The best gear of 2018: Guitars, pedals, amps and accessories

From high-end electric guitars to affordable stompboxes, check out the winners and nominees of our Gear of the Year awards.

lazy j amplifier eastman fender the pelt

Even in these uncertain times, you can still rely on the primal thrill of wood and steel and the sheer unadulterated joy of making music. The year has been a very good one indeed for new gear, but there were a few pieces that really caught our eye and perked our ears. 

Over the following week, we’ll be revealing the best electric guitars, acoustic guitars, pedals, amplifiers and accessories of 2018, as chosen by our panel of expert reviewers. So check back to find out the winners in all 11 categories:

1Best guitar accessory/recording

Universal Audio Ox

WINNER: Universal Audio OX Amp Top Box

It was telling that one of the hottest products at NAMM in January 2018 was on almost every stand at Summer NAMM in June. UA wasn’t the first to combine attenuation, a reactive load and cabinet modelling, but there’s something about the OX’s elegant simplicity that makes guitar players feel at home in a way rackmounts rarely do. The OX allows you to continue to use your valve amp without compromising tone for the sake of volume, and solves a load of problems along the way. Game-changing.

We said: “For attenuation, sending the best sound to a PA desk, home practising with an inspiring tone and easy recording, the OX offers a one-stop solution that’s hard to fault.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Two Notes Torpedo Captor
  • Pinegrove Leather GS25, GS60 & GS61 straps
  • House of Tone Tru PAF Humbuckers
  • MusicNomad The Octopus & GRIP Winder

2Best bass gear

Orange Terror amp head bass

WINNER: Orange Terror Bass

Orange’s Terror Bass was discontinued a couple of years ago, but in 2018, the Terror returned with a few important upgrades. The hybrid design now features a mini-toggle labelled ‘clean’ to deliver extra headroom and cleaner tones. It’s a killer addition that adds extra versatility, allowing the Terror Bass to mix it up with the best small-format bass amps out there.

We said: “Offering a range of clean and raunchy bass tones that pack a punch, Orange’s Terror Bass redux is ideal for the gigging circuit.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Fender Player Precision Bass
  • Auden Bowman Bass
  • Blackstar Unity 250 & 500 Bass Amps
  • Fender American Original 50s Precision Bass
Eastman E1d

WINNER: Eastman E1D

There was a time when a sub-£500 acoustic guitar would be an unpleasant mix of cheap woods and slapdash build that often resulted in a poor-sounding and difficult-to-play mess.

Brands such as Eastman have dramatically changed this perception, however, and the E1D is a remarkable testament to how good a guitar can play, sound and look at this price point nowadays. A powerhouse dreadnought in the most enjoyable way, there aren’t many better ways you could spend £500.

We said: “The E1D is a stylish, uncomplicated, all-solid dreadnought that offers masses of projection and volume, and a familiar, likeable tone perfect for accompanying unamplified singers – all without breaking the bank.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Alvarez AD60
  • PRS SE T40E
  • Faith Legacy Neptune
  • Art & Lutherie Legacy Tennessee Red

4Best premium acoustic guitar over £2,400

Taylor Builder’s Edition K14ce V-Class

WINNER: Taylor Builder’s Edition K14ce with V-Class bracing

We’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of beautiful acoustic guitars this year, but when it came to weighing up this category, there was only one winner.

Projection, clarity, tremendous and haunting sustain, vibrant and complex harmonics… all of these characteristics are the hallmarks of the world’s finest acoustic instruments, but V-Class also brings a level of tuning and intonation accuracy that unlocks a world of possibilities for recording. We can’t wait to see where Taylor will take the V-Class next.

We said “An original and imaginative redesign of the structure of the acoustic guitar that has resulted in the finest six-string Taylor we’ve ever played.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Larson Bros Prairie State OM Style 2 VS 1900
  • Breedlove Frontier Concerto E
  • Martin D-41 Reimagined
  • Lowden S-35 12 Fret Acoustics

5Best affordable effects pedal

fender the pelt

WINNER: Fender The Pelt

Despite dominating the guitar world for decades, Fender never really nailed effects until 2018. The firm’s new range of cleverly designed stompboxes is hugely impressive, but The Pelt is the cream of the crop – with an impressive range of fuzz tones on tap for under £100.

We said “An affordable one-stop solution for a wide variety of vintage and contemporary fuzz sounds.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Walrus Audio Emissary
  • Marine Layer Reverb
  • Monty’s Guitars More!
  • MXR Sugar Drive
  • Electro-Harmonix Op-Amp Big Muff Pi
  • Way Huge Russian Pickle Mk III
  • Keeley El Rey Dorado Distortion

6Best premium effects pedal

Earthquaker devices westwood

WINNER: EarthQuaker Devices Westwood

It takes a lot to really stand out in the world of overdrive pedals, but the Earthquaker Devices Westwood did so in such a way that we simply had to dish out a rare 10/10 when we reviewed it.

The Westwood takes the venerable Ibanez Tube Screamer as its starting point, but quickly puts most other green-pedal imitators in the shade. What the Westwood offers is a wonderfully flattering and subtle natural overdrive sound that compresses like a really good Tube Screamer should thanks to its superbly effective tonestack, but without colouring the EQ in any discernible way.

There are plenty of ‘transparent overdrives’ out there, but the Westwood is designed to be ‘translucent’ – and with its sweet, smooth and responsive sound, it’s one of the finest drive pedals on the market today.

We said “Sweet, smooth and responsive, with a superbly effective tonestack: this is some sort of overdrive perfection.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Beetronics Royal Jelly
  • Old Blood Noise Endeavors Alpha Haunt
  • Meris Polymoon Delay
  • Jackson Audio Prism
  • Stone Deaf Syncopy
  • Thorpy The Dane
  • Fuzzrocious Cat King

7Best affordable guitar amplifier under £1,000

marshall origin 20c

WINNER: Marshall Origin 20C

For many guitar players, 2019 was the year that Marshall finally got its mojo back. The Bletchley institution never stopped making great guitar amps, but for some time, it felt that there was a hole in the range for an affordable, gig-ready valve amp with vintage tones and stylings.

The Origin 20C fills that void in some style. With 20 watts of valve-powered Marshall tones wrapped up in the company’s iconic livery, the 20C also offers modern considerations, including an effects loop, power scaling down to 0.5 watts and a surprisingly usable DI out. One of the most important Marshall amps of recent times, this should be on every gigging guitarist’s try list.

We said “A smartly designed little combo that brings the Marshall roar in a versatile and affordable package.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Blackstar 10th Anniversary Artisan 10 AE
  • Fender Hot Rod Deluxe IV
  • DV Mark DV ‘Raw Dawg’ EG
  • Orange Rocker 15 Terror

8Best premium guitar amplifier over £1,500

lazy j j10lc

WINNER: Lazy J J10LC

A rundown of Jesse Hoff’s clients reads like a laundry list of pro players renowned for their taste and tone. The J10LC is an emphatic demonstration of why… A push-pull amplifier combining the preamp of his much-loved J20 with a 10-watt output stage, the J10 – here in its 5E3-sized ‘large cab’ configuration – comes with a 12-inch Celestion Blue alnico speaker and VAC power scaling, and our review model came fully loaded with optional extras, including footswitchable spring reverb and tremolo modules.

We used it for home practice, recording and even gigging, and found it bristling with a plethora of harmonically rich tweed-inspired tones, from haunting cleans to Neil Young-style meltdown. The best amp we’ve played in many years, let alone just in 2018.

We said “A great way to get vintage 5E3-style tones and dynamics at sensible volume levels, while the optional effects are a real bonus.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Supro 1685RT Neptune Reverb
  • Swart Antares
  • Rift Amplification Hawker
  • Bartel Amplifiers Roseland
  • Black Volt Amplification Crazy Horse
  • Two-Rock Bloomfield Drive Combo
  • Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx III

9Best affordable electric guitar under £1,000

fender player telecaster

WINNER: Fender Player Telecaster

For the longest time, Fender’s Mexican-made Standard series was the default first ‘proper’ electric guitar for players of every stripe, so Fender needed to get things right when it replaced them with the totally overhauled Player Series this year. And did they ever.

But in a range stacked with remarkably good instruments, the Player Tele stood tall. Keeping things classic on the looks front, the presence of six bent-steel saddles is a more player-friendly appointment, as is the smooth satin finish to the back of the neck.

Plugging in, its vocal and expressive sounds instantly impress, delivering a range of classic Telecaster tones with pleasing jangle, snap and snarl. Whatever your tastes, this is an awful lot of Telecaster for your buck.

We said “It’s hard to argue with such a well-sorted and affordable take on Leo’s firstborn.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Sterling Axis AX3S
  • Jackson X Series Marty Friedman MF-1
  • Gretsch G5420TG Electromatic 135th Anniversary Ltd
  • Shergold Masquerader SM04-SD
  • PRS SE Bernie Marsden Signature 2017 LTD

10Best mid-priced electric guitar under £2,000

WINNER: Eastman SB58/v-GB

We were hugely impressed when we first came across Eastman’s SB59 single-cut back in 2017, but we always hoped that the company would find a way to combine its proprietary ageing techniques with a more conventional ’burst finish. The SB59/v-GB does that in style. The Antique Goldburst really does look like a weathered, slightly faded half-century-old sunburst that shows off the guitar’s mesmerisingly flamed maple top.

It wasn’t just the finish that Eastman overhauled for 2018, however – the new custom-wound Lollar pickups give fabulously musical tones, while the neck carve is a wonderfully playable handful.

And with Eastman’s manufacture keeping the price under £2,000, there really is no reason not to try one.

We said “Unapologetically vintage-inspired in style and sound, this beautiful single-cut is our favourite Eastman electric yet.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • B&G Guitars Little Sister Crossroads Midnight Ocean
  • Manson Guitar Works MA-25 Anniversary Edition
  • Maybach Albatroz 65-2
  • Rivolta Mondata Standard
  • Fender American Original 50s Stratocaster

11Best premium electric guitar over £2,000

lowden gl 10 koa

WINNER: Lowden GL-10 Koa

Stellar materials and build quality? Check. Effortless playability? Check. Extraordinary sustain and inspiring tones? Check. Basking in the halo of such effusive praise, you’d be forgiven for thinking that George Lowden was an old master at the electric-guitar-building game.

In reality, the GL-10 isn’t just the first solidbody that George has designed in four decades, it’s also Lowden’s first-ever production electric. Despite ferocious competition in this category, the Lowden GL-10 is our Premium Electric Guitar of 2018 because of the way in which the company has somehow imbued the organic spirit of its acoustic models into this original, inspiring electric-guitar design that has an almost sculptural beauty as a three-dimensional object.

We said “This may be Lowden’s first attempt at bringing an electric guitar to market, but the company has hit the ground running with the GL-10.”

Read our full review here.

Runners-up

  • Friedman Vintage-T
  • Collings I-30 LC
  • Xotic California Classic XSC-2
  • PRS Silver Sky
  • Gretsch G6118T-135 Anniversary Limited Edition
  • Frank Brothers Arcade Model
  • Vigier Expert Classic Rock

Check out all the previous Gear of the Year winners here.