Best Jazz Guitar: Our Top 6 Expressive Electric Guitars For Jazz

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Best Jazz Guitar ReviewsJazz is different, special, and unique.  It’s the reason you must have a guitar that’s also different, special, and unique.

But, are jazz guitars expensive?

Do all jazz guitars have semi-hollow bodies?

Can you use a solid body electric for jazz?

Whether you’re looking for a guitar to achieve classic and traditional rhythm, to emulate the big, swingin’ sounds of modern jazz, or to create your own soulful tunes, we have a lineup of expressive electric guitars for you to do what jazz does best – express yourself.

We’ll also answer common questions about jazz guitars and identify specific features you must look for.  With a little soul-searching, you’ll find the right guitar with plenty of soul to play like the jazz greats.

 

QUICK ANSWER: Top 6 Jazz Guitars

  1. Gretsch Streamliner G2420T Review
  2. Ibanez Artcore AG75BS Review
  3. Ibanez AS53TKF Review
  4. Squier Affinity Jazzmaster HH Review
  5. Epiphone Les Paul Special II Review
  6. Grote 335 Jazz Review

 

The Best Jazz Guitars

There is perhaps no other music genre that will spark as much debate over what the best guitars are for than jazz.  In that spirit, we’re not going to claim to have an exclusive lineup nor the definitive one, especially when expensive Gibsons have long been a popular choice for jazzers.

Instead, you may be surprised that there are plenty of other worthy brands to consider and even some affordable options that will more than provide that soulful, harmonic improvised composition called jazz.  To prove this point, we kept our lineup to jazz guitars well under $1000.

So, how do you define this ambiguous music genre?  What does jazz sound like?  It’s truly its own classification inspired from the slave fields of the early 19th century.  It’s an emotional and expressive culture of its own as it’s unrestricted by tonal rules and uninhibited by composition structures followed and needed by other genres.  With a catchy melody to start, you can look forward to hearing creative and improv solos felt on the spot while band members quietly comp to provide fullness as it ends with that same harmonic melody and rhythm that ties the song together.

Jazz is its own genre.  With glamorous jazzers like Ella Fitzgerald to big-sounding legends like Louis Armstrong and jazz pioneers like Scott Joplin, we see the attraction and the need to own an electric guitar made for jazz.

To create your own swinging tunes to express your emotions and your very being, here are some classic jazz guitars that’ll do you right.

 

1. Gretsch Streamliner G2420T Review

Gretsch G2420T Streamliner Hollowbody Golddust, Bigsby, Gold Dust
  • Body
  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Hollow body

Looking to play acoustic or plugged-in?  The Streamliner guitar is a hollow body electric with oversized f holes for acoustic projection and organic tones.  It fits in aesthetically and tonally with the jazz scene.  Not bad for an entry-level Gretsch.  But, of course, nothing about Gretsch is the type of entry-level that you’d expect.  Be prepared to be blown away.

PROS:
  • Price
  • Oversized f holes
  • Broad’Tron pickups
  • Golddust Color
  • Hollow body

CONS:
  • Not quite to traditionalist’s tastes

The Streamliner guitar isn’t exactly what you’d call a period-correct guitar, but it’s certainly recognizable as a nod to the ’50s era hollow body most associated with Chet Atkins.  It’s 2.75″ deep, hollow body with an arched top made from laminated maple with parallel bracing and a single cutaway.

It has a Golddust color with black/aged white/black on the top and back – certainly features with a custom feel to it.  It has a set-neck made from nato with a Thin U shape and a 12″ Laurel fingerboard radius – features made for balance suited for chording and even some riffing if you’re into that.

The Broad’Tron humbuckers are hot, powerful, and full sounding with decent note articulation and clarity.  You have a tight low-end, bright highs, and gutsy mids.  If it’s good enough for rock, it’s easily versatile enough for jazz.  Single notes sing, twang, and cut through for leads and solos with the humbucker at the bridge, and at the neck, you have rounder and more vocal tones.  They may be too hot for traditionalists, but it has a lot of potential to do great for multiple genres, even as a hollow body.

There’s an Adjusto-Matic bridge that sits on a Laurel plate and is paired with a Bigsby B60 tailpiece.  Since it’s a hollow body and arched top, it’s almost expected to see a Bigsby on board.  Though not intended for aggressive use, its elegance and simplicity lends itself to vibrato effects if the occasion arises.

With a 3-ply tortoiseshell pickguard, nickel hardware, vintage style knobs, and enlarged f holes, there’s still enough class for old school players to admire, but it has modern appeal to create your own swingin’ tunes.

 

2. Ibanez Artcore AG75BS Review

Ibanez AG75BS Artcore Hollowbody Electric Guitar, Brown Sunburst Finish
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Type: Art core set-in
  • Body: Maple top/back/sides

Ibanez has long been highly regarded by guitarists of multiple music genres, but it’s ironic that many wouldn’t first think of the brand as having a foothold in the jazz genre.  Contrary to ignorant belief, Ibanez made the “first jazz boxes designed for higher volume stage playing.”  With that, let’s check out the Artcore AG75.

PROS:
  • Hollow body
  • ART-1 bridge
  • Classic Elite pickups
  • 24.7″ scale length
  • Bound fretboard

CONS:
  • Plastic nut

Right off the bat, the Artcore is an entry-level guitar, so it’s no surprise there’s a plastic nut onboard – still, boo. . .

As a hollow body guitar, it has acoustic ability, although not as loud as a traditional acoustic guitar, but for playing without lugging cables and an amp, its body construction lends a helping hand in the projection department.  The body is made from Linden, which we suspect is laminate, and the set-neck is made from Nyatoh with a bound Laurel fretboard.

It has an ART-1 bridge with a VT60 tailpiece.  The pickups are the Classic Elite humbuckers with ceramic magnets, so you know they’ll have some heat.  They produce a fine and subtle tone with well-defined and good sustain on the low end.  The neck has enough vintage chime to that lends itself to the jazz scene.  But, you’ll want to have a good amp on your side to play provide some strength and beef.

For a beginner to jazz, the AG75 should definitely be somewhere at the top of your list.  Its construction is well-done, and it has a slim neck with a 12″ fingerboard radius that works well for most playing styles you think you can pull off, but you won’t be no Jake Reichbart overnight.

 

3. Ibanez AS53TKF Review

Ibanez 6 String Semi-Hollow-Body Electric Guitar, Right, Transparent Black Flat (AS53TKF)
  • Infinity R pickups feature warm, balanced articulation and excellent response for various music genres
  • Art-St Bridge provides tuning stability
  • Easy access to higher notes

From one glance, you can see why this guitar is a popular choice.  We like the Transparent Black finish with the lack of a pickguard and that everything has a simple, tied-together look.  For the price, the AS53 is a jazzist’s beginner electric guitar.

PROS:
  • Semi hollow body
  • Bound Laurel fretboard
  • Sapele laminate
  • 12″ fingerboard radius
  • 24.75″ scale length

CONS:
  • Rough frets

The double cutaway, f-hole, semi-hollow body guitar has traditional curves with a 24.75″ scale length with 22 medium frets. The bound Laurel fretboard sits on a Nyatoh neck that is set-in to a laminate Sapele guitar.

At the bridge sits an ART-ST bridge with no base plate with a matching ART-ST tailpiece in a chrome finish.  The pickups are Ibanez’s Infinity R humbuckers with ceramic magnets.  They’re not everyone’s favorite, but they’re a great excuse to switch them out as you shape your style and discover what you’re after.  But, for the time being, they’re not so bad.  They have good output, they’re a little on the darker side with excellent sustain, and of course, you don’t have the hum!

With its low price, there’s some setup expected to improve playability – intonation, adjust the action, and smoothen those frets.  Yes – they may be a little rough and unlevel at the E and A strings causing some fret buzz, but it’s never been an issue as to return the instrument.

The build quality is impressive for a cheap electric guitar.  The fretboard is bound, there is no loose hardware, and the body on top and back has body binding to keep those Sapele laminate pieces together.  There’s no talk about any bracing like its Artcore cousin, but this model has the advantage in the budget department.

With jazzy tones, a highly playable neck and fretboard, and a small body with the punch and sound of both an acoustic and electric, the Ibanez guitar is honestly a fantastic buy – as said and approved of by the masses.

 

4. Squier Affinity Jazzmaster HH Review

Fender Squier by Affinity Series Jazzmaster Electric Guitar - HH - Rosewood Fingerboard - Arctic...
  • One-piece maple neck with “C”-shaped profile
  • 12”-radius rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium frets
  • Dual humbucking pickups

If you’re into the heavier styles of playing with some edge and drama, the Affinity Jazzmaster may be for you.  It sports the Jagmaster body shape, more rockish than jazzi-ish, but it can very well pull off jazz tones to suit your style.

PROS:
  • Price
  • C-shaped neck
  • Non-tremolo bridge
  • 12″ fingerboard radius
  • Jagmaster body

CONS:
  • Quality control issues

There isn’t a whole lot to be worried about in terms of quality control issues.  It seems you either get a heck of a great guitar or one with more than a few issues that obviously shouldn’t ever have left the factory.  Fortunately, it’s covered under warranty and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be provided with the one that you should’ve received from the start – a flashy, unique Jazzmaster free of defects.

Its Jagmaster body shape is the first thing you notice with its cross between a Fender Jaguar and a Fender Jazzmaster curves.  Straying away from the oft-seen Strats and Les Pauls, the Affinity Jazzmaster truly has a style of its own with that classic Fender tone at Squier prices.

It has a C-shaped bolt-on maple neck with an engraved neck plate.  Capping the neck is an Indian Laurel fretboard with a 12″ radius as we so often see on jazz guitars.  Even though it has a 25.5″ scale length, there are 21 medium frets instead of 22.  A plastic nut, white dot inlays, and chrome die-cast sealed tuning heads tie up that end of the guitar.

The body is made from Alder and this model has the Artic White gloss finish.  Sitting on top is a 3-ply black/white/black pickguard, a non-tremolo with string-thru-body hardtail bridge.  There’s no need to deal with tuning issues, especially if you’re a beginner, and while many jazzers like to leave their notes alone, we think they’ll appreciate the non-tremolo bridge.

Stock humbuckers are the choice of pickups on this model which have great output and obviously will change the way it sounds if you were expecting a more vintage, surf rock sound.  Even so, the humbuckers will buck the hum and can absolutely pull off jazz, rock, and even metal genres.  They’re easy to use with the 3-way selector switch and volume and tone controls.

This Jazzmaster is different.  We did mention that we would put up guitars that stand out from the crowd, remember?  “Different, special, and unique” to be exact.

Of course, if you have the budget to splurge, you wouldn’t be looking at this Squier.  Instead, you’d be checking out the Fender Troy Van Leeuwen Jazzmaster that is again, different, special, and unique.  It just may be your kind of different.

 

5. Epiphone Les Paul Special II Review

Epiphone Les Paul Special II Electric Guitar (Ebony)
603 Reviews
Epiphone Les Paul Special II Electric Guitar (Ebony)
  • Mahogany body
  • 700T Humbucker pickups
  • Rosewood fretboard

Since we don’t have a Gibson in this lineup, we are obligated to feature an Epiphone guitar, and what better choice than the Les Paul Special II is there, really?  As one of the best electric guitars under $300, it’s was an obvious pick for you dedicated jazzers out there.

PROS:
  • Price
  • SlimTaper D neck
  • TOM bridge
  • Nickel hardware
  • Epiphone humbuckers

CONS:
  • Upgrade tuners

As an inexpensive, mass-produced guitar, there is always going to be some minor issues to address that can easily be taken care of during setup.  But, the tuners seem to get a little more attention than anything else.  Best bet to guarantee tuning stability is to upgrade them.

As a Les Paul, you have the single cutaway, 24.75″ scale length, and dual humbuckers.  The humbuckers are Epiphone’s 700T at the bridge and the 650R at the neck that deliver authentic Les Paul tones.  They have more than decent output with the 700T being hotter than the neck.  It’s smooth, has pronounced lows and chimey highs without getting muddy.  To switch between the pickups, you have a 3-way pickup selector switch and 500K volume and tone pots.

We like the TOM bridge and stop bar that eliminates the tuning issues often seen with tremolo bridges, and it keeps things simple for beginners.  Equipped with nickel hardware, dot inlays, and black plastic control knobs, it’s about as basic as it gets, but it helps keep the costs down.

The solid body and neck are made from Okoume.  The neck has the 1960s SlimTaper D profile that’s easy and comfortable to play, and the 12″ fingerboard radius gives it a versatile playing surface for playing chords and even for leads.

Really, the Les Paul Special II is an all-round, versatile guitar, and it can deliver those jazzy tones you need to realize your improv music goals.

 

6. Grote 335 Jazz Review

We’ve listed an underdog brand because their new 335 Jazz guitars have been raising some eyebrows and attracting attention.  It’s inexpensive, it looks the part, but does it sound the part, too?

PROS:
  • Price
  • Semi-hollow
  • 24.75″ scale length
  • Set neck
  • TOM bridge

CONS:
  • Plastic nut

If you’ve never been able to pull the trigger on a Gibson ES-335, we understand.  Thanks to the Grote 335, you may not have to feel like you’re missing out.  We like this brown flame maple finish on this old-school looking jazz guitar with its double cutaways and f holes.

It’s made from maple with either a maple or mahogany neck, and it has a rosewood fingerboard with block inlays.  However, the semi-hollow is made of laminate maple, but looking at its flame maple top, the finish has been done well.  Its construction has not yet been an issue with any buyers.  In fact, it’s been touted to be near perfect and thanks to the front, back, and fretboard binding, it just adds to the rumors of quality construction.

It’s great to see a set-neck at this price point, and it has a 24.75″ scale length with 22 frets, and we’re certain there’s a plastic nut.  A TOM bridge provides ultimate tuning stability with six individually adjustable strings.

You have stock humbuckers which has pleasantly surprised many buyers.  They have great output even though they’re not as hot as comparable stock pickups can be, but at least you know it’s not covering up any tonal issues.

This guitar has specifically been bought just for jazzists, and they’re pleased to report it gets you there.  With this guitar, you can also modify if you want – upgrade the tuners, switch out the pups, get a bone nut, and get new strings.  It’s not at all necessary, but with a little modification, you can easily shape and customize your jazzy tones for full self-expression.

 

What to Look for in a Jazz Guitar

There are many solid body guitars with the tonal ability to bring more to the table than just jazz tones, but then there are archtop guitars with limited tonal options but are imagined as the best jazz guitars you’ll ever play.  How do you know what’s best for you with the many differing and sometimes contradictory view points out there?

Look for the features that work best for you, then shape your sound with learning jazz playing techniques.  It might mean finding a guitar in your budget, staying brand specific, or choosing a semi-hollow body that can be considered the compromise between archtop and solid body electrics.  Let’s explore this further.

 

Best Jazz Guitar Brands:

There are just some brands that do it better than others.  While this is far from an absolute list of the best-known jazz guitars and brands, it provides a quick starting point to lead you to popular jazz guitars rated by fellow jazzers.

Gibson:

  • ES-175
  • ES-335
  • L-5

And more, including the L-4, ES-137, ES-339, ES-125, and Super 400.

Ibanez:

  • Artcore Series
  • Signature Artist George Benson
  • Artstar Series

Fender:

  • Telecaster
  • Jazzmaster

Gretsch, D’Angelico, Heritage, and Washburn.

 

Jazz Guitar Types:

Jazz guitars are often associated with archtops, and to keep things simple, we define them here as hollow body guitars.  But, then there’s also semi-hollow and solid body electric guitars that provide jazzy tones.  Here’s what to look for:

Archtop:

Hollow body, archtop, f holes, neck joint at 14th fret, and often seen with Bigsby tremolos (though, not the rule).  Quickly recognizable, vintage and classy looking, and of course, it pumps out jazz tones all day long – it’s what it does best.  It’s also larger in size versus a semi-hollow and solid body guitar, but because of this, it has much deeper and louder resonance.  Downsides?  Size may not be for you, and there may be tonal limitations with some feedback issues.

Semi-Hollow:

Extremely popular among jazzers, and semi-hollows are regularly used for bluesy and rock tones, too.  They’re smaller than hollow body electrics, still maintain the classic f holes and vintage aesthetic, and they’re typically more affordable.

Solid Body:

Solid body guitars are versatile guitars, but of course, they don’t produce organic, acoustic jazz tones like that of the hollow and semi-hollow family.  However, they usually have little to no feedback issues that can occur with the others.  Many tend to think high-volume, high gain with any and all plug-in guitars, but they must remember that hollow and semi-hollow guitars aren’t necessarily used for that in that way.  However, with a solid body, you can literally be a little more liberal with effects and sonic possibilities while still being able to achieve those jazzy sounds.

They’re lightweight and smaller than their jazz counterparts, but they tend to be less jazzy-looking and they border very closely to the rock guitar side of things.

 

Price/Budget:

If you didn’t know, jazz guitars can easily cost thousands of dollars and run into the tens of thousands – what a long way those OG jazz boxes of the day have come.  But, you don’t need to spend as much as a car to get a good jazz guitar for the job.

Our lineup consists of electric guitars for jazz under $1000.  They’re definitely not genuine Gibsons, Signature Artist Ibanez guitars, or even a $2000 Heritage jazz guitar, but they are jazz guitars paid for and played by guitarists like yourself.  If this this is your first-time buy to achieve classic jazz tones, or you’re a seasoned and intermediate electric guitar player looking for a guilt-free, knockaround, and practice guitar to refine your jazz skills, this is the lineup for you.

Remember, put a little aside for any mods you may want to do and into the setup that makes a huge difference tonally and playability-wise.

 

Pickups:

Humbuckers are what you want to see on an electric jazz guitar.  They’re going to eliminate the hum known with single coils, and it’s especially appreciated when there’s the feedback issue that archtop and semi-hollow guitars can experience when plugged in.

Humbuckers also provide warm tones and sonic ranges that jazzers will want to maximize, so single coils will not be the top choice when you’re seeking resonance, full, round, and thick tones.

Of course, all humbuckers will have their own signature tonal contribution, even when placed in the neck and bridge positions.  Some guitars may have specially designed humbuckers with Alnico magnets and others with ceramic. If you get a cheap enough guitar that you like, you can always swap out the pups with ones you may already have experience with or upgrade to ones that you feel like would be a better fit for you.  After all, sound is subjective and so is jazz.

 

Fingerboard Radius:

There are really no hard rules when it comes to fretboard/fingerboard radii for jazz.  But, since Gibson is often a brand that sets the standard, you’ll see a lot of jazz guitars with a fretboard radius of 12”.  We like the 12” radius as it’s a great balance between flat and curved to provide the middle ground for grabbing chords or for leading fast riffs.  But, in the spirit of jazz, it really comes down to what style you play, what sound you’re after, and what techniques you want to master.  Flatter might better, so you’ll want to a larger radius.  If you’re after more chordal contribution, a smaller radius with a steeper curve is desired.

 

Fingerboard Tonewood:

There are many players that don’t put too much stock into the fretboard for tonal contribution, but it doesn’t hurt to pay attention to what it’s made with.  As with all guitars, there are many different types of fretboard tonewoods used for jazz.

Rosewood is a common tonewood, you’ll see maple quite a bit, but guitar manufacturers will look to what’s available.  Laurel keeps popping up on these jazzy guitars including the ones in this lineup.  What’s the deal?

Well, there are many varieties of species with “Laurel” in its name, but when it comes to guitar tonewoods, it’s usually summed down to two types: American Laurel and Indian Laurel.

Laurel grows throughout the Americas and has brilliant, sparkling, and vibrant tones that compliment the highs in jazz.  It’s a cheaper alternative to Brazillian Rosewood.  On the other hand, Indian Laurel is not genuine Laurel as it’s closer to English Walnut and is outshined by Indian Rosewood that you’re likely more familiar with.  It may still be a protected species, and if so, it’s available only as a veneer for export.

Obviously, there are significant differences between veneers and real wood, and it might get you thinking about what’s on your guitar even if it’s only as a preference point.  And yet, we see them on multiple guitars.  So, are there hard and strict rules about what fretboard works best with jazz?  Nah.  It has more to do with what you’re doing with it.  Veneer or not, it won’t make you a Louis.

 

What Makes Jazz?  Is it You or the Guitar? 

No matter how much you try to define and contain jazz to just one box in all things such as specs, best tonewoods, type of guitar, and the like, it will be a fruitless endeavor.  You can’t contain jazz, it’s bigger than you and I.

Because there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a jazz guitar, it allows for a unique expression of soulful goodness to flow from your fingertips.  Truth be told, any guitar can be good for jazz, it’s in the way you use it that makes a difference.  Heck, the banjo carried the chordal rhythm in jazz music once upon a time until the Gibson L5 acoustic archtop brought better harmonic complexity to the scene.

Think less about what you’re doing it with and more about what you can bring to the table.  After all, sound without soul is just noise.

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While I don't have an arts degree in music, I have spent enough time around musical instruments & musicians to pass on some useful information. When I'm not rocking out to a sick beat on my stereo, you will find me sitting on a bean bag, in the corner of my room with a guitar trying to emulate the prowess of the great Mr Eric Clapton.