10 Professional Musicians Who Play Inexpensive Guitars

Professional Musicians Who Play Inexpensive Guitars

Regardless of how many albums you sell or how much money you make, sometimes the perfect instrument for your needs is an off-the-shelf, inexpensive model. In fact, many modern-day touring musicians use guitars you could walk out of Guitar Center with or find online for pennies on the dollar.

From a masked metal icon to a new American R&B idol, you can easily find guitarists and bassists using affordable guitars, proving you don’t need to spend thousands to sound great.

For the purpose of this list, we look at ten popular musicians (three are technically in the same band) not named Jack White (whose affinity for lower-priced guitars is a thing of legend) who all regularly use or used electric guitars that retail for under $1000.

Gary Clark Jr: 2007 Epiphone Casino

Rig Rundown – Gary Clark Jr. & Eric Zapata [2019]

Despite his rise to 21st century guitar hero status, one of Gary Clark Jr’s main guitars is still a 2007 Chinese-made Epiphone Casino. In a recent rig rundown for Premier Guitar (check it out above), Clark Jr’s guitar tech indicated it was important to him to play a guitar that his fans could afford. According to the same video, everything is pretty much still stock, off the shelf on the guitar, including the pickups, displaying that expensive gear doesn’t necessarily equate to great tone. 

Fat Mike (NOFX): Danelectro DC Bass

NOFX Live Full Concert 2019

While punk musicians aren’t exactly known for using expensive gear, Fat Mike of NOFX takes it to a new level with his sub-$500 bass guitar. Armed with his Danelectro DC Bass, Fat Mike has been a staple of the American new wave punk scene for decades with just a meager off the shelf bass guitar. But to be fair, when you’re playing packed punk clubs all over the world, maybe having a bass that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to replace is for the best…

Melanie Faye: Epiphone Genesis

Melanie Faye’s Guitar Solo (and vocals) on Sunshine Bloom

Melanie Faye has quickly blossomed as one of the up and coming stars of modern electric guitar playing. Mixing her R&B and pop influences with the technical skill normally associated with rock guitarists, she has built up a huge social media following.

Recently, she was chosen by Fender to be one of the faces of their new Player Series, but before her Fender and D’Angelico sponsorships, she rocked out with a simple Epiphone Genesis. A quirky, solid-body HH style guitar, it’s nothing that will break the bank, but it clearly can provide both the inspiration and playability it took for Faye to develop into a world class player.

Beck: Silvertone 1448

Beck has always been a very individualistic musician, from his genre-bending music to his anti-folk background. So, it should come as no surprise that he uses an electric guitar nearly as unique as himself. Beck has been seen playing a Silvertone 1448 throughout the past few decades, a one pickup, entry level guitar available in the Sears catalogs of the 60s and 70s.

Interestingly enough, ever since Beck produced the last Cage the Elephant record, we’ve seen their lead guitarist, Brad Shultz, also pick up one of these inexpensive six strings.

Brandon Schwartzel, Elvis Kuehn, & Zac Carper (FIDLAR): Fender Mustang PJ Bass, Reverend Eastsider T, & Costco Spider Web Strat

Rig Rundown – FIDLAR

FIDLAR, a California based quartet, have stirred up quite a bit of a frenzy since the release of their latest album in early 2019. Despite becoming one of the latest additions to Fender’s sponsorship family, the band has spent the last several years using super accessible gear. Leave it to the punks to once again do so much with so little…

Bassist Brandon Schwartzel plays a stock Fender Mustang PJ bass (about $550) with a few cosmetic details he added. Front man Zac Carper uses a Costco spider web guitar body, called a RG-80-SW, with a Strat replacement neck slapped on. While lead guitarist Elvis has since moved on to Fender American Jazzmasters and Teles, he spent quite a bit of their last tour using a sub-$1000 Reverend Tele copy called the Eastsider T.

Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest): MIM Fender Telecaster

Car Seat Headrest: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

Will Toledo is the front man, guitarist, and songwriter behind the awesome indie rock band Car Seat Headrest, named after his preference for recording demos in the privacy of his parked car. Throughout their recording and performance history, Toledo has used a humble Mexican-made Fender Telecaster.

While Toledo has recently put down the guitar for live performances to focus on being more of a front man, this basic Telecaster can be heard all over hit singles like Fill in the Blank and Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.

Jared James Nichols: Epiphone Old Glory Signature Model

Jared James Nichols Gear Guide – Dagan Meets Jared On Tour!

While his more affordable Epiphone “Old Glory” signature model is based on a more expensive Gibson Les Paul Custom he customized, Jared James Nichols does still use the Epiphone model live on tour. He even admits in an interview with PMTV that some people are thrown off by him using an Epiphone, what many may think of as a lesser quality guitar brand.

This marks the third Epiphone user on this list of very accomplished musicians, maybe it’s time to re-think how the price tag relates to guitar quality?

Jim Root (Stone Sour & Slipknot): Modified Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster

Jim Root & Josh Rand of Stone Sour: The Sound and The Story (Short)

Last but certainly not least we come to one of the faces of modern metal music, Jim Root. Root has developed some really high quality, and high-priced signature models with Fender that pair metal features such as active humbuckers with classic Fender designs. However, the inspiration for many of these pricey signature models came from his modification of an off the shelf Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster, which retails for around $500, give or take.

By replacing the bridge humbucker with an active EMG humbucker, while still retaining the neck Jazzmaster pickup, Root created one of his main stage guitars (he uses if for songs tuned down half a step) out of an incredibly affordable, MIM Fender.

Maybe you don’t need a new guitar after all?

We know, we know. We get it. For many guitar and bass players, there is always the urge to go out and get a new piece of gear. We dream of the guitar, amp, or pedalboard that will take our tone to that next level and inspire countless songs or riffs. The sad reality is that many of us cannot afford those vintage Les Paul’s or boutique creations our heroes play, but maybe you don’t even need them!

All these musicians have achieved wide commercial and critical success across pop, rock, metal, blues, and R&B using instruments some of you may already own. While you may still dream of that custom shop creation you want to own, don’t forget to plug in and practice with the guitar you have until that dream tone becomes a reality.

4 Comments

  1. I have bought expensive guitars etc. But once I really wanted to know MY guitar I made a few changes. I quit buying factory made guitars and just bought the cheapest I could find. As an example a telecaster “style” guitar. 150.00 brand new. Take out all the components remove the strings. Replace with pickups and pots of my choosing, set up the neck how I play, set the action where I want it, set the tonation to perfection and make sure I’m using a good quality set of Stringjoy strings. End result is a guitar that sounds like nothing you can buy “off the shelf” and this puts a big smile on your face. Learn your craft and be your own tech. You’ll learn so much more about your guitar!
  2. I actually prefer used or guitars under 1k, my most recent acquisition is a used Warmouth Telecaster with a solid Koa body Fender specked heavily flamed maple neck & board 7.25 radius with vintage style pups. What and inspiration this guitar has been to me and for under $750 dollars this dog got a bone.
  3. I completely agree. I have a 78 SG Standard that if bought at today's prices would cost about $2500....but the guitar I'm playing and loving is a Harley Benton DC Custom cherry from Thomann in Germany. With a case, the guitar, customs charges and shipping charges it cost me $272. I plan to do some mods as I've never owned a guitar that was just what I wanted stock but this guitar already plays as good as some guitars you would pay over $1000 for. I've played some nice Epiphone Les Paul guitars and would rather have the HB. I took the bridge down until it bottomed out without any buzzing frets. I then took it back up to a height I prefer but still with extremely low action. My Gibson guitars won't go this low without some issues and that includes the 78 SG that was pleked at Glaser Instruments a few years ago. What I've basically said in a lengthy manner is that the inexpensive guitars for sale today are built to a much higher standard than what you could buy in the 70s, 80s and maybe the 90s. When I started playing in 1973 there were no low priced guitars available that would play well without a luthier's work, something most young musicians can't afford. You can buy a guitar today for $100 that is acceptable for a beginner's guitar and maybe even professional players. A few mods and for less than $500 you can have an excellent instrument.

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