lives up to the ESP reputation.
The ESP James Hetfield Signature Snakebyte is one of the newest models in the ESP lineup, and may well be one of the best they’ve ever made. Yes, the price tag is steep, but this is the exact guitar that the Metallica front man uses on stage. It’s hand made in the USA using the best parts and materials, and attention to detail is assured.
Fender is one of, if not the biggest manufacturer of electric guitars in the world. The company was founded in 1946 by Leo Fender, a radio engineer who, believe it or not, couldn’t play the guitar himself.
Fender’s first breakthrough came with the launch of the Telecaster, which was the first mass-produced solid body electric guitar. In the 1950s, Fender expanded its range with the release of the Stratocaster, a versatile instrument that would go on to become one of the most popular guitars in the world.
In the years that followed, Fender continued to innovate, producing iconic guitars like the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster that would shape the sound of popular music for generations to come.
The Fender Player Series Mustang P90 might be one of Fender’s most affordable models, but it’s still packed to the rafters with attitude. This version of the light weight Mustang gets a pair of screaming P90 pickups rather than the single coils traditionally found on this offset guitar, and they suit it perfectly.
The American Performer Telecaster is the entry level US made version of Fender’s longest running model, and they’re a lot more affordable than you might think. It has all the vintage charm, but with modern playability, giving you the twang that Tele players love without the headaches that come with older guitars.
The Fender American Ultra Stratocaster is the deluxe model in the Stratocaster lineup, and is a glowing example of how good the Strat can be. This particular model is equipped with Ultra Noiseless Vintage pickups, which deliver big on the classic Strat tones without the 60 cycle hum. It also gets sealed locking tuners, and has one of the best necks you’ll ever play.
Orville Gibson began making guitars around 1894, but didn’t go on to found the Gibson Guitar Company until 1902. Gibson was a skilled luthier, and developed a new method of construction that made his guitars louder and more durable than the competition. This quickly made Gibson a popular choice among professional musicians.
In the early 1900s, the company began to experiment with new designs, with the archtop guitar being one of their biggest successes. These innovations helped to make Gibson one of the most successful guitar makers in the world. Gibson’s legacy of innovation continued with iconic designs like the Les Paul, the SG, and, at the time, futuristic guitars such as the Flying V and the Explorer. Today, Gibson retains a reputation for making versatile guitars that perform well in practically any genre.
The Gibson Les Paul Tribute is the most affordable path to electric Gibson ownership. It comes in a range of gorgeous burst colors, all of which look fantastic, and offers classic Les Paul construction, with its mahogany body, set neck, and maple top cap. It has all the versatility you’d expect from a Les Paul, too, with everything from crisp cleans to searing metal tones in its arsenal.
The Gibson SG Standard has become the poster child of hard rock thanks to the likes of famous players like Angus Young and Tony Iommi. It’s lighter than the Les Paul, and thanks to the carved body it also offers improved ergonomics. The SG Standard is one of the fastest playing Gibsons in the entire lineup, and the PAF style pickups deliver big on vintage rock tones.
The Gibson Custom Shop 1957 Les Paul Custom Reissue is simply a spectacular guitar. It’s finished in Vintage Original Sheen, with gently aged hardware, and features CustomBucker Alnico III pickups that are just oozing with vintage PAF goodness.
Gretsch was founded in 1883 in New York City, by German immigrant, Friedrich Gretsch. At first, Gretsch made banjos and ukuleles, but eventually expanded into acoustic and then electric guitars amongst other instruments.
Over the years, Gretsch has collaborated with big name guitarists such as Chet Atkins, George Harrison, and Malcolm Young to name but a few, and many other famous artists choose to play Gretsch instruments even without official endorsements. These partnerships have helped to fuel the popularity of the brand, and today Gretsch is still highly sought after by both professional and amateur musicians alike thanks to their unique looks and dynamic tones.
The Gretsch G2210 Streamliner Junior Jet Club is undoubtedly one of the coolest looking guitars on the market, and when you consider its incredibly affordable price, it adds even more to the appeal. The BroadTron pickups deliver huge vintage tone, and the thin U shaped neck makes it a comfortable choice for most players.
The Gretsch G5410T Electromatic Rat Rod Hollowbody has all the classic Gretsch looks and tones and is easily one of the most versatile guitars in its price range. It does everything from searing high gain rock, to smooth jazz and delicate, clean fingerstyle.
The G6636T Player’s Edition Falcon Center Block is one of the legendary White Falcon series of guitars, and it represents the very best craftsmanship that Gretsch has to offer. The chambered spruce center block tames feedback, which allows for even more gain without unwanted interference, giving a huge boost in performance, and the treble bleed circuit ensures incredible clarity and note separation.
Ibanez was founded in 1957, in Nagoya, Japan. They started out as a producer of Spanish style acoustic guitars styled after those mde by legendary Spanish luthier Salvador Ibanez. It wasn’t until the 1960s that they began producing electric guitars, with the Montclair as their very first example.
Ibanez was one of the first Japanese brands to gain real popularity in the United States, thanks in part to their innovative designs and high end craftsmanship. Today, Ibanez is known for their Wizard necks, and their wide range of fast playing electric guitars, in particular, their heavy metal and hard rock focused designs.
The Ibanez miKro GRGM21 is a short scale guitar with a reduced size body. Not only does it make for an ideal beginners instrument, but it also doubles as a conveniently sized travel guitar for players who want to take an electric with them on their adventures. It’s especially well made considering the low price, and the rock tones from the dual humbucking pickups are fantastic.
The Ibanez Q52 is a truly modern guitar. It’s designed from the ground up for incredible playability and comfort. It’s equipped with the famous “wizard” neck, giving it incredible feel, and the Q58 pickups, which are specifically designed for headless guitars, deliver clarity and balance, and work well with both tube amps and digital rigs.
The Ibanez Joe Satriani Signature JS1CR Chrome Boy is one of the most unique looking guitars in the Ibanez line up. The body shape itself isn’t anything too radical, but the chrome finish is out of this world. This model has had a Prestige fret end treatment for incredible comfort, and the Wizard neck keeps things fast. The real party piece is the SUSTANIAC driver in the neck position, a feature that creates incredible sustain for those otherworldly Satriani tones.
Jackson Guitars was founded in 1980 by Grover Jackson and Tim Wilson, two former employees of the Charvel Guitar Company. The Jackson Guitar company was quickly approached by legendary Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Randy Rhoads, who wanted to partner with them on a new design. From there on out, Jackson became renowned for their quality guitars and their innovative approach to guitar design.
In 2002, the Jackson Guitar Company was purchased by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, and their US manufacturing operation was moved to Fender’s Coronado, CA plant. Despite being owned by Fender, Jackson still makes proprietary models aimed at metal players, including their US made flagships, and their more affordable imports made at various plants in the far east.
The Dinky Arch Top JS22 DKA is a no frills shredder that simply gets the job done. It’s one of the most affordable 24 fret guitars on the market, its slim neck plays incredibly fast, and the stock humbucking pickups do a surprisingly good job across a range of genres. If you like bold colors, this Jackson is sure to please, and the arched top makes it feel like a much more expensive guitar than it really is.
The Jackson X Series Rhoads RRX24 is the Randy Rhoads signature model, and has one of the most aggressive designs in the entire Jackson lineup. It offers exceptional playability, and despite the V shape, it’s very comfortable, even when seated. It comes stock with Seymour Duncan Blackout active pickups and a genuine Floyd Rose double locking 2 point trem system, so it’s ready to rock right out of the box.
The Jackson MJ Series Dinky DKRA is geared towards touring professionals and offers some of the best performance you’ll find in any super Strat on the market. It’s a Japanese made example that boasts a solid mahogany body, for fantastically dark tones and Seymour Duncan passive humbuckers that deliver the perfect balance of clarity, sustain, and grit.
PRS Guitars is a Maryland-based manufacturer founded in 1985 by luthier and engineer Paul Reed Smith. PRS guitars are notable for their use of the very best woods and materials, and also for their innovative design features. One such innovation is the use of highly contoured bodies and wide-neck designs that make them more comfortable to play than traditional electric guitar designs.
Considering that the company is still in relative infancy compared with some of the other big players on the market, PRS is one of the most highly coveted guitar brands on the planet. Their guitars are used by modern day legends such as Carlos Santana and John Mayer, both of whom have their own PRS Signature models.
The PRS SE Standard 24 is the most affordable model to come from the PRS brand, but make no mistakes, it’s still a very full featured instrument. The zebra humbuckers feature coil splitting capabilities, doubling the range of tones, and the PRS patent trem system delivers performance way beyond the price point.
The PRS Silver Sky is from their Core Line, and is John Mayer’s signature guitar. It’s a Stratocaster based design with some minor differences, including increased depth on the treble side cutaway for improved high fret access. It comes in a range of gorgeous finishes, and is built to the highest possible standards in Maryland, USA. The 3 single coil pickups are some of the sweetest you’ll ever hear, and the neck is a joy to play.
The PRS Santana Retro is the guitar of choice for Carlos Santana himself. It’s modeled after the original instruments that Paul Reed Smith used to build for Santana before he ever opened a factory. It’s made with a mahogany body capped with a stunning flamed maple top. The dual humbucking pickup layout combined with these tone woods delivers incredible warmth and seemingly endless sustain.
Squier was founded in the 1890s and was originally known as the V.C. Squier Company. It was started by Victor Carroll Squier in Michigan, as a manufacturer and supplier of strings for violins, banjos, and guitars. The company enjoyed prolonged success, and was eventually bought out in 1965 by Fender.
In 1975, Fender shuttered the V.C. Squier Company, although they did retain the brand name. Squier’s big comeback came in 1982, when Fender, who were looking for a way to market low cost instruments without “cheapening” the Fender brand, resurrected Squier as their line of affordable imported guitars. Today, Squier continues to make licensed copies of almost every Fender guitar at prices for every budget.
The Squier Bullet Mustang is one of the best beginner guitars on the market today. It features excellent ergonomics, it’s light weight, and it looks fantastic, particularly in Imperial Blue. It has a comfortable 1 piece maple neck with a C shape profile and a responsive Indian laurel fretboard. The dual humbuckers reward players with fat tones and huge punch when paired with high gain settings.
The Squier Affinity Series Telecaster has all the ingredients of a classic Telecaster recipe, including a string through body, a butterscotch blonde finish, and a 1 piece maple neck. As for tones, it spanks and twangs just like a Tele should, with mix piercing cleans in the bridge position and some gorgeous warmth in the neck position.
The Squier 40th Anniversary Stratocaster is the latest addition to the lineup, and is one of the best guitars ever to come from the Squier brand. It’s a full size Strat, including body depth, and offers the construction quality of the Classic Vibe series, but with more modern features for improved playability. It offers Fender Player Strat quality tones at a fraction of the price, and the new range of colors looks fantastic.
Yamaha started out as a manufacturer of reed organs way back in 1887, and didn’t actually make their first electric guitars until April 1966. In the 1970s, Yamaha expanded its guitar line with the release of several new models, including the now iconic SG series.
These guitars were used by some of the biggest names in rock music, including Carlos Santana and George Harrison. Today, Yamaha offers a wide range of electric guitars, and still boasts a fantastic reputation for quality, even on their entry level models.
The Yamaha PAC112 Pacifica is one of the best S Style guitars around under the $500 price point, which it falls very comfortably below. The build quality and attention to detail is phenomenal, and the spec sheet is very impressive considering the target audience. It comes with an alder body, a rosewood fretboard, and a versatile HSS pickup layout that offers crisp and bright cleans, and excellent distorted tones in the bridge position.
The Yamaha PAC611VFM Pacifica is another S Style guitar, but it sounds like no Strat you’ve ever heard before. It has a pair of Seymour Duncan pickups, with an aggressive SP90-1N P-90 in the neck position, a hot TB-14 humbucker in the bridge for fat tones and superb high gain performance, and it even features a push/pull tone knob for even more versatility. The neck is beautifully made, with excellent feel, and the solid maple body lends some serious snap to the tones.
The Yamaha Revstar Professional RSP02T is the flagship model in Yamaha’s newest line. The design is clearly influenced by their early SG designs, and blends contemporary and vintage styling seamlessly. This is a Japanese made model, built to the most exacting standards across the board. It gets a pair of hot P-90 pickups, a clarity boosting “dry” mode, and a “focus” mode, which ups the output by adjusting the resonant frequency.
Final Thoughts on the Best Electric Guitar Brands
We understand that sometimes the best guitar for you is the one you can best afford, but, when you’re armed with just a little bit of knowledge about the variety that there is on the market today, your options can expand significantly.
Having the right guitar can also speed up your proficiency progression, especially if you play a particular niche. For example, a Telecaster is a great all rounder, but if you only play speed metal, having a Jackson or an Ibanez will likely make playing that style so much easier.