If you’ve got the spirit of the delta running through your veins, here’s a mini guide to some of the best guitars for blues…
Though it’s easy to consider the Blues as a single musical form, the truth is rather more complicated. It is a many, many-faceted musical genre. From the early Delta blues styles, to Chicago blues, to Texas blues, to British blues to, well… you name it.
Each of these varieties is unique, with their own style and sound. With this in mind, which are the best guitars for Blues?
Ask any blues guitarist, and they’ll tell you that the guitar is irrelevant – the blues comes from within. It’s difficult to argue with this – especially when you look at guys like Seasick Steve rocking out on a diddley bow.
However, it’s fair to say, if you are looking for a particular blues sound, one guitar may make achieving it easier than another.
Here’s a guide to some of best guitars for blues, and the kind of sounds you might expect from them.
To many, the blues means guys in hats with Strats. This is due in no small part to one the genre’s most famous proponents of both the hat and the Strat, Stevie Ray Vaughan. However, for Hendrix, Clapton, Buddy Guy and countless others, the Strat was also the weapon of choice.
With a huge potential range of tones, from the punchy, woody snap of the neck pickup, to glassy out phase tones and bridge pickup power and bark, it’s easy to see why. Clean, to crunch, rhythm to lead- the Stratocaster has it nailed, as long as you don’t need bags of gain…
The Fender American Performer is the latest incarnation that offers an affordable workhorse for both amateurs and professionals. However, there are even more budget-friendly options with the Squier Vintage Modifieds, to the ultra-luxurious Custom Shop Eric Clapton Signature “Blackie”, all bases are covered.
For those for whom the Stratocaster doesn’t have enough twang, there’s always the Tele. Though, perhaps, better known as a country guitar, the Tele is equally adept as a blues’ instrument.
Not convinced? Well, Muddy waters used one, as did Jeff Beck, Albert Collins, Keith Richards (for his own blues informed style)….
Teles are incredible bright and ‘twangy’, making them great for intricate, articulate playing styles, such as the ‘countrified’ end of the blues, or complex picking.
The Les Paul
In the modern era of blues, the Les Paul has increasingly become an instrument of choice. The British Blues scene of the ‘60s was key to this. Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green, and Clapton, during his spell in The Yardbirds, both made Gibson’s creation their own, and pioneered a new supercharged, high gain blues sound.
Of course, Les Paul had been playing the blues on Gibson’s classic axe some time before…
Because of the two humbuckers, a ‘Paul will give you a thicker, more powerful tone, and far more gain and sustain for those screaming solos (think Gary Moore- who, incidentally, used to play Peter Green’s Les Paul…)
Despite its rock credentials, it still sounds great when clean, too.
Epiphone boast their fair share of outstanding Les Pauls too with the Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro rocking a pair of coil-tapped ProBuckers that expand your tonal arsenal. If modern day rockers like Jared James Nichols are happy to rock an Epi, then you know you’re onto a winner.
The Semi-Hollowbody (e.g. ES-335 Dot)
To many, the Gibson Dot is the true image of a blues guitar. To see why this is, you simply need to glance through the guitarists who’ve played a Dot over the years. Freddie King, Eric Clapton, Alvin Lee, Chuck Berry (using the blues vocabulary to his own ends), Otis Rush, BB King, Eric Johnson… I could go on, too.
A bit like the Strat, the Dot’s strength is in its versatility. Warmer than a Les Paul, but not quite so high output, its two humbuckers delivered creamy clean tones and crunch, but could turn in a ‘roar’ when needed.
The Epiphone models offer exceptional value for money. From vintage inspired beauties to modern masterpieces there is a model to inspire anyone and everyone. Let’s face it, if Epiphone is good enough for Joe Bonamassa, then you can bet your sweet blues inspired licks that they’re good enough for you. If one of the leading lights in modern blues doesn’t sway you then you’re a lost cause. Just look at his Signature ES-355 (below) for goodness sake, it’s a work of art!
The Gretsch Collection
Coming in various forms from the lavish G6134T-58 Vintage Select ’58 Penguin to the affordable little pocket rocket G2655 Streamliner Centre Block Jr., Gretsch know a thing or two about a thing or two.
From brash licks to sultry swing, Gretsch equip their guitars with pickups that can dance their way around the blues without a care in the world. All you have to do is pick one that you want to step out and stage with and you’re good to go. As noted above, there are models that will put a bit of a dent in your bank account (but totally worth it) and many more that will leave you scratching your head as to how good the value for money is.
Check out Gretsch on the Dawsons’ website and see for yourself.
Last but by no means least is the awesome Gibson SG. Used and abused by many a blues legend, with most notable players including the legendary Buddy Guy, Duane Allman and more recently, Derek Trucks. What Derek Trucks can do with an SG and a slide induces wonderment beyond belief. Plus, when you’ve got BB King telling you your playing is ‘as good as he’s ever heard it’, then you know you must be doing something right.
With its lightweight feel in the hands and versatile tonal arsenal, the SG is a joy to wield for any guitarist. From beefy neck tones to tight and articulate mid to high-end spank, you can cruise through licks and riffs like an absolute champ.
As with the Les Paul, there are plenty of offerings from Epiphone too, with affordable options that are downright outrageous in terms of value for money.
Some things to chew over
As stated previously, the blues is less about the guitar than the player, and there are other models that could easily make a list of best guitars for blues. However, with the list above you can recreate some of the most iconic blues’ tones ever played and have enough to go on to create some of your own.
If you liked that, then you might like this
On the lookout for an amp to go with the guitar? Then check out our “5 of the Best Amps for Blues“.
In case you were wondering what, it is, then check out our article, “What is a Blues Scale?” and go on the way to become a master of the craft.
Finally, if you want to get out of ever having to fork out for a pint again, you’ll want to know these “5 Essential Blues Licks“.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.