Best Jazz Guitar: Our Top 5 Expressive Electric Guitars For Jazz In 2020

Feel like playing some jazz music? Maybe improvising some of your own solos?

If you feel drawn to artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, and Cab Calloway, then you need the right guitar to capture that iconic sound.

These are the guitars best suited to that sound and feel for the best experience possible while playing jazz.

Snapshot: Top 5 Best Jazz Guitars

  1. The Loar LH-350-VS
  2. Fender Player Jazzmaster Electric Guitar
  3. Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AM93QM
  4. Godin 5th Avenue CW Electric Guitar
  5. Gretsch G100CE Synchromatic

Researching Guitars for Jazz

Best Jazz Guitar Reviews

The New Orleans-born tradition of Jazz music is characterized by its free-spirited tone full of improvisation, polyrhythms, and swing notes, and the jazz guitar adds its own special flavor to this tradition.

It is a music without limits that has evolved and changed over the years, while still holding onto its core tenants. It is the genre of those who cannot be contained and will not be limited by time signatures, keys, or other trivial things that hold back other musicians.

While most think of jazz as the realm of brass instruments, particularly big brass bands and orchestras full of saxophones, trombones, and trumpets, guitars do have their place here. They tie down the groove and provide a much needed warmth in a sea of bright and crisp brass. They fill the space between bass and brass, rhythm and lead, and if you play your cards right there might even be a solo in there somewhere.

Jazz guitars are typically semi-acoustic with large, hollow bodies, though later-era Jazz, particularly a lot of the Latin/Caribbean tradition, likes the solid body guitars as well. While almost any electric guitar can achieve a jazz-esque sound by playing a clean tone through a neck pickup, a true jazz guitar is one that can do this without losing the clarity at higher frequencies.

Let’s take a look at the best jazz guitars that are truly made for jazz music.

The Best Jazz Guitars

1. Loar LH-350-VS Review

The Loar LH-350-VS Hand-Carved Archtop Cutaway Guitar, Vintage Sunburst
  • Solid Hand-Carved Spruce Top
  • Maple Back and Sides
  • Mahogany Neck with Vintage “V” Profile
  • Scale Length: 24-3/4”

Loar is a relatively niche brand that specializes in recreating older-style guitars from the 1920s and 1930s, which means they make a lot of jazz-capable guitars, as you’d probably expect. The LH-350 is their cutaway archtop model, and it takes most of its styling cues from early hollow-body semi-acoustics, and couples them with modern features.

Body & Neck

The body is a hand-finished spruce top with maple back and sides. The neck is a fairly traditional C-profile and is made of mahogany with a gorgeous rosewood fretboard.

The cutaway makes it very easy to play in those higher registers, and overall it’s a very comfy guitar for soloing or just noodling around freestyle, the natural environment of a jazz guitarist.

Finally, the classic sunburst finish gives it a very classic vibe reminiscent of early jazz and blues guitars.

 Electronics & Hardware

The hardware here is focused on affordability and quality, with an open-geared butterbean tuning machine and two-way truss. The bridge is made of stiff ebony, which is very durable and adds nicely to the resonance.

The single Kent Armstrong Humbucker is from their archtop-specific series and is very appropriate for a guitar like this. Rounding out the hardware is a single simple volume knob for controls, which is about all you’d expect on a classic-style jazz guitar like this one.

Sound

This guitar has been designed from the ground up to have the perfect classic jazz sound. The materials here all work together to give the guitar that very clean, natural tone with full warm resonance.

There’s a lovely sweetness to this guitar that immediately takes your mind to a small, cozy venue in the French Quarter, and if you’re looking for that effortless jazz tone of the great soloists, this is a very, very compelling choice.

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Spruce top, maple back and sides.
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Single floating Kent Armstrong Humbucker
  • Bridge: Ebony

A modern archtop with a truly classic sound.

Final Thoughts on The Loar LH-350

Overall, if you’re looking for a classic archtop with a high-quality look and feel, this is a good choice no matter the genre. If you’re trying to get that clean, pure jazz tone, it’s a great choice and it’s very affordable for what it is, especially when you look at the quality.

2. Fender Player Jazzmaster Electric Guitar Review

Fender Player Jazzmaster Electric Guitar - Pau Ferro - Polar White
  • guitar bridge system: Tremolo
  • guitar pickup configuration: single-coil

If you know anything about jazz guitars or have done any serious research into jazz guitars before now, you definitely shouldn’t be surprised to see a Jazzmaster on this list. Fender’s Player series is one of their more affordable lines, but this Jazzmaster has a long pedigree, and may actually be the most versatile guitar on this list.

Body & Neck

Fender basically pioneered the solid-body jazz guitar with the original Jazzmaster back in 1959. While not quite as iconic as the Stratocaster and Telecaster, it did gain a cult following which prompted Fender to refocus on the model several years ago.

The modern Jazzmaster uses the same Alder wood for the body that most Fender guitars in this price range utilize, and the 22-fret maple neck features a Paul Ferro fretboard made of a more sustainable rosewood alternative. The neck is Fender’s popular Modern “C” format and is extremely smooth and comfortably playable.

The Jazzmaster silhouette is very recognizable and a little unique, but it doesn’t stand out as being particularly tied to one genre or another, which is great if you want to experiment with jazz and still look at home on stage playing something else.

Electronics & Hardware

Hardware on this bad boy is all classic styling with some modern touch-ups to make it a little bit more user-friendly than a truly vintage jazz guitar.

There’s an old-school Jazzmaster tremolo paired with an adjustable bridge. This helps kill the old Jazzmaster quirk of the low E string wanting to pop out of the saddle.

The master volume knob is nicely placed for that delicate pinkie manipulation, and the three-way toggle and push/pull tone knob give you excellent control over the double humbucker pickups. The multiple options here let you really dial in your sound to match the sub-genre or era you’re going for. There’s lots of room for expression with this guitar, and that makes it perfect for jazz.

 These options also make it a very versatile axe that can cover many different types of music, from indie/alt stuff to more punk-ish things to even some metal. Green Day, Black Sabbath, and American Authors have all used Jazzmasters on their albums.

Sound

There’s a lot of that classic Fender sound in this guitar, and you can hear specific echoes of both the Strat and the Tele depending on the way you have it set up. With the coil tap engaged, you can get that famous single-coil Fender sound, and with it in humbucking mode, you can get an almost punk tone.

The bridge pickup offers an excellent attack without any chime at the top, and the neck pickup can give you some awesome power rhythm vibes that will help you stand out as part of a big arrangement, which is a common issue jazz guitars need to overcome. When you’re competing with a big, multi-piece brass section, you’re going to want enough output to really send an amp into overdrive on louder sections, and this guitar is more than capable of that.

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Alder
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Paul Ferro (Sustainable Redwood Alternative)
  • Pickups: Dual  Alnico II Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Adjustable Tremolo

A jack of all trades, but a master of jazz.

Final Thoughts on the Fender Player Jazzmaster

This is by far the most versatile guitar on this list, and maybe the most versatile out of Fender’s entire Player series lineup. It handles jazz beautifully and is most recognized as a standout in the Latin jazz world, but it really can manage just about anything thanks to its neutral-toned pickups and versatile control setup.

If you’re looking for a guitar you can take to a variety of gigs, or if you’re looking to dip your toes into jazz while still being able to cover other genres all with one guitar, this is the one I would recommend.

3. Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AM93QM Review

Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AM93QM - Antique Yellow Sunburst
  • Semi-hollowbody Electric Guitar with Quilt Maple Top
  • 2 Humbucking Pickups - Antique Yellow Sunburst
  • Nyatoh/Maple Neck
  • Ebony Fretboard

Speaking of versatile guitars, the Ibanez Artcore Expressionist is another great pick if you’re thinking about playing a lot of different styles and want one guitar that can cover a broad range. This is a modern semi-hollow body guitar that absolutely won’t let you down.

Body & Neck

Typical semi-hollows are quite large in the body, especially compared to solid-body guitars, so they can require some adjustment unless you’re coming from a true acoustic.

With this guitar, Ibanez flexed their semi-hollows knowledge a little bit and came up with something that sounds very thick, yet fits in a slim package. This is much slimmer than most other semi-hollow guitar bodies, and the quilted maple tonewood gives it a nice resonance in two stunning finishes (I love the blue one). The neck is a mahogany and maple affair in a comfortable and familiar shape. The “A” family of Ibanez guitars are extraordinary and this one is no exception.

Electronics & Hardware

Despite looking like an old archtop that you’d expect to find a Bigsby on, Ibanez went with a Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar arrangement. This is an unusual choice, but makes sense when you think about the price point Ibanez is aiming at here.

This keeps the guitar firmly in the mid-range and actually makes it a good entry-level option because it’s easier to use than, say, a vintage Gibson semi-hollow.

Electronics-wise, you get dual Super 58 Custom humbuckers that give you a clear vintage sound, while remaining agile and versatile enough to cover blues, rock, and other genres. A pair of volume and tone knobs round out the controls and add to the tonal versatility of this excellent jazz guitar.

Sound

If you’re looking for the quintessential semi-hollow sound, this may not be the perfect option. If you’re looking for something that’s close to that sound, but can also play a variety of other genres, stop reading and go test drive one of these today.

The Super 58s give you a marvelously clean tone when you want it, but still have the power to wail and scream when you need to make your guitar’s voice heard. They maintain a good high-end and a very throaty low without becoming too wooly.

You’ll also have a really fun time noodling around and trying new things with this guitar. With the multiple tone and volume settings, you can really tweak your sound a lot based on your preferences, the needs of your band, or just the mood you’re in. Ibanez really hit the nail on the head with the “Expressionist” name because this really is one of the most expressive and personality-filled guitars around…pretty much perfect for jazz, in other words.

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Quilted Maple
  • Neck Material: Mahogany and Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Ebony
  • Pickups: Super 58 Customs
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic

A modern take on a classic semi-hollow body jazz guitar.

Final Thoughts on the Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AM93QM

Ibanez has been making semi-hollow guitars for as long as there have been semi-hollow body guitars, and their expertise and experience are on full display here. This is a guitar that is clearly aimed at new and aspiring jazz players, and it’s been designed from the ground up to be an ideal jumping-off point into the world of semi-hollow and fully-hollow jazz guitars.

4. Godin 5th Avenue CW Electric Guitar Review

Godin 5th Avenue CW Electric Guitar (Kingpin II, Cognac Burst)
  • Made in North America
  • Double-Action Truss Rod
  • Canadian Silver Leaf Maple Neck
  • Cut-away Body

Godin is one of the preeminent Canadian guitar makers, and their 5th Avenue CW Kingpin II is a great example of why they’re so popular around the world. This is a modern recreation of a truly classic 50’s-era archtop, and it comes with some excellent quality of life improvements and updates to boot.

Body & Neck

The body is a frankly gorgeous Canadian wild cherry and is available in a burgundy, natural (my personal favorite) and a Cognac burst finish. All of the finishes are great so just go with the one that speaks to your personal style the most.

The single-cutaway style makes it easy to play the higher frets, and the floating tortoiseshell pickguard adds a touch of class. The neck is made of a silver leaf maple and is topped with a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays.

Electronics & Hardware

This is where Godin could have easily jumped the shark and made this guitar at a $1500+ price point, but they showed an admirable amount of restraint keeping it under a grand. Hollow-body guitars like this usually come with a wooden compensated bridge, but this one has a GraphTech adjustable bridge that’s designed to help boost and enhance sustain.

The dual P90 Kingpin pickups (also by Godwin) are controlled by a master volume knob, master tone knob, and a three-way toggle that all work together to give you really precise control of your tone as you explore the world of jazz.

Sound

This is my favorite sounding guitar on this list. Sound is super duper subjective however, which is why we recommend trying guitars before you buy if possible, but subjectively this guitar has my favorite jazz sound (of any instrument not custom built anyway). Is it the best/purest/most classically correct jazz sound. Okay, maybe not, but boy oh boy does it sound good.

Unlike most archtops, you get a very good low-end which surprised me. And as you’d expect from any good jazz guitar, the clarity and warmth when you’re playing smooth sections make you want to just kick back with a drink and listen…even if you’re the one playing. Best of all, as you up the gain you can easily slip this guitar into blues or some Chuck Berry stuff, particularly any of the stuff he recorded on his ‘56 Gibson ES-350 (the one you see in all his TV performances) making it super versatile.

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Canadian Wild Cherry
  • Neck Material: Silver Leaf Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Dual P90 Kingpins
  • Bridge: GraphTech TUSQ

A classic hollow-body with a classic sound.

Final Thoughts on Godin 5th Avenue CW Electric Guitar

I love this guitar. If I was buying just one off this list for my personal taste, it would be this one (or maybe the Jazzmaster). It may not be what you were expecting, but if you’re looking for an affordable hollow-body, this sure is an excellent place to start. It’s the perfect representation of that 40’s transition from jazz into blues and early rock, and if that’s your jam, you’ll love it.

 5. Gretsch G100CE Synchromatic Review

Gretsch G100CE Synchromatic Archtop Cutaway Acoustic Electric Guitar, Natural
  • Maple Top, Back and Sides and Maple Neck
  • Bound Rosewood Fingerboard with pearloid Block inlays
  • Gretsch Single-Coil Pickup Neck Pickup
  • Rosewood Height-Adjustable Synchromatic Bridge

Of course there’s a Gretsch on this list, we’re talking about jazz guitars after all. They are the king’s of all things vintage-styled hollow-body guitars, and as much as I love the Godin up there, the Gretsch G100CE Syncromatic is a big contender for the title of “Best Modern Hollow-Body” at least in this price range.

Body & Neck

This thing is very 1940s. The full-sized archtop body is made from laminated maple and is coated with a clear urethane to give the guitar a very natural look that is absolutely timeless. The F-hole cutouts are nicely beveled and very clean, and the floating pickguard is a classic dark tortoiseshell that contrasts nicely with the warmer tones of the body.

The solid maple neck has a rosewood fretboard with gorgeous mother of pearl block inlays that give the guitar a really unique vibe. The neck has a very old school feel to it. Rounded and full, yet not quite acoustic in nature, this neck is a joy to play, whether that is bizarre jazz chords or one note solos.

Electronics & Hardware

Gretsch went all-in on the jazz-to-blues transitional era with this guitar, giving it just one Gretsch single-coil pickup close to the neck, and a master volume and master tone knob. This simple setup limits you a little bit, but it also keeps you firmly in the realm of the 1940s and 50s without too much work. The wood of this guitar provides most of the tone, which is great if you’re looking to play anything from the big band era.

 You do get a few modern upgrades though, mainly a height-adjustable rosewood bridge and a custom Gretsch chrome tailpiece. The chromed diecast tuners keep everything locked down while allowing for quick tuning changes on the fly. Everything on this guitar is excellent, yet minimal, which keeps the pricing affordable and plenty reasonable for this segment of the market.

Sound

This is the sound of the 40s and 50s right here. Your range of tones is somewhat limited by the single pickup, but if you’re looking for that early rock sound, or you just want to play more traditional jazz, you are in for a treat here. This guitar is built for the perfect tone and doesn’t let you stop it.  This is one of the purest jazz guitars on the market with a rich full sound on every note.

Chords are nice and mellow, individual notes are throaty and resonant without being buzzy, and if you play with different string combinations you can get some bluesy tones that will let you branch out a little. Make no mistake though, this is a true jazz guitar through and through, and if you’re looking for the most authentic-sounding modern jazz guitar, you may have just found it.

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Laminated Maple
  • Neck Material: Solid Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Single Gretsch Single-Coil
  • Bridge: Height-Adjustable Rosewood

The most authentic-sounding modern jazz guitar.

Final Thoughts on Gretsch G100CE Synchromatic

If you’re after a truly vintage sound and you don’t mind being a little limited in what you can play tonally-speaking, this is the perfect guitar for you. Everything about it screams old school cool, and while it is decidedly a jazz guitar and isn’t perfect for much else, it is just about perfect for jazz. If you want something that sounds like it just came out of Ella Fitzgerald’s studio recording sessions, this is the one.

 Finding The Perfect Jazz Guitar Is Easy

Jazz Guitarist and Saxophonist Playing Music
Image by Social Butterfly from Pixabay

Jazz guitars are an old tradition that is clearly alive and well. While you can always play any type of music on any guitar, if you want to imitate the standard or accepted sound of a certain genre, you need a guitar suited to said genre.

And if you want to play jazz, you really need a jazz guitar. And if you want a good jazz guitar, you really need one of the ones on this list, particularly if you’re just dipping your toes into jazz for the first time, or you want to start your jazz journey off on the right foot. Do it for jazz.

Further Reading: