If you find yourself in a position to drop more than $2,000 on a six-string, you’ve come to the right place. In this list you’ll find the crème de la crème of the guitar world right now. We’re talking custom commissions that have found their way into production, axes born of genius luthiers and even controversial artist signatures.
These guitars span a wide range of styles, so you’ll find something to love no matter what genre you favour. These instruments will help you achieve the sound you desire – only if you’re willing to drop the coin.
For Gary Lightbody’s 40th birthday, Ed Sheeran wanted to repay him for the Baby Lowden the Snow Patrol frontman had previously gifted him. So Sheeran rang George Lowden and asked if he could build a solidbody electric. The result of that commission was so astounding, Sheeran bagged one for himself, and Lowden added it to its own line-up soon after.
The main highlight that makes the GL-10 (seen above) one of the best premium models on the market today is the choice tonewoods. Its body has three layers: one-piece mahogany back, rosewood or maple middle and a choice of top woods (we reviewed a koa model last year). It also has a five-piece mahogany/rosewood neck with a headstock that features front and back bog oak headstock veneers (carbon-dated to 3300 BC).
The way this Lowden sings unplugged is testament to the chosen tonewoods. Deep bass, airy trebles and pristine clarity combine with a beautiful resonance that’ll make you sigh.
Retails for £3,395/$3,800. Check out our full review here.
This Dave Friedman and Grover Jackson guitar blurs the lines between a premium instrument and a blue-collar workhorse. What it lacks in extravagance, the Vintage-T more than makes up for in playability. This is most noticeable with its vintage tapered neck, which has had its finish removed almost all the way up to the 15th fret. This gives it a great bare wood feel, and combines well with the lightly rolled fingerboard edges and fret ends to facilitate those long jam sessions.
With its mahogany body and P-90 pups, the Vintage-T is thick, fat and greasy. It retains some of its Tele identity, but it’s certainly more robust. It also has some Kalamazoo influence, thanks to 50s-style Gibson wiring that afford it a broad range of tones though pickup blending and volume control.
Retails for £2,299/$2,400. Check out our full review here.
3Collings I-30 LC
While it is an obvious nod to the Kalamazoo icon, the I-30 presents a few intelligent refinements that seal its position in the ‘premium’ category. Perhaps the most important of these is its parallel trestle braces, a marked departure from the ES-330’s hollow interior. Pioneered by Gretsch in the late 50s, the design entails coupling the guitar’s top to its back to increase sustain and reduce susceptibility to feedback. For the I-30, Collings has also coupled its Honduran mahogany neck to the tail block, delivering even more glorious sustain.
The neck itself is another highlight that deserves its own mention. Soft-shouldered and C-profiled with an ever-so-slight hint of V, the I-30’s Honduran mahogany neck harks back to the best Gibson necks of the 50s. It’s brilliantly comfortable, and will only feel better with more play.
Retails for £5,099/$5,200. Check out our full review here.
4PRS Silver Sky
While it is undeniable that this John Mayer signature takes many cues from the Stratocaster, it also boasts some modern touches and features that are synonymous with PRS. Where its body is concerned, the biggest deviation from the Strat we know is the scoop on the Silver Sky’s treble horn. This mark of PRS identity provides ergonomic access up to the 22nd fret, and has also been painted slightly darker to draw your attention to it.
Plugged in, the three-single coil guitar is as expressive as they come. The balance between its 635JM pickups is great, and each of switch’s five positions sound distinct. It being a John Mayer signature model, it’s no surprise that the PRS has a snap and punch to it that helps it excel stinging leads and percussive funk rhythms. And to get your mouth watering more, 2019 also brought around new finishes for this guitar.
Retails for £2,299/$2,299. Check out our full review here.
5Gretsch G6118T-135 Anniversary Limited Edition
This guitar is one half of a pair of models released in celebration of the brand’s 135th anniversary. What differentiates it from its sibling, however – apart from its £1,300 more price tag – are the features that help it straddle the line between modern innovation and vintage authenticity.
We’re talking about Gretsch’s decision to combine a 50s-spec body and trestle bracing with locking tuners, a streamlined control layout and contemporary locking strap buttons. There’s a couple of other touches that give it an edge over its sibling, including a slightly slimmer and softer-shouldered neck, High Sensitive Filter’Tron pups and the elegant plexi pickguard.
Retails for £2,259/$3,299. Check out our full review here.
6Frank Brothers Arcade Model
The Arcade Model is a follow-up to the brand’s debut Signature Model. Where the older guitar is a chambered-body beauty, the newer one features a solid mahogany body that offers that sought-after ’59 tone.
Like all Frank Brothers guitars, you enjoy unparalleled customisability with the Arcade Model. Choose between various top woods, pickup options, finishes and much more. Whatever you pick, you can rest assured Tim and Nick Frank will create something with spectacular build quality, killer aesthetics and phenomenal sound. From its masterful neck to its idiosyncratic diamond volute to its deep note complexity, the Arcade Model is nothing but class.
Retails from £2,700/$2,950. Check out our full review here.
7Vigier Expert Classic Rock
With its True-Vintage single-coil pickups, the Vigier Expert Classic Rock delivers tone reminiscent of late 60s Strats. But it certainly doesn’t feel like one, something we feel will gratify Vigier to no end.
Along with its long-established 10/90 neck that features a strip of carbon instead of a truss rod, the guitar has multiple less-than-conventional appointments. These include high-mass locking machines, the 2011 vibrato that pivots on ball bearings, string trees fashioned from string ballends and a small strip of dampening material that sits behind the Teflon nut. The latter is designed to limit string over-ring when using high-gain tones.
These thoughtful design facets, combined with a slew of options and alternatives available, make the Vigier Expert Classic Rock an excellent high-quality, modern instrument.
Retails for £2,269/$3,060. Check out our full review here.
8Fender American Original ’50s Stratocaster
While it might not set you back as much as the other guitars on this list, the Fender American Original ’50s Stratocaster is, in its own right, a great premium-leaning instrument.
As is the modus operandi of the American Original series, the ’50s Strat cherry-picks some of the best features from its chosen decade. In this case, it includes a trio of ’59 Pure Vintage single-coil pickups and a Soft V-shaped neck.
The former combines with a five-way switch and tone controls to provide a quintessential Strat sound, especially in positions two and four. Along with a comfortable round-shouldered neck that subtly transitions from V to C, the ’50s Strat is a nice slice of Custom Shop luxury without the corresponding price tag.
Retails for £1,609/$2,000. Check out our full review here.
This gorgeous axe picked up an award in our 2017 Gear of the Year, and even in 2019, it remains one of the best premium guitars you can get your hands on. From its glorious Antique Varnish coat to its custom-wound and -voiced Lollar Imperial pickups, this single-cut is the embodiment of luxury.
Sonically, the SB59 is loud, full of sustain and resonance, and also packs a bit of a bite. Played clean, you’ll get some sparkling harmonics. And even when you dial up the drive, the guitar maintains its harmonically rich characteristics, delivering a balance between smooth and edge that’s perfect for lead tones.
Retails for £1,999/$2,499. Check out our full review here.
10Maybach Albatroz 65-2
Maybach does not hide what this guitar is all about. The Albatroz series is to SGs, what Lester models are to Les Pauls. This model in particular is the first Albatroz to feature double humbuckers. With its impressive build quality, convincing relic job and great tone, it’s no surprise that the Albatroz 65-2 is one of the top premium guitars today.
Zeroing in on the pups, this set of German-made Amber Spirit Of ’59 PAF replicas give chords a nice ‘brrrrang’ quality and provide an in-built compression that’s perfect for rhythm playing and fingerpicked slide. It may not be as nuanced or versatile as a Les Paul, but if you’re gunning for some no-nonsense rock tone, the Albatroz 65-2 is a real contender.
Retails for £1,614/$2,080. Check out our full review here.
11Gibson Custom Shop 60th Anniversary ’59 Les Paul Standard Reissue
The 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard is way up there when it comes to iconic guitars. It has found its way into the hands of so many greats it would be easier to list those who didn’t own one. It’s a tad ironic, seeing as it wasn’t a successful model when it was first released – less than 650 were created.
For the guitar’s 60th anniversary, however, Gibson has produced a Custom Shop reissue that’s as close to the real thing as it gets. From laser-accurate dimensions to colour-matched shades of sunburst, this guitar bears incredible likeness to the same axe Clapton, Page and Slash have rocked out on. If you can’t get your hands on an original Burst, this is surely the next best option.
Retails for £5,299/$6,499. Check out our full review here.
Read our recommendations for premium acoustic guitars, too.