Famous Guitar Models That Every Guitarist Should Know

Published : - Author : Dan Kopilovic
Posted under: Guides

If you’re a new guitar player, like in any subject, you should start from the very basics. You should learn what frets are, a bridge, a fretboard radius, what kind of pickups there are, etc. And, if you’re one of those people who would also like to know some of the history behind the guitar, you should also probably learn to recognize at least a few basic guitar models.

That’s what we’re here for.

On this page, we’ll help you learn to recognize some of the most iconic guitar models. You’ll notice that these are primarily made by the “big two” – Fender and Gibson. There are probably hundreds of guitars manufacturers out there, but as you’ll learn, it all started – or more precisely – exploded, from the models produced by the “big two”.

So let’s start with the list.

Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster is arguably the most famous guitar model ever produced. Even if a person is unfamiliar with guitars, it’s likely that at least they’ll know that there’s a company called Fender, that produces something called a Stratocaster.

Key features of a Fender Stratocaster guitar.
Some key ways to recognize a Fender Stratocaster.

This popularity is largely due to people like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and others, who were basically icons back in the day, played Stratocasters as their main guitars at some point. This popularity extended to the new generation of guitarists like John Mayer and John Frusciante.

There are a few versions of the Stratocaster, two of the most popular being those based on the original Stratocasters produced in the 50s and the 60s. These are often branded as “60s Player Stratocaster” or “50s Vintera Stratocaster”.

All you need to know for now is that in general, 50s Stratocasters have maple fretboards, and 60s have rosewood ones. There are other details that separate the two, but here we’re talking strictly about being able to recognize the models.

Difference between 50s, 60,s and 70s Stratocaster headstocks and necks.
The 50s vs 60s vs late 60s/70s Stratocaster fretboard and headstock differences.

Aside from these, there are various versions of the Stratocasters nowadays, ones that come with humbuckers instead of single-coil pickups, ones that feature unique types of woods, or ones that are based on the 70s models and have larger headstocks.

Just remember to look at the headstock and the overall body shape. If the headstock reads “Fender” and the shape follows the shape shown here – it’s a Stratocaster.

Fender Telecaster

Fender Telecaster is actually a model that pre-dates the Stratocaster, even though probably the lesser-known model of the two, at least to the general public. The first version of a Telecaster came around 1951, while the first Stratocaster came out in 1954.

Details to remember in order to recognize a Fender Telecaster guitar.
Fender Telecaster key details.

Telecaster is also among the simpler guitar models. It has only two pickups compared to Stratocaster’s three, and it has a stop-tail bridge, instead of the tremolo used on Strats. It’s also very easily recognizable, once you remember the general body shape and the shape of the pickguard.

Of course, there are a lot of different versions of the Telecaster, some of which feature more or less than two pickups, some that have hollow bodies, and some that lack the pickguard completely. But, all of them share the body shape and the headstock shape, which is all you need to remember for now if you want to be able to recognize a Telecaster.

Fender Jaguar

Jaguar is probably the third best-known guitar model that Fender produces. Even though it’s way less famous than the first two, you should still be able to tell it apart from the others. It’s also one of the hardest models to recognize since it shares a lot of similarities with its sibling – the Jazzmaster, which we’ll talk about below.

Fender Jaguar key details.

The Jaguar is a model made most famous, at least in recent times, by Kurt Cobain, who used a 1965 model extensively during Nirvana’s Nevermind tour. Some of the players who used it in the earlier years include Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, Chris Dreja of the Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix. The model was first introduced in 1962 but was discontinued in December 1975 due to less-than-expected popularity.

The main features of the guitar are the body, which the model shares with the Jazzmaster, the control plates, which are unique to this model, and the tremolo system, which again it shares with the Jazzmaster.

So, if you memorize the body shape, the only thing you should really worry about is whether you’re confusing the Jaguar with a Jazzmaster. To avoid that remember that the Jaguar comes with the standard Fender single-coil or humbucking pickups, and it has metal control plates. We’ll explain how this differs from a Jazzmaster below.

Fender Jazzmaster

As said above, the Jazzmaster shares a lot of similarities with the Jaguar. They share the bodies, and most of the control plate layout, and they often share the tremolo system. One key detail to remember here is that if you see volume and control mounted on a metal plate – it’s a Jaguar. If you see them mounted directly on the pickguard, like in the photo below, it’s a Jazzmaster.

Also, Jazzmasters usually come with two “soap bars” which are these white (or black) plastic single-coil pickups. But, on some newer models like the Player Jazzmaster, Fender has started using the standard single-coils and humbuckers.

Key details for recognizing a Fender Jazzmaster guitar model.
Fender Jazzmaster key details.

As a little piece of trivia, the Jazzmaster, although probably less popular than Jaguar, actually predates the Jaguar by a few years. The Jaguar was first introduced in 1962, while the first Jazzmaster came from the production line in 1959. The Jazzmaster, as the name indicates, was targeted at jazz players, but it never really found its success there. The guitar was more popular in the surf music and instrumental rock scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s and in the modern American indie rock scene.

Fender Mustang

The Mustang model was introduced by Fender in 1964, as one of three “student” models as Fender called them, the two others being the Musicmaster and the Duo-Sonic. These two other models are basically slightly different versions of the same thing, with some minor details that differentiate them.

How to recognize a Fender Mustang model, and separate it from the Duo-Sonic and Musicmaker.
How to recognize a Fender Mustang model, and separate it from the Duo-Sonic and Musicmaker.

If you want to be able to differentiate the three, just remember the following. Musicmaster is the single-pickup version of the Duo-Sonic – it has only one single-coil pickup. The Mustang is the tremolo version of the Duo-Sonic – they both have two pickups, but the Duo-Sonic has a stop-tail bridge, while the Mustang has a tremolo bridge.

If you want to learn to tell apart the Mustang from other guitars, just memorize the body shape and the fact it has two pickups and a tremolo, and you’re all set.

If you want to know who played a Mustang among the popular guitarists – Kurt Cobain is probably the most notable one, as he popularized the model among the younger generation with his usage of a 1969 Fender Competition Mustang in the Smells Like Teen Spirit music video. Other notable players include Rory Gallagher, John Frusciante, and Simon Tong.

Gibson Les Paul

Gibson Les Paul is, next to the Fender Stratocaster, definitely the most famous guitar model that exists. It started a huge wave of copycats, some more subtle than others. The whole guitar market nowadays is basically filled either with Les Pauls or something that resembles a Les Paul.

Once you’ve seen a Gibson Les Paul, it really shouldn’t be a problem to recognize them in the future. The guitar has a very unique body shape, the headstock should be something you spot right away, and the “Gibson” logo is usually very shiny and legible.

One thing that’s probably gonna be harder to remember is all the different versions of a Les Paul. What we have pictured above is a Les Paul Standard, which is basically how Les Paul has been since the late 50s – it’s the “standard” version.

Aside from that one, there’s also a “Custom” version which is basically a fancier model with gold-plated hardware, more pronounced inlays, and binding, and they usually came either in black or white color.

The third most common is the Les Paul Goldtop. This is actually just a Les Paul Standard but featuring a gold-colored finish, and on the early models made before 1957, this model was equipped with single-coil P-90 pickups.

Gibson Les Paul Standard vs Custom vs Goldtop differences.
Gibson Les Paul Standard vs Custom vs Goldtop differences.

Those are the big three, but you also have to remember that a Les Paul Standard nowadays comes in a number of different colors, and different hardware specifications. But if you focus on just remembering the features of the Standard and the Custom, you should be all set.

Gibson SG

Believe it or not, the Gibson Les Paul, which is today one of the most recognizable guitar models, in 1961 was so unpopular that Gibson decided to put it out of production and replace it with a different model. This model is today known as SG (short for Solid Guitar), but back in those days, it was just Les Paul version two. Only in 1963 did SG become a separate model from the Les Paul, upon Les Paul’s (the person) request to remove his name from the branding.

Gibson SG key design features.
Gibson SG key features.

The SG is definitely one of the easiest guitars to recognize since all you need to remember about it is “horns”. If you see a Gibson logo, and you see a body with horns – yup, it’s an SG.

Besides that, there’s really nothing special to point out. The guitar basically has the same hardware combination as a Les Paul, and it too comes in a few different versions. The two most important, as is the case with Les Paul, are the SG Standard and the SG Custom.

The most famous SG guitarist is of course Angus Young from AC/DC, who probably indirectly sold more SGs than Gibson in all of their marketing campaigns. Other notable players include Duane Allman, who used an SG for slide playing, Derek Trucks, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, and Robby Krieger of The Doors.

Gibson ES-335

Gibson ES-335 is probably the most famous semi-hollow guitar model out there. If you’re wondering what exactly “sem-hollow” means, well that means that the guitar is somewhere between an acoustic and electric. Yes, it’s electrified, and it has pickups, but we’re talking about body construction here. A semi-hollow guitar has a hollow body, but it also has a big block of wood stretching in the middle of it – which gives the guitar more sustain and more structural stability.

Gibson ES-335 guitar model
Gibson ES-335

The ES-335 model was probably most popularized by the legendary B.B. King – who played a very special model called “Lucille”. Also, Eric Clapton played one during Cream’s final farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and to name someone more modern – Dave Grohl plays what is essentially an ES-335 with a few modifications.

It’s also important to mention that although ES-335 is the most popular Gibson semi-hollow model, it’s far from being the only one. You also have the ES-345, ES-355, and ES-175 – which are just some of the more popular ones (for the full list see – Gibson ES Series Models, Wikipedia). For now, just focus on remembering what an ES-335 looks like, and you’ll be fine from there.

Gibson Flying V

Gibson Flying V is probably the easiest guitar to recognize because the body shape couldn’t be any more descriptive than it is. It’s literally just a letter “V”, shaped into a usable guitar body shape, and usually, you’ll find that the headstock is “V” shaped too.

Gibson Flying V key details.
Gibson Flying V key details.

The Flying V is also one of the guitar that varies highly depending on the exact model and spec. It can have a stop-tail bridge, or it can have a tremolo, it can have a large pickguard like in the photo above, or it could not have a pickguard at all.

All in all, if it’s V-shaped, and if it has a Gibson logo on the headstock (there are a lot of knock-off models out there), it’s a Flying V.

Gibson Explorer

Gibson Explorer is one of the more unique guitar models out there, as it features quite an unconventional body shape. The guitar was first introduced in 1958 as a “futuristic” take on the electric guitar. Still, even though today it’s a well-known guitar model, back then Gibson discontinued it only 5 years into production.

Gibson Explorer/
Gibson Explorer.

Explorer started getting attention only years after, at first with the help of guys like Eric Clapton and Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins. But, perhaps the person who played the biggest role in popularizing the model is James Hetfield of Metallica, who almost always played some variation of an Explorer. It’s also worth noting that Eddie Van Halen at one point also “mained” an Ibanez Destroyer – which is basically a Gibson Explorer knock-off.

As far as features to memorize, the body shape is obviously the first, but also – this headstock shape you’ll usually only see on an Explorer (also Gibson uses it on different models occasionally). People often call it a “hockey stick” headstock, and it’s pretty unique. Other’s manufacturers like Ibanez and Charvel have used it as well, but when we’re talking about Gibson, it’s mainly on the Explorer.

Rickenbacker 330/360

Moving on from the big two, there are a few guitar brands worth mentioning. First is the Rickenbacker, which produced guitars played by some of the giants of the industry. George Harrison of the Beatles played one, Pete Townshend of the Who, Tom Petty, John Fogerty of CCR Paul Weller of the Jam, John Kay of Steppenwolf, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Johnny Marr of the Smiths.

Difference between a Rickenbacker 330 and a 360 model.
Difference between a Rickenbacker 330 and a 360 model.

Of course, not all of these people played the exact same model, but there is a lot that all the Rickenbacker models share among them. For that reason, we’ll focus on the two most popular models, and if you know learn to recognize these, you’ll at least be able to tell the Rickenbacker guitars from the other brands.

The models 330 and 360 are comparatively the same thing as a Les Paul Standard, and a Les Paul Custom. 330 is essentially the same guitar as the 360, but there are some minor design differences between the two. In short, once you’ve memorized the 330/60 body shape, just look at the body “horns”. If they are sharp and pointy – it’s a 330. If they are oval – it’s a 360.

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