What Kind of Electric Guitar Is Right for You?


Are you just getting into playing electric guitar? If so, thank you—it feels like there’s a dearth of us these days! But also, let’s address an issue you might be facing in purchasing your Instrument, best summed up by the following question:

“What kind of electric guitar is right for me?”

I know the answer my parents had for that question: “the cheapest,” but if you’re shelling out your own hard-earned dosh, deciding what kind of axe to purchase is a choice fraught with implications, both obvious and subliminal.

You see, different electric guitars don’t just sport different sounds. Their very look telegraphs information, both to the audience and to your musical peers; if I were to show up at a straight-ahead jazz gig with a suit, a tie, and a Guild S-100, I’d turn some heads—and not in the best way, even though that axe is a suitable one to grind (humbucker in the neck and a tone knob set to mellow? I can get jazzy with that).

Guild Guitars S-100 Polara - Newark St. Collection - Electric Guitar with Premium Gig Bag

As we dive in, do keep in mind these are guidelines—and largely aesthetical ones; on my own recordings, I play jazz on a PRS and metal on a T-Style, because those specific guitars work great for my needs. I’ll bring the PRS to a metal gig, though, and a T-Style to a country gig, because they fit with the look, and to some extent, I sound like me on whatever guitar I play.

Solid Body

Roughly speaking, the mainstream of solid-body electric guitar shapes can be split into three categories, all of which are trademarked by their original manufacturers, hence the generic descriptions employed.

The Classic Single-Cut

Best embodied in our warehouses by the EC line of ESPs, this body shape is often associated with hard-rock genres. Guitars in the classic single-cutaway style tend to come with two humbucking pickups, giving you a meatier tone than single coils might impart. This is the reason, in drop-D tunings and with tons of distortion, you’ll often hear these guitars double-tracked and chugging away on your favorite hard-rock and metal records. You’ll frequently see these guitars used by heavier touring acts, such as Tool, Nine Inch Nails, and the like.

ESP LTD EC-10 Electric Guitar with Interface and Recording Starter Kit

But the classic single-cutaway design also has ties to R’n’B, blues, and reggae, with legends such as Muddy Waters and Bob Marley counted among its proponents. For what it’s worth, I’ve seen the classic single-cutaway often played at gospel gigs (usually with gold-plated hardware, for whatever reason).

Go with this guitar if:

A) You’re looking for a heavier, thicker sound.

B) You’re looking to play hard-rock music.

C) You’re looking to play R’n’B, blues, and gospel—specifically with a heftier, creamier sound.

S is for Soul

Ah, the S-Style! You know the type of guitar I’m talking about, even if I don’t mention its name. You’ve seen Hendrix play it. You’ve seen Stevie Ray Vaughan play it. Yes, the S-Style is probably the most recognizable body shape, and on our site, it’s embodied quite well by the Yamaha Pacifica series.

Yamaha Pacifica PAC012DLX Electric Guitar Home Recording Starter Kit

S-Style axes sport a sleek, double-cutaway design, and usually boast a complement of three single-coil pickups. Often, you’ll find a 5-way switch to select among tonal palettes, lending these guitars a versatile sound (though some positions you’ll invariably skip). The single-coils tend to impart a thinner timbre, along with hum and buzz. Funky strumming and surf guitar often find their home on the S-Style. Alt-rock, R’n’B, and Blues are also represented here.

I know I said you’ll often see classic single-cutaways employed on the above genres, but there is some overlap: Both styles will work, but each imparts its own signature and function. When I think of blues on a single-cutaway, a guitar player like Freddie King comes to mind. An S-Style immediately conjures more searing slingers, like Jimi and Stevie.

Go with this guitar if:

A) You’re looking for a thinner, funkier sound.

B) You’re looking to secure searing solos that cut through the din on stage.

C) You don’t mind a little hum.

D) If Jimi, Eric, and Stevie are your guys (though two of them did use single-cuts at times).

T is for Twang

If there’s one guitar I think of as being quintessentially “American”—or maybe even “ ’murrrican”—it would be this style, best represented on our site by the ESP LTD TE series. The T-Style is technically a single-cutaway guitar, but provides more access to the lower string’s higher registers than a classic single-cut. But that’s not its saving grace.

ESP LTD TE-200 Electric Guitar Home Recording Starter Kit

No. The saving grace of the T-Style is the twang. And this twang fits country, Americana, and roots music like a glove. Look for videos of people demo’ing classic chicken-pickin’ riffs, and you’re guaranteed to find the T-Style prominently displayed.

You’ll see various pickup configurations offered; single/single, humbucker/humbucker, humbucker/single, single/humbucker, P90/Single—they’re all represented. Whatever the pickups, these guitars usually sport two of them, giving you three tonal positions by means of the selector. This means less versatility in switchable tone than S-Style models. However, depending on the pickups, your rig, and your playing, these guitars can often handle the tasks of both S-Style and classic single-cutaway models. They’ll always have those ’murrrrrican aesthetics though—so don’t tread on them!

Some T-Styles boast features that seem odd at first, but are in fact thoughtful additions to the Americana sound. I’m thinking specifically of the “B Bender,” a mechanism built into the strap button that allows you to bend the B-string up a whole-tone. Simply play a chord, yank the neck downwards, and you can enjoy the sound of a bending string without ever moving a finger, letting your chord ring out all the while. This move imparts a “home, home on the range” vibe to an open G, C, D, E, and A chord.

The ESP LTD TE-254 (try saying that five times fast) represents an excellent T-style electric guitar in our collection, one with an authentically road-worn look, to boot. It has a maple fingerboard, a classic T-style pickup configuration (the “Custom” one, to be exact), and the traditional flat-mount, string-thru bridge. Even the inlays are evocative of the classic T-style guitars, which eschewed showy patterns or blocks in favor of simple, utilitarian dots.

ESP LTD TE-254 Electric Guitar

For what it’s worth, the T-Style is my personal favorite. There’s nothing like playing a song such as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (Jeff Buckley style, of course) with one of these babies set to the neck position—whatever the pickup!

Go with this guitar if:

A) If you’re all about the twang.

B) You’re looking for a guitar that fits right into Americana, country, or roots rock, but can also hang in heavier situations.

C) If you’re looking for a clarion clean tone, one that sounds great with heaps of echo and reverb, and conjures up images of an America that never really existed.

Other Solid, Solid-body Choices

Of course, the list doesn’t stop with these body shapes: Other guitars can make a statement, too. Something with a body style like the ESP LTD Viper might be more appealing to lovers of Black Sabbath and classic grunge. Ibanez makes more than a few models that scream djent, black, death, and other various subgenres of metal (the Iron Label series comes to mind). Oddballs such as the Yamaha Revstar, Ibanez Talman, and Guild T-Bird feature designs that cannot be easily categorized or identified, and thus, serve in individuating you—if that’s your goal.

Ibanez TM330M Talman Standard Series Electric Guitar

Hollow Words for Hollow-Bodies

I think a good rule of thumb for hollow-body guitars is that the thicker the body, the jazzier the instrument, though there are some exceptions to this (I’m looking at you, Gretsch). To some degree, this proclamation is based on longstanding traditions and aesthetics, but there’s also some sonic truth behind it. Ever try to run distortion through a thick jazz-box? It feeds back more than a focus group.

The breakdown goes as follows: You’ll see the occasional hollow T-Style model come your way, and those guitars—or something like an ESP Xtone—are quite suitable for rock, country, and even rockabilly. Then you have guitars which look like the Ibanez AMV10A; these are found traditionally in fusion-jazz, blues, and alt-rock situations. Players like John Scofield and Ben Monder have elicited fantastic tones from these styles. Finally, you have your thicker, jazzier hollow-bodies. If Wes Montgomery is your guy, this might be the axe for you.

Ibanez AMV10A Artcore Vintage Series Hollow-Body Electric Guitar


We must always keep in mind that this a list of general guidelines; it’s important to mention that Jimi Hendrix was known to rock out on a classic single-cutaway model, while David Gilmore got some of his smoothest Pink Floyd solos out of the S-Style.

The truth of the matter is that, for personal use, you should a select a guitar based entirely on your ear, your research, and most importantly, your gut. However, if you’re looking to play for hire, then you should probably keep aesthetics in mind, as the look you’re projecting on stage—and to a lesser extent, in the studio—does have an impact.