The Four Iconic Pillars of Modern Guitar Tone

Personally, a smart dude would just find that one guitar that sounds and plays great, pair it with a good amp, and concentrate on developing a signature sound -- bypassing, altogether, the endless hunt for the myriad tonal textures available to those afflicted with gear acquisition syndrome. Ah, but you're a gear head so let's just move on the the four basic food groups. I will recommend four vintage guitars and amps that will provide you with the foundation for most of the classic sounds of the 20th century as well as providing four contemporary alternatives to those high-dollar vintage units. Of course, once you have all your bases covered you can mix and match at will for a plethora of textures.

1. The Fender Stratocaster.

A 1962 specimen in Fiesta Red?

"Blackface" Fender Twin Reverb (1965?)

Ain't got the big bucks for the originals I'd steer you in the direction of a G&L Legacy and a Mesa Boogie Lonestar. The Legacy is built better than a Fender and the Lonestar combines 'better than blackface' cleans.

Yeah, the headstocks are a little different but you'll get over it once you play one. If you want something a little more hot-rodded check out the G&L Comanche.

The Lonestar might be the best amp the company has ever built. Your choice of cloning the first channel or kicking in an additional gain stage. Ah, and with the LS we can sneak some of that tweed Bassman vibe into the list as well.

2. Fender Telecaster + Vox AC30 or AC15

A '65 refin?

Pretty! But fear the lack of reliability!

Want a guitar and amp free from the smell of cigar smoke and hot beer? Slap together a Warmoth Tele parts-caster with Fralin stock Tele pickups and mate it with one of the new Vox AC handwired amps or, if you have the $$$ plug into a Dr Z Wreck.

My Warmoth Parts-Caster. Sure, it lacks the brand mojo but this is the best bolt-on neck guitar I've played in over 30 years. Quarter-sawn maple neck, SRV asymmetrical neck carve, compound radius, SS frets, Fralin Stock Tele pups, and a Barden compensated bridge. Oh, yeah, it also has a kingwood fretboard. Oh My! Guaranteed, this parts-caster will eat any Fender for breakfast.

These handwired amps from Vox sound amazing and they are relatively bulletproof compared to the originals.

3. Gibson Les Paul + Marshall Plexi

Yeah, yeah, you had to choose between a '59 Les Paul and a house and you went the domestic route! So much for dedication, eh?

What can you say? The Plexi is pretty much the sound of rock music.

Can't afford a vintage Paul and you have lost all confidence in Gibson to build a decent guitar these days? The PRS SC58 is *the* Les Paul killer and once the 58 is all gone (now out of production but a few are still available) the SC245 will fit the bill nicely. Or how about a Heritage H140 or 150 -- making them in the old Kalamazoo factory the way they used to be made.

Can't find a Plexi and don't like the way they're making the 'Vintage' series of amps over at Marshall these days? How about a 65amps Empire, Germino Lead 55, or a Bogner Shiva -- yeah, I know, the Shiva supposedly doesn't sound like an old Marshall but it's one of the great amps of all time that can capture quite a few Marshally tones if you know some secrets to dialing them in. In the right hands, the Shiva can nail that Van Halen 'brown sound' quite nicely but you have to know what you're doing!

This bad boy was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Oh, wait, faulty reference. But anyways, yep, that's my 58 right there. Glad I got one while they were in production.

Three flavors of Marshall in one amp: The 65 Amps Empire

Alternatively, the Mojave Plexi is an amazing amp as are the Top Hat Emplexador amps and, I gotta say, the PRS HXDA amp is pretty mind-blowing.

4.  Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 + Mesa Boogie Mk I

The 24 was the guitar that put PRS on the map. The fusion of Gibson and Fender elements resulting in a unique tone and feel.

You gotta give it up for the wicker grill and hardwood cab.

They still make the C24 but just to be different I'd pick a 408 and since the MkI is out of production I'd probably mate the PRS to a Mesa Boogie Express 50 Plus. On the other hand, the MkI reissues can still be found at reasonable prices as well as the Son of Boogie (sort of a MkI reissue)

Blue Crab Blue if I'm not mistaken. Wow!

Color me confused but the Mk V just does not sound good to me. However, there's hardly a bad sound in the express line of amps. Amazing bang for the buck.

True, a lot of killer guitars and amps out there not making it on my list but, hey, it's my goddamn list. And I know I'm showing my PRS and Boogie bias. And you're right.

If you've already got a collection you think covers all the bases make your own case and, if you're just getting started, take it from me, a player could hardly go wrong with any of these instruments.