The Best Guitar Brands in the World

Which one is the best for you?

One question I get asked incredibly often, specially from beginner guitarists is: “What are the best guitar brands.” It’s a pretty valid question given that in just about every industry there are brands that are known to be the most desirable and most reliable (not always at the same time) and therefore, the best. However, it works a little bit differently in the guitar industry. Sound quality often goes on par with price. Reliability is measured a little differently than say, cars, as most guitar companies easily make very reliable instruments. Finally, desirability is usually based on price, looks, artist endorsement and more importantly again, sound-quality.

As far as reliability goes, a guitar is actually quite simple to make reliable. Build, sound quality and playability are much more important than reliability per se, simply because if the guitar is at least half-decently made it usually turns out to be quite dependable. The biggest reliability issue would be a guitar that cannot stay in tune very long. This is something that often happens in regards to the build and material quality of acoustic guitars, but with electrics it’s something that can usually be corrected by swapping out the tuning machines to locking ones, or at least better-performing ones as well as setting the intonation and neck relief correctly.

But we do have the Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as the Toyotas and Nissans of the guitar world!

Now, to answer your question I would have to point out a series of popular brands and what they are popular for. After that, you make a decision on which one is best for you. You might see where I’m going with this. There is no single best guitar brand the same way there is no single best car brand. But we do have the Ferraris and Lamborghinis, as well as the Toyotas and Nissans of the guitar world!

So in no particular order necessarily, apart from putting first the ones I like best! 😉 …

Gibson: These guys have been making musical instruments for well over 100 years. Founded by Orville Gibson back in 1890 and not producing guitars at the time (and certainly not electrics because those hadn’t even been invented yet), Gibson has had plenty of time to cement itself as one of the leading guitar companies. They are one of the few to keep their main brand name as a prestige-only brand and applying a different brand name (Epiphone) to their imported, lesser-priced instruments. They invented the arch-top guitar and created some of the most iconic instruments in guitar-history. These includes their by far most famous model, the Les Paul. Other iconic models are the SG, Explorer, Flying V, ES-175 and the Firebird. The ES-175 was to become the first really popular electric guitar. This happened before solid body guitars had even been invented. To this day, the Gibson Les Paul remains one of the most desirable and expensive guitars in the world. In order to tap into various price-points, Gibson creates less expensive Les Paul models around the $1,000 range, like the very popular Les Paul Studio. The more expensive models such as the Les Paul Standard are up in the $2,500+ range. Finally, there are even more expensive models such as the Les Paul Custom in the vicinity of $3,000+. Off course, they also create some very special limited run guitars than can easily fetch close to the $10,000 mark. In line with the car analogy earlier: While not Italian, I’d be happy to call the $2,500+ Gibsons the Ferraris of the guitar industry.
Must not miss models:
Les Paul Studio, Explorer, SG Classic P-90.

Fender:  These guys have also been around for a long time and are just as iconic as Gibson. Especially for the creation of what could arguably be the most popular electric guitar of all time – The Fender Stratocaster. The Stratocaster may be one of the most popular guitars of all time, but it’s what led to it that really changed the guitar world forever. It’s the fact that the man responsible, Leo Fender, a visionary and dedicated workaholic, invented the first commercially successful solidbody electric guitar –an invention that has led to the incredible array of amazing electric solidbodies of today. It’s important to note that Rickenbacker had created a somewhat solid-body guitar back in 1935. However, it was small, kind of awkward and not completely solid or even actual wood. Some consider it the first solidbody, but by other standards most people still credit Fender for the design. There where still other semi-solidbody experiments at the time created by Les Paul himself as well as Paul Bigsby for Merle Travis but none of those actually caught on commercially the way the Fender (Esquire, then Broadcaster) did. Fender’s original solidbody guitar went through a number of refinements and name changes until it finally came to be known as the, Telecaster.

Fender Manufacturing was founded in 1946 and the first solidbody was launched in 1950. Like Gibson, Fender has an inexpensive brand line. It’s called Squier. The main difference is that Fender does not name all the inexpensive guitars under the Squier name, they actually put the Fender name on relatively inexpensive imported models too.
Must not miss models:
Highway 1 Stratocaster, American Standard Telecaster, Jaguar HH

Gretsch: Here’s another company that has been making instruments for over 100 years. Of German descent, Gretsch was established in Brooklyn in 1883 by Friedrich Gretsch. The company didn’t start making guitars until the early 1950’s when electric guitars actually became popular. With origins on banjos and mandolins, Gretsch has always been big in the country market. The endorsement by Chet Atkins has helped further cement this. Another very popular endorsee, Brian Setzer, has helped Gretsch hollowbody guitars earn a rightful place in guitar history. Like Gibson and Fender, they also produce basses, acoustics and amplifiers. Furthermore, Gretsch has a hugely successful line of drums. In 2003, Grestch set up an agreement with Fender essentially handing over the control of manufacturing and distribution. Most Grestch’s tend to be up in the pricier range. For more affordable Gretschs, look into the Electromatic series.
Must not miss models:
G6136T White Falcon with Bigsby,  Electromatic Pro Jet, Electromatic G5120 Hollowbody

Ibanez: Ibanez is a Japanese company whose origins date back to the early 1900’s with a company named Hoshino. They where distributing Spanish guitars with the name Ibanez around the middle of the century and in the 60’s where shipping guitars to the USA. Back in the 1970’s, they became quite known for making copies of famous guitars, putting the Ibanez name on them and selling them for considerably less than the original models they emulated. During that time, Ibanez got really good at making guitars so they started creating some original models of their own. The production of copies finally ended in the late 70’s after a big lawsuit by Norlin (Gibson parent company) against Ibanez. This is the reason why the Ibanez Les Paul copies with the iconic “open-book” headstock are called “lawsuit” or “pre-lawsuit” models. Interestingly enough, although not very expensive, those lawsuit models are quite desirable today fetching interesting prices on eBay.

History aside, modern-day Ibanez guitars are amazing instruments. They offer a very distinctive value and bang for your buck that is simply hard to match by other manufacturers. Ibanez has become huge in shred (fast lead playing) guitar and metal circles. High profile virtuosos like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Paul Gilbert have been greatly responsible for securing Ibanez’s place in super-fast, incredibly technical, shred guitar playing. Not to mention that Ibanez electric guitars simply feel “easy” to play, fast and comfortable. As far as ergonomics and playability, Ibanez guitars are hard to beat. Plus, you can get some very good inexpensive models too. If I where going to call a brand, “the Toyota of the guitar industry,” it would be Ibanez.
Must not miss models:
RG321, Joe Satriani JS100, S5470 Prestige, Jet King II

Other important mentions

  • Rickenbacker – Southern California early days big player alongside Fender, Gibson & Gretsch.
  • Jackson – Fender family, keen on metal.
  • Schecter – Also very keen on metal. Think Avenged Sevenfold.
  • ESP – Another wonder of Japanese origin. Often in the hands of James Hetfield of Metallica. Synonym with George Lynch.
  • PRS – High profile and usually very expensive. Think Santana and flying bird inlays.
  • Yamaha – Japan again, in strides. Great models for good prices.
  • Music Man – Aimed mostly at professional players with… coin. No real cheapies here.
  • Parker – Did I say expensive and professional for Music Man? I meant Parker 😉
  • Taylor – Famous name in acoustics is pumping out some seriously amazing electrics of late. No cheapies to be found here either.
  • G&L – Another Leo Fender offspring. Guess what the “L” stands for? Quality, these ones.
  • Vox – Had to mention these guys. Very famous for amps, but their recent electric guitars are impressing multitudes.
  • Martin & Co. – OM-gosh! Sorry I left Martin for last! They very well should be at the top of this list. As you may have noticed, this article focuses quite a bit more on electrics, otherwise Breedlove and Guild would be at the top of the list too!


At one point or another in your musical life someone is going to as you what the best guitar brand is.  By now you’ve probably figured out that there’s no single “best guitar brand.” The verdict would likely go along the lines of what is the best guitar brand for you or your needs as a guitarist. There are some good suggestions that can be made with the above information along with some personal insight. Things like:

  1. If you are a beginner and you want to stick with a beginner’s budget, an Epiphone, a sub $300 Ibanez and a Mexican Stratocaster or Telecater are all guitars that all hard to beat.
  2. If you have experience or are planning on sticking around for a long time, at some point you’ll desire a Gibson Les Paul.  Most guitarists tend to want one of those at some point of another. Be prepared to shed $700-$1,000 for a Studio and $1,700 – $3000 plus, for something more… exotic.
  3. At some point you should own a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster, or both! You can’t really call youself a guitarist if you haven’t had one of these at some point.
  4. If you are into metal and like to play fast, might as well buy an Ibanez, ESP or Schecter. They don’t generally have the mojo of a classic-looking Tele or Gibson ES-335, but they shred bloody fast. Plus, metal players are not usually interested in mojo. Leave that to the blues and classic rock guys who worship Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
  5. If you are on a budget and want a good guitar, independent of the brand, buying a used guitar is one of the best ways to get the most guitar for your money.

Final thoughts

Don’t focus too much on a specific brand simply because someone told you it was the best. Try many models form many different companies. Finally, buy a guitar for its sound and how it makes you feel when you play it. You can likely find a great guitar that will fit you perfectly from most of the manufacturers listed on this page.

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  1. First, I’ve been playing the acoustic guitar for over 2 years now.
    I finally decided to switch to the electric.

    1) I listen to Jimmy Page, Dave Gilmour, John Pettruci and Joe Satriani. I would be Trying to play their songs for starters. I’m looking at a guitar for under $500.
    After some researching on the web I narrowed down to the Stratocaster and the Ibanez series.
    Which of these guitars would you recommend? ( Sound quality, feel, tone)

    2) I have Logic Express & Garage band on my mac. Both these softwares come with a range of amps.
    I wanted to know how I could connect the guitar to the mac ( I’m lost here, since my acoustic Does not have a pick up & the only way I’ve recorded stuff is with a mic, which makes the sound Very noisy)

    3) I looked at your post carefully and seems like the Gibsons and Epiphones are only for those Who can spend. Are there any lower end counterparts which can match their sound?

    4) What other equipment do I need ( like amps, cords etc)

    1. Hi Sairam, let me try and answer your questions one by one:
      1. A Strat and an Ibanez, RG or S are very different guitars. The fact that you listen to Gilmour and Jimmy Page makes recommending a Strat a good idea, (although Page is more known for a Gibson sound – but yes he would play a Strat every once in a while). But, the other two guys, Petrucci and Satch, are on the other end of the scale – An Ibanez would fit their style better. The bottom line is you can play all the songs with either, but the way I see it is this… If you want more of a bluesy, somewhat twangy and soulful tone – go Strat. If you lean more towards higher distortion, more boldness and speed, go Ibanez. I you give me a high-gain amp for example, I’d go Ibanez all the way!

      2. These days there are tons of interfaces for recording guitar available, and I mean tons. Basically, you need and interface that’s either USB or Firewire to plug into your computer. The interface would run on supporting software. From there you can record into Logic or Garageband. I even have an article I wrote a while back on learning to record your stuff here.

      3. Gibsons are quite expensive yes. You’ll be hard pressed to find a new one for under $600, but Epis are not. You can spend about $500 for a nice Epiphone Les Paul. It’s a good option, sounds like a Les Paul and it costs a lot less than a Gibson. Definitely not a bad place to start for your first electric!

      All the best, and please stick around, Danny

      1. Thanks Danny

        I think I’ll look into the strats for starters. I also came across this interesting amp called the Fender Mustang, which comes with USB connectivity. Have you any opinions on that one?

        1. Hi, a Strat would be an excellent choice. For your budget, I’d take my time and find a good used Highway 1 Stratocaster. Those sound great and a relatively inexpensive American made models. I see those selling between $450 and $550. I’m not all that familiar with the Mustang amp, but if the reviews are anything to go by, sounds like a very nice amp .-Danny

  2. No real argument with this list. I personally would have put Fender above Gibson, but that’s my preference. It’s interesting how those guitar companies compliment each other. It’s like, they’re competitors, but there’s no real rivalry between them.

    One minor gripe: Fender’s cheapest line is Squier and they clearly say “By Fender” on them in small letters next to the bigger font Squier logo. They really are cruddy guitars and are not of equal caliber to Epiphone. Mexican strats are more in line with Epiphone’s relation with Gibson. Difference is that they use better parts (wood, tuners, etc…) than the Squier. Unfortunately, Mexican strats do not indicate anywhere that they are different than American strats. They are visually identical unless you’re a complete guitar nerd. They have an MX prefix in their serial number which is the only way for a layman to know it’s not American. Mexican strats aren’t bad, they’re just not as good as American ones. They use five pieces of wood compared to three for the American ones.Their workmanship is hit or miss. Some of them sound just as good as American ones but then fall out of tune easily. Epiphone guitars are probably a higher quality guitar than the Mexican Fenders.

    I shop craigslist a lot and my blood boils when I see a Fender Strat advertised and find that it’s actually a Squier.

    1. zeeter… Great comment. Are you the guy who joined my old forum a while back and used to help a lot with comments and such? If so, welcome back to the new sixstringsensei.com 🙂 If not, then welcome anyway.

      Good point, by the way. I should probably add some of that to the article when I review it. But hey, I guess you just did! Admittedly, I’d proudly play an Epi, while I would not so proudly play a Squier. I would also gladly buy an Epi, where I would never buy a Squier.

      Stick around. -Danny

  3. Has anyone out there ever heard of a guitar brand called “Finest”. If so, are/were they US or another country. I have googled, aol’d, asked Jeeves and can’t find any reference for the name, let alone any rep for guitar making. I’m looking at one that is for sale on ebay and wanted to know more about the company. The seller doesn’t know much more about it than I do. Any clues?

    1. Unfortunately, I haven’t. There are plenty of companies/shops that sometimes launch unknown brands. Some of these are good, some are not. I used to sell a local brand of guitars distributed by what was the biggest guitar shop in Puerto Rico. The brand was called Richman Guitars distributed but Villa Music. That was an example of an obscure guitar brand that was actually really good. Those guitars were great. I’d say, if the price is right, try one of those “Finest.” However, treat it as an obscure brand and know that it will likely never increase or hold its value. Make sure you know what you are getting into though. There’s always the chance they might not be good at all. -D

      1. Hi I’m from Puerto Rico and I have one of the signature series and been looking for another of their guitars but villa music has closed where can I find them?

        1. Man, I wish I had a couple more of those. Unfortunately, those where special ordered by Villa and there are simply no more of them at I know of. -Good luck.

  4. Hi,

    The great thing about these cheap electric guitars is they are excellent quality and extremely cheap when compared to what you would pay for the same quality guitar with a known brand name on it. Especially their Agile guitars.

  5. Great article! I think especially the cheaper guitars have come a long a way since the 80s. Unlike what some people say, I find the quality is lot better nowadays than it used to be.

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