Best Superstrat-Style Guitars
What is a Superstrat?
A superstrat is a hot-rodded Stratocaster-style electric guitar. Back during the Golden Age of Shred, superstrats were everywhere. It was a different time, and in many ways a better time.
Hard rock and metal were big, and shred was mainstream. Guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch and Steve Vai got a whole lot of attention, and legions of young players worked their tails off in the hopes of attaining a fraction of their skill.
For a while the Guitar God reigned, and the superstrat was his weapon of choice. But then, almost overnight, everything went goofy. In the early 1990s grunge music rose to prominence, and suddenly playing anything like a hot-rodded Stratocaster became passé. These were dark days for the shredder, but thankfully they are well behind us.
The superstrat is back, baby!
Different guitars by different brands will utilize varied features and woods, but typically this is the basic template:
- Hot humbucker
- Double-locking tremolo
- Double-cutaway build
- Fast neck
So, why mess with the Stratocaster at all? It was good enough for Hendrix! Plus, it’s one of the most popular guitars in the world, and it’s been around since the 1950s.
In their natural state, Strats are beautiful things, with comfortable necks and great tone. But they do have limitations. The classic Fender design has three single-coil pickups, which are amazing for rock and blues. However, they can lack some of the thick, searing tones lead guitarists often seek. Strats also have synchronized tremolo systems which tend to go out of tune with aggressive use.
Some rock guitarists saw other possibilities for this already amazing instrument. Eventually, they picked up their soldering irons and did something about it.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s players started tinkering with Stratocasters and replacing the bridge pickup with a humbucker. One of the most famous tinkerers was Eddie Van Halen, who plunked a Gibson PAF pickup on a Strat built with aftermarket and spare parts to create his now-famous Frankenstrat guitar. This was, allegedly, to give him something with the feel of a Stratocaster, but a thicker tone like a Les Paul.
Not long after, a jewelry maker named Floyd Rose built the first of the legendary bridges which would bear his name. His double-locking tremolo system replaced standard bridges and allowed players to go nuts with the whammy bar and not go out of tune.
By the early ‘80s the superstrat was born. Top guitar builders like Ibanez, Jackson and others created their own versions of the beast, which still exist today. Other guitar builders burned brightly for a time, only to disappear in the ‘90s. Some have returned along with the superstrat renaissance, and a few new brands have popped up in recent years.
So, let’s get to the gear! Here is my list of the best superstrats out there today. If you are into metal and shred, these are the instruments that will get the job done.
Charvel Pro Mod San Dimas and So Cal
To me, Charvel is the king of the hot-rodded Strat-style guitar, and they get the #1 spot on my list. These guitars were huge in the ‘80s, and they’ve seen resurgence in recent years. They feature a classic build, and the hot-rod part comes in the form of awesome Seymour Duncan pickups and Floyd Rose tremolos.
There are two main styles to look for the Pro Mod Series: the San Dimas and So Cal. In my opinion these are the best superstrats under $1000.
One noticeable difference between them is the pickguard present on the So Cal, but otherwise much of the hardware and specs are the same:
- Alder Body
- One-piece quartersawn maple neck
- 22 jumbo frets
- TUSQ nut
- 12”-16” compound radius fingerboard
- Floyd Rose tremolo
However, each guitar has a different pickup set: The So Cal a Seymour Duncan T6-6 Distortion at the bridge and SH-6N Distortion at the neck, and the San Dimas a Seymour Duncan JB at the bridge and ’59 at the neck.
My choice? I’d go with the So Cal, and not just because I love the look of the pickguard. The Seymour Duncan JB is a great pickup, but I personally prefer the somewhat thicker, richer tones of the Duncan Distortion. But both guitars are amazing, and you can’t really go wrong!
Hear the Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal
Jackson Soloist and Dinky
If you are into metal you know Jackson. This is a guitar company that was right there during the glory days of shred in the ‘80s, and never really lost a step over the years. There are few reasons why. Two of them are the Jackson Soloist and Dinky.
Both are superstrat-style guitars, with a little twist. And, Jackson features several different versions of each, available at different price points. Whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced guitarists, you can find one of these bad boys to match your budget and skill.
The Soloist has a unique body design compared to most other instruments in this article. It has a neck-through build, typically with a maple neck and basswood body wings. This allows excellent sustain and resonance.
The Dinky features a slightly smaller body and traditional bolt-on-neck design. Like the Soloist, it has been a mainstay in the metal and shred world for decades.
Of course both guitars typically feature hot humbuckers and double-locking tremolos, and Jackson necks are always fast and slick. It’s a cool departure from the basic double-cutaway design Fender made famous, and Jackson has carved its own niche in the metal guitar market.
On a side note, you also may want to check out Jackson’s Adrian Smith SDX signature model. It features a basswood body, maple neck, a hot Jackson humbucker and a Floyd Rose Special tremolo.
Adrian Smith is one of the guitar players in the legendary metal band Iron Maiden. While I love ‘Maiden, I am generally not a fan of signature-model guitars. This is one of the rare exceptions, and I think this guitars is a gem for shredders on a budget.
The Jackson Dinky is a legendary shred machine, and the JS32 version is affordable for almost any guitar player.
The Jackson Dinky JS32
Ibanez RG and S
Like Jackson, Ibanez has given the metal community two awesome superstrat-style guitars: the RG and the S. Ibanez rose to prominence in the ‘80s, and today you’ll find their fingerprints on all forms of metal and hard rock.
Of course both the RG and S have the hallmark fast necks, humbucking pickups and rock-solid whammy bars we’re looking for. They are both great guitars for metal and shred, but they are each a bit different in design.
The RG typically features a basswood body with a maple neck. Ibanez S-Series guitars also have a maple neck, but a smaller, mahogany body. The differences are subtle but significant, and my advice is to try each design and see which you like better. I’ve always preferred the RG over the smaller S, but that’s only my opinion.
Both the RG and S come in various models, from those intended for newbies, to those built for pro-level players. There is a reason Ibanez is among the best metal guitar brands out there, and these guitars are a big part of it.
Fender Stratocaster HSS Floyd Rose
So what about Fender, the company that started all of the madness to begin with? Oddly, Fender has never really had much luck with guitars aimed at capturing the shred and metal crowds over the years.
They’ve tried on a few occasions. In fact, I have a superstrat called the Talon in my collection. It is a guitar made by Fender under the brand name Heartfield in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s a great guitar, with a fast neck, DiMarzio Super Distortion pickups and a Floyd Rose Original bridge, but it was eventually discontinued when the design fell out of favor in the '90s.
Aside from a few signature models, the closest thing today would be a HSS Fat Strat with a Floyd Rose. And, for that you are going to have to look to their made-in-Mexico Standard Series.
Personally, I am a fan of these guitars, and my Standard HSS Strat is one of my most played instruments (sans Floyd). I’m not sure it would always be my top choice for metal, but it is a very versatile guitar that nails a lot of different tones.
Of course, you always have the option of modding your Strat, just like the tinkerers of days gone by!
More Guitars for Shredders
Here are a few more awesome guitars worth a look:
- Schecter Hellraiser: There are a bunch of Hellraisers in the Schecter lineup, and they are all powerful versions of the classic superstrat design.
- Kiesel (Carvin): Check out their DC Series of incredible, custom-made, neck-through guitars. They also have a line of bolt-neck guitars, including a very cool Jason Becker Tribute model.
- ESP LTD: When I think of ESP LTD and metal, I think of the EC-1000. However, they do have some impressive Strat-style guitars in their M and MH Series.
- EVH: Today Eddie Van Halen has his own brand of guitars, and the flag ship is the Wolfgang. There are also a few different replicas of Eddie’s original Frankenstrat guitars.
Why Not Be Super?
Superstrat-style guitars aren’t for everyone, and even old-school shredders like me can see they aren’t always the best choice. These guitars are very pointed instruments, for very specific purposes.
Like Formula One racing cars, they aren’t made for a Sunday drive. They are built for speed and precision, and if that’s not what you’re looking for you might be better off with something else.
But if you’re into metal, hard rock, shred or anything like it, one of these guitars just might be exactly what you need. If so, you don’t have to hide in the dark, ashamed of your guitar anymore. The superstrat is back and better than ever. Wield your weapon proudly. Shred is alive and well once more.
Long live the shredder.