Best Guitars For Country
Country music has been around for a long while, and that traditional country sound is hard to beat. Of course it mostly comes down to the way you play, but everyone plays better with the right guitar. And that’s what this post is all about, choosing the right guitar for playing in a country set up.
When it comes to guitar choice, we are inundated, and as such there is no right or wrong guitar for any kind of music. But there are some that lend themselves to particular genres better than others.
Playing country guitar, has to look right, feel right and sound right. I could never imagine Johnny Cash playing a flying V for instance. He could probably make it sound just great, but the image is all wrong. So let’s jump right on into what you should look for when choosing a guitar for playing country guitar.
Table of Contents
Country Guitar Buyers Guide
The very first thing you’re going to have to decide, is whether you’re looking for an acoustic guitar, or an electric guitar, or maybe you might like the idea of an electro-acoustic guitar, to get the best of both worlds. Before you start getting a headache trying to work that question out, let’s look at a few “must haves”.
Which Guitars Look Like Country Guitars?
Think about country artists you’ve seen over the years, what type of guitar did they use? Did it look right, like it fitted in with what the band were playing? Was it electric, or was it acoustic? We could list a whole bunch of guitars that we consider to be “country guitars” but the look is a personal thing.
Think of some of the country greats, did they all play the same guitar? No of course not. Did that take anything away from their music? No it didn’t. That said we understand that if you look right, you’re halfway to feeling right. Further on we’ll look at some of the outstanding country guitarists and what guitars they played, but first let’s see what you should look for in a country guitar.
Which Is Best For Country, Acoustic Or Electric Guitars?
The original sound of country music was accompanied by an acoustic guitar, usually a big full bodied, dreadnought guitar that gives a rich bold sound. Guitars like the Gibson J-45, have been in regular production since the 1940s and popular because of its great stylish look and rich, full bodied sound. The only drawback is the price, and if you want a similar guitar for less money try the Gibson J-15 or the AJ-100.
Another great country acoustic is the Martin D-28, the “D” stands for dreadnought and since its introduction in 1931 there has been little or no competition for sound or playability.
When it comes to electric guitars for country music, the absolute number one choice has to be the Fender telecaster. It is possible to fiddle with the tone and volume controls and create both classic and modern country. Then of course there’s the Gibson Les Paul, which is able to reproduce smooth warm tones and highly twangy country style.
If you’re absolutely certain an electric guitar is for you, but are not sure which guitar to go for, you could do no better than choosing a Fender Stratocaster. The Strat has 3 pickups that allow you to play 5 differing tones suitable for whatever style country you want to play.
We said we weren’t going to get into specifics so let’s generalise things a bit.
The 3 Rules When Buying A Guitar For Country Playing
We all know it’s so easy to get carried away when looking to buy a guitar, once you’re in the guitar shop, they all look like the right guitar! You could easily spend all day trying them out but remember, you’re on a mission and time is tight.
So let’s look at the 3 rules,
- The Look
This is hard to describe, but you’ll know as soon as you see it, it will just look right.
- The Sound
In your mind you know what sound or type of sound you’re looking for, don’t get distracted by extras or names, stick to the plan.
- The Price
Some guitars cost more than decent second hand cars, consider what you want this guitar for, are you planning on gambling your whole future on becoming a country star, or are you just wanting to embark on a new hobby? If it’s the latter, set a budget and be strict. It needs to be as much as you can afford.
Don’t get into debt for a dream. Just buy the most decent guitar you can at the realistic price you have set. If things take off, you can always upgrade at a later date.
Don’t Be A Brand Snob
Before we leave the price, if you see a guitar that is a blatant copy of your favourite guitar, but costs a fraction of the price and is well within your budget, ask to try it out. Don’t write it off because it’s a copy. Without getting into specifics too much, there are many Epiphone and Squier guitars that sound 100% better than their respective top name counterparts.
The Guitar Action
Check how high (or low) the strings are to the fretboard, this is called the action. Too high and you’ll struggle to play the correct notes and hold the strings down. Too low and the amp will pick up every slight hand movement.
This might sound obvious, but when trying a guitar in the guitar shop, especially if it’s an electric guitar, it will sound possibly better than you can replicate at home because the quality of the amp changes the sound of the guitar. If at all possible try the guitar with the amp you’re going to buy as well.
More important with acoustics than electric guitars, but ask what the sound board is made from. Is it a single piece? What are the sides and back made from? How about the neck? Is it trussed?
How Heavy Is The Guitar?
You are going to be holding your guitar for upwards of an hour or longer, is it going to feel comfortable holding it for that long?
The Length Of The Neck
We are all different shapes and sizes, how do your arms work out with the guitar you’ve chosen? Can you access all of the frets easily? Does it have a cutaway to make easy fretboard access?
Is The Neck Straight?
If the neck is warped even slightly, the guitar will be difficult to play and never sound any good. Ask in the store if you think this might be a problem, they usually have an expert on hand to help in such matters.
Brand New Or Vintage?
This is always going to be a personal thing, but do you want (or need) a brand new guitar? Or are you looking for a style, sound or feel that is no longer available? Some second hand (we’ll call them second hand the store will call them Vintage) guitars have that sound that cannot be replicated with a modern guitar. Also second hand (but not Vintage) might be more reasonably priced.
Frequently Asked Questions
The main difference between Fender and Gibson guitars is Gibson has a richer, fuller warmer tone. Whereas Fender has a brighter, twangier tone.
Squier are the cheaper relation to Fender, they cost less because they were built using cheaper materials. That does not mean Squier guitars are bad, just that Fender are better.