If you've got $/£1,000-plus to spend on an electric guitar, chances are you're looking for more than another plank to bash on weekends. This is the realm of the luxury guitar, the zenith of your G.A.S. ambitions - either a solo star, or the centre-piece of a collection.
However, with a big budget comes a big responsibility - and an even bigger range of potential six-string suitors. This kind of money gets you into USA Gibson and PRS territory, to the upper echelons of the Fender lines and a world's worth of tone woods, exacting hardware specifications and incredible custom builds.
Finding the best electric guitar for you is a very personal choice - there are countless shapes and sizes to choose from, all of which suit different musical genres and goals. Here, we've recommended a host of instruments which cover all the bases.
Ahead, you'll find a selection of the most highly rated instruments from our rigorous reviews, ensuring that whichever one you pick, it will provide years of faithful service and great tone.
No matter what kind of music you play, or what you want to hear from your gear, we've got you covered: these guitars are sure to hit the mark.
1. Fender American Original '60s Stratocaster
A new spin on one of the best electric guitar designs
Launch price: $1,949 / £1,639 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 21 | Pickups: 3x Pure Vintage '65 Gray-Bottom Single-Coil Strat | Controls: Volume, neck tone, bridge/middle tone | Hardware: Pure Vintage 6-saddle Synchronized vibrato, Pure Vintage Single Line 'Fender Deluxe' tuners | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Olympic White, 3-Color Sunburst, Candy Apple Red
Rather than being period-correct reincarnations, Fender's Original series aims for a ‘best of decade’ vibe. So, this Strat is alder bodied with a ‘round-laminate’ rosewood fingerboard that was implemented in mid-1962. In a mid-'60s style we get Pure Vintage ’65 Gray-Bottom single coils on an 11-screw mint-green pickguard with aged white controls. Meanwhile, a concession to modernism is the second, lowest, tone control, which originally would have been for the middle pickup, but here works on both the middle and bridge pickups. Another 'modern' inclusion is the ubiquitous five-way lever switch, which didn’t actually replace the original three-way switch on the Stratocaster until 1977. We defy anyone who opens a case and sees one of these beauts not to have an ‘OMG’ moment. The guitar that launched thousands of dreams back in the day still impresses 64 years on. You’ll find these ‘fixes’ on many Fender Custom Shop models, of course, but while these don’t come with any ageing or relic’ing they are significantly cheaper. Yet, viewed from a 2018 perspective, it gives Fender’s USA models a rare unity, a vintage nod to the escalating modernism of the Professional and ultra-tweaked and posher Elites. If you hanker after a new USA-made production Fender and want the most vintage-spec possible, this is now it. Vintage-inspired, yes, but with the fixes that many players will embrace.
Read the full review: Fender American Original '60s Stratocaster
2. PRS McCarty 594
A 1959 Sunburst LP reimagined as a double-cut - with spectacular results
Launch price: $4,200 / £3,235 | Body: Mahogany with carved figured maple top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.594" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 58/15 LT Treble humbucker, 58/15 LT Bass humbucker | Controls: 2x volume, 2x tone (with push-pull coil-splits), 3-way selector switch | Hardware: PRS two-piece bridge, Phase III locking tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: McCarty Sunburst, McCarty Tobacco Sunburst, Orange Tiger, Trampas Green, Violet, Antique White, Black, Black Gold Burst, Blood Orange, Champagne Gold Metallic, Charcoal Burst, Emerald, Faded Whale Blue, Fire Red Burst, Frost Green Metallic, Gold Top, Gray Black
The McCarty Model - named after Theodore 'Ted' McCarty, Gibson's president during its 1950s to 1960s heyday and, much later, 'mentor' to Paul Reed Smith - originally appeared in the early 1990s and was the company's first attempt at a more vintage-informed guitar. It takes its name, primarily, from its scale length of 24.594 inches. However, the focus of the 594 is not just that scale length but a desire to recreate, as closely as possible, the 'holy grail' of vintage Gibson tone - a 1959 Sunburst, but in a modern double-cut guitar. A change comes with the pickups, which are PRS's latest date-series 58/15 humbuckers but with an 'LT' (Low Turns) suffix, which on a meter shows the bridge unit to have a lower DC resistance than the standard McCarty's 58/15, although the neck pickup seems virtually identical. The four-control layout (the first PRS double-cut guitar to use it) possesses the classic LP setup and feels immediately comfortable to any player used to the much-copied Gibson layout. Full humbucking, or with the partial coil splits engaged, full volume, half volume, tones rolled off - not to mention the shades with both pickups on - there's not a duff sound that we can find. Dynamic, expressive - it purrs, it roars, it's one of the best electric guitars.
Read the full review: PRS McCarty 594
3. Fender American Professional Telecaster
A contemporary take on the original solidbody electric guitar
Launch price: $1,499 / £1,399 | Body: Ash | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple/rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x V-Mod Single-Coil Telecaster | Controls: Volume with treble-bleed, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: 3-saddle, strings-through-body Tele bridge with compensated brass saddles, 6-screw mounting with removable modern 'Ashtray' bridge cover | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Mystic Seafoam, 2-Color Sunburst, 3-Color Sunburst, Black, Butterscotch Blonde, Candy Apple Red, Crimson Red Transparent, Natural, Olympic White, Sonic Gray
The Professionals, just like the Standards before them, are designed to appeal to a wide range of players with a wide range of styles. These are not for vintage obsessives. Most of the changes are relatively subtle: a new 'modern deep C' neck shape; new narrow/tall frets; and the Teles revert back to three (compensated) brass saddles over the previous six Strat-style saddles. Both single coils here use Alnico 5 rods on the bass side and Alnico 2 on the trebles and we have a treble bleed RC network on the volume. A basic trio of sounds shouts 'contemporary Tele' from the biting harmonically rich honk of the flat- pole bridge, through the wider, less quacky pickup mix, to the less hard-hitting but not soft neck voice. It's like someone has EQ'd the sound to balance and maximise its Tele-ness. There's a very lively ringing resonance, too: all the planets seem to align, the maple neck/alder body perhaps pulling down a little edgy spike, while those brass saddles - not to mention the through-body stringing and the more classically voiced pickups - combine to create what seems like a modern Tele in spec but one that has plenty of classic, vintage reference.The colour/wood choices are wide and the subtle improvements to the build - on an already very well proven chassis - make a noticeable change, not least the new neck shape and the taller fretwire. Yes, we've played thicker, beefier-sounding Teles, and thinner, brighter ones, too, but as a foundation tone, which also includes a very smart and practical, lightweight moulded case, it all becomes a bit of a no-brainer.
Read the full review: Fender American Professional Telecaster
4. Gibson ES-335 Figured
One of the finest ES-335s money can buy
Launch price: $4,149 / £2,999 | Body: 3-piece maple/poplar/maple with figured maple top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x MHS Alnico II humbuckers | Controls: 2x volume, 2x tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: ABR-1 bridge with titanium inserts and stopbar tailpiece | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Sunburst
A thermally engineered centre block and bracing make this 335 acoustically louder, open and with more clarity. The 'burst top and back also look more modern than vintage, while the translucent dark brown/ almost-black sides and neck-back finish add contrast that creates a classy appearance, along with the nickel hardware. We also get a lightweight aluminium stop tailpiece with locking studs, but this is all-very-classic ES-335 fare, such as the small block inlays and the small fleur head logo. Again, Gibson's build specs tell us we have MHS 'buckers and here the 'Memphis Tone Circuit' includes matched pots with a tight five per cent tolerance, with the same 'orange drop' tone caps as the ES-275. Plugged in, it's like all our Christmases have come at once. There's a more solidbody response here, as you'd expect, and it really pushes out the sound. It's expensive, but as an investment, this is one of the best electric guitars on the market.
Read the full review: Gibson ES-335 Premiere Figured
5. LTD EC-1000 EverTune
A svelte rock single-cut that never goes out of tune
Launch price: $1,427 / £999 | Body: Mahogany with maple cap | Neck: 3-piece mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Seymour Duncan JB humbucker, Seymour Duncan Jazz humbucker (EMG 81/60 reviewed) | Controls: 2x volume, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: EverTune bridge, Grover tuners | Left-handed: Yes (without EverTune) | Finish: See Thru Black, Dark Brown Sunburst
The EC-1000ET is an all-mahogany single-cut loaded with an set of EMG 81 and 60 active humbuckers, a comfortably modern neck and a high level of construction quality. Its key selling point, however, is a fitted EverTune bridge - unlike other tuning systems, it doesn't tune your guitar for you or offer altered tunings. Instead, once set and tuned, it simply aims to stay there, thanks to a series of tension-calibrated springs and levers. We tried everything we could to knock it out of whack: huge, three-step bends, wildly exaggerated string stretching... we even put the guitar into a freezer. It came back perfectly in tune every single time. What's more, a guitar that's perfectly tuned and intonated up and down the neck seems to play much more musically. We're not aware of any tone compromises, either. The EC sounds as full and aggressive as ever, with the more mellow tones of the neck EMG being pleasantly rounded, and all bereft of any metallic spring clank. If never going out of tune is important to you, this is one of the best electric guitars going.
Read the full review: LTD EC-1000 EverTune
6. Gretsch G6659TG Players Edition Broadkaster Jr
A highly desirable Gretsch with classic looks and modern tweaks
Launch price: $2,799 / £2,399 | Body: Laminated maple | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Full'Tron humbuckers | Controls: Bridge volume, neck volume, master volume, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Anchored Adjusto-Matic bridge, Gotoh locking tuners, Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut | Left-handed: | Finish: Cadillac Green
Play a classic 6120 or Duo Jet and it can seem a bit, well, old-fashioned. A growing number of players desire the brand’s looks, sound and unmatched vibe, but also want something a tad more versatile and user-friendly. Enter this latest Players Edition model with its neck set lower into the body for improved access, higher-output Filter’Tron-style humbucking pickup (Full’Trons) and a modernised Bigsby vibrato where through-stringing replaces the notorious ‘hooking the ball-end over a peg’ system that scuppered any chance of a quick change. Mate these modern tweaks with another recent innovation (for Gretsch, at any rate), the Centre Block range, and you have a guitar ready to compete with anything out there - in virtually any style.
Read the full review: Gretsch G6659TG Players Edition Broadkaster Jr
7. Charvel Guthrie Govan Signature
A shred-ready signature model for one of the best guitarists in the world today
Launch price: $4,081 / £3,029 | Body: Caramelized ash/flame maple | Neck: Caramelized flame maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Caramelized flame maple | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Charvel Custom MF humbucker, 1x Custom MF single coil | Controls: Volume, tone, 5-position selector switch, 2-position toggle with multiple switching options | Hardware: Recessed Charvel locking vibrato, Sperzel locking tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Natural
This Charvel is the signature model for Guthrie Govan, widely regarded as one of the finest guitarists around. Its caramelized ash body model is also up there with the finest bolt-ons we’ve ever played. The neck is extremely tight-fitting and held in place with four screws, each recessed into the contoured heel. Like any HSH set up you have huge choice on exactly how you wire it - this is no different. While the outer positions select the full humbuckers, position two voices bridge (slug single coil only) and the middle single coil; position three gives us bridge and neck (both slug single coils); position four offers the screw single coil of the neck pickup with the middle pickup. A ‘secret’ two-way mini toggle that simulates a coil-split via an old-school passive filter (a 0.1 microfarad capacitor). In many ways this feels more like high performance rifle, not a guitar. It gives off a tuned-to-perfection vibe that’s like an instrument you’ve owned for a while, gigged, modified and tweaked. Which in reality is exactly what it is only Charvel and Guthrie Govan have done it for us. But don’t dismiss this as a virtuoso rock shredder axe. Yes, if your technique is up to it, you won’t have a problem there and using just the bridge pickup you’ll probably have all you need: big and ballsy, a hint of a cocked wah-like high end it’s certainly in the JB area. But it’s offset by a pokey PAF-like neck voice, tube-y and soupy but far from one dimensional. If that was it, we’d be smiling. But there’s plenty more... Guthrie Govan’s vision for an all round workhouse that’ll stand up to the rigours of professional touring is superbly realised in this signature. Every detail is wonderfully considered. It’s not a cheap date, but it’s an astonishing guitar: a player’s tool of the highest calibre.
Read the full review: Charvel Guthrie Govan Signature
8. Guild Starfire V
A Korean-made semi-hollow with classic styling
Launch price: $1,699 / £1,006 | Body: Laminated mahogany, semi-hollow | Neck: 3-piece mahogany/maple/mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x LB-1 humbuckers | Controls: Bridge volume, bridge tone, neck volume, neck tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Guild Tune-o-matic bridge with rosewood base, Guild vibrato, Grover Sta-Tite open-gear 14:1 tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Cherry Red, White, Black
Firmly intended to compete with Gibson's ES-335, the Starfire IV, V and VI retain plenty of Guild style, not least the more spacious cutaways and the wooden foot tune-o-matic-style bridge. Placed side-by-side with an equally new Bigsby-equipped Gibson ES-335, the Starfire V somehow looks more 'retro', more 60s. The body here is made from mahogany laminates with a distinct striped figure under the Cherry Red finish, which was introduced with the first Starfire. Then, as now, it all creates a different aesthetic to the Gibson ES-335. A major difference is the control set-up, which here augments the Gibson layout with a smaller knobbed master volume control on the treble horn, just behind the three-way toggle pickup selector. The pickups here replicate the early-60s introduced 'Anti Hum Pickups' and are period correct, along with the black plastic, chrome-tipped control knobs. It's a fairly weighty guitar for a semi, thanks to the full-length maple centre-block, and has a classic strapped-on feel. It is, of course, thinline depth and feels every bit an ES-335. It has a 'clean' sound, with low-end definition, slightly bright on the treble pickup with decent sustain and, importantly, a very respectable feedback threshold. It likes volume, and while similarly evocative of virtually all those classic styles, it's the stage version and effortlessly takes you on to early The Who, The Jam or Britpop voices, while seemingly equally at home with rootsy, strummier Americana.
Read the full review: Guild Starfire V
9. Ibanez Prestige AZ2204
A Japanese-built, high-spec electric that can do it all
Launch price: $1,999 / £1,779 | Body: Alder | Neck: Roasted maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Roasted maple | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 1x Seymour Duncan Hyperion humbucker, 2x Seymour Duncan Hyperion single coils | Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector switch, Alter Switch | Hardware: Gotoh T1802 tremolo, Gotoh Magnum Lock machineheads with H.A.P. | Left-handed: No | Finish: Ice Blue Metallic
By design, the AZ series is all about function: a tool to do a job. That said, both the body and neck adopt a more vintage bolt-on guise that’s less pointy, more classic than we’re used to from Ibanez. There's also a completely new set of AZ-exclusive pickups: the Seymour Duncan Hyperion. This HSS guitar also has the dyna-MIX 9 system introduced by a two-way mini-toggle ‘Alter’ switch placed between the master volume and tone controls, yielding a whopping nine pickup sounds. For the player wanting to cover virtually everything from jazz to shred, well, Ibanez has pretty much done it. This is a seriously versatile, good-sounding, tidily made instrument that puts Ibanez squarely back into the mainstream.
Read the full review: Ibanez Prestige AZ2204
10. Ernie Ball Music Man Valentine
Maroon 5 guitarist's signature model covers all the pop bases
Launch price: $2,099 / £2,499 | Body: Ash | Neck: Roasted maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Roasted maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Music Man SH single coil, Music Man SH humbucker | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector switch | Hardware: Music Man Modern hardtail bridge, Schaller M6-IND locking tuners | Left-handed: | Finish: Trans Buttermilk, Trans Black, Trans Maroon, Satin Natural
James Valentine of Maroon 5 has a strong idea of what he wants in a guitar and so, along with the craftsmen at Music Man, has created his dream machine. Valentine's desire was for a guitar that blends innovation and a modern vibe, with a reassuringly classic appeal - a bit Gibson semi, a bit Fender Tele perhaps. So, with that in mind, an ash body - in this instance finished in what Valentine calls 'Trans Buttermilk' ('Trans Maroon' is, of course, available, too) - has been mated to a nutty-looking roasted maple neck. This is delightfully figured and comes with Music Man's proprietary wax and oil finish for a tactile but drag-free experience. Build and finish are, as always, dead on. Pickups and controls are interesting: while both pickups are standard humbucking size, the bridge unit is actually single coil, its pole pieces slanted like a Tele or Strat across the chrome cover. Controls are simple, but with a couple of neat twists in the form of push-push pots on both controls - an active boost of up to 20dB on the volume, and a coil-split for the neck humbucker on the tone. We like the 'hidden' nature of these sonic extras, because it adds genuine usability but keeps things uncluttered and intuitive. The Valentine looks familiar but just different enough, feels great sitting or standing, boasts a real player's neck, and its palette of tones - delivered in a fuss-free manner by a clever control and switching setup - is simply superb. Of the hundreds of models that have sought to blend humbucking and single coil tones, this has to be one of the best electric guitars.
Read the full review: Ernie Ball Music Man Valentine
11. Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar
The Smiths genius's spectacular reworking of the classic short-scale offset electric
Launch price: $2,419 / £1,943 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Bare Knuckle Johnny Marr single coils | Controls: Volume, tone, 4-way pickup selector switch, 2x 'bright' slide switches | Hardware: Jaguar bridge with Mustang saddles and vintage-style floating vibrato | Left-handed: No | Finish: Olympic White, Metallic KO
Rarely have we come across a redesign of a classic instrument that is so thorough… yet still adheres so closely to the original! Neck shape, body contouring, hardware, pickups and electronics have all been under the microscope of Marr and his design cohorts in redesigning this short-scale offset classic. The new bridge design swaps the threaded rod saddles of the Jaguar for the bigger, solid, non-height adjustable Mustang saddles that sit flush on the bridge tray. The saddles just have a centre-placed string groove but this increased width means there's very little gap between the low E and the outer edge of the fingerboard the further up the neck you go. Marr has also ditched the traditional dual rhythm/lead concept. This Jag has just one circuit: standard volume and tone controls and a four-position lever switch mounted on the smaller of the three chromed plates. In position one, it offers just the bridge pickup; position two, bridge and neck pickups (in parallel); position three, neck pickup; and lastly position four, neck and bridge pickups (in series). We still have the slide-switch style of the original Jaguar to engage not one, but two, of the original's high-pass filters. The top switch is the master filter (up engages the cut); the lower switch, mounted at a right angle, only works on position four where forward is on (ie, it introduces the cut). Both these switches stick up less than the standard slide switches too, and are slightly more comfortable: typical of the thought and detail that has gone into this guitar. There's Fender-aplenty in the sounds but, as Marr says, Gretsch and Rickenbacker spring to mind, especially with a little tone roll-off. Above all though, the clarity, and the musical sweetness of the tones allow for complex chord voicings for jazzier rhythms or simpler soul and funk styles. The Johnny Marr Jaguar is a thorough redesign from the perspective of a very busy working guitarist. Aside from the low E being rather too close to the fingerboard edge in higher positions, it's faultlessly built for purpose, addresses five decades of 'Jaguar-ness' and puts a decidedly leftfield design squarely back in the mainstream.
Read the full review: Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar