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20 Best Electric Guitars of All Time

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

Is the Fender Stratocaster the greatest electric guitar of all time?

Is the Fender Stratocaster the greatest electric guitar of all time?

The Greatest Electric Guitars Ever Made

There is a guitar out there for every guitarist. It takes a little research and a lot of experimentation, but eventually, each player learns which instruments are right for them. We learn which guitars are bad, which are good, and which are great.

Over the decades, a handful of guitars have risen above the rest. They are the most popular guitars in the world because countless guitarists have chosen them to get the sounds they need. These instruments have stood the test of time and helped to form the music world as we know it today.

In this article, you’ll read about the 20 best electric guitars of all time.

What makes a guitar one of the best of all time?

When choosing guitars for this list I considered things like:

  • Sales and popularity
  • Use by famous players on significant recordings
  • Legacy
  • Historic importance

Consider this a loose list of the greatest guitars ever made. It is tough to put them all in order! Let me know which guitar you think is the best of all time in the comments section.

Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster has been around since 1954 and countless guitar players have used it in every genre of music. The Strat is easy to modify and relatively simple to work on. Because of that, and because of its iconic sound, it is probably the most popular guitar in the world. Today it exists in many variations, from the basic three-single-coil model that started it all to models with humbuckers, Floyd Rose tremolos, different tonewoods, and more.

It is important to remember that the Stratocaster was a very innovative guitar when it first arrived on the scene with some unique features never before seen. The double-cutaway design, trio of switchable pickups, and synchronized tremolo system were new to guitar players who were used to big-bodied jazz guitars. Over the years, the Strat has evolved to fit into every musical niche, and musicians in every genre play it.

Stratocaster Features

  • Body: Alder
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
  • Pickups: Three single coils
  • Electronics: One volume control, two tone controls, 5-way switch
  • Bridge: Fender Synchronized Tremolo

Famous Stratocaster Players

  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Eric Clapton
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • Buddy Holly
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Jeff Beck
  • David Gilmour
  • Eric Johnson
  • Ritchie Blackmore
  • Buddy Guy

Gibson Les Paul

The Les Paul is one of the greatest electric guitars of all time. It has a deep, resonant sound that works for genres as diverse and heavy metal and jazz. Many guitar companies have copied the iconic arch-top, single-cutaway design of the Les Paul, but there is only one original.

The first Les Paul became available in 1952, but it was a rocky road. Les Paul (the guitar player) actually invented it several years earlier, but Gibson wasn’t interested. Only when Fender began to mass market the solid-body electric guitar did Gibson put the Les Paul into production.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Les Paul became one of the most iconic guitars in music history and found a home in every genre imaginable. Gibson’s budget brand Epiphone makes Les Pauls too. They are solid guitars for players who are watching their pennies, but for some, only a Gibon will do.

Les Paul Features

  • Body: Mahogany with maple top
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Two Humbuckers
  • Electronics: Two volume controls, two tone controls, 3-way switch
  • Bridge: Tune-o-Matic with stop bar tailpiece

Famous Les Paul Players

  • Les Paul
  • Slash
  • Jimmy Page
  • Gary Moore
  • Randy Rhoads
  • Billy Gibbons
  • Ace Frehley
  • Joe Bonamassa
  • Neal Schon
  • Zakk Wylde

Fender Telecaster

The Fender Telecaster was the first successful solid-body electric guitar in history. But before the Telecaster, there was the Broadcaster. Fender released the Broadcaster in 1950 but soon ran into a problem: Gretsch had a line of drums using a very similar name. So, to avoid confusion and a potential lawsuit, Fender changed the name of the guitar to the Telecaster.

The simple but effective design has changed little in the past sixty-plus years. The Tele is considered one of the best electric guitars for country music but is equally at home in rock and blues.

It is hard to imagine where we’d be today without the Fender Telecaster. It was the forerunner of every solid-body electric guitar, and it opened the door to a new sound and style of music. It also made life a lot easier for guitar players who were beginning to see the value of electricity in their sound.

Typical Telecaster Specs

  • Body: Alder
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or maple
  • Pickups: Two single-coils
  • Electronics: One volume control, one tone control, 3-way switch
  • Bridge: Tele bridge plate with 3 or 6-saddles

Famous Telecaster Players

  • Keith Richards
  • John 5
  • Brad Paisley
  • Richie Kotzen
  • Jimmy Page (early years)
  • Jim Root
  • Keith Urban
  • Tom Morello
  • Merle Haggard
  • Vince Gill
Richie Kotzen and the Fender Telecaster

Richie Kotzen and the Fender Telecaster

PRS Custom 24

PRS breaks up the Fender/Gibson domination of my top 5 but they didn’t fall into this spot without good reason. For a long while, when you considered everything from scale length to build design and even sound, just about every solid-body guitar you can think of falls into either the Fender or Gibson category. When PRS arrived in 1985, guitarists suddenly had another option.

PRS guitars have a different scale length than both Gibson and Fender guitars. And they have a fantastic sound that’s all their town. They are beautiful instruments, right down to the iconic flying bird inlays on their fretboards.

The Custom 24 is the flagship of the PRS lineup, the instrument that started it all over 35 years ago. It remains one of the best guitars on the market today, and it has features and appointments unique to PRS guitars. Over the decades, PRS has earned its place among the top guitar brands in the world.

PRS Custom 24 Specs

  • Body: Mahogany with maple top
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Two Humbuckers
  • Electronics: One volume control, one tone control, 5-way switch
  • Bridge: PRS Patented

Famous PRS Players

  • Carlos Santana
  • Mark Tremonti
  • John Mayer
  • Alex Lifeson
  • Al DiMeola
  • Howard Leese

Gibson SG

Today the Gibson SG is one of the most famous guitars in the world with legions of fans. However, you might be surprised to know it started out as a replacement for the Les Paul. In the late 1950s, the Gibson Les Paul was not the legendary guitar it is today. In fact, it was struggling to keep up with the Fender Stratocaster. Gibson went about redesigning the Les Paul as a simpler, double-cutaway model that might better appeal to players who liked the Strat.

In 1961, the Gibson SG was born, and it was very popular. Les Paul himself was not a fan of the new design and asked to have his name removed from the instrument. The new guitars were rebranded SG for solid guitar. When a few influential guitarists began using the old-style Les Pauls in the mid-1960s, Gibson brought back the original Les Paul.

All of that was probably quite a fiasco for Gibson at the time, but if it hadn’t happened as it did, we would not have the SG today.

Gibson SG Specs

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Two Humbuckers
  • Electronics: Two volume controls, two tone controls, 3-way switch
  • Bridge: Tune-o-Matic with Stopbar tailpiece

Famous SG Players

  • Angus Young
  • Tony Iommi
  • Derek Trucks
  • Pete Townshend
  • Frank Zappa
  • Eric Clapton (early years)

More of the Greatest Guitars of All Time

You've just seen the top 5. Here are the rest of these iconic instruments to round out the list.

Gretsch White Falcon

The White Falcon just might be the most beautiful electric guitar ever made. It’s a hollow-body masterpiece first introduced in 1954, and it has achieved holy grail status for many collectors and guitar players.

The White Falcon is still available today, though you’d better save your pennies if you intend to bring one home.

Rickenbacker 360

The Rickenbacker 360 is an instrument responsible for many of the guitar sounds of the ‘60s. The twelve-string model (360/12) is a version made famous by George Harrison of the Beatles and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Admittedly, the Rickenbacker design is an acquired taste, but don’t overlook the importance of this classic guitar in rock history.

Epiphone Casino

Before Epiphone became a brand that is known for producing budget versions of Gibson guitar, they had a reputation for making some great hollow and semi-hollow body guitars. The Casino was one of them, most notably used by John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. Other users include Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, The Edge of U2, and Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters.

Gibson Flying V

There are few guitars more iconic than the Gibson Flying V. This is one of the coolest electric guitars ever made. Its futuristic design is well known in the world of heavy metal, but metal wasn’t even a thing when the Flying V was invented in 1958.

Original Flying Vs were made of Korina rather than the mahogany used today. Jimi Hendrix famously played a Flying V on occasion because, as a left-handed guitarist, it was easier to manage when turned upside down.

Ibanez Destroyer

The Destroyer is based on the Gibson Explorer. When it was first invented back in 1975, Ibanez was a brand known for making excellent copies of US-made instruments. The Destroyer was a favorite of metal players in the 1980s, including Def Leppard’s Phil Collen.

However, many people don’t realize that many of the tracks on Van Halen’s debut album were recorded using Eddie’s Ibanez Destroyer, not his Frankenstrat. That alone makes this guitar legendary.

Gibson ES-335

The ES-335 was the first commercially available semi-hollow body guitar. Before it appeared in 1958, guitarists used either the newer-style solid-body guitars or older-style hollow-body guitars. The semi-hollow design achieved a similar tone as a hollow body but cut down on feedback by employing a solid center block. The ES (Electric Spanish) guitar was born, and the 335 went on to become one of the most popular guitars of all time.

Ibanez RG

Back in the 1980s, guitars known as superstrats were the weapons of choice for shredders. Based loosely on the Fender Stratocaster, these guitars had hot pickups, fast necks, and double-locking tremolos. Guitar companies scrambled to create their own takes on the superstrat design.

In 1987, Ibanez introduced the RG550, and it immediately moved to the top of the heap. The RG Series has gone on to become one of the most popular metal guitars of all time, and today there are models for every level of player and budget.

Fender Jaguar

Fender introduced the Jaguar in 1962, intending it as a feature-packed instrument with more bells and whistles than anything else on the market. It was discontinued in 1975 but eventually made a comeback. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana helped to bring the Jag back into the rock guitar playing the public’s attention in the 1990s.

Jackson Soloist

Jackson is one of the best guitar brands for metal, and the Soloist is one of the reasons why. This is another superstrat, but it has a key difference from many guitars that are visually similar. The Soloist is a neck-thru design, meaning the neck extends to make up the center block of the guitar body, and two wings are glued on either side. This makes for incredible tone and sustain and the Soloist is one of the top choices of lead guitarists.

EVH Wolfgang

Eddie Van Halen started the superstrat craze in the late 1970s when he modified his aftermarket Stratocaster body with an old Gibson PAF pickup. Legions of shredders followed suit, but when it came time to design his own signature guitar Eddie went a little further.

The Wolfgang is a step beyond a superstrat, with a basswood body, arched maple top, maple neck, and Floyd Rose tremolo with his patented D-Tuna system. First created by Peavey and then Music Man, Eddie’s Wolfgang guitars are now available through his own brand, EVH.

Eddie Van Halen and his signature Wolfgang guitar.

Eddie Van Halen and his signature Wolfgang guitar.

Dean ML

The Dean ML is one of those guitars that could have easily faded away into the recesses of music history. Had it not been for a shredder known as Dimebag and a band called Pantera, it is unlikely the ML would be on this list.

The ML was created in 1977, and while it was a cool guitar design with a handful of player latching on to it, it didn’t last. The guitar saw a resurgence in popularity with the rise of the band Pantera and eventually went back into production.

Fender Jazzmaster

The Jazzmaster arrived in 1958 with its bizarre for the time soap bar single-coil pickups. This was a guitar made for Jazz, but it found a home in rock, particularly surf music. The Jazzmaster eventually fell out of vogue, but like most Fender guitars it has its fans today.

Gibson Explorer

The Explorer, like the Flying V, was a futuristic design released by Gibson in 1958. Also, like the Flying V, original Explorers utilized Korina as a tonewood rather than mahogany.

The guitar was eventually discontinued but returned to production in the mid-1970s. The Gibson Explorer has gone on to become a favorite of metal players such as James Hetfield of Metallica.

Jackson Rhoads

Randy Rhoads was an incredible musician and Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar player. He is known for playing a Gibson Les Paul Custom, but he also had a model made for him called the Jackson Concorde.

Rhoads tragically passed away in 1982, but the guitar has lived on. Today, after many updates and changes to the body style, it is known as the Jackson Rhoads and it is one of the most legendary guitars in the metal world.

Kramer Baretta

If you lived through the ‘80s and you play guitar you probably remember the Kramer Baretta. It was originally a respectable shred machine, made popular by Eddie Van Halen. It’s a classic superstrat still available today. Back during the Gold Age of Shred, this guitar was iconic.

Top 20 Electric Guitars of All Time - Ranked

I said I wasn't going to rank them, but I can't help myself. Here is a list of the best electric guitars of all time:

  1. Fender Stratocaster
  2. Gibson Les Paul
  3. Fender Telecaster
  4. PRS Custom 24
  5. Gibson SG
  6. Gretsch White Falcon
  7. Rickenbacker 360
  8. Epiphone Casino
  9. Gibson ES-335
  10. Ibanez RG
  11. Gibson Flying V
  12. Fender Jaguar
  13. Jackson Soloist
  14. EVH Wolfgang
  15. Ibanez Destroyer
  16. Gibson Explorer
  17. Jackson Rhoads
  18. Dean ML
  19. Fender Jazzmaster
  20. Kramer Baretta

What order would you put them in?

What Is the Best Electric Guitar of All Time?

I think the Fender Stratocaster is the most important electric guitar of all time. I'm not saying that just because I like Strats, though I do. It’s because the Fender Stratocaster has had the most impact on the music world of any guitar ever made. Yes, we can make a strong case for the Gibson Les Paul as well. But, remember it was Gibson chasing Fender in the solid-body guitar market throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Without the Stratocaster, we might not have the Gibson SG. We might not have superstrats like the Ibanez RG or the Jackson Soloist. Think of the hundreds of electric guitars made by different brands that are based on the general solid-body design of the Strat. And think of the countless guitar players who have used the Fender Stratocaster to create unique and amazing music over the past six decades. I listed ten of them above, but there are many, many more.

All that said, you may not care at all about the Fender Stratocaster, and maybe you can name a dozen guitars you’d rather have in your collection. I can understand that. There are plenty of guitars out there for all kinds of players. So, let me know in the comments which guitar you think is the best of all time.

Vote for the greatest electric guitar ever made.

Comments

ANONYMOUS on August 10, 2020:

I think the Ibanez Jem needs a spot