The history of modern music has been significantly shaped by one instrument – the electric guitar. So much of the music we love today simply wouldn’t be possible without it and a large part of that is down to the all time classics featured in this list.
There’s no question there are other wonderful guitars around, but if you want to invoke the sounds (and looks) of best electric guitars heroes through ages then there’s nothing more straightforward than playing one of these classic models. To this end we’ve whittled down our list of the best electric guitar of all time to only the most era-shaping instruments and provided you with the two foremost contemporary versions of those classics that are available today – the premium model and a more affordable version.
- 1 1. Fender Stratocaster Best Electric Guitars Of All Tim
- 2 2. Gibson Les Paul Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
- 3 3. Fender Telecaster Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
- 4 4. Gibson SG Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
- 5 5. Super Strat Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
- 6 FAQ’s
- 6.1 Should I learn on an electric guitar or acoustic?
- 6.2 Best Electric Guitar Of All Time
- 6.3 What strings do I need?
- 6.4 Electric Guitar Strings
- 6.5 Acoustic Guitar Strings
- 6.6 Do I need other equipment to get started?
- 6.7 How is a guitar tuned?
- 6.8 What’s the difference between barre chords and open chords?
- 6.9 Are my fingers supposed to hurt?
- 6.10 How do I get the most out of my practice time?
- 6.11 What’s the most common beginner’s pitfall?
1. Fender Stratocaster Best Electric Guitars Of All Tim
First introduced to the public in 1954, the Fender Stratocaster best electric guitar of all time is one of the most iconic guitars ever. It was Leo Fender’s successor to the Fender Telecaster, and it went on to be the axe of choice for musicians in almost every genre.
The Stratocaster is a versatile best electric guitar of all time guitar, so it doesn’t really have any one defining tone. However, it’s generally considered to be a very bright and cutting instrument (though not to the extent that the Telecaster is). It also has a mid-range “quack”. It’s a great choice for musicians looking to play lead (with the exception of jazz), though it can be a bit too bright for rhythm work. Though to be fair, this really varies based on your playing style, your amp, and how you EQ your rig.
The Stratocaster is one of the most copied instruments in the world, and because of this dozens of different interpretations of it exist. However, the most affordable version of this guitar that still looks and feels like those played by famous musicians is the Fender Standard Stratocaster.
Fender Standard Stratocaster
The Fender Standard Stratocaster best electric guitar of all time is Fender’s entry-level Stratocaster (though it is still a step up from the Squier series). It’s manufactured in Mexico, and while it costs more than similarly outfitted Squiers it is generally considered to have a higher level of quality control. The difference in quality between this guitar and the highest end Squiers isn’t going to be huge, but the quality control of the Fenders is more consistent. So if you’re not into doing your own modifications (or don’t feel like paying for a luthier) the Mexican Standard would be the way to go.
The Standard Series is also “vintage inspired”, so it gets you in the ball park of vintage tones. Think SRV, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Holly. It’s a versatile instrument, but it’s focused on vintage genres and the genres that were inspired by them. The clean tones in particular of this instrument are one of its main strengths.
Fender American Vintage ‘59 Stratocaster
Most notable musicians who’ve used a Stratocaster played vintage instruments. There are a few features on vintage instruments that make them sound different than modern Stratocasters; most notably the pickups and the bridge’s configuration. To keep it simple, it’s basically a difference in output volume (this is decided by how sensitive your pickups are, with more sensitive pickups having a higher output), material density, and layout. These differences aren’t going to make a huge difference, but if you’re looking to nail that vintage tone you’re going to appreciate them.
The Fender American Vintage ’59 is built to period correct specifications. Everything from the pickups (which use period accurate wrapping and magnets) to the pickguard is a replication of vintage instruments. It also has the QA exclusive to a first-world made instrument, so odds are good that this guitar will play beautifully and sound amazing right out of the box. This best electric guitar of all time would be a great fit for any genre that requires lower levels of distortion.
2. Gibson Les Paul Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
A fun fact a lot of musicians don’t know about the Gibson Les Paul best electric guitar of all time is that it is arguably one of the world’s first signature guitars. The guitar was co-designed by inventor and jazz guitarist Les Paul (who also invented the harmonica holder used by Bob Dylan).
The guitar is generally associated with rock and roll, but it’s actually been used in quite a few genres. It’s a great jazz guitar, the secret weapon of Bob Marley, and the guitar of choice for a ton of blues musicians.
The defining feature of Les Paul style guitars is their full tone and sustain, which makes them a great fit for the genres listed above. The guitars traditionally use humbuckers (though they were first launched with P90s), and because these pickups have a higher output they’re easier to distort.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
For the money, Epiphone best electric guitar of all time are some of the most consistent instrument available. They’re well built, durable, and considering their price point actually sound really good. In fact, Epiphone’s main strength as a company is the consistency of their instruments. Epiphone instruments almost always come with an excellent set up, and rarely have any notable defects. The Epiphone Les Paul is easily capable capable of pulling off great tones in genres where you’d expect to see a Les Paul, encompassing everything from smooth jazz to garage rock. The Standard is Epiphone’s middle-of-the-road Les Paul. It has all of the important features of its more expensive brethren, all it’s missing is the bling. It has traditionally voiced humbuckers. Basically, think of Eric Clapton and live videos of Jimmy Page. These pickups can do rock, they’re just not going to do really heavy metal. Think classic rock (the Epiphone’s strength) as opposed to Korn and Slipknot.
Gibson Les Paul Standard
The Gibson Les Paul Standard is one of the more affordable guitars in the Gibson line that includes all of the features musicians associate with the instrument. It has a carved AAA maple top, a mahogany body, and a set-in neck. The pickups also approximate the tone of PAF (patent applied for) pickups, which were used on the vintage Les Pauls played by the musicians listed above. Modern reinterpretations of PAF pickups have gotten really close to the original examples, making a new instrument well worth the cost if you’re on the hunt for more vintage tones.
The main thing that separates a Gibson Les Paul from an Epiphone Les Paul is the quality of the materials used. Gibson instruments use better wood, higher quality electronics, and better tuners. Dialing in all of these components to work well with each other is an art, and in Gibson’s case their execution of this art justifies the cost associated with their instruments.
3. Fender Telecaster Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
Long thought to be “just” a country guitar, the Fender Standard Telecaster is arguably one of the best electric guitar of all time ever. It’s been used by everyone from Jack White to Vince Gill, and has been used in the studio for just about every notable band ever at one time or another.
The Telecaster owes its success to its bright and twangy tone which, when played clean, oozes a strong country vibe. However, when used with distortion the Telecaster is easily one of the most cutting guitars ever. It’s the perfect instrument for a lead guitarist.
However, the downfall of the Telecaster is that it isn’t really a great rhythm instrument. Even the neck pickup still sounds a bit thin. There’s an old quote about the Telecaster that goes, “The Telecaster has two sounds; good and bad”, and that’s pretty reflective of the instrument. In the right hands it can do a lot, but it still can’t do everything.
Fender Standard Telecaster
The Standard Telecaster (which is made in Mexico) is a phenomenal guitar. All of the instrument’s features are well executed, from the finish to the pickups. It’s a solid gigging and recording instrument. The standout feature on Standard Telecasters is their overall build quality relative to their price. It’s really uncommon for people to have issues with the Standard series that’s the fault of the manufacturer (if you see a guitar with sharp frets or a warped neck, a lot of the time the distributor is actually the one to blame). Fender also uses quality pieces of wood in the guitar, which makes them a good platform for modding should you choose to go that route.
The electronics used in the guitar (including wiring, pots, and pickups) are all of a quality you would expect at this price point. Unless you’re planning on touring or recording a professional-level album you shouldn’t be disappointed.
American Professional Telecaster
The American Professional Telecaster, a part of the recently debuted Professional series, definitely lives up to its name. No one could say that this best electric guitar of all time wouldn’t be an asset to a professional musician. The fit and finish are considered to be excellent, and the hardware is reflective of the guitar’s price point. There’s nothing about this guitar that suggests that it wouldn’t be an awesome buy, and there’s no Telecaster we can think of that would objectively perform better than this model.
The reason that the Professional series was included in this list over the American Standard series is that the pickups for the Professional line were tweaked by Tim Shaw. Shaw, a long-time employee of Fender, basically took a boutique approach to the pickups; redesigning them from the ground up. So you get all of the benefits of boutique pickups without the headache of having to install them yourself.
4. Gibson SG Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
Just like the Les Paul best electric guitar of all time , the Gibson SG is synonymous with rock and roll. It’s hard to picture Black Sabbath or AC/DC without an SG. Though while the guitar is generally considered to be a rock and roll machine, it’s also a very capable blues guitar (see Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks).
The Gibson SG was launched in 1961, inspired by a decline in the sale of Gibson Les Pauls. The SG was cheaper to produce, lighter, and through the use of an upper and lower bout cutaway had significantly more upper fret access.
When it comes to tone, the SG is actually really similar to the Les Paul. You could make the case that a Les Paul will have more sustain than an SG, though this is going to vary from model to model. It’s main appeal over the Les Paul is that it’s lighter.
Epiphone Worn Series G-400
The Epiphone Worn Series G-400 is surprisingly well outfitted for a guitar in this price range. It comes with a mahogany body, a rosewood fingerboard, as well as 14:1 Grover tuners. Its tuners in particular are a standout feature, and promise the stability that used to only be found on guitars costing many times more. The guitar also sports Alcino Classic Humbuckers, which have a moderate output. Like the Les Paul, the Epiphone Worn Series G-400 would be great for blues and classic rock. You can also pull off some pretty convincing tones in other genres, though the SG may not be the most traditional instrument around if you’re looking to play something outside of blues or rock.
The cool thing about SGs is that they’re simple, so there’s not as much that can go wrong (Les Pauls are a bit more finicky, as a general rule). This best electric guitar of all time in particular would be great as either a first instrument or as a first upgrade for a musician who’s already got their start.
Gibson USA SG Standard T
The Gibson USA SG Standard T is an affordable option if you’re looking for a vintage-inspired SG. The “T” in Standard T stands for traditional, so the features of the guitar are all intended to help you conjure up vintage SG tones. The pickups used in the SG Standard T are Classic ‘57s. Both Burstbuckers and Classic ‘57s are used in Gibson SG guitars, both of which are intended to mimic the tones of Gibson PAF pickups. Burstbuckers are a tad darker, while Classic ’57s are brighter. If you’re looking to play in a band you’re definitely going to want to look at the Classic ‘57s, since because they’re a brighter sounding pickup you’ll be more easily heard.
Gibson has also recently cut their prices, so don’t feel that because this best electric guitar of all time is cheaper than those from earlier years that it’s of a lesser quality. Everything from the hardware to the overall construction is of a level of quality that you would expect from an American made instrument.
5. Super Strat Best Electric Guitars Of All Time
This category is probably going to be controversial because there’s no one brand that defines “Super Strat”. Pretty much every guitar company has made one, and the originals were modified Fender Stratocasters (with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar being a good example).
They also don’t really have any one defined tone, though they do generally have higher output (higher output equals = more volume = more distortion). This section features Ibanez, but if you feel like there’s a better choice for this section tell us about it in the comments.
Super Strat best electric guitar of all time generally have two features that differentiate them from an average Stratocaster: high-output pickups (usually humbuckers) and a Floyd Rose tremolo (the last one is optional). They’re good at playing distorted genres, but they sound a bit sterile when used to play genres that are either clean (no distortion) or played at low levels of distortion.
Ibanez RG RG450DX
The Ibanez RG series is a collection of guitars which are all a perfect example of what most musicians think of when they hear the term “Super Strat”. The guitars have two humbuckers (one in the bridge and one in the neck) as well as a single coil pickup in the middle position.
This best electric guitar of all time in particular was chosen because mid-range Ibanez instruments are known for having solid tremolo systems relative to their price points, and if you’re playing hard rock or metal odds are you’re going to be getting a lot of mileage out of your tremolo. Cheaper tremolos, Floyd Rose-styles in particular, tend to break down over time. This can make them less stable, which in turn means that you’ll end up going out of tune. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem with this guitar.
You’re obviously not going to be getting jazz or country tones out of this axe, and getting a good blues tone might be a bit of a challenge, but if you’re playing something related to rock or metal you’re going to get a good tone.
Ibanez S Prestige S6570Q
The Ibanez S Prestige S6579Q is a more modern take on the Super Strap, featuring a quilted maple top that’s common to guitars in this configuration (flamed maple is also commonly seen). The S Prestige series is Ibanez’s top of the line series, and is exclusively hand-crafted in Japan.
Japanese instruments used to have the reputation that Chinese and Korean guitars have today, but in all reality Japanese instruments are easily on par with any American manufacturer. They have just as strong of a focus on quality control and playability as any other high-end manufacturer, and it shows. The guitar also comes with Ibanez’s top Floyd Rose style tremolo, which is great for heavy whammies and dive bombs. The pickups are pretty hot, which is a good thing if you’re looking to play rock and/or metal.
Should I learn on an electric guitar or acoustic?
It all depends on your personal preference and the type of music you want to play. Electric and acoustic guitars both have unique advantages.
Best Electric Guitar Of All Time
have thinner strings and therefore are a great choice for beginners because they require less hand strength. Players with small hands might also prefer an electric for its slimmer neck, which warrants an easier grip and shorter reach.
Learning on an acoustic guitar, conversely, can often be a less costly investment because it doesn’t require additional equipment. It can also ease a future transition into electric guitar because a player’s hands will already be acclimated to heavy acoustic strings.
If you are set on an best electric guitar of all time, Fender offers affordable guitar amplifiers at a variety of price points. Most are not only portable, but also easy to operate, making dialing in settings quite simple for newbies.
What strings do I need?
You’ll want to begin with a lighter string gauge. Lighter, thinner strings produce less tension, and for that reason are generally easier for beginners to work with. We recommend using a set of strings with a gauge of .009 inches to .042 inches, or .010 inches to .046 inches (known informally as “nines” or “10s”) for electric players. If you’re learning on an acoustic, look for a gauge of .011 inches to .052 inches (known as 11s) .
Different string materials also have unique benefits, including the tone they produce. Here’s a quick guide to buying guitar strings:
Electric Guitar Strings
Nickel strings: Clear and articulate; a versatile choice for rock, blues and jazz players
Stainless steel strings: Bright and less prone to wear; good for hard rock and metal
Acoustic Guitar Strings
80/20 Bronze: Bright and more metallic
Phosphor bronze: Dark, warm and mellow; a great choice for strummers.
Do I need other equipment to get started?
Yes. The right equipment can make all the difference in improving your technique and your tone. As you mature as a player, you can surround yourself with other tone-shaping accessories such as effects pedals, slides, etc.
But for now, here are the absolute essentials:
Nothing is as vibrant–or confusing–as the sheer volume of pick shapes, sizes, thicknesses and materials offered at a music store. As you become more familiar with your best electric guitar of all time you may find yourself trying out a number of picks to better accommodate your playing style. But generally speaking, plastic picks are a popular choice for their flexibility and grip. We recommend sticking to a standard size and shape, like the Fender Celluloid Pick, as a good starting point. Not to mention, the classic celluloid pick is an industry standard among many players.
As far as thickness goes, opt for a pick of medium thickness (between .73 mm–.88 mm), as it will guarantee you a solid grip without being too overwhelming to hold.
A strap is essential for stabilizing your instrument, especially if you intend to play standing up. Again, the variety of products you’ll encounter here is vast, and whatever material or design you choose is left to your discretion. However, as a beginner, comfort should be your ultimate priority. Choosing a strap that’s at least 2 inches in width, with additional padding (usually called neoprene), will help to prevent shoulder and neck pain.
Keep in mind that while electric guitars typically have two endpins on which you can attach your strap, acoustic guitars normally do not. You’ll need to purchase a strap button to secure the strap to your headstock. You can also use a shoelace or piece of string of equal density.
A cable can break your tone as quickly as it can make it, so opt for an instrument cable that’s shorter than 18.6 feet and features reinforced ends for minimal handling noise and signal loss.
You’ll be able to tune your best electric guitar of all time far more quickly and accurately with an electronic tuner or pitch pipe. Try a chromatic tuner, which allows you to tune in any key. Clip-on tuners, which attach to the headstock of your instrument and tune through the vibration of your strings, are a great choice for beginners because they’re portable, visible and very easy to use. And the Fender Tune app is a great tool, too, offering several tunings right on your mobile device.
How is a guitar tuned?
A guitar can be tuned a number of ways depending on the style of music being played, but for beginners, we’ll focus on basic standard tuning. If you are using a tuner with an LED display, make sure the needle is properly centered. Adjust your tuning machines accordingly if your sound falls flat or sharp.
When speaking in guitar terms, each string is numbered accordingly. The first string is the lightest string on the instrument — the one closest to the floor — whereas your sixth string is the heaviest. Beginning at the sixth string and progressing upward, the key for each string is as follows: E-A-D-G-B-E.
What’s the difference between barre chords and open chords?
You’ll start hearing both of these terms a lot as you develop your practice. Barre chords are produced by using your index finger to “fret” all six strings at once as you strum. Different chords are formed by forming different patterns with your other three fingers as you hold down the other six strings. Because a barre chord can be played in any key, you can also change keys quickly by simply moving your hand up and down the neck. New players may find it difficult to play barre chords initially because they require more hand strength and stretching.
Open chords, as the name suggests, do not require each string to be fretted, therefore leaving them “open” when strummed. As you progress as a player or develop your songwriting skills, you may opt for one over the other due to its sound. But by supplementing your play with both types of chords — especially in settings with multiple guitars — you’ll generate more full, complex and multidimensional tone.
Are my fingers supposed to hurt?
Yes, but don’t be discouraged. As a beginner, you’ll eventually improve your muscle strength in your playing arm and form calluses on your fretting hand. And yes, that dull pain and discomfort does come with the territory. Those aches are short-lived, especially if you continue to practice regularly, which is key to alleviating pain.
There are some ways to push through the pain like a pro. Again, lighter strings can help, as will lowering your string action (the distance between the fingerboard and the strings. A quick fix by a professional will shorten the amount of pressure you’ll need to exert as you press down.
How do I get the most out of my practice time?
The more you put into practicing your instrument, the more you’ll get out of it. Regular guitar practice is critical to improving your ability, even for those who are “naturals.” What’s more important, however, is proper practice. Keeping your technique in check will prevent you from forming bad habits that may sometimes take years to break.
Good posture, proper hand positioning and preventative stretching should always be considered. While it is normal to experience discomfort during your first few months of play, be mindful of tension and unnatural bending in your fingers and wrists.
Remember to take breaks. Great guitar playing doesn’t necessarily come from hours upon hours of excruciating practice. Quality is just as important as quantity. A refreshing breather every 20 minutes will keep your mind clear and enthusiasm piqued.
What’s the most common beginner’s pitfall?
Many beginners assume that technique and ability will come to them overnight. It’s this misnomer that leads to frustration and, sometimes, giving up your instrument altogether. Learning music is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a gradual learning experience that requires patience, time and true comprehension of concepts.
Racing through scales and scrutinizing every note is not what makes this craft enjoyable. Let your passion lead you. Learn at your own pace. Keep your abashed curiosity alive throughout the process. And above all else … just have fun.
Looking for more guitar knowledge? Check out our ultimate guide to your best electric guitar of all time if you’re ready to learn guitar, sign up for a free trial to Fender Play.