Every generation has its guitar heroes and famous instruments that they make use of. To some, Rickenbacker guitars defined the psychedelic 1960s. For others, the Gibson Les Paul symbolized the arena-sized rock of the 1970s. What about the modern sound of indie rock? Here are 5 guitar models that encapsulate the sound and look of today’s indie music.
The Airline Res-O-Glas
Guitarists of the past were known to splurge on classic Les Paul and Stratocaster models. But, Jack White felt like he needed a challenge. Originally the Airline Res-O-Glas was the kind of inexpensive guitar ordered out of a magazine for around $100. Its use on the White Stripes’ Elephant album helped the brand’s popularity and, in many ways, defined indie rock for at least one generation. The guitar, and similar models, are now often used in indie pop-rock, noise, and even modern blues. Then again, indie rock duos have naturally tended to gravitate towards more exotic gear to help with their look and sound.
Fender Stratocaster / Squier Stratocaster
It would be unfair not to include the classic Fender Stratocaster on this list. Despite its fame, and relatively high price, the guitar still finds itself favored by modern-day, often unlikely, guitar heroes such as Mac DeMarco. Previously, the musician had used a slightly less expensive Japanese Teisco, before switching to the Mac DeMarco Stratocaster that is so beloved today. Other guitarists looking for a cheaper alternative tend to rock the Strat’s less expensive cousin, the Fender Squier. The model may well suit the budgetary needs of those looking to learn De Marco songs. It may also suit their capacity for learning the kind of indie guitar chords swiped from jazz and other exotic locations that the American musician is known to make prominent use of.
Of the two most famous guitar brands, Fender and Gibson, the former has seen far greater use in the new epoch of alternative rock and indie. Even cheaper Fender models, such as the Jaguar, have found a place in modern rock music. Famously Kurt Cobain played a left-handed model. Fender now makes a signature Kurt Cobain Jaguar guitar that continues to be a big seller. Are these the best guitars for indie rock? Certainly, few instruments are more iconic. Will it help players decipher the riffs and scales needed for this type of music. Frankly, these are good guitars in principle. But, it should also be noted that we are living in a time of cheap, well-built, guitar alternatives which had previously not been available.
Yes, Fenders, the Stratocaster especially, are a status symbol as much as an instrument. However, their use on so many important records since the birth of rock n’ roll, highlights an obvious truth. Fender is known to make good, dependable, relatively expensive gear.
On the other hand, Gibson hasn’t quite made the transition to the new era quite as seamlessly. While they undeniably remain one of the industry’s standards, frequent complaints about high prices and poor quality control have hurt the company’s reputation. Plus, who is looking to spend potentially thousands of dollars for an instrument that will need immediate modifications. Better research the best humbuckers for indie while you have the chance and purchase a guitar that may already have them in stock.
Perhaps, the most famous example of a Gibson being used by a modern guitarist is Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong’s use of a Gibson Junior.
Armstrong favors the classic, single-coil version, a kind of Telecaster for the Gibson company and, funnily enough, one of the company’s less expensive models.
As with many guitar companies, much of their fame can be traced to the popularity of one genre. In the case of the Jazzmaster, the genre is surf rock. With its subtle maple wood neck and its single-coil pickups, the Fender Jazzmaster is ideal for the cleanish, reverb-soaked sound. No wonder it’s one of the most popular indie-rock guitar models.
It was famously used by Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age and Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. The Noel Gallagher Fender Jazzmaster may one day soon become an actual model due to the endorsement of the famous former Oasis songwriter. More recently, it has been favored by Alex Rosamilia of The Gaslight Anthem, Joshua Hayward of The Horrors, or Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo. The alternative rock guitar sound would, no doubt, have been much different without it.
Indie songs on guitar are a mixture of a number of elements. It’s safe to say that the overall sound of the instrument is prioritized over the skill of the guitarist. The Jazzmaster is not the most practical guitar. Its sound, however, is incredibly versatile. It’s capable of moving from a surf-rock whisper to a demented roar. Just ask the great Rowland S. Howard.
Albert Lee HH (Music Man)
Modern-day guitar heroine, St. Vincent (Annie Clark) plays the Albert Lee HH (Signature Music Man) religiously for her blend of artsy indie rock. For those who’ve never much gotten over the look of Gibsons and Fenders, the royal axes of the 1970s, the matter of what a modern electric guitar looks like may surprise them. St. Vincent says she has opted for the guitar because of its sound as well as its shape and weight which make it ideal for playing live. Indie rock guitars have rarely looked and sounded better!
The Danelectro guitars have been around for decades and have always sat as something of an oddity. Its odd look, strange taste for pickups and elongated neck made a staple of the acid rockers of the late 1960s. But, the instrument has made a comeback with the best indie rock guitarists, fans of a bit of experimentation in their playing, choosing the indie model for their present-day needs. Furthermore, the products created by the Danelectro brand lend themselves very well to the indie guitar sound that many modern bands appreciate. Beck, Zachary Cole Smith of Diiv, Mark Oliver Everett of Eels, sing the instruments praises.
An honorable mention needs to be afforded to the loyal Rickenbacker guitar. For Tom Petty, the love for the asymmetric shape and warm sound of the guitar started with the Byrds. In the case of Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace, it started with a love of Tom Petty’s music. This is a guitar whose appeal never wanes and that somehow attracts those working on the periphery of rock music. Originals do fetch a hefty price. An indie guitar-approved Rickenbacker copy may well be floating out there, for a fraction of the price.
The best indie rock guitars offer versatile sound, a powerful tone, an interesting look, and magnetic appeal that makes newer generations gravitate towards the instrument. These guitars take care of all those areas and more.
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