It's hard to imagine a world without guitars – we'd be out of a job for a start. This simple instrument may be just made up of various combinations of wood and steel, but it's certainly more than the sum of its parts. A well-constructed six-string from one of the best guitar brands has the ability to transport the player to new worlds, creating music that soothes, exhilarates and entertains.
Like an artist with a brush, each guitar brand paints a unique sonic portrait. Some draw from their rich heritage, choosing to focus on the traditional techniques from a bygone age, while others embrace the avant-garde, blending cutting-edge technology with boundless imagination. So, regardless of what musical masterpiece you'd like to create, you'll find a guitar brand with the perfect palette for your needs – and we're here to help you discover which guitar company is the best for you.
Now, we should probably state that these brands are in no particular order, and we won't be crowning anyone as the best guitar brand overall. In reality, the "best" means different things to different people.
Also, there are many brands that didn't quite make the list, with the likes of boutique builders Suhr, Mayones, Kiesel and Baum to other legacy names such as D'Angelico, Schecter and Charvel missing out on a slot. Now, that’s not to say we aren’t fans of these companies, but the point of this article is to highlight those brands that – in our experience of testing and covering guitar gear – are leaders when it comes to build quality, product choice and innovation, rather than listing every last brand.
So, with that in mind, we're going to break down what you need to know about everyone from Fender to Gibson, Taylor to Martin, summing up the brand's values and what they do best. So, without further ado, let's dive in.
Best guitar brands: Electric guitars
Fender is arguably the most well-known guitar manufacturer of all time. Without Leo Fender's influence on the wonderful world of guitars, amplifiers and basses, the landscape of music would look very different – it certainly wouldn't be as colorful.
Having been responsible for the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar with their legendary Broadcaster, Fender has cemented itself as one of the most important music brands to ever exist.
Known for their bright and shimmery tone – and equally eye-catching finishes – the versatile sound of guitars such as the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jazzmaster and Jaguar is perfect for everything from blues and indie to alternative rock, punk, jazz, and just about anything else.
So, if you're looking for an adaptable guitar that's steeped in history, then look no further than Fender. Better yet, no matter the budget you're working with, you'll easily find a high-quality instrument. For wallet-friendly options, you have Fender's affordable brand Squier; for mid-priced alternatives, the Mexican-made Player Series offers fantastic value, and the vast array of American-made models are some of the best around.
Gibson may be thought of as a leading force in rock n roll, but their story stretches a lot further back than that. Started by Orville Gibson in 1894, the now world-dominating guitar giant started from a modest workshop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At first, they produced mandolins and acoustic instruments but would eventually graduate to electric guitars, basses and amplifiers.
With a little over a century in the guitar business, it will come as no surprise that Gibson has been responsible for some of the most influential guitars ever produced. From the seductively beautiful Gibson Les Paul to the indulgent semi-hollow king, the ES-335, as well as the J-45, SG, Flying V, Explorer and Firebird, Gibson has cultivated a legacy that will easily stand for another 100 years.
Just like Fender, Gibson also offers affordable options via their sister brand Epiphone. Gibson purchased Epiphone in 1957 and, by 1986, would start using the name to brand their budget versions of their iconic guitars.
To see our pick of the guitars that we believe embody Gibson's quality, prestige, and innovation, head over to our best Gibson guitars guide.
If there is a guitar brand that is best known for its exquisite build quality and stunning custom finishes, it's PRS. Originally launching in 1985, Paul Reed Smith has gone on to become a pioneer of modern manufacturing techniques, creating guitars that perfectly balance form and function.
The Maryland-based company offers a wealth of models, with each falling into one of five categories - Core, Bolt-On, S2, SE, and Private Stock. So regardless of your price point, you'll be able to jump aboard the PRS train.
Easily the most recognizable model is the famed Custom 24, which is available in various guises, from high-end to beginner friendly – and the SE variant routinely tops our list of the best electric guitars under $1,000. Beloved for its flashy flame maple top, eye-catching vibrant finishes, artful bird inlays and serious tone, this guitar more than delivers on all fronts.
So, if you are on the hunt for a guitar that looks as good as it sounds, be sure to check out PRS.
Ibanez, the shredder's weapon of choice. Now while most know this Japanese brand for producing some of the finest shred-friendly axes on the planet, most are unaware of this guitar manufacturer's humble beginnings.
Ibanez started life as the musical instrument division of the Hoshino Shoten bookshop chain in Japan. They would start by importing Spanish guitars made by master luthier Salvador Ibanez and would later start to produce their own instruments – and yes, that's where the inspiration came from for the name.
Jumping forward to the modern day and Ibanez are renowned for their fast-playing necks and super-strat style designs – with the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Paul Stanley, Nita Strauss and Mick Thomson counted as Ibanez loyalists.
Ibanez guitars tend to focus on playability, with wide and often flatter neck profiles, high-output pickups and trem systems. So, if you are seeking to indulge in the more extreme areas of guitar playing, from super-fast legato licks to down-tuned riffage, then Ibanez may just be the best guitar brand for you.
Next up is another Japanese brand, ESP. From modest origins as a provider of custom replacement guitar parts, Electric Sound Products has grown into a leading light in the dark, murky world of metal guitars.
Now while ESP – and by extension, their budget line LTD – do make non-metal six-strings, they are most definitely better known for their instruments that lean towards the heavier end of the music spectrum. Arguably, the high-performance Eclipse model is the company's most recognizable offering, with its slimmed-down LP-style body, comfortable thin neck and face-melting pickups. Better yet, it comes in a range of finishes, configurations and price points.
Of course, with ESP being such a respected name in metal, you'd expect some of the biggest artists in the genre to rely on these guitars to achieve their gut-wrenching tones. Everyone from Metallica frontman and down-picking legend James Hetfield to Megadeth's shredder-in-chief Dave Mustaine, as well as Alexi Laiho, Bill Kelliher, Max Cavalera, and Will Adler, all have signature models through the guitar brand.
Players have been chasing "that Gretsch sound" for decades, and frankly, they'll be pursuing it for many more to come. The high-end piercing sparkle, bellowing mid-range, and rich, warm lows culminate in a tone that has more than stood the test of time – and with a dedicated list of disciples that includes everyone from George Harrison to Chet Atkins, Eddie Cochran and Bo Diddley, as well as modern six-string pioneers Jack White, John Frusciante, and Pat Smear you can see why.
These large-bodied, Bigsby-clad guitars will instantly transport you back to a simpler time with their charming good looks, fantastic playability, and retro-inspired tones. Gretsch has become a staple of both country and rockabilly, with their stylish hollowbody guitars laying down the foundations on which the rest of the music is built.
Now, with a legacy that dates back well over 100 years, it would be inevitable that Gretsch would amass a large catalog of models.
Thankfully, that does mean there is something for every type of player here. From the wallet-friendly Streamliner to the insanely popular Electromatic and the Handcrafted Professional line, you'll easily find the right guitar for you.
In the late 1970s, Jackson was there to help usher in a new breed of guitar player – the glammed-up hair metal virtuoso. Priding themselves on high-performance instruments that would allow players to achieve new heights on the instrument, Jackson quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the shred guitar game.
By the middle of the '80s, the once small Southern California guitar repair shop was now at the forefront of the pointy headstock, gassed-up super guitar movement – and today, their instruments are just as popular as ever with modern metalheads such as Misha Mansoor, Mark Heylmun, Chris Broderick and Rob Caggiano all having signature models.
Popular models to look out for include the Jackson Dinky, Rhoads, Soloist and Kelly. Each of these guitars offers its own unique tonal characteristics, feel, and looks, so it's worth exploring the entire range to find the best fit for your needs.
Based in the city of Uppsala, near Stockholm, Strandberg offers players a contemporary approach to guitar, with instruments that push the boundaries of guitar design. Their Ergonomic Guitar System is at the heart of the brand and has become their calling card.
One look at a Strandberg instrument, and you'll instantly know this isn't your typical guitar. From the headless neck and unique lightweight body design, this guitar is about as modern as they come.
Strandberg guitars and basses have been adopted by many players who demand more from their instruments, with the likes of Ben Kenney of Incubus, Porcupine Tree's Randy McStine, and Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry often seen with one slung around their necks.
Fancy exploring the world of high-performance headless guitars in more depth? Check out our guide to the best headless guitars.
Yamaha is a towering presence in the musical instrument game. From pianos to ukuleles, keyboards, drum kits and guitars, it's possible to kit out your entire band with Yamaha products.
Yamaha began producing guitars in 1966 and since then has gone on to become one of the most trusted names in the industry - especially among beginners. The beloved Yamaha Pacifica is now a guitar student staple, offering superb value for money and brilliant playability. In fact, it tops our list to the best beginner electric guitars.
So, if you're looking for a reliable instrument that's affordable, stylish and great sounding, you'll want to check out Yamaha.
Founded in 1974, Music Man is another one of the legendary instrument brands that helped shape the future of electric guitar and bass. Models such as the iconic StingRay - available as both a guitar and bass – helped put the company on the map, and these instruments are just as popular today as back then.
In 1984 the company was sold to guitar string titan Ernie Ball, who carried on the legacy of this fantastic guitar brand.
Today many players count on Music Man to express themselves. Everyone from St. Vincent to John Petrucci, Steve Lukather and Albert Lee aren't seen too far away from their beloved Music Man signature models.
Best guitar brands: Acoustic guitars
Martin, or C.F. Martin & Company to give them their full title, is one of the most famous and long-lasting family-owned brands in American history and easily one of the most influential forces in the guitar industry.
The acoustic guitar giant has a legacy that stretches back close to 200 years and is responsible for shaping how everyone else builds and designs acoustic guitars. From popularizing X-bracing to inventing the iconic dreadnought shape, Martin is one of the most important guitar brands to ever exist.
Martin is most known for their rich and retro tone, with models such as the famed D-18, D-28, and HD-35 delivering a bold tone with a striking low-end and perfect projection. Other instruments in this legacy brand's catalog, such as the OM-42, 000-28, or 0-18, offer a more focused sound with less bass and a more articulate top-end.
Taylor is a forward-thinking company that produces some of the finest six-strings available today. Recognized as a flat-top trailblazer with strong and passionate views on sustainability, Taylor offers modern players a contemporary guitar that feels and sounds just as good as it looks.
This acoustic guitar brand was established in 1974 by Bob Taylor, Kurt Listug, and Steve Schemmer, and over their years in the instrument industry, would go from simply a maker of handcrafted instruments to owning a small ebony sawmill in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and becoming devoted to finding a solution to the ebony crisis.
Taylor is beloved for their crisp, contemporary tone. These guitars deliver a singing upper mid-range that can cut through even the densest of mixes. Taylor's pioneering Grand Auditorium body style – represented by a four at the end of their model numbers – has become the company's flagship design and easily their most popular.
Takamine is probably most known for pioneering electric-acoustic technology and being one of the first companies to offer acoustic guitars that could be plugged into an amplifier.
The development of the under-saddle Palathetic pickup will go down in history as a massive moment for the acoustic guitar. This new pickup allowed acoustic players to achieve a natural and realistic amplified sound and with quickly embraced by many of the biggest names in the late '70s.
Today Takamine has a myriad of models on offer. From the Signature Series to the Pro Series and their more affordable G Series, there's a guitar here to suit every style and budget.
The Godin story begins in the early '70s. Robert Godin began making guitars by himself in Quebec, Canada, and after a relatively short time, has grown the company to one of the biggest manufacturers of acoustic guitars in the world.
Today Godin manufactures a multitude of instruments under several different monikers. As well as the Godin banner, the brand also produces guitars under Norman, Art & Lutherie, Simon and Patrick, La Patrie and Seagull.
Okay, so we've already covered Gibson in the electric section above, but it's also worth covering them here. Yes, Gibson is probably best known for their stellar electric guitars, such as the SG, ES-335 and Les Paul, but they also have an equally impressive list of acoustic icons.
Models such as the workhorse J-45, the intricately beautiful Hummingbird and the bellowing SJ-200 are among the most sought-after flat-tops in the world.
Gibson acoustic guitars offer a strong and robust mid-range that is perfect if you are playing in a band and need your acoustic to be heard over loud drums, pianos or enthusiastic vocals.
Like their electric offerings, the Californian guitar giant likes to add a little color and pizzazz to their acoustic guitars. While Fender offers some fairly traditional flat-tops, they are most famous for their acoustics which pay homage to their electric heritage.
These guitars can be found with Fender's iconic Strat headstock, a very playable electric neck and dazzling Fender color options.
Fender's new Acoustasonic range takes this concept one step further, giving players a shape-shifting axe that will take care of both acoustic and electric duties.
The Guild legacy dates back to 1952 and, over the years, has been used by everyone from Bryan Adams to Billie Joe Armstrong, Jeff Buckley, Joe Walsh and countless others.
Now, while most see Guild as a traditional brand, they were innovators in their time. Guild was the first to manufacture a dreadnought with a cutaway. The famed D-40C gave players access to notes that were simply out of reach before, and well, the rest is history.
Guild guitars are beloved for their full-bodied, well-balanced tone that perfectly compliments a vocal – so singer-songwriter, take note, you may want to check out Guild.
Best guitar brands: Buying advice
So, how do you know which guitar brand is right for you? Well, really, the best way is to try them out. Every brand offers something different. Whether that's a unique tone, styling, or playing experience, every guitar brand is different – so seek out a guitar store and sit down with the instruments and see which one speaks to you.
It's also worth doing some research into what your guitar heroes are playing. Are you a die-hard fan of the top hat aficionado, Slash? Well, in that case, you'll want to grab a Gibson or Epiphone. Maybe you are a fan of all things metal, well perhaps Jackson, Ibanez or Strandberg is the best choice for you. If you want a great place to start your research, be sure to check out our expert buyer's guides and in-depth reviews.
Similarly, in the world of acoustic guitars, it's worth finding out what your favorite artists used to record those iconic records and using that as a starting point. Really, there are no wrong answers; go for the guitar that feels, sounds, and looks the best for you. When you find the right one, you'll know.
Should I buy from a boutique guitar brand instead?
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So, as well as a myriad of mass-produced guitars on the market, you also have the option to go down the boutique route. Wait, what is a boutique guitar company? Well, typically a boutique brand is one that produces their instruments in very small numbers, with premium materials and the option to customize your order.
Of course, by their very nature, boutique guitars offer a lot of flexibility and can be tailored to your exact needs. That said, this does come at a price. Brands such as Fano, Collings, Novo, Suhr, Mayones and Kiesel are among the most popular boutique brands.
Now, while it may be tempting to go straight for the customized guitar, it may not be the right option for everyone. As well as it costing a pretty penny, you can often have very long wait times for your new axe.
It's also worth noting that you need to know exactly what you want before ordering. You need to be aware of your likes and dislikes, and this comes with experience, so we'd suggest starting with a few run-of-the-mill guitars, before graduating to these high-end beauties.
How we chose the guitar brands for this list
Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field. We live and breathe everything guitar related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience when selecting the brands to showcase in this feature.
First and foremost, we are guitarists, and we want other players to find the right instrument for them. So before recommending a brand, we'll always get hands-on with as many guitars as possible from the manufacturer to ensure we are assessing the full scope of what is available.
We pay careful attention to the build quality, the range of options available and the price point of the models. We'll also look at the popularity of a brand within the wider guitar community, before making a recommendation.
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