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Guitar World Staff Picks: Paul Riario’s Top 5 Electric Guitars of 2012

Choosing an electric guitar can be somewhat overwhelming, but I always say it comes down to the type of player you are. You should grab a guitar that suits the style of music you play.

Considering it’s the end of the year, a time when we love to look at lists of the things we want or need, below is my list of five very different guitars that will certainly appeal to the type of player you are — or aspire to be.

05. AXL USA Bulldog & USA 1216 Classic (tie)

Both the USA Bulldog ($549.99) and the USA 1216 Classic ($349.99) put familiar yet clever spins on the classic Les Paul shape. The thing to note here is the body and neck wood on both guitars are produced overseas, but final assembly (fretwork, pickup and hardware installation, etc.) is done in the USA.

The 1216 provides the bottom end and note definition that Les Pauls are known for but with a pro-setup and hefty sound that rivals just about every other Les Paul-style guitar five times its price.

The USA Bulldog is a flat-out rocker with its minimalist design inspired by the Les Paul Junior. What makes it exceptional are the TonePros wraparound bridge and Kluson-style tuners, Graph Tech nut, CTS pots and Orange Sprague drop capacitors and Lindy Fralin P90 pickup, all of which are premium components craved by professional guitarists.

Combining that with the meticulous fretwork and butter-like playability makes this Bulldog the one to adopt.


04. EVH Wolfgang USA Stealth

The EVH Wolfgang USA Stealth ($3,999.99) is pricey for sure, but what you get is the exact custom guitar Eddie Van Halen plays. I must admit I was never a fan of the Wolfgang guitar shape, but in this new matte black finish and ebony fretboard, it looks and sounds pretty badass.

The Stealth features an EVH branded double-locking Floyd Rose tremolo and EVH D-Tuna — a must have device that quickly drops your low E string from an E note to a D and back in a flash without having to retune. You’ll get plenty of raw and edgy tones from the guitar, thanks to the EVH humbuckers being screwed directly into the wood, while the quartersawn maple neck and compound radius ebony fretboard with stainless steel frets makes fretting out near impossible.

For rocking out and guitar pyrotechnics, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better axe.


03. Schecter Diamond Series Blackjack SLS C-1 FR-S

With so many super Strat-style guitars available for shredders and metal players alike, I can’t help but find that the Schecter Blackjack C-1 FR-S is the absolute leader among them. It combines a Floyd Rose 1000 series double locking tremolo for dive-bombing and a built-in active Sustainiac system, which doubles as a neck pickup.

The Sustainiac, for some guitarists, is like an Apple product; it’s something you didn’t know you wanted but once you have it, you can’t imagine your life without it. The Sustainiac infinitely sustains any note and provides endless feedback or harmonic-rich overtones to that note depending upon what mode you set from its switch.

Other quality appointments include Seymour Duncan Full Shred bridge humbucker, Grover Rotomatic tuners, black multi-ply binding, ebony fretboard, skull inlay and 24 jumbo frets. There’s so much packed into this guitar that I haven’t even told you how fast and furious the neck feels.

Do yourself a favor and check it out.


02. Fender American Vintage Series ‘58 Telecaster

There are three Stratocasters, three Telecasters, a Jaguar and Jazzmaster in Fender’s brand-new American Vintage Series. All these classic guitars are recreated and precisely retooled from original-era examples using upgraded processes in their creation.

Honestly, I’ve tried them all and could pick just about any one of these instruments and tell you they’re all amazing, but it just so happens I really dig Teles now, and the American Vintage ’58 Telecaster ($2,499.99) is my favorite one to play. The ’58 pickups are wound to period-correct specs and sound as twangy and responsive as an untouched, vintage Tele hiding underneath your grandmother’s bed.

My only suggestion is to try all of the Vintage Series and find the neck shape you are most comfortable with because depending upon the model year, you’ll quickly discover whether you’re a C, D, soft V or U-shaped fan — and I’m not talking bra sizes.


01. Epiphone Ultra 339

Epiphone consistently impresses with the quality of workmanship in its guitars while remaining surprisingly affordable, and the Epiphone Ultra 339 ($1,332.00) easily falls into this category.

The Ultra 339 uses the compact body shape of a Les Paul but with the double cutaway and semi-hollow design of the ES-335, which is the perfect combination for guitarists who play jazz and blues. But the real secret weapons of the guitar are the inclusions of a pickup-ring-mounted tuner, NanoMag pickup for acoustic sounds and USB output for direct computer recording capability — all built-in to the Ultra 339.

So while the Ultra 339 handles rock and mellow tones with ease into a guitar amplifier, it also can be routed into an acoustic amplifier via the multiple input jacks (Mono, Stereo, USB) so both amplifiers can be used together or one at a time. By simply pushing in the upper tone knob, you can quickly access the NanoMag’s acoustic piezo sounds, the ProBucker pickups or a blend of both simultaneously. The Ultra 339 feels expensive and sounds silky smooth, and that’s a combination that’s hard to ignore.

More info:

I try very hard to remain under the radar despite being on camera as gear editor, but in this age of social media it was only a matter of time before it had to come to this. So with that, I will make my blog painless and a quick and easy read so you can get on to more important things like practicing guitar and sweep picking, or if you’re like me, obsessing how to race the Tour De France and trying to be Kristen Stewart’s next mistake. I will use this blog to inform you of things I find cool; like new gear I’m playing through and what I’m watching, reading or listening to at any given moment. So feel free to ask me anything that’s gear related — or if you have a problem with your girlfriend, you know, life lesson stuff, I’m pretty good at that too — and I’ll do my best to answer or address it here.

Paul Riario

Paul Riario has been the tech/gear editor and online video presence for Guitar World for over 25 years. Paul is one of the few gear editors who has actually played and owned nearly all the original gear that most guitarists wax poetically about, and has survived this long by knowing every useless musical tidbit of classic rock, new wave, hair metal, grunge, and alternative genres. When Paul is not riding his road bike at any given moment, he remains a working musician, playing in two bands called SuperTrans Am and Radio Nashville.