What Constitutes a Gig-Worthy Guitar?
Right out of the gate, almost any guitar is going to be a gig-worthy axe in the right hands. Industry wide, the construction process is more consistent than it has ever been. With new builders popping up everyday, instruments need to be quality to compete in the marketplace. With that being said, Jack White is probably about to hit the stage with an obscure catalog-guitar that hasn’t been set up in years. So, realistically the best guitar for a gig is the guitar you’ve got.
We’re not all going to agree what the best guitar for performance is, because we all have different preferences and needs. Additionally, this list is going to look a little different from others you may have seen, because there is no price range for what guitars will appear on this list. What we’re looking for are versatile guitars for any venue that gets the job done. So, here they are, five gig-worthy guitars for any stage.
Fender American Performer Telecaster
Underrated amongst the Fender product line, the American Performer series of guitars are great for anyone who wants a U.S. constructed instrument at a competitive price point. In this way, the Performer series is sort of a spiritual successor to the American Special run of guitars from 2010 to 2018, but with redesigned pickups this line of guitars are the perfect all-around gigging workhorse.
The reason we’re mentioning the Telecaster specifically is its simplicity. No frills, no zany parallel switches or doodads, just a plank of wood with two pickups and a three-way switch (and sometimes a coil split for the models with neck humbuckers.) The American Performer Telecaster embodies a lot of what people like about Teles; they just work. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on stage, so a simple guitar might just be the right fit for the stage.
The Tele comes equipped with brass barrel saddles, and offers maple or rosewood fingerboards based on the model color. Some people prefer the additional tonal options of the American Professional II or American Ultra line of guitars, but the American Performer Telecaster is exactly as it claims to be; a rock solid U.S. constructed guitar made for the stage.
PRS SE Custom 24
Versatility is hard to achieve, especially at an affordable price point. However, PRS seems to have cracked the code on making a budget conscious guitar with the player in mind. More and more people are choosing models from PRS’ SE line guitars as their main instrument, because they can fit in nearly any musical setting. While this guitar is part of PRS' budget-conscious import line, but make no mistake this is an instrument fit for any stage (just ask Joe Walsh.)
Let’s break it down; The SE Custom 24 boasts a 10” radius rosewood fingerboard with 24 frets for comfortable lead playing across the fingerboard and access to the higher register of the guitar. Additionally, the SE Custom 24 has a 25” scale length, which lands right in between a traditional Gibson (24 ¾”) and Fender (25 ½”) scale. It’s the best of both worlds, because a shorter scale makes fretting a guitar less strenuous and a longer scale helps give an instrument more top-end clarity. Additionally, with 3-way switching and coil splitting capabilities, the tonal options are vast. Nearly any tone you're after is in some way made available in this guitar. For cover band guitarists, this could be your secret wepon.
For the tone chasers out there, SE Custom 24s are also really great modding platforms. Most of the parts available on the U.S. built PRS Core Model guitars can be drop fit onto an SE. If you’re looking for hand carved maple caps and lacquer finishes, then a Core Model Custom 24 is what you’re looking for. However, SE Custom 24s start at $849, and for the venues we're playing, they're worth giving a second look.
Epiphone 1961 Les Paul SG Standard
Gibson is in the middle of a sort of renaissance amongst their product line, and it is no more apparent than the strides they have made with Epiphone. Right now, every guitar offered by Epiphone is absolutely stellar, and the artist model guitars they’re currently manufacturing are top tier. However, the real story here is their Original Series line of guitars, specifically the 1961 Les Paul SG Standard.
This is an insane guitar for $899! Compared to an SG from Gibson USA, there are some specs to this instrument that, as someone diagnosed with Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS,) make it really hard to look the other way on. If the Gibson tone is what you're after, this Epiphone is outfitted with a Burstbucker #2 and Burstbucker #3, pickups usually reserved for higher-end Gibson models. On top of that, they all ship with hardshell cases, which not all Gibson SG models come with (usually, they come with a really nice gigbag, but still!)
A lot of people want the Gibson tone, but can’t always justify the initial investment, but this is a limited edition partnership with Gibson Custom Shop. So, with the Epiphone 1961 Les Paul SG Standard, you can get many of the Gibson appointments that you’re after at an Epiphone price. I guess it’s true what they say, Epiphone is “for every stage.”
Taylor 414ce Rosewood
You didn’t think we’d be talking exclusively about electric guitars, did you? Acoustic gigs usually pay pretty good, so it would be wrong not to talk about the 414ce Rosewood. Almost every Taylor would be a contender for this particular spot on our list, but the 414ce Rosewood embodies all of the qualities that make Taylors so popular in the industry.
Let’s start with the shape; Taylor calls this their Grand Auditorium shape. In other words, this is sort of a dreadnought crossed with an OM style guitar. You’ll notice a dramatic curve between the upper and lower bout of the guitar, because the lower bout is similar to a full-size dreadnought and the upper is more similar to a concert-style. This allows the guitar to maintain the volume and lower frequencies of an acoustic with a larger box, and keep the clarity and sparkle of a smaller bodied guitar. Combined with rosewood back and sides, versatility is the name of the game, making this a great guitar for flatpickers and fingerpickers alike.
Secondly, Taylor’s proprietary Expression System undersaddle pickup (ES-2) is designed with the user in mind, as it only features three knobs, allowing for a “set and forget” tone to let you focus on performing. Sound engineers really like Taylor's pickup system, because the onboard bass and treble EQ help the instrument sit in any mix. So, whether you’re playing solo or with a group you can count on your 414ce Rosewood sounding good.
Charvel Pro Mod San Dimas Style 1 HSH FR M
A lot has changed since the 1980’s. Today, Aqua Net is not as popular as it was, a Cabbage Patch Kid collection is stranger than it is cool, and MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore. However, the original “Super Strat,” designed for the player who wants just a little more out of their classic Stratocaster, still rocks as hard as it did on the Sunset Strip 40 years ago! The Pro Mod San Dimas is the archetype for which every shred guitar to come after is modeled in some way.
It’s pretty remarkable the appointments that come on the San Dimas, and realistically it’s much more than a one-trick metal machine. That said, a 12” to 16” compound radius on a super thin neck with a Floyd 1000 locking system certainly does imply shredding gain monster. Especially when you can get them in colors like Slime Green.
The HSH model comes stock with Seymour Duncan Distortion in the neck and bridge position and a Custom Flat Strat High-Output single coil in the middle. This pickup takes this guitar to the next level, because it unlocks some non aggressive sounds for the instrument. By adjusting the volume and tone knobs, a keen ear will be able to get funk, jazz, blues, or any number of sounds to fit in any genre with this beast. However, it does really do the hard rock thing best of all, so maybe bring this guitar to the metal gig.
So, There You Have It!
Five gig-worthy guitars for any stage. There is no one right answer to what a gig-worthy guitar should be. The only real requirement is if it's the instrument you feel most comfortable playing. Maybe this list has got you thinking about what that guitar might be!
What did you think of our list? What is your main gigging guitar? Let us know by leaving a comment down below!