Just like people, some guitars rise to the top, some stay average, and others are hidden gems. Then you have the ones that have had some fame at one point, but have been either forgotten and passed up for all of the Fender, Jackson, and Ibanez guitars on the market (don’t get me wrong, I love these!), or they’re behind-the-scenes, quietly competing for your attention. This article will show you ten guitar brands that you might have missed out on and hopefully encourage you to check them out at some point.
Table of Contents
What Are They
- Paul Reed Smith (PRS)
There’s a lot of cool stuff to talk about with each of these electric guitar brands, and I guarantee that you’ll learn something new. I hope you have some popcorn or other snacks ready because this is going to be a long ride!
The first underrated guitar brand that has made this list is Hamer. I think that Hamer is interesting in that they aren’t something that you can typically find in your local guitar store, but they have been endorsed by some major artists in the 1970s and 80s.
Paul Stanley from Kiss, Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame, and the guys from Def Leppard have all been seen using Hamers, but probably the best-known players to use them is Judas Priest’s guitar duo – Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing.
Hamer is still alive and kickin’ after all of these years, despite kind of flying under the radar when it comes to rock and metal guitars. They still put out awesome looking and high-quality instruments, like this transparent black one with a flamed top. In all honesty, this brand deserves more exposure even though it has a long history already.
It might seem kind of predictable, but it felt appropriate to have Kramer follow Hamer in this list. Not only because they rhyme, but because they have somewhat similar backgrounds.
Perhaps the best known Kramer artist was Eddie Van Halen during the 1980s, but Motley Crue’s Mick Mars had been spotted with them as well as Vivian Campbell during his Whitesnake days. Additionally, because of Van Halen’s involvement with the brand, Kramer were some of the very first guitars to ever use the now-famous Floyd Rose tremolo system.
Kramer still exists though, and it seems a bit more popular than Hamer at this point; however, I think the brand’s most popular model is the Baretta. The Kramer Baretta is still being manufactured just like in its glory days with its hockey stick headstock, Floyd bridge, and the single-pickup setup. Definitely a classic look.
3. Paul Reed Smith
Straying away a bit from some of history’s best metal guitars, we have now arrived at PRS, which is one of the most gorgeous brands out there to have risen out of the 80s and 90s.
I am quite fond of their flamed top guitars, and it seems like Carlos Santana and John Mayer do too, who are a couple of famous guitarists with signature PRS instruments. Paul Reed Smith, the luthier and founder of the company, is also a great guitarist who plays his own stuff in his eponymous band.
Some other interesting facts about PRS is that the company was once involved in a legal battle with Gibson over the Singlecut model, and they were a notable brand to have been affected by the economic recession of 2008. It’s been a long time since then, and I certainly hope they have recovered because I’ve always had an admiration for Paul Reed Smith guitars.
4. Carvin/Kiesel Guitars
Carvin has never had a bad reputation for creating awful guitars; in fact, it’s the opposite. Their guitars were beautiful and a pleasure to play. The problem with these instruments was that they were just kind of inaccessible for the most part.
Let me clarify. If I recall right, before the online shopping boom, there were two ways to get a Carvin guitar – you could go into one of their stores (which weren’t that common), or you could order one from one of their catalogs. I think this is the main reason that Carvin wasn’t as popular of a guitar brand as they could have been.
Three guitarists that I know of off the top of my head who endorsed Carvins at one point or another were Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, and Greg Howe. These are very technical players who were associated with the Shrapnel Records label.
Nowadays, Carvin merged with Kiesel, while the actual Carvin name still lives on in their amps and other pro-audio hardware. Since we won’t be seeing Carvin guitars being made anymore, I guess this will make them rarer, but Kiesel has done an amazing job so far while carrying the torch.
However, there’s only one Kiesel store, so buying online is probably your best bet.
When a lot of people think of Yamaha, affordable, entry-level acoustic and electric guitars, often come to mind. On top of that, Yamaha is also known for creating motorcycles, boats, and other vehicles. While the brand does make a lot of products to help new players get started, Yamaha also has a long history and has guitars that you probably didn’t even know existed!
Yamaha has been making guitars since the 1960s, and a lot of their earlier models resembled those old vintage guitars like Guild, Gretsch, and the Fender Jaguar designs. In the 1980s, they were also known for including their take on the famous super-strat design of the time, such as the RGX (kind of looks like a cross between a Jackson and an Ibanez).
However, the model that they are probably most notable for is the Pacifica, which is an ordinary beginner-level instrument. Contrary to popular belief, the Yamaha Pacifica actually comes in different tiers, just like Jackson Dinkies, Ibanez RGs, and even Fender Stratocasters. Because many people automatically assume Yamaha makes low-end guitars, they miss out on the other great instruments that they have to offer. Check out one of their mid-to-high end ones!
I think some other reasons Yamahas didn’t gain much traction is because their instruments were perceived to be clones of more famous electric guitar brands, like Fender. Additionally, some guitarists have had an aversion to Japanese-made instruments, at least in the past. American-made instruments were a big deal back then.
Still, this didn’t stop Michael Lee Firkins and bassist Billy Sheehan from being endorsed by this highly-underrated guitar company.
Peavey is probably known for their amps and pro audio more than anything else nowadays, but some people, including myself, are guilty of forgetting that Peavey also makes some cool and innovative guitars.
While Peavey has manufactured many classy-looking instruments over the years, their best-known guitar in recent times is the Peavey Autotune.
No, it’s not auto-tuned like the vocals in a lot of modern pop music; instead, this guitar literally tunes itself automatically, and it can precisely adjust to a variety of alternate tunings.
This might seem unnecessary for the experienced guitarist who equates tuning a guitar to brushing his or her teeth, but it still goes to show you that innovation is still possible with the electric guitar.
Because of Peavey’s developments, I think the brand is underrated and deserves a lot more credit than they do. They make very popular guitar amps, but their guitars should get the same attention.
This video shows you how the Peavey Autotune works:
Fernandes has a lot in common with Yamaha in that they are both Japanese guitar brands and they started off by creating instruments that are a lot like more famous manufacturers in both design and build quality, but later started branching out into more unique models, like the Ravelle.
Internationally, Fernandes might be most known for its Sustainer kits for guitar pickups which electromagnetically vibrate the strings to add longer sustain to notes that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Nevertheless, other than the Sustainer, some famous guitarists have used or endorsed Fernandes instruments since the 1980s.
Before he was endorsed by ESP and given his famous signature guitars, such as the Ouija board model, Kirk Hammet of Metallica used Fernandes guitars in their early years and used one to record parts on 1984’s Ride the Lightning and for touring.
Another historically significant player who endorsed Fernandes guitars until his untimely passing in the early 1990s was Hide from X-Japan, arguably the most influential rock/metal band to come out of Japan, other than Loudness, who was the first Japanese act to break through in the U.S. market.
Like a lot of guitars in this list, Fernandes can be difficult to find in a lot of brick and mortar shops, so this contributes to its lack of popularity, but nonetheless, awesome models can still be found online. The only drawback is that you can’t take it for a test drive before you buy one.
Because Agile has a similar story as many of the electric guitar brands mentioned here, there, unfortunately, isn’t that much to discuss, except for a few things.
From the most affordable starter sets to some of the gnarliest looking extended range guitars, Agile has it! This brand offers a diverse selection of designs that suit different tastes and skill levels.
In fact, I think when it comes to extended range electric guitars, Agile is incredibly underrated because it sometimes gets overshadowed by Schecter, Jackson, and Ibanez in this niche. Agile also offers 10-string guitars and instruments with fanned frets, which aren’t super common with the aforementioned brands.
Unless you see a used one, it’s basically impossible to find an Agile in a store. Instead, you have to order from their parent company, Rondo Music.
Here’s a video that shows you what Agile, particularly their ERG models, are all about:
Sure, Epiphone can be found in just about every guitar store, but does it get enough appreciation? In my opinion – no.
The reason being is that Epiphone tends to be brushed aside in favor of Gibson guitars. However, some people forget that Epiphone has its own original instruments too. Despite this, I think Epiphone should actually be praised for putting out what are essentially budget Gibsons.
Sure, they may not be the real deal, but for a reduced cost, you can get the look of a classic Les Paul and still have solid build quality with your instrument. For instance, check out this Epiphone Les Paul Standard that looks just like a classic Gibson.
Another thing people sometimes forget is that Gibson and Epiphone are a part of the same company, so there are still quality control standards put into place regardless if Gibsons are all made in the USA, and Epiphone guitars are produced in different countries. If you can’t quite afford a Gibson, you shouldn’t hesitate to buy a good Epiphone.
I’ve saved the best for last in this list, and the most underrated guitar brand that we will discuss is Squier. Some of you may be wondering, “isn’t Squier just a low-end Fender?” Sort of. It is owned by Fender, but I believe Squire can still be considered its own brand.
If you’ve come across a Squier, you’ll notice that it doesn’t say Fender Squier Stratocaster on the headstock. It does say Squier by Fender; however, the model is a Stratocaster, not Squier. Squier is the brand in this case, and I just felt that it should be distinguished before moving forward.
Nonetheless, Squiers undeservingly have a reputation for putting out junky guitars that should be avoided like the plague, and I want to address this.
Yes, Squier does create entry-level instruments, but they also have some mid-tier ones that get overlooked just because of the name. Some of the old vintage Squiers from the 80s and 90s are incredible too, and if you can find one, I’m sure you’ll think so as well.
In reality, I think that Squier currently does an excellent job of covering the beginner guitar market. Low-end guitars aren’t supposed to sound and play like a Stratocaster made in the U.S.A. Instead, they allow fresh players to play with one of the most popular body shapes with a fair quality for beginners.
Much like Epiphone and Gibson, I believe Squier is just a victim of following in the footsteps of its big brother Fender. Unfortunately, Squier gets a lot of flack because it doesn’t meet people’s expectations (because of regular Fender guitars), despite being an affordable alternative that’s ideal for new players.
Summary & Conclusion
While the titans like Fender, Jackson, and Ibanez reign supreme in the guitar market, there are several electric guitar brands out there that definitely deserve more recognition.
In this article, we went over 10 of the most underrated guitar brands, and while none of these are new, up-and-coming manufacturers, they are still worth a second look, or maybe a first if you’ve never heard of some of them. To recap, here are the most overlooked brands that I’ve selected:
- Paul Reed Smith (PRS)
Hopefully, some of the finer details about these brands, like their history and their players, have encouraged you to look into these guitars. Perhaps you will give them a fair chance if you are ever in the market for a new instrument.