How do you define a good blues guitar? Practically nothing on the market has a label saying “blues guitar,” and if you look at what blues musicians play, it’s often a vast variety. In the humble beginnings of the blues, musicians would make do with whatever they could find.
Sometimes, that could mean a makeshift contraption you wouldn’t even recognize as a guitar. But the blues has stuck around and evolved over the ages. Now, many big names play rare and expensive guitars that the average bluesman could only dream about.
With so many subgenres, it can be hard to pin down what a blues guitar should sound like. What’s best for delta blues may not be best for Chicago blues or blues rock. Blues is a dynamic scene with many distinct sounds, often using many guitar playing styles.
For this reason, I’ve chosen a variety of guitars to make sure that you can find what you need.
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Top Blues Guitars
Sorting the best guitars for blues musicians was a somewhat tricky nut to crack. With so many kinds of blues, there are endless possibilities. Some styles call for resonators or other acoustic guitars, others call for an electric axe run through a meaty overdrive. For this list of the best blues guitars, we’ll focus on electric guitars.
While that narrows it down, there are still many factors to consider. The blues has a long history and takes on many forms, so both hollow bodies and solid bodies have their place. And what’s best for you also depends on what playing style you’ll focus on. Fingerstyle, slide, and straight riffing each have their ideal settings.
Guitar manufacturers rarely design or market their guitars with blues in mind. You don’t see models with “blues” in their name or sales blurb much. While all guitars can play the blues, and blues musicians used to play whatever they could get, some models are better suited than others. So I’ve looked around and picked out ten excellent guitars for blues guitarists.
Please note that new guitars usually come with strings that aren’t ideal for the blues. You’ll want nickel strings, .10 gauge or thicker. This list of strings I made will help you choose.
The following guitars appear in no specific order. There’s no such thing as the ultimate blues guitar. Each one has its ideal uses and earns a place among the best blues guitars on the market.
Fender American Special Stratocaster
Starting off the list is one of the most, if not the most, iconic electric guitars of all time. The Fender Stratocaster played a big role in the evolution of blues and rock. With its balanced and versatile sound and smooth-playing neck, it’s appeared in the hands of countless legends. The American Special Stratocaster is an alder build with a maple neck. It offers 22 jumbo frets, a classic tremolo, and all the Stratocaster goodness we’ve come to love. Buddy Guy, Rory Gallagher, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all played Strats.
In the electronics department, it has three Texas Special single-coil pickups. The Grease Bucket tone circuit gives you a dark, bluesy sound. It’s smooth but has a nice bite, which places the American Special Strat among the very best blues guitars. With so many blues guitarists playing Stratocasters, this one’s likely to be ideal for whatever style you’re going for. At around $1,000, it’s a fine axe without sacrificing that blues vibe.
Gibson Firebird Studio
The Firebird owes much of its popularity among bluesmen to legends like Johnny Winter. Being a Gibson, and the priciest guitar on this list, you can expect nothing short of excellence from the trusty Firebird.
The body and neck consist of mahogany. The latter has a torrefied Grenadillo fingerboard. Torrefied wood has gone through pyrolysis, which opens it up. This gives it a more mature tone. The neck is a SlimTaper with 22 frets, a Tektoid nut, and Mini Grover machine heads. When it comes to the build and overall quality, these are the best blues guitars on the list.
As for electronics, it has two P90 pickups. Each has its own volume and tone knobs. It’s simple, elegant, and all-around bluesy.
Fender Standard Telecaster
That’s right, the other ‘caster by Fender also claims a spot on this list of the best blues guitars. It’s just as iconic, if not more so, in the world of blues guitarists. A Standard Telecaster is an affordable variant of this legendary guitar. It still has the full, twangy sound that you need for heavier blues styles. Notable Telecaster proponents include Albert Collins and Muddy Waters.
Compared to older and cheaper Telecasters, it has the added benefit of hum reduction. That means you get more tone and less noise. It has two classic Tele single-coil pickups and an alder body with the traditional bridge. The Standard Fender Telecaster gives you that fat tone with a long sustain. It’s simple, straightforward, and sounds right at an agreeable price. It is, without a doubt, one of the best blues guitars under $600.
Ibanez Artstar AS153
This one’s a treat for the eyes. The Ibanez Artstar AS153 has a hollow flamed maple body with an antique yellow sunburst finish. The neck consists of maple and mahogany with an ebony fretboard. It has medium frets, which makes it ideal for more technical guitarists. The frets have a unique Art Star fret end treatment that provides a faster response and a fatter, punchier tone.
Two Super 58 humbuckers give you a mellow yet growling tone that’s perfect for blues. In addition to the typical three-way switch, there’s a second one which can split the neck pickup or run it in parallel. Then there’s volume and tone control for each pickup, so you can get your ideal blue sound. Last but not least, the signature Art-1 bridge gives the guitar a longer sustain and keeps it in tune longer. The Artstar is an ideal choice for jazzy blues.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Originally a somewhat fancy jazz guitar, the Les Paul quickly became a popular all-rounder and saw great use in blues and rock. The Epiphone Les Paul Standard costs a fraction of what a typical Gibson Les Paul would. That’s one of the things that places it among the best blues guitars under $500.
The two classic Alnico humbuckers give you a growly, nuanced sound with a thick sustain that you can adjust to perfection with the extensive controls. Despite its low price, this is a real mahogany guitar with quality components. It has a traditional SlimTaper D-profile set neck for high comfort and fast fretting. Precise Grover machine heads and a tune-o-matic bridge make for stable tuning and intonation.
If you’re wondering about blues guitarists who play Les Pauls, the list could get very long. A few great examples are Freddy King, Peter Green, Hubert Sumlin, and Joe Bonamassa.
The Gibson 339 came about in 2007 as a smaller version of the timeless ES-335, one of the biggest classics in the world of old-school blues and jazz. Here it is in a more affordable format with some modern upgrades. A laminated maple archtop body gives the Epiphone ES-339 a deep, thick sound. The maple neck attaches with a Mortise & Tenon joint and has a pau ferro fingerboard with medium-jumbo frets.
For the sound uptake, it uses two Epiphone Probucker pickups. What’s cool is that you can split each one by pulling out its tone knob. That gives you a single-coil tone, which is ideal for solos. Just pop it out when it’s time, and push it back in when you’re done. You can get a variety of hot blues tones out of this reimagined classic, which makes it one of the best blues guitars for versatile guitarists.
Due to its light weight, it’s ideal for long gigs and guitarists with back issues. In all other regards, you can consider it a type of ES-335. If you’ve struggled to choose between an ES-335 and a Les Paul, this makes a happy medium.
Eastwood Airline Bighorn
If you’re looking to stand out, an Eastwood Airline Bighorn may be the best blues guitar for you. It’s a straightforward blues axe without gimmicks, other than its unique looks and wild sound. You don’t see them often, but one famous player is Jack White.
It has a 24.75-inch scale length, so it’s a bit smaller than average. It also means somewhat slinky string action. These facts, together with the affordable price, place it among the best blues guitars for beginners and guitarists with smaller hands. In fact, it’s based on 1960s student guitars.
The main reason for the unique, gritty tone is a set of Airline Vintage Argyle pickups. Each has a volume and tone control knob. It’s a simple guitar with lots of attitude.
Epiphone SG Special VE
Once again, Epiphone has taken one of those Gibsons most people dream of but can’t afford and made it available to the wider public. While it’s most common among rock guitarists these days, it has a history in the blues scene. Guitarists like Muddy Waters and Todd Wolfe played the blues on SGs. The relatively lightweight build makes it one of the best blues guitars for those of you who like to jam all night on stage.
Despite the lower price, it achieves the rich SG tone. The top veneer and neck are both mahogany, and it has powerful Ceramic-8 humbuckers. With only a three-way pickup selector and master volume and tone knobs, this is a no-nonsense guitar for those who’d rather get on with the show than fidget with settings.
The satin finish doesn’t just look and feel smooth, it allows for a warmer and more open tone. Its rich midrange is ideal for blues. It’s a top choice if you’re on a tight budget and looking for the best blues guitars under $300.
Ibanez Artcore Expressionist Vintage AKJV95
This one also has two Super 58 pickups and a similar design to the Artstar in general. However, it has a spruce top and a vintage tailpiece. It also has more straightforward wiring. A simple three-way switch lets you select one or both humbuckers, each one has its own volume and tone control, and that’s it.
It has a 27.4-inch scale length with quite large frets and a medium string spread. This makes it one ideal for fingerstyle guitarists. All in all, it’s one of the best blues guitars if you play old-school blues and want looks that match the sound.
Epiphone Dot Studio
Gibson’s ES-335, nicknamed Dot, has been a star across the genres since the ‘50s. Notable proponents in the blues scene include BB King and Otis Rush. The Epiphone Dot is an affordable, modern adaptation that stays true to tradition in most regards, including the sound. It’s one of the best blues guitars under $800.
It has a semi-hollow body built from mahogany laminates. There’s a tone knob, a volume knob, and a three-way pickup selector. The two Alnico Classic open-coil humbuckers give the Dot Studio a timeless, thick tone. Being a semi-hollow, it has a big low end and midrange and a fat, resonant sustain. The original Dot has been around forever, and you’ve heard its various editions on countless blues records. That’s why the Epiphone Dot Studio is among the best blues guitars in modern times.
Final Thoughts on the Best Blues Guitars
While it comes down to preference, I consider these the best blues guitars available right now. There’s an ideal pick for every type of blues guitarist who’s looking for an electric guitar. You can’t go wrong with classics like the Telecaster, ES-339, or Les Paul. Or any of the others for that matter, although some are more tailored to specific styles. What’s most important is that you pick the one you like the best. Because they’re all excellent guitars, and they all deliver the blues in great style.
Now, a suitable guitar is only one half of the characteristic blues sound. The other half is a tube amplifier. If you’re looking for one, I have some great recommendations in my tube amplifier article. In the end, a guitar can only sound as good as the amplifier and cables its signal has to pass. However, if you’re not ready for that investment, you can achieve good results at a lower cost with a good blues overdrive pedal. You’ll find several excellent ones in my list of the best overdrive pedals.
That concludes this list of the ten best blues guitars. Stay tuned for more comprehensive guitar reviews and lessons. Thank you for reading.