The results are in…
The end of each year gives us time to take stock of everything we’ve seen, heard and experienced over the previous 12 months. For some that means remembering holidays or time spent with loved ones. For others it means celebrating personal or professional progression. For us, it’s simply an excuse to look back longingly over some of the greatest guitars that reached our shores this year.
We’ve done things slightly differently this year too. Our Best Guitars of 2015 roundup is now the outcome of a fully democratic process, so isn’t based on the whims of our staff, but is instead all chosen by you. We’ve encouraged people to vote in a series of categories, meaning the guitars which shine through can truly claim to be the peoples’ choices. Let’s examine the results in more detail.
Best High End Acoustic (£1,000+)
When we think of high end acoustic guitars, we imagine the finest woods, the purest sounds and surgical attention to detail. 2015 provided us with a number of high quality, luxurious acoustics and the results show that choosing a favourite wasn’t simple. Three guitars were put forward on the shortlist and, of the three, two guitars were neck and neck in the polls. Both the Taylor 914CE and Gibson Bob Dylan SJ-200 were clearly hugely popular guitars, but it was the Gibson which won out in the end by the narrowest of margins.
This stunning guitar is actually so popular we ran out of stock as soon as we’d ordered it, but there is a quite wonderful standard Gibson J-200 which is worthy of your attention. Making up the shortlist was the frankly awesome Martin D-35e which looked and played like every inch of a top end acoustic guitar.
Best High End Electric (£1,000+)
It was more clear cut in the results looking for the best high end electric. Way out in front with more than half the votes was the quite stunning Gibson Memphis ES-Les Paul, a part-hollow/part-solid guitar which took the best elements of both the Les Paul and ES ranges and melded them into one incredible guitar. A slightly more affordable version of this is the 2015 ES-Les Paul Electric Guitar.
Interestingly for a Les Paul, there is no trace of mahogany in the body, instead using a 3-ply maple/poplar/maple combination which deliver brilliant clarity and brightness. Making up the list was the Gibson Joe Bonamassa Signature (an alternative is the Gibson 1960 Les Paul Standard Reissue) and, from slightly left of field, the ESP LTD SN-1000 FR which introduced a set of interesting new pickups to the mix in the Fishman Fluence, which allow players to choose between active or passive responses.
Best Signature Model
It’s another close call in the best signature model stakes. Two amazing guitars stood head and shoulders above the rest; in one corner we have the Epiphone Joe Bonamassa Limited Edition Les Paul Standard, which mimics many of the characteristics of Joe’s preferred guitars in that it has a D-shaped neck profile and specially requested Inverness Green finish. It also packs a pair of Gibson Burstbucker pickups and Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. Another beautiful Epiphone Les Paul signature from this year is the Bjorn Gelotte Signature.
In the other corner we have the Ibanez LGB30 George Benson signature jazz guitar, which is also featured in our list of the Top 5 Jazz Guitars. Again, if you are looking for a slightly cheaper version, the Ibanez AF75TDG will do just fine. Fender also makes its first appearance thanks to its interesting Sergio Vallin signature model, which is sure to become a cult favourite in the future.
Best Mid Range Acoustic (£500 – £1,000)
There is a wealth of choice in the £500-£1,000 bracket, but three guitars particularly stood out in 2015. Any of the three shortlisted guitars could have realistically won but in the end you voted for the Taylor 114ce as your favourite.
This grand auditorium sized acoustic packed a real punch in this price range, offering the kind of materials and construction typically found on guitars valued a lot higher. The Martin DRSGT came second in the poll, with voters particularly recognising its onboard electronics which enable the guitar to be played either into a traditional amplifier or directly into a sound card or recording device via its USB connectivity.
Making up the list was the Martin D12X1, showing there is still a lot of love for a good quality 12-string acoustic.
Best Mid Range Electric (£500 – £1,000)
The best mid range electric category included something of an interloper. We’ve already announced the results of the best signature model, but the guitar which won out in this category was a bit special so we’ll turn a blind eye. The Fender Jimi Hendrix Signature offered fans the chance to own a guitar which honoured the great man’s down to the finest detail.
It had the reverse headstock, the reverse bridge pickup and enabled players to nail that amazing Jimi vibe for an extremely reasonable price. Honourable mentions for two of Japan’s finest made up the list, with the venerable ESP LTD EC-1000 and Ibanez Artstar SS300 both scoring highly.
Best Budget Acoustic (under £500)
As many players’ first port of call, a decent quality budget acoustic is perhaps one of the most important instruments out there. Buy something too cheap and nasty and it can put the learner off for good, so it’s important that guitars in this range offer the best quality and tone they can while still remaining affordable to the masses.
Thankfully there were more than a few good guitars launched in 2015 and, it shows in our shortlist. What’s perhaps most interesting is that there was a tie for first between two amazing guitars. The Epiphone AJ-45me and the Taylor Big Baby showed that even at the lower end of the market there are exceptional guitars which can be had for not a lot of money. Both are priced in a way that anyone can get one, yet well made enough that they can last a lifetime.
Best Budget Electric (Under £500)
The final section in our polls looked at the best budget electrics of the year. A budget electric guitar needs to be versatile enough that it can play a multitude of styles well, and our winning guitar certainly does that. The Farida CT-36 marked the return of Farida to the world of electrics, having established themselves as acoustic guitar makers par excellence.
The CT-36 came equipped with two humbuckers so the player could access a range of tones, and it also kept up Farida’s tradition of producing guitars which are built using materials and methods which could easily grace a much higher priced instrument. Also recognised was the Redwood TL-Mini, a 3/4-sized electric influenced by Fender’s famous Telecaster range.
Of course, we can’t reduce a list of the best guitars down to just one in each bracket. There were tonnes of amazing instruments released this year which caught our eye, and the eyes of followers of our Facebook page. Gibson’s 2015 range drew a mixed response from some people, but there was a lot of love for certain models like the Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Goldtop and the Gibson Les Paul Traditional. Elsewhere, the Gibson Midtown Standard seems to have earned its way into the hearts of a few players, while old favourites like the Epiphone Hummingbird Pro and Gibson SG Standard have found themselves in the hands of some very happy new owners.
All told it’s been a great year to be a guitar player. Here’s looking forward to what 2016 has in store for us!