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20 best electric guitars 2021: our pick of guitars to suit all budgets

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20 best electric guitars 2021: our pick of guitars to suit all budgets
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Buying a guitar online

Buying a guitar online

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Concerned about buying a guitar online without playing it first? You needn’t be. Online music instrument retailers like Thomann, Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend and Sweetwater offer hassle-free returns as standard, so you can purchase a guitar, play it in the privacy of your home and send it back if it's not right. Most offer between 30-45 days to return an item, as long as it’s in original condition.

Choosing the best electric guitar is a monumental decision for guitar players. After all, you need to find the perfect instrument to complement your playing technique and overall style. Then, of course, you have to consider your budget and what that amount of money will buy you.

In this expert guide, you'll find a wide selection of the most highly rated instruments from all the heavy hitters, ensuring that whichever electric guitar you pick, it will provide years of faithful service and great tone. Whether you're looking for one of the best Stratocasters, a blues-ready hollowbody, or a fast-necked shred machine, we've got you covered with this pro-round-up of the best electric guitars.

We've broken down this guide into price order to make finding your next guitar a little easier. So, whether you're a complete beginner, an intermediate bedroom player, or a gigging musician, you'll find a guitar on this list that's sure to become your number one.

Looking for a great Black Friday music deal? Check out our Black Friday guitar deals page for all the latest news and the biggest electric guitar offers. 

Best electric guitars: Our top picks

If you're on a budget, you should consider the Yamaha Pacifica 112V. Pacificas have long been a go-to guitar for those seeking quality on a tight budget with classic double-cut looks and the company's renowned build quality, making it our favourite beginner electric guitar or for those on smaller budgets.

If you're after authentic classic rock tones, opt for something from the biggest brands of all – and that means either Fender or Gibson. The Fender Player Stratocaster is a great all-rounder for vintage and modern single-coil tones alike.  

From Gibson, we highly recommend the punk rock icon that is the Gibson Les Paul Junior. For the blues players searching for the bell-like tones of a hollow body, then it has to be the Gibson ES-335

Best electric guitars: Under $/£500

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1. Yamaha Pacifica 112V

A great electric guitar for newcomers, with long-lasting appeal

Specifications
Price: $299/£249/€328
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 22
Pickups: Alnico V bridge humbucker 2x Alnico V single coils
Controls: Volume, tone (with push-pull coil-split), 5-way selector switch
Hardware: Vintage-style vibrato with block saddle
Left-handed: Yes (Pacifica 112J)
Finish: Natural Satin, Old Violin Sunburst, Raspberry Red, Sonic Blue, Black, Silver Metallic
Reasons to buy
+Ideal for beginners+Modern sounds+Versatile
Reasons to avoid
-Vibrato could be better

The Yamaha Pacifica has long proved a benchmark for quality and specification, and the 112V remains a top choice for beginners. The 112 is far from fancy and simply concentrates on the bare necessities. Yet the construction is of excellent quality. Trust us, if looked after this will be a guitar for life. 

By design it's an altogether more modern, brighter and lighter take on a hot-rod Strat. But when we say brighter that doesn't mean overly shrill. In fact the bridge humbucker will surprise some, it's beefy without being too mid-range heavy and although the coil-split proves a little bland played clean, with a distortion boost it's a pretty useful gnarly and wiry rhythm voice. 

It's good to have the choice too when mixed with the middle pickup - switching between the full and split coil here is subtle but, especially with cleaner 'class A' amp voicings, there's enough character difference to be useable. The solo single-coils impress - plenty of percussion and with a little mid-range beef added from the amp these get you to the correct Texas toneland. Neck and middle combined produces a fine modern Strat-like mix - the added brightness will cut through a multi-FX patch nicely.

Read our full Yamaha Pacifica 112V review

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Best electric guitars: Harley Benton Fusion-II HH FR Roasted FNT

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Raising the game for sub-£500 electric guitars

Specifications
Price: $439/£369/€325
Body: Sapele with Ultra Flame maple veneer top
Neck: Canadian maple with satin back finish, Bolt-on
Scale: 25.5" (648 mm)
Fingerboard: Roasted flamed maple
Frets: 24 Medium Jumbo stainless steel
Pickups: Roswell HAF-B Alico-5 (bridge) - Roswell HAF-N Alnico-5 (neck) humbucker
Controls: 1 x master volume and 1 x master tone, 3-way toggle switch, coil-split mini switch
Hardware: Floyd Rose 1000 tremolo, Grover GH305 6L locking tuners
Left-handed: No - only as Fusion-II HSH and Fusion-T models
Finish: Gloss Flame Natural, Flame Bengal Burst, Flame Cherry, Flame Blue
Reasons to buy
+Very impressive spec for the price+Great playability from that roasted maple neck+A wide range of tones
Reasons to avoid
-There's no Fusion-II hardtail option yet-A little on the heavy side for an s-style guitar

Thomann's own brand Harley Benton have a growing range of electrics that offer seriously impressive spec for the money. Its Fusion ranges of s- and t-style guitars typify that and this is a shining example.

Roasted maple neck, stainless steel frets… Floyd Rose 1000?! We wouldn't expect to see this combination of features on a guitar under £/$1000 but here they are. And the end result dazzles in the playability and build stakes for such a reasonable price point.

The Fusion-II is cast in the modern 'session' guitar mould; versatility and contemporary appointments are the calling cards here rather than any vintage vibe. And it excels at what it sets out to be. But if Floyd Rose trems aren't to you tastes, there's plenty more options to choose from in the Harley Benton Fusion range. 

Read the full Harley Benton Fusion-II HH FR Roasted FNT review

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3. Gretsch G2622 Streamliner

The budget semi-hollow with authentic Gretsch vibe

Specifications
Price: $449/£350/€489
Body: Laminated maple, semi-hollow
Neck: Nato
Scale: 24.75"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 22
Pickups: 2x Broad'Tron humbuckers
Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector
Hardware: Adjusto-Matic bridge, 'V' stoptail tailpiece
Left-handed: Yes: G2622LH
Finish: Walnut Stain, Black
Reasons to buy
+Build-to-price ratio is very high+Hotter pickups broaden sonic potential+Centre block widens use at higher gains
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly sponge-y tuners

The Streamliner concept is simple: to create more affordable Gretsch guitars without losing their specific DNA. Two new Broad'Tron humbuckers are controlled in classic Gretsch style by a three-way toggle selector switch on the bass side shoulder, a master volume on the treble side horn, and then a trio of controls by the treble-side f-hole for individual-pickup volume and master tone. 

The G2622's construction gives a different response and resonance to other new releases from Gretsch and, with these pickups, moves further from the Gretsch sound. And while its construction gives it a more solid, or at least ES-335, character, it's a little more airy and less punchy with a softer, squashier tonality. 

The beefier pickups certainly don't nail a classic Gretsch tonality - although if that's what you want, the full-size pickups are easy to replace - but they do broaden the sonic potential, especially for more gained styles, while staying close to the classic iconography. If you want a great-value semi-hollow, this is among the best electric guitars for under $500.

Read our full Gretsch G2622 Streamliner review

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Best electric guitars: Epiphone SG Standard

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Best electric guitars: Epiphone SG Standard

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4. Epiphone SG Standard

Let there be rock!

Specifications
Price: $319/£353/€444
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.75"
Fingerboard: Indian Laurel
Frets: 22
Pickups: Epiphone Alnico Classic PRO
Controls: 2- Volume, 2- Tone CTS pots
Hardware: Epiphone LockTone™ Tune-O-Matic
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Heritage Cherry, Ebony, Alpine White
Reasons to buy
+Looks fantastic +Surprisingly good pickups  
Reasons to avoid
-May need a setup straight out of the box 

This pointy-horned devil has its roots so firmly in rock ‘n’ roll that it's hard to separate them. With iconic players such as Angus Young, Tony Iommi, and Derek Trucks relying on the SG to achieve their sound, it's no wonder it's Gibson's most popular model - yes, it really is more popular than a Les Paul. 

We have decided to feature the Epiphone version on this list for a few reasons. First of all, for its price point, it's pretty difficult to beat. The level of finishing on the new "inspired by Gibson" range is phenomenal and a definite step forward from the previous incarnation. Secondly, and arguably the most important is the sound. We must say, we were pleasantly surprised by how good this guitar sounds - it really does sound like an SG - and considering it's around a third of the price of the Gibson version, that is no mean feat. 

The SG is famous for its warm and punchy mid-range, making it a firm favourite for blues, rock, or even metal, and with Epiphone going the extra mile to improve the quality over the last few years, it had to earn a spot among the best electric guitars on this list. 

Best electric guitars: $/£501 - $/£1,000

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Best electric guitars: Sterling by Music Man St Vincent STV60

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Best electric guitars: Sterling by Music Man St Vincent STV60

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5. Sterling by Music Man St Vincent STV60

A unique guitar from a unique artist

Specifications
Price: $699/£699/€777
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 22
Pickups: Ernie Ball Artist Signature
Controls: Master volume, tone, 5-way switch
Hardware: Music Man-designed vintage tremolo
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Vincent Blue, Vincent Black
Reasons to buy
+Truly unique+Massive range of tones    
Reasons to avoid
-The shape isn't for everyone 

There's only a handful of signature guitars that you could call genuinely unique, and the St. Vincent STV60 is undoubtedly one of them. This futuristic guitar was designed from the ground up by Annie Clark (St. Vincent) to be as comfortable as possible, and we must say, it certainly is that. It may not look it, with all the straight lines and angles, but it hugs the body perfectly and is a total joy to play. 

As well as its rather distinctive look, it also has a distinctive sound. This comes courtesy of the trio of mini-humbuckers found in the guitar. These pickups deliver a surprising amount of output, as well as a nice high-end attack - think somewhere between a classic single-coil and a humbucker. 

The maple neck - although a departure from the USA line - is similar and superbly comfortable, and the overall finishing of the instrument is fantastic. This is definitely one to check out, whether you are a fan of St. Vincent or not. 

Read our full Sterling by Music Man St Vincent STV60 review  

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6. Fender Player Stratocaster

Fender's entry-level Strat delivers serious value for money

Specifications
Price: $799/£559/€659
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Maple/pau ferro (dependent on finish)
Frets: 22
Pickups: 3x Player Series Alnico 5 Strat Single-Coil
Controls: Volume, neck and middle tone, bridge tone, 5-way pickup selector
Hardware: 2-Point Synchronized Tremolo with bent steel saddles
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Buttercream, 3-Color Sunburst, Black, Polar White, Sage Green Metallic, Sonic Red, Tidepool
Reasons to buy
+Hugely playable+Impeccable set of tones+Plays well with dirt
Reasons to avoid
-Tuners are a bit stiff

This latest mid-priced take on Fender's pride and joy features an updated two-point vibrato design, plus three new Alnico V single coils. The satin neck provides a slick playing experience, while there’s little to fault with the build quality other than some slightly jerky tuners. 

There’s a hugely usable set of tones across the five-way selector, which recall Fender’s fat Texas Hot single coils and respond beautifully to gain, and treble loss is minimal when rolling back the volume knob. The bridge pickup, which can be weedy on mid-priced Strats, is rich yet cutting - and if it’s still too spiky, the pleasingly responsive tone knob will enable a fairly precise treble cut. That may not sound like much, but it’s actually a big deal, as the two tone knobs are wired thusly: tone 1 handles neck and middle, while tone 2 adjusts the bridge. 

Then there’s that new two-point vibrato, which is one of the smoothest- operating systems we’ve encountered at this price point, with no problems returning to pitch. The familiar ‘loose arm in the socket’ problem still rears its head, but it’s nothing a bit of tape around the thread can’t fix. By their very nature, Strats will always pay homage to the past, but this particular edition packs tones that span the decades and bring the format bang up to date.

Read our full Fender Player Stratocaster review

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7. PRS SE Custom 24

The best electric guitar if you want a do-it-all solidbody

Specifications
Price: $799/£749/€899
Body: Mahogany with maple top
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25"
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 24
Pickups: 2x 85/15 'S' humbuckers
Controls: Volume, tone (with push-pull coil-split), 3-way selector
Hardware: PRS vibrato, PRS SE tuners
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Fire Red Burst, Tobacco Sunburst, Trampas Green, Whale Blue
Reasons to buy
+Great range of tones+Partial coil-splits+Excellent vibrato+More affordable version of PRS's classic
Reasons to avoid
-"Wide-thin" neck not for everyone 

The PRS SE range has offered solid, well-built, great-sounding guitars for years now, and the PRS SE Custom 24 2018 is a perfect example. This Korean-built mass of maple, mahogany and rosewood is a classy-looking guitar. It’s a wonderful instrument to play too - PRS's expertise making eye-wateringly expensive guitars is evident from the moment you pick it up. 

The bridge, for example, has a noticeably low profile. This makes palm-muting a much more pleasant experience, especially if you’re used to chugging away on a Floyd Rose-style bridge. 

A lot has been made of the SE Custom’s pickups; 2017 models added Korean-made versions of the 85/15 pups used on the more expensive American Core line, dubbed “the perfect pickup” by Paul Reed Smith himself. Largely, they live up to that promise; the bridge pickup is capable of some serious chunky metal tones, which retain definition and clarity even at absurd levels of gain. 

Spend some time with the SE Custom 24 and you’ll come to realise that there is no stereotype that fits. And therein lies its beauty. It’s not a guitar or a brand that concerns itself with cultivating a popular image; PRS has always favoured more obvious metrics like quality manufacturing, great sounds and classic looks.

Read our full PRS SE Custom 24 review

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Best electric guitars: Epiphone Les Paul Prophecy

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Best electric guitars: Epiphone Les Paul Prophecy

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8. Epiphone Les Paul Prophecy

The Les Paul's evil twin

Specifications
Price: $899/£799/€919
Body: Mahogany/ Carved Hard Maple Cap with AAA Flame Maple veneer
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.72
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: Fishman Fluence
Controls: 2 Volume (push/pull coil splits); 2 Tone (push/pull Vintage/Modern pickup)
Hardware: Brushed Nickel LockTone Tune-O-Matic, Grover Locking Rotomatic
Left-handed: No
Finish: Black Aged Gloss, Olive Tiger Aged Gloss, Red Tiger Aged Gloss
Reasons to buy
+Great pickups +24 frets 
Reasons to avoid
-Non metal players may want to go for a standard 

The Les Paul Prophecy is the latest metal-focused offering from Epiphone. This dark take on the famed single-cut has a rather impressive set of specifications that is sure to please even the most discerning metalhead. 

The crowning jewel of this guitar has to be the Fishman Fluence pickups. As well as offering the bone-crushing high-output needed to make your riffs shake a room, they can also be switched - via push/pull pot - to a vintage PAF sound and even a single-coil, making this a surprisingly versatile guitar. 

We must say this guitar has the look to match the impressive tone. The AAA figured maple adds a level of class to the instrument, with the semi-gloss finish completing the metal aesthetic - as well as giving the neck a phenomenal feel.

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9. Ibanez RG550

One of the best electric guitars for shredders

Specifications
Price: $999/£947/€999
Body: Basswood
Neck: 5-piece maple/walnut
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Maple
Frets: 24
Pickups: Ibanez V8 humbucker (bridge), S1 single coil (middle), V7 neck humbucker
Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector
Hardware: Edge locking vibrato
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: Desert Sun Yellow, Road Flare Red, Purple Neon, White
Reasons to buy
+Tonally versatile+Astoundingly speedy playability+A faithful reboot of one of shred's most iconic guitars
Reasons to avoid
-Not for players who prefer thicker necks

Introduced in 1987 and discontinued in 1994, the Ibanez RG550 remains the childhood sweetheart of many players. Designed as a mass-appeal version of Steve Vai’s famous JEM777 model, it had character in abundance. For this reboot, Ibanez has skilfully managed to extract the very essence of what was so popular about the original RG550 and piece it back together in a way that enhances its legacy. 

The Japanese-made 2018 vintage is, essentially, a masterclass in everything that is good about shred and metal guitars. The neck feels lithe - your hand glides, rather than simply moving - while the Edge vibrato is rock-solid and the overall craftsmanship is exemplary. Tonally, the RG550 covers a lot of bases. It always did, despite its pointy appearance, meaning you could comfortably stray into all kinds of genres without too much fuss. 

The US-designed V7 bridge humbucker delivers the razor-sharp riff platform you’d hope it would, while the V8 neck ’pup offers a hint of compression at higher gain settings, which levels lead lines nicely. It is, in the best way possible, everything you remembered from the original, and that makes it one of the best shred guitars available today.

Read our full Ibanez RG550 review

Best electric guitars: $/£1,000+

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Best electric guitars 2019: Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 HSS

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8 best rock guitars 2019: high spec and affordable electric guitars for playing rock

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10. Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 HSS

A great electric guitar for modern rock and shred

Specifications
Price: $1,099/£825/€979
Body: Alder
Neck: Caramelised maple with graphite reinforcement
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Caramelised maple
Frets: 24
Pickups: Seymour Duncan Custom Full Shred SH-10B humbucker, Seymour Duncan Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 single coil, Seymour Duncan Custom Flat Strat SSL-6 RWRP single coil
Controls: Volume, No-Load tone, 5-way selector
Hardware: Gotoh Custom 510 tremolo
Finish: Left-Primer Grey, Satin Shell Pink
Reasons to buy
+Surprisingly versatile+Beautiful caramelised neck+Available in HH and HSH models
Reasons to avoid
-No case

Charvel's hot-rodded superstrat is as much a modern rock machine as it is a pure shredder. The beautifully caramelised graphite reinforced neck is slim, though a little rounder than, say, an Ibanez Wizard. Its recessed Gotoh 510 vibrato will return to pitch flawlessly when you dump the strings on the pickups, and, with only a little less range than a Floyd Rose, it's a small price to pay for stress-free string changing. 

The Seymour Duncan Full Shred 'bucker will deliver jangly cleans to blues-rock crunch and widdly metal solo sounds with aplomb, and the SSL-6 single coils will get you closer to those glassy //Little Wing// style cleans than you'd expect without the presence of a Fender logo. 

Build quality and attention to detail places the DK24 above much of the competition. Its tonal versatility makes it one of the best electric guitars whatever style of rock you're into.

Read our full Charvel Pro-Mod DK24 HSS review

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Best electric guitars: Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster Modified

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Best electric guitars: Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster Modified

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Best electric guitars: Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster Modified

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11. Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster Modified

A classic Fender offset for modern sensibilities

Specifications
Price: $1,149/£929/€999
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Pau Ferrod
Frets: 21
Pickups: Vintage-Style '60s Single-Coil Hot Jazzmaster
Controls: Lead Circuit Controls (Slide Switch Down): Volume (Neck), Volume (Bridge), Master Tone; Rhythm Circuit Controls (Slide Switch Up): Two Thumbwheel Controls for Neck Pickup Volume and Tone
Hardware: Adjusto-Matic Bridge with Vintage Style "Floating" Tremolo Tailpiece
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: 3-Colour Sunburst, Surf Green
Reasons to buy
+Classic Fender styling+Outstanding playability    
Reasons to avoid
-Some players don't like when a classic is messed with 

We all love vintage guitars, but sometimes you need a modern guitar to cope with the changing musical landscape. The Vintera range combines the classic styles you love about retro guitars with contemporary features for better playability. 

The Modern C-shaped neck will feel familiar to longtime Fender fans, while the 9.5"-radius fingerboard and jumbo frets bring it into the present day. Strings bends and wide vibrato are a breeze when compared to the tiny frets on a vintage Jazzmaster. The modernization doesn't stop with the neck. The pickups have been brought up to date as well. Fender has taken a standard set of their Jazzmaster single-coil pickups and re-voiced them to be hotter. This allows you to push your amp more and achieve higher-gain sounds.  

We must admit we love the changes on display here, from the updated neck, new pickups, and improved bridge. If you are like us and are partial to an excellent Fender offset, this guitar is well worth your time checking out and has more than earned its place as one of the best electric guitars out there. 

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12. LTD EC-1000 EverTune

A svelte rock single-cut that never goes out of tune

Specifications
Price: $1,149/£1,044/€1,449
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
Reasons to buy
+EverTune bridge ensures constant tuning+Great metal and rock guitar+Unobtrusive bridge design
Reasons to avoid
-EverTune is complex to get to grips with initially

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 our full LTD EC-1000 EverTune review

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13. Fender American Performer Stratocaster

The lowest-priced USA-built Strat with a wealth of tonal riches

Specifications
Price: $1,349/£999/€999
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Rosewood/maple (dependent on finish)
Frets: 22
Pickups: 3x Yosemite Single-Coil Stratocaster
Controls: Volume, neck and middle tone, bridge tone, 5-way selector switch
Hardware: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo, Fender ClassicGear tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Penny, Arctic White, Honey Burst, Satin Lake Placid Blue
Reasons to buy
+Extra switching options+Great all-rounder playability+Build and upgrades from American Special specification
Reasons to avoid
-Limited colour choice

The newly launched American Performer Series represents the most affordable entry point to bona fide USA Fenders, and marks the Big F’s first refresh at this price point in over 10 years. The big changes lie in the all-new pickups that come fitted to all models in the range, in this case Yosemite single coils and the associated electronics. 

Pulling up on the bridge tone control allows you to engage the neck pickup along with the bridge and middle pickups for two additional tones, while a reverse-wound, reverse-polarity middle pickup allows for hum cancellation in positions two and four. Make no mistake, a blendable neck pickup is a hugely welcome addition to the Strat’s tonal arsenal, and these are some of the best single coils we’ve ever heard, with a beautiful sense of compression that gives them the edge over cheaper models. 

If you’re after a workhorse Strat with a bevy of additional tonal options, not to mention rock-solid, smooth-operating hardware, this is a strong Performer indeed.

Read our full Fender American Performer Stratocaster review

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14. Guild Starfire V

A Korean-made semi-hollow with classic styling

Specifications
Price: $1,399/£1,006/€1,699
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
Reasons to buy
+Classic feel and tones+Great value for money+Period looks
Reasons to avoid
-Quite weighty for a semi

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 our full Guild Starfire V review

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Best electric guitars: Jackson Pro Series Jeff Loomis Kelly

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Best electric guitars: Jackson Pro Series Jeff Loomis Signature Kelly

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15. Jackson Pro Series Jeff Loomis Kelly

The signature Kelly from the Arch Enemy axeman

Specifications
Price: $1,399/£1,279/€1,529
Body: Basswood with a Sandblasted Ash Top
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 24
Pickups: Seymour Duncan Jeff Loomis Signature Blackouts
Controls: Volume, 3-Way Toggle Pickup Switch
Hardware: Floyd Rose 1500 Series double-locking vibrato
Left-handed: No
Finish: Black
Reasons to buy
+Pickups are powerful but dynamic+Impeccable build  +Great sustain, incredible tones 
Reasons to avoid
-Avoid if you don't need a Floyd Rose 

This is the second signature guitar on this list, and what a powerhouse of an instrument is it. Jeff Loomis is known for bringing the doom with Nevermore and Arch Enemy, and his signature Jackson Kelly has all the appointments a contemporary metal player needs. 

The extra-pointy Explorer-like body is accented with crisp white binding, and a stunning open-pore sandblasted finish - the matching headstock is also a nice touch. Now, we expect the guitar to look great - Jackson makes it - but how does it sound? 

There is only one word to describe the tone of this guitar - aggressive. At the heart of this beautifully evil guitar is a set of signature Seymour Duncan Blackout humbuckers. You would be forgiven for thinking that these are the usual active affair found on most metal guitars, but no. Loomis has opted for passive Alnico magnet pickups with increased high-end for a strong pick attack. This also means it retains some dynamics, which stops this guitar from being labeled as a one-trick pony. 

Read our full Jackson Pro Series Jeff Loomis Kelly review

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Best electric guitars: Gibson Les Paul Junior

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Best electric guitars: Gibson Les Paul Junior

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16. Gibson Les Paul Junior

Perfection in simplicity

Specifications
Price: $1,499/£1,277/€1,499
Body: Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany
Scale: 24.75
Fingerboard: Rosewood
Frets: 22
Pickups: Dog-Ear P-90
Controls: 1 Volume, 1 Tone (Hand-wired with Orange Drop Capacitors)
Hardware: Nickel wraparound bridge
Left-handed: No
Finish: Vintage Tobacco Burst, Ebony
Reasons to buy
+Elegant looks+Classic P-90 tone   
Reasons to avoid
-50s neck not for everyone 

It doesn't get much simpler than this - a slab of mahogany with a solitary P-90 pickup drilled directly into the top. It may be basic, but man, does it sound good! Initially designed for students, this no-nonsense guitar quickly became a firm favorite of many rock and punk players.  

Despite the limited setup, the new "original collection" Les Paul Junior delivers plenty of retro tones. By simply using the volume or tone controls, you can go from sparkling clean sounds to in your face rock tones and everything in between. The 50s neck - although not the most comfortable for everyone - does lend a sense of authenticity to the Les Paul Junior, making it feel remarkably close to a vintage example. Other features like the vintage white button machine heads and glossy nitro finish also help to make it look like it came straight from the 1950s. 

So, if you are looking for a simple guitar that gets straight to the point, you could do far worse than the Gibson Les Paul Junior.

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A 21st century Telecaster

Specifications
Price: $1,899/£1,792/€1,999
Body: Alder Or Ash With Gloss Polyurethane Finish
Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane (Gloss Urethane On Headstock Face), Bolt-on
Scale: 25.5" (648 mm)
Fingerboard: Maple Or Rosewood
Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo
Pickups: 2 x Ultra Noiseless Vintage Tele Single Coils
Controls: Master Volume With S-1 Switch, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch
Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Six-Saddle American Tele With Chromed Brass Saddles, Deluxe Locking Tuners
Left-handed: No
Finish: Arctic Pearl, Cobra Blue, Mocha Burst, Ultraburst (With Maple Fingerboard); Texas Tea, Ultraburst (With Rosewood Fingerboard)
Reasons to buy
+Thoughtful spec upgrades+Compound radius 'board will please shredders+Modern D neck profile is addictive
Reasons to avoid
-No vintage mojo here…

Fender's Ultra series arrived in 2019 as a follow-up to its acclaimed Elite models and again successfully balanced innovation with tradition for timeless guitar designs. There's some great upgraded features for here that genuinely enhance the playing experience… 

The rear of the Tele Ultra's body is contoured to allow players easy access to the top frets. The 10" to 14" compound radius fingerboard to allow for the lowest possible action above the 12th fret on the modern D neck profile (currently exclusive to this series and deserving of wider use), while still delivering easy chording in the open positions. 

The fourth generation of Fender's Ultra Noiseless Vintage single coils feature here offer up meaty tones without the hum and there's the Fender S-1 circuit to switch between series and parallel mode for additional tonal voices. 

Other contemporary features include locking tuners and Ultra-exclusive finish options (including the wonderful Texas Tea shown above), but the nod back to the 60s with body binding is most welcome. 

Read the full Fender American Ultra Telecaster review

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Best electric guitars: Gretsch G6136T Players Edition White Falcon

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Best electric guitars: Gretsch G6136T Falcon

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18. Gretsch G6136T Players Edition White Falcon

As good to look at as it is to play

Specifications
Price: $3,599/£3,199/€3,699
Body: Laminated Maple
Neck: Maple
Scale: 25.5"
Fingerboard: Ebony
Frets: 22
Pickups: High Sensitive Filter'Tron
Controls: Volume, 3-Way Toggle Volume 1. (Neck Pickup), Volume 2. (Bridge Pickup), Tone
Hardware: Bigsby B6GP String-Thru
Left-handed: Yes
Finish: White, Black
Reasons to buy
+Vintage tones +Drop dead gorgeous
Reasons to avoid
-The big body not for everyone 

Some players are seeking a guitar that demands attention, and well, the Gretsch G6136T certainly does that. This striking large-bodied hollow guitar has a sound unlike any other and might be just what you are looking for. 

The sound of the G6136T is thanks in part to the deep hollow body with innovative "ML" bracing and the Filter'Tron mini-humbuckers. These pickups deliver bags of vintage 50s tone, with a bright, articulate high-end and glassy mid-range that the White Falcon is famous for. 

The Flacon comes adorned with a Bigsby B6GP String-Thru tremolo. Gretsch and Bigsby are a match made in heaven - it's hard to think about Gretsch without immediately thinking Bigsby. This is a smooth tremolo unit designed to add a little bit of movement to chords or lead work. Sorry Van Halen fanatics, there will be no divebombs on this guitar. 

So if you are looking for vintage tones and a guitar that is as much a work of art as an instrument, seek out the Gretsch G6136T Players Edition White Falcon. 

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19. Gibson ES-335 Figured

One of the finest ES-335 electric guitars money can buy

Specifications
Price: $3,699/£2,599/€3,299
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
Reasons to buy
+Possibly the best non-historic ES-335
Reasons to avoid
-A serious investment

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 our full Gibson ES-335 Premiere Figured review

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20. PRS McCarty 594

A 1959 Sunburst LP reimagined as a double-cut

Specifications
Price: $4,300/£3,790/$3,499
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
Reasons to buy
+Four-control classic layout and shoulder-placed toggle switch+Superb build+Oh-so-classic vintage single-cut tones
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

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 our full PRS McCarty 594 review

Best electric guitars: Buying advice

Close up of vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior with P-90 pickup

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When was the electric guitar invented?  

Like all great inventions, the electric guitar was born from a desire to fix a problem - that problem being the lack of volume from an acoustic guitar. Although the timeline is a little murky, most historians agree that the first-ever electric guitar made its debut in the hands of Charlie Christian in 1936. The prominent jazz musician needed his acoustic guitar to be louder so his guitar solos could be heard over the band. He would go on to add what we now think of as a pickup to the body of his guitar, and voila - the electric guitar was born.  

What about the solid-body electric guitar? Well, there are many different accounts out there about who invented the first-ever solid-body electric guitar. Was it Rickenbacker's Frying Pan lap steel or Les Paul’s log? The truth is, no one really knows who came up with the concept, but what we can all agree on is the first mass-produced electric guitar - as we know it today - was the Fender Esquire and Broadcaster in 1950. 

What’s quite remarkable is, the Broadcaster hasn’t changed that much since it was released at the start of the fifties. Okay, it did get a rebrand in 1952, after Gretsch pointed out they had a drum kit by the same name. However, the basics that made the guitar so revolutionary are still present today. Of course, this goes for all the guitars of American’s golden age; the Stratocaster, Jazzmaster, and ES-335 are all practically unchanged 70 years on.   

Electric guitar body shapes and materials 

Like we said above - the electric guitar hasn’t really changed since the fifties and sixties. Even new modern designs still harken back to the guitars of the past. So, let’s break down the most common guitar shapes. 

You can fit most electric guitars into two distinct camps - single-cutaway and double-cutaway guitars. The Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul are arguably the most popular single-cut guitars out there. While they can offer superior sustain - due to the increased mass - the absence of the second cutaway can leave you with problems accessing the higher frets. 

The Stratocaster and Gibson SG, on the other hand, offer two cutouts, giving greater access to the higher notes. They also tend to be lighter and come with more comfortable carves. As to which one is right for you, it’s really a matter of personal preference. 

The materials used on electric guitars can vary between models and brands. Still, the most common are mahogany, maple, alder, and ash. Each type of wood offers its own unique characteristics in tone and weight. Want a darker, warm sounding guitar? Then perhaps mahogany is the wood for you. On the other hand, maybe you are looking for a brighter tone that won’t break your back? In that case, it’s worth keeping ash in mind. 

Hollowbody guitars - by their nature - are built in a completely different fashion. Most are constructed using laminates - most commonly maple - and often feature a centre block for added sustain and feedback control.  

Two vintage Telecasters on a table

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 Electric guitar hardware 

The hardware on an electric guitar is more important than some players think, and it pays to ensure your new guitar has the best hardware you can afford. When we talk about hardware, we, of course, are referring to the bridge, machine heads, and output jack. 

While at the beginner end of the spectrum, the hardware is serviceable and works perfectly fine for the most part. The more we increase the budget, the better the quality gets. For example, you may find a basic set of machine heads on an entry-level guitar. Whereas, on a high-end instrument, you are likely to find a set of locking machine heads that have a higher gear ratio and aid in string slippage, ultimately resulting in more stable tuning.

Electric guitar pickups explained 

The pickups are the main tonal generators of the electric guitar and come in many different shapes and sizes. The two most common are the single coil and humbucker. Single coil pickups are generally brighter, more dynamic and perfect for clean sounds - although if you asked Hendrix, he would’ve told you they can rock as well. There is a downside to the humble single coil, though, and that’s noise. Single coils suffer from a problem called 60 cycle hum, and it can be rather irritating, especially at high volumes or excess gain. 

Humbuckers, on the other hand, as the name suggests, buck the hum, eradicating the issue. Although in doing so, it does change the tonal characteristics of the pickup. Humbuckers tend to be fuller, warmer, and more aggressive sounding - perfect for blues, rock and metal. 

Other things to consider  

There are a few other things to consider when choosing the best electric guitar. For example, it’s worth paying close attention to the neck profile. At the end of the day, your new guitar needs to be comfortable and appropriate for the style of music you wish to play. There’s a reason many shredders gravitate towards the thin flat profile of an Ibanez, as it forces your hand to sit at the perfect angle for lightning-fast legato lines. On the other hand, some players love the fuller feel of a 50s style “baseball bat” neck, as they prefer to tightly grip the guitar and dig in. Like most things on the guitar, it’s a personal preference. So experiment with different types. 

It’s also worth considering the scale length of your new guitar. Generally speaking, the shorter the scale length, the slinkier feeling the guitar. Drop tunings benefit from a longer scale length, as the increased distance between the bridge and the nut results in increased tension.  

Close up of PRS humbucker

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Electric guitar price brackets explained 

So how much can you expect to pay for one of the best electric guitars? Well, it really depends on the level of the guitar you’re looking for and your current ability. 

Usually, with guitars - or any instrument for that matter - the more you spend, the more you get. This is because premium instruments are lovingly hand made using the best of materials by masters of the craft. This usually results in a better playing and sounding guitar - although this comes at a price. So we would say if you’re looking for a pro-level guitar, then you’ll want to spend $/£1,500+. 

Now, spending that level of cash as a beginner simply isn’t worth it. If you are just starting out, you can pick up a fantastic instrument for as little as $/£150, which is more than serviceable. Once you reach the intermediate stage, you’ll want to advance to a higher quality guitar, and anything from $/£500 upwards will make an excellent upgrade. 

Caring for your electric guitar 

It’s essential to regularly restring your new guitar. Not only will this ensure it sounds its best, but it will also prolong the life of the frets. Before you use any cleaning solutions, it’s worth checking what type of finish you have on your guitar. It’s safe to use most types of guitar polishes on polyurethane finishes - although it’s worth checking with the manufacturer beforehand. For nitrocellulose - found on Gibson and PRS guitars - you need to be far more careful which polish you use as you can damage the lacquer. Therefore it’s crucial to check that the polish you are using is nitro-friendly. With nitrocellulose, you also have to be careful which guitar stand you use, as it can react with certain rubber and foam materials.