6 Best Guitars for Punk Rock (2024) – Rebellious Playing!

Author: Santiago Motto | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Let me begin this article by saying that you can play punk on anything. The core, quintessential philosophy of this musical style is absolute freedom. Yes, punks aren't supposed to care about what they should do but do what they want to do.

When it comes to choosing a guitar to let your spirit loose, though, you’ll find out there are a million choices that claim to be the “ultimate punk rock guitar”.

I’ve been playing the guitar for almost three decades and much of that time was well spent jumping on and off the stage in punk clubs. So, I know that the punk rock spirit you’re trying to let loose needs no obstacles to reach the sweaty, fun, jumping audience in front of you.

This is my list of 6 guitars that can help you rebel with your friends and have endless fun playing punk and enjoying being alive.

6 Best Guitars for Punk Rock

1. Gibson Les Paul Jr. (Billie Joe Armstrong Model)

Chances are, if you’re here, you already know who Billie Joe Armstrong is. In case you don’t, he’s the singer, songwriter, guitar player, and frontman of one of punk rock’s most successful bands: Green Day.

Although Billie Joe broke into the mainstream playing a pastel light blue Fernandes Stratocaster (nicknamed ‘Blue’), he switched over to Les Paul Jrs. a while ago and has never looked back since.

Now, this is a special guitar right out of the box. Yes, to begin with, it comes inside a furious pink Gibson chainsaw case with an animal print interior which is outrageous, to say the least.

Beyond the case, the first thing that hits you when you pick up the guitar (mine was a sparkle silver finish) is that the neck isn’t what you would expect from a Les Paul Jr. Billie Joe’s model sports a thinner, faster neck than a classic ‘50s Les Paul Jr. does.

Another big difference is that the DC dogear P-90 is completely hum-free. This is not a minor detail when you’re applying obnoxious levels of distortion to your guitar on stage.

Speaking of which, perhaps the only thing I didn’t like about this guitar was the pickup. It doesn’t feel as ferocious and raw as a P-90 in a Gibson Jr. guitar should. I mean, comparing it to my ’68 SG Jr. it felt lacking in that pornographic midrange you get when striking an open chord.

On the other hand, the slab of mahogany Gibson used for this guitar retains a very generous low-end that can help you make power chords sound bigger than life.

If your budget isn’t big enough to fit this guitar, there’s a cheaper Epiphone version available too, and guess what, yes, it comes with a hardshell case with an animal print interior.

Check this Epiphone promo video for some inspiration.

2. Fender Noventa Series Telecaster

We already established that single-pickup guitars are a thing in punk rock. Well, what if we could apply the “junior” concept to a Fender guitar? What would the combination of alder and maple with a raw and punchy P-90 do?

Well, let me tell you right up front that the Noventa Series by Fender is nothing but good news for punk rock lovers. Yes, the effect the maple has on the P-90 is like turning everything into high-definition. Your pick attack is more apparent, and the rawness and grit of the P-90 are still there.

Furthermore, the alder + maple combination creates this razor-like midrange that can cut through even the densest mix. Yes, that is exactly how you can describe this guitar: a punk razorblade. Plus, the brass bridge saddles add a little warmth to the resulting audio giving you great tones that go from The Rolling Stones to the Ramones and everything in between.

Adding to the good things about this guitar, the neck is modern and comfortable with Fender’s own “modern C” shape. This shape makes you feel like you have a guitar in your hands (it’s not super tiny, Ibanez-style) but you can do some serious playing effortlessly.

Perhaps the only caveat I had with the Telecaster Noventa Series is the glossy finish on the neck. If you live in a humid place like I do, it can be very annoying because your thumb might stick to it while playing.

Other than that, it is a righteous punk rock machine ready to hit any stage; it would make Joe Strummer proud.

Here’s a cool video of the entire Noventa Series by Fender so you can hear some tones.

3. Squier Sonic Stratocaster

The Stratocaster is, for many guitar players, the ultimate guitar shape. Although it was created seven decades ago, it is still the go-to choice for many players.

Perhaps, the most recognizable punk rockers with Strats are Billie Joe Armstrong (with his classic heavily-modded light blue model) and Tom DeLonge (Blink 182) and his single-humbucker Strat from the early 2000s (which you can see here).

Fender and Squier released a Tom DeLonge signature model but later dropped it and the only way you can get your hands on one of those is by buying it used (and probably abused).

So, this Squier guitar is the perfect low-budget punk rock machine sporting a single humbucker in the bridge position, a volume and a tone knob, and a hardtail Strat bridge. This translates into the kind of simplicity that punk rock demands.

Right away, when you plug it in, you hear the laurel fingerboard pretending to be rosewood and adding mellowness to the sound and the maple from the neck adding some brightness and bite.

On the not-so-good side, the poplar body drowns that midrange into a muddiness that translates into the resulting sound. Yet, by adding a ceramic-magnet humbucker, the company gave this guitar enough gain and power to cut through the mix and make an entire audience scream, dance, shout, and jump into the mosh pit.

Finally, and this is my refined ears of playing high-end instruments for years, I could hear an annoying super-high top-end that tends to be infuriating when coupled with heavy distortion and a loud amp. The fact that the hardtail bridge is not string-through-body, but top-load doesn’t help either.

If your budget is higher, and you want to get rid of that top-end squeal, you can get Jim Root’s Stratocaster that’s more powerful, menacing, and always rock-ready.

4. Epiphone Coronet

Although not many people know this, Epiphone was one of Gibson’s main competitors until it was purchased by the guitar-making giant. Later, as you know, Gibson started using the Epiphone name and logo to put out Asian-made, cheaper versions of their models.

Yet, some Epiphone models from the early days have survived and were reissued by Epiphone. Perhaps, the best-known is the Beatles-approved Casino, but also the Coronet. You can see it being played by bands like The Hives, The Libertines, and the Arctic Monkeys.

Well, the moment I picked up this guitar I felt I was holding a punk rock machine because it feels the way it should when you’re playing this musical style: you have to really dig in to get the raunchy, dirty sound you need from it.

Indeed, this is a no-frills all-mahogany guitar that’s the perfect cross between a Les Paul Jr. and an SG Jr. Yet, it sounds wilder, rawer than those guitars because the body is different, smaller.

Moreover, this new version has some upgrades like the compensated wraparound bridge, the high-quality CTS pots, and the PRO P-90, a hotter version of the classic dogear.

Speaking of upgrades and welcome modifications, the 12” radius, modern “C” shaped neck is great for playing the night away effortlessly.

If you’re looking for an affordable punk rock machine that can put up night after night of heavy playing in sweaty rooms, this guitar is a must-try before you buy. If you need a guitar that can generate varied tones and nuances, you might need to look somewhere else.

5. Gretsch G5191 Tim Armstrong Signature (Rancid)

If you ever heard Rancid live, you’ll know they’re halfway between rockabilly and punk rock. I remember the first time I heard “Time Bomb” I thought I didn’t know what category to put this band in. Is Tim Armstrong closer to Brian Setzer or to Johnny Ramone?

With time and hearing all their records (plus seeing them live more than once) I understood Rancid is a great punk rock band.

This signature guitar is also a righteous punk rock machine capable of some very interesting tones.

To begin with, the first thing that struck me was that Gretsch didn’t make any effort to stop feedback on such a huge hollow-body guitar. Yet, the Black Top Filter’trons can handle heavy distortion without howling in return. Believe me, I played my favorite punk rock classics from “Rockaway Beach'' to “Don’t Call Me White” and it all sounded great.

Perhaps, the only thing that was a setback for me is that it really is a big guitar that demands players to be big enough to play it and move around with it on stage.

Finally, the secret to the guitar’s impeccable high-end, great midrange and well-defined tones is the fact that it’s entirely made of laminated maple and sports a maple neck with a 12.5” radius rosewood fingerboard. No, I didn’t see that coming either, but the maple neck really does make a big difference.

6. Kramer Baretta Special

The Baretta Special, I have to say, is the gem on this list. Truly, you must believe me in this; you won’t get this much guitar for the money in any other brand.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and I thought the same thing before picking one up “Dude, doesn’t it look like an ‘80s hair metal guitar?” 

Well, it surely does, but let me tell you that the no-frills approach to this guitar’s construction is rival to none when it’s time to play punk rock. Plus, since when does punk rock have any rules for instrument choosing? If you don’t like the plain color, just put a million stickers on it and make it your own.

I mean, I tried to make this guitar fail but couldn’t make it. I tried playing everything from Ramones to The Clash to Misfits, and it sounded great across the board. Moreover, the mahogany body and maple neck are a monster combination for low-end and midrange that can help you cut through any mix.

Perhaps, the only thing I should mention is that it really needs a tuner upgrade because it kept falling out of tune. Other than that, this is a serious, no-frills punk machine ready to take over the world with an almost ridiculous price tag attached.

In Punk Rock, Less is More

When playing punk rock, less is more. Believe me, I had this conversation with many of my guitar-playing friends who love Robert Fripp, progressive metal, and jazz. Punk Rock can’t be measured with the same standards you measure other musical styles. Plus, it’s hard to create simple, catchy melodies using only a handful of power chords.

Furthermore, when I challenged them to come up with something that would make crowds dance and scream with only a few power chords, they failed dramatically.

This same philosophy is applied to punk rock-oriented guitars that tend to have one pickup and a couple of knobs. This is not because punk rockers can’t play other stuff, but it’s because of a choice, a way of life, and a commitment to simplicity in all its forms.

In punk rock, less is more (except for hairspray on your mohawk, of course)

It’s Not Minimalism, It’s Rawness

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to do it. Playing a guitar with a single P-90 pickup requires more of your picking hand and creativity than any other kind of guitar. Yes, the P-90 is a pickup that sounds halfway between a humbucker and a single coil.

On one hand, it retains the single-coil definition and edge that has made guitars like the Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Melody Maker so famous.

On the other hand, the extra winding on the pickup brings some low-end to the equation making the tone of the guitar come alive and occupy a bigger sonic space in the mix.

This quality is what early rock and roll and punk rock feed on; the rawness, the wildness, the grit, the edge; it’s all part of the punk rock sound.

To achieve that tone, you need to let go of the fancy, round sounds a traditional Les Paul would give you, for example.

Punk Rock is not about minimalism (sorry Mary Kondo), but it’s about rawness and attitude.

Durability, a Major Concern

Another major aspect of guitars that have fewer electronics is that fewer things can go wrong. Indeed, bands that play packed clubs with sweaty fans climbing on stage, dancing, jumping, and creating that beautiful mayhem punk rock is all about, need instruments that can take the beating night after night.

Therefore, if your guitar only has one pickup and a couple of knobs, your sweat won’t rust any fancy electronics and nothing you don’t need will get in your way.

Durability is also a major concern among Punk Rock musicians and, very often, the guitar of choice represents that.

Here’s a great video example showing Punk Rock royalty, Stephen Egerton, the guitar player of The Descendents talking about why he took away all the knobs and switches from his guitar.

Let’s Talk Pickups

We already covered pickups a bit but it’s time we do it in-depth.

Single Coils and Punk Rock

Single-coil guitars aren’t usually found on punk rock stages because they aren’t as good at handling distortion as other pickups are. 

Moreover, the glassy quality they’re best known for can be an obstacle to finding the punk rock tone. Finally, they tend to feed back a lot too.

P-90s and Punk Rock

P-90s and punk rock are a match made in heaven. Yes, these pickups can give you the nasty edge, raunchy tone, dirt, and grit you need while keeping the chords clear and concise. 

There are countless examples, but, perhaps, Mike Ness from Social Distortion is the clearest one.

Humbuckers and Punk Rock

Humbuckers are the go-to pickups for many punk rock players going for a more modern sound than that of the raw, ‘70s-oriented punk rock. 

This is because humbuckers can drive an amp easier, sound rounder, and tend to feedback less because of the hum-cancellation properties of their construction.

PRO TIP: If you don’t know what pickups to choose for your guitar, they are a rather cheap tone experiment. Pick the guitar you love and experiment with different pickups to find your tone. Oh, and a special mention to mini humbuckers, the lost link between the P-90 and the humbucker.

Let’s Talk Tonewoods

Tonewoods are the most defining element of any guitar and its tone. Let’s take a look at what they can do for you.

  • Mahogany – Mahogany is a heavy type of wood capable of some serious low-end. It’s usually found in bodies and necks and will give your guitar a heavy growl.
  • Maple – Maple is, to say it somehow, mahogany’s counterweight. Yes, the snap, high-end, chainsaw-like midrange, and edge come from maple even on Les Pauls. A personal piece of advice: don’t shy out of maple necks; they’re killer.
  • Alder – Alder is a very common tonewood for Strat-like bodies because it’s balanced between lows and highs and provides musical mids.
  • Rosewood – Rosewood is one of the scarcest, most expensive tonewoods in the world. It is mainly used for fretboards and adds sweetness to the sound of any instrument. You can find alternative-wood replacements in entry-level models such as laurel and pau ferro.

The Bottom End

Punk Rock is 100% attitude. The guitar of choice for your sonic adventures needs to withstand the beating of the party mood punk rock can generate in an audience. Be inspired by minimalism and engage the inner child in you; it’s time to have some power chord fun.

Happy (raw and audacious) playing!

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About Santiago Motto

Santiago is a guitar player with over 25 years of experience. A self-confessed guitar nerd, he currently tours with his band 'San Juan'. Called 'Sandel' by his friends, he has a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. San especially has an immense love for telecasters and all-mahogany Martins.

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