25 Best Guitar Brands: Top Acoustic and Electric Guitars 2016
Top Guitar Brands
The best guitar brands stay on top for good reason so if you’re looking for a new acoustic or electric guitar it’s smart to start with the big names. These companies have built up their reputations over the years by producing high-quality instruments used by some of the best guitar players in the world.
Some of these guitar manufacturers have even been around over a hundred years! You’ve probably heard of most of them, but there are also some less-famous names out there making amazing instruments.
If you’re new to guitar, or if you’re just now taking an interest in the different instrument makers for the first time, this guide is intended to help you sort out what makes each manufacturer unique and decide whether or not their products are a good match for your needs.
There’s a lot of information presented here, but there are a lot of guitars out there in the world!
You may find it easiest to scroll around the article to the different brand names you are interested in, or you may prefer to read this whole article from start to finish. It’s probably best to bookmark this page and come back to it later, instead of trying to digest the whole article in one shot.
Guitar Brands for Beginners
Are you here because you're looking for advice on choosing the right guitar for a beginning guitarist? You may want to check out my articles on recommended beginner's guitars before reading this one:
Otherwise, on to the top guitar brands!
B.C. Rich specializes in guitars for the heavy metal and hard rock crowd. They’ve produced some of the most legendary designs in the history of metal, including the Warlock, Bich, Virgin, and Mockingbird. Their instruments helped to mold the hard rock and thrash revolution of the 1980s and B.C. Rich is still a great choice for any guitarist looking for an instrument that looks and sounds as edgy as possible.
Along with their classic designs, in recent years B.C. Rich introduced their Villain line of electric guitars. These guitars look incredible. With basswood or mahogany bodies and options like Floyd Rose tremolos and Seymour Duncan Blackout humbuckers, they sound great too. Available in a 6, 7 or 8-string models, there’s one to meet the needs of metal players of any generation.
Carvin / Kiesel
Carvin is a guitar company with a different business model than the rest. You won’t find them at your local music store because Carvin only makes custom guitars. Their instruments are based around a handful of templates and each feature components that are individually chosen by the buyer. For this reason, it’s very rare to find two Carvins that are completely identical.
There’s a Carvin model for just about every musical style, from metal to jazz to country to plain old rock and roll. These are high-quality, American-made instruments, and pretty good deals too. If you’re a guitar player looking to stand out from all the rest, Carvin is a great option.
Last year we saw a change to the Carvin company, as their guitars and basses took on the Kiesel brand name. So, Carvin is Kiesel now. But they are still Carvin. So what gives?
Here's the nutshell: Lowell Kiesel is the name of the guy who founded Carvin. He originally sold guitars under his own name, but later changed the company name to Carvin, a melding of the first names of his two sons. So, when Carvin changed the name on their guitars to Kiesel, they were actually reverting back to their roots. Kiesel is Carvin, and Carvin has always been Kiesel.
Check out my personal experience with Carvin guitars here: Carvin guitars review.
A few decades ago, during the Golden Age of Shred, Charvel guitars were front and center as one of the best guitar brands for hard rock, metal, and brain-melting soloing. Then came the 1990s and the grunge revolution, and for a time anyway all things shred were out, in favor of droning guitars and melancholy lyrics.
But the universe could only take so much of that, so it was only a matter of time before brands like Charvel came back to power. That time is now.
Charvel’s So Cal and San Dimas models are just as hot as their Superstats of the ‘80s, and their Desolation series offers something for metalheads old and new.
Hear the Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1
Daisy Rock? Sounds like guitars for girls or something. It is! Daisy Rock is a company dedicated to empowering girls and young women and giving them the resources they need to learn to play the guitar. They have starter, short-scale acoustic guitars for little girls, and some really cool electric guitars in the shapes of hearts, butterflies, and flowers.
But don’t think they’re all about foofy shapes and pastel colors. Daisy Rock also produces some really high-grade stuff: guitars with professional-style appointments like the Stardust and Rock Candy models. This is company that really has a great mission statement. We need more girl guitar heroes!
If you are into metal, Dean is a guitar company you’ll want to check out. Their classic ML design has become an icon in the extreme rock genre, thanks to the late Darrell Abbott of Pantera and Damageplan. In the 1990s Dime brought the old ML back to life, and Dean expanded the concept with some sharper, more modern designs.
These days there are several versions of the ML to choose from. Plus, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth endorses Dean with his signature V, and the Dean Vendetta Series is worth a look for any level of guitar player.
Dean also makes some great guitars for rock, blues, country, and even some quality acoustics.
They are now owned by Gibson, but at one time Epiphone was one of Gibson’s biggest competitors. Nowadays they are considered Gibson’s budget-minded little brother.
Even so, Epiphone is one of the best electric guitar brands, known for producing quality instruments in the Gibson mold. You might think choosing an Epiphone Les Paul means you are compromising tone and quality, but it may surprise you to know that many veteran guitar players hold their Epis right up their with their Gibsons.
Epi makes both electric and acoustic guitars and many of their models are based around Gibson designs. In fact, they are the only guitar company allowed to use Gibson specs to make Les Pauls, Explorers, SGs, Flying Vs, and other Gibson classics.
Some of Epiphone's entry-level guitars like the Les Paul Special II and the Les Paul 100 place them among the best guitar brands for beginners. This is good news for young players and anyone looking to get a great guitar that looks like a Gibson, sounds a lot like a Gibson, but doesn’t cost nearly as much as a Gibson.
For serious beginners and intermediate players, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard is a quality instrument that will get you through practice sessions and gigs alike. From there, take things up a notch with the Les Paul PlusTop PRO and the gorgeous but very affordable Les Paul Custom PRO.
It is no wonder Epiphone is considered one of the best electric guitar brands for beginners and intermediate players in the world today!
More on the Epiphone Les Paul Custom PRO
ESP and ESP LTD
During the ‘80s and early ‘90s, ESP was a guitar company known for creating incredible custom-shop instruments and high-quality original designs.
They still do that, and ESP guitars are used by some of the best professional musicians on the planet, especially in the hard rock and metal genres. But when they branched out to their ESP-LTD designs, ESP brought their legendary guitars to the masses.
ESP LTD guitars feature ESP designs like the Eclipse in a more budget-friendly package, such as the EC1000. The ESP-LTD EC-1000 is an amazing rock guitar with quality appointments. It is quickly becoming a classic. If you are looking for a great Les Paul alternative, the EC-1000 might be the right choice for you.
You’ll also find some original and innovative designs in the ESP LTD lineup. These are great guitars for the money and feature many top-shelf components.
Check Out the ESP-LTD Elite Eclipse I
Along with Gibson, Fender is probably among the most recognized guitar names out there. Models like the Stratocaster and Telecaster are etched into history as some of the greatest guitars ever made. Their USA-made instruments have shaped just about every genre of music for over 60 years.
Fender is one of the best guitar brands in the world and the these are iconic guitarc. For players on a budget, Fender brings us the affordable Standard or "Made in Mexico" series. These are excellent instruments for intermediate players and even working pros. They come in at around half the price of their American-made brothers.
And, like USA Fenders, you can choose between maple or rosewood fingerboards, HSS or SSS pickup configuration, and from an array of colors. There are also models available with a Floyd Rose tremolo and with pretty "plus" tops.
But for many players nothing but an American Fender will do. For 2016 builds on their lineup of American-made classics with the American Elite Series. These are pro guitars with premium components, and built for high-level performance.
At Fender, it seems the more things change the more they stay the same. If it ain't broke don't fix it, it seems. Fender is one of those brands that somehow manage to be both classic and cutting-edge at the same time.
Learn More About Fender Guitars
- Fender Mexican Strat vs American Stratocaster
Compare the Fender Mexican (MIM) and American (MIA) Stratocasters and decide which guitar is better for you and your budget.
- Fender American Special Stratocaster and Telecaster
Here’s a look at the Fender American Special Stratocaster and Telecaster, affordable American-made instruments with classic vibes.
- Fender Standard Telecaster Review
Check out the Fender Standard (MIM) Telecaster. This guitar might be made in Mexico, but the MIM Tele is a real Fender through and through.
The most famous Gibson guitar is the Les Paul, which has been a mainstay in the music world for decades. The Gibson Les Paul is a high-end, made-in-the USA instrument, and it comes in a few different variations. Like Fender, Gibson has remained fairly consistent with their styles and designs. In addition to the Les Paul, other famous Gibson electric guitars include the SG, Flying V, Explorer, ES-335, and Firebird. Their classic acoustics include the Hummingbird.
As mentioned above, many of these models are available as Epiphone copies, but that doesn’t detract from the mystique of Gibson. Gibsons are legendary for their tone and craftsmanship, and for many players nothing else will do except a real Gibson guitar.
Gibson has made some interesting changes in their lineup for 2016, including the return of the classic Les Paul Studio design in the form of the Studio T, and the super-affordable Les Paul Studio Faded.
Check Out the 2016 Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded
G&L is a guitar company founded by Leo Fender. Yup, that Leo Fender. Many of the design are reminiscent of Fender classic instruments, with some improvements to form and design. Because of this, some guitar players feel G&L is a solid alternative to, and even an improvement to Fender guitars.
No doubt you’ll see Leo Fender’s mind at work when looking at guitars like the ASAT and Legacy. But look a little deeper and you’ll find some innovative hardware and electronics designs, plus a few models that separate G&L from any of the other guitar brands out there.
Gretsch is a guitar company that makes some truly beautiful instruments, especially if you are into hollow and semi-hollow body guitars. The Gretsch White Falcon is a legendary instrument with a price tag to match its reputation, but there are other models in the Gretsch lineup and something right for any level of player.
From the signature Chet Atkins and Brian Setzer models, to the Jet and Duo Jet, Gretsch is to rockabilly and jazz what Jackson is to metal. The Electromatic Series offers some very affordable options for intermediate players and working pros.
Guild is an American guitar company that makes some amazing semi-hollow electric guitars such as the Starfire and the Aristocrat. These are guitars that nail the retro-rock sound and have the looks to match. Many classic Guild models have been revived through the Newark Street collection. While these guitars are cool beyond words, where Guild really shines is in the acoustic arena.
Guild acoustic guitars are played by some of the best professional musicians in the business. From this standpoint, Guild is on par with Martin and Taylor, and completes the triumvirate of American acoustic guitar titans. As you’d expect, the prices follow suit. However, the GAD series offers a way for intermediate players to get a Guild acoustic for a reasonable price.
The Guild D-150CE
Ibanez started out as a Japanese company specializing in quality copies of famous American guitars.
Today it is known to many as a great guitar company in its own right, mainly for metal and hard rock players. In truth they make guitars for just about every style and genre, but heavy music is definitely where they shine, and the metal crowd has flocked to Ibanez for decades.
The RG is probably their most iconic instrument, but the S series is also beloved by shredders. Of course they've also been innovators in the field of 7-string guitars, starting back in 1990 with the Universe, the first 7-string guitar on the market.
The Ibanez RG and S Series
- Ibanez RG vs S Series: What's the Difference and Which is Better?
Learn the difference between the Ibanez RG and S Series and decide which guitar is better for you and your music.
Another brand that is well-known among metal players is Jackson. Back in the 1980s, it seemed like Jackson guitars were in the hands of just about every metal and hard rock player on the planet. That tradition continues today, and models like the King V, Kelly, Rhoads, Soloist, and Dinky are still coveted for their great sound and performance.
Jackson models are available in very expensive custom-shop and made-in-the-USA versions, as well as less expensive guitars with downgraded appointments aimed more at beginning and intermediate players. This means metal guitarists of any level and budget are able to own a Jackson and get started the right way.
Guitar World Reviews Amazing Jackson Guitars
Back in the ‘80s Kramer was one of the premier names in metal and hard rock. In fact, Eddie Van Halen even played a Kramer for a short period of time.
In the ‘90s things took a weird turn, and Kramer was eventually bought up by Gibson. Anyone who remembers Kramer during this period probably also remembers a website called MusicYo, where Kramer guitars could be purchased direct and at bargain-basement prices.
These days, Kramer has seen something of a resurgence. Many players remember those glory days of the 1980s and models like the Beretta, with its single-pickup design and double-locking tremolo. If that’s your bag, give Kramer guitars a serious look.
Martin is an American guitar company specializing in acoustic guitars. Most of their instruments are still built at their facility in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and their legacy dates back all the way to 1833. Martin, in many ways, has helped to shape the look and sound of the American acoustic guitar. In fact, they invented the now-classic dreadnought shape in an effort to help American country musicians who wanted more projection out of their guitars onstage.
Martin makes some incredibly beautiful (and expensive) instruments like the D-28 and D-45, along with more affordable guitars that will fit into the budgets of up-and-coming players. It’s also worth noting that Martin is playing a big role in spearheading the effort to protect endangered forests by seeking out alternate tonewoods where possible.
Different Types of Martin Guitars
Ovation acoustic-electric guitars are unique, innovative and, for some players, almost addictive! Once you’ve played an Ovation, no other guitar may do. They have a different look and feel than most other acoustic guitars due to their design, which incorporates a wood top with a rounded, synthetic bowl shape instead of the traditional back and sides.
The result is a light, comfortable guitar with a distinctive sound. For players who prefer the feel of an electric guitar but need to play an acousitc, an Ovation is often the perfect compromise.
Ovation makes some incredible professional-level instruments, featuring some quality components and electronics. They also have the entry-level Applause series of reasonably priced guitars for beginners or those who are looking to get their feet we with the Ovation design.
PRS is a guitar company founded by luthier Paul Reed Smith. Today these instruments are recognized as some of the finest guitars in the world, on par and often surpassing high-end Gibsons.
PRS really took off back in the ‘90s when it seemed just about everyone had swapped out their Les Paul for a PRS. Eventually they capitalized on this trend and made the PRS more accessible by introducing the SE line of lower-budget guitars. But these aren’t beginner’s guitars. Even though they cost less than a standard PRS, they’re still high-quality instruments.
PRS guitars are used by players of every genre. They’re a classy, if somewhat expensive, alternative to some of the more traditional brand names in the guitar industry.
Hear the PRS S2 Custom 22
Rickenbacker may be a name more closely associated with bass guitar, but it is a brand that makes some of the best acoustic and electric guitars as well. Like their four-stringed brothers, Rickenbacker guitars feature some space-aged designs that have now become classic.
This is a guitar company that has been around since the 1930s, and they played a key part in the early days of rock and roll. Bands like the Beatles helped to bring the Rickenbacker name to the forefront.
These days, Rickenbacker guitars are a unique choice for guitarists looking for something with a vintage style that’s a bit off the beaten path.
Schecter Guitar Research is a company that has really established themselves as one of the best guitar brands out there in recent years. Many of their guitars are focused on the heavy metal market, but players of any genre can find a Schecter that meets their needs. With superb craftsmanship and high-end appointments you’d expect to find on much more expensive guitars, they are also among the best values in the guitar world.
Many of their guitars are based around the Schecter “C” body shape model. This is a great design that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but also easy to play and sonically effective.
While Schecter is one of the best guitar brands for metal out there today, in 2016 we'll see the rise of the Schecter California Vintage Series. This is a lineup of guitars with a classic Strat and Tele-like styles. Like most Schecters, they are affordable instruments that offer tremendous value.
Schecter has always produced a few classic styles, so while this is a bit of a departure it is really no surprise. I'm thinking the California Vintage Sereis will give MIM Fenders and G&L Tribute Series a run for their money!
More on Schecter Guitars
- Schecter Guitars Review: Hellraiser C-1, Extreme and Solo 6
Check out this review of the Schecter Hellraiser C-1, Hellraiser C-1 Extreme, and Hellraiser Solo 6, all great guitars for metal and hard rock.
Chekc Out the New Schecter California Vintage Standard Series
Seagull acoustic guitars are among the best values you are going find. They’re made in Canada, and there’s an attention to detail and craftsmanship here you may not expect in guitars at these price points. The Seagull Artist series is the top of the lineup. You’ll find unique tonewoods and high-quality construction techniques at an affordable price.
Further down the Seagull line, looking at models outside of the Artist Series, the components and woods aren’t the same but we still see an impressive attention to detail. The Seagull S6 Original is a bare-bones acoustic, perfect for beginners and intermediate players. This is a guitar worth checking out if you need a solid acoustic and don’t want to break the bank.
More on Seagull Guitars
- Seagull Guitars Review: Artist Mosaic, S6 Original, ...
Learn about the Seagull Artist Mosaic, S6 Original, and Maritime SWS acoustic guitars in this review. Specs, sounds, and other important information included.
Squier is the baby brother of Fender and makes inexpensive guitars players based on classic Fender models. Along with Epiphone, they’re one of the best guitar brands for beginners or newbies looking for their first real guitar.
The quality varies, but some of these are very good instruments. Squier also make starter packs that come with a guitar, amp, and all the accessories you’ll need to get started playing.
A few Squiers that stand out above the rest are the Classic Vibe and the Vintage Modified Series. These Stratocasters and Telecasters feature better components than typical Squier instruments, and some are even on par with lower-priced Fenders.
If you are thinking of starting out in guitar, it is a smart idea to choose a starter pack from a respected brand like Squier by Fender. These kits have everything you need to start playing today, including the guitar, amp, cable, strap, picks, and even some materials to help you learn to play!
How Does Squier Compare to Fender?
- Squier vs Fender Stratocaster Guitar Review
Knowing the difference between the Squier and Fender Stratocaster will help you decide which guitar is right for you and your budget.
Taylor guitars are among the best in the world. This American guitar company makes some incredible acoustic guitar designs and a few cool electrics too. Taylor guitars don’t come cheap, but like Martin, they are worth every penny.
Taylor and Martin are really the upper esheclon when it comes to American-made acoustic guitars. Like Martin, Taylor makes many acoustic and acoustic-electric instruments that find their way into the hands of professional musicians onstage. But they make a few that are more suited for working players as well.
Their 200-series is reasonably priced, and a great value for a Taylor guitar. They also make the Baby and Big Baby, and the GS Mini—smaller-bodied guitars perfect for intermediate players and beginners with a few extra bucks in their pockets.These are awesome acoustic guitars with a big sound. They might be small, but veteran guitar players love them for the tone and portability.
Check out the Taylor GS Mini!
In the 1980s it seemed like Washburn guitars were everywhere, and they were leaders in the hard rock and metal guitar genre. Even though they aren’t quite as prominent as they once were, they still feature some nice guitars in their lineup. From metal to jazz and anywhere in between, Washburn has you covered. With signature models for Paul Stanley and Nuno Bettencourt, they still have strong name recognition in the rock world.
It’s not likely Washburn is going anywhere anytime soon. They’re one of the oldest American guitar makers in the business, with roots going all the way back to 1883!
Yamaha makes a little bit of everything, from organs and bass guitars to electric guitars and band instruments. Their acoustic guitars are always excellent, and there are options for all levels of guitar experience.
Beginning and intermediate players especially can find some outstanding instruments in the Yamaha lineup. This is a Japanese company that has stood the test of time over the years.
The Yamaha FG700 is widely considered one of the best acoustic guitars for beginners, not only because of its surprising sound qualities but also for its ease of play. Moving up the line, the L Series offers high-level craftsmanship and solid-wood designs.
There is a reason Yamaha has been around for so long, and is so revered in the music world.
Other Guitar Makers
Though the brands listed above are the best-known guitar companies out there, there are many others. If you come across a guitar manufacturer you have never heard of, it always pays to check it out. You never know what kind of hidden gem you may uncover, and you might find yourself on the leading edge of a new guitar revolution!
Finding the right guitar is a process, and it pays to take your time, consider your needs, and learn as much as you can about the different options. It’s always smart to start with the big names. Remember, there’s a good reason they’re the best guitar brands in the world!
More Guitar Brands
Still stumped when it comes to figuring out which guitar brands make the instruments you need to get the sound you want? Here are a few more articles that may help, based on your playing style and favorite genres:
- Check out some of the top guitars for heavy metal and hard rock from brands like Jackson, B.C. Rich, and Schecter. Pointy shapes only get you so far. These guitars have what it takes under the hood.
- The right guitar brand for country and Southern rock can make the difference between great tone and, well, something else. Which would you rather have when you get up there onstage?
- Check out your best bets if you are looking for a guitar brand to play the blues. Hey, you can play the blues on almost anything, but grabbing the right instrument sure helps your sound!
- The perfect jazz guitar should sound warm, woody, and clean. Here are some guitar companies that make great guitars for the jazz musician, or anyone who wants to sound like one.
- If guitar acrobatics are your idea of a good time, check out these guitars built for speed and precision. Of course they're from some of the top guitar brands in the metal world!
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