It hasn’t been the busiest year for guitar production, but we have our picks for the best guitars of 2021 that cover all kinds of budgets! So let’s take a look at the best axes for rocking, no matter how fat your wallet is!
The Best Guitars Of 2021: It’s Been A Long Year…
Whether or not you think that 2021 was a dumpster fire is going to be based entirely on your own personal experience. For me, it wasn’t so bad, and I got a lot of things accomplished this year that I never thought I would. There are tons of bands that didnt let the world hold up their releases, like Spiritbox, Mastodon, and even indie artists we have reviewed on “UnderExposed”. But what about the best guitars of 2021?
But for most guitar companies, it has been a pretty lean year when it comes to new releases. There have been a few companies that released stuff during Winter NAMM, and those announcements were awesome. But other companies like Schecter were more inclined to slowly release guitars over the course of the year. This makes a lot of sense, since all of the production came to a halt last year and everyone is trying to catch up. So we didn’t have a whole lot to choose from for the best guitars of 2021.
But even though it might seem like this year was a bit sparse, there are still tons of great new guitar models that were released, and we got to try them! The best part, is that these new releases fall under all kinds of budgets. There were some guitars that we reviewed that got really high marks this year, and a lot of those guitars were in the budget category. On the other hand, some were more expensive, but full of amazing features. The best guitars of 2021 are all over the place when it comes to price, and that’s a good thing!
No matter what your budget may be, I think we have some awesome guitars to talk about today that any guitarist would be happy to own. Let’s take a look at the best guitars of 2021, and break down the reasons they are so awesome!
Gibson Les Paul Tribute
OK, I am going to be totally fair here, so no one can ever say that I am biased or just making things up. Gibson and I have not had the best relationship. I have bought 7 Gibson guitars in my lifetime, and only one of them was worth keeping. So why am I putting a Gibson first on the list of the best guitars of 2021?
This is a really great model. Being totally honest, I think this is even better than a full on expensive Les Paul Standard. I owned an older version of this guitar, and I recently played the 2021 version. This is still what I think is the best Les Paul you can buy from Gibson. It has all of the normal specs:
- Satin-finished maple top on weight-relieved mahogany body
- 24.75″-scale maple neck
- 22-fret rosewood fingerboard
- Dual Gibson 490 humbuckers
- 3-way switch
- Nashville-style tune-o-matic bridge
- Vintage Deluxe Keystone tuners (Grover Rotomatic)
If you are used to playing a Les Paul Standard, this guitar is going to blow your mind. It is much lighter, to start things off. But it also sounds brighter, and more lively than a regular Les Paul, at least to my ears. I think this has a lot to do with the maple neck. The 490t pickups are very clean and clear, but they can get seriously mean and nasty. This is the perfect guitar for some Doom Metal.
This is the only Les Paul you will ever need in my opinion. Everything about it is just fantastic, even though it is missing some of the flashier appointments. You do not have a super beautiful flame top, or the usual cream binding all over the place. But what you do have, is an amazing guitar at a fair price. It deserves it’s spot with the best guitars of 2021, because it is absolutely killer.
Squier Contemporary Series
Wait A Second! Squier/Fender went out and made some excellent guitars for Metal? This is usually not something that Fender does, but here we are, with a Metal axe that falls well within cheap/budget territory. It’s also one of the best guitars of 2021, on top of being so unique. The Squier Contemporary Series is geared for much heavier things than your normal, run of the mill Jazzmaster:
- Poplar Body
- Maple Neck
- Matching Headstock (Painted)
- Indian Laurel Fretboard
- 12” Flat Radius
- 25.5 Scale Length
- Narrow Tall Frets
- SQR Active Ceramic Pickups
- Tune O Matic Style Tailpiece
The Squier Contemporary Jazzmaster has a bunch of features that you would almost never find on a production model Fender, which is why we kicked off the best guitars of 2021 budget models with this Jazzmaster. At one point, Squier was a lot like Epiphone in regards to being a cheaper version of the more expensive flagship guitars. But over the last few years, Squier has become it’s own entity and started making some really great guitars. This series certainly belongs with the best guitars of 2021.
The Contemporary Series is known for having some really awesome active pickups preinstalled. I played around with this model for quite a while, and it never got a proper review, but the pickups blew me away on all of the different models. The SQR Actives are a ceramic magnet based humbucker that sounds a lot like a Duncan Blackout in my opinion. They have amazing clarity and handle high gain like a boss! Don’t write these off as “stock pickups” because they are actually very versatile, and compete with my EMG 81 when it comes to chugging.
The guitar’s construction is even geared for Metal. The neck has a satin feel on the back, which is perfect for fast runs or shredding. Likewise, the fretboard radius is nice and flat at 12”. Combined with the “narrow tall” frets, this barely even feels like a Fender anymore. I never thought I would see a production model Squier that is made for Metal, but here we are! And at under $500, this thing is steal.
Reverend Contender HB
We talked about Reverend Guitars earlier this year, and spoke about the crazy amount of versatility that these guitars offer. Considering the unique design, and upscale features, it was a no brainer to add them to the best guitars of 2021. The Contender HB is an “alternate reality” take on the classic double humbucker shape. But make no mistake, the Contender can get real mean, real quick!
- Gloss-finished Korina body
- 3-piece Korina medium oval neck
- Pau Ferro fingerboard
- Reverend HA5 neck and bridge pickups
- Tune-o-matic bridge with stop tail
- Reverend pin-lock tuning machines
- Boneite nut
- Cream Binding
- 24.75” Scale
Reverend is a vastly different guitar company compared to the usual brands. But I think being different is exactly why this is one of the best guitars of 2021. First off, Reverend usually uses lightweight Korina wood for the guitar’s construction instead of Mahogany. This also affects the guitar’s tone, and gives it more high end bite.
The Reverend pickups, hardware, and tuners are all a staple of the company. All of the parts are designed and made by Reverend. I had the chance to play around with one of the Double Agent models, and I was surprised how different, yet effective all of the “in house” parts are!
The pickups do anything from a fat PAF tone, to a blazing hot bridge chug. These may look like a PAF, but they are designed to be much hotter, and punchier than any vintage pickup. You also have the famous Reverend bass contour knob that can change the entire sound of the pickups with just a turn of the knob. The control is very responsive, and you can go from crushing, to jazzy clean quick and easy.
I always tell people that Reverend Guitars are like classic models that were built by aliens or something. They are so different and totally off the beaten path, that they definitely deserve a spot with the best guitars of 2021. If you want something truly original, Reverend might be up your alley.
Sire L7 Larry Carlton Signature
We already talked about the Sire L7 in depth in our review, but this thing is just amazing. The Sire L7 is definitely one of the best guitars of 2021, and there are new models being added for the Sire 2022 lineup featuring new colors and options. This is a guitar that is going to start giving Epiphone a run for the money if Sire continues to put out this kind of quality. While this is still in budget guitar territory, it plays like a much more expensive guitar.
Larry Carlton is one hell of a guitarist, and he has some pretty demanding specs for his gear. In case you missed the review, we can over the features real quick, and give you an idea of what you get for such a low price:
- Mahogany body
- Maple top
- Set-in mahogany neck with C-shape
- Ebony fingerboard with 22 medium-jumbo frets
- Dual humbucker pickups (Made By Sire)
- 22 Frets
- 12” Radius
- Bone Nut
- Locking Tuners
The Sire L7 has everything you need, right out of the box. It comes with a ton of factory upgrades that you rarely see in the $600 price range. Things like a bone nut, and locking tuners are a great feature that ensures you will stay in tune. Most budget friendly guitars have bare-bones hardware, but Sire knocked it out of the park with the L7 models.
The biggest surprise is the proprietary humbuckers. These are designed by Sire, and they have a very unique voicing that stands out from your usual “Les Paul Style” guitar. The pickups seem to have a lot more high end and midrange than you usually get in an LP guitar. These are also coil tapped with the push/pull control knobs. You can get almost any sound you want out of this guitar, and it is definitely one of the best guitars of 2021. I can’t wait to see the new lineup in person!
Schecter Demon Series 6, 7 And 8 String Models
Schecter is more known for making midrange, and higher priced guitars that have a load of features and specs. But I think that the budget Schecter models easily get overlooked. Compared to Schecter’s more expensive models that are made in Korea, these may seem a little sparse, but don’t let that fool you. These are shred machines, and the Demon series has been updated for the 2020/2021 lineup, making it one of the best guitars of 2021.
We took a look at the 6 string this year, and I even purchased the 7 string model for myself! I reviewed the one I bought before I started making upgrades to it, and it is one of the best 7 string guitars I have played all year. Now that I have upgraded it, the Schecter Demon 7 is next level.
The Demon also comes in a slick looking 8 string model, and it is a total beast. While all of these models have different string configurations, they all have the same features in common:
- Maple Neck
- Basswood Body
- Wenge Fretboard
- Pearloid Gothic Cross Inlays
- Schecter Custom Bridge/Floyd Rose Optional
- Graph Tech TUSQ XL 7 String Nut
- Different Scale Lengths For Each Model
- 16” Radius
- Bolt On Construction
- Schecter Diamond Active Humbuckers
- 9V Battery Compartment
- 24 Jumbo Frets
- Schecter Standard Tuners
- 1 Volume/ 1 Tone/ 3 way Switch
Even though the updated model technically came out in 2020, we still feel like this is one of the best guitars of 2021 simply for the amazing construction of the guitar. The hardware and pickups are all great right out of the box, but if you’re the type of guitarist that likes to upgrade and modify their guitars, the Demon is a dream! I have added locking tuners… so far.
This is another affordable guitar that has some great pickups. I urge you to give them a chance before you write them off as “bad stock pickups”. The way they sound, it seems like Schecter based these on Duncan Blackouts, or perhaps an EMG style set. These pickups have a little more bass than I would usually prefer, but I just dialed it down on my amp. They definitely sound clear, and crushing! The Demon series is perfect for intermediate guitarists, or shredders on a budget.
When it comes to the best guitars of 2021, the Schecter Demon might be the best budget buy for Metal guitarists. I do believe that Schecter is phasing these models out, and replacing them. So buy it now if you want one!
Harley Benton Fusion 3
The Harley Benton Fusion 3 was another guitar that we reviewed, and I knew the moment I played it that it would be on the “Best Guitars Of 2021” list. Harley Benton is not a guitar company, per se. It is manufactured in limited runs by Thomann Music in Germany. The goal of making Harley Benton was to create a budget guitar brand for beginners that doesn’t suck, and has lots of features right out of the box that most cheaper guitars neglect to offer.
The Harley Benton Fusion 3 has some insane features that you usually only see on much more expensive instruments:
- Roasted Maple Neck
- 24 Frets
- Stainless Steel Frets
- Wilkinson Locking Tuners
- Wilkinson Bridge
- Roswell Pickups
- 12” Radius Fretboard
- Bolt On Construction
- Modern C Shape Necks
The hardware alone is worth the price of the guitar. You get a Wilkinson Trem that stays in tune and is easy to set up. You also get Wilkinson locking tuners that make string changes a breeze, while ensuring that your guitar stays in tune even when you do some big bends or bar dives. The hardware alone puts it on the best guitars of 2021 list.
The Roasted Maple neck, and stainless steel frets is just nuts at this price point. You usually only see these kinds of features on guitars that cost three times the amount of the Harley Benton. With that being said, there are definitely some corners that were cut when it comes to the pickups and electronics. The stock pickups certainly aren’t terrible, and they will work great for most guitarists. But for those of us that like to upgrade, some new pickups wouldn’t hurt. It still doesn’t change the fact that the Harley Benton Fusion 3 is one of the best guitars of 2021!
Epiphone Prophecy Series
Look, it’s no secret that we absolutely love Epiphone around here, and we don’t mind telling the world that we think Epiphone makes some great guitars, and some of the best guitars of 2021. Epiphone has come a long way in the last decade, and the newer product list reflects that progress. There is a model for every genre, and every player out there!
The Epiphone Prophecy lineup is made specifically for Metal guitarists. Epiphone took all of the classic shapes and turned them into anything but “classic”. These have all modern features, and while the Prophecy models may look like regular Epiphone models, they are far from regular or ordinary.
- “Inspired By Gibson” Body Shapes and Design
- Custom Fishman Pickups with 3 Voices
- Graphtech Nut
- Grover Tuners
- AAA Flame Maple Tops
- Cream Binding
- Jumbo Frets
- Tapered Neck Joint
- Ebony Fretboard
- Epiphone Locking Bridge
You get a lot for your money with the Epiphone Prophecy, and this is a great guitar for intermediate and professional players. We personally liked the Les Paul and Explorer models, because the new access heel joint and jumbo frets change the way the guitar feels. There is nothing “vintage” about these guitars. The Flame Maple tops look amazing under the satin finish.
This is also one of the only budget guitars I can think of that come with Fishman Pickups. Over the past 3 years, Fishman has been taking the Metal guitar world completely by storm. These are active pickups that are geared specifically for Metal and serious chugging! The custom Epiphone versions sound amazing in the Prophecy Series, and with all of the other features… this is by far one of the best guitars of 2021. Infact, it’s one of the best guitars that Epiphone makes in my opinion!
When we first reviewed them, I thought these were too good to be true. I pick one up every time I take a trip to the guitar shop, and I am constantly surprised at the quality of the Epiphone Prophecy. If you are ready to make a big leap in the quality of your tone, this is the cheapest way to do so.
Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder Hardtail
Schecter Guitars really reach a new level once you get above the $800 mark. The original Sun Valley Super Shredder was a great guitar that was a throwback to the ’80s. They Featured a Floyd Rose, and hot EMG pickups that just screamed to shred some Motley Crue. That model came out a few years ago, so it couldn’t make the best guitars of 2021 list. They were a bargain at only $650, but some people just really don’t get along with a Floyd Rose bridge. Schecter listened, and they came up with a hardtail version that is definitely one of the best guitars of 2021!
The new incarnation of the Sun Valley Super Shredder has everything you need to play some seriously heavy riffs, without the fuss of a Floyd Rose Bridge. These new features also added some exotic woods:
- Bolt-on wenge neck with Thin C profile
- Ebony fingerboard with 24 extra-jumbo frets
- Schecter USA Custom Shop Sunset Strip humbucking bridge pickup
- Pasadena humbucking neck pickup
- Fretboard Material: Ebony
- Radius: Compound 12-16
- Fret size: Extra-jumbo
- Number of frets: 24
- Nut width: 1.62″
- Fixed Bridge
- Locking Tuners
Seriously, this guitar has every spec you could possibly want in a Metal guitar. The neck shape is a staple of Schecter Guitars, and the “thin C” profile feels amazing with the compound radius. The Hipshot fixed bridge is a super low profile, so it doesn’t get in the way of palm mutes, or anchoring your hand for speed runs. The simple circle inlays look understated, and very classy.
The star of the show is the Schecter Custom Shop Pickup Set. These pickups are very versatile, and I have them in my Schecter E1 guitar. These pickups are hot, but not so hot that you can’t get some beautiful clean tones out of them. I have used them to record, and I am blown away with how much they can do. The neck humbucker in particular gets a gorgeous creamy lead tone that will make your solos sing.
When it comes to Schecter Guitars, this is the best of the best in it’s import guitar line. The Sun Valley Super Shredder Hardtail is one of the best guitars of 2021, and it has the features to back that up. If you’re a pro player, and you are looking to step up your sound and tone, this guitar is a great option. High end Schecters play way better than some American made instruments, and the sheer quality is undeniable.
PRS Custom 24 SE
This wouldn’t be a “best guitars of 2021” list without PRS, would it? The PRS SE Series has come a long way from where it started, We got to take a sneak peek earlier this year at the totally revamped Custom 24 models, and I could not wait to get my hands on one!
The PRS Custom 24 has everything you need to make the leap from a bedroom guitarist, to playing on stage. PRS is known for dedication to reliability, which is why you see so many professional studio musicians use these guitars. Go to any studio in LA or Nashville, and you will see a plethora of PRS SE guitars lying around. Session guitarists love these, for good reason.
The new PRS Custom 24 also comes in a bunch of cool new colors, and some have the natural headstock you see on expensive PRS models! The features you get are out of this world when it comes to a guitar that is under $1000, and you get a myriad of professional quality specs:
- Mahogany body and maple top
- Set-in maple neck with wide thin profile
- Rosewood fingerboard with 24 frets
- 85/15 “S” pickups
- PRS tremolo bridge
- Famous Bird Inlays
- Natural Back
- Flame Maple Veneer
- 25” Scale Length
The thing about the PRS Custom 24, is mainly the playability. PRS is known for having some of the best playing necks in the industry, and the wide thin profile feels great for any style of music. The frets are also in between jumbo and vintage, and this gives the guitar are really unique feel. Nothing quite feels like a PRS.
The 81/15 humbuckers are new to this model, and they are straight out of the PRS custom shop specs. These mimic a PAF style pickup really well, but they can get absolutely filthy if you need them to get down and dirty. They handle high gain sounds with ease, while also having a coil tap feature that makes your clean sound sparkle.
PRS really changed up what the SE series is capable of this year, making the Custom 24 one of the best guitars in 2021. While it is under $1000, don’t let the price fool you. This is a professional grade instrument that I am sure has been seen on stages all over the world this year. It may have a budget price, but it sounds like a million bucks. The Custom 24 is definitely one of the best guitars of 2021, and I can’t wait to see what they do next year.
ESP/LTD Arctic Metal
ESP/LTD is the sister company of Schecter Guitars and both brands embrace guitars designed for one purpose: METAL. The ESP/LTD Arctic Metal guitars are the perfect example of this, and deserves a spot with the best guitars of 2021. This is a no frills, simple guitar that is built for heavy riffing and blazing leads. The spartan design is awesome in my opinion, and I love how… barren it is. In fact, this is one of the best guitars of 2021 because of it’s simplicity!
There is not a lot to go over when it comes to features, but that’s the appeal of the Arctic Metal Series. They are made of some high quality components, however:
- Satin-finished alder body
- Satin-finished maple neck
- Ebony fingerboard
- EMG81TW bridge pickup with single volume (push/pull) control
- Fixed bridge (Low Profile)
- Locking tuners
- Metal LTD Logo on headstock
- Extra Thin U Shaped Neck
- 24 Extra Jumbo frets
- 12” Radius
I think there is something beautiful about a guitar that has only the things you need. When it comes to playing Heavy Metal, we all rarely even touch our tone knobs. So why not eliminate the tone knob all together? The Arctic Metal guitars also feature a simple fixed bridge. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely a one trick pony.
The EMG 81TW pickup is actually pretty versatile. Sure, the EMG 81 will always have that highly compressed sound that screams Metallica when it comes to tone. But the push/pull knob feature allows you to split the coil and get some really great clean tones, or even dirty Blues if you turn down the gain.
ESP/LTD made the Arctic Metal Series for a very specific type of player. This is for someone that like to keep it as simple as possible. The bare bones, yet still high quality features make this one of the best guitars of 2021. It may seem like a simple setup, but the tones you can get are really only limited to your imagination.
Jackson Pro Series Jeff Loomis Kelly
Jeff Loomis is one of my favorite Metal guitarists on the planet. His work with Nevermore blew my mind 20 years ago, and it’s still impressive today. I was sad to see Jeff leave Schecter Guitars, but it looks like he made an even more badass signature model with Jackson. After playing one of these for about a week, I think it is definitely one of the best guitars of 2021!
The features are pretty standard for a Pro Series Kelly model, but there are a few things Jeff threw in that other models simply do not have:
- Ash top and basswood body
- Maple neck with Slim profile
- Ebony fingerboard
- White binding
- Spoke wheel truss rod adjustment
- Jeff Loomis Signature Duncan Pickups
- Upgraded Floyd Rose 1000
The Kelly body style has been around for a long time, and it still looks pretty sick these days! It was Jackson’s take on the Explorer shape, but it is much lighter. The Pro Series JL has an awesome ash top that is sand blasted to give it a satin distressed look. The white binding makes the finish pop even more.
The Floyd Rose and Duncan pickups is what makes this one of the best guitars of 2021. Jeff’s Duncan pickup set has a similar feel to the Blackout set, but with more string balance and clarity. I have used the 7 string set before and these are truly next level when it comes to pounding distortion tones.
Look, I know Jackson has been hit or miss lately when it comes to newer products. I see people complaining on forums all the time about the quality control since Fender seems to have thrown jackson to the wayside. In My opinion, Jackson really nailed it with this model, and I was happy to see the legendary shred company put out something that was worthy of the “best guitars of 2021” list.
My Top Pick: Schecter KM-7 Lambo Green
I had a tough time choosing what I thought was the best release this year, but after a trip to the Guitar Store the other day I came upon what I think is one of the best guitars of 2021. Not only is it one of the best, but it is definitely my next personal purchase. This has everything I could possibly want in a guitar.
We have talked about the Schecter KM Series before, named after the man himself Keith Merrow. Every couple of years, Schecter and Keith get together and revamp the KM series, adding new features and specs. Keith also likes to throw in a wild card version of his guitar, and these are made in limited batches with Lambo colors.
This year, the KM-7 Special Edition got a Lambo Green paint job, and every upgrade you can possibly imagine:
- Mahogany body
- 3-piece maple 7-string neck with Ultra Thin C-profile
- Ebony fretboard
- 12″ to 16″ compound radius
- 26.50″ scale length
- Fishman KM Pickup (Bridge)
- Sustainiac System
- Floyd Rose 1500 Series
- Black Binding
- Special Edition Lambo Green paint
- Stainless Steel Frets
- Green Metallic Inlay markers
- Grover 18:1 Tuners
Where do I even get started with this beast? I suppose we can start with the construction. This is a neck through construction with an ultra access heel joint that is perfectly carved to get up to the highest frets. The compound radius Ebony fretboard flattens out the higher you go up the neck. The 26.5” scale length puts you in baritone territory and allows you to use lighter gauge strings even if you tune low.
Keith’s Fishman Fluence Signature Humbucker in the bridge is based on a Duncan style high gain pickup, but with more midrange and clarity. The Sustaniac pickup is a source of endless fun when you combine it with a Floyd Rose bridge. You have three different settings for the pickup, and it works like a E-Bow, giving you infinite sustain if you want. I have one in my Hellraiser model, and I use it often during solos.
The bridge is the upgraded Floyd Rose 1500. This is a Floyd Rose 1000 series that has been upgraded to stainless steel parts where it matter. A regular Floyd can often wear down, especially the string slots. The stainless steel screws ensure that you won’t be replacing them anytime soon. This feature is only found on Schecter guitars, and it can save you money down the road.
The Schecter KM-7 is a highly aggressive monster of a guitar. When it comes to the best guitars of 2021, this one stood out to me. After playing it a few times at the store, I cannot wait to bring it home to meet my Schecter family of guitars! For me, this is the pinnacle of the best guitars of 2021!
Honorable Mention: Fender Player Series
OK, so I had to add the Fender Player Series to the best guitars of 2021. I’m not going to go over the features because we all know what a Stratocaster is, and what it does. But I added it because of the 2021 features that Fender added. Simple things that you may not notice, like these have 22 frets now. The Player Series is the lowest priced Fender Series, but I think Fender has made a huge mistake.
These new Player Series guitars are so damn close to the American series, that if you just handed this guitar to me and I was blindfolded, I would say this is an American Standard Strat. Don’t get me wrong, the American series has also stepped up it’s game. But these are an amazing deal for the price. I played an American Strat for a few years, and the Player Series is better than my old guitar ever was.
Scoop these up before Fender realizes what they have done, and either restructure the price tier again or raise the price on the Player Series. Seriously, these are amazing. They are definitely some of the best guitars of 2021.
The Best Guitars Of 2021: In Closing…
I see and play a ton of guitars throughout the year, and it was hard to pick the best guitars of 2021. There were some great models that came out this year, even though production has been behind and totally messed up. I really wanted to include guitars for everyone’s budget here. But more importantly, there were some excellent guitars in just about every price range.
We are living in the absolute best time for guitars, the Golden Age is what everyone is calling it. The budget models are better than ever, and there are more of them. When the budget models start making the best guitars of 2021 list, then that forces the more expensive models to step up their game. You can’t have a $500 guitar outclass a $1500 guitar, right? All of this pressure in the industry means that we, the consumers, get to reap the benefits of the competitive nature of the companies. We get better guitars for a fair price. And who doesn’t want more guitars?
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