As any guitar player will likely understand, I have a love affair with the instrument. Not just playing guitar, but the actual piece of art that each guitar can be. I have been playing guitar for more than 30 years now, and trying to build an electric guitar collection for only the past several years. Although by my count there have been more than 120 manufacturers of electric guitars, from Alembic to Charvel, Danelectro to Fender, Gibson to Ibanez, Jackson to Mosrite, PRS to Squier, and Vox to Zemaitis, just to name a few, I set my sites on building a collection of electric guitars that spans the spectrum of my favorite hard rock and metal sounds. This is no easy task, and I am sure I will always be leaving great guitars out of the discussion, as I canâ€™t get to all of them. So what follows is a mix of some fact and lots of my own opinion. I would never expect everyone to agree with my choices. They merely represent a small glimpse into the instruments that make the sounds I love the most. I have left many great manufacturers and models out, as this is certainly no final list.
My favorite guitar manufacturers and models:
Gibson, one of the oldest manufacturers and the one that started it all in my opinion, with their first electric guitar, the Electric Hawaiian E-150 cast aluminum steel guitar in 1935. But it was the Les Paul designed by the legendary guitar player of the same name, that does it for me. The 1952 introduction of the Les Paul, was Gibson’s first ever solidbody electric guitar. So many great guitarists have used this model, my favorites being Pete Townsend, Jimi Page, Martin Barre, Alex Lifeson and Slash. In my opinion it was Pete Townsend and Jimi Page that made the Les Paul a hard rock legend. Deep, gritty tone with sustain for days, and oh so beautiful to look at. My favorite model is the Les Paul Supreme.
Fender is widely perceived as having produced the first ever solidbody electric (even before the Les Paul) model known as the Broadcaster in 1950. The Broadcaster was the precursor to Fenderâ€™s Telecaster. A few years later, in 1954, Fender introduced the Stratocaster. That led to Strats which of course have been used by anyone and everyone. My favorites Strat/Stratocaster players being Jimi Hendrix, Richi Blackmore, Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray and many, many more. It’s the classic rock sound. Bright, crisp, round sound. Great for leads and super versatile for going from soft to hard, twang to crunch. Also a classic look that since the days of Buddy Holly have come to define the look of â€œelectricâ€. My favorite model is the Olympic White 1967 Stratocaster.
Founder Wayne Charvel opened his shop in 1974 supplying hardware replacement parts. Charvel had a custom shop division run by a designer named Grover Jackson. When Charvel ran into financial problems in 1977, Grover Jackson bought the brand and launched the Charvel brand in 1979. It was Eddie Van Halen that put Charvel on the map when he used a body and neck by Charvel to create his first signature guitar that can be seen on Van Halenâ€™s 1978 debut album. That would be the white Strat like body style with the black lines running across it. Charvel continued to produce Fender-style guitars with bolt on necks and manufacturing moved then moved to Japan. Charvels became known as the original hot rod Guitar (although Ibanez had been customizing Gibson and Fenders for years before that). Grover Jackson divided the company into Charvelâ€™s Fender-style guitars and Jackson, which were custom offset designs. I love Charvelâ€™s for their innovative design changes to the Fender-style. Their use of Floyd Rose tremelos, and their use of a single bridge humbucker and two single-coils, that came to be identified with the emerging metal superstrats. My favorite model is the 1986 Model 5 Superstrat.
If Charvels were one of the original hot rods, then Jackson is the hot rod of hot rods. Grover Jackson launched his own line of guitars under his name in 1980. It was in that year that one of rock and rollâ€™s most important relationships (in my opinion) was formed when Grover Jackson met Randy Rhoads, then a 24 year old up and coming guitarist. Together they designed a custom guitar based on Gibsonâ€™s Flying V. They continued their collaborative design efforts and in 1981, the famous offset design was born. Jackson went on to create a number of important innovations that would impact the future of hard rock and metal music including more frets, deeper cutaways, and altered pickup layouts. Jackson also is known for its solid body through necks (all one piece) series. More expensive, but too cool. Since those early days, Jackson has become the guitar for a number of my favorite guitarists including the aforementioned Randy Rhoads, Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Vivian Campbell (Dio), George Lynch (Dokken), and Jeff Beck just to name a few. Jackson began a legacy that has now spanned 27 years of creating the greatest hot rods of the hot rods. Nothing crunches smoother than a Jackson. The necks although a bit wider than an Ibanez, are some of the hottest necks I’ve ever played. My favorite models are the Jackson Soloist and Dinky.
Ibanez has been around for 98 years and has long been the premier Japanese guitar manufacturer. Ibanez was actually the premier brand of Hoshino guitars founded in 1909 by Hoshino Gakki Ten in Nagoya, Japan. In the ’60s and ’70s they became famous for making Gibson design like guitars, and the â€œcopy eraâ€ was born. They then moved into creating expensive custom Gibson and Fender guitars, by introducing maple fingerboards on Les Pauls, custom detail inlays etc. Ibanez began producing itâ€™s own designs around 1975 with the introduction of the â€œArtistâ€ used by Steve Miller, and the â€œIcemanâ€ played by Paul Stanley of Kiss. Other Ibanez designs included the GB-10 played by George Benson, the Roadster played by Steve Miller and the Destroyer used by Phill Collen of Def Leppard. Since then, many other models became adopted by such great guitarists as Joe Petrucci of Dream Theatre, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. It was Steve Vai that introduced Ibanez’s first 7 string electric, the â€œUniverseâ€ model, that was further adapted and commercialized by Kornâ€™s James â€œMunkyâ€ Shaffer. In my mind, it’s hard to find a guitar that plays nicer than my Ibanez. Thin neck, super sleek body, light but dense, and just sweet to play. My favorite models is the Ibanez Radius 540 R model that became Satrianiâ€™s signature JS series and the Prestige.
So although there are tons of great guitars out there and I have left most of them out, I have chosen these 5 manufacturers and 6 models as best representing the sound I love the most in rock and metal. Today, my electric guitar collection includes a 1980 candy apple red Fender Strat, an Ibanez limited edition 2 jack tobacco sunburst Prestige, a 1986 Charvel broken glass Model 5 Super Strat, a 2004 Ibanez RG series 7 string, and a 2006 Jackson DK2M. That leaves getting a Gibson Les Paul Supreme. I canâ€™t wait!
Note: much of the information contained in this blog came from “Electric Guitars, The Illustrated Encyclopedia” by Tony Bacon.