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!
1. The Fender Stratocaster
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 setups appearing in all musical genres, with the humbucking pickup configuration appearing in the harder rock style bands too. Legends such as Jimi 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 American Vintage ’59 Stratocaster is also a dream to play.
2. Gibson Flying V
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 2019 Flying V, for example, features Dirty Fingers+ ceramic pickups that blend beautifully with the rich mahogany tonewood 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.
*Special mention – check out the Richie Faulkner Signature from Epiphone below (absolutely gorgeous)!
3. Fender Jaguar
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.
4. Gibson Firebird
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”. The Gibson Firebird guitar sounds amazing thanks to the pair of P90 ceramic humbucking pickups, whilst the 60s slim taper 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!
5. Gibson SG
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 and 490T humbuckers 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”.
6. Ibanez RG550
Although they’re usually associated with the likes of metal players, the Ibanez RG550 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 RG550 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 Ibanez V Series pickups in a humbucker/single coil/humbucker formation mean 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.
7. Gibson Les Paul
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.
Get in touch
As always you can check out our extensive collection of Guitars over at the Dawsons website. If you prefer to get your hands on something then head to your local Dawsons Music store, and our instore specialists will be more than happy to help.
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For a recap on what came through last year, check out our article on the “Gibson 2019” range of models.
If you want to rundown on some of Gibson’s most iconic models, then indulge yourself in our “Five Iconic Gibson Models” guide.
If you’ve been wondering what the differences are between the plethora of Gibson pickup options available, then check out our “Guide to Gibson Pickups“.
Finally, check out our “10 Interesting Facts About the SG“, and beef up your Pub Quiz knowledge!
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.