As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 5
Country music is America’s music. It’s honest and heartfelt. To make it, mostly what you need is the brave heart and burning desire to do so. Some determined vocal cords and a capable all in one guitar are the most popular tools used to musically bring alive your feelings that you hope connect with others for a positive response (e.g., applause, sold-out concerts, and a private luxury jet for your world tour). Before you start writing your acceptance speech for your CMA award, you need to prove yourself first, and before all THAT, you need the “right” guitar.
With guitars, there are oceans of choices available on the new and used market, but for your brand of that true country sound, you’ll need to get the guitar that’s an extension of you. Whether it’s an acoustic or electric, vintage or brand new, stock or custom, the only way to know whether a guitar is a good fit with you and has “that sound” is for you to spend some time with it. It’s a little like dating in that you have to get to know each other and see what kind of chemistry there is (or isn’t). Lucky for you, Guitar Girl Magazine is here for you with a starting point list of the most popular acoustic and electric guitars that have graced country music throughout time.
Since its beginning, the acoustic guitar has been the main instrument defining the country music sound, although electric guitars have become equally significant in today’s country music. It’s undeniable that there’s something special about the natural sound of an acoustic. For reference, here are some of the most significant ones.
Martin D-28 We start at the top with the D-28, because, for many, it represents the beginning, middle, and end of the acoustic guitar world. This iconic model is the representation of the ideal acoustic guitar. Although it was initially unpopular upon release in 1931, it later gained prominence as the gold standard. All future acoustic guitars faced comparisons with the Martin D-28. The “D” in its name actually stands for dreadnought, which is apt considering it delivers a richer and bolder sound compared to its smaller counterparts. Very few of the models in the same series as the D-28, such as the D-15 and D-18, can accurately deliver the same sound effortlessly. Played by some of the world’s biggest names in music, this model is royalty among acoustics and makes that country moon…shine.
Gibson J-45 The widely popular J-45 hit the market in the 1940s and gained a reputation as a formidable guitar that didn’t compromise on style. It earned itself the nickname of “The Workhorse” because of its durable, slope-shouldered frame and exceptional sound. Although Gibson offers a collection of world-class guitars, this one definitely takes a top spot because of its timeless design, beautiful appearance, and full sound. It’s true that the price is a little high for most country musicians who are starting out, but the sound is spectacular. However, if your budget isn’t quite able to swing it, there are some others in the lower-priced range, such as the Gibson J-15 and AJ-100.
Taylor 410ce The powerful sound of the Taylor 410ce is an embodiment of the modern dreadnought style, something it’s capable of because of how it was just recently introduced. It has a distinctive pickup that lies behind the saddle, and that’s what makes it so easy for artists to seamlessly shift from one genre to another. The sides and body are constructed and crafted from Indian rosewood, while the top is made from Sitka spruce. Because of its rugged construction, you get the heavy bass and high-end tones that are short and sweet. Although it’s one of the newest and most stylish country music guitars you can buy, there are some alternatives that are better suited if you prefer traveling or have a smaller budget. The Taylor Big Baby and GS Mini Mahogany are good substitutes.
Acoustic guitars are great, but when you’re ready to rev it up, an electric is the flag to fly. Country music has been kicking up its heels and getting electrified since the invention of the electric guitar in the early 1950s. With its amplified sound, you’ll be clearly hearing some of its higher volume, twangy swagger. However, this doesn’t mean that electric guitars are all the same and that just any ole model will do. Pickers and grinners have spent countless late-night hours playing on them ‘lectric geetars to find the most inspiring country tones. Here’s a list of the top three. Of course, each has variations.
Fender Telecaster Leo Fender created the first mass-produced electric guitar in the early 1950s, the Telecaster (aka “Tele”). Country musicians have sworn by this guitar ever since it was introduced. It has a great design and gives off an inherently twangy sound, which lends itself especially well to the “country” club. Made up essentially of a slab body; one, two, or three pickups; and a bolt-on neck, it is unlike any guitar of its time. You’ll find variants of the standard Fender Telecaster to have specialized features that allow you to create a sound that’s classic or modern country. So, spend some time with a Tele, and hear if it gets you what you’re after.
Gibson Les Paul Originally designed as an electric guitar for jazz, its fuller, darker sound is also a perfect solution for the country superstar who adds a pinch of rock and pop to their musical breaking heart. The Les Paul delivers a bigger, heavier tone with more mid-range punch to help cut through the musical mix, no matter which genre you’re playing. When connected to a high-gain amplifier, like a Marshall JCM800, you are ready to blow the doors off the barn. From smooth, warm tones to big country rock, the Gibson Les Paul rules the roost!
Fender Stratocaster Ahh, the ubiquitous Stratocaster. Leo Fender’s second guitar gem he bestowed upon the world is the Stratocaster. Used by everyone in every style, the Strat serves up a delicious, country-fried, age-old, farm-fresh plate of tone second to none. From clean and clear bell-like tones to a squealing wall of feedback, it has it all. Its crisp tone is at the backbone of both classic and modern country. With its three single-coil pickups and pickup selector switch, you can choose from five different pickup combinations, so you can switch up your tone quickly and easily. In addition, you can choose between a rosewood fretboard and a maple neck; the former delivers a mellow tone while the latter is suitable for brighter notes. The Stratocaster is the most versatile of the three and is the recommended starting point if you’re not sure where to start. It’s also the easiest to modify should you want more or less of a specific sound.
Admittedly, these are brief descriptions of each of the most well-known country music guitars. Now, it’s up to you to find out which one helps you make your brand of country music. So, it’s time to rise and shine…your CMA award awaits.