Punk guitarists generally prefer no-frills and unconventional solid-body electric guitars that are durable, hard-hitting, and have a slender neck for quick power chord changes. They also need an instrument that stays in tune and is armed with punchy pickups that can drive the music.
In general, punk guitarists often favor instruments with specs similar to what most rock guitarists prefer, but without the frills and fancy redundancies. A junk hand-me-down can be a place to start but it won’t sound great once you are playing gigs or recording in the studio.
You can embellish it with all the modifications and play it through the best tube amps but your instrument is still a powerful part of your source sound. It has to be of an acceptable standard to get the job done. Luckily, you don’t need to pay through your nose to own a boutique build or a feature-heavy custom shop guitar to get a satiating punk sound.
As a genre, punk music is about taking action and making something with whatever you have access to. So we provide a wide spectrum of guitars that range from $300 to $1000 to help you find something that suits your pocket and gets you going.
In our list, we begin with the cheapest option and move on to the most expensive models – knowing this will help you situate the right guitar for your price range, but do check out the others to know what upgrades you can make down the line.
For the musicians on a budget, we’ve included some affordable options from Squire and Epiphone that approximate the flagship models of popular guitars by Fender and Gibson. We’ve also included some mid-market beauties from relatively lesser-known companies that offer high-quality instruments at an affordable cost. That being said, let’s look at the 8 best guitars for punk music.
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#1 Squire by Fender Affinity Series Jazzmaster HH, Arctic White
For an entry-level guitar, the Squire Affinity Jazzmaster HH offers incredible value. It has a Poplar body with a distinctive JM shape and a one-piece bolt-on maple neck with a satin finish. The C-shape neck is smooth and slender – making it easy on the hands, especially when you want to rapidly shift through power chords.
Squire also offers a Mini Jazzmaster HH (reduced size instrument) for children or people with tiny hands or stature. The mojo of this guitar is in the eccentric design and the unorthodox p’ups – the original Jazzmaster had Fender single-coils that might be too mellow and organic for punk. This model however offers two humbuckers (thus the HH!) that are gritty and hot.
The JM HH offers generous tonal control that ranges from woody to bright to snappy. They can sound tight and punchier than the single-coil models while still retaining the iconic “Fender tone”. The high end is clean and shows no traces of unpleasant “tinny” sounds. The pickups respond beautifully to high gain tones, which can be sculpted into many useable sounds for grunge and punk.
The Squire Affinity Jazzmaster HH is at the top of the game at this price point. It is stylish, versatile, and practicable for beginner-to-intermediate punk guitarists who need to contend with a shoestring budget. If you can stretch the budget, you can pick the Squire Contemporary Jazzmaster HH ST (active electronics).
- Fun, fresh and flamboyant
- Available in multiple versions
- Versatile: Good tonal range
- Ideal entry-level model for punk
- High value for money
#2 Danelectro ’59M NOS+, Black
Are you looking for something that can seamlessly transition from sparkly-clean tones to razor-sharp fuzz? The Danelectro ‘59M might be the answer. This retro-revival guitar is a lively and harmonically rich instrument that can deliver amplitude and attitude at an incredibly modest price.
For many, the ’59M fits the vintage aesthetic in a modernized instrument. Its aesthetic is an amalgamation of the unique “Coke Bottle” inspired headstock, seal-shaped pickguard, single offset f-hole, short horn double-cut body, and “Lipstick” NOS pickups. NOS refers to “new old stock”, a cache of old pickup designs that Danelectro used to create this model.
Beneath the dapper exterior, you’ve got two single-coils combined and an EQ control panel. The Lipstick p’ups are low-output compared to the Strats and Teles but they are high on character and twangy tones. Alongside the snappy tones, the ’56 Lipstick pickups can produce wild and rowdy highs with “grit and growl” that will appease most punk guitarists.
The Korea-made ’59M is strung with 10s and ships with good action and setup. The action and intonation are open-ended, as the fully adjustable tailpiece gives you a lot of room to customize it to suit your preference.
Overall, this guitar is reminiscent of the Danelectro ’59 DC once used by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. Danelectro has capitalized on this glamorous anachronism to offer a throwback to an era of individualism and intrepid tones. We think it is perfect for punk guitarists, especially if you dig the unique look and styling of the ’59M. This guitar/model is available in 7 finish options: Baby Blue, White, Black, Red, Grey, Green, and Go Go Blue.
- Unique chambered semi-hollow body
- Modernized Singe-Coil Dual NOS+ pickups
- Fully adjustable wraparound Bridge
- Good looks and styling for punk
- Tonal variety and punchy mids
#3 Epiphone SG Special P-90
Gibson SG’s tryst with Angus Young (AC/DC) may lead you to believe that the SG was only built for a rough and tumble hard rock stage. However, beyond that pigeonhole, you may be surprised to discover that the SG’s aggressive styling, weight-balance, and sonic maneuverability make it a worthy consideration for punk guitarists.
Its predilection for punk has been demonstrated by the likes of Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Greg Hetson of Bad Religion who’ve used its high-on-crunch, driven pop-punk and hard rock inspired sonic capabilities to great musical effect. When it comes to playability, construction, and craftsmanship, the SG is truly second to none.
Nevertheless, keeping the premium price in mind, we’ll swap it for the economy version by recommending the modestly priced Epiphone SG Special (P-90) or the even cheaper Epiphone Special VE. Now, the SG P-90 may not be comparable to the quality of the flagship model but it operates in the same ballpark at a fraction of the cost.
It’s a classic design with the original headstock and era-appropriate wiring that has been made relevant for the stage and studio needs of the modern-day guitarist. It boasts of impressive features like a mahogany body and neck with an Indian Laurel fingerboard that hosts 22 medium jumbo frets. The other notable features include the Deluxe Ivory tuning pegs, rolled neck design, CTS pots, NuBone nut, nickel finish, and Epiphone P-90 Pro pickups.
The P-90 PROs in the neck and bridge are ideal for punk musicians who want some grit and punch for their power chords and some roaring tones for their solos and riffs. The SG Special P90 has an unmistakable design, inimitable tone, and playability that can’t be had on any other assembly-line model. It is available in a Sparkling Burgundy and Faded Pelham Blue finish.
- Unique looks and iconic sound
- Fat, assertive, and punchy tones
- Good guitar for punk rock & heavier sub-genres
- Good value for money
#4 Fender Duo Sonic HS – Crimson Red
Fender tested the original concept of the Duo Sonic as a low-budget model geared to the needs of students in 1956. However, within a few years, the guitar gained incredible popularity as a multipurpose short-scale instrument among indie artists and underground bands of the 60s. Everyone from the proto-punk band Television to David Byrne of the Talking Heads was raving about this small-statured guitar.
We say small-statured because this petite instrument is super lightweight and has a 24-inch scale length. That makes it slender, suave, and easy to play and maneuver. The 9.5-inch fretboard radius also makes this guitar ideal for people with small hands or stature.
As for the components, the Duo Sonic HS is crafted with an alder body and a maple neck with a maple fingerboard that houses 22 frets. It’s equipped with the usual Fender-fare in terms of hardware. You’ve got a strat-like hardtail bridge, die-cast tuners, a pickguard, and dot inlays.
The single-coil neck p’up and humbucker bridge p’up lie at the heart of its sonic capabilities. It also has a coil tap function and a 3-way pickup selector. From clean jangly strumming to downright dirty distortion, the Duo Sonic is a treasure trove of highly appreciable tones. Check out this video demonstrating the sonic capabilities of the Fender Dup Sonic HS.
From versatile tones to rock-solid construction – the Duo Sonic HS can be a great punk workhorse. It is available in six finish options: Crimson Red, Ice Blue, Seafoam Green, Desert Sand, Sienna Sunburst, and Tidepool.
- Good fit and finish
- Sleek design, ideal for people w/ small hands
- Single Coil + Humbucker combination
- Good clean and distortion tones for punk
- High value for money
#5 Fender Player Lead II
The Lead II is a remarkably fun reissue of a classic model from Fender that was released (and later discontinued) in the 80s. This double-cutaway strat is available in a huge array of vibrant and bright finish options. And, when we say bright we’re talking about violent violet to gaudy green, with an Olympic White and Crimson red thrown in for those of more sober taste.
Its alder-meets-maple construction is a common tone wood combination that yields sounds that aren’t too far from the flagship Fender models. As for the neck, you’ve got the C-shape profile with a satin finish and 22 medium jumbo frets. This is supplemented by Fender die-cast tuners and a six-saddle hardtail bridge – standard stuff that looks cohesive and keeps the tuning stable.
The Lead II p’ups are the same ones found on the Player Stratocaster (Alnico V) but they are fitted at an angle. They don’t deviate too far from the iconic Fender tone, however, if you want that you can look up the double humbucker Lead III, which is priced higher but sounds fatter. With the Lead II, you’ll get zing – lots of it.
Tonally, The Lead II does a good job at everything from jangly chords to characterful notes, and the occasional punk riff or solo with some bite. The neck is very beginner-friendly and the low-action makes it easy to shift power chords rapidly – something that punk guitarists will appreciate.
The guitar has a full-scale length, two single-coil pickups, and killer tonal options. If you look closely, you’ll see the extra (second) toggle switch – the “phase flipper”. Now, I doubt most punk players will find a use for the flipper outside of premeditated gimmicks, but they will certainly enjoy this solidly built instrument on the whole.
At first glance, these guitars may invoke notions of a low-budget student guitar or a short-scale instrument. However, they are beyond doubt Fender’s best offering in the form of a Mexico-made but all-American sounding post-punk guitar. You should consider this model or its fatter sounding cousin – Lead III – if you want versatile tones in lurid hues within the familiar and highly renowned Fender territory.
- Available in ultra-bright finish options
- Exciting looks and vibrant tones
- Good neck for quick power chord changes
- Available as Lead III – double humbucker
- Great value for money
#6 Fender Special Custom Telecaster FMT HH, Black Cherry Burst
The Tele has its image drawn out as a “country guitar” but the truth is that this versatile guitar has shared the stage with many famous guitarists from every conceivable genre. From rock to pop to metal to punk, the Telecaster refuses to be characterized and caged in a genre. As far as punk goes, it has been the top choice for many pop-punk guitarists like Joe Strummer (The Clash), Brody Dalle (The Distillers), and El Hefe (NOFX).
With so many models and variants to choose from, we’ve picked the Special Custom Telecaster FMT with the double humbuckers for the extra grit and versatility to suit punk. The FMT has a mahogany body with a gorgeous flamed maple top with a gloss finish and cream binding. It has a set neck as opposed to the usual bolt-on Telecaster necks. The C-shape neck is made from mahogany and topped with an Indian laurel fingerboard that houses 22 jumbo frets.
The other noteworthy components include the oversized Abalone dot inlays, 6-saddle String-thru hardtail bridge, sealed tuners, and an EQ panel with master/volume knobs and a 3-way toggle switch. This hybrid model is loaded with Seymour Duncan pickups that are hot and roaring to go. The pickup selector also gives you access to coil splitting options to further tweak the sound.
The Lead II can deliver punchy distorted tones as well if not better than crystalline clean tones. Now, you should know that this isn’t the standard Telecaster sound because of the humbuckers used in this model. The humbucking pickups approximate the fat and chunky tones of LP guitars rather than the single-coil Teles.
Deryck Whibley (Sum41) is possibly the most recognizable punk guitarist who has consistently used a Fender Telecaster. While you could go for his signature model, the FMT HH is an equally commendable guitar that sounds great for punk and looks as good as something twice the price.
- Classic Telecaster look and styling
- Unique Tele w/ Humbucking pickups
- Coil-Splitting options
- Great LP-like tones for Punk
- Good value for money
#7 Gibson Les Paul Junior, H
From the “iHeartRadio” Doublecut to the White LP Junior, there have been many famous avatars of the Les Paul Junior in punk music. Of these, the Gibson Billie Joe Armstrong Signature is perhaps the most well-known, thanks to the legions of Green Day fans across the globe.
The Gibson Les Paul Junior is an out-and-out workhorse. It is a no-frills Gibby at a comparatively low price, low for Gibson standards that is. For that price, it is hard to fault the features and components of the Junior. The Junior Special model is also a viable consideration if you want a similar instrument at a cheaper price.
Gibson has armed this model with the tried, tested, and cherished tones of the P-90. These textbook pickups need no introduction and you can expect them to live up to their hype of pristine clean tones and snappy, snarling distortion. There is no shortage of grit for punk riffs and this guitar can handle anything you can throw at it.
This a stripped-down, rock solid Les Paul that started as a student model but soon became a legend in its own right. However, as its fame ballooned, so did the price. At under $1000, a used Gibson LP Junior can go a long way to vindicate the price tag. Even new, it poses as a lifelong companion for all your quests in the studio or on the stage.
For many punk fans, the LP Junior is the “official punk guitar” and the playability, weight, and tone give us very little reason to argue against the idea. If you are ready to rock the stage and looking for a straightforward guitar for punk music, this is certainly the prime consideration – the one to beat.
- No-frills Gibson at a modest price
- Multiple variants and finish options
- Base model of Billie Joe Armstrong Signature
- Often called the “Official Punk Guitar”
- Studio & Stage Ready – ideal for punk
#8 Reverend Kingbolt RA, Natural Flame Maple
Our eighth and final pick is more of a bonus for those who are looking for an exemplary instrument. We’ve picked the Kingbolt RA by Reverend Guitars. This guitar has long been a favorite among rock and blues musicians but it has all requisite qualities to make a great instrument for professional punk guitarists.
The Kingbolt RA has the distinctive Reverend body shape and unmistakable styling. The wood grain on the exquisite blonde maple top is a great contrast to the dark brown Korina body. The slow flame roasted neck is highly weather-resistant and is connected to the body with 6 screws to improve sustain. It has a Blackwood Tek fingerboard with 22 medium jumbo frets and a 12-inch neck radius.
As for the hardware, the pin-lock tuners and Wilkinson tremolo are great assets for the guitar. They provide great tuning stability and you can change the strings without the fuss of locking nuts. However, the pickups are certainly the highlight of the RA model. The punchy Railhammer Hyper Vintage neck and bridge pickups have a rich growl and bright highs that help the guitar cut through the mix.
With the freely moving tremolo arm and the 3-way pickup selector, you can call this a veritable tone machine. The Kingbolt also boasts of a bass contour knob that tightens the signal but dialing out some of the loose and floppy low end. Although the Reverend Kingbolt is famous among rock musicians, it has the looks, sound, and specs that make it a great consideration for sub-genres of punk that need a crunchy old school tone with top end grunt.
- Distinctive body shape and styling
- Excellent Tone woods
- Slow flame-roasted Maple Neck
- Excellent Railhammer pickups
- Free floating tremolo arm
From Johnny Ramone to Tom Verlaine to Billie Joe Armstrong to Dr. Know – punk has mushroomed into a wide-ranging genre fuelled by old and new guitarists who make us reconsider using an awkward sounding term like “punk guitar virtuoso”. While they may all share an innate talent for music and songwriting, they seldom share the same ideas about the best gear.
Some punk guitarists love the beef of Gibson humbuckers while others prefer the twang of a Fender Strat or the unique looks and jangly tones of ‘ol Ricks. We’d like to conclude with a reminder that a guitar isn’t the sole factor to get the best tone for punk and its sub-genres. The strings, effects pedals, and amplifier/cabinet will also play a pivotal role in shaping your sound.
While selecting the right electric guitar for punk, you should also keep the larger picture of your rig in mind. Take into account how the instrument will interact with your effects chain (if applicable) and amplification. Many Punk guitarists choose to forego multi-fx units or analog pedals and plug directly into high gain amps. This creates a light footprint because they don’t have to rely on heavy pedalboards and it simplifies the sonic equation.
I hope this article has acquainted you with some stellar choices for your primary instrument as a punk guitarist. Leave a comment and let us know which guitar is your favorite for punk music. As always, happy hunting and have fun!