The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
If you’ve got the blues you need to express yourself on the guitar. There’s really no two ways about it. You can sit around the house and mope, but it probably isn’t going to make you feel any better. And your buddies will eventually get sick of listening to you.
You may as well make some music.
Some of the best music in the world has come straight from the souls of guitar players who’d been wronged by a friend, lost a lover, got fired from their job, been kicked out of their house, or any combination of these and other ill-fated personal fiascos.
So, what’d they do about it? They grabbed a guitar and played.
This article will cover some of the more popular options from the top guitar brands in the business. I'll also try to keep you down to a budget of under $1000, as there are many affordable blues guitars out there.
The guitars in this review don’t just serve as great blues guitars, they’ll carry you through rock, and even jazz music. Playing blues today often means you’re playing it in the context of some form of rock. The blues is what led to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, and the two are forever intertwined.
Many blues guitarists like to dabble in jazz as well, so I tried to choose versatile instruments that can get the job done in both genres.
On to the gear!
Top 10 Electric Guitars for Blues
Here is my list of the best guitars for blues and rock:
- Fender Stratocaster
- Gibson Les Paul
- Fender Telecaster
- Epiphone ES-335 PRO
- G&L Tribute S-500
- PRS SE Custom 24
- G&L Tribute ASAT:
- Gretsch G5420T Electromatic
- Guild Bluesbird
- Ibanez Artstar AS-153
Read on to learn more about each instrument. Be sure to check out the manufacturer websites for the most up-to-date info on their gear.
The Fender Stratocaster is likely first on any list you’ll find of best blues guitars. There’s a good reason for it. I’ll admit I’m a Strat guy, so maybe I’m a bit biased, but to me, the Fender Stratocaster is about as good as it gets for blues and rock.
Normally when I review guitars I go on and on about tonewoods, construction techniques, and hardware, but let’s skip all of that here. The bottom line when it comes to picking a guitar for blues is this: Does it have the mojo, or doesn’t it? The Strat is a perfect ten on the Mojo Meter, and here’s why:
As you probably know, standard Stratocasters have a 5-way pickup selector switch. That’s five different pickup combinations, and each has its own unique sound.
From the glassy, round tones of the neck pickup that, to me, sound perfect for jazz, to the vintage treble rip of the bridge pickup, to the balanced tones of the middle, and all the quacky, chicken-pickin’ sounds in between, the Strat has an arsenal of great sounds that work well for blues and rock.
To hear the versatility of the Strat in action when it comes to blues, check out the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan switched pickups in mid-song, and sometimes in mid-passage, subtly altering his tone and the vibe of his playing. The Stratocaster is a very versatile guitar for blues, and for this reason, it’s high up on the list of best blues guitars.
If you feel you must drop the cash on an American Strat, by all means, don’t let me stop you. They’re worth every penny, and you won’t regret it. But the made-in-Mexico Player Series sound great is one of the best electric guitars under $1000. If you play blues, this is a solid choice.
Fender Player Stratocaster
Gibson Les Paul
Like the Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul is off the chart on the Mojo Meter. But this is a different beasty than the Strat, with different sounds and a whole different vibe. The Les Paul is a heavy guitar, built from resonant tonewoods.
Where the Strat rips, the Les Paul growls. Where the Strat is glassy, the Les Paul is bassy and smooth. Where the Strat is jazzy, the Les Paul is even more jazzy.
So what the heck does all that mean? For one, it means if you’re looking for a warm overdriven tone the Les Paul may be the right guitar for you. Because a Strat has single-coil pickups it doesn’t push your amp as hard compared to the humbuckers on a Les Paul.
If you play through a high-gain amp you probably don’t care, but most blues players use something that requires a little push to break it up. The Les Paul has that push. If your idea of blues is more Allman Brothers than SRV this might appeal to you.
If you like a side of hard rock served along with your blues, the Les Paul will certainly get the job done.
The Les Paul cleans up nicely when necessary. Clean sounds are full and warm, and those who play a slicker style of blues will find a lot of use for the neck and middle pickup positions.
Again, if you have a couple of thousand dollars and feel like grabbing yourself a Gibson Les Paul Standard I won’t be the one to stand in your way. But if you want to save a whole bunch of money you can go with an Epiphone Les Paul instead.
The Epiphone Les Paul, along with the Fender Player Stratocaster, is among the best intermediate-level electric guitars out there. If you are looking for an affordable guitar for blues, jazz, rock or any genre they are my top recommendations.
More on the Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO
I’ll be honest: I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Fender Telecaster when it comes to blues. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Telecaster, and it is at the top of my list of best guitars for country music.
For blues, many guitarists swear by it, and it worked okay for the Karate Kid in that movie, so my bias aside I’d still say it’s worth a look.
A basic Tele has two pickups, one at the bridge and one at the neck. Tones are jangly and brittle, perfect for that country twang and even strumming rock chords, but for blues?
You’ll have to decide how the Tele sound matches up with what you’ve got going on in your head, but for me, if I were thinking of a Telecaster for blues, I’d probably be looking at something with double humbuckers. The Fender Player Telecaster HH is one such critter.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, the HH Tele will put you somewhere between a Strat and Les Paul. It has hotter pickups, so it pushes your amp harder. It’s made from alder and maple, similar to a Strat, so you get some of that Strat airiness.
With that in mind, remember each guitar has a sound all its own, and the HH Tele can’t sound like anything but itself.
Whether you go with traditional single coils or humbuckers I suggest checking out the Fender Player Series for affordable Telecasters. I also think it is worth mention that the Fender American Performer Series Tele is a great choice as well, though it will bump you a bit over our $1000 budget.
Player Telecaster (Single Coils)
Epiphone ES-335 PRO
You probably know that Epiphone is a company owned by Gibson. They make authorized copies of many Gibson models for a much lower price, and Epiphone guitars are great mid-level guitars for those who can’t justify the madness of spending a month’s salary on a guitar.
But you may not know that Epiphone was once a company all of its own, and one of Gibson’s biggest competitors. Gibson eventually crushed them and bought them up (it is the American way), but back in the day, Epiphone made some amazing archtop guitars. When it comes to semi-hollow designs Epi really seems to know what they are doing, just like the old days.
The ES-335 PRO is based on the classic Gibson ES-335 design, and if you know what the 335 looks like a pretty famous bluesman likely comes to mind. B.B. King is one of the most respected blues guitarists of all time, and his guitar named Lucille is kinda famous too. (On a side note, if you’re going to play blues it’s never a bad idea to name your guitars.)
King’s Lucille isn’t exactly the same as a stock ES-335, but the same vibe you’ll hear in King’s music comes through in the Epiphone 335.
All that is a round-about way of saying you can expect some smooth, woody, natural sounds from the ES-335 PRO if that’s what you’re looking for. Dial back the distortion, tune in to that neck pickup and go for it.
On the other hand, semi-hollow designs can have a wonderful vintage grittiness about them in higher-gain settings. Think George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
Gibson makes a whole bunch of incredible semi-hollow designs, but of course, they have a steep price tag that comes along with them. The Epiphone ES-335 is an affordable guitar that continuously gets positive reviews for sound and quality. The semi-hollow thing may not be for everyone, but if you’re thinking about taking the plunge this is a great way to start.
The Epiphone ES-335 PRO
More Blues Guitars
Here a few more great blues and jazz guitars to round out my list:
G&L Tribute S-500
The G&L Tribute S-500 is one of the best affordable Stratocaster alternatives out there. It should be since G&L guitars came from the same great mind that gave us Fender guitars. For guitarists who want that Strat vibe but something a little off the beaten path, check out G&L Guitars.
PRS SE Standard 24
PRS guitars are some of the best in the world, and many players love them for blues and jazz. Unfortunately, they are a little pricey. So, check out the SE Series. They’re more affordable PRS guitars, and the SE Standard 24 is a great blues guitar for under $500. While PRS guitars certainly stand on their own, many players find them a great alternative to the Gibson Les Paul.
G&L Tribute ASAT
The ASAT is G&L’s version of the Telecaster, and like the S-500 it was a brainchild of Leo Fender. If you want a Tele, I’d suggest checking out the Tribute ASAT before making a decision on an American or MIM Fender.
Gretsch G5420T Electromatic
This guitar is just gorgeous, and the white version reminds me of the legendary Gretsch White Falcon. Of course, you aren’t going to grab a White Falcon for anywhere near this price, but you can get a guitar in the Gretsch Electromatic Series for under $1000.
A classic design, updated with Seymour Duncan pickups and a locking Tune-o-Matic bridge. Though it looks like a semi-hollow, it is a solid-body. However, with a chambered body the Bluesbird is lighter than most other guitars its size. If you are looking for something between a semi-hollow and a solid-body guitar for blues this might be exactly what you need.
Ibanez Artstar AS-153
Ibanez is a brand known for rock and metal, but if you are into jazz and blues I’d suggest you don’t overlook them. The Artstar Series has a few great semi-hollow instruments. Remember, before the metal thing Ibanez was known for making impeccable copies of American guitars, so blues and jazz are certainly part of their heritage.
The PRS Standard 24
Which Guitar for Blues?
I try to present these lists as though I am giving recommendations to a friend. Remember it's all based on my opinion, but if I'm looking for a guitar for blues and jazz these are where I'd start.
You’ve read about a few very different guitars, each with its unique vibe. Every guitar mentioned here will work for blues or jazz, so it really comes down to your vision of what you want out of your instrument. Only you can figure that out.
Maybe you already know, but if not a great way to sort it all out is to listen to your favorite guitar players and figure out what kind of guitars they use. Really dial into how they are using the different pickup settings, what kind of amps and effects they use, and even how their playing style influences the guitar’s tone.
For example, just using a couple of players mentioned in this article: If you listen to SRV on record it really sounds like his Strat is screaming, and you may be thinking he's using super-hot pickups. When you watch live recordings it’s obvious he’s getting that sound by employing a very aggressive and unique picking style.
Compare that to the efficient picking style of B.B. King, and the warm, smooth sounds he pulled out of his guitar. Sure, gear matters. But when it comes to guitar tone, a lot of it really is in your hands.
And if you’re playing the blues it comes from inside you as well. Hopefully, this article helped you find the right instrument to bring it out so people can hear it. If you’ve got the blues, play your guitar.
Which guitar is best for blues?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Blues fan on April 02, 2020:
Muddy waters used a telecaster for blues,Albert Collins used one , BB King used a tele on his first album, blues comes from the soul you can use an old pile of junk of a guitar you don't need a les paul or a strat to play the blues. If you don't believe me watch R.L Burnside see my jumper on the line now thats blues not some white boy faking the blues
Guitar Gopher (author) on March 29, 2017:
Sounds awesome, guitar man. I see you go with humbuckers for blues. I'm wondering if you utilize the coil tap more often, or stick with the straight humbucker sound.
guitar man on March 28, 2017:
My first guitar for blues's is my strat, JB in bridge coil tapped. My tele is 2nd, great as well but totally modified with Jimmy Page 57 gibson and Seymour Duncan Lil 59 in bridge, both coil tapped, GREAT Combination. My 3rd is PRS custom 24 85/15's.
K on December 30, 2016:
You lost me at tone woods and the bit next to the epiphone les Paul equipped with humbuckers that says coil tapping.
Guitar Gopher (author) on November 19, 2016:
True, Kevin. Something I think about whenever I listen to that album. Proof that just because a guitar has a certain reputation it can still be versatile.
Kevin Stailey on November 18, 2016:
One side Note about the Telecaster - I would like to remind everyone, or inform those if they never knew this - Jimmy Page recorded all of Led Zeppelin I with a Telecatsre. Whole Lotta Love also. No country twang in there.
DaveH on November 11, 2016:
Forgot to mention the two Jimi & Jimmy. Hendrix and Page produced every sound known to man in multiple genres from Hendrix' esoteric Third Stone from the Sun to Page's muddy blueswork on No Quarter. This leads me to say get a used American Strat or LP and spend what you save on guitar lessons. My buddy bought a $4000 Fender Tele from the shop and his playing still made my face look like I just ate a lemon, so...
John Custer on September 08, 2016:
Good article but I'd like to point out that many great Blues guitarist played single coil telecasters. Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Mike Bloomfield, Robben Ford and Dan Auerbach ect. Others like Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Keith Richards and others used a single coil tele along with their other guitars in their Blues playing.
Jochan on September 03, 2016:
I know the telecaster has somewhat of a really clear bright tone that wouldn't match many blues tones, but if any of you are questioning its potential listen to Roy Buchannan. At the end it's just a matter of what you do with the guitar, not the guitar itself.
Dave Long on March 29, 2016:
On the subject of Gibson SG look up Sister Rosetta Tharp. I am a blues player and I play a Clapton strat, an Telecaster thinline super deluxe (filtertron style pickups) Gretsch jet, or a Kay thin twin from the 50s ala Jimmy Reed.
paul on September 03, 2015:
Rory Gallagher played a number of different guitars, but I'm sure he had a good reason for having an old beat up Strat in his hands. The greatest of all played a Strat.....
ian on July 18, 2015:
Stevie also played through a fender bassman amp to achieve that perfect tone.
Diamond Bob on July 03, 2015:
A great guitar is also the yamaha AS-2200, solid contender to the ES-335
Eranikum on March 07, 2015:
Thanks for the read - pondering which guitar I should add to my (rather small) collection and would actually be an addition and this helped. On that note I can only praise my Epiphone ES 175 (custom shop). Anything from a nice warm sound to an angry growl is possible (though it can't "scream" like a Strat).
Guitar Gopher (author) on March 03, 2015:
I agree. Nothing wrong with a Gibson SG for blues.
Anonymous on March 03, 2015:
What about the SG sure it's more of rock guitar but think about Disraeli era Clapton, not only that but Iommi and Angus young are very bluesy players. the guitar is light but has a fatter harder tone than anything else plus what guitar is better for blues sliding