While the most time tested and trusted guitars can provide the vintage tone or style that can push your sound to the next level, sometimes you find yourself needing something new. Whether you’re looking to get out of a creative rut or want to put your own stamp on an electric guitar model, sometimes you’ve got to look past Telecasters, Stratocasters, or a Les Paul. While there is nothing wrong with plugging a Strat into a vintage Marshall and getting after it, some of us just need something a little more…personal.
Plenty of modern artists have gotten genre-defining tones out of underappreciated or alternative models ranging from Gary Clark’s slightly surprising choice of a 2007 Chinese Epiphone Casino to Jack White and Dan Auerbach’s greatest hits tour of Sears catalog guitars. Recently, there has been a slight uptick in the pervasiveness of some of these more “out there” guitars as modern indie and alternative musicians have re-popularized them. Artists ranging from Young the Giant to St. Vincent have donned Harmonys, Kays, and Silvertones, making even the brand Danelectro feel tame.
If you feel like showing up to your next show or friendly gathering with a show stopping guitar to match your show stopping tunes, take a look at our recommendations below. Note: All the guitar suggested have various amounts of sonic, aesthetic, and/or hardware oddities that make them both similar and different from their popular counterparts. Your mileage may vary.
Harmony is back after several years of existing only on pawn shop walls and in the hands of vintage guitar collectors. Among the three new releases spearheading the company’s rebirth, the Silhouette provides a beautiful option for players who love the Fender offset models such as the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, or Mustang.
With a 25” scale length, it is a nice mix between the traditional Fender and Gibson measurements which ideally should make it feel familiar to both. The two gold foil mini humbuckers also give the guitar a distinct look and tone that you won’t find just anywhere—hopefully inspiring a similarly unique performance from the player.
At press time, not too many of these Harmony models have been released yet—they were introduced for the first time at winter NAMM 2019—but more are on the way and should be available soon. The gold foil mini humbuckers are bright, sparkling, and really break up tube amps to create that vintage, garage rock tone. With a big, meaty, C shaped neck, the guitar should feel right at home to anyone who grew up with Harmony, Silvertone, or other pawn shop guitars.
Supro Tri Tone
While the Les Paul may very well be considered a staple of rock guitar, the influx of variations on the body shape have given players more alternatives than ever before. Another historic brand that’s been re-born, Supro’s Tri Tone is almost reminiscent of Peter Frampton’s classic black Les Paul with three humbuckers. Originally released over 60 years ago, the Tri Tone has had its fair share of famous endorsers including Link Wray and David Bowie.
Built to the same 24.75” scale length as the Gibson, there is no doubt this thing will match up beautiful with a Les Paul tonally while grabbing the audience’s eyes with its Pau Ferro fretboard, gold hardware, and set neck with matching ebony finish. With a 5-way selector switch for the three pickups there is no shortage of tonal options here, or you can simply stick the bridge and neck if you’re looking for more traditional LP/Humbucker sounds. Each pickup also has a dedicated volume knob, alongside a fourth, master volume control.
Eastwood Guitars Airline ’59 2PT
Looking for a classic Tele pickup combo? Or that bridge single coil spank so many country artists are chasing? Look no further than Eastwood’s Airline ’59 2PT which seems to mix Keith Richards’ “Micawber” tele with something pulled from Jack White’s garage.
Featuring some similarities to Leo Fender’s famous model such as a bolt on maple neck with a rosewood fretboard and a 25 ½ scale length, this guitar is certainly a looker. The neck humbucker provides a boost to the bite and output of a traditional Tele neck pickup while the bridge will be a more familiar and reliable single coil fallback for when you’re not feeling particularly brave.
Eastwood guitars has several other intriguing models, as well as an interesting crowdfunding custom shop program to help re-create vintage or whack job guitar models. You can pay a deposit, and if enough deposits are collected, they will then go ahead and produce the guitar. After paying what’s left of the total cost, minus the original deposit, you’re sent the newly manufactured creation. We’re big fans and you should definitely check it out.
Agile Harm 1 Toast
Rickenbackers are like the mythical beast of the guitar world; they are just so hard to get your hands on due to both availability and high prices. But, if an out of the box semi-hollowbody with vintage pickups is something you want, look no further than the Agile Harm 1 Toast.
Featuring a single crescent shaped f-hole and two “toaster”-style single coil pickups, this guitar can fill your jangly, early 60’s guitar needs at a fraction of the price. With a 24.75 scale length, mahogany body, ebony fretboard, and beautiful cream binding, this model is sure to become one of the prettiest looking guitars in your collection.
This guitar was also noted for its potential to be modified and hot rodded by Premier Guitar in their “No Brainer Mods of 2019” article. Furthermore, the guitar features great, stable tuning from the Grover tuners and Tusq nut, not common on cheaper guitars. However, the guitar has plenty of mod options including upgraded pickups for better clarity or output, as well as the recommended addition of a vintage tremolo system.
Discussing alternatives for the Fender Stratocaster is always hard. Super-strats with all types of hardware, pickups, or finishes have been done before, and the import market is flush with cheap copies, so the choices can a bit overwhelming. But if all those options are a bit too much, you don’t have to look much further than to one of Leo Fender’s other creations, the Comanche, from his other company G&L Guitars.
Featuring Leo’s unique looking Z-coil pickups, this guitar offers all the bite and sparkle of a traditional Strat without the 60-cycle hum associated with single coil pickups. The Z shape helps cancel out hum, using the same concept as humbuckers, without having to use a second coil, like we talked about in our guide to the various types of electric guitar pickups.
The G&L Comanche also features some interesting wood choices with a hard-rock maple neck covered in a Brazilian cherry fingerboard all attached to a mahogany body at Fender’s typical 25 ½ scale length. Even cooler yet is the push-pull function of the treble pot which allows for additional pickup selections outside of the 5-way selector switch. When engaged you can get neck and bridge together, as well as all three Z coils together.
Reverend Manta Ray HB
The Gibson ES-line of hollow and semi-hollow guitars, usually outfitted with humbuckers, has become one of the most endearing series of electric guitar to players of all genres. Providing warm, resonant tones, these guitars have been used for jazz, rock, pop, and everything in between. While Gibson has a line of interesting and affordable Epiphone models, Reverend is making waves in the hollow/semi-hollow picture with their sleek Manta Ray HB model.
While it may feature an f-hole more reminiscent of a Rickenbacker, this guitar is a full size semi-hollow in the vein of the classic Gibson line. Featuring two HA5 humbuckers, a Korina body, and traditional Gibson scale length and bridge setup, this guitar offers some interesting aesthetic and tonal options. Reverend’s signature “bass contour” knob is included to help roll off some of the low end putting more sounds right at the tip of your fingers than the average semi-hollowbody.
Chapman Guitars ML1 Modern (& Traditional)
Two gorgeous super-strats from guitar maker and YouTube personality Rob Chapman, the ML1 Modern and Traditional are great alternatives to the many varieties of Jackson, ESP, or Charvel super-strats. The Modern features two Chapman Sonorous Zero humbuckers and comes in beautiful, dark finishes such as Midnight Sky and Lunar. The ebony fretboard comes with rolled edges and sits on top of a recessed bolt-on, maple neck with satin finish.
As the name states, the Traditional is more of a modern take on a traditional Stratocaster featuring beautiful Coffee and Lunar finishes. Similar to the Modern except for the maple fretboard and three Chapman Venus Zero single coil pickups, the Traditional will definitely give you some of those traditional Strat tones in a sleek new package. Both also feature a number of body carves for maximum comfortability and a unique upside down, Tele-style headstock.
Xaviere XV-570 Rockabilly Semi Hollow
Gretsch and Les Paul fans unite, Xaviere offers a best of both world’s model with their Xtrem tremolo arm and Minitron mini-humbucking pickups. The Mahogany body is chambered on each side with a maple cap before one of the many finish options is applied on top. While Xaviere’s reputation as a budget alternative has been hotly debated online, the point remains that it provides one of the best ways to get your hands on a unique instrument at affordable prices.
True to its name, the XV-570 Rockabilly can get vintage Gretsch tones akin to Brian Setzer or Chet Atkins’ signature models. The bigsby-style tremolo is a nice feature for an inexpensive guitar and represents another impressive sonic option alongside the unique Minitron pickups. One interesting change: many of these models feature a maple fretboard, not something common on Gibson or Gretsch models, giving your stage presence an extra little touch of singularity.
Unique Guitars for Unique Players
While Strats, Teles, and Les Pauls are all trusted for a reason, sometimes you just need to branch out and blaze your own path. Hopefully some of these oddball models and new brands will inspire you to get out of your creative rut or write your next great song. New models, pickups, and hardware are constantly coming out, meaning the instrument should continue to advance year after year giving you all endless options limited only by your budget.