How do you begin to describe jazz? The variety in sounds, styles, and instrumentation is massive. Therefore, the best jazz guitars are a varied bunch, but they share the common denominators of versatility and a jazzy tone. If you look at your favorite jazz guitarists, you may find that they play guitars with very little in common. With that in mind, I’ve written this article about the best jazz guitars to help you make an informed choice.
Since there are many styles of jazz, and many guitar playing styles involved, this will be a diverse list with different types of guitars — not just traditional jazz boxes. And there are options for different budgets. But rather than pick out the most luxurious, high-end vintage guitars that cost a fortune, I’ve selected ones with more reasonable prices. All cost less than $3,000, and many come under $1,000. However, there are no low-budget toys. After all, it’s a list of the BEST jazz guitars.
- Fender Standard Telecaster
- Gibson Les Paul
- Godin LGXT
- Fender Player Jazzmaster
- Hagström Viking
- Epiphone Dot Studio
- Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AM93QM
- Gretsch G6118T
- The Loar LH-350 VS
- Washburn J600
Top 10 Best Jazz Guitars
While many associate the term “jazz guitar” with old-school archtops and semi-hollows, more contemporary jazz fans think more of solid electric guitars. Other genres may have a narrow window of what makes an ideal guitar, but jazz is multi-faceted and incorporates all sorts of guitars. This list only covers electric guitars, most of them hollow or semi-hollow. They’re presented in no particular order, as it’s all about your preferred type of jazz and your needs and budget. Without further ado, let’s begin.
The Best Solid Body Jazz Guitars
Some don’t consider them traditional jazz guitars, but many jazz guitarists prefer them. And unorthodox isn’t a bad thing in jazz. Famous jazz guitarists who play or played them include Ted Greene, Mike Stern, and Ed Bickert.
Solid bodies are smaller and more straightforward. They’re more durable, there’s no feedback, and they can achieve more modern tones and bridge genres. Some of the world’s best jazz guitars are solid bodies. They’re great choices unless you have a different idea of what jazz looks and sounds like. You can find more solid body options here.
Fender Standard Telecaster
In terms of popularity, this is the winner. The Fender Telecaster is a legend that you’ve seen in the hands of world-class guitarists of every genre. In the world of jazz, it’s the most popular solid body electric guitar. Famous players include Ted Greene, John Scofield, and Bill Frisell. It’s the sophisticated tone and easy fretting that make it one of the best jazz guitars.
There are many different models, but the Standard Telecaster is an ideal pick for hobbyists and enthusiasts who don’t want to fork out a fortune and don’t want an overly specialized gimmick. While Fender Standards are affordable options, they’re good quality guitars and far from Squier copies.
The body is alder wood, and the neck is all maple. It has two traditional single coils and the tone control that lets you get that sweet jazz sound. The Tele is simple, versatile, and you know what to expect. That makes it one of the best jazz guitars for beginners too.
Gibson Les Paul Player Plus
Another immortal classic, the Gibson Les Paul plays a dominant role in various journeys and retains its status as a jazz legend. In case you didn’t know, Les Paul himself was a jazz guitarist. Famous users include Clint Strong and Jim Hall.
There are countless versions, most costing several thousand. While there are very affordable Epiphone models, they don’t qualify among the best jazz guitars. However, the Player Plus edition is on the cheaper end by Gibson standards without being a budget guitar. It consists of mahogany, with fancy materials like Richlite and Graphite providing more modern performance.
What makes the Les Paul one of the best jazz guitars is its sound. This edition has the classic setup with two warm humbuckers and advanced tone controls. It’s among the best jazz guitars for serious players who want a solid body.
A Godin LGXT is almost like a cross breed of Telecaster and Les Paul, although it has its own unique combination of features. It’s not as well-known, but it’s a formidable high-end jazz guitar. John McLaughlin is one famous jazzer who plays it.
This thing is a chimera with many voices. It has two humbuckers like a Les Paul, and you can split them for a Tele sound. It also has a piezo pickup that makes it sound like an acoustic guitar. You can blend it with the humbuckers, and there’s an equalizer for further tone-sculpting. What’s more, you can use it as a MIDI controller to play electric organ sounds and such. And get this, you can can write notesheets and tabs just by playing the guitar if you feed the MIDI input to the right software. This incredible versatility makes it one of the best jazz guitars of all time, and suitable for most other genres too.
There’s also a tremolo bridge, and the neck has Strat-like playability. All components are of excellent quality, and you can expect a great feel and sound.
Fender Player Jazzmaster
A list of the best jazz guitars wouldn’t be complete without a Jazzmaster. This jazz classic can often cost a fortune, but the Fender Player line now offers an affordable version. While it uses cheaper woods like alder and pau ferro, it’s a real Jazzmaster with a familiar fat sound. And it doesn’t sacrifice real playability for a low price.
It sticks to the traditions for the most part, although it has some modern tweaks to improve playability or reduce costs. For example, the updated neck profile and the synthetic bone nut. Moreover, the modern humbuckers give it a rich tone, and you can split them when you need a single-coil tone. This is the right way to update a classic. All other components have the traditional design; there are no missing features or added gimmicks.
What’s more, it comes with a bundle of extras, including Fender Play lessons. If you’re unfamiliar with it, my Fender Play review will update you. It belongs among the best jazz guitars for beginners and intermediates, and for anyone who wants an affordable Jazzmaster.
The Best Semi-Hollow Jazz Guitars
Semi-hollow guitars combine the best of both worlds. While many people confuse hollow bodies and semi-hollows, there is a significant difference. They’re both semi-acoustic, but semi-hollow guitars have a wood block along the middle while archtops have a completely hollow body. Many iconic jazz guitars are semi-hollow. One great example is the Gibson ES-335, which many consider one of the best jazz guitars ever. And many famous jazz boxes drew inspiration from it.
The main advantages are the rich, jazzy tone and the versatility. On the negative side, they’re quite big and heavy, so you may need to sit for longer gigs. Semi-hollows have often appeared in the hands of jazz guitarists like Larry Carlton, Emily Remler, and Grant Green.
The fabled guitar has much in common with its ancient namesakes. It came out of Sweden and took the world by storm, only to disappear and leave a myth in its wake. While most associate it with Elvis and Jimi Hendrix, the Viking made many appearances in the jazz scene. One notable player was Larry Coryell. When Hagström gave up on guitars in the ‘80s, it became a sought-after, exclusive luxury. In recent times, production started anew, and the Viking is available to common guitarists again.
The Viking is loud and strong with a classic tone. What makes this guitar unique, other than the visual design, is the H-expander truss rod. This Hagström innovation stabilizes the neck and enables very low string action. They’ve updated the traditional design with a Tusq nut and Resinator fretboard.
Epiphone Dot Studio
Emerging in the ‘50s, the Gibson ES-335 “Dot” is one of those iconic classics that still echoes in new models from other brands to this day. The Epiphone Dot Studio is a cheaper version built from laminated mahogany. It’s simple with few features, but it’s all you need for vintage jazz.
Regarding the sound, it’s very close to the original Gibson. It’s clear and warm with a thick sustain, using open-coil Alnico Classic humbuckers. The ES-335 helped shape the evolution of jazz, so you know you’re getting one of the best jazz guitars available. The Epiphone Dot Studio has some subtle updates that do away with common vintage problems and provide modern playability. And it only costs a fraction of the price of a classic Dot.
Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AM93QM
Ibanez may not have a rich history of jazz guitars, but their Artcore series has grown popular over the last decade. The Expressionist line is the next step in their evolution.
This particular model has a quilted maple body, a neck made of mahogany and maple, and an ebony fretboard. There are two Super 58 humbuckers with a three-position switch. It produces a rich tone with a subtle bite. The most convenient feature is the Quik Change III tailpiece, which makes string changes a breeze. Other than that, nothing stands out, but it’s a formidable guitar overall. It’s one of the best jazz guitars under $1,000.
The Best Hollow Body Jazz Guitars
Hollow bodies, often referred to as archtops, were the original electric guitars. What’s more, jazz was a big motivator for their development, so you know you’ll get a traditional jazz tone from these beauties. Hollow body is the least confusing term since there are acoustic archtops, and some rare flat hollow body electrics.
You get a big, smooth sound out of hollow bodies, which is why many consider them the best jazz guitars. However, they’re pretty bulky and somewhat fragile compared to other electric guitars.
In terms of quality, this is probably the winner in this list of the best jazz guitars. After more than 80 years of guitar-making, Gretsch has perfected the craft. The build quality is superb and grants a smooth playing experience regardless of fretting style. If you don’t mind spending a bit, this is an ideal choice.
This Gretsch is a traditional hollow body with a Bigsby tremolo, but it has some updated features. Examples include the string-through, rocking bar bridge and the teflon-covered Tusq XL nut. It’s thin and light, but it offers a fat tone with a long sustain. You get extensive tonal controls to shape the rich Gretsch sound.
Due to an old pop-culture dispute of ages past, there’s a common misconception that Gretsch and Bigsby don’t vibe with jazz. Big names like Sal Salvador, Rune Gustafsson, and Cal Collins beg to differ. They all played Gretsch guitars. Even Ted Greene played with a Bigsby at times.
The Loar LH-350 VS
While not very well-known, this Chinese brand has made several adaptations of vintage classics. The LH-350 has a hand-carved solid spruce top on a maple box with a V-profile mahogany neck.
In the electronics department, it sports a Kent Armstrong humbucker. There aren’t many features to this guitar, but it’s a unique instrument that looks and sounds beautiful. The tone is bold and loud and responds well to both soft and hard strokes. If you like simplicity, this is among the best jazz guitars for you.
From the front, the J600 looks a bit like a cello. It has a warm vintage look that matches its tone. Washburn has been making fine instruments since 1883, so they know what they’re doing.
The body has a spruce top on flame maple sides and back with a maple neck. Most physical details are ebony and brass for a classy vintage look. It has real mother of pearl inlays and a Nubone nut, plus very precise Grover tuners. For the amplification, it has a mini-humbucker by the neck. All components and materials are high-grade, yet the Washburn J600 doesn’t cost a fortune.
Final Thoughts on the Best Jazz Guitars
Now that you know about the 10 best jazz guitars, the next step is to choose your ideal one. In case you don’t know which type you want, let’s recap the key insights about each. Solid bodies are more straightforward and easy to use, and they work best for modern jazz. Hollow bodies have a bigger, more retro sound, but they’re bulky. Semi-hollows are a middle ground in every regard, but closer to hollow bodies.
If you want what the icons of the mid-1900s played, the Epiphone Dot Studio and Hagström Viking are wise choices. For an even more vintage style, you’ll want the Washburn J600 or The Loar LH-350.
Those of you who seek maximal versatility and performance should consider the Godin LGXT. If it’s too pricey or doesn’t look right to you, the Gretsch G6118T and Gibson Les Paul Player Plus are worthy options.
All these guitars are great picks for most guitarists. And if you’re unsure about sticking to jazz for the long haul, you really can’t go wrong with a Telecaster or Jazzmaster. The latter is also perfect for beginners since it comes it all you need.
That concludes my list of the best jazz guitars. I hope you found a favorite. Now, jazz sounds best through a tube amplifier. If you don’t have one, this list will help you find a suitable amplifier. If you’re looking to achieve a contemporary jazz sound, you’ll want a good effect pedal or two. I have compiled lists of the best guitar pedals of each category. You can read them here.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more useful guitar articles and lessons.