Not every guitar hero has to be stood in front of a wall of Marshall stacks, with a low-slung Les Paul. Here, we’re taking more of an anti-guitar hero approach as we count down the best guitars for indie rock, taking into account different budgets and the different needs of a variety of players.
Indie rock is actually quite an all-encompassing genre. Stemming from the term ‘independent’, usually in reference to record labels in the late ’70s, indie rock has, in the last few decades, become fairly interchangeable with post-punk, alternative and indie.
When we use it today, we’ll usually be referring to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The White Stripes, The Killers, Kings Of Leon, The Strokes and so on. It can also refer to more old-school indie bands like The Smiths and The Stone Roses, as well as more contemporary artists like Phoebe Bridgers, The Sherlocks and Sam Fender.
So musically, there’s quite a lot of ground to cover. We’ll want to make sure that we’ve got the classic, jangly, chimey guitar tones covered, as well as the chunkier, more stadium-filling guitar tones. Whatever you’re after, we’ve got you covered in our list of the best guitars for indie rock.
Best guitars for indie rock: Guitar World recommends
It’s hard to talk about indie rock guitars without any mention of the Fender Telecaster. The Tele is versatile, and you’ll see it in the hands of many different players, especially within the realms of indie rock. More specifically, the Fender Player Telecaster delivers all its classic tones, without breaking the bank.
Alternatively, you can’t go wrong with an offset. Here, we’ve chosen the Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster for some vintage-inspired mojo, and a signature model from the king of indie rock himself – the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar.
Best guitars for indie rock: Product guide
It’s hard to not rank the Fender Telecaster as the best guitar for indie rock. The Tele is an incredibly versatile beast – if you want to cover everything from bright and jangly, to warm and mellow, with lots of ground in between, then the Fender Player Telecaster could be the one for you.
Like everything else in the Player series, the Tele is rock solid, and boasts a well and truly tried and tested design. It’s simple and it’ll perform night after night in whatever sweaty bar you’re playing.
The bite that you get from the bridge is great for stabby chords, and lead lines that cut through the mix. The neck pickup sounds smooth and warm, and both together can work great as a nice percussive sound.
Offset guitars are really popular with indie rock players as they offer something a little different both in terms of sound and looks. The Fender Vintera 60s Jazzmaster is probably one of the best modern-day guitars taking inspiration from the past, at this price point. It’s not cheap, but it’s not crazy money either, and you get an awful lot of guitar for what you pay, plus a matching headstock never hurts either!
The pickups in the Jazzmaster are essentially bigger single coils, so they sort of bridge the gap sonically between regular single coils and humbuckers, making them perfect for indie rock guitarists that probably want some nice clean sounds, with the ability to add some dirt or fuzz, and still get a clear tone. The traditional Jazzmaster lead/rhythm circuit lets you get darker sounds, as well as bright and sparkly tones.
Twin humbuckers and a semi-hollow body help provide a big, warm, chunky sound, ideal for both chord work and lead playing alike. A good deal of Oasis’ back catalogue was recorded using semi-hollow guitars (including from Epiphone), so if it’s good enough for selling out Knebworth two nights in a row…
The humbuckers are great for dealing with the rockier side of indie, while the semi-hollow body and maple center block help provide plenty of sustain and resonance. They also look the part, though if you’d prefer something a little smaller with the same sort of sound then check out the ES-339. If you’ve got a bigger budget, then you might want to look at the Gibson counterpart.
Read the full Epiphone ES-335 review
A signature model from one of the biggest names in indie rock. The Johnny Marr Jaguar has been made specifically to complement the playing style of the man whose work with The Smiths, Modest Mouse, The Cribs, The The and more has helped define the genre.
The Fender Johnny Marr Jag has all the jangle and chime you’d expect, but it’s also got a darker, more humbucker-like tone in an extra fourth position, whereby both of his custom-wound Bare Knuckle pickups are wired in series. This makes it versatile and the perfect ‘do-it-all’ guitar, for both studio and live use. As you’d expect, you’re getting premium USA-build Fender quality, so it’s on the more expensive side, but if you’ve got the cash, it’s worth it.
Read the full Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar review
The combination of a slightly hotter vintage-style humbucker with lots of clarity and a P-90 allows for the best of both worlds. Having the humbucker in the bridge position gives you the big rock chunk when you need it, and the P-90 balances it out with some more mellow bite. It cleans up nicely too, plus you’ll get some great results from using both pickups at the same time.
Reverend are very much a brand on the rise, but they’re still a little more under the radar than the Gibson and Fenders of this world, which is great for those that stand by indie values as well as indie rock. Good quality hardware and locking tuners also mean you’ve got great tuning stability and reliability.
Whilst it certainly isn’t the cheapest model on this list, the Rickenbacker 330 has solidified its position as one of the best guitars for indie rock over the last few decades. Favored by the likes of Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher and other indie icons, the 330 has everything you might need – a semi-hollow body, two single coil pickups with enough output to push a tube nicely and one of the best looking body shapes around.
Rickenbackers are really high quality instruments and are synonymous with the genre. Expect lots of note definition and a good deal of chime and top end sparkle. They sound like nothing else and they couldn’t look more the part.
Read the full Rickenbacker 330 review
Like Telecasters, Strats are great for pretty much any style of music, including indie rock. ’50s and ’60s style Strats are often revered by blues and classic rock players, but the somewhat overlooked ’70s Strats are where it’s at for indie rockers.
Three single coil pickups and a five-way selector allow for a selection of different tones that have you covered for lead and rhythm parts. Whether you’re playing through mostly clean or overdriven sounds, you’ll get some nice spanky top end, with bite when you want it.
These Classic Vibe guitars offer superb value too – they don’t break the bank, but they’re made to a good standard, they’re comfortable to play and most importantly, they sound great.
If you’re the only guitarist in the band you’re in, or even if you’re not but you want to complement another guitarist using a Tele or a Strat for example, then a Gretsch might be the perfect choice for you. The fully hollow body is super resonant, but, thanks to the Black Top Filter’Tron pickups, you still get the chime and presence that you’ll probably want for the style of music.
These are pretty big guitars, so they can really make a statement on stage, regardless of whether you go for the not-so-subtle White Falcon-esque finish or the more understated 1963-era George Harrison Country Gent style walnut. Either way, these are some of the best looking instruments out there, and definitely one of the best guitars for indie rock.
Best guitars for indie rock: Buying advice
Choosing the best indie rock guitar for you
So you know that you want one of the best guitars for indie rock, but how do you choose which one? Everything from tone, to budget, to aesthetics can all play a part in picking the one that works best for you.
When choosing the best guitar for indie rock, also consider when and where you’ll be playing it the most. Are you in a band? If so, are you playing with another guitarist? It’s usually worth going for something with a different style of electric guitar pickup, so that the two guitars can be heard individually in the mix.
In terms of sound, single coils tend to be brighter and have a lower output – that is they feed your guitar amp with slightly less signal. Single coils are great for jangly guitar sounds, with plenty of attack. Very generally speaking, these are what most indie rock players use, though that’s not to say that humbuckers don’t have their place too.
In contrast, humbuckers, are usually slightly warmer and fuller sounding, with a touch more output. If you’re after a big, powerful sound, or you’re perhaps looking to counter your bandmate playing with single coils, then you might want to consider a humbucker-equipped guitar. P-90 pickups, whilst technically still single coils, quite often strike a nice balance between the two.
All these guitars have different pickups. Whilst many of them share some of the same characteristics – plenty of top end, not too high output etc – they’re all very different, so try and think about the kind of sound that you want. Sometimes a good place to start is to look at what the guitar players you idolize use, and aim for something similar.
How much should you spend on an indie rock guitar?
Of course, budget does usually play a part in picking a new instrument, which is why our list of the best guitars for indie rock covers everything from a few hundred, to thousands. No matter what you’ve got to spend, you can pick out something that will do the job nicely.
Aesthetic plays a part too – there’s no point picking a great guitar if you hate the look of it! Offsets, like Jazzmaster and Jaguars, are really popular within the indie scene at the moment, and something like a Rickenbacker, whilst pricey, is never going to look anything other than incredible.
Usually, you’ll want to get the best guitar you can afford. But, if you’re out playing in sweaty pubs and bars every weekend, you might not want to take your pride and joy out every time. Instead, you might consider a cheaper alternative: instead of the pre-CBS Fender you’ve inherited, why not take out a Squier Classic Vibe or Mexican-made Fender? They’ll do a great job, and there’s less at stake if half a beer gets spilt over it by accident. Plus, 99 per cent of the crowd isn’t going to hear the difference in a live scenario.