What Makes a Great Guitar?

BytorBytor Posts: 1,720
edited January 10 in General Guitar Discussion
What attributes, to you, make a great guitar?
Post edited by Bytor on


  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 18,378
    edited January 10
    For the sake of discussion, let's stipulate that all of the objective factors are good or great. That would be fretwork  and crowing. It's set-up well with great action, intonation, and everything functions as it should.

    I'll also, for the sake of discussion, dismiss the subjective points which are different for everyone. Put another way, the topic isn't asking for your personal specs or preferences.  At least the way I read it.

    So with that in mind, IMO, a great (electric solid body) guitar starts with a great piece of body wood that is light and not too dense.

    For what I value, great guitars are light. And that's not just my ergonomic personal preference. Lighter guitars with less dense wood tend to be more resonant. In my experience, it's very hard to get resonance out of a guitar that weighs 9lbs or more.  You'll get sustain from dense wood (and other factors), but not resonance

    There are some genres -- particularly in more extreme Metal, where resonance isn't a tonal requirement (if you're all gained out and scooping your mids, etc).  You don't need a particularly resonant, or great sounding guitar for that stuff. 

    But by "great guitar," I mean a guitar that will sound great in ANY musical genre.  And IMO, resonance is important, and a key component to a great guitar. A resonant guitar rings out loudly, and pleasingly when played acoustically. You can usually feel the string vibrations going through the guitar body.  And this quote from the old Mr. X interview still applies:

    (You're looking for) fullness of tone in the three ranges — high, medium, and low. And overall smoothness, rather than one frequency that sticks out in a pronounced or unpleasant way. You're listening for roundness of tone. You don't want (the tone) to disappear into bass frequencies, or go into that ratty high-end scritch tone. 

    And FWIW, guitars that produce this fullness of tone across frequencies will support lighter string gages (8s or 9s) and still sound great. They won't need heavier strings to produce great tone.  They'll also usually respond well with any pickup you choose because you're just enhancing what the guitar is already producing acoustically. 

    So how does this play out in the real world?  There are always exceptions, but on average, great sounding:
    • Strat style guitars tend to be in the 7 to 8 lb range.
    • Teles, SGs, and Vs tend to be even lighter -- often less than 7lbs, rarely approaching 8.
    • Non-chambered Les Paul's, on average, tend to be in the 8.5 lb range.
    Again, from the Mr. X interview:
    (Heavy Les Pauls usually have):  a lot of bright top end — generally — there are always exceptions but I'd say in most cases. And a booming low end. With no warm midrange in between. 

    So a great guitar is light, resonant, and produces fullness of tone across high, medium, and low frequencies. And FWIW, that's true of acoustics as well. 

    Once you have that, you're also looking for good sustain. But whether you're getting it from a Tele's bridge pan, a Strat's trem block, a LP's maple cap, or a super strat's Floyd, sustain is comparatively easy to come by. 

    The trick is to get your sustain without upsetting the tonal balance we've already discussed. Sometimes there's a trade off. Like the way a Floyd Rose always audibly changes the tonal characteristics of a guitar. But if you need a Floyd, you need a Floyd. And there are plenty of great sounding, Floyd equipped guitars. But FR guitars tend to be unitaskers, and you don't see a lot of FR guitars outside of the Dino genre. 

    A great guitar also FEELS great.
    Again, if you throw out the subjective, personal preference aspects and generalize, a great guitar just feels right in your hands. Playing a great guitar feels effortless to compared to lesser guitars. Things you normally find hard to play, are easier to play on a great guitar.  When you demand something of the guitar, it gives it back to you with ease. You never have to fight for it. Once you start playing it, you don't want to stop. It's hard to put it down. And when you're not playing it, it beckons you to pick it up again and play some more. 

    Post edited by Dinosaur David B on
    I threw me guitar out. Why bother? Why bother? Use it as a coffee table. Because I can't play it like that. 
    -- David St. Hubbins.
  • Can't believe I'm the only one who had something to say about this topic.
    I threw me guitar out. Why bother? Why bother? Use it as a coffee table. Because I can't play it like that. 
    -- David St. Hubbins.
  • What makes a great guitar?  Your fingers do.  

    "These riffs were built to last a lifetime." Keith Richards B)


    Squier Army
    Schecter Society

  • Tatosh GuitarTatosh Guitar Posts: 2,396
    I had a post planned, but you posted yours first and it covered way more I ever could write. But I can add something a bit later I suppose 
  • What makes a great guitar?  Your fingers do.  
    So if I hand a great guitar to a shitty player, the guitar is no longer great because the player sucks? Or if a great player can coax something out of a piece of shit guitar, the guitar is now great?

    Survey says  . . .

    I threw me guitar out. Why bother? Why bother? Use it as a coffee table. Because I can't play it like that. 
    -- David St. Hubbins.
  • VandenbergVandenberg Posts: 3,945
    100% agree, that it is  not in the fingers at all, that is bollocks, HOWEVER a guitar that sounds  great in ANY musical genre, dream on, no such guitar has ever been made on this planet, it's not real, move on, thats  rarer than the holy grail.

    The  bottom line has already been touched on, it is simple really, it may not look great,  but if it sounds amazing and fits in the context to which it is being used that is great guitar. 
  • You can make the case that a Strat shines in any popular musical genre from jazz, to blues, to funk, to rock, to metal.
    I threw me guitar out. Why bother? Why bother? Use it as a coffee table. Because I can't play it like that. 
    -- David St. Hubbins.
  • VandenbergVandenberg Posts: 3,945
    You can make the case for the Strat, true, but it is a tad flimsy imho, myself I don't think it sounds great at Jazz, playing Django lines or comping or a few octave chords or widdly wank fusion lines are not all about Jazz, for me there is no one guitar that sounds great at ALL musical genre,  never heard one yet but I will keep listening. 

  • MAdXMAdX Posts: 2,053
    edited January 25
    I was told a great Wah Wah tone is all in the toes. 

    Adding to the topic however. A great guitar is a guitar that makes you want to pick it up and play it every time you see it. LOOKS ARE IMPORTANT! 
    Post edited by MAdX on
  • eduardoritoseduardoritos Posts: 3,850
    For me, a great guitar is a great neck and body/neck balance; almost the rest of the instrument can be fixed or substitued.

  • Seven MoonsSeven Moons Posts: 8,955
    Assuming that it doesn't have a major build flaw, I'd say:
    1) - great neck & playability,
    2) - easy to make it sound good, especially on recordings,
    3) - inspiring looks, at least a little bit

    I can live with little inconveniences like heavy weight, neck heaviness, etc.  
    I always struggle with Strats when it comes to 2). 
    As for 3), there are models of guitars that I find so off-putting that I wouldn't touch them, which is stupid because some are probably great instruments. 
  • Tatosh GuitarTatosh Guitar Posts: 2,396
    Looks are obviously a thing for me. After all, I want a white strat. No other color is gonna work for the moment.

    But in the grand scheme of things, that's the least important thing. A few years ago, somebody was selling a Squier for almost nothing in my neighborhood. Cheap even by Squier standards. I figured a spare for work wouldn't hurt, so I went to check it out. And guess what? the moment I touched it, I realized right away it wasn't gonna work. It looked ok, it was a Strat. i can play Strats. But that guitar was absolute crap. I don't think I even played a couple chords. Everything that could be wrong, was wrong. Crappy neck, bad frets, incredibly low quality for the bridge. I left in less than 5 minutes. 

  • Dinosaur David BDinosaur David B Posts: 18,378
    edited January 27
    I will certainly grant that looks are important. You have to WANT to pick it up and play it.  If it's meh, you won't.
    OTOH, that's another subjective point. What I think looks great may not appeal to others and vice-versa.

    So yeah, a "great guitar" should visually appeal to the player. 
    Post edited by Dinosaur David B on
    I threw me guitar out. Why bother? Why bother? Use it as a coffee table. Because I can't play it like that. 
    -- David St. Hubbins.
  • TravisWTravisW Posts: 1,058
    1. It needs to have a comfortable neck and fretboard. That doesn't have to mean a thin or thick neck, or necessarily big frets. But you should be able to set it up to your preferences and be able to play it comfortably. 

    2. It needs to balance well. The headstock shouldn't dive to the floor or shoot to the sky. 

    3. Weight preferences vary, but it needs to be comfortable for the player. 

    4. It needs to have tonal characteristics that the player requires to sound good. It may be more natural sustain, it may be a particular type of frequency filtering. Maybe it's a particular selection of electronics. There are reasons that certain things sound better in some contexts than others. 

    5. Ultimately, most great guitars are to some degree subjectively great, but a lot of it depends on player and musical context. 
  • cvansicklecvansickle Posts: 6,301
    Different guitars will be great in different ways, and some don't stay great as your audio and visual preferences change over time. In the 80s, I thought Kramer, Ibanez, and Jackson guitars were great. In the 90s, I wanted to add Fenders to my stable. Last two years, I have been impressed by Reverends.

    I once read in a guitar magazine that many musicians hear with their eyes. I believe I am guilty.

    No matter what I try, I ALWAYS come back to a Les Paul though. It's the sound, the feel, the balance, AND the looks that works for me.
    Death Or Glory - Who Dares Wins!
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