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

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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.

Still, I love some of Fender Custom Shop work, especially by master builder John Cruz. If you see any of his Teles, make sure to stop whatever it is you’re doing and try one out!

Also worth exploring are Tele copies from Fano, Schecter, ESP, and the LSL T-Bone.

3. Gibson Les Paul

Completing the trifecta of essential studio guitars is arguably the most iconic guitar in history, the Gibson Les Paul.

Lespaulside

A 1950s reissue Gibson Les Paul Standard.

From Les Paul himself to Ace Frehley, Jimmy Page to Bob Marley, Duane Allman to Zakk Wylde, Pete Townshend to Slash, (even Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck at times) the Les Paul has shown its versatility time and time again.

The solid body Les Paul was first produced in 1952 but didn’t become popular until 1960.

In terms of sound, expect a lot of sustain and fullness blossoming out of the instrument. The classic mahogany neck and body with a maple top of a Les Paul create a rich, warm tone, and also make Les Pauls notoriously heavy—normally weighing between 7 and 10lbs.

This might be cumbersome if the guitarist is standing while playing during a long session, but most of the time it isn’t a problem. Occasionally, you will find even darker sounding Les Paul Customs, that are made entirely of mahogany, with no maple top to help add some “bite” to their tone.

If you are playing rock, you can never go wrong with a Les Paul Standard. For years, a Les Paul and a Marshall amplifier defined the sound of rock music. This was the classic combo of guitar and amp for players like Slash, Zakk Wylde, Randy Rhoads, Joe Perry and Steve Jones. Many bands are endorsed by guitar companies, but regardless of their brand commitments, they will “cheat” and use a Les Paul in the recording studio for rock guitar sounds, as it is one of the most recognizable tones in the world.

A real Les Paul can leave a kind of sonic identity on your music that makes people think “Oh this is a good guitar sound” because it is one of the most recorded guitars of all time, and one that we are well used to hearing.

Les Pauls work well for heavy rock and jazz due to their dark, warm and sustaining characteristics, but you might consider a Tele or a Strat instead if you are doing a lot of funky clean guitar parts, as Les Pauls may get too boomy in those scenarios.

They still do a great job with clean sounds, but a good rule of thumb is if you want the guitar to be more pronounced in the mix, use a beefy Les Paul and if you want it to fit well in a busier fuller mix, use a single coil Fender which will be more present and bright.

Famous Users:

Slash (Guns N’ Roses)

Arguably the most famous Les Paul player of all time, Slash shows that the Les Paul is a mighty, majestic instrument— an instrument that calls for attention. In “November Rain,” listen to how the Les Paul works surprisingly well on a clean setting, starting at 1:23, and is able to blend well with Duff McKagan’s Precision Bass—a nearly magic combination for rock records.  At 4:11, the first guitar solo kicks in and you can hear the ability of a Les Paul to stay rich and fat even at higher notes on the neck.

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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!

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