Electric guitars are undoubtedly one of the most iconic tools in the arsenal of any country musician. The instrument has helped legendary artists create some of the most memorable tunes in history. However, the journey to this point in time was not a smooth one. The evolution of electric guitars in country music has been a long and fascinating one, spanning several decades and encompassing numerous innovations. From the earliest beginnings to the modern-day, today we take a dive into the world of those most influential electric guitars in country music history.
Early Beginnings of Country Electric Guitars
When it comes to country music, it’s hard to imagine the genre without the unique twang of an electric guitar. From the earliest days of country music, musicians have sought out new ways to amplify their sound and fill a room with their music. However, it wasn’t until the rise of the electric guitar that country music saw a true revolution in sound. In this section, we’ll explore the early beginnings of electric guitars in country music and the famous models that helped shape the genre. So, let’s dive into the world of country music and electric guitars.
The Fender Telecaster
The Fender Telecaster, also known as the “Tele,” was the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar and has been a staple of country music ever since its introduction in 1950. It was designed by Leo Fender and initially marketed as the Fender Esquire, but was later renamed the Telecaster, in reference to its ability to produce both “tele” (short for “telephone-like”) and “caster” (short for “broadcast”) tones.
The Telecaster’s classic design features a single-cutaway body made of ash or alder, a bolt-on maple neck with a 21-fret rosewood or maple fingerboard, and two single-coil pickups, which provide its twangy sound. The bridge pickup, in particular, has become synonymous with country guitar playing, thanks to its crisp attack and bright, clear tone.
Despite some initial criticism from traditionalists, the Telecaster revolutionized country music by allowing guitarists to play louder and with more sustain, while also allowing them to experiment with new techniques and effects. The instrument’s streamlined design and sturdy construction made it perfect for road use, and many country icons, including Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings, used Telecasters throughout their careers.
In recent years, the Telecaster has experienced a resurgence in popularity among country guitarists, with modern players like Brad Paisley and Keith Urban citing it as a major influence. It remains one of the most iconic and recognizable electric guitars in country music history.
To learn more about the country music solid-body guitar evolution, read our Electric Guitar Evolution in Country Music article.
Gibson Les Paul
The Gibson Les Paul is a true icon among electric guitars in country music history. First introduced in 1952, it has been a favorite of country guitarists ever since. The Les Paul’s signature solid body design offered players a new level of sustain and feedback control that was previously impossible with hollow body instruments.
Notably, the Les Paul was adopted early on by pioneers in the country music scene, such as Les Paul himself, Chet Atkins, and Duane Eddy. Its rich tone and thick sustain helped to lay the foundation for the development of rock and roll, as well as making it a go-to for country guitarists.
The Les Paul’s impact on country music can be felt in numerous classic songs, with artists like Hank Garland, Jimmy Bryant, and Roy Nichols using the instrument’s unique voice as a cornerstone of their sound.
The Les Paul’s high-quality construction and distinctive sound made it a favorite of guitar manufacturers, many of whom continue to produce signature models to this day. Players like Joe Walsh, Brad Paisley, and Warren Haynes have all contributed to the Les Paul’s legacy, effectively making it one of the most influential guitars of all time.
Although it is not without its controversies and criticisms, the Les Paul remains a beloved instrument in country music to this day. Whether you’re a seasoned player or just starting out, check out our guide on buying an electric guitar for country music to find the best fit for you.
Electric Guitars and the Outlaw Movement
As country music expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, a new generation of artists began rebelling against the polished Nashville sound. The Outlaw Movement, led by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, embraced a more raw and gritty approach to country music. Electric guitars played a crucial role in this rebellion, with artists using them to express a newfound sense of rebellion and individualism. The Fender Stratocaster, Gibson ES-335, and Telecaster Deluxe were just a few of the electric guitars that became synonymous with Outlaw Country. Let’s explore some of the most influential electric guitars of this pivotal movement. If you want to know more about how electric guitar revolutionized country music, visit here.
The Fender Stratocaster has undoubtedly become one of the most iconic electric guitars in the history of country music. This six-stringed beauty was first released in 1954 and has gone on to become a mainstay for musicians across multiple genres. Its sleek and stylish design is just the tip of the iceberg, as the Stratocaster is loaded with features that make it a versatile instrument.
Here are some features:
- The contoured body, which not only looks great but also makes the instrument more comfortable to play than other guitars on the market.
- A trio of single-coil pickups, which allow for a wide range of tonal possibilities.
- A five-way pickup selector switch, which enables players to easily switch between different pickup configurations.
- A synchronized tremolo bridge, which adds even more options for tonal experimentation.
The Stratocaster’s crisp and bright tone has made it a clear favorite among country artists. Legendary players like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck have all made good use of the instrument, and a number of country icons such as Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and Keith Urban have made it one of their go-to guitars.
Despite its popularity, the Stratocaster has not been without its controversies and criticisms. Some have argued that the guitar’s unique sound doesn’t fit squarely within the traditional country music sound. However, for many musicians, the Stratocaster’s ability to blend seamlessly with different genres is part of what makes it so versatile.
If you’re interested in purchasing an electric guitar for country music, the Fender Stratocaster is definitely a model worth considering. Its popularity means that there are plenty of resources available for learning to play the instrument, from online tutorials to instructional DVDs.
Check out our guide to buying an electric guitar for country music for more information on what to look for when shopping for your own Stratocaster. You may also want to explore the many different effects pedals available for country guitars, which can be used to further manipulate the Stratocaster’s already versatile sound.
The Gibson ES-335 has often been hailed as one of the most versatile and influential electric guitars in the history of country music. It was first introduced in 1958 and has been a popular choice for musicians ever since. Here are some key reasons why the ES-335 deserves recognition.
Semi-Hollow Design: One of the unique features of the ES-335 is its semi-hollow design, which gives it a warm and complex tone that is capable of producing a wide range of sounds. It has a laminated maple body with a maple center block running down the middle. This design reduces feedback while increasing sustain and resonance, resulting in a sound that is both rich and dynamic.
Iconic Sound: The Gibson ES-335 has been used by several country music icons over the years, such as Larry Carlton and Chuck Berry, and it has also made a prominent appearance in genres such as jazz, blues, and rock. Its ability to produce articulate and crisp sounds has contributed to its legacy as one of the defining guitars of the 20th century.
Sophisticated Aesthetics: Another aspect of the ES-335 that has made it a fan-favorite is its sophisticated aesthetic appeal. Its body features double cutaways, pointed horns, and a sleek design that has been imitated by other guitar manufacturers over the years.
Versatility: The ES-335 has also been praised for its versatility, which has made it a favorite of country musicians across the sub-genres. Its dual humbuckers with separate volume and tone controls allow musicians to produce a wide range of sounds, from clean and twangy tones to distorted and gritty overdrive. As such, it has been an invaluable tool for country guitarists who want to experiment with different styles and sounds.
The Gibson ES-335 is a guitar that has earned its place in country music history as an innovative and beloved instrument. Its semi-hollow design, iconic sound, sophisticated aesthetics, and versatility have all contributed to making it a popular choice among country musicians for over 60 years.
When you think of country music, the Fender Telecaster is probably the first electric guitar that comes to mind. However, the Telecaster Deluxe, released in the early 1970s, is also worth mentioning. It quickly gained popularity among country guitarists for its unique sound and design.
One reason for this popularity was its dual humbucker pickups, which gave it a beefier sound compared to the traditional single-coil pickups found on the original Telecaster. Additionally, the Telecaster Deluxe’s two-volume and two-tone control knobs allowed for greater tonal variation and experimentation.
Notable country guitarists who have used the Telecaster Deluxe include Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, and Vince Gill. Urban even had a signature model Telecaster Deluxe released in his name.
The controversy of incorporating electric guitars into country music was less of a factor by the time the Telecaster Deluxe was released. Instead, it had more to do with the switch from traditional country to a more rock-oriented sound. Nevertheless, the Telecaster Deluxe was embraced by country musicians and helped to shape the distinctive sound of country music in the 1970s and beyond.
In addition to its sound, the Telecaster Deluxe’s design was also innovative. It featured a Stratocaster-style headstock and a carved top (unlike the flat-top original Telecaster). This design allowed for a more comfortable playing experience, especially during long sets.
Some might argue that the Telecaster Deluxe was not as influential as its predecessor, the Telecaster, or its successors, the Stratocaster and Telecaster Plus. However, its unique sound and design continue to make it a sought-after guitar among country guitarists and collectors alike.
Fun Fact: The Telecaster Deluxe was discontinued in the late 1970s but was reissued in the early 2000s due to popular demand. Today, it remains a popular choice among country guitarists looking for a classic sound with modern innovation.
Internal link: If you want to learn more about the solid-body electric guitars in country music history, check out our article about country music solid body guitars.
Discover Top 3 Electric Guitar Bestsellers
- Offers nearly everything of its higher-end cousin, the ESP KH-2, at a price that more musicians can afford
- Features neck-thru-body construction, a comfortable alder body, and a 3 pc. extra-thin U-shaped maple neck
- The pau ferro fingerboard features 24 extra-jumbo frets and Kirk Hammett's skull-and-bones inlays
- Components include a Floyd Rose bridge and a set of EMG Kirk Hammett Bone Breaker Signature pickups
- A powerful guitar designed for professional recording and performance, perfect for any serious player of intense music
- Designed for James Hetfield, frontman of Metallica and one of the most highly respected rhtyhm guitarists
- Based on James' custom design, with set-neck construction for stability and smooth access to the highest frets
- Features a mahogany body with maple cap, a 3 pc. mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard and 22 XJ frets with an Iron Cross inlay
- Powered by James' own EMG JH SET active pickups, and includes a TonePros locking TOM bridge and tailpiece
- Includes an ESP EC form-fit guitar hard case to safely transport your new instrument
- Designed to offer the tone, feel, looks, and quality that professional musicians need, while still being affordable
- Consistently one of ESP's most popular guitars due to its combination of incredible looks and great performance
- Offers a vintage looking body/neck/headstock binding and gold hardware and includes premier components
- Includes LTD locking tuners, Tonepros locking TOM bridge and tailpiece, and the aggression of active EMG 81/60 pickups
- Also offers set-thru construction with a mahogany body, 3 pc. mahogany neck, and 24-fret Macassar ebony fingerboard
New Traditionalists and Beyond
As country music evolved and changed, so did the electric guitars that were used to create the signature sound of the genre. From the Outlaw movement to the New Traditionalists and beyond, modern country guitarists have found inspiration in a variety of electric guitars. While many of the earlier models continue to be revered, guitarists have also embraced innovation, incorporating new technologies to create their unique sound. In this section, we’ll highlight several of the most influential electric guitars from the New Traditionalist era and beyond. We’ll also explore how these guitars have influenced the sound and style of modern country music. So, let’s dive in and discover some of the top guitars that have helped shape the modern country music landscape.
The G&L ASAT
One electric guitar that has made an immense impact on country music is the G&L ASAT. Developed by Leo Fender and George Fullerton, the G&L ASAT is an epitome of the classic single-cutaway guitar design generally perceived as one of the most significant musical instruments of the 20th century. The ASAT features advances in guitar technology, and it has been a game-changer for country music guitar players.
The G&L ASAT comes with a swamp ash body and an attractive maple neck. The guitar features a modern C-shaped neck to provide comfort for players who prefer slimmer necks. Additionally, the guitar has a 7.5-inch fretboard radius, which allows for easier bending of notes. The guitar is available in a variety of finishes, including natural wood, cherry burst, and tobacco sunburst, among many others.
The hardware on the G&L ASAT is also of exceptional quality. It features a dual-fulcrum vibrato bridge, which allows players to achieve a smooth vibrato effect while playing. The guitar also comes with a pair of MFD single-coil pickups. These pickups give the G&L ASAT an exceptional country sound that’s clear, bright, and twangy.
As with other electric guitars, there have been controversies and criticisms of the G&L ASAT. However, these criticisms are mostly subjective, and the guitar has received plenty of accolades, particularly in the country music scene. Its exceptional quality and unique country-sound have made it a popular choice for country guitar enthusiasts.
The G&L ASAT is one of the most prominent electric guitars in country music history. It’s a guitar that’s enjoyed by both professional and amateur guitarists alike. Whether you’re a gigging musician or a bedroom hobbyist, the G&L ASAT is a guitar that’s worth considering due to its exceptionally crafted features.
|Neck shape:||Modern C-shaped|
|Fretboard radius:||7.5 inches|
|Bridge:||Dual-fulcrum vibrato bridge|
|Pickups:||MFD single-coil pickups|
|Available finishes:||Natural wood, cherry burst, tobacco sunburst, and more|
Want to learn more about other important guitars in country music history? Check out our article on Country Icons: Electric Guitars.
Fender Telecaster Plus
The Fender Telecaster Plus is the modern version of one of the most iconic guitars in music history, the Telecaster. This guitar was introduced in the 1950s and it quickly became a favorite among country music players for its unique sound and design.
The Telecaster Plus has a few key features that set it apart from other guitars in its class. For one, it has a locking tremolo system that helps keep the guitar in tune even when performing aggressive string bends or using a heavy vibrato. The guitar also features a humbucking pickup in the neck position that produces a fuller, warmer sound compared to the standard single-coil pickups found on traditional Telecasters.
The body of the Telecaster Plus is made of ash, which is a popular wood choice for country guitars due to its bright, twangy tone. The neck is made of maple, another popular wood choice among country players for its bright, crisp sound.
|Fingerboard Material||Maple or Rosewood|
|Number of Frets||22|
|Pickups||Humbucker (neck), Single-coil (bridge)|
One of the most notable country music players to use the Telecaster Plus was Vince Gill. He used the guitar extensively during the 1990s when he was at the peak of his career. Other notable users of the Telecaster Plus include Keith Urban and Brad Paisley.
The Telecaster Plus is a guitar that has stood the test of time and has proven to be a reliable and versatile instrument for country music players. Its unique features and classic design make it a popular choice for both professionals and beginners alike.
If you want to learn more about country guitar gear, check out our article about country guitar effects pedals. Or, if you’re interested in the controversies and criticisms surrounding electric guitars in country music, head over to our article about controversies and criticisms of electric guitars in country music. And if you’re interested in the history of famous guitar manufacturers in country music, check out our article about famous guitar manufacturers in country music.
PRS Custom 22
When it comes to powerful and versatile guitars, the PRS Custom 22 is definitely one of the most influential electric guitars in country music history. This guitar was introduced in 1985 by Paul Reed Smith and quickly gained a reputation for its exceptional craftsmanship and tonal range.
Some of the key features that set the PRS Custom 22 apart from other guitars include its 22-fret, 25-inch scale length, and signature bird inlays. It also has a mahogany body with a maple top and either a rosewood or ebony fingerboard. The PRS 85/15 pickups provide a wide range of tonal options, from bright and crisp to bold and warm.
What makes this guitar special is its ability to tackle a variety of playing styles, from fingerstyle picking to aggressive strumming. The 5-way blade switch allows players to easily switch between pickups and adjust the tone and volume using the two control knobs.
In terms of design, the PRS Custom 22 has a classic look with a modern twist. The carved top and back give it a sleek appearance while the bird inlays add a touch of elegance. The guitar also has a comfortable neck profile and excellent sustain, making it an ideal choice for both studio and live performances.
The PRS Custom 22 is a top-tier guitar that has earned its place in country music history. Its versatility, excellent craftsmanship, and tonal range have made it a popular choice among professional musicians for over three decades. Whether you’re a seasoned musician or just starting out, this guitar is definitely worth considering for your collection.
As we close the curtains on this piece, it is clear that the electric guitar has left an indelible mark on the history of country music. From the early beginnings of electrified country twang to the electrifying sounds of the outlaw movement and beyond, the six-stringed instrument has been a key component in shaping the genre.
Through our journey, we explored some of the most influential electric guitars that have made country music what it is today. The Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul, two of the earliest electric guitars to be embraced by country musicians, set the groundwork for the sound of country guitar.
The Fender Stratocaster, Gibson ES-335, and Telecaster Deluxe, all synonymous with the outlaw movement, pushed the boundaries of what the electric guitar could sound like in country music.
Finally, the G&L ASAT, Fender Telecaster Plus, and PRS Custom 22 showcased the versatility of the electric guitar and its ability to evolve with changing tastes and demands.
As we move forward, it is exciting to think about what new innovations and sounds the electric guitar will bring to country music. One thing is for sure, it will continue to be a staple in the genre’s rich history and bright future.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an acoustic and electric guitar?
An acoustic guitar produces sound purely acoustically, whereas an electric guitar requires an amplifier to enhance its sound.
Why are electric guitars so popular in country music?
Electric guitars offer a wider range of sounds and tones that can better suit the diverse styles of country music. They also allow for more volume in large concert settings.
What makes the Fender Telecaster a classic country guitar?
The Fender Telecaster was the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar, and its twangy sound became emblematic of classic country music.
How did the Gibson Les Paul become a staple in country music?
The Gibson Les Paul offered more sustain and a thicker sound than the Telecaster, making it an ideal choice for players looking for a different tone in their country music.
What is the significance of the Fender Stratocaster in the outlaw country movement?
The Stratocaster’s versatility and distinct sound made it a favorite of various outlaw country musicians, including Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
What is unique about the Gibson ES-335 and its role in country music?
The Gibson ES-335’s semi-hollow design allowed for both acoustic and electric tones, making it a popular choice for country players looking for a more fluid sound.
Why did the Telecaster Deluxe become a favorite among country guitarists?
The Telecaster Deluxe’s two humbucker pickups offered a different, meatier sound compared to other Telecasters and became a favorite of country players such as Brad Paisley.
What makes the G&L ASAT different from other classic country guitars?
The G&L ASAT’s design is based on the classic Telecaster model, but with tweaks to its pickups and body shape that give it a unique sound and style coveted by country players.
How did the Fender Telecaster Plus enhance the classic Telecaster sound for country players?
The Telecaster Plus added a humbucker pickup in the neck position, creating a fuller, richer tone for country players who wanted more depth in their sound.
What advantages does the PRS Custom 22 offer for modern country players?
The PRS Custom 22 offers versatility and a wide range of tonal options that cater to modern country’s various sub-genres, from traditional to rock-infused.