The world of guitars is a vast, and sometimes confusing one. There’s hundreds of options, so many brands — is every guitar really that different? Well, the short answer is yes.
Depending on your skill level, genre of music, and several other factors, certain guitars will be a better fit for you than others. There’s a whole lot to consider, so let’s break it all down.
Experience and Skill Level
Perhaps the most important factor when making this relatively large investment, your skill level and experience should be the first place to start in the decision making process.
To put it simply, a fresh beginner doesn’t need the “bells and whistles” that a guitarist like Tom Morello needs. While learning on something like a $1,500 Les Paul Custom won’t affect the learning process at all, it’s best to make a justifiable investment on your first guitar. For this, we recommend an entry-level model, such as a Squier Stratocaster. A guitar like this will be a great “test run” for learning the instrument, as it provides a solid feel and sound without breaking the bank.
An experienced guitarist has more leeway in terms of options, as once you figure out your style and sound, it becomes easier to know which brand and model will best fit you, therefore making any large investment less risky. However, that does bring us to our next point: style and sound.
Style & Sound
After you’ve played for a while, it’s very likely that you’ll start to gravitate towards certain general sounds. For example, some players find that they love a crisp, clean tone, while some find that they want as much dirt and distortion as possible.
There’s a variety of different sounds to achieve with a guitar, and here are our recommendations on which guitar is best for some general play styles:
All The Tones - Fender Stratocaster
There isn’t a guitar that provides a much sweeter sound than a classic strat, as it’s famous for that clean, popping, defined sound often associated with the 50s, 60s, and early-70s. While it can rip clean riffs all day, the Stratocaster is very versatile, and can still handle distortion incredibly well while retaining the high-definition sound typical of a strat. Overall, the Fender Stratocaster is a solid choice for almost any guitarist, as it can function as an “all-purpose” guitar.
Clean Tones - Fender Telecaster
Given that the Telecaster is renowned as a country staple guitar, it’s no surprise that it has exceptional clean tones that can edge into a twang sound. It’s not just chicken pickin’ that the tele can rock however, as in recent years it has become one of the most popular guitars for alternative and shoegaze guitarists, as its clean, cutting tone is perfect for emotional melodies up the neck.
Light Dirt and Overdrive - Gibson ES-335 or D’Angelico Excel DC
These guitars embody absolutely everything that makes a semi-hollow great. They’re both versatile guitars, as they can handle both clean and distorted sounds, however they’re renowned for a sort of “sweet-spot” in the middle of clean and distorted. The ES-335 and Excel DC both have an exceptional sound with light distortion or overdrive, as they produce a bit of an edge naturally without losing the richness of the lower tones. These guitars are a fantastic choice for just about anybody, but are especially perfect for those who fall anywhere between country and metal.
Heavy Distortion - Gibson Les Paul
There’s a reason that the Les Paul has become an industry standard for rock. The Les Paul can handle a variety of distortion and overdrive without losing any of its pronounced sound or lower-end frequencies. The Les Paul seems to have just a little more “oomph” than other guitars when compared through the same amps and pedals, making it a go-to for guitarists who like a heavily processed sound.
The Most Important Factor
The most crucial thing to think about when shopping for your next guitar is this: do you like the guitar? No great guitarists purchase their guitars just because some article told them which one to get — they play around with them, try different things, and find the one that best matches their sound and playing style. This article is a great road map to help give you an idea of the guitar you might like, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide which guitar is right for your needs.
And at the end of the day, amp sounds are more important anyways, but that’s a discussion for a different time…