How well do you know your guitars?
Thursday 27 January 2011, 2.27am HKT
AT THE TIME when I wrote this, it was to have been my last post as I headed off to hospital last week because of bronchitis. How did Steve Jobs put it? Oh, yes, a “medical leave of absence.” My own medical leave of absence has come to an end, so this is for all you guitar fans out there.
BTW, we’re talking about GUITARS, so that means acoustic as well as electric guitars (including bass guitars), just so people don’t get the wrong idea.
Links updated as of
10 APR 2014 09 JULY 2015.
* * *
This St. Louis, Michigan, guitar-making company started in 1965 when Gene Kornblum of St. Louis Music partnered up with Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi to produce high-quality, handmade acoustic guitars at an affordable price.
The Alvarez AD60CK Dreadnought Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar is the most recognisable, but upgrade the nut and saddle to get the best out of it.
Joe Bonamassa (PHOTO) is one of the most recognised players of the Alvarez.
Aria (updated 26/5 2013)
The two most obvious things about virtually all Aria guitars are their solid copper tuning keys and mahogany necks.
Aria Guitars Company is a Japanese guitar maker in Nagoya, founded in 1956 by Shiro Arai (who switched the letters of his name to make the brand name more pronounceable).
Aria makes the full range of electric and acoustic guitars, plus accessories, but concentrates on making lower-priced guitars like the Aria Pro.
It also produces some higher-end products, such as the Aria Lightning ZZ-Skelter electric bass (PHOTO).
A-List Aria players: Cliff Burton (bassist for Metallica), Steve Stevens (“Top Gun” soundtrack, Billy Idol and Michael Jackson albums), John Taylor (Duran Duran’s bassist), and Dave Roe (best known as Johnny Cash’s bassist).
Funnily enough, Aria players tend to hate Kasuga players and think Aria should be higher than Yamaha in any muscle ranking.
ASC/America Sejung (added 26/5 2013)
http://sejungusa.com/PagesGuitars/s101_main/elgtrhome.html (S101 Guitars page)
www.sejung.co.kr (Corporate website, in Korean only)
www.qdsejung.com/indexcn.html (Factory website)
America Sejung Corporation (ASC) is the California-based guitar arm of Sejung Corporation, a US$500 million textile, construction and IT company in Busan, South Korea, established in 1974.
“Yet the story of its musical company only began to unfold in March 2001. Company chairman, Soon Ho Park, was presented with a plan to construct a new piano and guitar factory in China, staffed by experienced Korean managers, to supply product to local and worldwide markets.” — ASC website
ASC in fact began life in 2001 in the northern Chinese city of Qingdao (formerly Tsingtao, home of the eponymous Chinese ‘German’ beer). That year, Sejung Corp. established a factory there with US$20 million in seed money with the mission to produce affordable pianos and guitars. Today, the Qingdao factory produces ASC guitars plus traditional and digital pianos under the George Steck, Falcone and Hobart M. Cable brands.
ASC offers a wide lineup of electric, bass and acoustic guitars, plus banjos, mandolins, resonators and amplifiers. Its popular S101 and Canvas lines of electrics are in the sub- to mid-US$200 range — economy guitars for beginners and seasoned players alike, made in China, and comparable to Samick guitars in general play quality.
According to a commenter on this post, rumour has it that ASC was started by some ex-Samick employees — plausible to explain the Samick-like properties of ASC guitars.
(Hat tip to ‘JtG101’ for info from 21 MAY 2013)
Ash Customworks (added 26/5 2013)
Ash Customworks of Mount Eden in Auckland city, New Zealand, produces handmade custom electric guitars and basses.
As told to us by one commenter, Ash Custom Works guitars are crafted from 35,000-year-old Kauri wood — truly stunning uniqueness.
Its Radian range of classic electric guitars are an affordable combination of New Zealand-made bodies and Japanese/American necks — “There’s no bling, just stripped down rock ’n roll action,” as the website puts it.
Photo: Ash Quattra Q2 electric bass guitar.
(Hat tip to James from 25 May 2012)
B.C. Rich is renowned for making some of the world’s most unusually shaped guitars.
This is ‘the’ brand for the evil death metaller. And B.C. Rich players are ‘anger pedallers’ — Slipknot, Slayer, Soulfly, Trivium and Death. If your chief concern is to make an infernal racket that could wake the dead, get a B.C. Rich.
Admittedly, Behringer is much more well known as a maker of recording/mixing studio consoles than guitars. It does make electric guitar packages that are aimed at beginners, priced mostly under US$150, such as the Behringer V-Tone Guitar Pack and the Behringer iAXE393 USB Electric Guitar.
New York-born luthier Robert Benedetto is a maker of archtop acoustic guitars and one of the world’s most widely respected. He comes from a long line of artists, cabinet makers and musicians in his family. Honestly speaking, you really do need a bank loan to get a Benedetto.
BOSS Corporation is primarily known for making guitar effects processors. Some people tell me BOSS used to make a very small range of electric guitars, but I have never seen them anywhere.
Seattle-based Bunker Guitars designs and builds some very high-calibre (and unusual) guitar models, such as the Bunker Touch Guitar™.
Carvin has been making custom electric and acoustic guitars and basses for over 60 years, plus guitar and bass amplifiers, pro audio gear, mixers, speakers and other stuff.
Carvin guitars are endorsed by guitarists like Steve Vai, Al DiMeola and more. Craig Chaquico has been playing Carvin guitars since the early 1980s and brought national attention to Carvin on MTV with the band Jefferson Starship.
The original hot-rod electric guitar. Charvel Guitars of San Dimas, California, is famous for custom-builts whose designs (most agree) have no equal. Hot style and hot sounds, but you need to be able to fork out some cool cash: most guitars go for upwards of US$5,000.
This South Korean company makes electric and acoustic guitars plus basses and amps. Cort’s lineup is huge — 11 electric guitar series, 13 acoustic guitar series, and eight bass series — so they’re stretching themselves a bit.
Danelectro is a guitar and effects maker in Camarillo, California, and creates some very individualistic-looking, low-cost guitars. Even its website looks like a throwback to the Fifties. Danelectro started out as a 1957 budget guitar: a Sears & Roebuck guitar (under the name Silvertone) whose case doubled as an amplifier.
Dean guitars are insane. They look immense and many famous people use them — like Dave Mustaine of heavy-metal band Megadeath (PHOTO, with the Dean V).
They have really awesome designs too. There’s a lot of history behind every model and, obviously, deserve to be here because the sound is really nice.
Dean guitars is owned by Armadillo Enterprises Inc., which also owns Luna Guitars (see entry below) and drum maker ddrum.
(Photo via Wikipedia)
Eastwood Guitars is a Canadian-Korean company set up with an interesting production philosophy — to re-create affordable and playable versions of rare vintage electric guitars that have long since gone out of production.
In other words, make guitars that evoke classic looks and vintage sounds yet sold at a price point where they are meant to be played and not simply collected.
Eastwood currently produces around 20 guitar models, all very positively received by players and in reviews. They also produce bass guitars that are either reproductions of classic bass designs or adopted from their other guitar designs.
The ESP Guitar Company of North Hollywood, California, makes guitars for mad guitarists. ESP guitars are best for shredding and heavy-metal riffs.
The magic of ESP guitars is in their awesomeness — look who uses them: Kirk Hammett (Metallica), George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob, Souls of We), Travis Miguel (Atreyu), Wayne Static (Static-X), etc.
James Hetfield (Metallica) and Dave Mustaine (Megadeath): these two metal legends have kicked serious ass on an ESP guitar.
The Custom Shop and Original series ESPs are handcrafted in Japan, while the Standard series are factory-made also in Japan.
Anyone who wants the crushing metal tone, with insane playability, should pop down to their local ESP dealer. These monsters beat the crap out of any guitar on any Top 10 list.
See GIBSON/EPIPHONE entry below.
There’s no argument: the immortal legend that is the Fender Stratocaster and the classic workhorse Telecaster are the two best guitars ever made. (Gibson’s Les Paul probably goes in the third slot.)
Fenders have been played by everybody: David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards all spanked Fenders.
The Stratocaster is probably the most known guitar ever made, which is why companies replicate it all the time.
The Fender Telecaster is the first successful solid-body electric guitar, and it turns 60 this year (2011). See the list of Fender Telecaster players at Wikipedia.
Like Gibson, Fender supplies a budget range of guitars called Squier, which are more suited to beginners.
UPDATE:— Fender guitars have a massive following among the Hong Kong Chinese, mainly because (so I’ve been told) the necks are more handable by small Chinese hands. (10 APR 2014)
This Japanese electric guitar maker started in 1969 on the interesting notion that “rules are meant to be broken.” For many, the Monterey Elite is a dream: incredible sounds, perfect play, amazing feel, beautiful looks, and the sustainer pickup is awesome!
Nashville-based guitar maker and luthier Danny Ferrington comes up with electric guitars are spectacularly designed and uniquely shaped, putting him in the ranks of America’s premier guitar makers.
Ferringtons are played by Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Ferringtons are considered rare by guitar enthusiasts and pro musicians.
First Act Inc. is a generalist instrument maker and makes eight groups of music instruments. Adam Levine (Maroon 5) is a First Act electric guitar user.
Framus electric guitars are made by Warwick GmbH & Co. Music Equipment KG of Germany. Framus used to be famous for making great jazz guitars — maybe they still are. To cut a long story short, Framus guitars are made under exacting technological setups more usually expected at NASA. See the list of international artists who endorse Framus products.
The name Framus comes from the name Franconian Musical Instruments, which was the original manufacturer before Warwick took over.
G&L Guitars (updated 26/5 2013)
After leaving Fender, Leo Fender started his own company in 1980, now in Fullerton, California. His guitars are great, but his website is a bit hard to navigate.
Famous G&L players: Andrew and Tim Farriss (INXS), Bob Mann (James Taylor Band), Dave Pomeroy (A-list Nashville session bassist), Elliot Easton (The Cars, Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods), Gail Anne Dorsey (David Bowie Band), Galen Henson (Joe Satriani Band), Garry Beers (INXS, Mudhead), Jack Pearson (Allman Brothers), Kevin “Brandino” Brandon (session bassist for Aretha Franklin and James Brown), and Trevor Barry (UK studio session bassist)
Some guitars are born to be recognised anywhere. Gibson is a name that even noobies will have heard of. The Gibson Les Paul is an icon. Queen used one (though Les Paul himself didn’t like Queen much), as did Slash (Guns ’n Roses). The company is responsible for other iconic shapes, such as the Explorer, the Flying V and the SG. Every guitar that Gibson ever releases becomes a rock icon.
Epiphone is to Gibson what Squier is to Fender — but they’re so good. Epiphone is Gibson’s cheaper arm — a great brand for beginners who want to avoid the ‘cheap and nasty areas’ — so you’re assured getting the class of a true-blue Gibson without the big pricetag. Epiphone is the ‘soft option Gibson’ — the Epiphone Les Paul is the lower-priced counterpart of the much-pricier Gibson Les Paul.
The funny thing about Epiphone is that it doesn’t get enough credit. Fender and Gibson are great guitar brands, but Epiphone actually started way before either of them whilst still making great guitars today.
Jeff Beck bought his first Les Paul (a 1959 model) for £150 while still a member of The Yardbirds (1963–68), which was an astronomically high price at that time.
This Quebecois company founded by Robert Godin is known for its unusual thinline, hollow-body electric guitars as well as for solid-body ones.
Gremlin Musical Instrument Company is the United Kingdom’s leading distributor of folk and acoustic musical instruments since 1981. The warehouse and business premises are in an industrial estate in Worthing (near Birmingham) in central England. Looking at Gremlin’s website, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a run-of-the-mill industrial vendor for double-glazing.
Known primarily as drum builders, The Gretsch Company of New York City also creates a number of high-calibre guitars. The company started in 1883 as a little shop making banjos, drums and tambourines. Today, it makes some of the world’s greatest drums and guitars over the span of four generations. An old schoolmate of mine took an interest in Gretsch guitars after he saw Scottish-born Australian guitarist Malcolm Young (AC/DC) use a Gretsch White Falcon.
Guild Guitars Inc. is an acoustic guitar maker founded in 1953 in New York City. Guilds are solid, workmanlike guitars for general purpose. The official website provides several interesting features, including a “Date Your Guitar” page under “Support.”
www.hagstromguitars.eu (International website)
A Swedish name that you may be unfamiliar with unless you have a soul (or something resembling that). Somebody said ‘Hags’ are “good guitars and they make a good Les Paul-style guitar.” Dweezil Zappa (son of Frank), Pat Smear (The Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters), composer Gregory Hine and Warren Fitzgerald (The Vandals, Gwen Stefani) do their magic on Hags.
Hamer (‘hay-mur’) guitars are made by KMC Music Inc. of Bloomfield, Connecticut. In 1973, a group of passionate musicians got together in a Chicago basement and started building modern guitars with a vibrant, vintage soul. Every Hamer is truly hand-built.
From 1974 to 1981, Hamer USA employed two separate serial numbering systems, one for custom instruments and one for production models.
Artists who play Hamers: Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), K.K. Downing (Judas Priest), Jon Herington (Steely Dan) among many other music luminaries.
Heritage Guitar Inc. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, concentrates on making quality archtop guitars, although they make a fairly wide range of solid-, semi-hollow and hollow-body electric guitars as well.
One hundred fifty years of music history-making. This German-owned American company manufactures many models of electric and acoustic guitars, plus mandolins, ukeleles, sonor drums, sonor orffs and other instruments.
Interestingly, it makes headless guitars such as the Hohner G3T Headless Guitar with genuine Steinberger-licensed bridge.
John Lennon and Johnny Cash both used Hohner harmonicas, and JoJo Garza (Los Lonely Boys) rockin’ on a Hohner B-Bass guitar.
Hohner is probably the only musical instrument manufacturer to have its own museum, the Deutschen Harmonika Museum in Trossingen, Germany.
Karl Höfner GmbH & Co. KG was founded in 1887 by a master violin maker and is today the biggest manufacturer and exporter of stringed and fretted instruments in Germany. It makes classical, acoustic, archtop, bass and (interestingly) bluegrass guitars (basically, banjos) such as the Höfner HBA-5. Their guitars are handmade in Germany and have so much quality in them that it’s not even funny.
With a Spanish-sounding name like Ibanez, you’d be surprised that this guitar brand is actually Japanese and owned by an ex-bookselling company called Hoshino Gakki of Nagoya. Hoshino only started making stringed instruments around 1935 and made what would be considered as the first of modern-era Ibanez electric guitars only in 1957.
How do you pronounce ‘Ibanez’? Well, it’s a Japanese company, so anything will do. You can do it English way (ee-ban-niz) or (as I do it) Spanish style (ee-baan-yeth).
The company doesn’t say so, but it’s probably named after Salvador Ibáñez (1854–1920), a Spanish luthier.
Very cheap, affordable, fast, sturdy, great sound. It’s simple — get an Ibanez if you want to shred. Anyone needs one of these axes if they want to get up on those high strings and widdle them around — or the screaming leads leaping right out of the amp and into the front-row girls’ knickers. Every notable shredder has played an Ibanez at some point: Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Joe Satriani and Mick Thompson to name but four.
The Ibanez RG120 is one of the best RG models. Most Ibanez players are amazing technically, but then again, you could just as easily say you’ve got to be amazing technically first before you could play an Ibanez.
Any beginner who wants to ‘make a statement’ should go for a Jackson, the instrument of choice of many high-profile players.
Jackson guitars seem more suited to a ‘heavy rock’ environment. It became a metal icon mainly because of Ozzy Ozbourne’s wonder-shredder Randy Rhoads (1956–82).
(Incidentally, Randy Rhoads was actually the FIRST EVER Jackson guitar owner.)
Six-string luthier Grover Jackson started his company as a small Southern California guitar repairshop in the late 1970s.
Today, the Jackson brand has come to be the weapon of choice for numerous modern brands, including Machine Head, Children of Bodom, Bullet For My Valentine, and Phil Collen of Def Leppard.
The Villanizer (below) started life as a Rhoads Jackson V and turned into some steampunk transmogrifia by Thunder Eagles Guitars.
The Jackson KV2T King V can just decimate any Fender Stratocaster!
The Villanizer (via Makezine)
Kasuga (updated 26/5 2013)
Defunct as of mid-1990s
Everybody upvotes this trustworthy brand. They last for ages and, in the right hands, a Kasuga guitar beats every other guitar known to mankind.
One commenter has informed us about finding a Kasuga K Country D 250 acoustic guitar in the ‘junk’ section of a secondhand music store — for a mere US$100:—
“It’s still in great shape, sounds awesome and plays really well. Had never heard of Kasuga before that. I had been planning on spending some serious cash on a high-end dreadnought, but I might just pass on that now that I have the Kasuga.” — Daniel’s comment, 12 JUN 2012
Alas, Kasuga (KA′soo-ga) went out of business in the 1990s, so any Kasuga guitar left floating around now seem mostly to be from the early 1970s.
Kasuga Music Instruments Manufacturing Co. Ltd of Nagoya, Japan, was established in 1935 by Miki Bukichi (who went on to become chairman of the Japanese Democratic Socialist Party in the 1950s). Before going bust, the company was mainly an acoustic guitar brand, although it made a small range of electric guitars too. Kasuga also made lots of bluegrass instruments (banjos, mandolins, etc).
In fact, Kasuga was more known for being an OEM manufacturer, usually for Tokai, C.F. Martin and B.C. Rich, among others. Like most other Japanese manufacturers, Kasuga sold importers’ own brands around the world.
Then in the 1960s, the company started producing its own Heerby & Ganson brand of guitars and sold them in Japan throughout the 1960s and ’70s. (The name Ganson is a translated amalgam of ‘gan’ = rock and ‘son’ = village.)
Also during the ’60s and ’70s, Kasuga partnered with Tokai to make the Conrad guitars for export to the USA. In the 1970s, it was in partnership for a while with Roland for a guitar synth. By the 1980s and ’90s, Kasuga was OEM-ing a lot of guitars for well-known brands like Yamaha, Burny/Fernandes and the early Navigators.
Apparently in 1988 or so, Kasuga also made some Washburn models (with ‘K’ serial numbers) and might have also made some Jackson and B.C. Rich guitars. Kasuga also did B.C. Rich-type copies for the Japanese market with a ‘K’ on the headstocks instead of a ‘B.’
As a sign of things to come, Kasuga lost the Yamaha contract for acoustic guitars to Taiwan sometime in the late 1980s.
By the early 1990s, Kasuga must have had trouble staying afloat because a lot of its contracts ended up going to the various South Korean guitar factories that had sprung up in the 1980s and also in Taiwan as well. Kasuga went out of business by the mid-1990s.
(Hat tip to Daniel for personal trivia from 06 JULY 2012)
An unusually shaped line of guitars most notably used by the great Bill Frisell.
If you’re intrigued and piqued by odd-looking guitars, go for a Klein.
Klein acoustics and electrics are played by Steve Miller, Joni Mitchell, Andy Summers, Joe Walsh, Lou Reed and David Torn.
Others who play bass on Klein designs include Stanley Clark, Billy Sheehan and Sting.
Interestingly, both Michael Hedges and Bob Gore play a Klein electric harp guitar.
Kramer sounds great! Eddie Van Halen and Richie Sambora played Kramers. This guitar should be in the Top 5 of best guitar brands!
The Kramer aluminium neck era ran from 1976 to 1985 and was the stuff of company legends even before the company switched over to the more popular wood neck models during the 1980s. When Kramer Guitars began, it was exclusively producing aluminium neck guitars.
In 1982, Kramer wanted to be more competitive in the emerging “heavy metal” market, so it made a deal with Floyd Rose and became the only brand to introduce the world to the new and revolutionary Floyd Rose Locking Tremolos. The great Floyd Rose-equipped Kramer guitars were loaded with additional features like Schaller tuners and Seymour Duncan pickups, and made Kramer the clear favourite of the ’80s metal guitar players.
Kramer became the world’s best-selling guitar in the mid-1980s, outgunning the historic and iconic Gibson and Fender brands. It doesn’t matter: Kramer belongs to the Gibson family of brands anyway.
Jean Larrivée Guitar Inc. of British Columbia, Canada, manufactures higher-end acoustic guitars but also makes electric guitars and mandolins. System of a Down, the Armenian-American rock band from Southern California, uses Larrivées — as do others on Larrivée’s artists’ page.
http://line6.com/variax/ (Variax series homepage)
Line 6 Inc. of Calabasas, California, is a company of modelling pioneers. It is responsible for producing the world’s first digital modelling guitar amplifier in 1996 (the AxSys 212).
A year later, Line 6 brought out the POD, a kidney-bean-shaped desktop device created to solve another critical problem that had plagued guitar players: recording great guitar tone. But Line 6 makes a variety of acoustic and electric guitars too.
Line 6’s Variax 600 and 700 modelling guitars are no longer in production.
“Variax is the one guitar that is a complete collection of guitars. No more dragging around multiple acoustics and electrics to gigs or recording studios. Variax gives you an endless variety of sounds from classic acoustic and electric tones all the way to sitar and banjo, all in one instrument. Moreover, the absence of magnetic pickups means that every note comes out crystal clear without any unwanted pickup noise.” — Line 6 website on Variax
Players: U2, James Hetfield (Metallica), Mick Thomson (Slipknot) and Ed O’Brien (Radiohead).
This is a new guitar brand started in 1996 by ESP (see above) catering mainly for markets outside Japan.
The LTD series are similar to the more upscale ESP models, but made more affordable by the use of cheaper materials and hardware. The 1000 and 400 series are made on an assembly line in South Korea, while the series below 400 are made in Indonesia. Nonetheless, most musicians regard LTDs as a good, reliable brand for rock music.
A Luna guitar is a woman’s guitar. It’s built by them, for them, and related to them. They look good on women.
Luna Guitars of Tampa, Florida, was founded by Yvonne de Villiers, an accomplished stained-glass artist who took inspiration for establishing Luna from her mother, an electric guitar player of 40 years’ experience.
Luna Guitars are played by Jan Kuehnemund (Vixen), Enid Williams and Jackie Chambers (both Girlschool), Justine Blazer and practically most other girl bands.
C.F. Martin & Co.
C.F. Martin & Co. Inc. is the oldest acoustic guitar company in the USA (founded 1833: around the start of Victorian times for those who need a British time reference).
It also runs a Martin Guitar Museum at its factory location in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
Famous Martin owners include Jeff Beck, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Jim Croce, Peter Frampton, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Paul Simon and Sting.
Affordable price but no compromise in quality. Even the Maestro SD1 for beginners produces great sounds.
And you wouldn’t have thought this was a Singapore-based company. It makes classical guitars, steel-string acoustic guitars and ukeleles. Maestra Guitars is said to be the only guitar company today that owns its own production facilities and have a claimed 100% control in the whole manufacturing process.
Australian guitar maker Monterey have been gaining quite a reputation of late as instruments of choice for a variety of Australian musicians. Some recent additions to the Monterey ranks include ex-Mondo Rock bass player Paul Christie, Taxiride bass player Andy McIvor, and King Mungi guitarist Luke Attril.
Monterey makes acoustic, semi-acoustic, thinline acoustic/electric, electric, bass and specialty string instruments.
Music Man is the registered trademark for the guitars made by Ernie Ball. (His website gives pics and specs for each guitar model, but not much else in pricing or other documentation.)
Lots of musicians play Ernie Ball’s Music Man: see the list here.
Ovation Guitars is devoted to the somewhat controversial round-backed guitars. They are still hand-built using only the best materials and guitar-building techniques.
The difference between Ovation and the rest is this: Ovation has mastered the art of combining traditional guitar-making techniques with modern technology in material science, plus proven scientific research. The result is an instrument that equals or surpasses the other top brands in tone, playability, reliability (to say nothing about awesome looks) while keeping prices down below competitor prices and keeping the work and workmanship in the USA. That’s some mean feat.
You wouldn’t believe it but Ovation is part of the aerospace company Kaman Corporation. Founder Charles Kaman established Kaman Aircraft in 1947 and built the world’s first gas-turbine helicopter in 1951. Because its engineers kept making discoveries about vibration and acoustics (critical factors in designing helicopter rotorblades), Charles Kaman applied that knowledge to his love of guitars.
Parker guitars are unusually shaped, handcrafted electric guitars that seem to have a broad following. Adrian Belew, Vernon Reid, Larry Coryell and Joe Walsh play Parkers.
This multifaceted American company makes seven series of electric guitars and six of bass guitars. Of the Peavey HP Special CT:—
“A true high-end guitar with one of the world’s most advanced and asymmetrical guitar necks, custom-wound direct-mounted humbuckers and a flawless Floyd-style tremolo. I can’t give the HP Special CT a more enthusiastic endorsement.” — Guitar World magazine
Peavey players tend to be within the heavy/metal/gothic/moto rock genre, like All That Remains, Black Tide and Blue Oyster Cult, but also surprisingly John Taylor, Duran Duran, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Zac Brown Band.
PRS stands for Paul Reed Smith, who makes some of the best guitars in the world. Go to a guitar centre and try one.
Real guitar aficionados always complain whoever made so-and-so list is insane — that PRS is better than Fender, PRS should be right after Ibanez, for sure after Gibson … blah … blah-blah … blah-blah-blah.
And they would be right.
Even I couldn’t believe Charvel or Epiphone could outrank PRS — that is just complete horse manure. PRS is a great guitar brand — it’s actually better than Fender or Ibanez — in many ways even better than Gibson — and a lot cheaper too.
Who goes for a PRS? Sometimes, a guitarist needs class, sophistication and beauty. Well, on those days when Beyoncé just isn’t available, a PRS guitar will do the job. These axes simply ooze class. Any beginner with cash to flash simply needs to get a PRS.
Sure, anyone can blow £100 on a piece of wood with strings, but a PRS is a lifetime purchase that will outlast anyone who treats it with respect.
(Considering the general lifestyle of those with more money than taste or brains, probably outlast THEIR LIVES as well.)
Carlos Santana plays PRS guitars. Before, he was a Gibson SG player.
Ran Guitars is based in Olsztyn, Poland (formerly Allenstein, Prussia) — the same town where Nicholas Copernicus (1473–1543) lived as astronomer, administrator and town commander.
It’s like Jackson meets B.C. Rich — sorta. Nice-looking guitars.
Previously, Ran had the reputation of copying others but lucky enough not to get sued. Today, it’s slowly coming onto the mainstream, now that Peter from the Polish death-metal band Vader has become famous.
Rickenbacker International Corporation in Santa Ana, California, makes acoustic, electric and bass guitars. It’s notable for putting the world’s first electric guitars into general production in 1932.
The Beatles had Rickenbacker guitars, and Rickenbacker guitars had The Beatles. Lennon used a six-string, short-scale guitar called the 325.
Family-run American guitar maker Rondo (est. 1959) produces electric guitars that span the whole price range from US$70 to US$700 to suit all tastes and abilities.
Rondo guitars are pretty decent and workmanlike, but most importantly, inexpensive. So Rondo is the name to go for when you”re asking yourself, “Where the heck to do I get a decent bass guitar for a defret project?” For that kind of project, best bet is to pick up a Rondo B-Stock jazz bass guitar.
Interestingly, Rondo makes quite a number of flying V-style axes as well as LP and Tele-style instruments. The flying V models have several different names, such as Octanis, Draco, WH1, SIV 45 and Fulcrum (all priced between US$100 to US$150) — not bad, considering that some of them have Floyd Rose trem units.
The Douglas Hawker has three humbuckers and a nice transparent finish, and plays and feels really good. The Douglas Halo is an explorer-shaped guitar priced from US$100 to US$140.
(Photo via Underground Guitars)
Finnish luthier Juha Ruokangas offers high-end handcrafted electric guitars starting at the US$1,600 range. Check out Ruokangas players here [link].
Saint Guitar Company
Saint Guitar Company is a custom electric guitar manufacturer in central California, established around 1998. The word on the street is that Saint Guitar makes some of the best guitars ever. Apparently, Saint uses a unique neck joint to produce a brighter tone than you could get out of other humbucker guitars.
Samick (삼익) (updated 26/5 2013)
www.smcmusic.com (Corporate website)
http://gregbennettguitars.com (Guitars website via Greg Bennett Guitars)
This French (?) company specialises in producing lower-cost electric guitars, but the styling is just … beautiful.
Samick/Greg Bennett specialises in lower- and midpriced electric guitars, but the styling is just … beautiful.
One commenter told us of the Samick LK 35:—
“Overall, I must say after playing this Samick … I can only imag[in]e the feel of playing more expensive guitars (but then again, we know Samick is the maker of several large guitar brands).” — JtG101, 26 MAY 2013
Founded in South Korea in 1958, Samick Musical Instruments Co. Ltd is one of the world’s biggest musical instrument makers and publicly traded on the Seoul Stock Exchange (KRX: 002450). It has corporate shareholdings in a number major musical instrument manufacturers worldwide, including:— Wm. Knabe & Co., Pramberger, Kohler & Campbell, and Seiler (pianos), and Greg Bennett Design Guitars and Silvertone (guitars)
In 2006, Samick/Greg Bennett moved its corporate headquarters to Gallatin, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. It manufacturing lines are in China, Indonesia and South Korea.
A good info-read about a guy who got to tour the Samick factory in the early 2000s: http://folkcafe.com/samick-tour/
(Hat tips to ‘PSYPODIAS’ for 27 NOV 2012 updates and to ‘JtG101’ for comments)
Santa Cruz Guitar Company
Santa Cruz Guitar focuses on producing high-end acoustic instruments, especially acoustic steel spring guitars. When the company first started in 1968, apparently there was no information to be had on this type of guitar, so Santa Cruz Guitar took its inspiration from violin-making knowledge instead.
Schecter Guitars (est. 1976) of Burbank, California, might not make the best guitars around, but Schecter is way better than Gibson if you want a great metal sound. Now moving into the ‘darker’ side of the top guitar brands, Schecter have only recently started earning attention despite making guitars for years.
Younger learners who love their metal will be in good company: Schecter is endorsed by such guitar heroes as Synster Gates (Avenged Sevenfold).
Schecter has a reputation of great quality for the price, nice looks, nice feel, great sounds, and very easy on the wallet. Signature Schecters (not necessarily the top-end models) are Syn Custom, Vengeance Custom and the 30th-anniversary S-1.
Seagull Guitars is a brand of The Godin Guitar Company in the Québecois village of La Patrie, where half the entire village population of 475 are guitar builders. Seagulls are highly respected midpriced acoustic guitars.
Spear Guitar is the new kid on the block from South Korea whose reputation for innovativeness makes up for young presence. It makes acoustic and electric guitars. Whilst Koreans are not especially known for their Western musical instrument manufacturing, many guitarists familiar with Spear say it won’t be long before Spear guitars become as popular as Ibanez and Jackson. Spear markets itself towards the lucrative first-level metal market, specifically between established metal brands Ibanez and Charvel and more middle-of-the-road types from Gibson and Fender.
Brooklyn, New York-based Stuart Spector Designs Limited first introduced musicians to the revolutionary design and unique sound of the Spector NS-Bass in 1976/77 whose distinctive tonal quality has since been dubbed (and trademarked!) as ‘The Spector Tone.’ It continues to make handmade electric guitars in a woodshop cooperative that it started from originally. Spector got absorbed into Kramer Guitars in the 1980s and went bust in the 1990s, before it sprang back to life in 1998 with the help of an East Coast bassist.
See FENDER/SQUIER above.
Stagg Music is a general musical instrument maker and dealer in Belgium. Established in 1995, Stagg produces handmade instruments from specialist inhouse designs. It makes everything from woodwind, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, pro audio and related accessories.
Takamine (‘TAH-kah-meen-neh’: rhymes with ‘rack-a-mini’) is a popular Japanese make of acoustic and electric-acoustic guitars that quite a number guitarists say sound better than Höfner, Pluto and Gibson. The company started in the early 1960s at the base of Mount Takamine in Sakashita, Japan (where it’s still located) and started exporting in 1975. List of featured Takamine players here [link].
Taylor (updated 25/3 2013)
Taylor Guitars makes impressive acoustic guitars. In 1974, Bob Taylor, Kurt Lustig and Steve Schemmer purchased the American Dream Musical Instrument Manufacturing shop in Lemon Grove, California, and changed the name. At the time, it produced only with Brazilian rosewood.
Owners of the Taylor C.E. 614 say the neck finish is excellent — the only complaint is too much tenor (but the amp takes care of that).
One commenter said that Taylor is “the premiere [sic] acoustic guitar maker” (presumably of the world, since the days of Kasuga) through its pioneering application of high technology, lasers and computing to guitar-making.
Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) plays Taylor, and even named her son that.
(Hat tip to ‘taylor guitars’ for info from 20 MAY 2013)
Perhaps not the biggest brand out there, but Tokai guitars rule. Many guitarwonks say Tokai guitars are easy to play, sound amazing, and not overpriced like Gibson and Fender. Indeed, aficionados say Tokai guitars feature the tone, craftsmanship and playability of vintage instrument but at a fraction of the cost.
Before 1982, Japanese guitar makers weren’t particularly known for quality or performance. That is, until Tokai turned that picture upside down that year with a new way of guitar construction.
In wooden stringed instruments, vibrations travel faster at the centre of the body than at the top or back of it. By placing a cross-grained piece of wood in this centre position of the body, the vibrations (sound) gets reflected back towards the top and back 4 times faster than on a standard guitar. This groundbreaking body construction increases sustain and note clarity to the point that you could actually feel the sound streaming through your body as you play. The multidirectional grains also gives stunning visual appearance unmatched by standard instrument-making techniques.
Tokai went on to create the same effect in 1983 with a revolutionary aluminium-alloy body design in its Talbo guitar and bass.
Today, Tokai is best known for making aluminium-bodied guitars that give long sustain and clear sound with the warmth and aesthetic appeal of wooden-bodied instruments.
Tokai (est. 1947) is located in Hamamatsu, Japan, and was originally a piano maker. It started making acoustic, electric and bass guitars from around May 1965. For quite some time, Tokai had a bit of a reputation of making Fender and Gibson replicas. In February 1972, Tokai signed a technical contract with C.F. Martin & Co. for the design of acoustic guitars. The first electric guitars started in December 1977, including ‘Love Rock’ and ‘Breezy Sound.’
Tokai guitars were unavailable in the USA for nearly a decade until they are made available again sometime in 2000–2010 through the Tokai Guitar Registry, a fansite that also handles some sales in the USA.
The legendary instruments were played by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and are still highly sought after by collectors.
The Vintage brand of guitars are currently handled by British guitar dealer John Hornby Skewes Co. Ltd of Leeds, United Kingdom (whose name sounds like a law firm).
Vintage has had a bad rap among some of the more elitist guitar crowd because of its previous reputation for cheapness. Not anymore. Vintage now offers maximum guitar bang for the buck. Working with British guitar design ‘god’ Trevor Wilkinson, Vintage will provide an absolute bargain whatever the buyer is looking for — be it a Stratocaster or a Les Paul. Vintage is top brand on a budget.
Warwick GmbH & Co. Music Equipment KG is a German bass guitar company founded in 1982 by Hans-Peter Wilfer. Warwick basses were originally a premium brand: it offered only a small range of models built with high-quality exotic tonewoods with ‘neck-through‘ design. Today, Warwick now also offers budget models, many of which are ‘bolt-on neck‘ versions of the originals.
Warwick differs from other bass manufacturers in that it buys all its wood in complete rough logs or planks — none obtained pre-cut. This means more work for Warwick but ensures complete control over the wood used and the finished look of the instrument.
All Warwick basses are built in Germany — except for acoustic Alien basses that are built in Vietnam, the Pro Series and the Corvette Standard models in South Korea, and the budget line RockBass in China.
Notable Warwick bassists are Stuart Zender (Jamiroquai until 1998 and one of the most important Warwick endorsers), Jack Bruce (Cream), Robert Trujillo (currently Metallica; formerly Suicidal Tendencies, Infectious Grooves, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Bootsy Collins (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a highly influential bassist in funk music) and Adam Clayton (U2), among many, many others.
Someone told me that Washburn makes some of the best guitars out there and are very underrated despite making so many “awesome” guitars such as the American-made N4 or N5, which has got to be tried for the quality to be believed. The Chicago company, founded in 1883, makes a full range of acoustic, electric and bass guitars.
This Japanese corporate behemoth makes as many types of musical instruments as you could possibly name (as well as motorcycles). Yamaha is an ideal brand for beginners as much as for pros (guitars and motorbikes alike).
“Your guitar sucks,” so wrote Esquire magazine in its 2007 article about Zachary Guitars. “That’s pretty much the mission statement behind Zachary Guitars, a tiny outfit run by Canadian rocker Alex Csiky, whose 100% do-it-yourself ethos and fuck-the-mainstream mentality produces some of the finest instruments ever crafted.”
The Windsor, Ontario-based guitar maker doesn’t make custom guitars and really lays down the line on his website (which looks more like a crapped-out blog):—
“I make guitars as I chose and what I like. Whatever interests me at any particular time. If you like what I made, then I may sell it to you, if I feel that it suits you and you will be able to appreciate it.
“Regardless of how much money you have, I will not sell you any guitar if I feel its not right for you or that you don’t deserve to own it. If it’s not right for you then you will not appreciate it. This is of no advantage to either one of us if my guitars are not what you need or deserve.”
Bit harsh, innit?
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This list is an amateurish joke. Many guitars listed are pure cheap junk I’d toss in the garbage even if they were free. Take it from a pro, Parker and PRS are the two highest quality. Fender, B.F. Rich and Gibson, along with brands that have stood the test of time, plus a few hand-made (custom) brands, are the only ones you can seriously depend on. The rest are mostly pathetic attempts at copying a major brand and cutting the price by really cutting back on quality. As they say, you get what you pay for.
I’m more than 100% in agreement with you there.
You’ve not included a lot of other guitar makers. Why?
No particular reason. It’s just that some names are, although famous, are only famous in the professional musical community. I may follow up with a Part-2-type post on the other names.
Meanwhile, here is Wikipedia’s list of guitar makers [link].
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© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011. Last updated 26 May 2013. [6,969 words]
All images via vendor websites unless indicated differently.
Updated 15 Oct 2011 (format fixes, typos)
Updated 27 Nov 2012 (Samick: amendments: see comments)
Updated 17 Feb 2013 (spam removed)
Updated 26 May 2013 (incorporating updates from commenters)
Updated 19 Feb 2014 (updating links)
Updated 10 APR 2014 (updated links)