By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell

No musical instrument offers a greater variety of appearance, function, and sound than a guitar. Whether it’s the quietly elegant Ramirez, the smoothly debonair D’Angelico, or the raucously funky Telecaster, each guitar presented here has left an indelible mark on the guitar-playing canon and will forever be known as a classic.

  • D’Angelico Archtop: Considered by many to be the greatest jazz guitar ever made, the D’Angelicos, which were manufactured from 1932 until 1964, were custom archtops (the tops or arched slightly instead of flat like a steel-string folk guitar) hollow-bodies built by the grand master of the genre, John D’Angelico (1905–64). 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: The world’s most famous electric guitar, the Stratocaster, which has been manufactured since 1954, was designed as a space-age instrument in the early 1950s, 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 such as 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: Fender’s other great contribution to classic electric guitar lore is the Telecaster, which has been manufactured since 1951 and 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: Introduced in 1958, this ax is a thin semihollow-body design, which 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 the jazz-rocker Larry Carlton, also known as “Mr. 335.”

  • Gibson J-200: For a booming acoustic tone and stylish looks, look no further than Gibson’s venerable J-200. This jumbo steel-string, which was introduced in 1937, was targeted toward country guitarists and quickly became a Nashville classic. Of special note is its highly ornamental rosewood and mother-of-pearl inlaid bridge, which is shaped something like a mustache.

  • Gibson Les Paul: Named after ’50s pop sensation Les Paul, the Gibson Les Paul guitar ironically went on to become one of the definitive rock ‘n roll instruments. Championed by Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, this single-cutaway electric, which was first manufactured in 1952, exudes the fat bassy tone that helped define the sound of hard rock and heavy metal. Some original models from the late 1950s — notably the 1959 Standard — can now fetch more than $75,000.

  • Gretsch 6120: Best known as country virtuoso Chet Atkins’s main electric guitar, the big, funky tones of this hollow-body, which was introduced in 1954, 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: 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, indeed, just about all steel-string acoustic music.

  • Ramirez Classical: Serious classical and flamenco guitarists often consider playing only one kind of guitar — a Ramirez. First built in the mid-19th century, José Ramirez’s classical guitars help 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: 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, first introduced in 1963, has a completely distinctive tone in the guitar universe. The timeless Rick sound resurfaced in the ’80s on smash records by Tom Petty and R.E.M., among many others.