Whether you’re inspired by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, K.I.S.S., Queen, Nirvana, or even by the rock ‘n roll “The King” Elvis Presley, there’s a common theme that’s easy to identify – your passion for rock music.
So, how do you emulate the stars and founders of rock?
Is it just the guitar that makes the artist?
Does it cost thousands of dollars to get a guitar made for rock?
Believe it or not, it won’t cost you that much to land a good electric guitar. Bo Diddley, one of the OG artists of rock music’s birth, went full-on DIY on homemade guitars out of cigar boxes that gave it a unique look and sound.
While you can’t pull that off, we suggest you’re better off sticking with the rock guitars in our lineup.
QUICK ANSWER: 5 Top Rock Electric Guitars
- Fender American Professional Stratocaster
- EVH Striped Series
- Charvel Pro-Mod DK 24 HH
- Ibanez RG421
- Gretsch G5425 Electromatic Jet Club
Researching Rockin’ Rock Guitars
Once upon a time, a rock guitar was any ax that sounded good coming out of a big ol’ amp. But, a guitar in the hands of the likes of Eddie Van Halen, overnight that guitar isn’t just any ol’ guitar anymore. However, it wasn’t only his Strat-like basswood axe, a Gibson humbucker at the bridge, FR bridge, and slick neck that stunned the crowds. . . Everyone soon learned that Eddie himself was the key difference in bringing about a new era of hard rock to the world – he’s just that good.
Soon, hard rock gave way to heavy metal, and now we have many guitars made specifically to screech out rock tunes. So, what is it that you need to look for? Do all rock guitars have humbuckers? Are rock guitars expensive?
To answer your questions and identify the right guitar for you, let’s clarify how we define “rock” a little more. Like all other music styles, defining rock music is ambiguous. There’s rock ‘n roll, modern rock, country rock, hard rock, classic rock, punk rock, grunge, and the list goes on. We’re going to include all the above in defining “rock music” with the exception of metal. As most everyone would agree, metal is its very own style that deserves its own category.
To that end, the guitars in our lineup are versatile platforms well-suited to experimenting with different rock tunes as well as pushing the limits to blues, jazz, and metal. But, rock is the focus of the day, and here are the electric guitars that any up-and-coming rock star can rely on.
The Best Rock Guitars In 2020
1. Fender American Professional Stratocaster Review
- Body Body shape: Double cutaway Body type: Solid body Body material: Solid wood Top wood: Not applicable Body wood: Alder, Ash on Sienna Sunburst Body finish: Gloss Polyurethane Orientation: Right...
The rock lineup wouldn’t be complete without a Fender Strat. As the popular American Standard series saw its way out of the picture after, what? 30 years? The world held its breath to see what was replacing it. All eyes are on the American Professional Stratocaster now.
- Bone nut
- V-Mod Single-Coil pickups
- Modern Deep C neck
- Narrow tall frets
- Made in USA
Can you play rock on an SSS Strat? Is the Pope Catholic? Just take a look at the Jimi Hendrix Strat, the Eric Clapton Strat, and look at what Pink Floyd did with The Black Strat and what Biffy Clyro did with a single coil and some distortion. Point proven.
The Stratocaster has been around for almost half a century, and the American Professional may be new to the game, but it’s no rookie. It has everything you want to see on a Strat and a classic rock guitar but with a few upgrades.
The maple neck has been redesigned with a modern Deep C profile with hefty shoulders that encourages a more organic feel to grab chords and play open notes. That couldn’t be truer when it’s paired with a steeper 9.5″ rosewood fingerboard radius with 22 narrow tall frets well-suited for fretting and bending strings, and as we know, bending is a technique you gotta have for rock and blues.
Can we just say it’s nice to see Fender install a bone nut? It’s expected in this price range, but you can’t always be sure, and the outed Standard series had the oft-used synthetic nut. The “pop-in” tremolo arm is a new feature and so are the V-Mod Single-Coil Strat pickups designed by the “Pickup Chief” Tim Shaw himself. The V-Mods are crazy – they’re made with a blend of Alnico magnets that provide different tonal contributions for the specific position they’re in – and all this for a mass-produced guitar!
At the neck, a blend of Alnico II and III magnets bring strong mids and smooth tone while the III brings that vintage warmth. You have a blend of II and V magnets in the middle that maintains the mids but adds a tight, pronounced, and punchy mix. At the bridge is an off-slanted V that is all punch and boldness.
A treble bleed circuit under the Master Volume pot keeps those highs when you turn it down. You have sealed tuning machines, and an Elite Molded Case is included in the buy. Rock ‘n rollers, the Professional is now on stage. Cue the lights and the money for it, honey.
2. EVH Striped Series Review
- Basswood Stratocaster-style bodiy
- 3 color patterns inspired by Van Halen's own design from his career (while supplies last)
- Quartersawn maple neck
We would be blasted if we didn’t make some room for the very deserving Frankenstrat rigged together by Van Halen himself. This model comes in at a fantastic price, so if you’re wondering what’s the difference between this one and the 5150 which comes in under $1500, you’re in the right place.
- FR locking nut
- FR locking tremolo
- Wolfgang humbucker
- 1-way tremolo
All rockers are conscious of what their guitar looks like, even if it kills it in the sound department, they still want it to look the part, too. To look good and sound edgy at the same is a right reserved for the iconic stripes of an EVH electric guitar. But, why the price difference between this striped model and the similarly striped 5150?
The 5150 is a closer replication of the original guitar with its EVH hockey-stick headstock, 5150 hologram stickers, 5150 body shape, FR R3 locking nut, high-performance modified C neck shape, custom EVH humbucker, and EVH low-friction 500K volume pot. That’s why it costs more.
But, this model has the better price. It maintains the basswood body, quarter-sawn maple neck (but this one has graphite reinforcement), compound radius 12-16″ maple fingerboard radius, 22 jumbo frets, EVH FR tremolo with EVH D-Tuna, and EVH tuners.
Furthermore, this striped guitar has the Strat-like headstock, a Wolfgang neck profile that has a hand-rubbed oil finish, FR locking nut, and a direct-mount Wolfgang humbucker. That single humbucker at the bridge is a Van Halen badge of honor. It’s mean, loud, and ferocious. You did want those hard rock tones, right? There’s huge power as you riff and lead those solos with force but not without clear articulation.
If you’re wondering, the tremolo doesn’t go both ways like Steve Vai’s (it’s been asked a few times). And, that’s not a Tone pot on the guitar – it’s a Volume knob. It says “Tone” because it’s a replica of Eddie’s one he rigged together and is an iconic feature of EVH guitars. Apparently, he lost the volume knob and used a tone one instead – ha! This guy has a sense of humor.
Feel free to shred with its flattening compound fretboard radius and super slick and comfortable neck, and instantly drop into D drop tuning without issue or delay. Eddie couldn’t have made it any easier or cheaper to get the chance to do what he does best – rock it.
3. Charvel Pro-Mod DK 24 HH Review
- Alder Body with Quilt Maple top; Bolt-On 2pc. Maple Neck w/Graphite Reinforcement
- 25.5" Scale Length; 12"-16" Compound Radius Fingerboard with 24 Jumbo Frets and Dot Inlays
- Seymour Duncan Full Shred SH-10B (bridge) and Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2Nl & No-Load Tone Circuit
Charvel, an American company that has long catered to some of the fastest shredders in the American Rock genre. The Pro-Mod Dinky 24 may look meek and humble with its Snow White finish, but its gold hardware adds a flair of elegance while its dual humbuckers promise menacing sound.
- Compound radius
- Shredder’s cut heel
- FR 1000 double locking bridge
- Seymour Duncan humbuckers
- Coil tapping
- No case
The price isn’t bad for a rocking, pimped-out Charvel electric guitar, but it’s still almost a grand to land. But, where’s the case? No case in sight. But, if you put your focus onto the guitar, you’ll see the meticulous attention to detail the company put into this Dinky.
The feature that stands out the most right off the bat is the gold hardware that includes the low-profile Floyd Rose 1000 Series Double-Locking Tremolo bridge best associated with Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. With a locking nut and locking saddles, ridiculous dive bombing may be in your future.
Seymour Duncan humbuckers get the honor of sitting on this Charvel with a Full Shred SH-10B at the bridge that tames the mids, has articulate high ends, and a tight low-end. At the neck sits a Jazz SH-2N that holds its own under extreme speed and high gain. With a no-load tone pot at setting 10 and a push/pull volume knob, you can split coils, maintain those screeching trebles, and experiment with the endless sonic possibilities to pull off fast riffs or sparkly clean tones.
An alder body, bolt-on maple neck, and maple fingerboard make up the guitar. The special features come in with the 12-16″ fingerboard radius, hand-rubbed satin urethane neck finish, and speed neck shape with rolled fretboard edges that are design appointments made for shredders. The shredder’s cut heel gets you access to the entire 24 jumbo frets, and the scalloped lower bout and contoured body gives you the comfort you need to keep on playing even though your encore was two songs ago.
Hard rock, here we come!
4. Ibanez RG421 Review
We couldn’t decide on an Ibanez collaboration JEM or a Joe Satriani guitar, so we went with one of the most popular and affordable guitars instead. What can we say? The masses will buy this one every day and any day, including today, while they save to buy a signature artist guitar. Meanwhile, let’s see why the RG made the lineup.
- Quantum humbuckers
- Flat fingerboard
- Wizard III neck
- Blackberry Sunburst
- Fixed bridge
Immediately, the 421 model in the RG series will get your heart racing with its sexy Blackberry Sunburst finish on a Super Strat bod with Cosmo Black hardware – like a woman in a skin-tight dress with stilettoes, except you’re allowed to touch the curves on this one.
It has a Meranti body with a maple neck and Jatoba fretboard. Everything from the Wizard III super-slim and speedy neck to the flat fretboard radius (15.7″) and 24 jumbo frets is made for riffing, bending, and shredding. Ibanez certainly shows us how it’s done right.
On the body, you have Quantum humbuckers with ceramic magnets, and for being topped on a guitar under 300 bucks, they’re not bad at all. In fact, they used to be seen on their high-end Japanese-made guitars once upon a time. At the bridge, it’s hot and impressively responsive if you’re in the mood for some staccato riffing. At the neck, it pumps out full, clean tones, but don’t underestimate its shredding ability. With cutting articulation, it can handle your rock demands.
Surprisingly, while it has humbuckers that can deliver a slammin’ punch through a good amp for rock and distortion, the RG has a fixed bridge instead of a synchronized tremolo bridge or something of the sort. It’s not a deal-breaker or even a “bad” feature as it’s more of a personal preference. But, hey! At least you shouldn’t have tuning issues.
And, that’s about it. A gorgeous guitar doesn’t need any further flair and edge. Less is more, and we like her beauty and price tag – incredible value for the money. The RG421 is everything sexy when you need a versatile electric guitar under $300 that can absolutely handle the needs of rockers.
5. Gretsch G5425 Electromatic Jet Club Review
- Body Shape: Jet
- Body Style: Chambered Single Cutaway
- Body:Basswood, Gloss Urethane Finish, Arched Maple Top
Although it’s not the exact models that rock ‘n roll legends Bo Diddley and George Harrison from The Beatles played, they did favor Gretsch guitars. As the most inexpensive rock guitar in our lineup, you may like the Gretsch more than you may have intended to.
- Adjusto-Matic bridge
- Chambered body
- Arched top
- Versatile tonal range
- May need mods
The Electromatic has an evocative appeal that instantly evokes mental images of a Les Paul. With its single cutaway, 24.6″ scale length, 22 medium jumbo frets, and dual humbuckers, it’s a Les Pau – er, Gretsch Jet all the way.
While there are other models in the Electromatic Collection, this simple but high-performing guitar rids itself of the Bigsby, perhaps to cater to non-vibrato users or to keep costs down, or maybe both. Instead, it has an Adjusto-Matic bridge and Stop Tail tailpiece (just like a TOM) that does a good enough job for tuning stability and it also improves sustain.
The Jet guitar is endowed with Gretsch’s own stock humbuckers that are hotter than what you’d initially expect. Yes, they’re stock models even though they’ve got the Filter’Tron look at first glance. Although they’re warm when played clean and can do a good job at maintaining tone and power without getting muddy when distortion comes into the mix, the stock buckers may be a point of a future upgrade. For the price, you won’t have to feel guilty about switching them out and making a couple mods of your own even though no one has dinged this guitar for its pickups.
The G5425 Black model has a clean look with retro appeal that it pulls off well. Made with a chambered basswood body for sonic richness and complexity, arched laminated maple top, maple neck, and rosewood fretboard, it’s right in line for its price tag. A 12″ fingerboard radius and medium jumbo frets will make it easier for you shred and bend but you can still grab chords with ease.
With a jazzy and bluesy appeal on the warm side but with enough guts and oomph to handle classic and modern rock tones without the Bigsby, this Gretsch was made for all types of players. It’s the perfect compromise if you want to keep things versatile, simple, and affordable.
What to Look for in an Electric Rock Guitar
There are must-have features we’ll discuss here that makes a guitar a good rock guitar. But first, let’s name some iconic rock guitars that are still glorified today (in no particular order).
- Prince’s Cloud: Prince
- Gibson Flying V: Jimi Hendrix, Brent Hinds, Lenny Kravits, Lonnie Mack
- Gibson Les Paul: Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Slash
- Fender Jaguar: Kurt Cobain, Johnny Mar, Black Francis
- Gibson Firebird: Dave Grohl, Scott Holliday
- Gibson SG: AC/DC, Black Sabbath
This is by no means a comprehensive list of famous and highly revered guitars that have stamped their footprint in history, either in their own right or by the rock star that put it on the map. Gibson is obviously a deep-rooted brand in the rock genre – they’ve earned it, but there are plenty more brands deserving of recognition not listed here as we’re limited to a word count.
Now, let’s get onto the features that will hopefully inspire you to practice, shred it, and kill it.
Rock Guitar Alternatives:
While every rock wannabe may want to own a genuine Les Paul, it’s not the reality for most up-and-coming artists. While it might be all fun and games to list off expensive signature guitars, you must set a real budget. This means being open to alternatives. If there’s an otherworldly Gibson you dream of owning, investigate Epiphone options to satisfy that craving for today. The same goes for Ibanez artist guitars and their RG and GIO series.
However, it also works both ways. Say you currently own and love playing a Squier, but you want an upgrade good enough for the stage or recording – look to Fender. Looking into alternatives will help to set a budget. Once you have a budget, you’re bound to find the right guitar for your rock tastes.
It’s completely flexible. You can spend $7000 on a Les Paul Standard or you can spend $300 on an Ibanez with incredible value for its high performance. So, instead of setting a budget catered to quality, we’re going to recommend a budget geared towards skill level.
If you’re a beginner with some lessons under your belt, you can easily spend $300-$500 on an electric guitar that will last you longer than you think and will definitely help to improve your green skills.
Intermediate electric guitar players will appreciate the guitars in the under $1000 range, and seasoned rock artists will likely pull the trigger on a $2000 or more electric guitar – if the finances allow it.
Of course, you’ll also have to consider what you intend to do with it. Is it just a practice guitar for private learning at home? Are you planning on entering the stage in greatness requiring both aesthetics and sound to please the crowd? Evaluate the budget, your intentions, and what you want from your rock guitar in relation to your skill levels.
Rock, again, is an ambiguous music genre, but speed is often a need that ties the off shoots together. It ends up coming down to the neck as this is where much of the action happens. Look for neck profiles that are slim, tapered, thin, playable, and of course, comfortable. Its slim profile helps to pull off fast-playing riffs, inconceivable shreds, and the catchiest leads.
Shredding and bending are archetypal techniques of rock and the neck profile isn’t the only feature to look for as the fingerboard radius plays its role, too. The fretboard has a barely noticeable convex curve. When measured, it can tell you how you can use it and how comfortable it will be to play, especially important for rockers with small hands.
A fingerboard radius of 12″ or more becomes increasingly useful for rock genre playing techniques. As the number gets larger, the curve in the fretboard becomes flatter making it easier to bend, shred, lead, and all that good stuff. Paired with taller or jumbo frets, it’s also easier on the fingertips as you don’t have to apply as much pressure to get the effect or sound you’re after.
One word: humbuckers. When turning up the gain and distortion, you want humbuckers on your guitar for thicker, hotter, and more versatile tonal range and powerful output that lends itself towards metal, rock, and jazz.
Of course, single coils shouldn’t be “singled” out. There are a multitude of rock stars that can work those vintage, crisp, and bright tones to their rock’n ends. Plus, don’t underestimate the contribution of pedals and amps that can help with that.
Now, passive or active pickups? While there are many metal heads that like those active pickups, passive seems to be the way to go for various rock styles. It’s not a hard and fast rule as it’s more of a preference.
When we bring up hardware here, we’re talking about bridges. So, is it a fixed bridge or a tremolo bridge you’re after? The fixed bridge, the hard-tail fixed bridge – whatever you want to call it, it’s a bridge typically with a screwed in base plate with six adjustable saddles for each string. Simple, great for beginners, and provides solid tuning stability (if paired with a correctly cut nut and quality tuning machines). It’s the cheaper type of bridge seen on a rock guitar, but it keeps things simple – easy does it tiger.
But, there are many types of fixed bridges out there. Look at Fender’s Hard-Tail and Gibson’s Tune-O-Matic (TOM) bridge. The TOM can be raised or lowered and provide finer string adjustments.
To make use of a whammy bar, you may want to consider a type of tremolo bridge or Fender’s Synchronized Tremolo bridge. It should incorporate the same adjustable saddles, but the bridge allows the use of a whammy to create a vibrato. But, because of the rapid change in pitch that occurs in a vibrato, you might find you’ll quickly run into tuning issues because you’re intentionally manipulating string tension.
Not willing to give up your potential whammy skills in the hopes of emulating Hendrix and Van Halen? Enter here, the ground-breaking design of the Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo system. This bridge system incorporates a heck of a lot more than a fixed bridge. If you intend on aggressively bashing a whammy bar for crazy dive bombs, you’ll appreciate the locking nut, locking saddles, string clamps, and tightening bolts that fix those strings in place and allow for intricate adjustments. But, unlike the TOM that’s user-friendly and has a set-it-and-forget-it setup, the FR can be difficult to install, change strings, and use.
But, the FR isn’t the only type of bridge out there that can handle your otherworldly demands. Ibanez, Wilkinson, Kahler, and Bigsby are brands worth checking out if you want to make the most of picking the right hardware for your rockin’ guitar.
Rock Solid Tips for Rock:
Get to know distortion. Dial in too much and you’re lost. Dial not enough and you sound weak and puny. Experiment with the right levels of distortion to be heard clearly with articulation.
Learn where along the strings you should palm mute to avoid those dreaded, deadened tones but still reach the desired effect. Why palm mute? It accents your distortion of course!
Learn your power chords and work that fret board.
Ditch the upstrokes and stick with downstrokes if you’re after a punchy, aggressive sound to contribute to your distortion desires.
Get an amp best suited for your style of rock. Marshall is an excellent brand for those into EVH, AC/DC tones – just FYI. Get to know what amp settings will accentuate those electric rock tones. You might need to research for a little guidance on what others are doing, but the best way to do it is to plug in, play, and listen. It’s just like trying to define tone. Tone is one of those things you may not be able to describe precisely with words, but you can feel it when you get it right. Go experiment. Don’t forget pedals – same rules apply when you’re looking for an upgraded amp.
Get in Tune With a Rock Guitar
While we highly recommend getting your guitar in tune if you’re serious about playing it, we actually mean get in tune with what you need to know about rock guitars. While we can provide hard and fast rules, general guidelines, and even examples of what the best rock guitarists used, you must get in tune with what will work for you.
While rock guitars often sport flashy finishes, you can choose to go the subtle route and let the guitar appointments speak for themselves. You might prefer a single coil in between those humbuckers to add more tonal versatility. You could even spend more on your amp to get amazing rock tunes regardless if your guitar has a bit of duct tape somewhere. Geez, EVH had a “tone” knob for his volume pot on his single humbucker guiar that didn’t even have a tone pot.
While you can emulate the stars as much as you want, you might find your own style suits you better. Who knows. . .? You may be the next Mark Tremonti in the making, if that’s your kind of thing. Get in tune, rock on, and rock hard!
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Simon is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado. When he is not playing the guitar or listening to music he is either eating tacos or snoring too loudly.