Whether you’re a new player or lifelong veteran, the best guitar brands around the world provide that extra piece of magic that brings everything together.
From delicate acoustic guitars to in-your-face electric instruments, we’ve rounded up our pick of the 15 best guitar brands you can find, including those championed by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson and more…
With so many great guitars out there – both classic well-known brands and newer luthiers – it’s not an easy decision. So whilst it’s always best to go to a reputable guitar store and play some of these yourself to decide, we enlisted the help of British professional guitarist Will Arnold-Forster to give his run down on the best guitar brands and specific models to check out right now.
We’ve got 15 to share with you, each with some solid reasoning, but he notes: “based on my experience and decades-long exploration of this topic, the very best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson“
From Europe to Asia to North America, this comprehensive buying guide rounds up the important details on the best guitar brands out there. From premium models to best-value guitars and everything in between, here’s what you need to know in order to make an informed decision on your next purchase…
(If, on the other hand, you’re in a rush, here’s the quick version of our favourites!)
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Choosing a guitar can be a tricky business.
There are a huge range of makes and models to pick from and instruments vary hugely in terms of their price points, intended purpose, and target audience.
On top of that, there’s the choice between iconic manufacturers that have been around for over 100 years, as well as small independent one-man operations producing fully bespoke instruments, and everything in between.
Whatever your ability and budget, there’s a great guitar out there for you!
Based on my decades-long exploration on this topic, the very best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson.
Finally, the Gibson ES-175 is the most popular jazz guitar, with a tradition going back decades.
15 of The Best Guitar Brands Around the World
Ibanez are a driving force in the guitar world, and produce a vast array of instruments, effects pedals and amplifiers.
Whilst perhaps best known for their solid body guitars used by the likes of Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert, their range of semi-hollow and hollow body guitars are extremely popular with jazz musicians, and are available in a range of styles across a number of price points.
The Ibanez John Scofield models (the JSM100, JSM10, and JSM20) are a great choice if looking for a versatile semi-hollow body guitar capable of switching easily between different genres, but still possessing a classic warm jazz tone.
The sound block inside the instrument and its rigid top help to greatly reduce feedback, and Ibanez’s signature half-bone, half brass nut provides a balance of highs and lows.
In terms of price, the JSM100 certainly isn’t an entry level instrument, but the JSM10 and JSM20 models come in at a lower price point.
Ibanez’s best-selling archtop guitar is their George Benson GB10 model, designed to Benson’s exacting specifications.
The floating GB special pickups sit on top of the body of the guitar, producing a superb warm jazz tone, and the instruments ebony neck was chosen to deliver rich sustain.
It’s a beautifully made instrument, crafted from high quality woods, and this versatile laminate-top guitar whose size sits somewhere between a semi-hollow and large archtop guitar.
Up next is another mainstay brand in the world of guitars.
Fender has been providing guitarists with excellent instruments since the introduction of the Telecaster back in 1951.
If a guitar player has only one guitar, the odds are hugely in favor of that guitar being a Fender.
If the guitarist has multiple guitars, again, it is virtually impossible for at least one of those guitars not to be a Fender model.
In addition, let’s look at the two most prominent Fender guitar models: the Telecaster and the Stratocaster.
Both of these models were designed by the founder of the company – Leo Fender.
Whether you’re playing jazz, blues, country, or rock, this hard-bodied beast of an electric guitar is quite simply amazing.
In my opinion, the uniqueness of this Fender model comes from its recognisable ‘twang’ and sparkle, as well as its ultimate versatility in providing a wide spectrum of sonic possibilities.
There is something magical about the Fender Telecaster.
A true classic, this guitar has been one of the most popular models of all time.
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Fender’s Stratocaster model is so popular that its shape is actually synonymous with how people imagine an electric guitar.
Many famous guitarists, including Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, have been using this electric guitar model as their go-to instrument for live shows and recording sessions.
This Fender model is also by far the most copied guitar model.
It is incredibly versatile and has been used by guitarists in virtually every genre.
As with the Telecaster model, one thing is certain – this model will deliver a quality and consistent sound, while the neck will ensure high levels of performance.
An important aspect to consider when choosing a Fender guitar is to mind the country where it has been produced.
It is important to note that in terms of sound quality, the best Fender guitars are those manufactured in either the US or Japan.
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In their 100-year history, Gibson have designed many iconic instruments that we consider to be quintessential examples of the jazz guitar.
They remain to this day the guitar of choice for jazz guitarists of all abilities and backgrounds looking for that classic jazz tone that has long been synonymous with the Gibson name.
These instruments have been played by a who’s who of the great jazz guitarists of all time, including Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel and Johnny Smith.
As their catalogue of instruments includes so many influential models (such as the Gibson Les Paul), I’ve picked out two of their most important as recommendations:
The Gibson ES-175
The Gibson ES-175 has been one of the most popular jazz guitars available for decades.
First introduced in 1949 as an alternative to the bigger and more ornate L-5, the Gibson ES-175 features a laminate 16-inch body, sharp Florentine cutaway, and two mounted humbucker pickups.
A true workhorse, the 175 is closely associated with greats such as Joe Pass and Jim Hall. It possesses a warm, yet clear tone and due to its slightly smaller size (when compared with other archtop guitars) is extremely comfortable to play.
These can be picked up for a reasonable price on the second-hand market, with exact prices dependant on the age and condition of the instrument.
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The Gibson L-5
The L-5 is Gibson’s flagship archtop and has been in continuous production since 1922.
Popularised by the great Wes Montgomery in the 1960’s (Gibson still to this day make a signature Wes Montgomery L-5 built to his specifications), the L-5 is the guitar that many players hope to one day own, despite its hefty price tag.
Comprising a fully carved 17-inch body, made from the highest quality woods, the L-5 has a beautiful warm rounded tone that looks just as stunning as it sounds.
These features and craftsmanship comes at a premium, so don’t expect to pay any less than $5000 to own your own piece of jazz guitar history…
John D’Angelico and James D’Aquisto are widely regarded as the two finest guitar builders of the 20th century.
After the D’Angelico brand was resurrected in the 2000’s, long after both luthiers had passed away, the new D’Angelico team worked at creating and perfecting a line of authentic reissues with the intention of delivering D’Angelico’s craftsmanship and quality at an affordable price.
These new models have been well received by professional jazz guitarists and amateurs alike, with the likes of Susan Tedeschi and Kurt Rosenwinkel endorsing their instruments.
The D’Angelico Premier EXL-1 is a particularly striking model currently in production.
Utilising John D’Angelico’s original design, the Premier EXL-1 has a balanced organic tone, coupled with signature D’Angelico features such as the stairstep tailpiece and striking headstock.
Equipped with a floating mini humbucker so as not to compromise the natural tone of the wood, this model comes in three striking finishes: Ocean Turquoise, Fiesta Red, and Champagne.
Founded by Friedrich Gretsch more than a century ago, this American instruments brand creates both vintage looking and vintage sounding guitars.
A thing that’s quite characteristic for the Gretsch guitars is that they often have the Bigsby tremolo attached to the bridge.
The Bigsby tremolo not only looks vintage to the core, but also provides a unique type of tremolo effect to the guitar.
Suitable for genres ranging from surf rock, to jazz, to country, these guitars are unique in the way they sound and feel.
Gretsch offer solid body, hollow, and semi-hollow models. To single out two semi-hollow models that are great for jazz players: the Gretsch G5622T Electromatic and the Gretsch G2655 Streamliner.
It’s worth noting that Gretsch guitars are one of the more affordable yet quality guitar brands.
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Paul Reed Smith
If you are looking for a truly high performance guitar, you are likely looking for your Paul Reed Smith guitar.
Synonymous with high performance, consistent, quality sound and endurance, these guitars are often the go-to choice for guitarists that emphasize speed and technique, but don’t want to diminish the value and importance of tone and feel either.
Paul Reed Smith (PRS) has quite a few models to choose from, but their most popular model is the PRS Custom 24.
In terms of price, this is a mid range guitar model that offers great versatility and value.
This guitar as well as this brand in general, is quite the favorite with fusion guitarists who are looking to extensively experiment with their sound.
The Trenier Guitars brand is a one-man operation ran by Bryant Trenier, an American luthier building archtop guitars in the south of France.
Inspired by great luthiers of the 20th century such as John D’Angelico and James D’Aquisto, whose instruments he has over the years helped to maintain and restore, Trenier crafts bespoke archtop guitars in the tradition of these masters, citing examining instruments built by the likes of D’Angelico and D’Aquisto as the best education a young luthier could receive.
Whilst Trenier builds visually stunning instruments, he is keen to stick to the philosophy that form must be secondary to function, and that it is achieving a great tone that is always the end goal; a pursuit that is informed by the fact that Trenier himself is an accomplished guitarist.
Trenier’s ‘Modello Pasquale Grasso’ is a great example of his artistry.
Built for virtuoso jazz guitarist Pasquale Grasso’s specifications, the instrument features a neck joint at the 15th fret to allow for greater access to the high reaches of the guitar, a zero fret for tonal balance between open strings and fretted notes, and a single coil Charlie Christian style pickup, with volume and tone controls mounted on the tailpiece.
As one might expect, these exceptional examples of archtop guitars do not come cheap, and and you’ll need to join a long waiting list too…
Learn more via trenierguitars.com
Eastman make a large range of instruments suitable for a variety of genres including jazz.
Utilising traditional techniques such as hand-scalloped bracing and precision tap tuning as well as coming in a range of beautiful finishes, including their Antique Varnish Series, Eastman Guitars are great value, with the look and feel of an instrument made by an independent luthier at a fraction of the cost.
Endorsed by the likes of John Pisano and Frank Vignola, Eastman’s archtop guitars (both laminate, and carved) are particularly popular with jazz guitarists looking for that classic archtop sound and look, at a fraction of the price of what an equivalent instrument made by the likes of Gibson would cost.
They produce a vast array of different archtop guitars, but their AR372CE model is a beautiful take on the ever-popular Gibson ES-175 and their AR910CE is a great example of a fully carved archtop guitar with floating pickup.
quality maple-wood archtop with hard case
Talk about a great guitar brand!
Although the most prominent Music Man model is actually the renowned bass Stingray MusicMan – this company is serious about making guitars, too.
Similarly to the PRS guitars, this company makes high performance, high quality versatile guitar models for guitarists who are happy to explore with sound.
Musicman were smart enough to create a 6 string regular electric guitar model of their famous StingRay bass – the StingRay Guitar.
This is probably the most popular model from their palette. Other than the StingRay Guitar, there are the Cutlass SSS model and the Valentine Guitar model.
These are some of the most exciting Musicman guitar models.
For people considering investing a larger amount of money, they could also have a look at the signature Steve Lukather Musicman guitar models – the Luke III and the Luke III Maple Top models.
The Epiphone guitar brand, one of America’s oldest instrument makers, has been in operation since 1873.
Well-known for the large acoustic archtop guitars that they produced during the big band swing era – such as the De Luxe, the Broadway and the Triumph – Epiphone are nowadays known as the sister company to Gibson, who purchased the company in the 1950s.
They offer more affordable versions of many Gibson guitars – alongside their own range of archtops and semi-hollow instruments – and, as such, we recommend an Epiphone for those looking for a solid, entry-level jazz guitar with classic looks and historical pedigree.
Epiphone’s reissue of its legendary Broadway model first introduced in 1931, features a large hollow body, and two mounted humbucking pickups. A great choice for those looking for their first archtop guitar, this reasonably priced instrument possesses a warm tone, slim neck and classic looks.
The Epiphone Casino (their version of Gibson’s classic thin-line ES-330) is another good choice for those looking for an entry level semi-hollow body style guitar, as is the Epiphone Riviera Custom P93.
Closely associated with The Beatles, the Casino is well suited for jazz and blues guitarists due to its hollow body and those coming from a solid body guitar may find its smaller dimensions (when compared to an archtop guitar) comfortable to play.
This semi-hollow-body maple guitar provides a warm, fat jazz sound
Heritage guitars was formed in 1985 by former Gibson employees who wanted to carry on the tradition of handcrafting high quality guitars in Kalamazoo Michigan, after Gibson moved out of their iconic factory for good in 1984.
Combining traditional craftsmanship with innovative features, Heritage guitars are firm favourites amongst jazz guitarists looking for the pedigree of an American built instrument whilst offering something a little different than a Gibson.
The Eagle Classic is similar to Gibson’s L-5 and features a carved Sitka spruce top and figured maple back. Combining traditional materials with modern construction, the Eagle is a well balanced instrument and comes equipped with mounted humbuckers modelled on the PAF pickups that Gibson would use in the late 1950’s.
Whilst a Heritage won’t have the same resale value as a Gibson, these are excellently built ‘workhorse’ instruments, fit for any serious player, and they have quickly established themselves as one of the premier manufacturers of high-end jazz guitars.
a balanced organic tone, coupled with a stair step tailpiece and striking headstock.
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Benedetto have been building archtop jazz guitars in the United States since 1968.
Operating from Savannah, Georgia, Benedetto pride themselves on making absolutely no compromises in quality, or outsourcing of labour.
Alongside making some of the world’s most collectable and expensive instruments, Benedetto still caters for the professional and aspiring jazz guitarist, with their more affordable (though still premium-priced) models gaining just as much praise
Born in New York in 1946, luthier Robert Benedetto is known as one of the foremost builders of archtop guitars in the world, and follows directly in the lineage of John D’Angelico and James D’Aquisto.
Despite no longer directly overseeing the construction of Benedetto guitars as production manager (a job inherited by master luthier Damon Mailand), Benedetto guitars still maintains an unimpeachable reputation as one of the finest in the world.
Perhaps Benedetto’s best-known model is the Manhattan.
The eye-watering price tag is justified by the use of only the finest materials, design and craftsmanship. A fully carved 17-inch archtop equipped with floating Benedetto pickup, the Manhattan is a stunning example of a handcrafted instrument.
Peerless archtops deliver a great jazz tone at an affordable price.
Having gained their stellar reputation producing early Korean made Epiphone and Ibanez archtops, Peerless eventually struck out on their own and now build instruments under their own name.
Endorsed by the likes of virtuoso jazz fingerstyle guitarist Martin Taylor, a Peerless instrument is a great choice for the advanced student looking for their first serious jazz guitar.
Their 17 inch Cremona comes with a carved maple top, laminated back and sides and mounted humbucker pickup.
Built with similar specifications to the iconic Gibson L5, but costing a fraction of the price this instrument offers great value for money without compromising on tone.
Equally renowned for his electric basses as he is guitars, Roger Sadowsky is one of the most highly respected instrument makers in the world.
Played by many of the great contemporary jazz guitarists, including Jim Hall, John Abercrombie and Pat Metheny, Sadowsky’s archtop guitars are designed for professional gigging musicians.
Whilst by no means cheap, these instruments are roadworthy, optimised for amplified playing, and priced competitively when compared to bigger name competitors.
The Sadowsky Jim Hall model is the result of many years of prototyping and collaborating with master guitarist Jim Hall.
Designed to meet all of Hall’s requirements as a player, the instrument measures 16 inches across, features a laminate maple construction and a mounted custom wound vintage PAF style pickup.
Taylor is surely one of the best, if not the best acoustic guitar brand in the world.
Although their focus has been on creating the perfect acoustic guitar, Taylor guitars also offer truly amazing electric guitars as a side offer.
The reason they made it on our list is because of their exciting and relatively new electric guitar models.
Taylor Guitars’ semi-hollow T3 and T5 electric guitars offer a quality level that competes with their acoustic counterparts.
Both their acoustic and electric models offer incredible tone control and consistency of sound throughout the years of service.
The longevity of the instrument is also guaranteed, as a Taylor guitar basically improves as it ages.
With careful handling and use, these guitars can be passed on for generations to come.
FAQs About Guitar Brands
What is the most famous guitar brand?
The ‘battle’ here will probably be between Fender and Gibson.
These two brands are the pioneers of the electric guitar, and have contributed to today’s design, look, and feel of guitars. Models such as the Fender Telecaster or the Gibson ES-175 are the cornerstone of guitar luthiers and manufacturers around the globe.
Which brand acoustic guitar is best?
Taylor and Martin are two obvious contenders for best acoustic guitar brand. We went for Taylor Guitars in our pick, since they offer a slightly better value for money.
Conclusion: The Best Guitar Brands
To sum it all up, the best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson.
The best overall option would be the Ibanez JSM100, based on its overall quality and versatility.
Thanks for reading and hopefully this has given you some useful ideas for your next guitar purchase.
You can find all our articles on this topic – covering strings, amps, the different types of guitars and the great players – right here. We’ve also compiled our pick of the must-have guitar accessories available today.
Looking for listening tips? Check out our roundup of the best modern jazz guitar players today!