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If you were to ask any guitarist this question, I can guarantee the answer would be subjective. It’s like asking someone which person they fancy as not everyone finds the same traits appealing.
The same aesthetics and handling of an instrument to one player will not feel right, whereas to another it will be the perfect instrument of "their" choice.
Probably the most iconic of guitars can be narrowed down to just 3 instruments: the Gibson's Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster, and the Fender Telecaster depending on the music you listen to most.
There are many other contenders which are often overlooked by music fans and some of the most beautiful guitars in both looks and playability are probably unknown to the average person.
A lot of unsung hero luthiers are out there and their instruments have helped carved a path in the history of music alongside the more well-known companies. Other companies that I will be mentioning have yet to reach that level but they are strong contenders in my personal opinion.
I have been playing guitar for around twenty two years and I've had the privilege to play some stunning instruments.
I've also played a lot of "junk" guitars and although some of the junk can sound quite nice, I find myself drawn to more expensive instruments despite my wallet disagreeing with me and I currently play a middle of the road Ibanez.
We shall begin with the Godfathers of Electric guitars, Mr. Les Paul and Mr. Leo Fender.
These two innovative men created the most iconic looking instruments which many people associate with some of the most famous Rock and Blues musicians of the 20th century.
Les Paul Laughing
The Les Paul guitar was the instrument used by Peter Green, Slash, Gary Moore, and the amazing Zakk Wylde its instantly recognizable tone, this guitar is probably associated more as an icon of Rock music than any other guitar.
Les Paul Guitar
Gibson guitars also made other iconic models, which helped to shape music as we know it.
The Firebird, the Flying V, the J- series acoustics, and the 335 electro acoustic guitars were all featured on many number one hits.
Leo Fender catered for several genres too with his Stratocaster guitar, the guitar god known as Eric Clapton is probably the most well-known player of this instrument but among all guitars Fender are at the forefront in the creation of many modern rock and blues masterpieces.
Image from the Fender Museum
The Telecaster guitar was aimed more at Blues and Country music with its twangy tone and when paired up with a distorted amplifier it becomes a dirty heavy rock guitar, Jim Root the guitarist with metal band Slipknot is one of the more modern players of the Telecaster and he has his own signature model.
Now that the well-known instruments are out of the way, we shall move on to some lesser known brands of guitars.
In the 1980s rock and metal music was at its height with several different sub-genres and each style of heavy metal had its appeal to me at 17yrs old, but it was the Charvel guitar which captured my attention.
These guitars have a similar body to the fender Stratocaster but the headstock is pointy and the Floyd rose bridge has a locking system which stops the guitar going out of tune when you use the tremolo arm.
The hard rock sound of the Charvel shaped the 80s and early 90s for me, although at this time I had never played one, it wasn't until recently that I was able to play a late 1980s Charvel for the first time.
Charvel the Guitar Which Shaped the 1980s
I found the action quite low on this guitar which may have been due to the setup but it wasn’t too low and for a guitar of that age, she still played beautifully.
Once I got to grips with the short scale 22 frets on the neck I found myself whipping out some mean solos through my Orange amplifier, the sustain of this guitar is perfect and coupled together with the right effects pedals, I found that playing this guitar automatically transformed me mentally back into the 1980s.
The Charvel guitar is a pleasure to play if you can get past having to tune it at the bridge (very much like my current guitar) and like all Floyd Rose bridges, they are a bit of a pain to tune up but once this is done and the locking mechanism is locked down it will stay in tune extremely well.
Kay guitars were a company established in Chicago, Illinois in 1931. Their first electric guitar was offered for sale in 1936 although traditionally Kay only offered folk instruments,
In a changing world of music and with the company changing hands throughout the years, they moved on to creating some really nice looking guitars.
An Unknown Model by Kay guitars
How these instruments play does vary dramatically depending on the model and I have owned several of these mid-priced (low priced in today's market) guitars, from the Kay folk guitar and a copy of a Gibson Sg bass, I also owned a copy of Gibson's “bluebird” twelve string guitar and a couple of Fender Stratocaster copies all made by Kay.
The Basswood bodies are light but the overall feel of these guitars shows that they are cheaply made and the pickups used in their electrics are mediocre to say the least.
As a beginner's guitar they are ideal but most seasoned guitarists would probably play a single tune on one of these instruments and put it down leaving it to gather dust.
Now we come to the Samick guitars, an offshoot of the Gibson guitar company Samick, which are a Korean made instrument.
I have been the proud owner of a white Samick acoustic guitar for the last fourteen years and this particular guitar was hanging in the window of a guitar shop in a small east coast seaside town.
If you have ever seen the movie Wayne’s World then you will know the scene where he sees the Stratocaster guitar in the window and says "it will be mine, oh yes! It will be mine."
Sammy AKA a Samick LG-W Acoustic Guitar
As we walked past the guitar shop one Sunday night my words were the exact same and sure enough the next day (after borrowing the money) I waited outside for the shop owner to arrive and within half an hour the guitar was mine.
I took it out busking with me for two days in a row easily making the £80 price of the guitar back.
Sammy, as I had nicknamed her, became my main guitar for many years I took her travelling over 50,000 miles with me around the United Kingdom as I spent a lot of time on the road busking and hitch hiking from town to town for no other reason than to play my guitar.
The tone of this instrument is comparable to many top end guitars and the amount of people who would stop and marvel at Sammy was unbelievable. For a low priced instrument you really cannot beat these guitars they play as good as some instruments three times the price and equal the craftsmanship of their peers.
Zerberus Guitars are a German based company who are worth a mention.
Now these instruments are not your run of the mill guitar and some of their models include black and gold marble tops, amethyst tops, and other stone topped bodies although I cannot say that these are great for playing, at $4,200 as an average price for one they are a little out of my range and the only videos I could find featuring the guitars were not a great quality sound.
For copyright reasons I cannot use an image of their guitars however if you visit their website where you can bask in the beauty of their instruments.
ESP guitars have made some very interesting instruments and these seem to be preferred by some of the heavier players, James Hetfield vocalist and guitar player with Metallica has own signature ESP LTD Iron Cross model which he helped to design. This is a stunning white Les Paul shaped body with a black iron cross at the base and a black stripe.
The Iron Cross
The iron cross design is continued on the fret board between the 11th, 12th and 13th frets and the pickups are EMG JH active pickups, the guitar also includes a TonePros locking TOM bridge and tail piece.
This is another instrument that I haven't had the pleasure of playing yet but you can hear the full force of this guitar and how rich and beefy the tone is by watching the video below.
ESP LTD Iron Cross Review
The final guitar company I would like to feature is my preferred instrument of choice — Ibanez guitars.
The range of Ibanez models varies quite dramatically starting with the beginners Gio170 DX series which retail new for under $265.
These guitars are really nice instruments to play even for someone who has been playing as long as I have and I owned one for a few years until recently upgrading to a slightly better model.
The guitar does go out of tune when using the tremolo arm and there is a severe lack of sustain when playing at the top end of the fret board but these are the only issues I could find with the 170DX.
In the Studio with the Ibanez Gio
“The more you pay the better the guitar.”
The above quote is entirely true with the Ibanez model guitars I now own a GRG250DX model which has a much sleeker design than its predecessor and also has a Floyd rose style Edge III tremolo system and locking nut.
Ibanez Gio GRG250DX
This guitar feels quite lightweight and when plugged in it packs a powerful punch if used in conjunction with the right amplifier, I currently use an Orange 35 LDX which gives this guitar a great platform for showcasing its abilities.
I love the GRG so much and it is a complete pleasure to play, I can honestly say that since purchasing this guitar my playing has enhanced and I no longer have to worry about bending strings and having to the instrument half way through a song which I had to do frequently with the 170DX model.
The Ibanez Jem is one of the most beautiful guitars I have ever seen and this will be the final instrument in this list.
Beautiful White Jem
This guitar is both stunning in looks and sound and it is one of the main instruments used by Guitar legend Joe Satriani. This has to be one of the most stunning guitars I have personally seen and heard. There is not much else which can be said about the Ibanez Jem other than it has its appeal to a variety of players and has earned its place in this list as one of the most iconic guitars in the world.
I know that there are many other guitars out there which deserve a mention so in conclusion each individual guitarist has their own preferred instrument and it often depends on the genre or style of music that the guitarist is playing as to which type or make of guitar they play but there is no denying that the guitars mentioned above (with perhaps the exception of Samick and Kay guitars) have shaped the road of music.