Grunge is undoubtedly one of the most iconic and unique styles to ever stem from rock music, with the dark and powerful guitar tone at the heart of the genre. The best guitars for grunge are brimming with character and attitude.
Music spectators may have predicted that grunge would be a passing fad that would fade away after the '90s, but the genre is still well and truly alive today. Aspiring grunge guitarists need to choose a model with the right attributes to suit the style.
Best Guitars for Grunge for the Money
The Fender Jazzmaster has long been popular amongst alternative guitarists for its style and distinctive feel. With the Player Jazzmaster, Fender has re-imagined the classic original and added some modern features.
The most recognizable features of the original Jazzmaster were its slightly offset alder body and floating tailpiece for enhancing vibrato. Both of these remain on the Player model, ensuring that it still feels like an authentic Jazzmaster guitar.
Grunge guitarists require thick, full-bodied tone, and the pair of humbucking pickups provide this in abundance. Responsive to the slightest dynamic changes in your playing, these pickups boast clarity and bite. They're also Alnico pickups, whereas earlier Made-in-Mexico guitars used to pack ceramic pickups.
Another improvement made by Fender is the extended fretboard size that now spans over 22 frets, an upgraded bridge to draw out additional sustain, and a set of reliable tone and volume knobs for variation. I've found the Pau Ferro fretboard to be quite smooth and comfortable to glide my fingers through.
There's one potential issue experienced guitar players might have with this guitar. Due to the thin neck, playing 1st-2nd fret chords may feel a bit weird. In my opinion, it's not a deal breaker, but it might just seem a tad bit awkward compared to other Jazzmaster models with beefier necks.
With that said, the neck still feels pretty fast and responsive when soloing or playing chords further down the neck (like jazz chords).
With its sky blue design and lightweight body, the Fender Player Jaguar is an ideal guitar for playing grunge chords and melodies. Its alder body is identical in dimension and radius to the revered original.
The Player Jaguar gets its grungey tone from the newly redesigned humbucker pickups, which can be switched to single-coil using the split switch. This feature makes switching between rhythm and lead parts quick and easy.
When you're playing guitar in a grunge band, the chosen model must be both mobile and comfortable due to the energetic nature of the performance. This Fender axe, with its modern C profile neck, is the kind of guitar you can play for hours without falling victim to fatigue.
On the other hand, just like on the Player Series Jazzmaster, the thin neck can feel a bit awkward when playing lots of barre chords.
The bridge could've been better, but I personally haven't had any issues with it. This wasn't the case with some other reviewers, though. Some people found it to rattle a bit when playing chords. Even tightening the screws didn't seem to help.
The Player Mustang 90 is an exquisite guitar by Fender, with all of the necessary qualities required for playing grunge. With the classic offset body style and a range of new additional features, this guitar is highly playable.
Thanks to the 24-inch scale length, the strings keep maximum tension even in the low-end, so riffs and power-chords don't suffer any loss of substance. Even when played clean with no effects pedals, the output of the Mustang 90 sounds huge.
With a pair of Fender-designed MP-90 single-coil pickups, the Mustang 90 differs in tone from its original namesake. These pickups were chosen especially for their increased output and midrange growl, two attributes required for grunge guitarists.
The Gibson SG requires no introduction. A thing of legends in the world of rock music, this beautiful electric guitar has been the weapon of choice for some of the most innovative and pioneering musicians to ever play a note.
The SG ticks all of the boxes when it comes to playing grunge. Its lightweight, solid body is made from mahogany, and won't get in the way of an energetic, unpredictable live show.
Grunge guitarists need plenty of sustain, for those rung-out chords and single-note solos. To provide this, the SG is specifically designed to keep the notes playing for longer.
With matched humbucker pickups, inspired by the classic PAF humbuckers of decades gone by, the SG standard can switch from light and melodic to jaw-dropping power. The tone is versatile and can be significantly adjusted using the volume and tone pots.
The only major concern might be Gibson's quality control, which can be a bit of a hit-or-miss according to many reviewers. Reports of minor scratches on the body out of the box and sub-par fret work are common.
To counter this, buy an SG guitar either in-store after a thorough inspection, or buy only from trusted e-commerce stores like Sweetwater, who inspect and even set up (a professional setup) their guitars properly before shipping them out.
The Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster brings the iconic Fender model into a more affordable format. Although the materials are slightly less high-end than the original, Squier has extracted all of the main components to ensure that the tone and playability don’t suffer.
Grunge music is all about standing out, without trying to stand out. The Classic Vibe ‘50s Tele effortlessly manages this, with its eccentric design and vintage aesthetics. The pine body adds a unique touch to the guitar’s appearance and feel.
The bridge stays true to the original Telecaster, with its 3-saddle bridge and retro-looking tuners. The black pickguard adds a character that matches the classic Telecaster twang.
The pickups used for this Squier guitar are a custom set of alnico single-coils. These provide adequate bite needed for grunge, and in the high-end, they produce a bell-like tone that is perfect for melodies and textural playing.
I previously had a Made-in-Mexico Telecaster which was twice was expensive, and I honestly liked this Squier model better. I didn't expect that from a "budget" guitar brand!
Grunge Guitar Body Styles: Offset vs. Standard
When searching for the best grunge guitars, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of recommended models feature a special type of body known as offset.
This quirk is popular amongst grunge guitarists because it slightly changes the tone and playability, adding to the alternative nature of the genre.
When discussing guitars, the term offset essentially refers to a body shape that is slightly off-center and asymmetrical. In my opinion, one could describe grunge music in the same way – rock music that is slightly “offset”.
Some may argue that these types of guitars are simply fashionable amongst musicians who want to stand out and not follow the crowd. However, offset body shapes do offer unique qualities.
Firstly, in comparison to a standard-body shaped guitar, offset models are often easier to move around with. They’re less bulky and therefore, especially for energetic genres like grunge, their popularity may be down to the mobility they provide.
Offset guitars are often fitted with a special bridge setup that promotes vibrato. Indeed, the tone of the guitar is largely impacted by the choice of pickups and the other components, but the offset does seem to add a little more bit in the mid-range.
Due to many offset grunge guitars being short-scale models, they are easier to play whilst singing or not looking at your instrument. Again, the energy exerted by a grunge guitarist requires a lot of focus, so the easier it is to play the guitar, the better.
Grunge guitars are known for being unique, and having a high output. It's important to strike a balance between tone and comfort when choosing a guitar for this genre.
It’s also important to consider which effects pedals you may or may not use with the guitar. The pickups and components may interact more effectively with certain pedals.