Parent article: Best Cheap Electric Guitars
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Recently updated on Feb 15th, 2021
Updated link to the Fender Deluxe Stratocaster to reflect the Deluxe Roadhouse Strat.
Finding the best guitar for blues isn't just about getting a genre-specific guitar. Because even if a style of music is the end goal, the guitar you buy still needs to suit you, as a player.
It needs to be the right "fit" just like a new car or an expensive sweater.
We don't just want to say, "Oh, this guitar is a commoner in the blues genre, so let's buy it."
Instead, you want to find a guitar that is, yes, blues-friendly, but is also ideal for your specific situation.
As it turns out:
There are a lot of great guitars for the blues genre that are also highly unique and tailored to a certain kind of player in a particular situation. So, whether you're a beginner, professional, a performer or session guitarist, there are blues-friendly guitars that will be accommodating to your situation.
Best Guitars for Blues and Light Rock (top 7 picks)
Fender Deluxe Stratocaster
Fender Player Stratocaster
Epiphone Casino Archtop
Squier Classic Vibe '70s Telecaster
Fender Player Telecaster HH
Squier Classic Vibe '70s Jaguar
Two of Our Favorites
Fender Player HH Telecaster
Squier Classic Vibe '70s Jaguar
The context of blues guitar
Blues can be fast, emotional and often times highly instrumental, requiring a guitar that accommodates a lot of lead play, some speed and a fair amount of improvising, while also producing an authentic blues tone.
Some guitars do this better than others.
So, think about what you’ll be doing after you buy your new instrument.
Here's what I mean:
Will you be playing a lot of lead? What about effects and distortion? Do you want something with a whammy bar?
In other words:
How will you use this guitar?
From classic blues to the modern and heavy varieties, the genre’s guitar playing can almost always be characterized by the following:
Characteristics of the blues genre
- Pentatonic scales and soloing
- Rhythmic three or four part chord progressions
- Heavy focus on lead guitar
- Warm, distorted tone
There are a lot of guitars that can do these things well.
If we say that Stratocasters and Telecasters are ideal for this style of play (which they are), that certainly doesn’t negate your preference, should that preference lead you to other guitar brands and models.
In other words, don't view this guide as a list of the only acceptable blues guitars.
Use this guide as a way to get started in the right direction.
Think about your situation and the context in which you'll be playing, then make your decision accordingly.
How We made these selections
I've picked these guitars based on a combination of the following factors:
- Value (Quality vs. price)
- Functionality in the blues genre
- First hand experience
While there are certainly other guitars that are great for the blues style, I believe these are some of the absolute best that are going to be the most widely accommodating to both your skill level and your wallet.
Enjoy the list folks.
This one was fun.
1. Fender Deluxe Players Stratocaster
IDEAL FOR: All skill levels, session or studio guitarists, bedroom jamming and the blues or classic rock enthusiast
The sound you get from the combination of Ash tonewood (used in the guitar's body) and the vintage pickups is crisp and responsive. A lot of the definition of my guitar pick (and even my fingers when finger picking) came out clearly and well-defined.
Overall, I noticed it took very little adjusting to get this guitar to sound bluesy. Out of the box, you can just tell that it's built entirely for the blues and classic rock enthusiast.
It's also priced under $500, which is a bit unusual for specialty Fender Strats.
Possible amp and pedal pairings for a bluesy tone
I've found that most of the Strats and Telecasters I've played have sounded best when paired with some kind of tube amp, particularly the Fender models.
And I get that it might seem like overkill to have a Fender guitar and amp, but they do sound truly incredible together. I used to run an American Telecaster through a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe tube amp, which sounded warm and satisfying, both on the high and low end of the fretboard.
It was tough to make that combination sound bad.
The onboard distortion for that amp was a little dull, so I'd advise pairing a similar rig with a Boss DS-1 or Blues Driver for a blues-style gain.
Other options that I know have been good combinations for people (though I can't vouch for them personally) are the mid-range Marshall amps, particularly for their onboard distortion.
If you go that route, it might save you the trouble of adding a distortion pedal.
Other good blues-friendly distortion pedals to consider would be some of the DigiTech and TC Electronic offerings.
As I mentioned, the noiseless pickups sound fantastic and are one of my favorite features of this guitar. With my American Telecaster, I had a ton of trouble with noise, so seeing a noiseless set on this guitar really boosts my confidence in its value.
The gold hardware looks nice as well:
The guitar also includes an additional push/push button pickup switch that allows you to select all three pickups at the same time.
This is, of course, in addition to the typical five-way selector.
So there is a ton of versatility in this guitar, with a total of 10 different pickup selections/arrangements available to you.
Who is it ideal for?
This Deluxe Stratocaster is applicable to nearly any skill level as it has the price to accommodate a beginner, and the features to please the seasoned professional.
I like it in either a performing or recording context, perhaps uniquely accommodating of recording and session work, since the tone can be so vastly configured.
It's tough for this guitar to land in a "bad" situation.
Read more: Best Fender Stratocasters
2. Fender Player Stratocaster Electric Guitar
IDEAL FOR: All styles and skill levels, lead guitarists, blues, rock players and session or studio work
Your electronics setup is the traditional three-way pickup selector and the rail Stratocaster single coil arrangement, while all the trimmings and aesthetics give the authentic Strat look and feel.
While there are differences between this and the American model, they're pretty difficult to tell apart, on the surface.
The noticeable differences between the Standard and American Strats is much less than that of the Epiphone and Gibson Les Pauls.
The Standards are ideal for both beginners and professionals, accommodating nearly any skill level or style
A sleek look at the Fender Stratocaster. Flickr Commons Image via TPS58
In particular, it's one of the single most popular guitars within the blues genre.
Perhaps the Stevie Ray Vaughan or Eric Clapton enthusiast would agree.
The tone from the single coil pickups is crisp and responsive, giving off a clearly-defined imprint of your picking pattern and keeping a sweet, bluesy tone on almost all settings.
Not unlike the Deluxe Player's Strat, the Standard Stratocaster's tone is addictive and inviting, making melodic licks sing clearly and holding plenty of sustain on open chords.
There are few situations or skill levels that will exclude the usefulness and practicality of a Standard Stratocaster.
Moreover, the blues genre stands as a highly accommodating type of music for this particular guitar.
3. Epiphone Casino Archtop Hollowbody GUitar
IDEAL FOR: Live performing, rhythm and lead, church, blues, rock and most skill levels
Similar to the ES-339, the Epiphone Dot has a set of stock pickups with Alnico magnets, which resound surprisingly well with the hollow body design of the guitar, giving you a thick, bluesy tone.
Most hollow body guitars make good blues companions. The DOT is no exception.
While the entire body is Maple, it's also all laminate, which is a bit disappointing. However, the DOT's tone is still a big winner, even without solid tonewood.
What does it sound like?
The tonal spectrum leans to the low end with a lot of sustain and little bit of edge to it. Pairing it with a light distortion will get you a lot of natural sustain that might otherwise require high gain levels to achieve.
With a chambered body and the extra punch added by the Maple tonewood, you're getting a full-bodied sound that mixes well with both the lead and rhythm side of the blues style.
If that style is your area of expertise, whether you're a lead or rhythm player, this guitar is going to serve you well.
Personally, I like hollow body guitars better for performing live, though it can work in just about any scenario.
Read more: Best Epiphone Les Pauls
4. Squier Classic Vibe '70s Telecaster
IDEAL FOR: Country, blues, rock, all styles, beginners and intermediate players, budget shoppers and performing
Squier’s Classic Vibe Telecaster is partially hollowed out via a chambered Mahogany body that pairs nicely with the Maple neck and fingerboard, both for tone and aesthetic purposes. The pickups are actually a Fender Wide Range humbucker configuration that push a little more brightness into the tone of the guitar.
That tone mixes well with finger picking and lead guitar licks in general.
Moreover, the guitar has a generally strong sound, which is surprising when you consider that it's a Squier and not a full-blown Fender Tele.
Am I losing too much value dropping from Fender to Squier?
There's certainly a quality hit when you go with Squier instead of Fender.
However, the best Squier guitars pack a remarkable amount of quality into their instruments, especially their Vintage and Classic Vibe lines. Whether you go with them or Fender should be an issue of budget and context.
The way I usually advise people is that Squiers make great first guitars while Fenders make great second guitars.
With the Squier Thinline Tele retailing in the $300 - $400 range, it doesn't have to be a permanent instrument for you to get your money's worth.
I frequently recommend it.
5. Epiphone ES-339 P90 Pro Hollowbody Electric Guitar
IDEAL FOR: All styles, all skill levels, the "second" guitar, the studio rat, church and other live performing scenarios
The pickups on this guitar are Epiphone’s take on the Gibson Burstbuckers and sound fairly decent.
This still means they're a stock Epiphone set, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
By most accounts and reviews, they still sound quite good.
The Maple top is laminate, though rests on a solid interior block with the chambered sections of the guitar hollowed out on either side.
This gives it a more light and airy response, which is less "big" than what you might expect from a hollow body guitar. It's far more nuanced and subtle than what you'll get from guitars that keep the larger body design.
Some of that is also due to the laminate construction.
Size and the smaller body design
That small construction has a few advantages:
First, it's just easier to hold and play, which bodes well for those who want a blues-friendly guitar and like the hollow body sound/look but want to avoid the bulkiness of some of the larger models.
Furthermore, the tone it creates is going to be more appealing to lead players or those who want a guitar that's going to have some flexibility.
The ES-339, while excelling in a blues role, can hang in nearly any style of music, perhaps with the exception of heavy metal.
Pricing and value
The pricing is firmly in the $450 range, where used options can drop to around the $350 mark.
So again, you're getting a guitar at an amazing price tag that brings in enough quality to be a feasible option for both professionals and beginners alike.
Additional perks like LockTone hardware and push/pull coil tapping give you a few extra cherries on top of an already solid foundation.
6. Fender Modern Player Telecaster
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm, lead, heavy funk and blues, country, rock and recording artists
Your bridge pickup is called a "Modern Player Humbucker," which gives this Telecaster a lot more thickness and power than the Standard models. And, like the Stratocaster, Fender's Telecasters are known as some of the most versatile guitars in existence, adaptable to anything from hard rock to country and blues.
Thanks to the bridge humbucker, the low-end frequencies in the EQ get a significant kick in the rear.
As a result, this guitar is just more rock than most Teles.
More about tone
The Modern Player can handle both the expected twang and bluesy yield of a traditional Tele, along with the hard rock and punch of humbucking pickups. It's a fantastic fit for those who want to hang in the blues styles, while also having a guitar that's capable of functioning outside of that context.
It's a win for studio guitarists, in particular, since they get the added professionalism of a strong brand in Fender, with the expanded range of tone offered by the Modern Player's pickup configuration. Both can help session guitarists be more accommodating to their clients.
Like many Fender guitars, there aren't many scenarios from which it should be excluded.
7. Squier Classic Vibe '70s Jaguar Electric Guitar
IDEAL FOR: Beginner and intermediate players, blues, jazz, rhythm and lead
Once again, we should note that Squiers are not Fenders.
At the price tag you won't find much to complain about regarding Squier's Modified Jaguar.
Despite the fact I've played guitar for two decades, this axe still appeals to me a lot.
The Duncan-designed pickups are similar to the Seymour Duncan Antiquity set, though they're a more stripped-down, budget version. They still go a long way in creating a great looking guitar that’s hard to distinguish from the Fender version.
Highlight features would include the dual circuit switching and a vintage, non-locking tremolo.
Squier’s highlight features of their Vintage Jaguar. Image via Fender
The tone is crisp and warm with a strong resonance, which sounds particularly inviting coming off clean lead melodies and pick scrapes.
I love this version of the Jaguar for beginners and even intermediate players, especially those of you who are big time Kurt Cobain fans.
- What you need
- What you like
What features make a guitar bluesy?
Now that we've listed our recommendations, what exactly is it that makes a guitar blues-friendly? While we talked a little bit about this earlier in the article, let's take a closer look at some of the features that should matter most to a blues guitarsist.
Single Coil Pickups
While not all of these guitars have single coil pickups, we prefer the single coil arrangement of a Stratocaster or Telecaster-style electric.
That's because single coils are a little lighter and "snappier" giving you that increased definition and "wailing" tone quality, particularly on string bends and vibrato.
Coil Tapping (for humbuckers)
Coil tapping is a wiring technique for humbuckers that allows you to split the humbucker coils in two, effectively turning them into single coils that are just positioned side by side.
When we're looking for blues electric guitars that also use dual humbuckers, it's nice to have coil-tapping available if we want to split each humbucker pair and get a lighter, more Stratocaster-esque sound.
Note that coil-tapping is usually engaged with some kind of push-pull tone or volume knob.
Chambered or Hollow Body Design
Of the seven guitars we've recommended, three of them have a chambered or hollow body design. This is popular design for among blues guitarists for a couple reasons. First, hollowbody electric guitars tend to have a warmer and softer tone, pairing really well with a tube amp.
They also tend to sound a little more natural, bringing some of the elements of an acoustic guitar over to the electric guitar realm.
Particularly if we have humbuckers instead of single coil pickups, it's nice to balance that out with a hollowbody design.
A Slim Neck Design
While blues isn't necessarily about fretboard speed, it is often more of a lead guitar discipline that requires a lot of horiztonal fretboard movement. To accomdate this, we recommend electric blues players aim for a guitar that has a slim and faster neck design.
Electric guitars with wide necks are typically better for rhythm, while slimmer neck designs are more accomodating of melodic lead players.
How slim a neck is can be related to the shape of the neck, radius, and actual width at the first fret position, so make sure to read the spec sheet and the fine print.
For blues guitar players we don't typically recommend a super heavy distortion or saturated gain levels. Unlike rock and metal, blues relies on subtlty and nuance, meaning you want to hear every aspect of each note you play.
This means that high gain levels or super-thick distortions are not going to be a good fit if you buy one of these guitars specifically for a blues-focused style.
Instead, aim for a distortion with the following characteristics:
Low Gain Levels
Whatever distortion you use, whether it comes from your amp or a pedal, make sure the gain is down at a moderate to lower level. You want a slight "breakup" of your clean signal, as opposed to a full distortion layer.
This article addresses blues amp settings from a pedal and amplifier perspective.
Smooth Instead of Edgy or Harsh
While blues can definitely have an edge to it, we don't necessarily want that to come from our distortion. In other words, it should be smooth instead of biting. As with the gain levels, this is usually an issue of EQ, so we would advise trying to tune your distortion as follows:
- Lower treble
- Higher bass
- Low reverb
- Moderate to high presence (power amp level)
- Moderate to high midrange (preamp level)
All guitar rigs are different, so you might have to experiment with different settings before you settle on something that isn't too harsh.
Lower Sustain from Distortion (rely on guitar to provide natural sustain)
While high levels of distortion can encourage and provide sustain, blues players should look for sustain to come from their guitar and not simply their distortion. This is why we go back to the hollowbody design and some natural elements of an electric guitar that can produce sustain with even just a clean sound.
In other words, don't rely on distortion alone for your sustain. Make sure you're getting a nice, ringing sound from your guitar, naturally.
What guitar do popular blues players use?
There have been a ton of really good blues guitarists over the years. However, their guitar choice has had a fairly consistent theme, while variation has occurred within that theme. Here are a few examples:
- Stevie Ray Vaughan: Fender Stratocaster
- Jeff Beck: Fender Stratocaster
- Eric Clapton: Fender Stratocaster
- B.B. King: Gibson Hollowbody
- Joe Bonamassa: Gibson Hollowbody
- Freddie King: Gibson Hollowbody
Here's a look at one of the last configurations of Stevie Ray Vaughan's electric guitar rig before he died.
The same deal went for Jimi Hendrix.
You'll see a lot of Fender Stratocasters without a lot of extras:
While guitar use certainly varies between other artists, the biggest names in blues guitar have consistently wielded Fender Stratocasters, some kind of Gibson (or Epiphone) hollowbody, or - less frequently - a Fender Telecaster.
Our list has been loosely based on those guitars, targetting a lower price range for your wallet's sake.
What's a good price range to target?
Obviously the more you spend, the better your experience is going to be. This is true regardless of the musical style your persuing. Even blues guitar, characterized by an "organic" tone that's naturally rough around the edges, will sound better with the nicer guitars.
It's impossible to get away from that reality.
However, I've found that a happy medium seems to occur in the $500 to $800 price range.
Here you find some great deals on instruments that certainly aren't the best, but can sound incredibly good, and give you a decent experience that you can't draw out of a $200 guitar.
I've found that a happy medium seems to occur in the $500 to $800 price range.
My advice for those looking for an electric guitar in the blues style, is to spend between $500 and $800, assuming you don't want to go higher into the $1200 or $1500 range.
FAQ about Buying a Blues Guitar
These guitars all do a great job at capturing the feel and the "vibe" of blues electric playing.
However, there are certainly other options that I'm not as privy to.
Feel free to leave those in the comments section below.
Also, if you have questions about these guitars or other electric guitars that I didn't list here, drop those in as well and I'll do my best to help out.