Best Guitar Brands Review in 2018
The guitar is one of the most beloved musical instruments of all time. Guitarists tend to wear that title with pride, and their instrument becomes an extension of the player’s distinct personality. Because of this, players tend to develop a strict loyalty to the guitar brand of their choosing. Luckily, there are many great options out there today, with niches that cater to virtually all genres and styles. This guide will weigh the pros and cons of the five best guitar brands on the market, to help you make as informed a decision as possible on which brand will best suit your needs.
Things To Consider
Acoustic or Electric?
Whether you’re in the market for an acoustic or an electric guitar will likely impact which brand you may want to purchase from. While lines like Fender and Yamaha offer both acoustic and electric instruments, a guitarist who plays strictly one or the other may prefer to stick to a brand that specializes in that category. A classical guitarist who strictly plays acoustic might gravitate Taylor or Fender for their world class offerings, while a member from a rock band might seek out Epiphone or Gibson’s time tested tone. Most brands will offer instruments in either option, but it's best to know beforehand which ones cater to your needs.
The construction of an instrument is naturally a fundamental characteristic that pertains not only to playability, but the ultimate sound of the instrument as well. Durability will be affected by this as well. Guitar construction varies from brand to brand and model to model; instrument makers utilize a wide variety of materials to build the guitar body. Wood is the most common material associated with guitars, but plastic and metal are used as well. Construction should also be given extra consideration with electric guitars, as the electrical components serve as a secondary construction within the instrument.
This is obviously the most important value when it comes to any musical instrument. If the guitar doesn’t sound right, none of the other values will be able to make up for that. Guitarists are notorious for their attention to tone, and many players will form a tight allegiance to the brand they feel provides the perfect sound. The Gibson is sought after for its full bodied overdriven sound in rock circles, while others swear by Fender’s classic offerings. It all comes down to a matter of preference, so you will want to be well acquainted with the sounds of each brand. Look up your favorite guitarists and see what they play. That will likely put you on the right track.
This will only matter to some players (I’m looking at you, lefties), but if you happen to play guitar the non-traditional way (strumming with your left hand and fingering with your right) you may want to pay close attention to brand. Because left handed players are in the minority by a long shot, it can be difficult to find quality guitars of that orientation. If you are on the market for a left handed guitar, you may want to stick to Fender or Epiphone, as they are known to produce quality offerings in that category.
Your skill level on the guitar is another factor that should be taken into consideration while shopping for the perfect instrument. It is generally wise to start out with a lower quality model when you are first beginning to study the guitar, whereas a veteran player with a trained ear will likely require the bells and whistles of more high end gear. If you’re a beginner, it’s a great idea to start out with a Yamaha or a Fender Squier, for example, as you get plenty of quality to learn on without breaking the bank. It’s wise not to go overly basic, however, as cheap guitars will have harsh playability that will leave a beginner with painful calluses that may scare them away from the instrument.
This is a no brainer, but a value that must be considered before any purchase no less. As mentioned above, your abilities on the instrument will likely affect the price range you’re looking at, which may have an effect on the brands you shop within as a consequence. For instance, if you’re not looking to buy a high end guitar, you probably won’t even bother testing out a Gibson, as their guitars will likely be out of your range. The reverse is true as well, an experienced player on the market for high end tone probably won’t be satisfied by many of Yamaha’s offerings.
This may seem like an odd value to consider, but most guitarists need to feel a certain connection to their instrument. It’s part of what makes being a guitarist different from other types of musicians; a sense of individuality as well as style. Your guitar will be a significant investment regardless of which brand you settle on, and while sound and construction are more critical factors overall, it’s important that your instrument inspires you. Different brands are known for cultivating different images; Gibson’s and Fender’s were made famous by the rock gods of yesterday, while Taylor’s unique acoustic bodies will conjure up a different vibe for a folk player. Again, this aspect speaks to your individual needs as a guitarist.
Five Best Guitar Brands
Fender guitars are an icon of American music history, and many players won’t play anything else. There’s a reason Fender has remained on top since the beginning, and the bottom line is that they produce a quality instrument.
Fender guitars are generally equipped with single coil pickups, resulting in a brighter tone compared to humbucker pickups, for instance. This is part of Fender’s charm, and contributes to the characteristic tone of their instruments. Single coils are designed to cut through the mix with their bright sound, but a drawback is that this can cause issues with humming (1).
Another important element is the scale length, or the length of the strings from the nut to the bridge. Fender uses a 25.5 inch scale length on their instruments, which adds a rich, bell like quality to the sound. The longer scale length does result in greater string tension, which can be more difficult to play (2).
Appearance is another area that Fender nailed, introducing two of the most iconic and imitated body shapes of all time. The stratocaster is generally regarded as the most widely used guitar in rock, while the telecaster sports a classic cool as well, serving as the original electric guitar.
Fender’s line of guitars are well suited for players of all different levels, which is reflected in the wide range of prices they offer. For instance, with the Made in Mexico series customers can get Fender’s world famous tone without breaking the bank.
Contrasting Fender, Gibson guitars generally feature a dual set of humbucker pickups. These pickups are designed to cut down on noise and hum, while offering a warm sound. The tone created by the pickups make Gibson guitars particularly suited for rock players who like to add a lot of overdrive to their output signal.
Gibson’s offerings also differ from Fender in that they largely employ scale lengths of 24.75, resulting in a warmer, more rounded out sound that has come to characterize the brand’s output (3). Playability is also affected by the shorter scale length size, with reduced tension making string bending a bit easier. Gibson’s generally utilize mahogany in their construction, which contributes to a darker tone with increased sustain and warmth.
Gibson sports a classic look for rockers, with the Les Paul serving as the Stratocaster’s rival. It’s a look favored by plenty of notable guitarists, and it is a bit more exotic looking compared to the standard strat design.
Gibson guitars do tend to run on the high end of the price spectrum, but for an experienced player it’s not hard to understand why. Their guitars offer top notch craftsmanship and tone that is favored by a large segment of players. However, this does make their line of guitars less practical for beginners, who will likely want to improve in skill before making that level of investment.
The prime advantage of Epiphone is that you get a guitar built to the same specs as the Gibson Les Paul, at a greatly discounted price. With that being said, an Epiphone is not equal to a Gibson simply because it shares the same design. The craftsmanship is where the two brands differ the most, as USA made Gibson’s utilize higher quality materials than the Epiphone line. Epiphone uses a cheaper mahogany in the construction of its guitars, while the electronic components are lower quality as well.
While there are some obvious quality gaps, they do appear to be closing as time passes on. The hardware used on Epiphone is getting better, and the presence of the new ProBucker Pickups helps to elevate the brand to new heights. The fact of the matter is, while Epiphone is viewed as just being a cost friendly alternative to Gibson, guitar players gravitate to the brand anyways for its own special sound. While it may use the same Specs as a Gibson, they are far from equal guitars, including in the sound department (4).
While Epiphone doesn’t quite stack up to Gibson’s deep tone and crystal clear sound, there’s still plenty for guitarists to love about the brand’s offerings. Considering the difference in price, Epiphone delivers a pretty solid approximation of the Gibson tone, which will likely be enough to win over players who just can’t bring themselves to shell out for a true Les Paul. Between the sound quality and their near indistinguishability to the real thing, it’s no surprise Epiphone is ranked so highly among fans of the guitar.
This Japanese company produces a wide range of musical instruments, but the real draw for guitarists will be with beginners and intermediate players. Yamaha offers a solid selection of products at a price that is more budget friendly than some of the other entries on this guide, making it a good place to start for players getting their first guitar.
Yamaha is likely a good place for acoustic players as well, as the company offers a number of solid entries in this category. Despite the friendly price, Yamaha consistently puts out quality instruments that feature not only sturdy construction, but sound quality good enough to give the big guys a run for their money. The FG800 is one of the best rated acoustic guitars out there, with a price tag that’s viable for just about any budget. Their acoustic guitar starter packs are great for beginners as well (5).
Yamaha’s also excel in terms of their playability, which is an especially important characteristic for beginners. Too many players sacrifice quality to save money on their first guitar, with the result being that they now have to deal with difficult playability that poses extra challenges to the learning process and can sour the learner’s experience with the new instrument. Yamaha offers an enticing balance between cost and quality.
Taylor is a highly renowned American guitar company known for their top end acoustic offerings. They produce electric instruments as well, but that part of their output doesn’t generate as much attention. Due to their high quality, Taylor guitars come at a hefty price, though this won’t stop enthusiasts.
Taylor does produce a more budget friendly line of instruments with the 200 series, which is ideal for beginners looking to capture their famous sound at a fraction of the price. Taylor also produces small bodied guitars such as the Baby, Big Baby and GS Mini, which rival their full bodied instruments at a lessened price and are perfect for kids and beginners to learn on (6).
Another element that sets Taylor guitars apart as a brand is their commitment to innovative designs. They helped to break up the monotony of acoustic guitar body shapes by introducing the concert, auditorium and symphony style bodies, while their polarizing New Technology (NT) necks offer an unparalleled degree of precision (7).
While all of the brands featured in this guide produce wonderful instruments, the clear all around winner is Fender. Fender somehow manages to feature the best of both worlds in nearly every category. Guitar players have been turning to Fender for over seventy years, and for good reason. The company is renowned for its high quality craftsmanship and their beautifully constructed instruments have been inspiring guitarists for decades.
Fender’s legendary tone is enough to win just about anyone over, and they cater to a wide range of customers by offering the more cost friendly Squier series. While their classic electric guitars are favored by plenty of players, their acoustic selection and Jazzmaster offerings have their fair share of supporters as well. No matter what you’re looking for in a guitar or what price range you’re shopping in, you’re likely to find a good fit with Fender.