As a genre, traditional and modern country music rides on the coattails of stringed instruments like the mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and guitar. The genre has evolved through the decades and modern country music, especially the radio-friendly version, is heavily guitar-influenced.
Country music can mean a lot of different things – it can refer to Country-punk, Bluegrass, Cajun music, country blues, classic country, hillbilly music, and many other sub-genres. We are referring to a wide-ranging spectrum that covers Neo-rockabilly to the cutting-edge Nashville sounds. So, to make sure that we cover all bases, we’ve divided our recommendations into four sections to present instruments that suit various styles and tones:
#1 Best “Twangy” Electric Guitars for Country Music
- American Professional Series Telecaster
- American Player Series Stratocaster
#2 Best “Fat” Electric Guitars for Country Music w/ Humbuckers:
- PRS SE Custom 24
- Gibson Les Paul Studio
#3 Best Hollow Body Electric Guitars for Country Music
- Gibson ES-335
- Gretsch Streamliner
#4 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar
- Gibson J-200
- Gretsch Rancher White Falcon 12-string
These guitars can dive from roots rock to heartland folk to swamp blues to honky-tonk – as long as you can keep up. Since some of the recommended guitars are mid-market or premium models, you will find a budget version and intermediate version wherever applicable. The reason for doing this is to ensure that novices or people on shoestring budgets can also find a relevant instrument to get started on their journey. There will always be room to upgrade once you climb up the ladder.
Every guitarist needs a faithful and reliable companion on the stage and studio. We’ve selected guitars high on playability that stay in tune, look good, and sound great in the context of country music. Here are our top six electric guitars with an overview of what makes them great for this genre.
Table of Contents
Best “Twangy” Electric Guitars for Country Music
1.American Professional Series Fender Telecaster
It is hard to fault them if you are looking for the country twang and something instantly recognizable that has been tried and tested by scores of great guitar players. It is undoubtedly the most familiar tone among the genre when it comes to electric guitars. Check out this YouTube video of Daniel Donato demoing a Fender American Professional Telecaster – country style!
The V-Mod electronics and the 3-way selector switch make them versatile enough for other genres. The Telecaster bridge has compensated brass barrel saddles which keeps the tuning and intonation intact. Each American Professional Telecaster ships with a hardshell case and you can choose from a wide range of finish options and a rosewood or maple fingerboard.
The Teles are very different in shape than the strats. Firstly, they lack the contours and have a more ‘slab-like’ ash body. Moreover, they have a deep D-neck with 22 narrow-tall frets and a maple or rosewood fingerboard. Compared to a Stratocaster, the Telecaster bass notes have more weight in the overall tone. If you aren’t looking for the thick and fat sounds of a humbucker pickup, the Telecaster is hard to beat and will forever remain the staple tone of country music guitars.
You have lots of options like the Thinline Semi-Hollow Body Telecaster, the Vintera ’60s Telecaster (w/ Bigsby), the Custom Relic models, the Chambered bodies, and the Special Editions. If you want to splurge on a gorgeous Road Worn Telecaster, you should check out the Brad Paisley Signature Telecaster.
- Excellent component and construction quality
- A definitive country music tone
- A great workhorse guitar for touring musicians
- Multiple finish options and variants
Budget Version: If you are a beginner or intermediate guitarist looking for a cheaper option, try the Squire Classic ‘70s Telecaster.
2. Fender American Performer Stratocaster
The 3-way pickup selector and Fender single-coil pickups allow you to switch between 5 different tones – all of which are functional and practicable for country music. From old country to chicken pickin’ to hot licks to crisp uni-vibe – a strat can fit into just about anything. The tone knob and volume can further tweak the sound and if you add an EQ pedal with some compression there is no shortage of tone for the genre.
Like the Tele, you can find multiple variations of the Fender Stratocaster to suit your budget and playing style. The MIM – Made in Mexico – versions are cheaper but the American-made models are considered to be the cream of the crop. Beginners can opt for the low-budget Fender Squire models. Besides the varying price tag, they are also available in various pickup combinations like HHS or HSS if you need a hotter pickup to play Southern rock or drive that amp Texas-style.
The maple neck strats are decidedly more popular in the country genre because they give a bright tone but many famous players also prefer the rosewood fingerboard for warmth. If the price isn’t a factor, the American Performer Stratocaster is one of the best guitars on the market if you are looking for a lifelong companion for the stage and studio. It has an HSS configuration with a DoubleTap humbucking pickup in the bridge position that can be used in different combinations with fresh and crisp tones.
These guitars are available in four different finish options and two fingerboard options (rosewood and maple). They are known for excellent construction and top-shelf hardware and electronic components. As is always the case with a USA-made Fender, it is a lifetime purchase that will be by your side through all the ups and downs.
- An “industry standard” – ideal for studio and stage
- Iconic tone w/ versatility
- Excellent fit and finish
- High-quality components and construction
- Excellent value for money
Budget Version: If you are a beginner or intermediate guitarist looking for a cheaper option, try the Squire Classic ‘70s HSS Stratocaster.
Best “Fat” Sounding Guitars for Country Music:
1. PRS SE Custom 24 Electric Guitar
This Korea-made guitar is fitted with USA-made parts to offer you the best of both worlds without breaking the bank. The “SE” stands for Student’s Edition. PRS ensures that you get a top-class instrument at a modest price without skimping on quality. The sonic popularity of the SE is fuelled by the partial coil-splits that render a classic tone that sounds great in country music, especially when playing licks or using gentle vibratos.
The PRS 85/15 humbuckers are armed with full coil-tapping capabilities and push/pull knobs. With the 3-way pickup selector and master + tone knob, you can find good dynamics and versatile tones to match your style. The PAF-style pickups are great for gritty rhythm and lead tones that are warm and melodious without sounding overtly gritty or raspy. Of course, this isn’t the guitar you’d want to use for more aggressive rockabilly influenced styles, but it can still find a versatile application in most modern contexts.
Though it wouldn’t be fair to compare the SE Custom 24 to expensive Gibsons, Fenders, or even the high-end Made in USA PRS guitars, it certainly comes close to emulating the flagship stalwarts at a fraction of the price. The looks and feel of the instrument are excellent. In fact, this is one of those rare models with consistent QA after decades of production. Moreover, the styling is chic, the tones are classic, and the playability is faultless.
If you want a wide palette of sounds at a reasonable price, the PRS SE Custom 24 is going to feel like money well spent. With a good setup and some tweaks to suit your preference, this guitar can easily become an expressive and lively instrument for any country guitarist for the stage and studio. If you can extend your budget then the 35th Anniversary SE Custom 24 is also worthy of serious consideration.
- Classy looks and classic tones
- Humbucking pickups with coil-tapping
- Versatile and dynamic range
- Lightweight + good playability
- Best Budget Option – great value
2. Gibson Les Paul Studio Electric Guitar
These instruments sound no less iconic than the Fenders when it comes to tone but they cater to an alternative (or parallel) sonic palette. The fat and chunky Gibson tones can produce rather creamy overdriven sounds that are reminiscent of The Allman Brothers. They aren’t one bit twangy like their Fender counterparts. Instead, they are preferred for a smooth tone with understated grit – often described as rich and creamy with a touch of bite.
The Les Paul Studio was launched as an affordable no-frills version made for studio session players. They have all the classic features like the mahogany body, carved maple top, and the 490R/489T pickup (humbuckers). The guitars are best known for Skynyrd and Allmans styled southern rock tones, they’ve also been put to great use by guitarists like Roy Clarks, Clint Strong, and Grady Martin. You can expect a thick and fat Gibson tone with exquisite clarity and punch for solos and rhythm playing.
However, these high-end guitars cost a pretty penny, sometimes upwards of $3k. The Gibson Les Paul Special and Gibson Les Paul Tribute are the most affordable options. If you are a beginner/intermediate guitarist or on a low-budget, you can select something similar from the Gibson/Epiphone range like the Epiphone Les Paul Custom. As you progress, you can swap the pickups and use aftermarket parts to upgrade your Epiphone until you are ready to go all in the flagship model. The Epiphones aren’t comparable to the Gibsons but they offer outstanding value for money for any up-and-coming guitarist.
We recommend the Les Paul Studio because it feels like a bridge between the Epiphone Les Paul Standard and the Gibson Les Paul Standard. You don’t have to compromise on clarity or break the bank to get a mid-market guitar that is wonderful to play on stage and in the studio.
- Ideal for Southern Rock style
- Iconic looks and brand recognition
- Creamy and rich tone
- Excellent build quality & components
- Professional guitars for stage and studio
Best Semi-Hollow & Hollow Body Electric Guitars for Country Music:
1. Gibson ES-335 Semi-Hollow Electric Guitar
The Gibson ES-335 is by no means a “country guitar” – at least not in the same way as a Telecaster. It has found a place in everything from rock to jazz to blues. However, country guitarists will certainly enjoy the growly attack, thick bass response, and acoustic-like timbre of this model.
You may relate these guitars with jazz and blues artists, like BB King or Clapton, but the bright sonic punch of the arched top can find its footing in country music. In fact, Merle Travis who founded the “Travis picking” style has been seen playing Les Pauls, ES-335, and a Gibson Super 400. Hank Garland (A-Team) also played a Gibson Thinline Byrdland, the predecessor of the ES-335.
Unlike the Streamliner (next on our list), the ES-335 has a solid center block. This adds an earthiness to the tone and gives it a woody response without leading to feedback. It also contributes to a better sustain and punch as compared to hollow-body guitars. These guitars have a distinct look with the wider body and f-holes. They also have a well-rounded sound with richness in the mids and low-end. Even though their highs aren’t as bright as the teles or strats, they can cut through the mix with authority when needed.
They are expensive guitars and it may not be possible for beginners or up-and-coming players to afford them. In such cases, you can consider the Epiphone DOT as a doorway to the Gibson sounds at an affordable price. Don’t be fooled by the cheaper-priced DOT as it has won over many artists over the years who proclaim that they prefer it to the flagship Gibson models.
- Top-level Semi-Hollow Guitar
- Iconic looks and styling
- Creamy and rich PAF tones
- Excellent Craftsmanship and components
- Expensive but offers lots of value
2. Gretsch Streamliner G2420 Hollow Body Electric Guitar
From Brian Setzer’s sizzling rockabilly to Reverend Horton Heat’s Dallas swing, Gretsch guitars symbolize a whoopin’ and stompin’ on the crossroads where rockabilly rendezvous with country music. You can’t help but think of Duane Eddy’s Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel album when you think of the classic Gretsch sound. As the decades have piled, Gretsch has gone on to release various high-end and off-shore production lines to make these guitars available to a wider fan base.
Chet Atkins played an axiomatic role in building up Gretsch in connection to country music. The legendary guitarist worked extensively with Gretsch in the 60s and 70s as an endorsed artist and consultant to develop dozens of models. He also almost exclusively played these guitars, which boosted their popularity. Among the many models on offer – we’ve picked the Streamliner series, the G2420 in particular because it has good playability and price. This is the best value-for-money hollow body to beat in the mid-range market.
The instrument is loaded with specs like the Chromatic II tailpiece (w/ optional Bigsby), tortoiseshell scratchplate, hump block inlays, Broad’Tron BT-2S humbuckers, and a thick U-shaped neck. The newer models have a laurel (instead of rosewood) fingerboard and some additional changes to the design. The BT-2S humbuckers are snappy and raunchy – old school style. They sound great for jangly clean chords and lively dynamic solos.
It is worth mentioning that the Streamliner is an affordable line of Gretsch because you can easily mortgage your house once you get into their top-end models. They are called the “Cadillac of Guitars” for a reason. However, you can consider the Electromatic Series (like the G5420) if you can extend your budget or try the center block models if you want a more versatile instrument that can handle other genres.
- Unique style and vintage appeal
- Bigsby option for wobbly vibrato
- Gritty sounds and gorgeous looks
- Hot pickups that can pack a punch
- Good value for money
Best Acoustic-Electric Guitars for Country Music:
1. Gretsch Rancher White Falcon 12-string Acoustic Guitar
This jumbo guitar has a Solid Spruce top with a laminated maple body with an arched back and gold sparkle binding. The maple neck is fitted with a rosewood fingerboard that houses 21 vintage-style frets with neo-classic inlays. You may need to develop some endurance and agility to navigate the neck but the sounds it creates are rewarding and exquisite, especially for the price.
The huge body is durable and doesn’t feel uncomfortable in any way. However, you may find it too bulky if you have small hands or stature. The gold hardware and bold looks may seem kitsch to some people but it doesn’t take away the sonic merits of the White Falcon. For a 12-string guitar sold at a moderate price, the Rancher manages to stay in tune surprisingly well. It has a warm chorus-like effect and sounds great for choppy country rhythm or large and resonant strumming.
The unplugged tone is plushand resounding with a pleasing mellowness and depth that is worthy of praise. The cutaway allows access to the upper register but it also subtracts a little projection, which makes it ideal for heavy-handed strummers who don’t need to worry about sounding too strident. The Fishman pickup and onboard controls are versatile and do an excellent job of reproducing the tones when you plug the guitar into an amp. On the whole, this guitar sounds well-balanced, bright, and articulate – an absolute pleasure to strum.
The 12-string sound fits really well in the country genre, especially for the ballads and love songs. The Gretsch Rancher seems like the most glamorous candidate for the job.
- Fishman Sonicore + Onboard tuner
- Quality construction and components
- Mellow but plush sounding resonance
- Styling might be garish for some people
- Good value for money
2. Gibson J-200 or Epiphone EJ-200 Acoustic-Electric Guitar
The J-200 is nothing short of guitar royalty, a truly iconic masterpiece that has been used by everyone from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan. This guitar is rife with top-shelf components, immaculate construction, highly-detailed finishing, and exemplary sound. It has an AAA Sitka Spruce top with a two-piece maple neck with walnut seams and a dovetail joint where it meets the body. The double-ringed rosette, the acrylic tortoiseshell pick guard, the moustache rosewood bridge, and engraved floral design are the hallmarks of its highly revered and unmistakable aesthetics.
It has equally stellar sonic capabilities. A touch of attack can turn into a clear and balanced sound – the responsiveness and definition are brimming with musicality. It sounds clean and crisp with a low action and focused low end. The upmarket LR Baggs Anthem electronics do an excellent job at reproducing the tone once you plug it in. If you can get past the price tag, this is the dream guitar to own – it isn’t just a guitar but it represents an important piece of musical history.
However, at this price range, you can also consider the Martin D-28 as another option. For us mere mortals who can’t cough up the lump, there is always the Epiphone EJ-200 to consider. You can also check out the Epiphone Hummingbird, which ranks a close second in a list of the most affordable country acoustic guitars.
- A True Icon among Acoustic Guitars
- Rich tone with great clarity and definition
- Great for strumming and thumb picking
- Perfect for the stage and studio
Country music continues to grow in popularity after decades of ruling the hinterland and heartlands of North America. The genre has gifted us many guitarists who have carved a space and sound with their talent and flair. From Buster Jones to Chet Atkins to Blake Shelton to Keith Urban, one of these guitars can bring you close to your dream sound, no matter who inspires you. On our part, we’ve covered all the best guitar models for country music and provided affordable variants with the hope that you’ll find something that suits your expertise and budget. As always – keep practicing and happy hunting!