What are the best guitars for jazz? We’ve already written about some of the greatest jazz guitarists in history but, for this guide, we wanted to focus on the gear they use.
So keep reading for some of the key considerations and recommendations when it comes to setting yourself up to play jazz.
As one of the most versatile instruments in the world, the guitar pops up in everything from classical and baroque music, via jazz & blues, through to heavy metal and rock – and most things in between.
As as you might expect from such a widely-used instrument, there are a ton of subtle (and not so subtle) differences in how these instruments are designed, set up and played.
Whether you’re looking to start playing jazz guitar or just to upgrade your current set-up so it’s more suited to this style of music, here’s our guide to some of the key choices you need to make, which famous jazz guitarists you might want to copy and recommendations on some specific gear.
If you’ve got experience with some of these, or others to recommend, feel free to share your tips in the comments section…
The iconic ‘jazz’ guitar – a beautiful hollow-bodied instrument, with a distinctive warm, chiming, ‘bell-like’ tone.
A classic example is the Gibson ES-175, favoured by players from all corners of the jazz world, including Joe Pass, Pat Metheny and Jonathan Kriesberg.
The large body gives an earthy warmth to the tone, which is also clear and articulate. Archtop guitars sound great when played clean, and are perfect for standard, straight-ahead jazz – although many musicians play them in more contemporary jazz too, it’s always the same distinctive sound that shines through.
Depending on the model you buy, these guitars can feed back quite easily, especially when played through effects at higher volumes.
Entry-level Archtop Guitars
- Ibanez AF95
The Ibanez Artcore range offers high-quality affordable hollow-bodied guitars, including the AF95. Although they may be cheaper than other models, these guitars are of a professional standard, with great tone and playability. This is a versatile archtop, suitable for more modern styles as well as the more straight-ahead!
- D’Angelico Premier EXL-1
A beautiful guitar, with more minimalist take on the classic archtop design.
- Gretsch G9555 New Yorker
Perfect for old-school straight-ahead jazz, this is modelled after the Gibson ES-150, the very first electric archtop guitar. The lack of cutaways and bridge pickup renders it less versatile than other guitars, but if you’re looking for something vintage, this could be the one for you.
A semi-hollow guitar has a solid block of wood running through the body, with a hollow chamber on either side. These instruments retain some of the warmth of the arch-top, combined with the more focussed, ‘electric’ sounds of solid-bodies.
They also aren’t prone to feedback like their hollow-bodied cousins, meaning they’re well-suited to playing louder and using effects. Very versatile instruments indeed!
A classic example would be the Gibson ES-335 – played more contemporary players such as John Scofield, Larry Carlton.
Jazz guitarists view: “My semi-hollow guitar (a Gibson ES-345) is so versatile, I use it for both straight-ahead standards and gigs with my jazz-rock group, Animal Society’’ Joe Williamson (UK)
Entry-level Semi-hollow Guitars
- Epiphone Dot ES-335
Epiphone is a subsidiary of Gibson guitars, producing more affordable alternatives to Gibson’s top-level instruments. Despite the lower price tag, they are still well-made and high-quality instruments. This is an entry-level equivalent to the iconic Gibson 335.
- Ibanez Artcore Vintage ASV73
Another offering from Ibanez’s excellent Artcore series. John Scofield is an Ibanez endorsing artist, so you’re in good hands!
Solid-body guitars are the more standard type of electric guitar, less commonly seen in jazz, as players prefer the warmer tones of an archtop or a semi-hollow.
However, more specialised jazz players opt for a solid-body when they want a brighter sound, closer to rock, blues or country, and will usually run the guitar’s sound through overdrive and other effects.
Bill Frisell and Julian Lage are known for using Telecasters, which when amplified and compressed, have a bright twang and rich sustain well-suited to their country-inspired take on jazz.
Virtuoso solo guitarist Ted Greene also played a Tele – check out his album ‘Solo Guitar’ for some juicy, shimmering tones!
Naturally, jazz-rockers sometimes favour these instruments too – Mike Stern is known for playing a Yamaha Pacifica.
Entry-level Solid-Body Guitars
- Fender Player Telecaster
Telecasters are known for their signature ‘twang’ and sparkle – very different to the more conventional round, warm jazz guitar tones!
Fender’s ‘Player’ series offers a range of affordable variants of their famous instruments. Classic Fender feel and quality with a better price tag.
- Yamaha Pacifica 300 Series
This guitar is as well-suited to rock as it is to jazz!
Yamaha make Pacifica guitars at different price points, including a pricey Mike Stern signature model, but the 300 series offers good playability whilst still being affordable.
I hope this guide gave you some better insight into your options when it comes to buying a great jazz guitar. If you’re looking to complete your set up with a killer guitar amp and great jazz strings, we’ve covered that too.
And, as always, let us know in the comments what your set up of choice is: Archtop, Semi-Hollow or Solid-Body?
Looking for more jazz guitar? Check out our interviews with these jazz guitar legends:
Last update on 2020-08-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API