What is a versatile guitar and why would you want one? My definition of a versatile guitar is one that can play many styles of music. The reason you would want one is to minimize the number of guitars you needed on a gig or vacation or just to own. It seems obvious that the guitars I think are most versatile may be different from your choices. The styles of music you most often play are going to be a big influence. I’ve been thinking about this because as I approach retirement and think about downsizing our home, I worry about how many guitars I’ll be able to keep. Here’s some of my thoughts.
Versatile Electric Guitar
My favorite musical genres are blues and jazz. A versatile electric guitar would be one that can easily play in these genres. It should be noted that you can use just about any guitar in any genre but our expectations and preferences often associate certain sounds with certain music and some guitars make this easier.
If I were to choose one versatile electric guitar I think it would be the Epiphone 335-Pro.
The 335-Pro is inexpensive yet is similar to the Gibson 335 models in size, construction and features. It has a solid block of wood in the center to reduce feedback like a solid body but has hollow wings to give it a hollow-body vibe. The guitar has humbuckers for a classic hum-free rich sound but the pickups include coil spit switches so it can give a sweet chimey clean sound like a single-coil.
Alternatives might be a Stratocaster or Telecaster Thinline with humbuckers. I’ve owned Strats but sold them. They’re great instruments and the 5-way pickup selector allows a variety of tones. They are comfortable to hold. But they don’t really have that hollow-body jazz-box vibe though I’ve seen them used for jazz. The Telecaster Thinlines are semi-hollow like the 335. I haven’t played one but always thought they seemed nice. My brother got one recently.
I currently own an Epiphone Casino (P90 pickups) and an Eastman AR371ce (very much like a ES-175 with humbucking pickup). I don’t know if I could give either of those guitars up. Although a 335-Pro might be a nice addition, I think I would be disappointed with it as a replacement to the Casino and AR371.
Versatile Acoustic Guitar
If I had to start over and choose the one acoustic guitar based on versatility and the styles of music I like I think it would be a Martin 000-28s styled guitar, not necessarily from Martin. There are many independent luthiers and importers who make nice 000 and OM alternatives to Martin over a wide range of prices. For example, Recording King makes the ROS0672 which is a slot head, 12 fret (to the body) 000 styled acoustic guitar with rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard and solid Sitka Spruce top.
A nice alternative to the Recording King is the Trinity College TG-202 which is also a 000, 12-fret style guitar which adds a cutaway but had traditional tuning machines instead of a slot head for the tuners. The woods are the same as on the Recording King.
Among the features I like for this style of guitar are a wider nut width at 1 3/4”. The 000/OM sized body is small enough to sound good for fingerstyle playing but big enough to sound good with a pick too. It’s sort of the happy medium between a smaller parlor styled instrument (good for fingerstyle but not so good in an ensemble even if played with a pick) and a dreadnought (great with a pick and in an ensemble but unless you’re lucky, are often muddy sounding alone played with your fingers).
The 12-fret neck join puts the bridge at the traditional sweet spot on the body and also allows/results in a slightly larger body (check the body length of 12-fret vs. 14-fret acoustic guitars – they made the body shorter to accommodate the extra free frets).
All this is what-if speculation if I had to start new. Reality is I own a Martin OM-28 which is wonderful. I might prefer 12-fret model but my guitar sounds great and I don’t plan on giving it up.