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Best Electric Guitars 2021: 12 Fine Electrics For Intermediate To Pro Players

Best Electric Guitars 2021: 12 Fine Electrics For Intermediate To Pro Players
(Image credit: Future)

The electric guitar - the ultimate symbol of defiance, individualism, and the epitome of cool - It's the James Dean of the instrument world. Offering an unparalleled level of expression and creativity, it's easy to see why this glorious instrument has captured the hearts of so many. In this guide, we’re breaking down the very best electric guitars out there right now, and why we think they deserve your attention, and more importantly, your hard-earned cash.  

Now, we are well aware that the best electric guitar means different things to different people. Some players are looking for a workhorse guitar that can easily handle the harsh conditions of the road. In contrast, some are seeking a beautifully handcrafted instrument that looks just as good as it sounds. 

As a result, we have been rather selective with our choices, picking guitars that we believe are fully giggable, reliable, and showcase fantastic craftsmanship, we aren’t too concerned with entry-level or beginner instruments here - we’ll save that for another guide. So, no matter if you’re a blues lick aficionado, a jazz-cat, or a classic rock shedder you’ll be sure to find something to get excited about in this guide. 

Best electric guitars: Guitar Player picks

It's a difficult task to recommend just two of the best electric guitars. Still, if we were forced to, it would have to be the Fender American Pro II Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul Standard. Of course, this is a battle older than time itself and one we don't wish to crown a winner of, but if you find yourself leaning towards the bright, sparkly tones of single-coils, and have a penchant for light vibrato action, then it's worth keeping the Stratocaster in mind. We believe the American Pro II is one of the best iterations of the Strat we've seen in a very long time.  

Need a little more grunt and power from your new electric guitar? Well, in that case, the Gibson Les Paul might be more appropriate. Famed for its intense sustain, punchy mid-range, and drop-dead-gorgeous looks, this is easily one of the best electric guitars on the planet - and Gibson has knocked it out of the park with the new Original collection. 

Best electric guitars: Product guide

Best electric guitars: Gibson Les Paul Standard

(Image credit: Gibson )

1. Gibson Les Paul Standard '60s

One of the best electric guitars setting the standard

Price: $2,499/£1,999 | Body: Mahogany/ AA Figured Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Burstbucker 61R/61T | Controls: 2 Volumes, 2 Tones & Toggle Switch (Hand-wired with Orange Drop Capacitors) | Hardware: Nickel ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic | Finish: Iced Tea, Bourbon Burst, Unburst

A tone to die for 
Hand-wired with Orange Drop capacitors 
Gorgeous looks  
Can be heavy for some players  

 

We are kicking off this list with a guitar every guitarist should play at some point. Originally released in 1952 - albeit in a very different guise - the Les Paul has gone on to define rock 'n' roll and become a cultural icon. 

Gibson has taken a back-to-basics approach with the Les Paul Standard '60s and released a guitar that harkens back to the golden era of this stunning single-cut. Featuring Gibson's tried and true combination of a solid mahogany body, an elegant flame-maple top, and a highly playable slim taper neck. This guitar behaves exactly how you would expect for a Gibson Les Paul, offering an intense amount of sustain, and righteous mid-range bark. This is capped off with the classic Tune-O-Matic bridge, aluminum stop bar tailpiece, Grover Rotomatic "Kidney" tuners, and gold top-hat knobs with silver reflectors completing the 1960s aesthetic. 

Bringing the noise is a set of Burstbucker 61R/61T pickups. These Alnico V pickups are dripping with vintage mojo and offer a clear, punchy tone that can't help but invoke sounds of rock royalty. 

Best electric guitars: Fender American Pro II Stratocaster

(Image credit: Fender )

2. Fender American Pro II Stratocaster

The American Pro gets a face-lift

Price: $1,499/£1,599 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple/Rosewood | Frets: 22 Narrow Tall | Pickups: V-Mod II Single-Coil Strat | Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck/Middle Pickups), Tone 2. (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: 2-Point Synchronized Tremolo with Bent Steel Saddles, Pop-In Tremolo Arm and Cold-Rolled Steel Block | Finish: Miami Blue, Black, Dark Night, Mercury, Mystic Surf Green, Olympic White, Roasted Pine, Sienna Sunburst, 3-Color Sunburst

Great pickups
Improved neck profile
Massive range of finishes  
Not for the vintage purist  

The Fender Stratocaster is arguably the most versatile guitar of all time. The three-pickups and five-way switch offer a range of tones you simply can't achieve on other guitars - with clever switching and parlor tricks, you can get close, but you can't nail those Strat tones perfectly without a genuine Stratocaster. 

The American Pro II is the sequel to the acclaimed guitar released in 2017. Like most second installments, this guitar is very similar to its predecessor, with a few minor changes. The popular "deep C" neck now sports rolled edges for a more comfortable feel, making it even easier to play those Jimi chords with your thumb. 

The newly updated V-Mod II single-coil pickups offer all the tones you'd expect from a high-quality Strat, while the redesigned 2-point tremolo with a cold-rolled steel block increases sustain and clarity. 

Best electric guitars: Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster

(Image credit: Fender )

3. Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster

A Jazzmaster for modern sensibilities

Price: $1,999/£1,771 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple/Rosewood | Frets: 21 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazzmaster | Controls: Volume 1. (Neck Pickup, S1 Switch), Volume 2. (Bridge Pickup), Master Tone, Slide Switch, Volume Offset 1 (Neck Pickup), Volume 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: American Professional Jazzmaster | Finish: Cobra Blue, Mocha Burst, Ultraburst

Noiseless pickups that actually sound great!
Great finish options 
One of the most comfortable Jazzmasters on the market  
Some players may not like having lots of switches  

The Jazzmaster hasn't changed all that much since it made its debut in 1958 - quite the year for the electric guitar! - and the Fender American Ultra Jazzmaster might just be the most technologically advanced the offset has ever been. 

Fender applies the Ultra treatment to this underground classic, turning it into the ultimate modern Jazzmaster. This guitar is a breeze to play, featuring an incredibly comfortable "modern D" profile neck with a 10"-14" compound-radius fingerboard. While the tapered neck heel allows unprecedented access to the higher frets. 

You never need to worry about excess noise, as the Jazzmaster comes loaded with a set of Ultra Noiseless Vintage Jazzmaster pickups, bringing all the vintage flavor you'd ever want, just without the hum! There are also other hidden tonal secrets under the hood, such as a treble bleed circuit to maintain high-end at any volume and an S-1 switch to override the pickup selector toggle and activates both pickups in series. So if you are looking for a modern take on a classic, then this guitar is definitely worth considering. 

Best electric guitars: PRS Special Semi-Hollow

(Image credit: PRS )

4. PRS Special Semi-Hollow

Is this the most versatile PRS ever?

Price: $4,299/£3,999 | Body: Mahogany/ Flame Maple Top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 25" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 58/15 LT Treble, PRS Narrowfield, 58/15 LT Bass | Controls: Volume and Tone Control with 5-Way Blade Pickup Switch and Two Mini-Toggle Coil-Tap Switches | Hardware: PRS Patented Tremolo, Gen III | Finish: Antique White, Aquamarine, Black Gold Wrap Burst, Charcoal Burst, Charcoal Cherry Burst, Dark Cherry Sunburst, Faded Whale Blue, Fire Red Burst, Yellow Tiger

Unbelievably versatile
A work of art to look at
So many finish options    
Some players may find it a little complicated
Expensive

The latest offering from Paul Reed Smith is a marvel of engineering, beautifully combining artful looks with practical features, resulting in one of the most versatile PRS guitars we've ever played.  

At the heart of the guitar sits the PRS Narrowfield, sandwiched between two 58/15 LT humbuckers - a deadly combination that certainly delivers a massive range of tones. The Narrowfield delivers the single-coil clarity and bite, with the added benefit of zero hum, whereas the two humbuckers could easily bring the house down. In case that wasn't enough, the 5-way position switch, and dual toggle switches mean you can have 12 different tones! 

This guitar is available in a jaw-dropping 19 finishes! From Charcoal Burst and Faded Whale Blue to the delicious Dark Cherry Sunburst there really is a finish to suit every player’s tastes. The smooth mahogany neck isn’t too dissimilar to a vintage style Gibson and feels suitability reassuring in your hands. 

Read our full PRS Special Semi-Hollow review  

Best electric guitars: Yamaha SA2200

(Image credit: Yamaha )

5. Yamaha SA2200

For the player seeking elegance and class

Price: $1,999/£1,699 | Body: Laminated Sycamore / Soft Maple Center Block | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24-3/4" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Yamaha Humbucker/Alnico V | Controls: Front Volume, Rear Volume, Front Tone, Rear Tone, 3-Position Toggle Switch | Hardware: Gotoh GE103B | Finish: Violin Sunburst, Brown Sunburst

Playability is second to none
Superb build quality  
At this price, some players might want a Gibson 

Whether Yamaha is making guitars, pianos, trumpets, mixing desks, or motorbikes they do it to the absolute highest standard - and nothing showcases this more than the Yamaha SA2200. This elegantly turned-out hollowbody proudly wears its influence on its sleeve, but strays from the proven formula slightly with the addition of immaculate gold hardware and heavily flamed Sycamore body. However, traditionalists will be happy to hear that there is a maple center block present at the heart of this classy guitar, and it provides the much-needed mid-range push and feedback-busting qualities you'd expect from an ES-style guitar. 

The mahogany neck feels thin, fast, and insanely playable. This is the type of guitar you could play for hours and hours without fatigue - which you will want to do once you plug it in! The ebony fingerboard carries on the theme of high-end and luxury, while the split block inlays clearly take inspiration from the likes of the ES-345.

Suppose you are in the market for a reliable, well-built, gorgeous semi-hollow guitar. In that case, Yamaha SA2200 is one of the best around. It really does have it all - the sound, the look, the feel - and certainly gives the Gibson a run for its money. 

Best electric guitars: Gibson SG Standard

(Image credit: Gibson )

6. Gibson SG Standard

Shoot to thrill with this Gibson classic

Price: $1,499/£1,189 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 490R/490T | Controls: 2 Volumes, 2 Tones & Toggle Switch (Hand-wired with Orange Drop Capacitors) | Hardware: Nickel ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic | Finish: Heritage Cherry, Ebony

Who doesn’t love a cherry SG?
Lightweight design 
There are more versatile guitars out there 

The Gibson SG - the horned devil that has been the best-selling Gibson Guitar of all time. This solid mahogany guitar has not just been a firm favorite of Angus Young, but also Derek Truck, Tony Iommi, and Frank Zappa. 

We don’t need to tell you that the SG was released in 1961, as a direct response to the dwindling sales of the Les Paul, as this is pretty much common knowledge at this point, but one thing a lot of players get wrong about the Gibson’s “Solid Guitar”, is they think it’s just a slimmed-down LP. Well, in fact, the feel and - more importantly - sound completely different. Hence why both have earned a spot on our list. 

The Gibson SG Standard has a tighter bottom-end and more pronounced upper mids and means it cuts like a knife on stage - not to mention it is significantly lighter! This year’s version of the iconic guitar features a ‘60s rounded neck profile, bound rosewood fingerboard, long tenon, and of course a solid mahogany body. 

Best electric guitars: Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent Goldie

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

7. Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent Goldie

A new gold standard for Music Man

Price: $2,999/£3,599 | Body: Okoume | Neck: Figured roasted maple neck | Scale: 25-1/2" | Fingerboard: Ebony (Cashmere & Silk Charmeuse); Rosewood (Velveteen) | Frets: 22 medium | Pickups: 3 Music Man custom mini-humbuckers with chrome covers and gold foil | Controls: 250kohm volume and tone - .047µF tone capacitor/ 5-way lever pickup selector | Hardware: St. Vincent Modern tremolo with solid brass saddles | Finish: Cashmere, Velveteen, Silk Charmeuse

Very versatile
One of the most comfortable necks you'll ever play  
The look isn't for everyone 

This has to be one of the most unique-looking guitars on the market today. Its hour-glass figure is reminiscent of the Gibson Firebird but more angular and futuristic - maybe if Ray Dietrich designed hover cars, this is the guitar he would have made. 

It's not all about the looks, though. This striking guitar has a pretty impressive list of specs. The Okoume body - similar to the more traditional mahogany - is complemented by the figured roasted maple neck and jet black ebony fingerboard. The gunstock oil and hand-rubbed special wax gives the neck an incredibly smooth feel. Trust us, this is one of the best feeling guitars you'll ever play - it's effortless. 

At the center of this guitar is a trio of gold-foil-ish pickups. Like the original St Vincent, these pickups are actually mini-humbuckers, not true gold-foils. Don't be disappointed, though, as there's plenty of top-end and harmonic content in these mighty little pickups to give you the complex tone you're looking for. So if you are looking for a truly unique guitar that's deceptively versatile and effortless to play, then this might be the guitar for you.

Best electric guitars: Epiphone ES-339

(Image credit: Epiphone )

8. Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-339

A shrunk down ES with a massive tone

Price: $499/£439 | Body: Laminated Maple | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Epiphone Alnico Classic PRO | Controls: Neck Pickup Volume, Bridge Pickup Volume, Neck Pickup Tone, Bridge Pickup Tone | Hardware: LockTone Tune-o-matic | Finish: Cherry, Pelham Blue, Vintage Sunburst

Very playable neck
 Great pickups 
Finish can feel a little thick  

It's hard to deny how good an ES-335 sounds. They are full-bodied, rich, and bell-like in their tone, but one stumbling block some players have is the excessive size of the instrument. That's why Gibson introduced the ES-339 in 2007. This kept everything players loved about its big brother but shrunk the body down to a more manageable size. 

Epiphone now offers the pint-sized hollow-body at a far more affordable price and doesn't scrimp on the quality. The Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers do a surprisingly good job at recreating the PAF tone, and the rounded neck profile is incredibly satisfying to play. You have to constantly remind yourself that this guitar is under $/£500 while playing it. 

The Epiphone ES 339 may not be the flashiest - or indeed the most expensive guitar on this list - but its tasteful looks, unmatched comfort, and glorious tone mean it can most definitely hang with the big boys in this guide. 

Best electric guitars: Fender 75th Anniversary Telecaster

(Image credit: Fender )

9. Fender 75th Anniversary Telecaster

75 years of innovation celebrated

Price: $849/£754 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Vintage-Style '50s Telecaster Single-Coil | Controls: 3-Position Blade: Position 1. Bridge, Position 2. Bridge and Neck, Position 3. Neck | Hardware: 6-Saddle String-Through-Body Tele® with Block Steel Saddles | Finish: Diamond Anniversary Metallic

Who doesn't love a matching headstock?
Vintage voiced pickups   
Would prefer a case over gigbag 

The Telecaster truly is a timeless guitar; nothing exemplifies this more than how little has changed over the years - if we don't count a name change and a very brief stint with no name at all. So many players have fallen for the Teles bright, articulate attack and singing upper-mids that mean it's heard in even the densest of mixes.  

Fender pays tribute to 75 years of innovation with the 75th Anniversary Telecaster. This stunning guitar sports the popular modern C profile neck, finished in a very light satin for an incredibly smooth and fast-playing feel. 

The vintage 50's pickups are a throwback to the retro tones the Tele is famous for and offer plenty of twang! This is all capped off with the gorgeous Diamond Anniversary Metallic finish and a matching headstock. So if you’re in the market for a new twang machine, then this marvelous guitar should most definitely be on your radar. 

Best electric guitars: D'Angelico Excel SS

(Image credit: D'Angelico )

10. D'Angelico Excel SS

A modern hollow-body for the contemporary player

Price: $1,999/£1,429 | Body: Laminate Flame Maple | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Pau Ferro | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: USA Seymour Duncan 59 Humbucker | Controls: neck volume, neck tone, bridge volume, bridge tone, push/pull coil-tap | Hardware: D’Angelico Stairstep tailpiece | Finish: Vintage Natural, Viola, Black Dog

Seymour Duncan pickups
Unique look
The thin body will suit most players 
Some may think it's expensive for a Korean guitar  

Once considered a relic of the past, the historic jazz brand came crashing back onto the scene in 2011 with a range of Korean-made guitars. The more accessible and affordable guitars brought in a whole new audience for the New York company, and with it, a new identity for D'Angelico. 

The Excel SS has quickly become one of the flagship models and a firm favorite among fans. The 15-inch body delivers the rich, complex tones associated with hollow guitars, while the Seymour Duncan 59 humbuckers can easily bring the grunt if needed. As this is a guitar designed with the modern player in mind, it includes coil-tapping options on both tone knobs for when you need a burst of single-coil tone-age. 

This guitar may not be American-made, but it should definitely not be overlooked. It's well built, beautiful to look at, and has a tone to boot. 

Best electric guitars: Reverend Double Agent

(Image credit: Reverend )

11. Reverend Double Agent

A double agent that won't double-cross you

Price: $899/£729 | Body: Korina Solidbody | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Pau Ferro/Roasted Maple | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: HA5 Bridge, 9A5 Neck | Controls: Volume, Tone, Bass Contour, 3-way | Hardware: Tune-o-matic | Finish: Venetian Gold, Rock Orange, Metallic Alpine, Metallic Silver Freeze, Midnight Black

Unique shape
Humbucker and P-90 combination very effective  
The bass contour control not useful to every player  

It's easy to think we've seen every possible shape for an electric guitar, but then along comes Reverend with the Double Agent. The love child of a Telecaster and Les Paul, with maybe a little offset thrown in there for good measure, this is a truly striking looking guitar. 

The South Korean guitar not only looks different but is also concealing a number of tone-shaping features, such as a treble bleed circuit to maintain your high-end when rolling off the volume and a passive bass roll-off control for tightening up the low-end. 

This is also the only guitar on this list made from the mythical Korina - also known as White Limba. Arguably most famous for being the original material for the '58 Gibson Explorer and Flying V, this alluring wood is famed for its lightweight and resonant qualities. So if you are looking for something a little different, then you should definitely check one of these out.  

Best electric guitars: Gretsch Electromatic G5622T

(Image credit: Gretsch )

12. Gretsch Electromatic G5622T

An affordable option for the country gent

Price: $799/£577 | Body: Laminated Maple | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Black Top Broad’Tron | Controls: Volume 1 (Neck Pickup), Volume 2 (Bridge Pickup), Master Volume, Master Tone | Hardware: Bigsby B70 | Finish: Aspen Green, Dark Cherry Metallic, Georgia Green, Imperial Stain, Orange Stain, Single Barrel Burst

That Gretsch sound on a budget 
Great variety of finishes 
Bigsby not for everyone  

Gretsch guitars can sometimes get overlooked by many players who think that they are just a one-trick pony used for country twang. Well, it’s simply not true. Yes, Gretsch does the country thing better than most, but they can do so much more - go ask Billy Duffy. 

Over the last few years, the Gretsch Electromatic range has been going from strength to strength, with the release of new models, exciting new finishes, and updated revoiced pickups. One of the most popular from this range is the G5622T - and it’s easy to see why. 

The addition of the center block gives the Gretsch an added power and aggression not present in the fully hollow options. While the dual Black Top Broad’Tron™ humbucking pickups deliver the classic Gretsch chime you’d expect while retaining the guitar’s natural dynamics. It just wouldn’t be a Gretsch if it didn’t sport the iconic Bigsby, and the one on offer here works very well-staying in tune beautifully - and adds just the right amount of wobble to your chords and lead lines.  

Best electric guitars: Buying advice

Close up of Yamaha SA2200

(Image credit: Future)

For us, the title "best electric guitar" conjures up images of an instrument that is of a certain standard and specification. The best electric guitar should be giggable, reliable, and have a tone to boot. Every guitar on this list certainly passes this test and would be more than good enough to take center stage at any concert, make magic happen in a recording studio, or feel at home as the perfect sofa companion.  

If you find yourself looking at guitars of this caliber, then it's safe to assume this isn't your first rodeo. You may have one, two, or even ten guitars at home, and you're looking to upgrade or just get something different. Picking your first guitar is usually a fairly straightforward affair. You go to the guitar store, choose one that's within your budget, looks fantastic, and is comfortable to hold. Now, picking your next guitar isn't all that different, but there are a couple of things you should certainly consider. 

When choosing your next guitar, think about what sound your collection is missing, and go from there.

The best way to think about guitars is like tools in a toolbox. They all do different jobs and have their own strengths and weaknesses. If a Gibson Les Paul is a hammer - powerful, straightforward, and heavy - then the PRS Special Semi-Hollow is the electric multi-tool. The PRS has so much more functionality, it is sure to get a number of jobs done - but sometimes… a hammer is still the best option.

When choosing your next guitar, think about what sound your collection is missing, and go from there. Already have the ultimate humbucker tone covered? Then why not try something with a P90 for a spikier tone and attitude. On the other hand, maybe you are a Strat player, then it's worth trying the smoother tone of the Jazzmaster. Really analyzing your current collection and identifying what is missing is a sure-fire way of ensuring your new guitar has its place among your extensive collection and a reason to be played.

Perhaps you're not looking to have a large collection of guitars, and need one really great instrument that will cover a lot of ground for studio sessions or function gigs. In that case, we would recommend looking at a guitar with multiple pickup styles. Again the PRS Special Semi-Hollow is an excellent example of this, but on the other end of the budget spectrum is the Reverend Double Agent. This fantastic little guitar allows you to switch between a full-fat humbucker sound and the mid-range growl of the P90. Most guitars at this price point come with coil-tapping or coil-splitting options as well - unless they are vintage reissues or built in a strictly traditional manner. This gives you the opportunity to soften the humbucker and dabble with some single-coil style tones. This really opens up your sonic pallet, and if you're only going to have a couple of guitars, then this is the way to go.

First and foremost, I'm a guitar enthusiast – a fanatic, some might say. I'm a firm believer that most of the world's problems can be solved with a Gibson SG and a catastrophically loud amp. Before writing about guitars for a living as a Junior Deals Writer on Guitar Player, I worked in music retail for 7 years, giving advice on guitars, basses, drums, pianos, and PA systems. I also have a passion for live sound; I'm a fully qualified sound engineer with experience working in various venues in Scotland.