The 30 most important guitar products of the last 30 years
Since Guitarist magazine launched in 1984, the landscape of the musical instrument industry has changed immeasurably.
The arrival of the internet, the explosion in Far-Eastern manufacturing and the ebb and flow of musical trends all caused seismic shifts that have impacted on the way we all buy and play guitars in 2014.
That the times will continue a-changin’ is beyond question, but here, in no particular order, we look back over the last three decades and pick out 30 products that were genuine game-changers; not so much shaking the windows and rattling the walls as blowing the bloody doors off the guitar industry and birthing whole new product categories and trends. You’ve never had it so good…
Guitarist 381, the 30th anniversary issue, is on sale on 2 May in print and digital forms. Buy it here.
Orange Tiny Terror
Orange’s miniature 15-watt valve head kickstarted a lunchbox amp craze that saw almost every major amp manufacturer follow suit.
The Dumble of the pedal world; originals now command comical secondhand prices and ‘Klones’ have become a mainstay of the stompbox industry.
Akai U4 Phrase Trainer
The first affordable desktop trainer made flurries of notes intelligible for fledgling shredders.
Via numerous third party apps it’s perhaps the ultimate practice aid, tuition tool and mobile recording device. You can also read Guitarist on it too!
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
If you’ve been anywhere near the gigging circuit in the last 25 years you’ll have seen and heard plenty of these affordable LPs. We’d wager many of you have owned them, too.
The Milton Keynes amp giant sold shedloads of these hybrid amps to bedroom rockers and gigging players alike in the 1990s. An affordable ‘first proper amp’.
Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster
Clapton’s replacement for the legendary ‘Blackie’ Strat kicked off a whole new era in artist signature models. So good, even Pete Townshend uses them.
The first mass-produced seven-string electric, this Steve Vai signature instrument was central to the then-revolutionary nu-metal sound of Korn in the 1990s. Since then, whole genres have taken root and seven, eight and even nine-string guitars are more popular than ever.
DigiTech Whammy WH-1
This treadle-controlled detuner quickly became a modern classic and found favour with sonic explorers such as Steve Vai and Tom Morello.
This hard rock icon was born the same year as our beloved magazine and its modernistic lines were a hit with a multitude of million-selling stars.
Eddie Van Halen’s original signature amp has been used on a staggering number of huge-selling heavy rock records by a wide variety of artists. Heavy metal tone par excellence.
A high quality, affordable JEM-alternative for the everyday guitarist, the RG550 was a shred machine for the masses.
Line 6 POD
While the brand unveiled its AxSys 212 modelling amp in 1996 to a reasonable ripple of enthusiasm, when the company crammed the combo's technology into this iconic red bean it changed the landscape of electric guitar recording forever.
Fender Nocaster Relic
Still one of the most divisive trends ever to explode in the industry, artificial aging was popularised by the Fender Custom Shop but now extends as far as budget copy guitars, pedals and even capos!
PRS Custom 24
The Custom 24 was the first model that Paul Reed Smith brought to the public at the company’s first NAMM show in 1985, kickstarting the high-end, boutique electric guitar genre.
When racks ruled, the MP-1 was king. Stars such as Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt and Billy Corgan used it to power their high gain histrionics while mere mortals dreamed of owning one.
Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier
Before the Dual Rectifier, Mesa was a company known for its high-powered 1x12 combos, but this beast changed everything, rapidly becoming the sound of 1990s heavy rock music.
Matchless did for the boutique amplifier industry what PRS did for high-end guitars. Using the Vox AC30 as a springboard, then-designer Mark Sampson created a modern classic as beautiful on the inside as it sounded when played in anger.
Fender American Standard Stratocaster
The arrival of the American Standard Strat heralded the dawn of a new era for Fender and dragged the company into the modern age. They just keep getting better, too…
Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx
With a list of users that includes Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Jeff Loomis, Periphery's Misha Mansoor and countless others, Fractal's amp and FX-loaded guitar preamp is one of the most talked up pieces of equipment in recent years, and with good reason. Essential kit for the modern pro or serious amateur heavy rock guitarist whether on the road or in the studio.
When Takamine launched its N and EN models in 1988, it was the beginning of a new electro-acoustic world. Featuring new electronics with a parametric equaliser alongside ‘traditional acoustic’ specs, they quickly found favour among players who wanted the best of both electro and acoustic worlds.
Eight compact effects squeezed into a single unit alongside a noise gate, with combinations thereof able to be programmed effortlessly and recalled in an instant. Maybe technology wasn’t going to be so bad for guitarists, after all…
Martin was arguably the first major acoustic manufacturer to grasp the nettle of dwindling resource – an issue that impacts on us all. The DXM was made with high pressure laminates and while traditionalists shuddered, realists applauded.
Line 6 Variax
Neither the SynthAxe nor Roland’s GR707 caught on in the 1980s – the concepts were just too alien for guitarists. 2002 saw Line 6 make a truly credible stab at a digital guitar that looked enough like the real thing to persuade many of you to give it a go. Thanks to Line 6 and now Fender, Roland and Gibson too, the evolution of the digital electric guitar continues…
Still too futuristic for some, the Fly, conceived by Ken Parker and Larry Fishman, brought a brilliant new vibrato design and pseudo-acoustic sounds to the table alongside numerous other innovations.
TC Electronic PolyTune
A genuine game changer, since its arrival the TC PolyTune has displaced the Boss TU-2 as the go-to stompbox tuner for gigging musicians. There’s even a mini version now, too…
Squier Standard Stratocaster
Following the vintage-derived Japanese Squiers of 1982, 1985’s Standard emerged with an updated feature set and soon became the first affordable yet quality step on the ladder of classic guitar veneration for countless players.
Yamaha Pacifica 112
Yamaha’s guitar mag ad, which showed its all-solid wood Pacifica 112 up against a well-known plywood rival, turned a whole generation onto a brand that had hitherto seemed a little safe and, dare we say it, boring. The company’s attention to detail plus quality hardware and electrics have made the Pacifica a no-brainer choice for fledgling guitarists ever since.
Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
Now in its third incarnation, the HRD is arguably the most popular valve amp on the market for gigging guitarists and can be seen and heard everywhere from the biggest festival stages to your local boozer. A market leader for a reason.
Kemper Profiling Amp
Since the SansAmp arrived in 1989, amp modelling, first analogue then later digital via hardware and software, sold the promise of access to a library of vintage and modern guitar sounds at a much lower cost and with considerably greater convenience than buying – and cranking up and mic’ing – the 'real thing'.
Our first studio experiences with the Kemper suggested that amp modelling – or profiling, in Kemper speak – had finally come of age and provided us with a genuine moment of disbelief at how vividly real it could sound in a mix. Create your own profiles, share them, download those created by others… the potential is limitless and the KPA is fast-becoming a must-have item for the serious recording guitarist.