Punk rock is the sound of rock n’ roll retracing its origins. But, anyone thinking that the tone, manufacturer quality, and the design of the instruments being used are not important, is sorely mistaken. Punk rock is not just only an attitude, it’s a sound and an aesthetic that need to be carefully molded. Here are the best guitars for punk rock.
Punk rock is predicated on quick action, resourcefulness, and shaving off all things expendable. In the world of electric guitars, this is the perfect description for the Gibson Les Paul Junior, the Gibson Studio’s leaner cousin.
Guitars for punk rock rarely come equipped with more basic functions. And, this is likely why this is the go-to electric guitar for people like Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day). It’s a versatile, no-frills instrument, yet it sounds and looks great.
The map that truly transformed the Les Paul Junior into a cherished possession among punk rockers was Johnny Thunders (the New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers). The iconic guitar, which features only a slab of mahogany, one pickup, and two control knobs (volume/tone), is part of rock n’ roll lore. Just like the New York Dolls, it helps define punk at its most vital.
It’s versatile enough for veteran musicians, but also a good starter model. Go get one, learn to play some easy punk rock songs on guitar, and waste little time in starting your band. These words of advice have rung true for generations.
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The Gibson Firebird was the American company’s attempt at a modernized guitar design. This was a new look that the company men hoped would suit the 1970s. Instead, it was viewed as something of an oddity upon its release. It was the birth of alternative body designs, if you will.
However, while it never threatened to dethrone the Les Paul as the company’s most well-known model, it did attract players seeking that combined the eccentric look, with a familiar quality build.
A solid-body guitar featuring the neck-through construction, a reversed headstock, and mini-humbuckers with a single alnico bar magnet, the Firebird has survived its rocky mid-life period.
Besides classic rockers like Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton, the Gibson Firebird was used by punk rock guitarists such as Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Captain Sensible (the Damned), Noel Gallagher (in his Beatles meets Sex Pistols phase) and, more recently, Dave Grohl and Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters).
Punk rock’s original sound and image were constructed around efficiency in a bid to return rock to its riotous roots. And, in looking to take things back, from the arena rock and concept albums to the clubs and the three-chord songs, punk rock guitarists began reappropriating the Gibson Les Paul Custom, the axe of choice for the classic rock sound that had dominated rock prior to 1977.
Arguably the company’s most popular model, the guitar has had its share of changes since jazz guitarist, Les Paul, introduced the model back in the 1950s. Nowadays, through all its iterations, the Les Paul Custom is likely to feature a mahogany body, 2 humbucker pickups, its gold-tinted hardware, and very easily recognizable look.
The Gibson Les Paul Custom was to British punk what the Fender Jazzmaster was to New York bands of the 1970s. It was easy to acquire one, and served its purpose well in terms of sound and look. A Gibson fed through a Marshall amp may sound like a cliche now. But, under the right conditions, it still produces a marvelously thundering sound.
Yes, it rarely gets to be a beginner’s first guitar given its high-cost. However, it helps produce a ravaging sound that owes a lot to the innocent sound of the 1950s rock n’ roll. This is perhaps why Mick Jones (the Clash), Steve Jones, or Billy Duffy (the Cult) have opted for this guitar, often playing it straight through an amp, with a signal devoid of pedal interference. It just possesses such a great tone!
The ol’ Rickenbacker was probably designed with class and flair in mind. After all, it was made famous during the ’60s by members of British Invasion groups. It only makes then that, in contrast, the guitar would later be repurposed for the thrashing chords of punk rock.
But, it’s not just the look that makes this instrument one of the best punk guitars out there. The Rickenbacker is a rhythm machine, adding depth and color to tracks while maintaining its snarl. As of its well-known, frying pan design, its fans would call it a thing of beauty.
Laura Jane Grace has been playing a Rickenbacker since the earliest days of Against Me! swearing by the guitar’s capacity to influence the band’s sound altogether. Guy Picciotto (Fugazi) may have not made a big deal about the brand of guitar he has used but he did opt for a Rick.
However, the Rickenbacker is even more present in the realm of punk bass guitars. Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Paul Simonon (The Clash), Mike Mills (REM) all made prominent use of this bass guitar model.
The Fender Telecaster is perhaps the most versatile of all classic guitar models. This is the reason why the instrument can be found in the hands of country singer-songwriters, metal musicians and, even, punk rockers.
A solid body guitar with bolt-on kneck, characterized by its lightweight body and by the adaptability of its single-coil pickups, the Fender Telecaster is one of the most popular guitars for pop-punk. It’s a constant feature on the Punk O Matic soundtrack. It has been used by El Hefe (NOFX), Deryck Whibley (Sum 41), Brody Dalle (The Distillers). The Tele has also found its way into the hands of the likes of Joe Strummer (The Clash) and, more recently, Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine).
It is true, the Ibanez model is especially popular among metal guitar players. But, punk rockers have also found use in its ergonomic shape, playability, and slick design.
Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein used an Ibanez Iceman during the early days of his stint with esteemed NYC punk rockers, the Misfits. Post-hardcore hero, At The Drive-In’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, often used the Ibanez AX120 and the Ibanez Jet-King. Noodles and Dexter Holland of the Offspring also opt for Ibanez Custom models to create their well-known brand of pop-punk.
Epiphone (ES 335, Phant-O-Matic, Les Paul Custom)
Epiphone is not Gibson’s little brother anymore. Not in the eyes of the majority of guitarists, many of whom will go on record about preferring the quality supplied by Epi.
The best guitars for punk rock and metal should easily solve a number of issues simultaneously, such as affordability, design, and quality. The Epiphone regularly checks all these boxes.
There’s not one single version of the Epiphone favored in punk rock. Lars Frederiksen (Rancid) can be heard playing an Epiphone Les Paul Custom. Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance) has made the Epiphone Phant-O-Matic his trademark. Tom DeLonge (Blink-182) and Billy Joe Armstrong are both fans of the Gibson ES-335.
The Mosrite is something of a punk rock guitar heirloom due to their rarity and their association with the development of the genre itself. Most famously, while the guitar brand began putting out models in the 1950s, the Mosrite was used by Johnny Ramone from the embryonic stages of the Ramones, right until their final concert. Is this the best guitar for punk rock? It certainly was good enough for some of the genres’ best artists.
Ricky Wilson (the B-52s) and Fred Sonic Smith (MC5) both, also, used these guitar models. We think these are reasons enough to have this be considered one of punk rock’s best guitars.
It’s hard to escape the image of the Gibson SG as the weapon of choice for the stage-strutting Angus Young of AC/DC. But, apart from the tough sound, the SG provides the kind of weight-relief and maneuverability that make it ideal for live performances. Ian MacKaye (Fugazi) and Greg Hetson (Bad Religion) are among those that have used the Gibson SG. From pop-punk to ’50’s inspired hard-rock, the Gibson SG is simply a great instrument.
ESP LTD EC
Newer ESP models have found love, more recently, from veteran punk rock guitarists like Lars Frederiksen (Rancid) or Justin Sane (Anti Flag).
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