Ten Classic Guitars
Whether it’s the quietly elegant Ramirez, the smoothly debonair D’Angelico, or the raucously funky Telecaster, each guitar has a unique feel. In fact, no musical instrument offers a greater variety of appearance, function, and sound than a guitar. Each of the 10 guitars listed below left an indelible mark on the guitar-playing canon and will forever be known as a classic.
D’Angelico Archtop (Manufactured: 1932–1964)
Considered by many to be the greatest jazz guitar ever made, D’Angelicos were custom archtop (the tops were arched slightly instead of flat like steel-string folk guitars) hollow-bodies built by the grand master of the genre, John D’Angelico (1905–1964). In addition to their warm, lush tone, these guitars were meticulously constructed and graced with some of the most elegant decorations of all time.
Fender Stratocaster (Manufactured since 1954)
The world’s most famous electric guitar, the Stratocaster was designed as a space-age instrument featuring sleek lines, trebly tone, and small body dimensions (at least compared to the huge jazz archtops of the day). In the hands of masters like Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton, this solid-body ax became ubiquitous, and today, you can’t go into any guitar store without seeing at least a few Strats on the wall.
Fender Telecaster (Manufactured since 1951)
Fender’s other great contribution to electric guitar lore was also the first commercially made solid-body. The Tele made its mark in the country world, adding a bright, twangy sound to countless recordings. A simple guitar made out of a plank of ash or alder, basic electronics, and a maple neck, it set the standard for electric guitar design and remains a classic today.
Gibson ES-335 (Manufactured since 1958)
This thin “semihollow-body” design sought to combine the acoustic qualities of a big archtop with the compactness of a solid-body electric. The result was a superb guitar with a smooth woody tone, good for both clean jazz and heavy rock ’n’ roll. This guitar’s most famous advocate was ’70s jazz-popper Larry Carlton, also known as “Mr. 335.”
Gibson J-200 (Manufactured since 1937)
For a booming acoustic tone and stylish looks, look no farther than Gibson’s venerable J-200. This “jumbo” steel-string was targeted toward country guitarists and quickly became a Nashville classic. Of special note is its highly ornamental rosewood and mother-of-pearl inlaid, mustache-shaped bridge.
Gibson Les Paul (Manufactured since 1952)
Named after’50s jazz-pop sensation Les Paul, the Gibson Les Paul model ironically went on to become one of the definitive rock ’n’ roll instruments. Championed by Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, this single-cutaway electric exudes the fat, bassy tone that helped define the hard rock and heavy metal sound. Some original models from the late 1950s — notably the 1959 Standard — can now fetch more than $75,000.
Gretsch 6120 (Manufactured since 1954)
Best known as country virtuoso Chet Atkins’s main electric guitar, the big, funky tones of this hollow-body were common on many ’50s and ’60s rock and country records. With its unusual FilterTron pickups and warbly Bigsby vibrato bar, the 6120 also gave early rocker Duane Eddy his signature twangy guitar sound.
Martin D-28 (Manufactured since 1931)
Martin first mass-produced “dreadnought” (named after a class of battleship) acoustic guitars in 1931, and its D-28 is the quintessential example of that great design. With a fat waist and bass-heavy tone, this big guitar became integral to the sounds of country, bluegrass, and just about all steel-string acoustic music.
Ramirez Classical (Manufactured: mid-1800s)
Serious classical and flamenco guitarists often consider playing only one kind of guitar — a Ramirez. First built in the mid-19th century, Jose Ramirez’s classical guitars helped define the style, with soft gut (later, nylon) strings, superb workmanship, and a luscious tone. Among Ramirez’s earliest champions was none other than the master, Andrés Segovia himself.
Rickenbacker 360-12 (Manufactured since 1963)
The ringing guitar tone on early Beatles and Byrds records came from one great guitar: the Rickenbacker 360-12. A semihollow-body electric with 12 strings, this classic has a completely distinctive tone in the guitar universe. The timeless Rick sound later resurfaced in the ’80s on smash records by Tom Petty and R.E.M., among many others.