7 Best Guitars for Clean Tones – 2024’s Cleanest Electrics!

Author: Liam Plowman | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Getting the perfect clean tone is not an easy task. As the popularity of VST amp plugins and high-output pickups has increased, it’s become increasingly difficult to get away from those harsh and brittle clean sounds and get back to those warm and luscious tube-like tones we love so much.

For a good clean tone, a suitable guitar is a must. If the pickups break up too easily, or if the woods don’t have a balanced frequency output with enough bass, it can produce a harsh, scratchy, and even distorted sound that’s unpleasant to the ear.

While you do have a degree of control over certain tonal parameters on your amplifier, getting a guitar that naturally produces the right sound is going to make your playing experience much better as you’ll spend less time fighting your gear to get the tone you want.

So to help fast-track your journey to finding the best possible guitar for clean tones, I’ve picked 7 of the very best axes in this department that I’ve personally tested on different occasions. Each guitar listed is thoroughly reliable and ideally suited to producing the most pleasant clean tones possible.

7 Best Guitars for Clean Tones - My Top Picks

1. Fender Player Telecaster

The Fender Player series acts as a nice middle ground for those who want something more premium feeling than a Squier, but aren’t quite willing to shell out for top-end Fenders, the Player Series can act as a fantastic middle ground between the two.

The first thing to establish is that there is a particular kind of twangy clean tone associated with the Telecaster, it has tons of top-end attack and teeth which this guitar totally nails. This makes it ideally suited to genres such as blues, country, and jazz as it has the lively and energetic tone those genres require.

It uses the traditional Telecaster pickup configuration that includes angled single coil alnico neck pickup which allows it to still be a little warmer on the bass side, while the treble side is extra twangy and metallic sounding thanks to the pickup sitting closer to the bridge than normal.

Additionally, the Fender Player Telecaster also has the ‘lipstick’ style neck pickup which produces a much warmer tone with a squelchy kind of pick attack that makes it perfectly suited to single-line musical parts.

What I really liked about this is I could push a ton of energy and life out of the tone with zero breakup when I picked hard, so for any style of music where you need the guitar to be up-front and center while still being remaining clean, this is an ideal choice.


2. Gretsch G5222 Electromatic Double Jet

The 1950s and ‘60s were known as the golden era of Gretsch, where their distinct sound became an intrinsic part of certain musical genres such as rockabilly and country.

But their popularity has remained consistent throughout the years, as they offer a particular sound and feel that no other guitar can truly replicate.

What made Gretsch guitars so special is the fact they had either hollow or chambered bodies which gave their clean sounds a particular kind of resonance and projection that a solid body guitar simply could not achieve. I’m a true fan of this pristine clean sound!

The Gretsch G5222 is one of the best mid-level instruments in their lineup, offering a fantastic entry point into the Gretsch sound at an affordable price that is still functional enough to be used by a professional. The Broad’Tron pickups are a gem at this price point, and you can read why in this dedicated article on our site.

This G5222 has a chambered mahogany body which gives it weight, richness, and fullness, while the chambering gives it life and dynamics. This is then topped off with a beautiful maple top which helps to balance out the darker sound of the mahogany and provides that top-end sheen and shimmer to the tone.

It’s a supremely balanced instrument and should be one of your first considerations if you’re looking for a hollow/chambered body. They sound exquisite!


3. Squier Paranormal Toronado

The Toronado was designed to be a blend of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar, excelling at gritted-up distorted tones with its high-output Atomic Pickups. 

Despite this design philosophy, the Squier Paranormal Toronado is actually a hidden gem when it comes to clean tones for a couple of interesting reasons. 

The first of which is that there are independent controls for both the volume and tone knobs. This allows for detailed manipulation of your sound as you can darken down the tone and also reduce the output to avoid any breakup from those high-output pickups.

Second is the overall stability of the instrument. While there’s no vibrato bar, the benefit is that the Squier fixed bridge design is supremely stable. So if you like playing big chords where intonation is vital to sounding in tune, this is going to produce a far more consistent result than a floating bridge.

It also has a slightly shorter scale length of 24.75”. While this doesn’t directly benefit the clean tone itself, the shorter scale length can make holding those large chord voicings a little bit easier on the hands.

Overall this is a unique instrument and makes an ideal choice for someone who enjoys using a multitude of different clean tones by manipulating the tone/output controls on the instrument itself.


4. Epiphone ES-335

When thinking about legendary hollowbody instruments, along with Gretsch you’ll almost always hear the Gibson 335 mentioned. The 335 is a classic that became extremely popular within genres like Jazz and Blues where dynamics and sweet-sounding clean tones were a must.

While Gibson 335s are not exactly budget instruments, thankfully we have Epiphone which offers their own 335-style guitar at a much more affordable price. At its price point, the finishes on offer look absolutely stunning to me, both in pictures and in real life.

It follows all the same principles as its bigger brother from Gibson, with the tune-o-matic style bridge, semi-hollowbody design with the iconic F-holes. It also has individual tone and volume controls for each pickup, allowing for more detailed sculpting of your clean tone.

The sheer size of the all-maple body combined with the chambering gives it fantastic sustain and projection. It’s supremely bright and lively, but you can still darken the sound down using the tone knobs should you wish.

The Alnico Classic PRO pickups are low-output and noise canceling, so you get a consistent and professional clean sound with no breakup that can perfectly replicate those classic tones of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

If you’ve always loved the 335 style but can’t bring yourself to get a Gibson, this one is a no-brainer.


5. Ibanez Artcore AS73

Now the keen-eyed among you will have already noticed that this is clearly just Ibanez’s own take on a 335. So what makes this a preferable choice over an actual Epiphone 335?

Well, as with everything Ibanez does there are a few design choices on the Artcore AS73 that make it a contemporary instrument that’s more conducive to the modern player.

There are some small aesthetic distinctions here such as the horns being a little more pointy and those nice chunky acrylic inlays which make it easier to see where you are on a dark stage.

But there are also some practical adjustments too, such as the input jack being moved to the side so you can tuck it over your guitar strap. 

Instead of mahogany and maple, this guitar uses a glossy polyurethane finish over a linden body and top. I found this to have a more mid-focussed frequency response and a little less dynamics. So the clean tones have a bit more backbone and projection to them, but they do lack some of that warmth that the Epiphone version has.

It also comes with Ibanez’s own Classic Elite Ceramic Humbucker which sounds a little bit sharper and more direct than a regular 335, but you’ll probably not nitpick like me unless you’ve also played a Gibson semi-hollow for a fair bit of time.

The diecast plastic tuners and nut do feel a little cheap to the hands, but they are perfectly functional nonetheless.

Like every guitar that Ibanez makes, this has been manufactured to the highest quality. The clean tones sound great and it holds tuning exceptionally well.


6. Fender Player Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster re-defined what we thought was possible with electric guitars by providing unparalleled control over how the instrument sounds. The triple single coil design with a 5-way toggle switch allows for near-endless molding of your tone.

Traditionally, Stratocasters were quite pricey instruments, but these days we’re very fortunate to have actual Fender-branded Stratocasters available at an affordable price thanks to their Player Series Strats.

This guitar flaunts everything we love about the Stratocaster, it has all the tonal controls and an upgraded tremolo bridge which provides fantastic tuning stability and sustain. The major perceived shortcoming is that these are made in Mexico as opposed to the USA.

The fit and finish of this guitar is top notch and so is the playability. You’ll need to be a true guitar veteran to tell this apart from made-in-USA Strats when placed side by side without looking at the headstock.

Now one of the things that makes this stand out a little is the maple fretboard which just adds a little extra brightness and top end to the tone. This is then complimented by the new Fender-Designed alnico pickups which provide that classic warmth and richness when you’re playing cleans, which Strats are known for.

This guitar completely nails that trademark Strat sound, and thanks to the triple pickup configuration it’s also one of the most versatile guitars in existence. You’ll have no problems getting any kind of clean tone you want.

However, if you’re an occasional player of grittier versions of rock, I’d recommend getting the HSS version of the same guitar which sports a potent humbucker in the bridge position.


7. Danelectro '59M NOS+

Certainly one of the more unique-looking guitars on the market, and the tone it produces is also very unique.

This is mainly due to the ‘lipstick’ style pickups which are not commonly found on electric guitars these days. You may have already encountered these pickups in the neck position of a Fender Telecaster, but here they are used in both the bridge and neck positions.

Lipstick style pickups have a specific tonal quality which makes them bright, with a strong mid-range focus that gives them a snappy and lively attack.

So while this guitar is less suited for players who want a darker or more mellow Jazz sound, if you want something that’s going to slice right through the mix and be the center of attention, it’s a great choice.

Now one thing to note is that these NOS single-coil pickups are pretty hot, and they can be pretty noisy too as they aren’t humbucking. So you’ll need to be careful with how you set your amp to ensure there’s no breakup as you pick harder. But once you’ve gotten your amp dialed in, it’ll sound fantastic.

This is also ideal for people who like to play slide guitar thanks to its tremendous clarity and sustain.


Which Aspects of a Guitar Influence the Clean Tone?

Depending on which particular type of clean tone you’re looking for, you can cater your guitar specification to help enhance those qualities.

While technically almost every single thing on a guitar influences the tone to some degree, when it comes to the big players that will form the bulk of your sound, there are 2 main aspects you should focus on.

Pickups

The first, and arguably largest, factor at play is the pickups. Depending on how they are wound and the magnet that’s used, their tonal output and dynamic qualities will differ. When choosing pickups specifically for a clean tone you ideally want to have low-output pickups in order to avoid something called ‘breakup’.

This is where when you pick hard you’ll hear just the tiniest bit of distortion as the clean tone begins to crack a little, the effect can be subtle on single notes, but as soon as you strum a big chord you’ll soon notice it.

By ensuring your guitar has low output pickups you can avoid the hassle of needing to tweak your amp or volume controls to address breakup problems.

Wood

The second factor is the wood that the guitar is made from. While this is certainly a subjective topic, taking some time to think about what kind of clean tone you like, whether it be something rich and thick, or something thin and twangy may make certain wood choices more of an appealing prospect than others.

But it’s worth remembering that woods are not your only opportunity to manipulate the frequency output of your tone, you will often have a 3-band EQ on your amp, or you can always use EQ pedals/post-processing to further address these things, so it’s not the end of the world if your guitar doesn’t have a specific wood combination.

With that being said, putting some thought into your wood choice so you can get yourself in the right tonal ballpark immediately is a good time saver as you’ll need to tweak less to reach your desired sound.

The most common wood you’ll see used for guitar bodies is mahogany, which is a dense and heavy wood that produces a rich, warm, and bass-heavy sound. You may also see Ash or Basswood which is lighter by comparison and accents more of the mids and highs.

Similarly, you may see maple used as a fretboard material which is also known to be bright and snappy. By comparison, rosewood or ebony will sound darker and warmer with more pronounced bass.

What Matters More, the Guitar or the Amp?

While having the right woods and pickups on your guitar is going to help you get to where you want to be quicker and easier, your amp gives you just as much control over your sound. 

But will it get you into the tone you desire even if your guitar is not ideally suited to producing the type of tone you want?

This depends on the amplifier, but generally speaking, you should be able to manipulate the gain and EQ sections of an amplifier to get you to the tone you desire. 

For example, if your pickups are super hot and you have a swamp ash body, leaving you with a clean tone that’s too bright and is breaking up when you pick hard, you can use your amplifier to dial back the gain, and then bring out the low end more using the onboard EQ.

So while technically the amplifier is more important as it can effectively dial you into or out of any tone you want, the main difference is the amount of work required to get to that point.

If you pick the right guitar, it’s going to sound pretty good as soon as you plug it in, which will save you a lot of time having to fight with your gear and tone chasing in order to get the desired sound. This prevents the headaches and frustration that come with having to mess around with your gear to compensate for the guitar's natural tone.

Keeping Things Clean

Getting the perfect clean tone for you can be a challenge if you don’t have the right gear. So putting some careful thought into picking a guitar with the right pickups, woods, and looks is going to dramatically improve your experience playing guitar.

Once you have a solid idea of what you’re looking for you’ll no doubt be able to find an instrument on this list that facilitates your needs. Have fun with your next guitar purchase!

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About Liam Plowman

Liam is a British musician who specializes in all things guitar, audio, and gear. He was trained as a guitar technician at the Oxford Guitar Gallery and currently teaches at multiple music schools across the UK. Key skillset includes purchasing unnecessary guitar equipment and accumulating far too many plugins.

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