The 10 best punk rock electric guitars in 2023
These steadfast conduits of raw power are perfect for punk and all its subgenres.
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Very quickly, picture in your head what a “punk” guitar looks like. Do you imagine a dilapidated hunk of wood, mummified in duct-tape, electronics hanging for dear life? Well, it might surprise you to find that more punk musicians these days are rocking brand-new gear in lieu of “pawn shop specials”.
Make no mistake, punk hasn’t gone completely posh – there are just so many great ‘econo’ guitars on the market today. Our picks for this list had to satisfy these factors: a modest price tag, tour reliability, as well as style – for as John Reis of Drive Like Jehu once said: “I am a firm believer that the cooler the piece of gear looks, the better you will sound using it.”
The 10 best punk rock electric guitars at a glance:
- Squier Paranormal Esquire Deluxe
- Gretsch G2215-P90 Streamliner Junior Jet Club
- Fender Player Duo Sonic HS
- Yamaha Revstar Element RSE20
- Fender Noventa Telecaster
- Epiphone Coronet
- Eastwood Hi-Flyer Phase 4
- Danelectro ’59XT
- Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster
- ESP LTD TE-201
Squier Paranormal Esquire Deluxe
The recently launched Squier Paranormal Esquire Deluxe (catchy name!) is a dream for punk players. With a single wide-range humbucker and an attractive price tag, it does have that Tom Delonge single-pickup appeal, but of course a powerful wide range humbucker will handle basically any distorted sound you chuck at it.
For a bit of tonal variation, or if you want to poke through with a spikier tone, the pickup selector has been replaced by a rotary switch – this either splits the pickup for a single-coil sound, or bypasses the volume and tone controls for an instant jump back to full whack.
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Gretsch G2215-P90 Streamliner Junior Jet Club
The Broad ‘Tron and the P90 are both great pickups for punk, each with a clear, confident midrange. So it’s good to see both of them here, loaded into an affordable workhorse from Gretsch.
If you’re a fan of the two-pickup single-cut look but don’t want something as heavy as a Les Paul, this is a great option – and the bolt-on nato neck adds some extra trebly ‘snap’ to the character, even if it does mean upper-fret access isn’t quite as easy. But hey, this is a punk guitars list. What are you doing up there anyway?
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Fender Player Duo Sonic HS
This short-scale student guitar is a great option if you want something straightforward that you can throw about on stage, but will still deliver when it needs to. This HS variation features a set of Player-series pickups, designed to have a higher output level and fuller sound than vintage examples.
The short scale not only means that rhythm playing might be easier (depend on the size of your hands) but also a fun, response playing feel when compared to the higher tension of a full-scale 25.5” Fender instrument.
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Yamaha Revstar Element RSE20
Yamaha’s Revstar range has always punched well above its price-point, and that’s certainly the case even at the most spartan end of things. With a rock-solid construction, great-sounding pickups and a certain offbeat style, this set-neck double-cut doesn’t disappoint when it comes to both sound and reliability.
This version of the Revstar also features a passive high-pass filter, if you feel like you need to brighten up a mahogany set-neck guitar with humbuckers – which, if you want to stand out with some abrasive guitar tones, you well might!
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Fender Noventa Telecaster
Fender’s Noventa range took the brand’s classic shapes, threw out basically all that we knew about them, chucked in a P90 or two and said, there you go. Pretty punk. The Telecaster specifically is the most stripped-back of the range, offering a three-saddle hardtail and just a single pickup in the bridge position. No other distractions! Even the classic Telecaster control plate has been cut down to accommodate just a volume and tone control..
There’s a reason the P90 is so common on single-pickup instruments, too: it’s a versatile thing, offering just as good jangly cleans as it does all-out distortion.
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Fancy a single-P90 instrument, but don’t want to go down the Fender route? Or even the Les Paul Junior route? Enter the Epiphone Coronet, a revival of one of Epiphone’s first-ever solidbody electric designs. It’s an odd looking thing, with its two dramatic cutaway horns and symmetrical pickguard – great if you want to stand out.
Construction consists of a mahogany body and set neck, paired with a 12” radius Indian Laurel fretboard. The single pickup is paired with some high-quality CTS potentiometers, and the bridge is a compensated wraparound ‘Lightning Bar’ unit.
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Eastwood Hi-Flyer Phase 4
Eastwood’s Hi-Flyer Phase 4 sees the company pay homage to the final phase of Univox’s Hi-Flier designs – endearingly referred to by Kurt Cobain as “plywood beasts”.
What you may not notice just looking at the Hi-Flyer Phase 4 is how light it is, a result of the guitar’s double-cut basswood body, which just for its looks – is a definite feature. The Hi-Flyer Phase 4 sports a noticeably skinny, bolt-on maple neck that’s built for speed, and stays comfortable even after the longest of sets.
This guitar employs two Phase 4 Humbuckers – which on a clean channel offers jangly tones, and with distortion is harmonically rich and mid-focussed. Controls on the guitar include a three-way switching system, and a pair of knobs for volume and tone. This model also makes use of a Mintech wrap-around style hardtail bridge.
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If this one seems familiar, that’s because it’s an upgrade of the older Jimmy Page model. The ’59XT is, thanks to its pickups, a more aggressive beast altogether. Ramones fans, new wave musicians, and other punk rockers with a flair for vintage aesthetics will find a home for this affordable, retrolicious guitar.
Snobs may scoff at the ’59XT’s chambered Masonite body. But plug the guitar in, crank up the amp, and the rich, fat and velvety tones that it’s capable of will zip the lips of any naysayer.
Those sounds come courtesy of the guitar’s unique pickup configuration of a P-90 at the neck and lipstick humbucker at the bridge. Both pickups, which are offset, are aggressive and growling with a musical midrange bump. The lipstick humbucker has also been coil-split, so you can use it as a single-coil, too.
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Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster
The Jazzmaster is an undeniably cool guitar. But the traditionally-spec’d pickups can be a little too understated for some. Which is why J Mascis’ signature Jazzmaster finds itself on this list – its pickups are closer to P90s, with screw pole pieces providing a thicker and more confident sound.
The tune-o-matic bridge paired with the offset vibrato also provides a little bit more stability, especially if you pick really hard – doing this on a Jazzmaster with a rocking bridge can occasionally jiggle it out of alignment and ruin your intonation.
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ESP LTD TE-201
The theme of ESP’s LTD TE-201 is minimalism. There’s a matte black finish across the whole guitar, including the neck and hardtail bridge. There’s a single, raw-nickel-covered humbucker, controlled by a single volume control, although it can be split if you want some single-coil spank. And that’s it – no other bells or whistles! While it’s of course great for metal too with its 24 jumbo frets, its simple swagger makes it a great punk axe too.