The design of the electric guitar tends to go in two directions, back through the vintage archive for long-loved and sometimes lost designs, and to the future, where new pickup combinations, wood treatments and building techniques are brought to bear on the next generation of instruments.
MusicRadar's end of year polls for 2020 find plenty from both camps, and, on occasion, a guitar adopting both positions at once – such as the Charvel Pro Mod DK22, which is an example of how a retro concept can meet modern design and make perfect sense on an instrument.
As ever, the polling was tight. Just seven votes separated 1st place and 3rd, just three separated the winner and runner up. Here we will take a closer look at your top 10, the best new electric guitars, as voted for by you.
1. Epiphone 50s Les Paul Standard
Epiphone has had a very big year. There has been the return of the Casino and Riviera, the tooled-for-metal Prophecy Series, US-built Texan acoustic guitars and the whole range has was split into Originals and Inspired By Gibson lines.
The upshot is the distance between Epiphone guitars and its parent company Gibson's US-made models is closing all the time.
Take the Epiphone 50s Les Paul Standard. Chinese-made, with an incredible build, and a pair of PAF-a-like ProBuckers, it offers an uncannily accurate Les Paul feel and tone. Nose to tail, this Epiphone is a quality Les Paul.
The neck is a generous piece of mahogany, super comfortable, with a slinky factory setup challenging any preconceptions that thick necks don't play fast. It is glued to a AAA maple-veneered mahogany body with a period-correct long neck tenon. The 18:1 ratio Epiphone Vintage Deluxe Tuners with snot-green buttons are stable and secure.
Under the hood there are CTS pots with a 50s-style control circuit. If you are looking for sustain, that iconic warmth and midrange detail – not to mention the looks – of a Les Paul but can't afford a Gibson USA model, this is a no brainer.
2. PRS S2 McCarty Thinline 594
One of the criticisms of PRS over the years – and one that is really a compliment – is that they can be too perfect, too well-designed. There's an ostentatiousness that doesn't necessarily jive with the rock 'n' roll ethos. What if that eye-popping tiger flame maple top gets dinged?
Well, that is to ignore the guitars of the S2 Series, and in particular the stripped-down S2 Thinline 594, which is the type of guitar that is impossible to put down once you pick it up. It just feels right. There's no maple cap, just a 43mm thick mahogany body and a glued-in mahogany neck that's carved in PRS's Pattern Thin profile.
Of course, there are classy touches; the faux bone binding on the fretboard, the bird inlays. But this is PRS at its utilitarian best. The tones and playability are ridiculously persuasive, and with a coil-split on the very impressive RS 58/15 ‘S’ Treble and Bass humbuckers, you can cover a lot of styles.
Finally, at £1,649 street for a US-built PRS, the S2 Thinline 594 represents excellent value. This is high-end luxury dressed down in its weekend togs, still looking the business, but ready to get its hands dirty... Truly a show-stopper.
3. Charvel Pro-Mod DK22
Does your record collection include the complete Shrapnel Records catalogue? Are you the sort of player who works a Varigrip while riding the train home from work to build dexterity before tackling the Surfing With The Alien tab book?
And do you now find yourself enjoying the 5s and 7s of pentatonic blues turnarounds, and like to alternate between shred city and less Olympian guitar styles, between lounging on easy street and doing laps on the track?
Great, the Charvel Pro-Mod DK22 is the guitar for you.
Firstly, it looks incredible. The finish options are wonderful. There's a graceful minimalism to the pickguard-less body, and something reassuring about its S-style profile.
Secondly, this thing moves. The neck profile hits the sweet spot between speed and comfort, with the 12-16" compound radius fingerboard easing your passage from rhythm figure 1 to some spotlight-hogging solo moments. The DK22 does it all.
Thirdly, the SSS pickup configuration is hiding some stacked firepower in the form of the Seymour Duncan SHR-1B Custom Hot Rails humbucker at the bridge position, with two SSL-6 Flat Strat single coils in the middle and neck to complement that heat with some great in between tones.
Sure, it might say Charvel on the headstock. It might shred itself. But it'll cover most styles, and is just understated enough to ingratiate itself in any company.
4. Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre
The Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre is a high-end offset doublecut that plays the percentages between vintage and modern. Featuring a quite magnificent bookmatched flame maple top on a lightweight okoume body, and a stunning roasted figured maple bolt-on neck, the Sabre does not want for class.
Made in California, this is high-end guitar building at its best. You've got a pair of EBMM custom-wound humbuckers, volume and tone, with a 5-way pickup selector switch on hand to wring every bit of tone out of it. The hardware is top quality, with locking Schaller tuners and a Chrome ‘Modern Tremolo’ 6-saddle bridge for some whammy antiques.
It's a model of sophistication, and if you are searching for something different, it is a neat alternative to the boutique Fender/Gibson inspired builds out there.
5. Fender 70th Anniversary Broadcaster
Celebrating 70 years of Fender's first dual-pickup production line solidbody, the 70th Anniversary Broadcaster could well come with the tagline "Leo pretty much nailed at at the first time of asking."
As a guitar, the Broadcaster is simplicity personified. It's a big lump of ash with a clubby piece of slab-sawn maple bolted-on to it. The U profile is big, but it sure is comfortable. The recipe is simple, but it sure is tasty. Oh, how these ingredients work with each other! This is the essence of Leo's magic.
The Broadcaster will only be produced this year, so get them while they are hot. You get an original wiring loom as part of the case candy, with the guitar setup with a three-way selector, volume and tone controlling the Fender Custom Shop ’50-’51 Blackguard single coils.
This is proof positive that 1950s guitar building is as relevant today as it ever was, that design triumphs tend to sustain themselves across generations. The Blackguard will never lose its edge.
6. Harley Benton Fusion-II HH FR Roasted
The Harley Benton Fusion-II has no right to retail for under £400. It shoots for a high-end look, with a sapele body with a flame-maple veneer top and natural wood binding adding a soupçon of luxury, before sealing the deal with superb playability and tone.
It's even hard to take your eyes off the neck, its roasted figured maple the sort of thing you'd find on guitars three times the price.
But looks only go so far; it's a guitar's performance that will sell it to you. To that end, the Fusion-II comes equipped with a low-profile 1000 series Floyd Rose double-locking vibrato – a quality piece of kit you'd find on, say, a Jackson Pro Series electric costing 800 bucks.
Its two Roswell HAF-B Alnico-5 humbuckers are very impressive, and come with a coil-split for more tone options. The neck profile, the balance – it all adds up to a quality electric, ideal for rock, suitable for metal, and it says Fusion in the name so why not? Cross the streams. Do something new. Harley Benton has.
7. Fender American Original ‘70s Telecaster Custom
If the 70s were a famously inauspicious time for the big American guitar brands, Fender included, the American Original ‘70s Telecaster Custom looks to put some of this right. It's a vintage reissue that improves upon the original.
The finish is better; the poly is gone, nitro is in. The build quality is improved. All in all, there's an attention to detail and love in the build that it deserved the first time around. And it also welcomes the return of the Wide Range Humbucker – Seth Lover design that fell out of favour principally because Cunife magnets – a copper, nickel and iron allow – was hard to source.
It gives this Tele Custom a real depth, and abundance of tone options for the inquisitive player. We loved our Vintage Blonde review model but the Mocha finish will stop you in your tracks. It's just a shame there is no black finish a la Keith Richards but there's always next year.
8. Fender American Acoustasonic Stratocaster
It seems fitting that the Fender American Acoustasonic Stratocaster should follow the Acoustasonic Telecaster, as though it was ordained in the order of things. If the Tele blew minds with its radicalism, the Acoustasonic Strat merely builds on the concept with a new-but-familiar double-cut form for the electro-acoustic evolution to continue apace.
The acoustic voice is deceptively musical, but it's only really when plugging in that the Acoustasonic potential is made abundantly clear. Blending a magnetic noiseless pickup with a Fishman under-saddle transducer and bridge plate body sensor, Fender covers a lot of options.
With the a five-way voice selector switch and Mod control for blending voicings, there are so many interesting tones that there is something for everyone – from fingerpickers to strummers, to players visiting from planet electric.
The Tele was no fluke. Fender's hybrid design works, fusing two worlds, confusing the senses before thrilling them with electric playability and acoustic tone.
9. Gretsch G5410T Electromatic Rat Rod
The Gretsch G5410T Rat Rod is inspired by vintage car culture, but we are not talking about the fastidious 'n' prissy T-Cut and Turtle Wax at the weekend sort of automobile enthusiast, but rather those that frequent chop shops and build frankenstein four-wheelers to race on the streets.
This is the hotrodded Gretsch. You have all met the Country Gentleman, now here's the dive bar barnacle, the ne'er-do-well. And thank the maker there is room in this world for both.
A "big body" Gretsch, the Rat Rod is nonetheless a very comfortable ride. Fasten your seatbelt, folks, the Thin U' neck profile will not be observing stop signs or speed limits.
The pickup covers are red, just like brake lights, but they could be red for dangers as there's more than a little heat to them, the sharp sting of treble bringing a lovely level of detail whether you're playing blues, old time rock 'n' roll, or whatever. Simply roll back the tone and it's a jazz guitar. This is exceptional for the money.
10. Harley Benton SC-550
Stop us if you've seen this one before? A solidbody singlecut with a mahogany body and arched AAAA flame maple on top, a set mahogany neck and two Alnico 5 humbuckers, snot green tuners, ... Sounds familiar, right? Oh, and it costs £229 street.
Yes, Harley Benton's second entry on the list is another exercise in R&D largesse from Thomann's own brand, and it's a real doozy. You'll find the SC-550's neck heel all but excavated, making it easier than ever to noodle up the dusty end.
While no one in their right mind would get this mixed up for an LP, it has a range of classic rock voicings to please disciples of the big beasts Slash, Page, Clapton et al, with the Harley Benton pickup pairing bang on the money again.