I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
In any given field there are a handful of companies that rise above the others. This is true whether you are talking about cars or golf clubs or chainsaws, and of course, it is true if you are talking about electric guitars.
Some brands have proven themselves as the best of the best. They’ve created the most legendary instruments in music history. If you are looking for a new guitar, one of these companies is a smart place to start.
No matter what style of music you are into, you won’t have to look far to find a like-minded guitar builder. The electric guitar can trace its roots back to the big-band days, and there are several companies that excel at creating excellent guitars for jazz. Likewise, there are those companies that have grabbed on to the heavy metal genre.
However, in this article, we’re going to look at guitar brands that have forged their reputation in rock music. These are the companies that have not only shaped the sound of the rock genre as we know it today but continue to offer instruments modern players can count on.
In the list below you certainly find companies that build high-priced instruments, but I’m not one of those guitarists that will tell you that you need to play expensive gear to get anywhere. In fact, my message is usually the exact opposite.
Every company has the gems of their lineups, and they are worth every penny if you can afford them. But also I encourage you to look deep into their catalogs for those diamonds in the rough, those instruments that bring a lot of value for the price. Find a guitar you love and grab it, and if it doesn’t cost a fortune that’s all the better.
Remember this is all based on my own experience and opinion, so be sure to do your own research and decide for yourself.
Here is my list of the top 10 rock guitar brands:
At the top of my list is Gibson, the company responsible for one of the best guitar brands of all time: The Les Paul. This is an instrument born in the early 1950s, but Gibson had been making amazing acoustic and hollow-body electric guitars long before that.
Today, the Les Paul comes in many forms, from extremely expensive Custom models to more affordable Studio versions and everywhere in between. The flagship of the lineup is the Standard, the classic instrument synonymous with guitar greats like Slash, Jimmy Page, and Billy Gibbons.
In addition to the Les Paul, Gibson builds several other legendary designs that have made a huge imprint on rock music over the decades.
Best Gibson Guitar Models
- Les Paul
- Flying V
Gibson guitars are among the best in the world, but they can also be a little expensive. You can go with an Epiphone, but Gibson always has a few good options around the $1,000 mark as well. If you love the idea of owning a Gibson Les Paul but you’re struggling with the cash part of it, check out the Les Paul Faded. A little while back I grabbed the 2016 version and it’s been a fantastic guitar with the tone and feel of a Les Paul, minus the big price tag.
Along with the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster really deserves a top spot on the list when it comes to electric guitar brands for rock. This is the company that led the solid-body electric guitar revolution. The Broadcaster, later renamed the Telecaster, was the first widely produced solid-body electric guitar.
The Stratocaster soon followed and went on to become one of the most iconic guitars in music in the hands of players like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton. Over the years the Strat has been modded, altered and improved, and has influenced many other guitars currently on the market.
Classic Fender Guitars
Like Gibson, Fender has more wallet-friendly versions of their classic instruments. Check out their American Special Series as well as their Mexican-made Standard instruments.
It’s also worth noting that Fender guitars are typically available with a few different pickup combinations. I’d especially recommend checking out an HSS Player Series Stratocaster for rock music. The humbucker in the bridge position gives you a thicker, hotter sound, but you still have all that great Strat tone in the from the neck and middle pickups.
I’ve played a Standard HSS Strat for over a decade and it’s one of my favorite guitars. The Standard Series has been rebranded as the Player Series with some improvements I really like.
PRS is a company that arrived a little later on the scene than those mentioned above but has gone on to have a huge impact in rock music. Started as a small-scale production shop by luthier Paul Reed Smith, the company has grown to become one of the most revered names in the music world.
From the beginning PRS has been a little different, utilizing high-quality materials and tonewoods, a now-iconic double-cutaway design, some incredible fretboard inlays and even a different scale length than its competitors.
Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana first brought PRS into the mainstream public eye back in the ‘80s. By the ‘90s many rock and metal guitarists had started dropping their Les Pauls in favor of a PRS. When you can challenge one of the reigning kings of rock guitar you must be on to something!
Great PRS Guitars
- Custom 24
- Custom 22
Like Gibsons, top-end PRS guitars tend to be pretty darned expensive. However, you’ll want to check out the PRS SE series for more affordable versions of some of their designs. You can grab an awesome PRS design for under a grand.
Leo Fender was the godfather of the electric guitar, but he didn’t stop with the Fender name. He went on to form another company, G&L Guitars. When you look at the G&L lineup you’ll see some familiar designs, reminiscent of early Fender guitars. But look closer and you’ll find innovative designs and fine attention to detail.
For many players, G&L guitars aren’t just an alternative to Fender, they are the preferred option. The two flagships of the lineup are the ASAT and the Legacy, which take the Tele and Strat designs, respectively, to another level.
Top G&L Guitar Models
Also, check out the G&L Tribute series for more affordable options.
Gretsch is a company that really shines when it comes to hollow and semi-hollow body electric guitars. They have been the instrument of choice for rockabilly and rock guitars players for decades, and their designs are classic but innovative.
Early rock pioneers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley played Gretsch guitar, as did legendary AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young. In more recent times Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has gravitated to the Gretsch Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird.
At the peak of the Gretsch lineup is perched the White Falcon, a hollow-body masterpiece that collectors and tone freaks have drooled over since it first arrived back in the 1950s. It’s a lesser-known legend of the guitars world, on par with or perhaps surpassing the legendary Les Paul.
Best Gretsch Guitars
- White Falcon
- Chet Atkins Country Gentleman
- Duo Jet
- Billy Bo (Jupiter Thunderbird)
Gretsch guitars are certainly a bit more classic in design and function than many of the others in this review, but they sure do make some amazing instruments. For more affordable options from Gretsch look to the Electromatic Series.
Ibanez is a Japanese guitar company that started out making outstanding copies of classic guitars and has gone on to be one of the most revered guitar builders in the world. This is one of the top brands of heavy rock, and Ibanez instruments are known for the thin, fast necks and outstanding build quality. They’ve also led the way when it comes to 7-string guitars.
The two icons of the Ibanez lineup are the RG and the S. These are both double-cutaway designs built for rock and shred, but each with a slightly different approach. The RG is typically a basswood-bodied guitar with a slightly larger body. The S is thinner and typically features a mahogany body.
Top Ibanez Electric Guitar Models
Ibanez is also, in my opinion, one of the top guitar brands for players on a budget. While you can certainly spend a big chunk of change on one of their higher-end guitars if you want to, you’ll also find some affordable options with great appointments for the money.
ESP first rose to prominence as a builder of custom guitars, found in the hands of metal and rock guitarists back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Guitars like the Eclipse single cutaway and M-Series double cutaways are slick instruments built for speed and tone.
But it might be the ESP LTD Series that has really vaulted this company into contention as one of the top brands, and certainly one of the best for heavy metal. These are more affordable versions of USA-made ESP guitars, along with some innovative designs. The EC-1000, in particular, has earned a strong reputation as a more wallet-friendly alternative to the Gibson Les Paul.
Best ESP LTD Guitars
- EC Series
- MH Series
- SN Series
- TE Series
- Viper Series
The guitars above offer affordable choices for working musicians, but if you have the coins you may want to check out ESP’s USA Series, built in California.
If this were a list of the best electric guitar brands for metal it is very likely Jackson would be near the top. This is a company practically synonymous with metal, and for decades the most extreme players on the planet have looked to Jackson to get the job done. But Jackson also has a strong presence in the rock and hard rock genres, and if that’s your bag you’d be smart to give them a good look.
Legendary Jackson Electric Guitars
- Soloist: The most revered of all the Jacksons, with neck-through construction and a double-cutaway build.
- Dinky: Another double-cut with a smaller body, it’s viewed by some players as a preferred alternative to the Soloist.
- Rhoads: Named after the immortal Randy Rhoads, it’s one of the most iconic metal designs in the world.
- King V: As the name suggests, it’s a sharp, brutal Flying-V type design.
- Kelly: Explorer meets razor blade; this too is one of Jackson’s legendary looks.
Jackson offers versions of these guitars in several different series and at many price points. Beginners and guitarists on a tight budget will want to look toward the JS Series.
Over the past decade or two, Schecter has risen in the ranks of guitar brands to more than deserve their inclusion here. While they have become tightly associated with heavy metal, there are some guitars in their lineup that have a very rock feel to them.
One of them is the C1 Classic, which exemplifies the C-style body shape Schecter made famous. This guitar was my first experience with Schecter, over a decade ago. It is today, as it was back then, an outstanding instrument with classic looks and great tone.
Another strong option for rock guitar players is the newish California Vintage Series. Along with guitars by G&L, I think these are some of the top Stratocaster and Telecaster alternatives out there.
Awesome Schecter Guitars for Rock
- Solo II
Schecter has a lot going on, and not just for metal. If you’re into hard rock I’d also suggest checking out their Sun Valley Super Shredder Series. As you can guess by the name, these are guitars built for the soloist, with fast necks and hot pickups.
Finally, we have Epiphone. You likely know them as a company that builds licensed Gibson designs for affordable prices, and they are that indeed. Epiphone is owned by Gibson, and only they can build real-deal Gibson classics to specs.
The Epiphone Les Paul PlusTop PRO is one of the best intermediate-level guitars out there, certainly good enough to gig and record with. The G-400 is Epi’s affordable version of the SG, and Epiphone even makes Flying Vs and Explorers for those of us on a budget.
Clearly, if you need a Gibson but have to count your pennies Epiphone should be your top choice. However, Some people don’t realize that Epiphone was once a competitor with Gibson, and even today some of their semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars are worth mentioning with the top brands out there. The Dot is well known as an affordable version of the Gibson ES-335, but there are also guitars like the Casino, Wildkat, Sheraton, and Broadway.
Don’t let guitar snobs fool you: Epiphone makes great guitars for rock, and the fact that they are so affordable makes them that much sweeter.
Which Electric Guitar Brand Is Best for Rock?
I think Gibson is the best guitar brand for rock, with Fender close behind. These are the two brands that built rock music from the ground up, starting back in the 1950s. It is safe to guess that more guitar players have relied on Fender and Gibson that any other brands.
But remember: This is my ranking of top electric guitar brands for rock, according to my experience and opinions. I invite you to consider this information, but figure it all out for yourself. Nobody, including me, can tell you which guitar is right for you. The best I can do is give my opinion. You can take it from there.
If you have any questions about a specific brand just let me know in the comments section below. I’ll tell you want I know and what I think, for better or worse.
I’ll also say that my opinions have changed over my thirty-plus years of playing, and likely will again. So will yours. This guitar thing is a grand experiment, and you will continually evolve as a musician. Your likes and dislikes will change, and your ideas on things like tone and playability will shift.
That’s okay. It’s all part of the journey.
Top Electric Guitars for Rock
Ken sheddrick on November 26, 2019:
What. No BC Rich for Lita Ford. The Warlock. Metal all the way man on the top 10 list with Jackson. Ibanez. Kramer.
JR on April 21, 2019:
40 years ago Gibson and Fender where the King of Rock & Roll, Andy Heavy metal guitars. Now, after pandora's box has been open. The list you have posted, has now become Rocks best guitars. In my hands, PRS is probably KING !!!
Michael James (author) on April 06, 2019:
@Louis - I think of Charvel as a metal brand. I have them on my list of best guitar brands for metal
RichardKook on January 06, 2019:
Luke and Petrucci models, Sting Ray and Sterling, by Music Man, Ernie Ball, created by Leo Fender...incredible playing solidbodies...try 'em !!!
JoeinAbq on December 27, 2018:
Gibson at one point sued PRS to force them to discontinue their Singlecut. Gibson told the court the SC infringed on their patent yet they never sued any other brands for actual copies of LPs. Paul Reed Smith simply built a better, more consistant singlecut guitar than Gibson was turning out. The court dismissed the lawsuit and PRS still builds a better guitar than Gibson. After that childish BS I've sworn off Gibson forever.
Michael Lipel on October 07, 2018:
Certainly Carvin should be in the top 10 somewhere. They've been building fantastic American-made guitars since the 1940s!
VidaBohemia on September 09, 2018:
What about Fernandes?
Michael James (author) on May 10, 2018:
Thanks, Tim! I appreciate the kind words.
Tim on May 09, 2018:
Man I would just like to thank you for making these pages I've read a few other pages of yours and they have all been extremely helpful and right on target. Thank you!!!
RIKKI TIKKI on December 30, 2017:
No Rickenbacker 12 strings...???
BLAKTORX on November 09, 2017:
@guitargopher.id love to have a js32 but I’m in India and they’re all out of stock..
Michael James (author) on November 09, 2017:
@BLAKTORX - Charvel is a great brand for metal and shred that is really starting to regain some prominence in the music world. I really like the Pro Mod Series. Music Man, too, makes some good gear, but I tried to keep my list to 10. The Ibanez GIO series guitars are good for beginners. Seems like you're into metal. In that price range you might also check out the Jackson JS Series.
BLAKTORX on November 09, 2017:
@guitargopher where is charvel and music man?? There amazing shred guitars. And how is a Ibanez gio grg250m. Ive been playing for 5 years now