The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
If you are looking for a new guitar you have a lot of choices, from a lot of different brands. There are legendary names like Fender, Gibson, Martin, and Taylor. There are amazing, affordable instruments from companies like Squier, Epiphone, and Seagull. And, especially if you are a beginner, you’re going to run into a whole bunch of names you’ve never even heard of before.
Do guitar brands matter? I mean, a guitar is just a bunch of wood, plastic and metal slapped together in a certain way, right? Anybody who knows what they are doing can build one.
In fact, there are many small-volume luthiers and guitar shops that rival or exceed the best brands in the business when it comes to quality. Just because they are not household names does not mean they can’t build outstanding instruments, which often command big money.
So what does this mean for you, the dude or dudette with a wad of cash in your pocket which you are ready to plunk down on a new instrument? In this article I’ll go over why I think guitar brands are important, and when you shouldn’t worry so much about the logo on the headstock.
If you feel like you need a primer on the wide array of quality guitar builders on the market today check out my article on the top acoustic and electric guitar brands.
Otherwise, let’s get to it!
Beginner Guitar Brands
I always advise beginners to think about a few things when buying their first guitar. Firstly, you need to choose a guitar that inspires you. That means it has to look good, according to you anyway. While a cool-looking guitar won’t make you a better player, it will make you more likely to pick it up and practice. You have to like your guitar, and the brand really doesn’t matter at all here.
But tone does matter, and a guitar that sounds like a rabid squirrel breathing its last is likely to sit in the corner collecting dust. For electric guitars, obviously the amp plays a part in this too.
Beginners need to choose a first guitar that creates enjoyable sounds, and that means quality is important. Of course, you aren’t going to get the same sound in a beginner’s guitar as you would from an expensive pro-level instrument. However, some of the same companies that make the high-level gear also make affordable guitars for newbies, and these are the brands you should look to.
Playability matters too, and this is why beginners need to choose guitars with a quality build. Guitars that are hard to play can make a newbie frustrated, and possibly even cause them to quit. Cheap guitars made by unknown or low-quality brands are notorious for poor, often irreparable action, bad workmanship, and faulty electronics.
It might seem like a bargain to grab a guitar for under $100, but you’re more likely to get an instrument that will help a beginner achieve success if you choose a brand with a solid reputation for quality.
So when should you choose a super-cheap guitar made by a little-known brand? In my opinion, if you are serious about learning guitar, never. However, if you are choosing a gift for someone who may or may not be interested in learning the instrument, or if you don’t really care about taking the guitar seriously, this might be the choice for you. Just be aware of what you are potentially getting!
You can learn more about guitars for beginners in this article: Best Guitar Brands for Beginners
Epiphone Is a Brand I Recommend for Beginners
Guitars for Intermediate Players
Once you’ve been playing for a while you are in a much better position to judge guitar quality. You know more about the guitar world, including which companies make gear best suited for certain styles of music. And that’s one way I think guitar brands are important for intermediate players: Since your goals are now clearer, you need to choose an instrument that matches those goals.
For example, Jackson and Fender both make some outstanding electric guitars for intermediate players. But, even though the guitars are comparable in quality, if you are into extreme metal it is clear that Jackson is a better choice. Jackson is a brand that focuses on all of the things that make metal guitars great. If you play country or blues, you’d be better off going with the Fender.
As an intermediate player, it is also time to consider where and how a guitar is made. Beginner guitars are made almost exclusively in Asia or Mexico. When it comes to labor and parts, these instruments are intended to be affordable, and that makes sense.
Intermediate-level guitars are a mixed bag. Some are made overseas; some are made in North America. Some feature cost-cutting measures that impact quality, while others seem to stretch their resources to the point where you can’t figure out how they make any money.
It would take a lengthy exercise in economics, marketing and manufacturing to figure out why different brands make the decisions they do when choosing materials, manufacturing techniques and their labor force. You can get on that if you want, but more importantly, what you need to consider is how much each of these variables matter to you.
As an intermediate guitarist, you have to balance the cost, quality, and expectations of what a guitar can do for you. Some brands do a better job than others when it comes to offering quality gear for reasonable prices.
Seagull Makes Amazing Intermediate-level Acoustic Guitars
If you are an advanced guitarist you probably don’t need any advice from me when it comes to choosing a quality guitar. You know what you like, what you want and you’ve been around the block enough times to know which brands can get the job done. For you, the real question here isn’t about evaluating and choosing the right guitar. It’s about trust.
I’ve been playing guitar for over thirty years. Frankly, at this point, I couldn’t care less about the name on the headstock. I want a guitar made by a company that I feel gives me their best effort, not one that rests on their laurels because they are a so-called big name. Brands or guitar models that are overpriced and overhyped get a pass in favor of instruments that really deliver exactly what I want, no matter who makes them.
Finding your comfort zone comes down to you and your budget here. For example, many years ago I owned a lot of expensive guitars by big-name brands. I had a decent job for the first time, and I could finally afford those Gibsons and Fenders and Martins I’d always dreamed about. My guitar collection was worth several times more than my car, and I was driving a nice car at the time. But, it started to feel weird, and kind of phony, and I eventually sold off a lot of gear.
It took a while, but I finally found a point where I could spend money on a guitar, know I was getting what I wanted, and know I wasn’t being swayed by the name on the headstock. For example, while I’d love to own a Gibson Les Paul Custom, at the point I’m at right now I know I’d only be buying it because of its reputation. Financially, it would be a silly choice.
On the other hand, when the Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded came out a few years ago, I fell in love as soon as I played one. Both guitars say Gibson on the headstock. The Custom is clearly a higher-quality instrument, but it wasn’t the right choice for me. If I were at a different place in my life, with a different comfort zone, my choice may have been different.
As an experienced player, only you can decide how much a guitar brand or model name means to you. I encourage you to play what you like, no matter what the headstock says. I also think it’s a great idea to seek out lesser-known guitar builders. These guys tend to go the extra mile when it comes to putting together high-quality instruments.
Do Guitar Brands Really Matter?
So, what’s our conclusion here? Here’s a summary of all that other stuff I just wrote:
- Guitar brands matter for beginners. When a newbie starts out on a quality instrument made by a reputable guitar company they are more likely to succeed. Also, something I did not mention above, if they eventually quit guitar for some reason the instrument will have much better resale value.
- Brands matter for intermediate players too. But the question is more about which companies make quality gear at affordable price points. To my way of thinking, this is where you need to seek out those diamonds in the rough.
- Guitar brands should not matter for advanced players. You know what you like, and you know what you want. Choose a guitar that gets it done and don’t worry about the name on the headstock.
So that’s what I have to say about that. It is, as always, simply my opinion. I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.
I hope you found this article helpful, and don’t forget to vote in the poll below and let the world know what you think!
Do Guitar Brands Matter?
Guitar Gopher (author) on May 18, 2018:
@Rogue - I like Schecter, too. They do have the Omen, which is a little expensive for a beginner, but I think one of the best affordable guitars out there.
Rogue on May 17, 2018:
Personally I like schecter guitars because any guitar I've played by them gets the job done well. They don't have beginner guitars I don't think, but as soon as you can get some experience in you should be able to play one just fine.
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 07, 2016:
@Snarky Puppy: I agree, and I think it is a watershed moment for guitar players when they realize they have control of their sound because of their own skills rather than using a certain guitar or amp. It does take a while to get there though.
Timothy from Europe on July 07, 2016:
If you gave Mike Stern a 300$ Squire, he would still sound like Mike Stern. I've always argued that sound is 90% in the hands, 10% what woods, pick-ups and bridge your guitar has. It's an illusion a lot of newbies fall for (i.e if I buy a Marcus Miller jazz bass, an EBS cab, and Marcus Miller fat beam strings, I will sound like Marcus Miller), but really, you could sound more alike to Miller by simply copying his playing, his nuance, etc. on your mexican Fender jazz bass, as opposed to investing in high-end gear.
But I suppose it is what keeps the market going. Some people just need 20+ years of playing to know that a standard American fender strat is just the ticket for them.
Boomer Music Man on July 04, 2016:
Thyis is a good blog for people learning to play a guitar, There are choices to make and it is very important.