One Axe To Replace Them All

In this series I want to reflect on the ultimate gigging setup. This covers a lot of ground, so it got a little lengthy.

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This is where I act all old and stuff, and I want to try and pass some of the wisdom I've acquired over the years onto those that have not yet learnt the stuff I'm about to share. So, if you consider yourself a seasoned gigging pro and you feel completely comfortable tackling all sorts of different jobs with your setup; this is probably stuff you know. However, feel free to use the comments sections to bash me into the ground and say stuff like: everybody knows this, you suck! as if I never wrote the sentence above. For the rest of you; here's my guide to the gear that can get you through anything! O, and yes: this will be very, very long. If you want to try and make a living out of playing guitar, it is most likely that you would prefer to do this by playing your own songs, in the style you like best and with a band made up out of your friends. In the real world, musicianship is something of a competition where you are found guilty of being crap until you've proven your skill, and even then you'll probably be frowned upon as being a 'widdler'. To be able to cover all the necessary bases and not have to turn good opportunities down, you will need a setup that can go from jazz to country to metal without much change and/or effort. I have been through more gear than Allen Holdsworth, and I think I can give those of you who want to do it all a few pointers. Gentlemen (and -women); Choose your weapons! Buying a guitar is hard. There are always at least three different models in your price range that you like, and then there are the ones you can't afford, but maybe if you saved a little more Forget it. You have to choose. Every price range has a gem in it, and I do not want to advocate that you should always buy a $1500+ guitar because everything below that is crap. I do however agree with the writer of the Buy It Once-article in that you should always get the best instrument you can afford. Please note that I am going for versatility in this article, and not my preferences. Thus you will not find a Les Paul or a BC Rich Warlock in this article, however fantastic Les Pauls or Warlocks might be. (And they are!) Also, I have omitted the option of having an instrument custom built, since it's completely up to you to decide if that's what you want.

Things To Consider

If you want to do a lot of different things with your main axe, it needs to have some serious tricks up it's sleeve. Here is a list of specs that will help determine whether the guitar you long for, is the one you need.
  • Vibrato/Tremolo/Whammy bar: You'll need this, whether you like it or not. I don't like 'em, but I have one. For some reason, especially non-guitar players seem to love the sound of subtle vibrato, and the songs that go along with it. People that do not play guitar, i.e. 'singers', will look upon your guitar as 'flawed' if it does not have the mighty power of Whammy! Not being able to deliver the vibrato will cost you gigs.
  • Humbucker/Single-coil switching: The basis of versatility. Even though HSS guitars are decidedly 1991, they are extremely useful when you have to 'do it all'. Splittable humbuckers will get you very close, as will an active boost for single coils. (as in a Powerhouse-Strat.)
  • Active electronics: many people fear the hassle of dealing with the batteries that come with extra tone-shaping options, but the trouble in no way outweighs the benefits. Even though the 5-band EQ is typically a bass-thing, it is starting to find it's way into the six-string arena, and being able to fine-tune your sound without extra equipment is really valuable.

    The Arsenal

    If you want an axe that can cover a really wide range of tones, most likely you're going to have to cut some corners somewhere. This can either be character, appearance or brand. You should never compromise on sound quality, playability or 'vibe' (if something's not your guitar, you'll know it as soon as you pick it up.) however. Some of the guitar I list, I wouldn't want to be seen dead with, but I'm trying to be objective and I really think all of these guitars are great, versatile instruments. I'm trying to pick the cherries here, especially the ones I think are good deals. So, in case of the ESP/LTD, the ESP Horizon would also be a good choice, just not as good of a deal, get it? Therefore, if you want to be able to play fusion on Fridays and Slayer on Saturdays while switching to Salsa on Sunday (mambo on Monday? Two-step on Tuesday? I could go on forever!), here are some of the guitars I'd recommend:

    Budget Guitars

  • Parker P-series: Great guitars, pickups are decent quality and convincing both in humbucking and single-coil sounds. You have to be able to deal with the look of the thing, and I've seen some with troubled (i.e. 'warped') necks.
  • Ibanez Sa160: This is definitely a beginner's guitar, but also the best one you could get for your hard-earned bucks. I have had many go through my hands, and I never encountered one that did not play perfectly. Sounds are very good, and blow away those of Squire's or Epiphone's budget axes.
  • ESP LTD H-20-something: They keep changing the number-spec for these models just about every two minutes, but the guitars stay pretty much the same. I'm referring to the set-neck, five-way switching, Duncan-designed pickup models. The sounds are all of a really high quality and the guitar will handle all kinds of tunings or string sizes.
  • Yamaha Pacificas: Yes! They might not be the most exciting guitars on earth, but these people bring you a very high-quality instrument that you can afford. This is true throughout the range.

    Money's No Problem?

  • PRS CE & Custom 22 & 24's: Proven in their versatility and playability. I disagree that the CE is in any way inferior to a Custom; they're different. PRS charging more for a set-neck is retarded and without ground. The idea should be that CE's are for the Fender-prone player and The Customs do a better job of emulating Gibson-esque sounds. I like the PRS's better than Andersons, Vigiers, Brian Moores and other, more expensive, high-end guitars as they seem to retain a little more of a vintage character where the others are a little bland and sterile sound-wise. (The main reason you will not find any Blades in this article, sorry to all you Blade-owners.)
  • Music Man Luke: This might be a little plain looking for the money and maybe the Lukather-image is not what you're going for, but this guitar is a well-designed piece of kit that will do everything without compromise. The EMG's might sound a little sterile for clean sounds; they work very well for everything from a light crunch to balls-out distortion. Music-Mans always play well and they seem to hold their value, which is not unimportant. (Can you say Patrick Eggle?)
  • Gibson ES-355: This instrument is a little underrated in my opinion, and should be seen on stages a lot more than it currently is. If you feel you can do without Fender-esque single-coil sounds, this might very well be the ultimate guitar for you. It does everything and looks amazingly cool (o, no! he expressed an opinion again!) For those that can't dish out more than $2000, there are many copies, both by Epiphone and others (I like The Yamaha AES2200), that come very close to the original at a fraction of the price.
  • Fender Fat Strats: I personally feel the American series and upwards are a very good deal, because the higher grade materials and, specifically, pickups help them dish out the humbucker sounds more convincingly. The Mexicans are nothing to spit at, though, and if you're in that price range, be sure to check 'em out.

    Best Of The Rest

    Here are some other instruments that deserve your attention when you want an axe that can do it all:
  • Line 6 Variax
  • Jackson Soloist Pro Series
  • OLP Petrucci Model
  • Ibanez JEM Series
  • Floyd Rose Redmond Series
  • Peavey Wolfgang EXP
  • Fender Thinline 90's Telecaster Thanks for sticking with me this long. Hope this was/is of any use to you, feel free to hammer me with comments if it wasn't, but please realize I haven't played every guitar on earth and if your absolutely awesome guitar is not in here; sorry. Next Time: Amps & Effects! I salute you, -Maxx
  • 99 comments sorted by best / new / date

    comments policy
      Bluejay451
      It IS possible to have a trem and not a Floyd Rose, you know. Unless you're dive-bombing every 5 seconds, you won't go THAT out of tune, and you can always retune after the song ends, take you 30 seconds tops. If all you're doing is little whammies, its really not even an issue.
      Hosscat
      Good sh_it! The deal about playing every tpye of music is for a "gun-4-hire" pro that plays in multiple bands. I know you can't put include all guitars, but the Washburns are suppose to be pretty good low cost guitars and one of them lets you change the pickups from single coil to humbucker.
      maxxxisgod
      Hi, I just wanted to say to SURFraptor7: Yes, it CAN be done, I have seen it done to many a guitar and have done it for some people myself. However; it is almost never a good idea. Going from a stoptail or fixed bridge to a tremolo requires serious carving and drilling. 90% of the time, this removes so much wood from the body of your instrument, that the sound of the guitar will change radically. I just want to be clear that I in no way recommend doing that. There were some people in the comments suggesting that you should have two guitars, and I agree with that. I always have two guitars with me for anything I do, and if you have that luxury, that's what you should do. But please, don't hurt your guitar. Maxx.
      GAC1989
      redwing_suck: Why would a band want to go from country to metal to blues tojazz in one setup? Kinda compromises your band's vision, no? Led Zeppelin go from hard rock, Blues and folk stytles and there a lot of other versatile bands out there. the best guiatr ive ever had for under 100 is the axl player deluxe (strat copy) u can find these from anywhere between 80 and 200 i payed 80 and i wouldnt say its worth much more than 100 but it is much better than the fender squier and has EMG designed pick ups. gr8 article dude !
      kerrang
      everyone knows this! you suck! nah seriously thats a damn good article man. you should do a follow up on amps and stuff too.
      Purple Haze123
      Great Article, but I want to point out a brand of guitars that even make Gibson look bad; Carvin. Their custom guitars are probably the best value for top notch guitars today. When you could save up $3000+ for a Les Paul Custom, you can get a Carvin custom with all sorts of goodies for less than half of the Les Paul Custom. They have neck through body necks, exotic woods, and all sorts of stuff you can have. I'm telling you, before you think about getting a custom guitar costing a good sum of money, go to carvin.com and look at the custom electrics. You'll be glad you did.(They also got custom basses, and they don't charge x-tra if you are getting a lefty; something Gibson dosn't do)
      Bubonic Chronic
      I would agree except for the tremolo. I have one on both of my guitars, but I would go insane without my trusty, reliable strat knock-off with the bridge locked down and the action raised to compensate. No tremolo = I can tune to ANYTHING anytime. Drop C? Standard F? Open B flat? Yep. That and more. The Floyd takes me at least an hour to get back in shape when I change strings, so tuning it differently is not an option. Well it is, but I have a day job, and yah... Maybe when I retire I mess with alternate tunings on that sucker. I suggest getting two guitars. One with floyd rose trem and one with a fixed bridge.
      home sick alien
      i used to own a sa160, and i absolutly destroyed and it still works, yea id recommend them to newbies.
      punkish
      I completely agree with the versatility of the yamaha pacificas, with the humbucker selected and tone to max, I can throw out Black Sabbath, then a second later i can switch to the single coil at the neck, lower the tone to zero, and I have Erick Clapton - "Sunshine my Love" playing. I'll soon be upgrading to a Flying V, but I'm definately going to keep the yamaha. a guide to more price ranges would have been nice, as your gide seems to go from absolute beginner, straight up to the ultimate guitar, without mentioning all of the options in between. Other than this the guide is very good, and I'll be reading all of the future installments.
      rockguitar417
      'One axe to replace them all'? One would think it's an ad for the Line6 Variax. i thought the same thing at first but its a good title anyway
      gtr-dude'n'a1/2
      well, im not new at playing guitar, but i am new at playing any "gigs", i recently was invited to play in a band, so this was very helpfull, ive got a P.O.S. Samick Stratocaster, yep, not the best, but i do believe i need to invest in a more decent guitar, and i will take this into consideration, but the guitar that i have now is very good, considering i got it for $60!!! the only reson it was so low was because it has a couple of scratches on the back and was second hand, but not used much. still helpful article. thanx...
      Mascot
      Meh. You didn't really cover anything. You just gave us a list of some decent brands. That's not really helpful, IMO.
      metalhead296
      heres a good guitar tip for everybody, in my opnion one of most versital guitars is the g&l s-500 it has a picup switcher to switch the single coils into humbuckers, its in a strat style because it was made by leo fender( hence the name George fullerton & Leo fender) and its not a bad price, a varnished mahogany neck for about 1300 bux
      sloehand
      Has anyone ever tried the Godin LG. Its a great guitar for only $500. It has two humbuckers with a 5 way switch to get any sound you want. It blows away most guitars at twice the price
      Lord_Xian
      thats a bit shit you say anything under $1500 is shit....even if that were true....a bc rich warlock that you then advised is only about $500 or less
      maxxxisgod
      @ ramstormrage: Actually, I used to sell guitars, so maybe that's where the 'sales pitch' language came from. Sorry if I come across as a used cars salesman. Maxx.
      Bmm386
      this article really doesnt help if you dont know the models of the guitars well.
      Burpbelly
      he may have sounded like an advertiser but, hey, he got all of you to read the article.
      ramstormrage
      you sound like a guitar shop owner advertising for your "on sale" guitar.. hahaha! like you were selling guitars.. u are right when u said that you shouldnt compromise the vibe. even if you have the whole stuff on your guitar, if there aint no connection with you and it, the guitar is as good as a piece of crap..
      cryan2
      shet article na maluphet! OPM rocks! .... 5 stars for u man!!great job!
      Brendan DEwald
      good article i just have to say that if someont is looking into buying a lespaul desperatly and are low on the cash they should look into buying a les paul epiphone 100 it is cheap and still looks and sounds good and at a good price just a suggestion
      Dogwillhunt
      First off, good article. Secondly, why is it everytime Squiers are mentioned they are bashed on? I've owned two of them. My first one was awesome. Cream colored Bullet series Strat. 3 Single Coil config. Plain looking guitar. It played and sounded excellent. I sold it to a friend and have regretted it since then. I now own a black Squier Strat with the same pickup config and it's pretty flashy looking with a mirror finish pickguard and all. But it plays and sounds just as sweet as I can remember the old Squier. My point is there's nothing wrong with Squiers. It's my main guitar and I hated, let me re-iterate HATED the Gibson Les Paul I had. It was horrible and it wouldn't stay in tune and honestly didn't sound good either. And don't talk down about Samicks either I own one and I love it. Great playability, great sound. Jacksons are overpriced junk, Yamahas are good (especially acoustics), Epiphones are so so and BC Rich's low-end models? Don't even think about grabbing one of them. I'm not saying Gibsons are bad, but I just couldn't warm up to the one I had. 4 stars for the article.
      omega_storm
      great article! I guess i learned why my Squier sucks, but it works for me so...whatever..5 stars
      Newbie Rocker
      I Liked the article I am definately a new musician so I knew just about none of this. Thanks. Also I have an ESP F-50 which has worked fine and was cheap and looks Awesome. Just a suggestion, there are also guitar reviews at musiciansfriend.com
      allanon88
      good article. heres a bit of advice, NEVER under any circumstances buy a Samick, they suck. i suggest the jackson sl3 soloist
      Tim_5150
      btw, the title and message of your article would make a great ad for the Line6 Variax line!!! lol!!!
      Tim_5150
      Great article! five stars (i actually gave you five stars)! i just wanna add some stuff though. the new Ibanez Jumpstart package is great! the GRG270 is fitted with a double locking temolo, HSH pickup config, rosewood on maple neck, and a basswood body. it's also cheap! picking the right guitar for you is very important, but you have to keep in mind that if you use a different guitar, your approach would be slightly different, and you'd sound a little different. doing so will give you a "fresh breath" and help you figure out new sounds and techniques you couldn't get on your other guitar.
      J_Dizzle
      MonkeyOnDope is literally a Monkey smokin' Dope, because this article is awesome. It wasn't as long as you said it would be at the beginning though!!!
      Roburrell
      Not saying your wrong, but the guitar you play doesnt effect much in the terms of making music, i belive its better to play with something unique, for the original sound. But the main thing is the feel of the guitar, if you like the feel go with it, people who tell you the tonal quality is bad, that you cant dive bomb on it, that theres no sustain, well the reality is that nothings perfect. I played a gig back at 6th form (back in the day) on a 30 guitar i got from Argos, it was an Argos made "TOY" but hey it was nice to play, although it went out of tune half way through a song.... In the end, make your own way, its the only way to learn... Nothings perfect...
      chris11989
      And what about the Burns Special Red Brian May signature model? That has 5*s on every review site I've seen
      ADIDASULLY
      This is probably a dumb question, but what exactly is a beginners guitar supposed to be? but otherwise nice article..
      low_slinger
      I dont know what gigs he was on about when he said that you wouldnt get them if you didnt have a whammy bar, is this guy playing all covers gigs or something? ive got 2 electrics and neither have whammy's, but none of my material needs them, and singers love the sound of a les paul. pretty small minded article.