Everybody has a different opinion on what makes the best electric guitar for them. And rightly so. To some, choosing the best electric guitars in the world might mean a quest to find the most expensive, most tricked-out model available. Or it might mean the guitar that helps you learn, or comes with you to your first band rehearsal. But 'the best' means different things to different guitarists and picking the right guitar for them is a very personal choice.
For this round-up, we’re presenting the best electric guitars around today, covering a wide spectrum of genres, playing abilities and, most importantly, budgets, to help you choose the right axe for you.
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So, for example, below you’ll find a fantastic workhorse guitar, a great electric guitar for metal, a top electric for beginners, plus a blinged-out gem, just in case you happen to have several thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket – because it's nice to aspire to something, right?
Our handy price comparison widgets have also found the best prices online right now, to save you having to shop around.
What is the best electric guitar?
All things considered, there are a number of things which any 'good' guitar, at any price point, will nail. They'll be well built, they'll sound great, and they'll be a joy to play. Without these three criteria they simply don't make the cut. Underneath that there are countless variables, many of which fall into the realms of subjectivity and genre specificity.
For that reason, it's hard to pick just one guitar to recommend over another. What we have done with this round-up, however, is pick a selection from some of the best brands around. Fender, Gibson, PRS and Ibanez are all represented here.
If we had to pick just one guitar in this list, however, we'd go for the Gibson Les Paul Studio, purely on account of its ruggedness, tones, playability and vibe. But players who swear by Fender have their share of picks, too, from budget Squier offerings to the very latest tricked-out Strat and Tele models.
Choosing the best electric guitar: buying advice
As we've outlined above, guitar buying is a subjective thing. The most important thing you can do before any purchase is have a long, hard conversation with yourself. Ask yourself: what exactly is it you're looking for? Are you an intermediate player looking to take the next step up? Or perhaps you're switching genres, or looking for something that can handle the rigors of touring life.
Whatever it is you need, there will be a guitar made for that scenario – and our aim is to help you find it. The savvy guitar buyer will have a shortlist long in advance of handing over their money. If not, we’ve done the work for you here.
There is definitely space for a bit of 'gut feeling' when you're shopping. We've all had situations where we've played a guitar we'd never normally have looked twice at and had it pleasantly surprise us. Keeping an open mind is no bad thing. Sometimes when you pick up a guitar you just know. There's no rationale.
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But, instinct aside, you can at least put yourself in the right ballpark by using guides like this one to hone in on what works for you. With so many variables, it can be hard to know where to start. Maybe you'll find your dream guitar with a quick scroll, or maybe it will take some further research, but we hope to help you start that journey right here.
So allow us to walk you through some of the best electric guitars on the planet today. They’re ordered by price, and we’ve found the best deals on each one, too.
The best electric guitars you can buy right now
When choosing an electric guitar for a child, there are a number of things to consider. The guitar itself has to be reasonably light to ensure smaller shoulders can cope. It needs to be easy enough to play for small hands, with an appropriately-sized neck. And it needs to look cool. Because, let's face it, at that age the look of the guitar arguably trumps its ability to traverse multiple tonal areas.
There are a few dedicated mini versions of regular guitars, but we've gone for one which is full sized, fully equipped and affordable. The Squier Bullet Mustang features a slightly smaller scale length which, combined with the basswood body, make it easy to get to grips with. But, importantly, its double humbuckers ensure it can keep up with most grown-up guitars. And it looks totally badass.
The entry-level guitar market is in a much healthier place than it was even 10 years ago. Now, manufacturers and brands are employing far higher levels of quality control than they did. This means even 'cheaper' guitars deliver tones, construction and playability previously reserved for mid and higher level models.
The Squier Classic Vibe '60s Stratocaster is the perfect example of this. Previously, an entry-level guitar would tend to last a couple of years, have string action like playing razor wire, and tones like a horde of bees in a tin can. Not so any more.
This Classic Vibe looks, feels and sounds incredible, and even gives some of the cheaper Fender models a run for their money. Style and playability at a price that won't make your eyes water. Progress is a wonderful thing.
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When we're talking value, one guitar instantly springs to mind. The Epiphone Les Paul Standard has been the go-to guitar for thousands of players over the years, and for good reason. Put simply, this guitar ticks a lot of boxes. It's exceptionally well-made, it sounds great and, importantly, it won't break the bank.
For many players, this guitar hits the perfect sweet spot between quality, price and performance. It's why you see so many people graduate to it as their first 'serious' axe, and why you see so many on the weekend warrior circuit. If a bona fide Gibson is out of reach financially, you can't go far wrong with one of these.
Baritone guitars are pretty unique. By having a longer neck, and utilising thicker strings, you get the advantage of entirely new scales, tones and techniques opening up to you. Granted, the majority of baritone players tend to be metal fans looking for new ways to achieve heavier sounds, but there's beauty in the beast too.
The PRS SE 277 is a perfect example. It combines the 27.7” extended range and deeper, darker sound, with the incredible build quality and attention to detail we've come to expect from PRS' sister line.
The 277 probably won't be anybody's go-to main guitar, but as something a bit different which inspires a different way of playing, it's a great choice.
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Vibe is a somewhat nebulous concept. Essentially, it's a guitar which evokes a certain mood or level of cool. While any number of axes could fit the bill, we've gone for the excellentFender Vintera '60s Telecaster Modified.
The Vintera combines a simple Tele layout with some clever tweaks under the hood and oodles of aforementioned vibe.
Underneath the standard alder body, you get access to some pretty unique pickup options. A special four-way switch offers both single coil pickups in series, while the S-1 switch on the volume knob inverts the phase giving you plenty of usable tones to choose from.
Within guitar styles, there are certain sub-genres. Arguably the biggest niche is guitars made for heavy styles of music. This manifests itself in the body styling, ergonomics and hardware, with certain brands - like ESP and Schecter - dominating this world. But it's arguably the biggest name in metal guitars we've opted for here, and in one of their most iconic models.
Step forward the Ibanez RG550. Reissued last year, and based on an absolute legend of the genre, the RG550 is engineered specifically with metal in mind. The wafer-thin neck, locking trem, locking nut and high-output humbuckers give this guitar everything it needs to shred.
For many players, there comes a time when they want to branch out. To try new styles of playing, sounds or genres. And, while it would be nice to have specific guitars for each of these styles, sometimes that isn't possible. So we look for a jack of all trades. The Fender American Performer Stratocaster is one such guitar.
Offering the dual benefits of classic single coil Fender attack, with the extra heft of a bridge humbucker, we get a guitar that can handle most styles of music with ease. Add to that the ability to split the humbucker into two single coils, and you have all the versatility you could ever need. And, being a high-end Fender, you know the sounds on offer are all top notch.
When you talk about workhorse guitars, you're looking for something which is equally at home in the studio, on the road or stored under the sofa to be brought out during the commercial breaks.
Pound for pound, you can't go far wrong with the Gibson Les Paul Studio. As well as being built to survive a nuclear war, the Studio line combines the tones, playability and durability of a solid, high-end guitar with the price tag that keeps it in range of the masses.
In order to achieve this balance, Gibson removes some of the aesthetic touches you'd find on a Standard model, like binding around the body, but the rest of it is largely as you'd find on guitars higher up the price bracket.
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Launched in November 2019, Fender’s American Ultra Series visited sweeping changes across its Californian-built premium production line: noiseless pickups as standard, “Modern D” neck profiles, sculpted neck heels. Fingerboards now had a compound 10”-14” fingerboard radius, rolled edges and medium-jumbo frets for a contemporary feel.
These were player-orientated features – not to mention the gold foil Fender logo and some of the nicest finishes we had seen in years. All fancy appointments, and the Telecaster wears them well.
Tone-wise, the bridge pickup is classic Telecaster, weapons-grade treble, bright, articulate, and takes on a really musical Nashville crunch with more gain. The neck rounds out the attack, while you might well find the bouncy sweet spot with both pickups in parallel. The S-1 Switch offers a little on-tap thickness and a little more volume, and underscores the Tele’s reputation as the ultimate workhorse – versatile, punchy, impossible to put down.
Read the full Fender American Ultra Telecaster review
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And now for something completely different. When you think about jazz guitars, you think large bodies, semi-hollow construction and warm humbuckers. Combine these things together and you get an instrument capable of producing those silky smooth, rounded tones which form the cornerstone of jazz guitar.
The Gibson ES-335 is a heavyweight in this field. It marries up a range of exceptional tones, with the highest levels of build quality and silky-smooth playability. Gibson has been producing variants of the ES-335 for over 70 years, and that heritage is evident in every note, trill and legato.
It's not cheap, but that tells its own story. Jazz guitars don't get much better than this.
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We round off this list with something from the very top shelf. Imagine your lottery numbers came in, and you could cherry pick any guitar from the catalogue. There's no place for subtlety or conservatism. We're looking for the absolute pinnacle of guitar-making, and our search begins at the outer limits of elite luthiery.
If you're spending that sort of money, you want something a bit out of the ordinary. You want something nobody else has, and you want to pay for the privilege. For that reason, we've opted for a PRS Private Stock Custom 24. We say 'a' Private Stock, rather than 'the', because each of these fine examples of craftsmanship is a true one-off.
Put simply, these guitars are the best of the best, from one of the most revered brands there is. Whether you play it, or mount it on the wall, is entirely your call…
About the author
Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 10 years of experience writing for some of the music world's biggest brands including Orange Amplification, MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Dawsons Music.