Looking for your next jazz guitar? Look no further than this list, where we’ve compiled 10 of the best electric guitars for jazz in 2021, from traditional to modern models.
What to look for in the best electric guitars for jazz
The best electric guitars for jazz have to walk a fine line. Whether you’re seeking out a traditional or modern tone, complex chords and melodies will have to ring clear and true, without becoming muddy. There’s also a warmth associated with the guitar tones found in jazz.
The best way to achieve this warmth without sinking into a murky sonic swamp can usually be found in vintage-output humbuckers, as these give the most room to play with when it comes to amplification. With that said, you probably don’t want pickups that drive an amp into natural overdrive. Similarly, single-coils, with their percussive snap, aren’t the best choice for achieving a traditional jazz tone, although there are certainly exceptions to both cases.
You’ll also notice the abundance of hollow-bodied instruments on this list – again, something born out of the jazz tradition, but one that still makes a lot of sense today: a large, resonant hollowbody finds a good tonal balance between clarity and warmth. That’s not to say a solid guitar will do a terrible job at jazz.
The best electric guitars for jazz to buy in 2021 at a glance:
- D’Angelico Excel EXL-1 Throwback
- Ibanez AMH-90
- Gretsch G6120T-55 Vintage Select Chet Atkins
- Collings 470-JL Julian Lage
- Guild T-50 Slim
- Ibanez PM200
- Heritage Standard Eagle Classic
- Gibson ES-335
- Strandberg Salen Jazz
- Yamaha SA2200
D’Angelico Excel EXL-1 Throwback
+ Beautiful design
+ Clear, warm tones from a mini humbucker
– No bridge humbucker might be too much
The Excel EXL-1 Throwback hits all the right notes aesthetically and sonically. This spruce and maple guitar packs a Seymour Duncan Johnny Smith mini humbucker in the neck position, which coupled with its 17-inch wide and three-inch deep body, provides a resonant and airy tone. Its build also involves a scroll-style headstock designed by John D’Angelico in the 30s, a gorgeous three-piece maple neck, a stepped floating tailpiece, an ebony bridge and bound F-holes.
Price: $1,999 / £1,645
Build: Hollowbody with laminated spruce top, laminated flame maple back and sides, set three-piece maple C-shaped neck and Ebony fretboard.
Hardware: Floating tailpiece, ebony bridge, Grover Super Rotomatic tuners
Electronics: Seymour Duncan Johnny Smith mini-humbucker, one volume and one tone
Scale Length: 25.5″/648mm
+ Great pickups for the price point
– Won’t offer the same massive resonance as larger hollow guitars
For players that want a fully-hollow guitar but are more used to the specifications and size of a solid-body, the AMH-90 is a great choice. Atop the hollow body are two humbuckers pickups, each with their own volume and tone controls, as well as a floating tailpiece and a Gibraltar Performer bridge.
Its humbucker pickups are Ibanez Super 58 – the same favoured by George Benson, Pat Metheny and John Scofield on their signature models. The neck is also connected to a Tri Sound switch, which lets you either split the humbucker or run its two coils in parallel for a clear, full sound – perfect for lead lines.
Price: $699.99 / £569
Build: Linded hollow double-cutaway body, three-piece nyatoh and maple set neck
Hardware: VT06 floating tailpiece, Ibanez tuners
Electronics: Two Super 58 humbuckers, individual tone and volume controls, Tri Sound split/series/parallel switch for the neck pickup
Scale Length: 24.72″/628mm
Gretsch G6120T-55 Vintage Select Chet Atkins
+ Characterful design
+ Versatile hardware and pickups
– Tone might be too bright for some
The Gretsch 6120 was co-designed with legendary guitarist Chet Atkins as a reflection of the late guitarist’s love of jazz balanced out with the rest of his sonic palette. This is a large maple hollowbody guitar with bound F-holes and two TV Jones T-Armond single-coils that bring extra brightness and clarity to the sound.
There’s also the notable presence of a Bigsby tailpiece, which can lend some real expression and character to chord voicings or lead lines. These appointments are perfect for a player looking to meld the traditional with some more out-there tones – perhaps even a bit of country or rockabilly edge.
Price: $2,699 / £2,748
Build: Hollow laminated flame-maple body with set U-shaped maple neck and 12” radius rosewood fretboard
Hardware: Polished aluminium nut,
Electronics: two TV Jones T-Armond Dynasonic-style single-coils, individual volume controls and master tone
Scale Length: 25.5″/648mm
Guild T-50 Slim
+ P-90 offers clear, dynamic sounds
+ Thinline body for those who don’t like extra-deep guitars
– Non-cutaway design not for everyone
This non-cutaway archtop oozes vintage jazz charm. The thinline body lends a little concession to comfort for players who might find a full-depth hollowbody a little much, but its large, non-cutaway profile means plenty of airy resonance. Notably, the single neck pickup is a P-90: lending some extra clarity to neck-position sounds – perfect for letting the dynamics of your playing shine through.
Price: $1,099 / £850
Build: Hollowbody with arched maple top and back, maple sides, mahogany neck and 9.5” ebony fretboard
Hardware: Guild tune-o-matic bridge, guild harp tailpiece, Grover Sta-Tite opengear tuners
Electronics: Single Guild Franz P90, volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 24.75″/629mm
Collings 470-JL Julian Lage
+ Ellisonic pickups give a modern take on an old-school sound
+ Solidbody look feel with hollowbody resonance
– Vibrato tailpiece might deter some
The first thing you might notice about Julian Lage’s guitar tone is its relative brightness: no surprise, then, that his signature Collings electric is loaded with custom Ron Ellis Ellisonics – inspired by vintage Dynasonic pickups – for superb clarity. Their bright character means your playing won’t sink into the background, and the Bigsby tailpiece lets you stand out with some expressive wobble.
Despite appearances, the guitar is also not a solid-body: it’s fully hollow, with a trestle block for more stability and a solid body feel. Its construction involves solid Honduran mahogany, with a maple laminate top.
Price: $6,600 / £6,399
Build: Hollowbody with trestle block, mahogany back and sides, maple laminate top, mahogany set neck and 12” radius ebony fretboard
Hardware: Pinned ebony bridge with Bigsby B3 vibrato, Relic nickel Waverly tuners
Electronics: Two Ron Ellis Ellisonics, individual volumes, master tone
Scale Length: 24.875″/632mm
+ Gorgeous aesthetics
+ Large-body for bright resonance
– No bridge pickup tones might be limiting to some
Unlike the other Ibanez on this list, Pat Metheny’s signature PM200 is designed much closer in line with jazz tradition. There’s a single neck humbucker fitted in a large maple hollowbody, with a set mahogany neck and ebony fretboard. The neck humbucker is the same Super 58 Custom as found in the AMH-90, however true to the guitar’s more traditional approach, there’s no Tri Sound switch here.
While the guitar might be geared towards the traditional, there’s certainly still room for versatility. The mid-output pickup means dynamics still shine through, and the large hollowbody provides the guitar with a full-range sound that can be further refined with your amplifier. That’s not really any surprise, given how Metheny himself is revered for his wide-reaching sound that incorporates influences from all corners of jazz.
Price: $3,599.99 / £2,555
Build: Fully-maple hollowbody with set mahogany neck and a 12-inch radius ebony fretboard
Hardware: Tune-o-matic-style bridge on ebony base, ebony tailpiece,
Electronics: Single Super 58 humbucker in neck position, volume and tone control
Scale Length: 24.7″/628mm
Heritage Standard Eagle Classic
+ High-end build-quality
+ Huge attention to detail
The Eagle Classic leverages modern construction techniques – such as a PLEK machine – to create an authentically old-school jazzbox guitar. There’s a large hollow single-cutaway body sporting a carved Sitka spruce top and carved figured maple back, as well as a chunky ‘50s profile for the maple neck.
No expense is spared with regards to electronics, either, with a pair of Seth Lover PAFs for clear and dynamic sounds.
Build: Hollow maple body with set five-piece curly maple neck,12” radius ebony fretboard
Hardware: Rosewood Adjustable bridge with Finger Bail Tailpiece, Grover Super Rotomatic tuners
Electronics: Two Seymour Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers, individual volumes and tones
Scale Length: 25.5″/648mm
+ Famously versatile instrument
+ Can handle fusion and progressive tones
– Less traditional approach may deter purirsts
The ES-335 has a reputation for being an incredibly versatile guitar: from blues to rock and even metal to, of course, jazz. Its vintage-style humbuckers are perfect for clear bell-like cleans, and the semi-hollow construction lends the guitar natural body and presence.
If you’re planning on playing at louder volumes and/or with overdrive, a fully-hollow guitar can be a feedback nightmare, but the semi-hollow construction of the ES-335 makes it a great choice for players wanting to incorporate other styles into their jazz playing.
Price: $2,999 / £2,299
Build: Thinline archtop semi-hollow with maple and poplar body, mahogany neck, 12” radius rosewood fingerboard
Hardware: ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece, Vintage Deluxe tuners
Electronics: Two Gibson T-Type humbuckers, individual volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 25.5″/648mm
Strandberg Sälen Jazz
+ Ultra-modern twist on jazz guitar design
+ Modern playability for demanding players
– Lack of vintage aesthetics might be a turn-off for some
Definitely the least traditional guitar on this list, the Sälen Jazz melds Strandberg’s ultra-modern design approach with traditional jazz appointments. There’s a chambered mahogany body for a balance of resonance and warmth, capped with solid maple top and mahogany veneer, a mahogany neck and a rosewood fretboard. While multi-scale instruments are perhaps more associated with modern prog, some players love fanned fretboards for wider, complex jazz chord voicings as they follow the natural span of your fingers – but some may disagree.
The pickups are wound to focus on midrange warmth, and the accompanying electronics allow added versatility. The five way switch offers a variety of split and outer-coil tones.
Build: Chambered mahogany body, maple top, bolt-on headless mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard with fanned frets and 20” radius
Hardware: Strandberg EGS Series 5 fixed bridge and string locks
Electronics: Two Strandberg MF Classic humbuckers, single volume and tone
Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm – 25”/635mm
+ Tasteful aesthetics without being overly vintage
+ Splittable humbuckers
– Fretboard radius may be too flat for some
The SA2200 will no doubt feel familiar to fans of dual-humbucker semi-hollows. There’s an extra-flat 13.75-inch radius ebony fretboard, as well as a vintage sunburst finish and a pair of Alnico-V humbuckers. If these prove to be too pokey for you, they can be split with the tone controls, however they haven’t been wound to be high-output.
Construction consists of a laminate sycamore body, as well as a soft maple centre-block. This unique combo leads to some truly mellow and clear cleans, and like the ES-335, it won’t complain at higher volume levels.
Price: $1,999.99 / £1,699
Build: Semi-hollow build with laminated Sycamore body, Soft Maple Center Block
Hardware: Gotoh Tune-o-matic-style bridge, Gotoh SG30 tuners
Electronics: Two Yamaha Alnico V humbuckers, individual volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm