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There’s no need to feel blue if you haven’t yet found a blues guitar for your style of blues music.
We’ve heard your demands and have found affordable guitars with twang, soul, and even some pep for when your bluesy tunes portray a change in luck.
But, we can’t read your mind when it comes to personal preferences. Between the Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, Country Blues, Gospel Blues, Memphis Blues, Texas Blues, and then there’s even various ethnic blues genres – where does it start and where does it end?
Blues is as much infinite as it is equivocal. It demands your own personal story and unique tonal signature to give it soul.
With that said, we fill in the gaps and help you to define your style a little more by providing a lineup of the best electric guitars that pour out heart and soul in bluesy style. We’ll also identify common features to look for so you can get a leg-up in the buying process.
QUICK ANSWER: 5 Top Blues Guitars
- Guild Starfire V Review – Best Under $1500
- Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II Review – Best Under $1000
- PRS Custom 22 Review – Best Under $800
- Epiphone ES-335 PRO Review – Best Under $700
- Ibanez ArtStar AS53 Review – Best Under $500
The Best Blues Guitars
Like the jazz scene, the blues genre can’t be contained, and it can’t be defined. Back in the day, a guitar made for blues wasn’t necessarily “made” for blues. It could’ve been a DIY contraption with strings and a sound hole or an old school jazz box that dabbled in a world of blues and jazz seen in a smoky, dark, lounge as a smokin’, red-lipped woman sang with a cigarette in between her fingers. That just took you back into the day of the ’20s and ’30s. Whatever it was, blues guitarists made do with what they had.
Nowadays, we have a variety of guitars that give off those bluesy tones from archtop hollow bodies to rockin’ solid bodies. But, with no guidance from manufacturers as to whether a guitar is made specifically for blues, we can see how difficult it would be to narrow down the options for your musical tastes.
So, how do you find the best blues guitars? First, we narrowed down the options to electric guitars. Secondly, you should be thinking about the guitar body and what kind of sounds you want to achieve with it. Thirdly, your playing style will govern the features of a guitar.
What else makes a good blues guitar? A little bit of heartbreak, a dash of the blues, a sprinkle of romance, and a whole lotta soul.
But, must you spend a couple grand on a Gibson ES-335 or Les Paul? No. We’ve picked out a variety of plug-in guitars that may appeal to you in price, looks, features, and sound. The whole point of this article is to provide affordable options in the working man’s budget. Sorry big-name, unaffordable, and only-in-my-dreams guitars, you will have to wait another day. Hello budget-friendly, bluesy, and quality alternatives!
1. Guild Starfire V Review
- Arched Laminated Mahogany Top and Back, Laminated Mahogany Sides
- 3 Piece Neck (mahogany/maple/mahogany) with Indian Rosewood Fingerboard
- Guild Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Rosewood Base and Guild Vibrato Tailpiece
It’s the most expensive guitar in this lineup, but as a replica to the original Starfire V and a worthy competitor to Gibson’s ES-335, it’s a heck of a guitar worth owning – blues loyalist or not.
- Semi-hollow body
- Guild Vibrato tailpiece
- TOM bridge
- Thinline body
- Guild Little Bucker pickups
We can’t really gripe about the high price as the Starfire V is every bit worth it, plus it comes with a plush-lined hardshell case, too. However, it is over a grand, so if you weren’t looking to spend that much, you’ll be left feeling more than a little disappointed as you’ll know you’re missing out.
The guitar looks pretty darn close to the original model. It has the Starfire body shape with the double cutaways, Guild tortoiseshell pickguard, f holes, and of course, an arched top and back. The body is made from mahogany laminate with a center block, ivory white binding, and black/white purfling.
The bound neck is made in three pieces with mahogany, maple, mahogany and has the vintage style soft U shape with a rosewood fretboard with a 9.5″ fingerboard radius and 22 jumbo narrow frets. Immediately, you can see this guitar is made for grabbing those bonafide chord progressions you need for blues.
As for hardware, you have a nice set of Grover Sta-Tite 18:1 ratio tuners, bone nut, and D’Addario EXL115 strings. But, what really stands out is the Guild Vibrato Tailpiece. If you’ve been looking for a 335-style guitar with a Bigsby, the Starfire V is it. You can achieve those slow blues vibrato tunes to add some flair to your riffs.
The guitar is outfitted with Guild’s “Little Buckers” humbuckers made with Alnico V magnets. With these humbuckers and a semi-hollow body, it has sparkle and chime but not without warmth, sustain, and resonance. The blues, jazz, and even rock tones are well pronounced as this guitar was made for that scene.
If you want a long-term investment, or if you’re ready to take your blues tunes to another level, the Starfire V has our every recommendation.
2. Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II Review
- Made in North America
- Double-Action Truss Rod
- Canadian Silver Leaf Maple Neck
Canadians like to impress, and Godin sure delivers on that. The 5th Avenue Kingpin II has every bit the flavor and look of a 1950s vintage archtop. Is it any good for blues? Is the sky blue? You know it.
- Arched top/back
- Canadian Wild Cherry
- P90 pickups
- 16″ fingerboard radius
- Setup required
It may be a guitar just shy of a grand to buy, but it will still need some setting up to get it in an ultra-smooth and playable state. Action may need to be adjusted and intonation done correctly.
The Kingpin II is easily one of the most popular guitars if you can manage to pull yourself away from Fender and Gibson to see what else is available. It’s a semi-hollow guitar that sounds excellent both acoustically and plugged-in, even with the single coil Godin Kingpin P90 pickups. While you can play around to reduce that hum, it hasn’t been much of a problem for many players, and it provides that sweet, vintage, and classic sound to push those blues tones to the limits.
It’s made from Canada’s own Wild Cherry with a molded arch top and back finished in a Cognac Burst color. The f holes, single cutaway, and 24.84″ scale length all add to its vintage appeal. The neck is made from Silver Leaf Maple capped with a rosewood fretboard that has a 16″ radius. A flatter radius means you can add more character by bending those strings and lead solos to cut through comping while playing with your band.
What about hardware? It has a GraphTech nut, GraphTech Adjustable Tusq bridge with chrome tailpiece, and tuners with an 18:1 gear ratio on the bass side and 26:1 gear ratio on the treble side – less vintage and more modern it seems.
The Kingpin II is an excellent blues guitar for all types of blues styles. It has the right look, right features, and of course, the right kinda price.
3. PRS Custom 22 Review
- Beveled Maple Top with Flame Maple Veneer, Mahogany Back
- Wide Thin Maple Neck, Rosewood Fretboard, Bird Inlays, 25" Scale Length, 22 Frets
- PRS Patented Tremolo Bridge, PRS Designed Tuners, Nickel Hardware
PRS often sets the trend for the contemporary day, and they nail it every time. Another guitar that shows us how it’s done right is the Custom 22. Traditional, classy, and yet modern.
- 25.5″ scale length
- 22 frets
- Carved maple top
- 85/15 humbuckers
- Patented tremolo bridge
- No hardshell case
The Custom 22 is a gorgeous guitar that’s not only designed as a traditional guitar, but it has vintage grasp to it too. Since we couldn’t fault this guitar for anything, we decided to gripe about the lack of a hardshell case, but at least it comes with a PRS padded gig bag that’s always better than nothing.
It has 22 frets which provides a traditional feel versus the Custom 24, plus that neck pickup is going to be further away from the bridge that provides a softened, mellow tone. This is especially notable since humbuckers can be known to be hot and modern and often criticized of not being able to pull of bluesy and jazzy tones. Regardless of criticism, the Custom 22 is more than capable of taking on your style of blues.
Speaking of pickups, this model has the 85/15 humbuckers that are powerful, extremely responsive, and delivers crisp and clean notes. However, they can be manipulated to shape the bluesy tone you’re after, and with a push/pull tone pot, you can split those coils and jazz out with vintage single coil sounds. Sitting at the lower bout is a PRS patented molded tremolo, and to help keep those strings in tune, you have PRS designed tuners.
It’s made with a mahogany back and beveled maple top with a figured maple veneer that has a slight arch to it. The neck is made from maple and has a rosewood fretboard with PRS’s trademark bird inlays.
The PRS guitar has a lot going for it. It’s classy, vintage, and yet it has modern appointments that provides more flexibility if you decide you want to dabble past blues and head into heavy rockin’ territory.
4. Epiphone ES-335 PRO Review
- "Arched maple top and back24.75"" Scale set-in mahogany neckRosewood fretboard with small block inlay22 Medium jumbo fretsAlnico Classic Pro neck humbucker with coil-splitAlnico Classic Pro Plus...
- "24.75"" Scale set-in mahogany neck"
- Rosewood fretboard with small block inlay
The Gibson ES-335 is out of reach for so many players. Gibson knows this and it’s why they have the Epiphone ES-335 Pro. To rock out on a guitar like Eric Clapton, BB King, Chuck Berry, and many greats did on the Gibson, you must consider this Epiphone as a must-have in your collection.
- Semi-hollow body
- SlimTaper D neck
- 24.75″ scale length
- Alnico Classic Pro pickups
- No case included
The drawback speaks for itself. There’s not even a gig bag in sight. Is it a good enough excuse to pass up on a classic that has no legitimate flaws against the guitar itself? Pfft – no way. Don’t get too hung up over this tidbit and splurge a little more and buy a case!
Everyone knows what the 335 is, and there have been many duplicates and renditions made to replicate this iconic guitar, but Epiphone may very well be the go-to brand if you’re a die-hard Gibson loyalist.
Described as the “vintage workhorse into the future” the Epiphone Pro guitar promises to deliver that classic, old-school sound with some modern features to push the limits. But, dealing with the classics first, you have the obvious semi-hollow body, 1960s-era slim D neck profile, unbound f holes, and the 24.75″ scale length with double cutaways.
As a semi-hollow, it has a wooden block to eliminate some of those feedback issues you can get with these types of guitar bodies but bring down the gain some and you’ll hit those bluesy tones you’re searching for. Extremely versatile is how we’d describe the Epiphone Alnico Classic Pro 4-wire humbuckers. Yes, they’re somewhat hot, but they’re articulate, dynamic, and have impressive sustain. Add to that push/pull volume pots for each humbucker, and the versatility of sonic impact is endless.
Complete with a LockTone TOM bridge and Wilkinson Vintage Classic tuners, you’re guaranteed the best tuning stability you can ask for.
If you’ve always wanted a Gibson for blues or jazz, this Epiphone is as close to perfect as you’re going to get for the price.
5. Ibanez ArtStar AS53 Review
- Beautiful Sapele top, back, and sides with compact semi-hollow style in transparent flat black or transparent flat red finishes
- Moderate output “ACH” pickups feature warm tone and quick response
- Slim & comfortable Art core set-in neck
Ibanez has a foot in the door when it comes to those jazz and blues tones as they helped to design the first jazz boxes made for stage-worthy amplification. One such guitar that deserves to have the spotlight appropriate for your genre is the AS53 with the Transparent Red Flat (TRF) finish.
- Infinity R pickups
- ART-ST bridge
- Bound fretboard
- Semi-hollow body
- Plastic nut
Okay, okay – most guitars in this price range have a plastic nut. It’s nothing to get your panties up in a bunch about, but there’s no drawback to owning this guitar. It has the right price, ultimate playability on its side, and of course, it has a vintage semi-hollow build just begging to be played by jazzers and blues dudes like you. Just upgrade the nut in the near future for better tone, tuning stability, and all that good stuff.
It is an entry-level guitar if you didn’t already guess that, but with the right blues skills, you could fool everyone around you. It is a laminate guitar, so you’ll see Sapele veneers on the back, sides, and top bound with gorgeous white binding that accents against the red flat finish.
The Nyatoh set-neck has 22 medium frets on a bound Laurel fretboard with white dot inlays and a 12″ fingerboard radius. Hardware? You have an ART-ST bridge and ART-ST tailpiece that are seen on Ibanez’s low-end guitars. Pickups? It has the Infinity R humbuckers which get a lot of heat from the masses, but they’re not appreciated enough for their sustain and powerful enough output.
Ibanez did a great job at maintaining that traditional 335 guitar appeal while keeping costs low. If you want to take advantage of the low price and leave room for some upgrades in the future, the ArtStar the platform to do it with.
What to Look for in a Blues Guitar
Blues is all about player preference. A type of neck and pickups that works well for one blueser may be the complete opposite for another blueser. Since blues is not a single genre as it has a multi-faceted scope of sounds, playing styles will vary from player to player. So, how do you choose the right blues guitar for you?
You must allow yourself the opportunity to experiment with different platforms. Sometimes, on paper a guitar will look inadequate, but once it’s in your hands, you may be surprised to find its sound and playability resonates with you. Without telepathic abilities, we can’t come up with the exact specs you will need, but we can point out some features that you may gravitate towards. Here’s a few tidbits of advice.
Best Blues Guitar Brands
In order to provide some new options that you may not have considered before, we decided to feature a lineup of other great guitars that are outshined by oft-mentioned guitars for blues. But, if you’d rather check out the excellent and very popular guitars that are highly ranked across the board, here are the quick links to check ’em out!
- Fender Stratocaster
- Fender Eric Clapton
- Fender Telecaster
- Squier Affinity Telecaster
- Epiphone Les Paul Special II
- G&L Tribute ASAT Classic
- Gretsch G5220 Electromatic
If you have the cash to splurge on some high-end models, consider Gibson as they have been a longtime brand often revered for their bluesy guitars: Les Paul, ES-335, Firebird, L5. You may also want to see what Washburn, Heritage, and Eastwood have to offer.
Blues Guitar Types:
There are three guitar types you’ll come across that are well-suited for blues style: hollow body, semi-hollow, and solid body. Each brings something unique to the picture, but they can all dish out those blues tunes.
Archtop and hollow body guitars are often used synonymously in guitar terminology, and semi-hollow bodies are also included in the mix. Hollow body guitars provide an excellent acoustic sound to playing blues. They can experience feedback issues, especially if you’re cranking up the amp, but with blues, you need to learn to tone it down. Hollow bodies are also larger than semi-hollow and solid body guitars, but they maintain that vintage and traditional look that sets them apart from other styles, namely, those exaggerated curves, f-holes, and shallow cutaways.
These can be considered the middle ground between hollow and solid body guitars. They’re smaller than hollows but bigger than solids. They still have the organic and acoustic tone that blues players are after, can experience less feedback issues than hollow bodies, and they still have classic appointments that class them as a vintage guitar.
Too often we tend to think of solid body electrics as only rock guitars that are being shredded to the core. It doesn’t help when solid bodies are more modern and rock looking. The truth is, any solid body can produce bluesy and jazzy swingin’ notes, as it’s more about what you’re doing with it than what it looks like.
One key factor to look to are the pickups since it’s the primary factor that shapes sound. Since it does not have f holes that doubles as a sound box for resonance and acoustic sustain, you must learn how to use the pots and which pickups will help shape your sound.
Both single coils and humbuckers are seen on guitars dishing out bluesy songs, so it’s less about what it has and more to do with how you’re using them. The upside is, you won’t have the feedback issues that hollow and semi-hollow bodies experience, but you’ll definitely want to crank down the gain if you want to maximize blues tones. Another upside is solid bodies can be cheaper, they’re versatile, and when you want to practice those rock and metal tones, you can probably get away with that too.
As it should be obvious by now, you can drop your entire savings on a high-end, genuine guitar that may have been made famous by blues legends. But, it’s not a reality for most people to spend that much, or half that much on a guitar regardless of their dedication and passion to their music. So, we’ve set a price limit of about $1500 on a great blues guitar.
With that budget, you can afford the Guild Starfire V, some of the best of what Fender has to offer, and you can even put aside some of that budget for a high quality hardshell case and necessities needed to record your talent.
However, $1500 is still generous if you’re looking for a guitar to get those blues tunes, especially if you’re a beginner. Instead, rank your skill level or evaluate what it is you want out of your guitar and what you want to do with it.
We suggest green players stick to a budget of $200-$500 on a guitar, and in no time they’ll progress to having earned the honor being a blues player. Intermediate electric guitar players will always find something under $1000 that will suit their style, and veteran players who know what they’re doing can often push the budget a little more and look at the best electric guitars under $2000 as they know exactly what they want out of a guitar.
Blues Guitar Specs:
There is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to finding the right blues guitar. Honestly, it’s about what playing techniques you intend on using that will govern the specs of a guitar and if it will work for you. However, there are some guidelines we can provide that might help you identify what it is you need to look for.
22 fret neck – 22 frets is a classic and traditional number and you can always be confident in the placement of the 12th fret to ensure correct intonation along the fretboard. But, it comes down to where that neck pickup is placed. With less frets, the neck pickup is further away from the bridge pickup, so you have a slightly darker, mellow, and softened tone that lends itself to blues and jazz.
Action – Believe it or not, there are many blues players that like a little higher action than you’d think. The higher action allows a player to bend those strings, and as we know, fingerboard radius has a lot to do with that playing style. Flatter fingerboards of a radius of more than 12″ and heavier strings with a little higher action, perhaps on the high E, is desired. However, if you’re the low action kind of player, lighter strings (10s) and steeper fingerboard radius would be the specs you’re after it’s better suited to grabbing chords.
Pickups – Single coils or humbuckers? The choice is yours. Traditionally, you’ll see Fender Strats with single coils that are known for their bright, crisp, clear, and vintage tones. Gibson Les Pauls will have humbuckers that are warm, thick and usually hotter. However, some humbuckers can come with coil splitting to add single coil tone to the mix for a more tonally versatile platform. But, Strats with single coils and Les Pauls with humbuckers are not the rule, it’s just an oft-seen trend you’ll come across again and again. You must look at the other features that includes fingerboard radius and the type of bridge that will further help determine which is best for you.
You Set the Rules for Your Blues
Since blues is an ambiguous music genre, you can do a lot with it from chord grabbing to sliding. Look for the features that are best suited for your style of playing. Some will like to try their hand at vibrato bridges in their bluesy riffing, and others will steer clear of them since they prefer to leave their notes alone without introducing tuning issues. Some will progress beyond the 12 bar blues to expand their skills bank and others will progress to muting with a slide all over the fretboard.
Blues is less about what you have and more about what you’re doing with it. We can’t emphasize enough that player preference will trump all when it comes to blues. You make the rules, and if it sounds good, stick with it and grow with it.