Updated by Bobby
Updated on March 14th, 2022
Updated links to each guitar mentioned. Made minor changes and corrections to article formatting.
Best Electric Guitar for Rhythm (our top pick)
PRS SE Custom 22 Semi-Hollow
The semi-hollow setup for the Custom 22 is a great fit for rhythm players. With dual humbuckers and a chambered body, this thing is a beautiful, resonant canvas for open chords and heavy riffs.
Parent article: Best Cheap Electric Guitars
Today, electric guitars and rhythm go together more than ever before. While they used to be viewed primarily as a lead instrument, in a solo and melody context, electric guitars have become more widely used as a percussive, rhythm instrument used to compliment bass lines with heavier riffing, power chords, and layered chord progressions.
A lot of this has happened as a combined result of modern rock's use of distortion and the "post-guitar" influence of pop music.
Either way, many guitarists are trying to pick out the best electric guitars for rhythm since chords have become a more important part of their job description. It's not as much about soloing anymore as it is about keeping time and maintaining a solid rhythm.
We'll look at electric guitars I would recommend to rhythm players, myself being primarily a rhythm guitarist.
I've always been more comfortable on that side of the technical fence.
To that end, I'll cover the electric guitars I would most readily recommend for rhythm-related tasks.
What qualities Do the best rhythm electric guitars have?
Primarily, I'm looking for the following list of features:
- An HH pickup configuration (dual humbuckers)
- Larger fret design
- Hollow-body design is a plus
- Fixed bridge is a plus
These aren't rules, but just general guidelines I'll use to pick out guitars that will be better in a heavier, rhythmic role.
I'll also draw on my own personal experience, having used almost all of the guitars mentioned here. If you have any questions at the end, feel free to leave those in the comments section below this article.
Best Electric Guitars for Rhythm (top 4 picks)
PRS SE Custom 22 Hollow-body
Fender HH Telecaster
Ibanez Artcore Series
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
1. PRS SE Custom 22
I've been a fan of the SE series by PRS for a long time. One reason they're great for rhythm is that their frets feel larger and easier to move in a barre shape. Somehow they just feel easier to chord.
PRS guitars also have a thicker and more percussive low-end to their tone, even on clean settings.
The SE Custom 22 with the semi-hollow design is a fantastic option for rhythm players, especially who might play through a lot of clean tones.
This is one of my favorite electric guitar recommendations, and easily my top choice for rhythm electric players.
IDEAL FOR: Clean tones and open chords
2. Fender HH Telecaster
I like the body design and twang of Telecasters, even with the typical single coil pickup configuration.
Adding in the two humbuckers makes it an easy rhythm player's favorite.
This Fender HH Telecaster has a versatile tone profile, but seems most at home playing power chords and classic rock riffs on low to mid-gain settings. It does really well with a simple overdrive pedal or a modest amount of gain breakup on an amplifier's dirty channel.
Country guitar, blues guitar, and rock rhythm are all great roles for the HH Telecaster to fill.
IDEAL FOR: Country or Classic Rock
3. Ibanez Artcore Expressionist Series
There are two tiers of the Artcore series, where the Expressionist is the second and nicer of the two.
First, the guitars look beautiful especially with the blue finish. But, what makes them great for rhythm is the hollow-body design and the dual humbucker setup similar to the old Gibson ES 335s.
For contemporary worship, jazz, or even certain aspects of modern rock, the Artcore series is a great fit. Clean chords, simple modulation, and moderately high gain levels are all going to be well-served here.
IDEAL FOR: Clean tones
4. Epiphone Les Paul Standard
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is one of the most popular and well-liked budget electric guitars available.
It's used for a wide range of styles and job descriptions, able to handle both rhythm and lead technical duties. The two humbuckers, pickguard and placement of the three-way switch make it a good option for chord strumming and heavy progressions.
If you are buying it strictly for rhythm duties, I would advise putting a heavier gauge guitar string on, just so you can have a little more power in your tone.
Read more: Best Epiphone Les Pauls
IDEAL FOR: Classic and/or modern rock
5. Gretsch Streamliners
Like PRS, Gretsch does a great job with their economy electric guitars. The Streamliner series provides some solid value with a slightly smaller body design that's easier to play and looks better (in my opinion) than the larger hollow-body guitars.
You've also got a Bigsby tremolo bridge, though that will matter less for rhythm purposes.
Once again, you have a guitar that will handle clean, open chords with a lot of clarity and resonance. It's almost like having certain aspects of an acoustic guitar built into your electric.
At not even $500, the Streamliners are a solid, high-value option.
IDEAL FOR: Clean tones and open chords
The five electrics highlighted above are my favorite recommendations. Though for rhythm players, I'd also recommended the following as honorable mentions:
What about single coil options?
If you abandon the dual humbucker setup, single coils can still make great rhythm electric guitars, especially if you're talking about a Fender Stratocaster, or an electric guitar with active single coils.
Most guitars have a rhythm pickup, which means you can always use your selector switch to back off the higher treble tones and into a more warm, mellow sound that's better for playing chords
Generally I'd still recommend humbuckers for rhythm players, but a single coil arrangement can work. It's just a less conventional option.
What are the tone qualities of a rhythm electric guitar?
As I just mentioned, the tone of a rhythm electric guitar should be softer and warmer, in order to avoid the chime and brightness of melodic licks.
Here's a quick summary of the tone qualities I'd keep in mind:
- Warm, softened
- Avoid tones that are too bright or harsh
- Heavier low-end with a little more bass
This kind of tone profile is ideal for strumming and (especially when coupled with some distortion) percussive playing styles.
Should I use a heavier string gauge?
I would say, yes.
If you're primarily a rhythm guitar player, your strings - even on an electric guitar - should be heavier and thicker.
I'd recommend going with at least a .048 on the low E, if not higher.
Typically, I use a .052 for my low E, which gives me plenty of thickness and heavy response on those lower bass notes.
When making recommendations about guitar gear I think it's important to speak from personal experience.
I've either used or spoken with people who have used these guitars, so I know that they're both good value and good fits for a rhythm guitar player's workload. If I couldn't say that confidently, I wouldn't have mentioned them at all.
There are a lot of other electric guitars out there than can work as well. I might just not have the same level of experience and comfort with them that I do with the ones mentioned here.
Thus, don't view this list (or any of the other lists we publish on Guitar Chalk) as exhaustive or excluding of other options.
It's a template that you can use to identify features and make a decision about what will work best for you.
Hopefully, I've helped you get closer to that point.
Your Questions and Comments
If you have questions about the guitars in this list or perhaps about some that I didn't mention, feel free to reach out via the comments section below.
You can also leave your own thoughts, suggestions, or experiences there as well.
Sharing your own insights benefits pages like this and makes it a better resource for future readers, so please feel free to chime in.
Good luck out there.
Les Paul is great for rhythm. But it is also great for lead. Universal guitar.
No mention of a Ric 360… unbelievable.
Tried to stick to guitar that I myself – or those I consult with – have had direct experience with.
I am needing to know about the artcore series, the price range tom 299 to 699 and up. Which is the best for playing church songs ?
Hey Russ – I might advise settling on the AS73 or 312. The Artcore series is great and I’ve actually used those in church before. Hard to go wrong.
Russ Chitwood says
Thanks for your help!
As a metal focused player whose approach to the job is thus… Rythem IS the music, my noodlings are only used when it suits the song structurally and melodically, I find your list wholly inadequate. My rig is built around my rythem sound, I add gear to that base to get anything else. And honestly none of these guitars are acceptable. And it seems to slide you that there are guitars designed from the ground up to fulfil both roles equally, and do an outstanding job of it. Jackson broke the ground there, and the Ibanez Jem is the consulate do all with one exception. Said exception is so far ahead it has no peers, and is hated by all but the fee in the know… The original Parker Fly. There is no style or genfe this little machine can’t excel at. It’s only potential flaw is it does it’s job too well. The pickups are so well designed to cover any and all bases it really doesn’t have a Sonic signature that sets it out. That was by design. I intend to load one with a set of fishman fluance and increase it’s potential, if that doesn’t pan ill put a JB at the bridge like the rest of my stable. My sound is pretty well defined, and charges in similar gear really don’t stick out, at least not till they make aftermarket hands, that’s the source of our sounds. From there we just pick gear that enhance that base, knowingly or not…
Bobby Kittleberger says
Seems like you’re speaking somewhat in the context of metal, which this article is not meant to be limited to.
Moreover, I would not agree at all that Jackson as a brand (you didn’t mention a specific guitar) or the Ibanez JEMs would suffice as “rhythm” electrics. They’re good, but I’m looking for something that’s specialized (and decently affordable), not just the absolute best at all of the above.
In an effort to find common ground, I can appreciate anyone who is putting in Fishman Fluence pickups. They’re one-of-a-king in my opinion.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment and perspective.
Thanks for the great talk on rhythm guitars. I would appreciate your comments leaping from acoustic guitar play to electric. I’m an ok rhythm acoustic player who is getting to “certain” age where playing a song with a-lot of bar chords is difficult. I mostly just jam with friends. We all play acoustic w our best lead guitarist playing electric so we can hear him over the rest of us. We play a wide variety of stuff including bluegrass, country, rock, blues, standards etc. I’m primarily a vocalist but love the percussive/rhythm side of the acoustic guitar.
Do you think the PRS SE could work for me in my acoustic jam group or is this really more for all electric/plugged in setting?
Sorry for the long story. I appreciate your advice.
Bobby Kittleberger says
Hey Dave – I would think that something like the SE would be perfect for that. It’ll be a lot easier to play than the acoustic guitar. Get a smaller string gauge too. For rhythm it’s more about tone and EQ than needing to have an acoustic guitar. In my experience, the electric can be just as rhythmic. Hope this helps!