From stage to studio – we look at some of the best rock guitars
You’ve got your favourite guitar heroes and you’ve got your style of music, and in this case it’s ROCK! Whether your favourite band is the Foo Fighters, or AC/DC, you love to air guitar to Zeppelin or Queens of the Stone Age you’ll likely want to emulate or at the very least take inspiration from some of your heroes when choosing a guitar. Guitarists spend years honing their technique and tone, and the guitars they play, are a huge part of their sound – so if you want to sound like AC/DC then you’ll need an SG, or if you want to sound like Wolfmother, you’ll need a 335 and so on. There’s a reason why certain models are known as the best rock guitars, whether it’s down to pickup configuration, body construction or even the likes of the bridge that holds the strings to your guitar – and there’s plenty of reasons why these models appear time and time again on a stage. However, due to the sheer number of guitars out there, you’re probably finding it a little hard to choose the right guitar for you, so we’re going to look at some of the most commonly used models and what makes these particular items the best guitars for rock.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that all the guitars in this blog are suitable for many types of different playing styles and genres, however we do tend to lean on certain types for specific styles of music. Music is about breaking rules and carving out your own sound, so if you want to play a Thinline Telecaster in your death metal band, you go ahead! These are just some of the best rock guitars in our opinion!
Let’s start with an absolute classic of rock. The Fender Stratocaster has been a staple of rock music since the day it was released back in 1954 and has been a constant in the brand’s line-up since day one. In fact, this guitar, alongside the Gibson Les Paul, is one of the most emulated guitar shapes in the musical world with many other brands choosing to take “inspiration” from the Strat look. The double cutaway guitar was originally intended for country players as Leo Fender happened to be a huge country fan, however this guitar has been one of the most widely used set ups appearing in all musical genres, with the humbucking pickup configuration appearing in the harder rock style bands too. Legends such as Jimmy Hendrix, to Clapton, to Pink Floyd and everyone in between has played one of these, with the likes of Biffy Clyro showing just how awesome the single coil can sound when you throw some distortion at it. There have been some very minor, but very important adjustments to the beloved “strat” over the years with 2016 seeing the birth of the N4 noiseless pickups that eradicated any unwanted hum. The improved modern “D” profile neck featured on the Fender 2016 American Elite Stratocaster is also a dream to play. For those who want to push their guitar that little bit harder, the Fender American Elite Strat Shawbucker is a fantastic option that features a combination of 2 single coils and a humbucker in the bridge meaning you get that gorgeous single coil tone, but can make it seriously growl when you want to.
The Gibson Flying V has to be a contender for most striking design ever. One can only imagine what people thought about this design when it was first introduced in 1958. Jimi Hendrix toured with a Flying V in 1967 through 1968 and it is believed that his iconic cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ features a Flying V heavily. These days you’re likely to see Lenny Kravitz playing his signature model and watching Mastodon’s Brent Hinds busting out some serious rock riffs on his signature Epiphone Flying V. Aside from the fact that it’s extremely eye catching, it’s the mixture of humbucking pickups, stop bar tailpiece and the beautiful mahogany body and neck that really gives this guitar its rock tone. Whether you want high gain riffs, long sustained notes or subtle nuances, the Flying V can do it all. The Gibson 2016 Flying V Traditional for example features uncovered Zebra 57 and Zebra BB3 pickups with push-pull volume control that blends beautifully with the rich mahogany tone wood offering gorgeous sustain and the higher gain when you need it. A great option if you’re in a rock band and not only want to sound the part, but look it too without being gimmicky.
This striking guitar was introduced in 1962 and achieved notoriety throughout the surf music scene before being discontinued in 1975. Interestingly, Jaguars then became highly sought after throughout the punk rock scene and eventually synonymous with the alternative and indie scene of the 80s and 90s thanks to the likes of Johnny Mar, Scott Hill, John Squire, Kurt Cobain, Kevin Shields, Black Francis, J Mascis, Thurston Moore, John Frusciante and a whole lot more players championing this extremely versatile instrument. There is a surprising amount of control over your sound considering you only have 2 pickups to play with, however with the variety of switches with integrated rhythm and lead circuits the Special Design Hot single-coil Jaguar pickups really come to life. The infamous AdjustoMatic bridge with vintage style floating tremolo tailpiece and tremolo lock button all contribute to the beautiful and highly sought after sound of the guitar. The Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special is a great example of this awesome guitar. The Alder body sounds and feels great as does the C Shape profile neck with gloss urethane finish.
This cool looking guitar has been championed by the likes of Dave Grohl and more recently Scott Holliday from Rival Sons. Back in the 50s, Gibson president Ted McCarty, hired car designer Ray Dietrich to come up with a new style of guitar to compete with the likes of Fender. The result was the Firebird. Inspired by the mid-50s tailfins on cars, Dietrich took the Explorer design, rounded the edges and flipped the headstock upside down which led to the guitar becoming unofficially known as “Reverse”. This Gibson 2016 Firebird T guitar sounds amazing thanks to the pair of 495R and 495T ceramic humbucking pickups, whilst the 60s slimtaper neck profile is a breeze to play. The combination of beautiful sounding pickups, mahogany body, Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece for added sustain are just part of the reason these instruments as some of the best guitars for rock – they also look cool too!
Well, we can’t have a blog about the best guitars for rock without including the Gibson SG, could we? The first model was introduced in 1961, and was designed to provide players with a thinner, lighter and faster guitar making the upper frets more accessible thanks to the double cutaway design and the contoured body. Interestingly, it was simply known as a “Les Paul” even though the man himself had no idea that the guitar was being designed. It wasn’t until 1963 that the guitar was then christened the SG, in short for “Solid Guitar”. By far the most popular option is the Gibson SG Standard, championed by the likes of Angus Young of AC/DC, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa and Derek Trucks to name a few. The body and neck of the Gibson SG Standard is made from quality Mahogany, renowned as one of the best tonewoods available and the fretboard boasts a cream bound rosewood fingerboard with the classic pearl trapezoid we’ve all come to know and love. However, aside from the devil horn design, it’s the pickups that really set this guitar apart from everything else out there. The 490R humbucker in the neck position and a 498T in the bridge position equipped with alnico magnets offer that ultimate rock tone that can go from sweet, sultry blues to menacing metal riffage with ease. Power it with a Marshall stack and you’re well on the “Highway to Hell”. It’s also worth noting that the Gibson SG 2017 Faded T features uncovered pickups and dot inlays, should you want a different look.
Although they’re usually associated with the likes of metal players, the Ibanez RG2550Z Prestige HSH makes a great Rock guitar. If you’re into your 80s style Rock and you’re a lover of huge tone, fast necks and dive bombing solos, then the RG2550Z Prestige HSH is a great choice and, quite frankly one of the best Rock guitars available. The cool thing about this guitar is the fact that it features a five-piece maple/walnut neck with super-fast Wizard HP profile, that is not only extremely comfortable to play, but designed for those players who like big riffs and shred solos. It’s lightweight, has a double cutaway body so you can access to higher frets when the mood takes you and the ingenious prestige fret edge treatment makes sure your fingers transition smoothly across the frets for easier playing. The combination of DiMarzio Air Norton, True Velvet and The Tone Zone pickups in a humbucker/single coil/humbucker formation means you have a wide range of sounds to scroll through. It’s also an ideal guitar for Jazz players thanks to the beautiful playability and extremely responsive pickups.
You thought we’d forgotten the Les Paul didn’t you? When anyone thinks about an electric guitar, chances are they’re thinking about either a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Strat thanks to the fact these are some of the bestselling (and sounding) guitars ever produced. First introduced in 1952 by Gibson president Ted McCarty, factory manager John Huis along with guitarist/inventor Les Paul, the Gibson Les Paul was originally only available as a goldtop with two P-90 pickups before appearing with two humbuckers and a selection of sunburst finishes in 1957.
Since then the Les Paul has become omnipresent within the music scene and it’s a good chance any stage, festival or gig you go to will have one of these somewhere thanks to their reliability, rock solid construction and of course, the sound of the pickups which appear on almost every classic rock album ever. Originally favoured by Jazz musicians, it wasn’t until Keith Richards picked one up during the mid-1960s whilst playing with the Rolling stones, that guitarists in the UK decided to gravitate towards them as the true versatility of these guitars really came through. Pretty soon, the likes of Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton began playing them and Gibson would become favoured by the guitar greats of the UK – Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff and Pete Townshend are three absolute guitar legends famous for playing Gibson Les Pauls.
Gibson produce a wide variety of Les Paul options including the Gibson 2017 Les Paul Standard T, but for those who want that classic look and sound, the Gibson 2016 Standard Historic 1958 Les Paul is a great option too. The body and neck of the Les Paul is made of mahogany for greater sustain and tone which is why rock guitarists love them so much – they just play and feel great. It’s the humbucker pickups within the Les Paul range that make them stand out – in particular the likes of the best-ever PAF Custom Bucker pickups found in the 2016 Standard Historic 1958. These are modelled on the original ’58 pickups to give you that awesome vintage sound so you can go from wailing solos to smooth chords to high gain riffs at will. You have two volume and tone pots to dial in your perfect tone and the rosewood fingerboard for that added playability and deep tone. As far as best rock guitars go, the Les Paul is one of the main contenders for best guitar of all time.
But what about the best Bass Guitars for Rock?
No, we certainly haven’t forgotten about our Bass playing friends. The bass player is responsible for dictating the groove and holding down the rhythm whilst the guitarist has their freakout session on stage, yet are often overlooked for the musical geniuses they are. So we’re compiling some of the best bass guitars for Rock and saluting some of the greats by showing off some of the classic Rock bass choices.
The Fender American Standard Precision Bass Guitar is another absolute classic in terms of bass guitars and has been played by pretty much every bass player under the sun. This ubiquitous bass has been played by the likes of John Paul Jones, Jeff Ament, Sting, Mark Hoppus, Duff McKagan, Steve Harris, Kim Deal, Melissa Auf der Maur – the list goes on. Chances are, that any professional gig you go to, there’s going to be a Fender P bass hanging around. The Fender American Standard Precision Bass Guitar features a highly resonant alder body, Modern C shape neck for comfort and 20 medium-jumbo frets on a maple fingerboard with those classic dot inlays. Fitted with a custom Shop ’60s Split single-coil Precision Bass pickup – you’re good for small gigs or the main stage at Glastonbury straight out of the hardcase.
If you liked the Firebird style, but you wield the four stringed kind of guitar rather than the 6, you’re going to love the Epiphone Thunderbird Classic Iv-Pro Bass. This style of bass is favoured by the likes of Kings Of Leon bass player Jared Followill, Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson, Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down and Nikki Sixx (Mötley Crüe). They all play the Gibson version of this bass, but for those who need a more budget friendly option, you can’t fault the Epiphone Thunderbird Classic Iv-Pro Bass with its mahogany/walnut 7 piece neck-through design with mahogany body wings and Gibson USA TB Plus humbuckers. This has a powerful output designed for the stages of the world and is a fantastic option for both the beginner and professional rock music players. Go from low, sultry grooves to snarling growls and look cool doing it.
Orange are widely regarded as one of the best producers of amplifiers in the world. So when they teased that they were going to make a bass guitar, the music industry went into meltdown. In 2016, they finally revealed the Orange O Electric Bass Guitar and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Designed by the legendary Adrian Emsley, the O Electric Bass Guitar featured some ingenious ideas like the placement of the pickups 8 mm closer to the neck, which added a fuller, angrier growl to the sound and hotter output. The orange custom-wound, split humbucker really packs a punch that only Orange products can achieve. It looks fantastic, features a lightweight yet resonant okoumé body, Rosewood fretboard with 19 medium-jumbo frets and white dot position inlays and super simple circuitry that ensures you get an uninterrupted, powerful tone – no messing about here. It’s a retro looking bass guitar that would easily fit in with any styles, especially rock.
Take a look at a wide range of great guitars and basses at the Dawsons website.