Best Guitars for Playing Punk Rock

Rock Guitars

Punk music was formed by garage bands in the 60’s and emerged onto the scene in the 70’s. Fueled by testosterone and anti-authoritarian values, punk music was the middle finger in the face of the establishment during a time when thinking outside of the box was considered being an extremist.

While most punk guitarists started out with any guitar they could get their hands on with the money they had in their pocket, some that found success went out and paid top dollar for guitars that are now a staple in punk music. High-end and low-end let’s take a look at some of the best guitars for playing punk.

Gibson Les Paul Custom

Originally released in 1954 the Gibson Les Paul Custom saw a surge in sales in 1970. Offering a “pancake” body, a thin layer of maple between two thicker pieces of mahogany, maple caps, mahogany neck and ABR style bridge.To compensate for a weakness in the neck a volute was added just below the head-stock. The (optional) introduction of Cherry and Cherry Sunbursts began in 1971 with more color options added the following years. By 1973 this was Gibson’s 2nd most top selling guitar. This was the guitar that dreams were made of.

Features

– Low and fast action.
– Sustain for days.
– Pickups with independent controls.
– Ebony fingerboard.

Played by Artists

– Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols
– Johnny Ramone from The Ramones
– Brian Baker from Minor Threat/Bad Religion
– Buzz Osborne from The Melvins
– Mike Ness from the Social Distortion

Budget Friendly Alternatives

While ownership of an original Gibson Les Paul Custom can cost upwards of a new car, and the newer re-issues aren’t too far behind. Epiphone has a “Gibson Inspired” series of guitars and does offer a Epiphone Les Paul Custom that costs significantly less. While looking at the specs, the major differences are the pickups and a slimmer neck.

Rickenbacker 330

The Rickenbacker 330 began production in 1958 and has a semi-hollow maple body with a rosewood fretboard. Originally equipped with “toaster” pickups that were changed out for “hi-gain” pickups. Both pickups have independent volume and tone knobs. However post 1961 there was a 5th knob added for more tonal control, acting as a blender between the 2 pickups (operating like a built in EQ).

Features

– Body is carved from a single piece of maple.
– Dual truss rods.
– 2 single coil pickups.
– Offered as a 12 string.
– Available left-handed model.

Played by Artists

– Jay Jay Pistolet from The Vaccines
– Ian MacKaye from the Minor Threat/Fugazi
– Johnny Marr from The Smiths

Budget Friendly Alternatives

Well, this can be a little tricky. While you can find a semi-hollow body guitar finding a 2 single coil set up is harder to come by. Finding a copy or knock off version can still be pretty pricey. To keep the semi-hollow body, the Ibanez Artcore Series AS53 will give you the look and feel. If you want the 2 single coil pickup configuration, but the body style of a les paul, then the Epiphone Les Paul SL is your best match. As for sound, nothing can really come close.

Getting real, if you do your homework, the best guitars for punk rock have been and always will be whatever you can afford at the time. When all the bigger bands started out, what the majority of guitarists played were no name or off branded guitars they found at a pawn shop. If you have a couple hundred bucks and want a brand new guitar, here are the best guitars for playing punk on a punk budget.

Squier Bullet Stratocaster

Features

– Solid basswood body.
– Maple bolt on neck.
– 1 humbucker and 2 single coil pickups.
– 2 tone knobs and 1 master volume.
– Mimics a Fender Stratocaster.

Pros

– Good quality for the price.
– Excellent tone.
– Solid and sturdy.

Cons

– Uneven frets.
– Fret hum.

Dean VX Electric Guitar

Features

– Solid basswood body.
– Maple bolt on neck.
– Rosewood fingerboard.
– Open-coil humbucker pickups.
– Tune-o-matic bridge.
– Black hardware.
– Mimics a Gibson Flying V.

Pros

– Lightweight.
– Low Action.
– Good sustain.

Cons

-Plastic nut.
– Cheap tuners.

Epiphone SG Special VE

Features

– Solid poplar with mahogany veneer body.
– Mahogany bolt on neck.
– Rosewood fingerboard.
– 2 Humbucker pickups.
– Fixed tune-o-matic bridge.
– Mimics a Gibson SG.

Pros

– Excellent tone.
– Comfortable and easy to play.
– Good Sustain.
– Pickups are hot.

Cons

– Too aesthetically “pretty”.
– Neck heavy.
– Fret hum.

Nod Worthy Guitars

Worth mentioning would be Fender guitars. While they are classic, the argument on the tone being too thin for “real” punk music remains. So this selection does depend on the sub-genre you are playing.

– Fender Telecaster
– Fender Stratocaster
– Fender Player Mustang
– Fender American Original ’60s Jaguar

With a vast variety of sub-genres, in the end what it comes down to is going against the uniform standard. The best thing to look for is a guitar that is durable. That can take the dings and wear the damage like a badge of honor.

Don’t forget to cover up any branding logos. This can be done with tape, paint, marker, or whatever. And if you want to produce controlled feedback, get a guitar with high output pickups and crank the volume knob.

Bonus Punk Rock Guitar

And, if you’ve got the money. The best guitar for punk is a Gretsch. With the right distortion pedal and cheap amp, or just the right pre-amp, a Gretsch always catches the eye, appeals to the ears, can be used for pop punk, rockabilly, and yes, even hardcore punk. It’s the one guitar that no one sees coming and blows away all of those who say, “you can’t play that kind of music with a guitar like that.”

John C

is the editor of CompressorHead. In this blog, you will find the latest reviews, guides, and tips related to playing rock music, as well as news on the latest rock bands.

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