I can understand your confusion when it comes to buying a Blues guitar. You are about to buy your first axe hoping to become the next “King of Blues,” so you are looking for something with “Best Electric Guitar for Blues’” on a tag (spoiler— you won’t find any). Then you’ll turn around and go looking for the legendary B.B. King’s Gibson ES-335 (spoiler, it’s $5,000). Then, you’ll walk out, stuffing your dreams back into your pocket.
That’s a worst-case scenario. You should obviously do your research and this will also help you with that. Simply, a versatile, powerful guitar with solid electronic setup is a great base for a good Blues guitar. Blues is a very diverse genre that incorporates a bunch of different tunes, sounds and techniques, so the guitar should be flexible, easy to control and adjust. Another characteristic you should look for is the sound sustain. If an axe can stay in tune for ages it’s nice, but if there is strength to the sounds all the way up and down the fretboard – it’s even better. Sonic flexibility and articulation is crucial, Blues jamming may take you down to so many different genres and you might need everything from deep, sexy Blues sounds, to overdriven, punchy rock sounds.
Which guitar I should buy?
When buying a Blues guitar you should base your choice on your personal style. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all Blues guitar, which makes it pretty tricky, but knowing your style simplifies the choice by a huge margin. Knowing your style means that you know which guitar has the best body shape for your style.
Different body shapes give you different sounds that are suitable for certain styles of play. If you prefer to play acoustic and like warm, tangy, nostalgic sound, go for the semi-hollow bodies like Epiphone ES-335. However, solid bodies are more than capable of producing these warm Blues tones, but they also give you more rock and punch to it. Solid bodies are most popular among electrical guitars, but it’s important to be careful with the controls. You don’t want to go for active pickups; you may find them a bit too hot and ‘shredding’ for Blues. Single-coil or humbucker pickups are perfect though – they will give a vintage tone.
If you are a professional and are looking for something challenging and versatile – go for the expensive options like Gibson Les Paul, Gibson SG High Performance or PRS McCarty Singlecut 594. The models are very pricy, but also very powerful, complex, and damn sweet. If you are a newbie, go for the cheaper options like Squier by Fender, or any of the Epiphones. Most importantly – go to the store and try them out before buying one. The specs might be exceptional, the reviews praise it to high heaven and the look would be the guitar of your dream. But it all doesn’t matter, unless it sits in your arms like it was made for you.
As you’ve probably noticed, the prices for Blues guitars range from $400-$6,000. It doesn’t necessarily mean that if a guitar is cheap that is of bad quality. Guitars are usually higher in price because of the brand, materials, electronics and the place of the manufacture. The most expensive guitars like Gibson or Fender are American-made and use premium wood and hi-tech electronics. They are more powerful and provide you with extreme flexibility in terms of sound and techniques.
Cheaper guitars, that use more affordable materials and electrical setup, are built in Asia (no surprise there). And this should not I repeat, should not stop you from getting an Epiphone or Squier. Whether you are newbie or a professional musician, these guitars would be a staple at your collection. They are almost as good in terms of electronics or sound, they are often built to the classic 50’-60’s standards (which is awesome) and, for God’s sake, they are cheaper. If you aren’t playing music to pay your bills, not planning to be a professional musician or just starting to play, why would you want to pay $4,000 for an axe you’ll jam on every once in a while? Cheap guitars might not be as powerful and have some issues (like fret buzzing), but you can always fix it with a few upgrades and it will sound just like a Gibson and Fender, or even better.
Iconic Blues guitar brands
Indeed, Blues is very versatile and every brand has a guitar that is suitable for playing Blues. Yet there are some axes that have a ‘Blues stamp’ on them. Gibson and Fender are the ones. First of all they are top guitar brands on the market and have been around for about a century, so they do know what they are doing. Secondly, they have awesome electronics and they release new upgraded models every couple years. Lastly, but definitely not least, the most popular kick-ass Blues musicians played Gibson and Fender. B.B. King, the King of Blues himself, was playing a Gibson ES-335 named Lucille. Eric Clapton played both a Fender and a Gibson, with choosing Stratocaster and Les Paul as his favourite models.
If you are looking for a guitar that will, hopefully, put you on the Blues pedestal, then you should go for these two brands. Bear in mind that they will break your bank, but they will be worth it. However, these iconic brands own and produce cheaper Blues guitars as well. If you prefer the sound of Gibsons, then you could choose its subsidiary Epiphone. Do you love Fender but can’t spend $2,000 for an axe? Then, you should choose Squier.
Blues has been around for over a century and it has many faces. I can’t stress enough that the best Blues guitar is the one that is powerful, versatile and flexible enough to incorporate all different sounds and tones of Blues. If you are a professional musician or have played guitars for many years and know your jam, you should set your eyes on the premium and exclusive axes like Gibson Les Paul Traditional 2019 and Gibson SG High Performance. They are more complex in electronics, and are most powerful from the list. If you are a guitar enthusiast or just staring your guitar journey – choose cheaper options like Squier Hand Telecaster or Epiphone LE 1966. They are perfect for Blues, have solid electronics and are easy to control.