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The best rock guitars 2021: Embrace your inner Eddie Van Halen or Slash with this killer collection

The best rock guitars 2021: Embrace your inner Eddie Van Halen or Slash with this killer collection
(Image credit: Future)

You've listened, you've watched, you've admired, but now it's time to give it a go for yourself - I mean, how hard can it be to transform yourself into a rock guitar god, right? Well, for starters you’ll need one of the best rock guitars in this guide.

If you're here, then you've decided to take the plunge and grab yourself an electric guitar that is ready to rock. Luckily we've put together this handy guide to help you navigate through the different types of guitars used in hard rock, as well as examples of the best rock guitars you can buy right now, at a range of price points.

Whether you're longing for a Gibson Les Paul, got your heart set on a Fender Stratocaster, or tempted by a Fender Telecaster, we've narrowed down the choices to help you make the right decision and get you started on the road to rock-stardom. 

To make things easier, we've listed the guitars in price order, from budget-friendly to high-end. So read on to see our picks for the best rock guitars out there right now. 

Best rock guitars: Louder’s Choice

The Gibson Les Paul has been the backbone of rock ‘n’ roll since it was introduced way back in 1952. This iconic instrument is beloved by many guitar legends from Jimmy Page to Slash, Joe Perry to Joe Bonamassa, for its hard-hitting tone and elegant looks. That’s why it has to be our top pick for the best rock guitar. The Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s stays true to its roots and harkens back to what made these guitars so iconic. Through good times, bad times we will always give the Gibson Les Paul… a whole lotta love. 

If you find yourself gravitating towards a Fender style guitar, then we have to point you in the direction of the Vintera ’50s Telecaster Modified, a modern take on a Fender classic that delivers big on tone. 

Best rock guitars: Product guide

Best rock guitars: Squier Bullet Mustang HH

(Image credit: Fender )

1. Squier Bullet Mustang HH

An affordable guitar with plenty of… teen spirit

Price: £109/$179 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24" | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Squier humbuckers | Controls: Master volume, tone | Hardware: Chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Imperial Blue, Sonic Gray, Black

Great value for money 
Classic offset looks 
A little basic for some players 

The Mustang has always been an underground icon, with players such as Kurt Cobain, Bilinda Butcher, Thurston Moore and David Byrne embracing the offset guitars unique look and sound. Initially released in 1964, the Mustang was intended to be nothing more than a student guitar, but would go on to help define the sound of the 90s. 

The Squier Bullet Mustang HH follows in the footsteps of the modified guitars of the grunge scene, opting for dual humbucking pickups, and a simplified control layout. The thin C shaped neck and shorter scale length make this a very comfortable guitar to play - especially if you’re just starting out on your guitar journey. 

So, if you’re looking for a guitar that invokes the feel of the early 90s, but won't break the bank, then definitely consider the Squier Bullet Mustang HH. 

Best rock guitars: Epiphone ES-335 Dot

(Image credit: Epiphone)

2. Epiphone Dot ES-335

Class for a great price

Price: £379/$449 | Body: Laminated maple | Neck: Mahogany, 1960s SlimTaper D-shape | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Alnico Classic Humbucker (neck), Alnico Classic Plus Humbucker (bridge) | Controls: 2 volume, 2 tone, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: LockTone Tune-O-Matic, stopbar tailpiece, Grover 18:1 tuners | Finish: Cherry, Vintage Sunburst

Amazing price
Lightweight
Classic tones
Won’t handle heavier styles as well as a solidbody

Before solidbody guitars took over in the early 1950s, hollowbody guitars were all the rage, but they had one problem: a tendency to feed back when exposed to loud volume. Gibson sought to solve the problem with the ES-335, a semi-hollowbody that bridged the gap thanks to a solid wood block that runs through the middle of the guitar.

Gibson’s budget brand Epiphone does a great version of the 335, with a maple top and sides, easy-playing SlimTaper neck and Alnico Classic humbuckers for the vintage-voiced sounds that Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton and Noel Gallagher found so appealing.

Best rock guitars: Epiphone SG Special P-90

(Image credit: Epiphone )

3. Epiphone SG Special P-90

Classic sounds of the 60s on a budget

Price: £324/$399 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.72" | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Epiphone P-90 PRO™ Soap Bar | Controls: 2x volume, 2x tone | Hardware: Chrome | Left-handed: No | Finish: Faded Pelham Blue, Sparkling Burgundy

Sounds fantastic
Great playability    
The wrap tailpiece isn't the best 

You can't have a list of the best rock guitars and not include a P-90 loaded axe! The P90 is a single-coil pickup originally produced by Gibson as far back as 1946. Unlike its Fender counterpart, the P90 has a more aggressive, fatter tone perfect for rock, so it's no wonder it's a favourite of Billie Joe Armstrong, Carlos Santana and Tony Iommi

The Epiphone SG Special not only delivers on sound but also on playability. The 60s slim taper neck is a dream to play, and the rolled edges add an extra level of comfort. Top it off with the return of the Kalamazoo headstock, and you have one excellent looking, great sounding rock guitar. 

Best rock guitars: Gretsch G5222 Electromatic Double Jet BT

(Image credit: Gretsch)

4. Gretsch G5222 Electromatic Double Jet

For those about to rock

Price: £329/$549 | Body: Mahogany with Arched Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Black Top Broad’Tron | Controls: Volume 1. (Neck Pickup), Volume 2. (Bridge Pickup), Master Volume, Master Tone | Hardware: Chrome | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Natural, Jade Grey Metallic, London Grey, Walnut Stain

Something different
Great sounding pickups    
Not most versatile 

When we think of the Gretsch Jet, we instantly think of the classic tones produced by Malcolm Young. Although this isn't exactly the same model used by the famed rhythm guitarist, it will get you pretty close to that sound and at a fraction of the price. 

Gretsch is known for its bright and highly articulate sound, and the Gretsch G5222 is no different. The Black Top Broad'Tron pickups certainly impress with how accurately they reproduce the classic Gretsch tones. 

So if you’re looking for a guitar that is easy to play, gorgeous to look at, and can reproduce the sounds of classic AC/DC songs, then definitely check this one out.  

Best rock guitars: PRS SE Custom 24

(Image credit: PRS )

5. PRS SE Custom 24

Great looks balanced with quality performance

Price: £800/$779 | Body: Mahogany w/ maple top | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x 85/15 'S' humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone (w/ 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

Superb performance
Stunning looks
Excellent price
Not as ‘classic’ as Fender and Gibson designs

PRS Guitars are seen as the Ferrari or Porsche of guitar design, with high performance – and often an accompanying high price tag – at the top of the agenda. Thankfully, Paul Reed Smith sought to bring that attention to detail to the masses with the SE series, which offers the best possible bang for your buck in this price range.

The SE Custom 24 is PRS’s cut-price take on its flagship model, offering 24 frets and a range of beautifully finished maple tops that give Gibson a run for their money. PRS’s other killer app is its own-brand hardware, which is absolutely top-notch, and its range of pickups, which all offer coil-split options for unparalleled versatility.

Best rock guitars: Fender Vintera ’50s Telecaster Modified

(Image credit: Fender )

6. Fender Vintera ’50s Telecaster Modified

A great guitar to play – with classic looks

Price: £830/$999 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple (soft ‘V’) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Custom Shop Vintage-Style Single-Coil Tele (bridge), Custom Shop ‘Twisted’ Single-Coil Tele (neck) | Controls: 1 volume, 1 tone, 4-way pickup selector switch, S-1 Switch | Hardware: 3-saddle vintage-style strings-through body Tele bridge, vintage-style tuning machines | Finish: Daphne Blue, Surf Green

Classic Tele looks
Loads of extra sounds
Modern playability
Vintage purists will want to look elsewhere

The Telecaster was the first mass-produced solidbody electric guitar – and it’s still going strong today. This is the original workhorse electric guitar, with two single-coil pickups and a whole lot of attitude.

This Vintera model is one of Fender’s latest takes on the Telecaster, and combines the best of vintage and modern specs. While the looks are pure ’50s, the playability is more comfortable thanks to a modern neck shape, while a concealed S-1 Switch allows you to unlock more humbucker-esque and out-of-phase tones, making this just about the most versatile Telecaster on the market. 

Best rock guitars: Gibson SG Tribute

(Image credit: Gibson )

7. Gibson SG Tribute

Looking for something comfortable and easy to play?

Price: £950/$1,099 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple, rounded | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 490R humbucker (neck), 490T humbucker (bridge) | Controls: 2 volume, 2 tone, 3-way pickup selector switch | Hardware: Aluminium Nashville Tune-O-Matic, Aluminium Stop Bar tailpiece, Vintage Deluxe tuners | Finish: Vintage Cherry Satin, Natural Walnut

Light weight
Great upper-fret access
Easy to play
Not as great to look at as a Les Paul

Gibson’s ‘other’ rock guitar was a sequel of sorts to the Les Paul – early runs even bore the guitarist and innovator’s name – but soon fostered an altogether heavier audience, finding itself in the hands of Tony Iommi, Angus Young and Frank Zappa.

The SG’s big plus points are the easy upper-fret access, relatively light weight and a slender, easy-to-play neck, which is set into the body for increased sustain.

This particular incarnation not only offers great value for money, but great tones, too, with a pair of riff-friendly Alnico II magnet-loaded humbucker pickups. The model’s stripped-back vibe perfectly matches its no-nonsense sonic aesthetic.

Best rock guitars: Fender American Performer Stratocaster HSS

(Image credit: Fender )

8. Fender American Performer Stratocaster HSS

Smooth as a knife through butter - with some added rock

Price: £999/$1,249 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple, Modern ‘C’ | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple/rosewood (finish-dependent) | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2 Yosemite Single-Coil Stratocaster (neck, middle), Double Tap humbucker (bridge) | Controls: 1 volume, 1 tone (w/ push/pull coil split), 5-way pickup selector switch | Hardware: 6-saddle vintage-style Synchronized Tremolo, American Performer tuning machines | Finish: 3-Color Sunburst, Aubergine, Black, Satin Surf Green

Excellent range of tones, from subtle to rock
Bonus tonal options
Smooth playability
Not one for vintage-spec enthusiasts

The Stratocaster is one of the all-time great electric guitar designs, beloved of David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore, and although Fender hasn’t messed too much with the formula over the years, it has added a number of bonus features.

For some guitarists, equipping a Stratocaster with a humbucker bridge pickup amounts to sacrilege, but hear us out: here, it enables you to wring more muscular rock tones out of the typically brash bridge position, plus this American Performer model has a killer coil-split function, where that humbucker is transformed into a single coil, so you get the best of both worlds! A comfortable satin-finished Modern C neck ensures great playability, too.

Best rock guitars: EVH Striped Series

(Image credit: EVH)

9. EVH Striped Series

Eddie Van Halen... enough said!

Price: £1,299/$1,199 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Quartersawn maple, EVH Modified ‘C’ Backshape | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Direct Mount EVH Wolfgang humbucker | Controls: 1 volume (labelled ‘tone’) w/ treble-bleed circuit | Hardware: EVH-Branded Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo w/ EVH D-Tuna, EVH-Branded Gotoh tuners | Finish: Red w/ Black Stripes, Black w/ Yellow Stripes, White w/ Black Stripes

The ultimate EVH guitar
Hot-rodded spec
Superb rock tone
It doesn’t do subtle - in looks or sound!

No prizes for guessing the inspiration behind this bestriped wonder, but if your tastes lie in a certain era of hard-rock excess, this is your guy. Harking back to the era where the likes of Eddie Van Halen modded their solidbodies into ‘SuperStrats’, this Striped Series model has one setting: Rock, with a capital 'R'.

Here, you get a single EVH Wolfgang bridge humbucker, designed to be run into an overdriven amp for the tight rhythms and dizzying lead pyrotechnics with which its namesake made his name.

Other features include a hand-rubbed oil finish on the speed-orientated fretboard and a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, built for divebombs without going out of tune. It also boasts a D-Tuna to quickly drop the low E string down to D – perfect for getting your Unchained on.

Best rock guitars: Gibson Les Paul

(Image credit: Gibson )

10. Gibson Les Paul Standard ’50s

Get a classic sound which also looks amazing

Price: £1,945/$2,499 | Body: Mahogany w/ maple top | Neck: Mahogany (vintage ’50s profile) | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Burstbucker 1 (neck), Burstbucker 2 (bridge) | Controls: 2 volumes, 2 tones, 3-way pickup selector switch | Hardware: ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic, aluminium stopbar tailpiece, vintage deluxe tuners | Finish: Gold Top, Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Tobacco Burst

The definitive rock guitar tone
Gorgeous looks
The mahogany body and maple top make it a heavy beast
The price

Based on the most coveted of Les Pauls from the 1950s, this Gibson is the real deal, packing the looks, playability and tones that came to define rock.

That stunning maple top will be the first thing to catch your eye, of course – particularly in this choice of Gold Top, Heritage Cherry Sunburst and Tobacco Burst - but this LP sounds as good as it looks, courtesy of a set of calibrated Burstbucker humbuckers, which deliver plenty of output for those wailing leads and hard-rocking rhythms.

The one sticking point is the price, but if you’re serious about nailing the classic-rock vibe – and you want something that looks good in your living room to boot – this is the one.

Best rock guitars: Buying advice

Best rock guitars: Slash live in concert with a Gibson Les Paul

(Image credit: Future)

Body type 

When it comes to electric guitars, there are a few primary shapes - Les Paul, SG, Stratocaster, Telecaster, ES-335 – each style offers its own sound and characteristics, so choosing the right one is extremely important. 

Let's start with the differences between a solidbody and a hollowbody guitar. Pre-1950, all you'd be able to buy was hollowbody guitars – these are the bigger-bodied models with f-holes, like many jazz and blues players still employ today. These instruments produce a clear, woody tone perfect for cleaner styles of music. Be warned they can suffer from feedback issues at higher volumes or played with a heavier guitar tone. 

Solidbody guitars – like the Les Paul or Tele – are made from a solid piece of wood. This gives the guitar a more aggressive and focused sound, perfect for playing at higher volumes.  

Perhaps you find yourself looking for the best of both worlds. Well, in that case, you need a Semi-hollow guitar – such as the classic Gibson ES-335. These guitars are produced just like a hollow guitar but have a solid centre block to help increase sustain and reduce feedback. 

Pickups 

The next factor to consider is the pickups. Like the body type, which pickup you choose drastically changes the tone of your guitar.  

So what do the pickups do? Well, very basically, the pickup is what turns the vibrations from the string into an electrical signal that then goes to the amplifier. The two main types of pickup found on rock guitars are single coils and humbuckers.

Single coils tend to be found on Fender style guitars – they produce a relatively low output that's dynamic with a bright top-end and great clarity. An unfortunate side effect is they do tend to pick up mains hum, and this only gets worse with increased gain and volume. The humbucker resolves this issue – it literally bucks hum! 

Humbuckers are usually found in Gibson style electric guitars, producing a higher output than single coils, with more low-end and a fatter overall tone, which makes them so beloved for rock music.

In addition, the P90 is a single coil pickup that has the grunt and output of a humbucker, and is an excellent choice if you want the best of both worlds. 

Since the late, great Eddie Van Halen crammed a humbucker into his Stratocaster-style body in the late-'70s, you'll find humbuckers in a variety of modern Strat-style guitars, too – they're commonly known as SuperStrats, and they're ready to rock.

So, suppose you're a fan of a particular body shape but seeking a different sound. In that case, it pays to keep an eye out for that model with a different pickup configuration or the ability to coil-split – where a humbucker is split to produce a single-coil sound.

So there you have it, that's our guide to the best rock guitars. We feel like you really can't go wrong with any guitar on this list. So whatever guitar you choose, just tune-up, plug-in and rock on - we salute you!