The 5 Best Classic Electric Guitars That Every Recording Studio Should Have

The Suhr Classic Pro seems to be a more versatile, better-playing, and more faithful emulation of a classic Strat sound, even though it’s not made by Fender.

The first thing that struck me about the guitar was its SSCII passive 60 cycle hum reduction system that seemed amazingly quiet. Suhr also uses a really thin finish on these guitars to allow the wood to resonate even more.

The locking tuners and Gotoh tremolo bridge ensure tuning stability and the V70 pickups capture the punch of the low strings and the sizzle of the high strings. The stainless steel frets are amazingly smooth and pretty, and as they make the guitar brighter, I would recommend a rosewood fingerboard if you want to get a Suhr Classic Pro. This is a fantastic studio instrument that will make you want to play guitar more often.

Matt Brewster at 30th Street Guitars makes some of my favorite guitars in terms of playability, sound, and looks. He uses nitrocellulose finishes and can relic a Rust Guitar for you so that you spend less time worrying about scratching it or denting it, and more time playing the damn guitar!

He tends to use really big 50s style necks that feel incredibly fast and that contribute a lot of low end and directivity to the sound coming out of the guitar.

The Lollar pickups are incredibly honest, capturing every nuance of your guitar playing and of the incredibly vibrant instrument itself. The 6100 fretwire is sanded down quite flat ensuring great intonation all the way up the neck.

2. Fender Telecaster

Descended from the single-pickup “Fender Esquire”, the Telecaster became the first successfully mass-produced guitar, shortly after it was released by Leo Fender toward the start of the 1950s.

The classic 1952 Fender Telecaster.

The classic 1952 reissue Fender Telecaster.

It was also the first commercially available solid-body guitar, made from a block of wood, with the cavities drilled into the guitar body using a router. Before this, guitar bodies were largely hollow and carved by hand.

The Telecaster is a sleek and simple design consisting of two single coil pickups, usually a maple neck, and either an ash or alder body. It traditionally sports a single volume knob, a tone knob, and a three way pickup selector.

This basic design hasn’t changed too drastically over the years, though many rock and metal players such as John 5 [Rob Zombie], Jim Root [Slipknot and Stone Sour] and Chris Shiflett [Foo Fighters] do prefer a dual humbucker version of the Tele for added beef and gain—not to mention the ability to cut single coil 60 cycle hum out of their high-gain rigs.

The two most popular takes on the Tele design are the original “Broadcaster”-style design and the ’72 Telecaster Deluxe which is a bit of a cross between a Les Paul and a Tele, due to its dual humbucker design three-way pickup selector and individual volume and tone knobs for each pickup.

A classic Tele is always a great guitar to have in your tone arsenal. The bridge can deliver an unmistakably country twang or a gritty “quack”, and the neck offers a smoother, mellower, and more elegant jazz-like tone than anything you can easily coax out of a Strat. Meanwhile, the Deluxe version of a Tele offers all the power of a Les Paul, but with a level of clarity and note separation that just screams “Fender”.

If you already have a Strat, but love the snap, sparkle and clean articulation of the Fender line you might want to consider the Tele or Tele Deluxe as a more separate flavor of guitar for your studio.

The classic tonewoods for a Telecaster are also ash and alder for the body and maple or rosewood fingerboards with a maple neck just like most Strats.

Famous Users:

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen would just look incredibly strange if he weren’t holding his butterscotch Telecaster on stage. He wouldn’t sound quite the same either.

Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

Jimmy Page is known for playing Les Pauls on stage, but he used a Telecaster a lot back when he was primarily a session guitarist, as well as on some classic Led Zeppelin recordings like “Communication Breakdown” and “How Many More Times.” The latter really shows the potential of a distorted Tele to replace or augment a horn section on a recording, as it can sound harsh and bright without being brittle or annoying.

Recommended Models:

A 1959 "Relic" Telecaster from the Fender Custom Shop.

A 1959 “Relic” Telecaster from the Fender Custom Shop.

Good: Squier Classic Vibe Tele ($399) or Fender Mexican Standard Telecaster ($599)

The Squier Classic Vibe series kills it once again. These Teles are great for the price, just like their Strat counterparts. Truly great instruments at a reasonable price = happy guitarists. (And studio owners.)

Better: Fender Road Worn 50’s Tele ($899) or ’52 Reissue ($1999)

To call the Road Worn Series of guitars “great” workhorse guitars would be an understatement. I love everything about this series of guitars, from the smooth satin feel of the neck to the light nitrocellulose finishes that allow the wood to breathe and resonate freely.

The Road Worn guitars from Fender are some of the most comfortable I have ever played—and they look great too! If you don’t like the relic’d look of these guitars, you might consider the more expensive and ever-popular ’52 reissue model, but if you’re like me and don’t care, you will spend many hours exploring all of the tonal options yearning to be played out of these fantastic guitars.

Best: Rust Guitars or Fender Custom Shop Tele (approx. $2290 – $9,120)

Once again, Matt Brewster at Rust Guitars is making some of the best Fender-style guitars I have ever played and his aren’t disastrously expensive—especially compared to some of the offerings from the Fender Custom Shop.

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  • roscoenyc

    I disagree. Most players have this stuff. What you need on hand at a studio are things players may not have or have with them. An electric 12 string guitar, a Baritone guitar, a guitar with a Bigsby on it and a couple of really good acoustics. One of them in high string tuning.

  • Yeah, make an ice cream shop that sells vanilla and chocolate. People will be camping outside waiting for business to open…

  • Michael Murray

    I’d also recommend Dan Strain’s guitars — he makes them in his home shop in Nashville, and they’re very highly-regarded/ not crazy-expensive: http://danocaster.com/

    Also agree with roscoenyc about electric 12-string (I have a restored old Ricky 12-string) etc.

  • Knuckles Mutatis

    Quote: “Jimmy Page is known for playing Les Pauls on stage, but he used a Telecaster a lot back when he was primarily a session guitarist, as well as on some classic Led Zeppelin recordings like “Communication Breakdown” and “How Many More Times.”

    It’s more than that. He used a Telecaster on *every* song on Led Zeppelin 1 other than “You Shook Me” (Flying V). He also used a Telecaster for the solo for “Stairway to Heaven”, as well as “All of My Love”, “Hot Dog”, and probably some other songs I’m missing.

  • Justin C.

    Hey Roscoe,

    I agree with both of you! This roundup is meant to set the baseline for having a useful studio guitar for everyday use. (Especially when the band’s guitars are less than ideal, which often happens, especially with younger artists.)

    That said, YES: Definitely agreed that some of these less common guitars are a great add to any studio, and that most artists aren’t going to have access to them otherwise. We actually have a story like that planned for the future.

    Great additions here, thanks!

  • Justin C.

    That is true—it was a Tele on every song on Zeppelin 1. Matthew’s wording here is technically still accurate, but you are right about all of that, and it is great context to add.

    I wish I had made that recommendation myself while doing an editing pass. But Matthew’s wording is still right (and very concise.) It just leaves out some very worthwhile details. Thanks for adding them here!