2018 has been a pretty decent year for new guitar releases - with genuinely something exceptional for near enough every variety. Fender released the really cool alternative range of Parallel Universe guitars - including the above Troublemaker Telecaster. And Gibson released the perfectly packaged Les Paul Junior Tribute.
We also saw Ibanez, Music Man and PRS further build on their quality reputations - while Music Man concentrated more on its Sterling diffusion range as it was so busy with new models last year - this year really just saw the re-launch / re-fresh of the Cutlass, otherwise just annual variations.
Although not usually my type of thing - I really liked the look of the new Nutter Guitars, and I was of course wowed by UK-based luthier Mike Payne - who’s range of beautifully innovatively crafted Stone Wolf Guitars are right down my street - a really smart mix of traditional and modern materials with those superb-looking transparent Oil City Pickups.
Framus released its cheaper import range or D-Series / Artist Series, Ibanez its very well-received AZ range, and PRS of course - generally my overall favourite just keeps going from strength to strength. Finally Suhr celebrated 20 years in the business with a limited edition LP-alike £7K Aura guitar.
So lots of variety and something at every price-point - I believe the choice and variety of guitars has never been wider, and the overall quality has never been higher.
Guitars are listed / pictured alphabetically by brand:
So this is a really interesting hybrid of influence - with a proper Strat-style headstock and a very Les Paul influenced scratch-plate. I've really liked the Parallel Universe series and credit to Fender for daring to do something this inventive at last. These have mostly sold out already, and I'm not seeing many re-stocks at the moment - so not sure how limited this is supposed to be. Really cool Tele though.
Framus finally unleashes its Chinese import range at last - including less expensive D-Series and Artist Line Series variations of its existing classics. As a Phil X fan - I would likely go for the above XG Black Satin - which is less than a quarter of the price of a Teambuilt version and significantly less than a master-built verion. It comes with pretty decent Seymour Duncan SH-1 and SH-4b Humbuckers (aka '59 and JB) - but for authenticity I would definitely get the Arcane-made Phil X Signature PX-8 Humbucker Set ($298) which obviously raises the premium significantly - and of course locking tuners and Schaller strap locks! In any case this would be my 'SG' style guitar of choice! Interestingly Philip McKnight did some really cool updates on the same model in the above video - I might be tempted to do those changes too...
These have sold like hot cakes already and with just a single P90 bridge pickup are as simple as guitars come. I'm not convinced by the saddle-less compensated bridge - so would look to update that to something similar to PRS's recent version with adjustable intonation saddles. I would also need to get a String Buttler to stave off tuning issues for that headstock shape, and switch out those tuners for some proper locking version ones. Other than that - a really decent and great sounding little guitar.
Ibanez famously kick-started the sharper / pointier Super-Strat / shredder movement. Yet they now seem to be moving the other way too - more towards the rounded and smoother / softer side of things with their new AZ range which includes this Tom Quayle signature special. These guitars have an additional voicing toggle switch which allows you to do clever things with your pickup wiring arrangement and allow for a very wide palette of tones - particularly in this HSS variation where you can genuinely get a 3-coil Strat tone as well as proper dual-humbucker tones through clever pickup isolation and combination. I selected Tom's guitar for its unusual choice of woods too - just and all-round classy axe.
The number of female players with Signature Guitars is uncomfortably rare, so it's a dual delight that long-time Ibanez S-Series endorsee Nita finally gets her own signature version with some lovely detail touches including signature DiMarzio Pandemonium Pickups and cardiogram / Beaten Path signature inlays. I believe these are Indonesian Premium-made versus Japanese prestige - but excellent quality and really good value at this price point. I started off on an Ibanez RG-440 and it's probably high time I got myself another Ibanez - which would likely either by this or the rather simpler Marco Sfogli Signature MSM1.
This recent 'Jetson' style retro-futuristic guitar with Brian-May-Style / Jaguar-Style multi-mode pickup switches has rather tickled my fancy so to speak. I'm usually more into more modern guitars (PRS, Music Man, Ibanez, Schecter etc.) but something about this appeals to me - I love the design, colour and fantastic tonal variations and these guitars sound as impressive as they look - albeit quite pricey and difficult to get hold of from the UK.
The most controversial guitar of the year is funnily enough also one of the best-selling ones. You're basically getting Fender Custom Shop quality here with far more Paul Reed Smith attention to the details - at significantly less outlay. If I really wanted a classic 'Strat' style guitar today I would likely get this or Tom Quayle's Signature Ibanez over anything from Fender. I'm not so concerned with resale value - I just want the best quality and playability available.
Even though part of me quite like / wants the John Mayer Signature Silver Sky - I'd actually probably prefer to acquire this really versatile HSS PRS S2 Studio - which gives you a whole lot more variety of tones - albeit not quite as much variation as the above Tom Quayle with its extra switch. You can always rely on PRS quality though - and I have no qualms about buying from throughout the range - although I do bemoan the lack of locking tuners in and for the SE model series.
I feel Mike Payne's Stone Wolf has finally hit its stride - and very much hit upon a headstock shape that I genuinely love - and I am really fussy about those. Mike's guitars feature the most modern of construction techniques mixing up woods, resins and fabrics in all manner of weird and wonderful combinations. These are pricey for sure but really unique - and by far away my favourite UK-built guitars at the moment. The attention to detail here is just next-level, and I also really like the use of those transparent Oil City Pickups!
I like many am a huge fan of the original Les Paul PAF style sound - but not a fan of the idiosyncracies and weaknesses of Gibson models in general. So my favourite SG-style is a Framus, and for a Les Paul style thing I would rather look at Framus, Knaggs, PRS and this very limited edition Suhr 20th Anniversary Aura. These have sold so well - even at that lofty premium that John will most likely bring out further and more reasonably priced models at some stage in the future.
Of course I had to limit my selection to a Top 10 - so there are a few that just missed that cut - including the following 6:
As someone put it - it's been a fun/ny old year for guitar:
Essentially everyone made variations of each others guitar and we guitar fans are all the better off for it. Considering how many existing copies pre 2018 there were for each of the well-known classic models - it's sort of odd that there should be any kind of backlash against this sort of thing this year. The PRS Silver Sky in particular came in for a lot of flack - but it's really nothing more than Suhr or Schecter or Friedman or Xotic have been doing for a number of years.
If you don't like someone's model of a particular guitar style just don't buy it - there's no point winging and ranting about your own idiosyncrasies. I know and love PRS's qualities very well, and I would not hesitate to try out anything they brought out - you know you're getting top notch quality and attention to detail. All-round 2018 was a tremendous year for new guitars - we've never had it better really.