The bright, raw sound of garage rock calls for a single-coil instrument. Beyond that, there aren’t any defined rules—just like you would expect from the genre that birthed punk. The trick is to find an instrument that mirrors your unique identity in both its look and sound.
Here are our reviews of the 4 best guitars for garage rock on the market:
Danelectro 56 U2 Electric Guitar Black
Danelectro has been a popular brand for garage rock players since the inception of the genre. As a brand, they’re known for bringing high-quality sound at an affordable price. They also have the right look for the genre. The Danelectro 56 U2 linked to here is an excellent example of the brand at its prime, with its lipstick pickups and all-black paintjob.
The aesthetics of this instrument are based on vintage specifications. It uses a poplar wood frame similar to what would have been used in the late ’50s and early ’60s, with Masonite top and a vinyl binding. The ’56 lipstick pickups have a distinctive bright sound that’s perfect for all punk styles.
This is a fun guitar to play, too. It has an adjustable saddle bridge that makes it easy to set the strings to a comfortable height for your fingers. It’s also relatively lightweight at about 9 pounds, and the fingerboard is a nice width. Overall, this is a playable, durable guitar at a great price—one of the best guitars for garage rock period.
Fender Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar
- Fender Player Stratocaster Electric Guitar - Maple Fingerboard - Polar White
- Price: $699.99
- Price as of 08/13/2020 20:02 PDT(more info)
The Stratocaster is one of those chameleon-like instruments that you’ll find used in pretty much every genre. It’s definitely one of the best choices for garage rock, and again that has a lot to do with the pickups. The Strat uses three single-coil pickups with a toggle switch that gives you lots of options for your sound.
There’s another feature of the Strat (see full specs) a lot of garage rock players love: the tremolo bridge, or so-called “whammy bar.” Aside from its uses as an effect, it gives you an extra level of control over your sustain and intonation. The Fender Standard Stratocaster uses a C-shaped neck with a relatively low action. Your fingers can really fly over the Pau Ferro fingerboard. The classic sunburst finish and flamed maple top bring vintage touches to this otherwise impressively modern guitar.
Ibanez JEM JR Steve Vai Signature Yellow Guitar
Attitude is a big part of the right garage rock guitar, and this Ibanez model has tons of it. Inside, it’s a pretty classic build, with a mahogany body and alder neck. The look of it is anything but classic, though, with its eye-catching yellow finish and mother of pearl accents on the neck.
This guitar uses a unique pickup set-up (see full specs), with two humbuckers and a single-coil in the middle. You can use these in whatever combination you want to get your best sound. The Steve Vai signature also comes with a locking tremolo bridge, so overall the hardware is on-point.
At its price, this guitar is an incredible deal. It’s versatile enough to use for a wide range of genres. For garage rock or punk, the 1st and 5th pickup positions give you the brightest tone with the most gain, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with all the sounds this guitar can give you.
Sawtooth Classic ES 60 Alder Body Electric Guitar
- Sawtooth ST-ES60-SBW Classic ES 60 Alder Body Electric Guitar - Sunburst with Aged White Pickguard
- Price: $319.99
- Price as of 08/13/2020 20:02 PDT(more info)
One of the great things about garage rock is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to play it. This Sawtooth guitar perfectly embodies that spirit. For a song, you’ll get a smooth-playing instrument with a lot of gain and a nice bright tone.
The Sawtooth Classic ES60 uses the same pickup and bridge configuration as the Fender Strat. This means three single-coil vintage-inspired pickups with a toggle switch and a tremolo bridge with adjustable saddles. This is the perfect combination of modern convenience and classic tone.
The neck is a bit different on this Sawtooth guitar. It uses a U-shape neck with medium-jumbo frets. This gives it a slightly higher action than other instruments, though you can adjust this to an extent on the bridge. Still, it’s a very playable guitar, and it has the right sound (and price) for the genre. For the money, this is one of the best guitars for garage rock around.
How Should You Choose Your Garage Rock Guitar?
You want to start out shopping with your ears. While you can fine-tune the sound of your guitar by changing the pickups, you want to find an instrument whose core tonal characteristics match the sound you’re looking for.
Pickups aren’t entirely interchangeable, either. Installing a single-coil pickup on a guitar built for humbuckers requires costly modifications to the instrument. If you want that bright, single-coil sound, focus on finding an instrument that already uses it.
From a player’s perspective, feel is almost as important as sound. You want to be comfortable when you’re playing so you can focus on the music. The most important factors in how a guitar feels are the width and shape of the neck and the height of the strings, or the action.
The most popular modern neck design is a C-shape neck. It’s shallower than the U-shaped neck, which was more common in the ’50s and ’60s. Most people will find the shallower C-shaped neck fits more comfortably to the natural contour of their hand, but for those with larger hands a U-shape neck could be better.
The string height can be adjusted but is largely determined by the angle of the body and the neck. Just like with the pickups, you want to find an instrument that feels mostly right from the start then fine-tune it from there.
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing the right guitar, and you can’t rely on either sight or sound alone. We hope one of the models reviewed above checks off all your boxes for the look, sound, and feel. They’re definitely all strong contenders for the title of best guitar for garage rock. Good luck!
Micah Johnson started playing music in high school, when he taught himself the bass to join his friend’s band. He added guitar and drums during his twenties playing in local clubs, and along the way, he picked up unique, hands-on experience from hand drums to studio mixers. On Song Simian, he aims to share this knowledge from 20+ years playing and recording music. When not in gearhead mode, he enjoys photography and travel. Email him