The Best Electric Guitar ManufacturersThe Top Electric Guitar Makers
Here are the top electric guitar manufacturers according to the survey we carried a few days ago in our forums.
You can see the survey results by our French community on this page.
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Impossible to avoid this legendary American brand founded in 1946 by Leo Fender. Even if Leo Fender was not the first man to build an electric guitar — only hollow-body and Hawaiian solid-body guitars were available back in those days ─, his first model, the Esquire that became later the Broadcaster and then the famous Telecaster, quickly became a huge success for its versatility. The Telecaster and the Stratocaster, the other famous Fender model, would become standards that have been copied many times. You can hear them in some of the most famous classic rock recordings by the likes of Keith Richard (The Rolling Stones) and Bruce Springsteen (Telecaster), or Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix (Stratocaster).
Most Fender guitars are equipped with single-coil pickups. They have a lower output level than dual-coil pickups but sound brighter and sharper, which is perfect for clean and crunch sound. Both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster generally have an ash or alder body, a maple bolt-on neck and a rosewood or maple fretboard. Some other Fender models were also moderately successful (the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar or the Mustang). Squier, a brand that originally manufactured strings, was bought by Fender to become a sub-brand and sell guitars manufactured in Japan from 1982 onwards.
Founded by the American Orville Gibson in 1902, Gibson is without a doubt the other legendary electric guitar brand. Their most famous model holds the name of the very popular guitarist Les Paul, who collaborated with Ted McCarty in its design back in the 1950's. Unlike the Telecaster and Stratocaster, the Les Paul boasts a mahogany body, a set mahogany neck, a rosewood fingerboard, and a maple top. Among the many Les Paul players we find Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin:
The SG ─ another flagship of the brand ─ was originally a Les Paul modified with a double cutaway before becoming a model on its own right. One of the most famous SG players is Angus Young from AC/DC:
Gibson guitars are usually equipped with dual-coil pickups. They have a higher output level than single-coil pickups and produce a fatter sound, which is usually an advantage for distortion, but not only! Gibson has many other successful models, like the Explorer (The Edge), the Flying V (Jimi Hendrix) or the ES-335 (B.B. King). Epiphone, founded in 1915, was bought by Gibson in 1957 and became Gibson's sub-brand, even if a few custom designs of the 1960's are still mythical (Casino).
PRS Guitars was founded in 1985 by Paul Reed Smith in Maryland, USA. They build high-end guitars, even if they also have a more affordable Asian range (the SE series). The most popular PRS endorser is Carlos Santana, but we could also count Dave Navarro and Al Di Meola among them. Santana's guitar is equipped with dual-coil pickups and a mahogany body with maple top. It looks a bit like a Les Paul with two cutaways. And the sound is closer to a Les Paul than to a Fender.
After Spanish guitar manufacturer Ibáñez e Hijos was bought by Telesforo Julve in 1933, Hoshino Gakki, who used to import these guitars to Japan, decided to build them himself under the brand name Ibanez Salvador, which would later become Ibanez. In the 1960's and 1970's, the production was limited to Gibson, Fender and Rickenbacker copies (and the associated legal proceedings). But in the 1980's and 1990's things started to get serious thanks to guitar players like Steve Vai and his famous JEM. Also noteworthy is the birth of the Universe model and the more affordable RG series, which are leading products in the "Super-Strat" market segment today. Even though Ibanez also builds quality hollow-body guitars for famous endorsers (Pat Metheny), the brand has become a reference among metal heads and shredders. Ibanez guitars have a very fast neck and usually pickups with a high-output level to go with it.
Based both in Japan and the USA, this Japanese manufacturer produces guitars under different brand names: "ESP Standard," "ESP Custom Shop," "LTD Guitars and Basses," "Navigator," "Edwards Guitar and Basses," and "Grass Roots." Hisatake Shibuya opened his "Electric Sound Product" store in 1975 where he used to sell guitar spare parts. He then started to build his own parts and became a Kramer and Schecter subcontractor. His first signature guitar went to George Lynch (the Kamikaze), while the powerful Gibson Explorer copy designed for metal heads and adopted by a certain James Hetfield (Metallica) became almost as popular as its owner in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
In 1978, Michel Chavarria, guitarist, singer and songwriter for French band Madrigal, decided to create a guitar shop with his friend Daniel Delfour. The shop was on a street called "rue de Laganne," which inspired the name Lâg. Like in many other cases, the small business started as a repair, setting and customization shop before creating its own models. Due to the quality of their instruments, they sell custom-made guitars to French and international musicians like Jean-Jacques Goldman, Phil Campbell (Motörhead) and Keziah Jones. Among the best-known models we have the Arkane (a Super-Strat available with different pickup combinations) and the Roxane (with Gibson-like humbuckers).
MusicMan is the story of two former Fender employees who decided to create their own company in 1971. In the beginning it was called Tri-Sonix, before they changed the name to MusicMan in 1974. While the first product of the brand was a tube/solid-state hybrid amp ─ the Sixty Five, developed with the help of a certain Leo Fender ─ the company became famous for its guitars and basses. The introduction of the mythical StingRay guitars and basses in 1976 is a milestone in the company's history. The guitar is an average seller (rock players find it too "clean"), but the bass and its active Tom Walker preamp that allows to boost certain frequencies is a huge success. After severe conflicts within the team, MusicMan was sold to Ernie Ball in 1984. The brand then started to endorse famous artists like Albert Lee, Steve Lukather (Toto), John Petrucci (Dream Theater), and Eddie Van Halen (Axis), and developed signature models for every one of them.
The Quebec-based Robert Godin decided to create his own music instrument company in 1972. Today, the manufacturer sells its products under different brand names: Norman (entry-level and mid-range acoustic guitars), Art & Lutherie (entry-level guitars), Simon and Patrick (mid-range and high-end guitars), La Patrie (classical guitars), Seagull (entry-level and mid-range acoustic guitars), and Godin for electric guitars. Some models are equipped with a piezo and/or "synth" pickups. The body shape is pretty classic, somewhere between a Les Paul and a Telecaster. Among the most famous Godin players we have John McLaughlin and Leonard Cohen. The brand catalog is sorted in different series: Performance Series, Signature Series, Multiac (acoustic/electric hybrid), Passion Series (high-end instruments), 5th Avenue Series, plus some very original single models like the Glissentar, an acoustic/electric 11-string nylon-string fretless guitar!
Like many others, Frenchman Patrice Vigier started with a guitar repair shop before establishing his own company in 1980 in order to introduce his first instruments from the Arpege series. The trapezoidal, neck-through body construction is reinforced by a metallic sublayer. One of the models has a metal fretless fretboard, electronic supply by accumulator and a locking string-through body bridge. The Excalibur series was born in 1991 and features a bolt-on neck and a Floyd Rose tremolo system. Available in different variations, it remains the brand's signature up to this day. Vigier instruments are entirely made in France following a quality-oriented philosophy. Among the artists playing Vigier guitars are Gary Moore and Bumblefoot.
The American David Schecter founded his company in 1976 in order to produce spare parts for guitars already available (especially Fender and Gibson). But since 1979 the brand has been manufacturing its own guitars. In the beginning they had only Fender-based models but nowadays, Schecter guitars are clearly conceived for hairy players (but not exclusively), with models like the Hellraiser or the Damien. Among their most famous users are Billy Corgan, Eddie Vedder, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Matthew Bellamy... And the brand also presented its first amps at the latest NAMM show.
"That great Gretsch sound!" is the slogan of the company founded by Friedrich Gretsch in 1883. The company belongs to the oldest electric guitar manufacturers in the world. They created legendary archtop guitars, with or without Bigsby tremolo, like the White Falcon, the Country Club or the 6120 Chet Atkins. The rock 'n' roll boom in the 1950's allowed the brand to become a reference thanks to artists like Eddie Cochran or Bo Diddley. George Harrison ─ who bought a Duo Jet, a Tennessean and a Country Gentleman ─ became the brand's most famous endorser in the 1960's and put the brand under the spotlights once again. In 1967, Fred Gretsch Jr. sold the company to the Baldwin Piano Company and Gretsch started its twilight until it halted all production in 1981. Another Fred Gretsch (the nephew), bought the company back in 1989 and decided to open facilities in Japan and the USA to manufacture expensive products. Brian Setzer and his neo-rockabilly allowed the brand to rise again in popularity in the 1990's until Fender bought the company in 2002. Ever since, the manufacturing quality of the guitars has increased considerably and Gretsch is now back again as a major player in the guitar market.
Rickenbacker is another famous American brand created in 1931 to build Hawaiian guitars, called "Frying pans" due to their typical shape. The brand incorporated guitars to its catalog a bit later. The models created by Roger Rossmeisl (Combo 4000 guitar, 4000 bass), a former Gibson collaborator and future Fender man in the 1950's, enjoyed a lot of success and became the brand's most typical designs. The 360, 370, 620, 660, and 4003 models can be connected to a Rick-O-Sound unit (a box with two mono outs) via a stereo 1/4" jack, which allows the two or three pickups to feed different amps. Most instruments have a dual truss rod and a varnished rosewood fretboard. Their distinctive jangle and chime emphasizes high frequencies, giving pretty good results with clean sounds. The Beatles, and especially John Lennon, often played Rickenbacker guitars at the dawn of their careers. Tom Petty, The Jam and R.E.M. are also Rickebacker users.
10% of our readers voted for brands that were not listed in the survey. So, besides G&L, Jackson, Yamaha, Danelectro, Charvel, Cort, Washburn, Framus, Parker, Dean, B.C Rich, and Aria, you might also want to check Duesenberg, Wild Customs, Mayones, Caparison, Reverend, Blackat, Hagstrom, Peerless, Carvin, Guild, Cole Clark, Seagull, Meloduende, Suhr, Nik Huber, Feline, Ozark, Burns, Ruokangas, and Eko.
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