Most people start learning how to play the guitar on a fairly inexpensive instrument. Sometimes it’s a guitar that’s been sitting in your grandmother’s basement for decades. In other instances, you pick up a used guitar at a garage sale for a few dollars.
For anyone who’s just getting started, these types of guitars are perfect. But what happens when you learn a few skills and start to get really comfortable with the instrument? If you’re like most folks, you’ll look to upgrade. And when that happens, you’ll immediately be overwhelmed by all the options you can choose from.
To help you find an incredible upgrade, here are just a few of the best guitar brands on the market today.
The Best Guitar Brands
While this list of guitar brands is comprehensive, there are a few things to keep in mind as you read through it. First, we’ve included everything from higher-end and aspirational brands to mid-tier brands that offer many of the features of an expensive guitar but at a fraction of the price. But no matter what your budget is, you should feel confident about playing any of the brands we’ve listed here.
More importantly, each brand offers a wide variety of guitars that feature different body types, materials, and electronics. This makes it impossible to deem one brand or guitar the best. Use this guide to determine which brand suits your playing style.
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1. Martin Guitars
Martin Guitar is one of the oldest and most revered acoustic guitar brands in the world. The dreadnought body style that it developed in the 1800s remains incredibly popular today due to the sheer volume that a musician can get out of the instrument without amplification.
Thanks to the company’s best-in-class craftsmanship and attention to detail, some of the top guitarists in the world insist on having at least one Martin guitar in their arsenal. When you hear someone play a Martin, it’s easy to understand why this is the case.
There is one major catch to owning a Martin guitar: They can be very expensive. A “low-end” Martin can still cost you several hundred dollars. And while the build quality often can’t be beaten, you can occasionally find a comparable instrument from a different manufacturer at a fraction of the cost of a Martin.
2. Fender Guitars
When you hear the words “electric guitar,” the first image you probably see in your head is a Fender guitar. That’s for good reason. Fender’s Stratocaster redefined what musicians believed was capable with an electric guitar.
While models like the Stratocaster will set you back several thousand dollars in some cases, Fender also offers more affordable options that are ideal for intermediate players, including the Squier, Telecaster, and Mustang.
3. Gibson Guitars
Much like Fender, Gibson guitars have defined generations of music. In the time since Gibson released the first Les Paul, guitarists have aspired to own several different models of Gibson guitars.
Thanks to their unparalleled sustain, Gibson electric and acoustic guitars tend to be popular among folk and country musicians. And while the more famous models tend to be hard on the wallet, some “special editions” can be had for just a few hundred dollars—if you’re comfortable with buying a secondhand instrument.
4. Taylor Guitars
Taylor Guitars is a fairly new brand, but they’re among the most sought-after acoustic guitars in the world. Not only are Taylor guitars built with incredible precision, but the company employs exotic woods such as koa that performs well in both live and studio environments. Its lineup of artists includes musicians such as Jason Mraz, Shawn Mendes, and Jewel, just to name a few.
However, it’s important to note that Taylor Guitars are among the more expensive brands on our list. Much like Martin, a “low end” Taylor will still cost you $700-900 and will feature less desirable materials such as laminate tonewoods and cheaper fretboards.
5. Ibanez Guitars
Thanks to some of the more notorious brands on our list, some guitarists tend to look down on Ibanez guitars. Many of Ibanez’s electric and acoustic guitars are popular choices among beginner-level players, and as you’d probably guess, those models don’t come with the bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end instrument.
However, Ibanez has partnered with some of the top guitarists in the world to develop guitars that rival any Fender, Gibson, or Martin you’ll come across. In fact, renowned musicians such as Steve Vai can be found playing Ibanez guitars that cost thousands of dollars.
In any case, musicians of all levels usually turn to Ibanez when they’re looking for a reliable acoustic or electric guitar—even if they can only spend a few hundred dollars on an instrument.
6. ESP Guitars
ESP was founded in Tokyo back in 1975, when Hisatake Shibuya sold custom replacement parts out of his guitar shop. Eventually, he began offering electric guitars—and in the time since, they’ve become insanely popular in metal music. If you’ve ever heard a Metallica album, you know what an ESP guitar sounds like.
ESP is famous for being a custom-level guitar manufacturer. Or in other words, they’re expensive. One Google search for the term “ESP guitar” will turn up thousands of message board posts from people who want to know why an ESP is worth several thousands of dollars. In addition to using the highest-quality materials, ESP also does incredibly limited runs of their guitars, which only adds to their mystique.
7. Gretsch Guitars
Have you ever heard of The Beatles? Wonder how they get the “twang” sound that defined so many of their biggest hits? Look no further than Gretsch guitars. While they offer instruments with a variety of body types, their most famous models offer a “hollow” body, which gives it a distinct sound that separates it from a Fender or Gibson.
If you’re looking to sound like The Beatles, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Sure, some models can run into the four-figure range, but a very serviceable Gretsch can be had for less than $700.
8. Yamaha Guitars
Yamaha is one of the most reliable companies around. Looking for a motorcycle? Yamaha is a great option. Want a drum set? Yamaha serves some of the best players on the planet. Need a better guitar? Yamaha might have some options that you’ll like!
Similar to Ibanez, Yamaha offers several student-level acoustic and electric guitars that occasionally make experienced players sneer. However, Yamaha also builds instruments that are applicable in pop or classical settings—and some of their highest-end options can cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
While peers might not gawk at your Yamaha guitar, it will provide you years of playing enjoyment, often at a fraction of the cost of similar guitars from other brands.
9. Epiphone Guitars
Epiphone is a sister company to Gibson that offers instruments at a variety of prices. Beginners tend to believe that if they can’t afford a Gibson, the next best thing is an Epiphone, especially since many of the parts are manufactured by the same factories.
Epiphone also offers a line of Les Paul guitars that provide a similar experience to their more expensive Gibson counterparts. Of course, they’re built with less expensive materials, but that makes them more accessible to intermediate-level players. The most expensive Epiphone Les Paul models will run you no more than $700.
10. Seagull Guitars
Seagull guitars are manufactured in Canada and aren’t as widely available in retail stores as some of the other brands on our list. Musicians find that if you can live without the names Martin or Taylor embossed on your headstock, some Seagull guitars outperform instruments that cost much more.
That doesn’t mean they’re cheap. Seagull’s “Artist” line features several guitars that approach the $2,000 mark. But those models also feature tonewoods like solid mahogany, which would cost several hundred dollars more on a comparable Martin or Taylor guitar.
11. Ovation Guitars
Ovation guitars are an acquired taste for some musicians. They’re known for their unique guitar bodies, which are constructed from materials such as fiberglass. This gives them a distinct sound that fingerstyle guitarists typically prefer.
Because they’re not made of traditional guitar tonewoods, they’re also fairly affordable. Some Ovation guitars cost just $500. And while you might not be able to use an Ovation guitar as your primary guitar, some musicians keep them on hand for specific applications where they find them appropriate.
12. Washburn Guitars
Washburn guitars are typically built for entry-level players (or at least guitarists on an entry-level budget). Many Washburns end up in garage sales after a musician has upgraded to a more expensive instrument—but that doesn’t mean they’re bad instruments.
Washburn doesn’t exclusively sell inexpensive guitars. Some of Washburn’s more expensive guitars include tonewoods such as spruce and maple, and they even have some of the appointments you’d find on a more “desirable” competitor.
13. Guild Guitars
Guild guitars might not have the panache of a Martin or Taylor, but they’re also widely regarded as quality mid-range instruments. While they’re often less expensive than those aforementioned brands, they tend to use the same dimensions and tonewoods as a Martin or a Taylor—and experts agree that they have a unique sound that justifies a spot on any musician’s guitar rack.
Some Guild guitars can cost several thousand dollars. However, you can typically find a Guild instrument with tonewoods such as mahogany for under $700.
14. Rickenbacker Guitars
You might have caught a glimpse of a Rickenbacker in the section about Gretsch guitars. If so, good catch! And as you might have guessed, Rickenbackers feature many of the same appointments as a Gretsch, including the notorious hollow body design.
Rickenbacker is one of the more aspirational brands on our list. Used Rickenbacker guitars can cost upwards of $5,000—and in many cases, guitarists prefer older models because of their build quality and unique vintage tones.
15. Paul Reed Smith Guitars
Paul Reed Smith (or PRS) guitars are often considered great value guitars, especially for musicians looking to play in rock or metal bands. Not only are they relatively affordable, but they’re built with a level of precision that you’d expect from a guitar that costs much more.
While the custom side of the PRS shop offers incredibly ornate instruments, most of their guitars can be had for between $600-1,000—including signature models that pros use in the studio.
Choose Your Axe Wisely
The process of picking your next guitar can be exhausting. A musician might make one model sound amazing, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll feel as comfortable playing the same instrument.
Use this guide as a starting point, but don’t stop here. Take a trip to your local guitar shop to try out a few different brands. You might discover that a brand that you had no interest in might offer a guitar that’s perfect for your playing.
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