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Top 10 Electric Guitar Brands for Rock

Updated on November 2, 2017
Guitar Gopher profile image

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

The best rock guitar builders have proven themselves over the decades.
The best rock guitar builders have proven themselves over the decades.

Best Guitars for Rock Music

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 and make guitars built for extreme mayhem.

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. Let’s get to the gear!

1. Gibson

At the top of my list is Gibson, the company responsible for what I think is the best rock guitar ever made: 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:

  • SG
  • Flying V
  • Explorer
  • ES-335

Gibson guitar 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 under 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.

More on Gibson Guitars

2. Fender

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.

A few more amazing Fender models that get the job done in rock include:

  • Jaguar
  • Mustang
  • Jazzmaster

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 a HSS 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 Fender Stratocaster has been regarded as one of the best guitars for rock since the '50s.
The Fender Stratocaster has been regarded as one of the best guitars for rock since the '50s.

3. PRS

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!

Some PRS guitars of note:

  • Custom 22
  • Custom 24
  • McCarty
  • Tremonti

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.

The Legendary PRS Custom 24

4. G&L

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 a 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.

Other models include:

  • Comanche
  • Invader
  • Fallout

Also check out the G&L Tribute series for more affordable options.

5. Gretsch

Gretsch is a company that really shines when it comes 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 Grestch 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.

Other notable Gretsch models include:

  • Penguin
  • Chet Atkins Country Gentleman
  • Jet
  • 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.

6. Ibanez

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.

There are, of course, other Ibanez guitar worth checking out, including:

  • Iceman
  • Destroyer
  • AR
  • ARZ
  • Talman

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.

Ibanez RG Premium - Gorgeous!

7. ESP

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 version of USA-made ESP guitars, along with some innovative designs. The EC-1000 in particular has earned a strong reputation as more wallet-friendly alternative to the Gibson Les Paul.

A few ESP LTD instruments for rock guitarists to consider:

  • EC Series
  • MH Series
  • SN Series
  • TE Series
  • Viper Series

The guitars above offer affordable choices for working musician, but if you have the coins you may want to check out ESP’s USA Series, built in California.

8. Jackson

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.

They have a few legendary models in their lineup:

  • 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 guitar in several different series and and at many price points. Beginners and guitarists on a tight budget will want to look toward the JS Series.

Check Out the Jackson Pro Series Soloist

9. Schecter

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.

A few more great Schecter designs for rock:

  • Omen
  • Hellraiser
  • Solo II
  • Corsair
  • PT

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.

10. Epiphone

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.

Gibson has some affordable Faded options in their lineup, but if their price tag is still too steep you can always count on Epiphone.
Gibson has some affordable Faded options in their lineup, but if their price tag is still too steep you can always count on Epiphone.

Which Electric Guitar Brand Is Best for Rock?

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

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    • profile image

      BLAKTORX 9 days ago

      @guitargopher.id love to have a js32 but I’m in India and they’re all out of stock..

    • Guitar Gopher profile image
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      Guitar Gopher 10 days ago

      @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.

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      BLAKTORX 10 days ago

      @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