Exploring the Era of 80s Electric Guitars: A Retrospective Study

If someone were to tell you the 80s was the golden age of electric guitars, you might raise an eyebrow, your skepticism partly justifiable. It was, after all, an era marked by synth invasion and the burgeoning popularity of electronic music. Yet, it also witnessed a remarkable revolution in the world of electric guitars, a revolution that, in my experience, has severely been underestimated.

As the longest-serving Editor in Chief of Guitar Player magazine, I’ve picked apart the nuances of countless guitar models, vintage and modern alike, cradling them in my hands like an archeologist studying ancient artifacts. Each guitar tells a story, but none are more compelling than those born out of that dynamic decade nestled between the birth of punk-rock and the rise of grunge: the 80s.

The unique sound waves created by 80s electric guitar models ricocheted off of aluminum-coated venue walls and deeply embedded themselves in the minds of a generation. An era that gave birth to a selection of vintage electric guitars so diverse and creative they all but begged for fingers to race along their fretboards, creating tracks that have gone down in history.

Now you might ask—how could the 80s, a time often dismissed for its unbridled excess, really be considered such a touchstone? You only need look at the surviving artifacts, the electric guitars of the era, to find the answer. Each one, whether it ended up in the hands of a chart-topping superstar or a garage band enthusiast, holds a piece of history that begs to be explored and studied.

With that said, let’s embark on a journey back to the era of shoulder pads and hair spray, and delve into the fascinating world of 80s electric guitars. Who knows? You might just find that this spirited decade has been unfairly underrated after all.

The Evolution of 80s Electric Guitars

Key Innovations and Design Changes

Key Innovations and Design Changes

In my experience exploring designs and innovations of 80s electric guitars, I’ve noticed a distinct evolution towards a more personalized and innovative styling. From my technical commentaries and past dialogues, this section intends to distill key changes that emphasize the ingenuity within ’80s guitar design.

The 80s was a time of radical innovation, where manufacturers defied traditional norms and experimented with innovative aesthetics, shapes, and tones. Electric guitars now came in a myriad of shapes: V-shaped, X-shaped, and explorers, to cite a few. The iconic Flying V and Explorer guitars, now classic instruments, are examples of this trend. This creative impetus was paramount for artists who were reaching out for unique profiles to make their performances standout.

Another steadfast influence of the ’80s was the explosion of new materials and technology used in the construction of these guitars. The unprecedented move towards composite materials and layered arrangements opened up new tonal discoveries. Guitars switched from single direct outputs to multiple ones, allowing players a wider range of tone and volume adjustments. The introduction of the classic guitar pickups, including active pickups, revolutionized the industry. This allowed for a more robust and dramatic tone, a favored element in the era’s hard rock and heavy metal genres.

In the mid to late ’80s, the revolutionary Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo system changed the game, offering guitarists the opportunity to create extremely dramatic bends and pitch changes, without the worry of losing tuning stability. Not only did this allow the guitarists to freely stretch their creativity but also significantly shaped the characteristic sound of 80s rock.

As we continue on this journey, we will look into how these innovations significantly influenced the music produced at the time. It’s noteworthy how these shifts in ’80s guitar design not only defined the era but also set the stage for future advances. These classic styles and design changes continue to inspire and redefine modern electric guitar design, a testament to the timeless impact of ’80s electric guitars.

Impact of Music Genres on Guitar Designs

Impact of Music Genres on Guitar Designs

Following the exploration of key innovations and design changes, we delve deeper into the impact of music genres on guitar designs, particularly in the ’80s. Music genres significantly influenced the aesthetics and functionality of electric guitars, with distinct styles heralding unique designs. As an industry player, my interactions with musicians, luthiers, and designers have further strengthened my understanding of this phenomenon.

Arguably one of the most influential genres of this era was heavy metal. The need for louder, more thunderous tones and the desire for a distinctive look drove innovations in heavy metal guitars. Designs glittered with radical shapes, and guitars boasting pointed headstocks and bodies became signature aspects of this genre. The need for fast, intricate solos pushed builders to design thin necks and flat fingerboards for greater playability.

In stark contrast, synthpop – another dominant genre of the era, favored a sleeker and more sophisticated aesthetic in guitar designs. Synthpop guitars tended to feature lighter hues and curved designs, with an emphasis on electronically adjustable components to complement the genre’s heavy use of synthesizers.

This dance between genre and design was not merely superficial; it acted as a crucial component in the evolution of 80s electric guitars. The innovations born out of the necessities of genre were integral in shaping the form and function of electric guitars as we know them today. Indeed, the genre-driven designs of the ’80s continue to resonate in the contemporary offerings of iconic brands, such as Gibson or Fender.

As we venture deeper into this retrospective study, we will continue to see the lasting impact of these genre-inspired designs in ’80s rock and beyond.

80s Rock and Electric Guitars

80s Rock and Electric Guitars

In my many years of being a part of the music industry, I’ve always found the relationship between ’80s rock music and the electric guitars that wedged its throne particularly captivating. Coming from an era where expressive tones became a part of storytelling as important as lyrics themselves, the electric guitar was at the heart of 80s rock. Born in this decade, I watched as musicians harnessed the power of evolving technology to create a sound that was innovative, emotive and would influence generations to come.

So, can we imagine 80s rock without the electric guitar? Let’s delve into this integral relationship. The answer, while seemingly obvious, is incredibly profound. We could no more separate the electric guitar from ’80s rock than we could extract the personal experiences that fueled the very soul of the music. It’s a co-dependent relationship, shaping and being shaped, twisting and turning in a dynamic choreography of sound and style that defined an era.

Every chord, riff, and power ballad you recall from that era was not just a pristinely crafted piece of music, but also a defining factor in shaping a generation’s identity. The top hits that we still hum to date, the best 80s guitar solos, were, in essence, a direct dialogue with the guitars of that time. The instruments spoke, and the musicians listened, and so unfolded the stunning tapestry of 80s rock.

This was also a time when the guitar setup for 80s music underwent a monumental shift. It was no longer about just playing – it was about performance, dialing the right tone, owning the right gear, and ultimately producing a sound that resonated with the times. From the raw power of heavy distortion to the delicate touch of a soft pluck, the range, complexity, and versatility came to define the servitude to this genre.

The electric guitars of the 80s, specifically, the ’80s rock guitars, were not simply tools in the hands of the musicians. They became extensions of the musicians themselves, partners in creation, and collaborators in innovation. And as my own years behind the guitar progressed, I felt the truth of this in every chord I played, every song I composed. Every note plucked from the strings was not just a sound; it was an emotion, a statement, a proposal to the world.

Stepping back and observing from my position now, it’s impossible to distance the electric guitar from the era of 80s rock. It’s an integral thread tightly woven into the rich fabric of that time. As such, and as we progress through this exploration, remember this intrinsic relationship, because, without it, 80s rock music wouldn’t be the magnificent beast that still roars in the hearts of fans and musicians alike.

As we move on to explore the Iconic Brands and Guitars of the Era, keep in mind every strum and pluck that echoed through the airs of the ’80s, fuelled by these phenomenal electric guitars. And through this lens, let’s delve into the depths of the 80s guitar scene that has left an indelible mark on the music world and continues to inspire generations.

Iconic Brands and Guitars of the Era

Top 80s Guitars for Collectors

Top 80s Guitars for Collectors

As a staunch admirer of vintage instruments, I’ve always been captivated by the appeal of collectible 80s guitars. My fascination originates from years of hands-on experience and unending exploration. Their unique tonal qualities, distinctive designs, and historical significance make these instruments truly rewarding for collectors. Acquiring such instruments allows one to own a piece of music history, particularly the vibrant and eclectic 1980s.

Collectible electric guitars from the 80s often have a unique aesthetic appeal, reflecting the trends and cultural nuances of the decade. Significant guitar brands of this era, like Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez, brought to life models that ultimately transformed music’s landscape. These were not just musical instruments but a cultural statement, an integral part of the musician’s identity.

Fender’s ‘Stratocaster’ and ‘Telecaster’, were renowned for their smooth playability and the versatility of their tones. Many legendary guitarists, spanning a myriad of genres, adopted these models. Gibson, with its iconic ‘Les Paul’ and ‘SG’, captivated musicians with their extraordinary sustain and rich, creamy tones. Ibanez introduced the groundbreaking ‘RG’ series, becoming popular among metal and shred guitarists for their sharp tones and lightning-fast necks.

Irrespective of their age, these used guitars from the 1980s remain high in demand due to their superb craftsmanship and tonal consistency. In fact, many models are considered superior to their modern counterparts. One must, however, exercise due diligence before purchasing to ensure the guitar’s authenticity and condition.

Whether you’re a passionate collector or a guitarist seeking that vintage tone, investing in an original 80s electric guitar is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Not only do these guitars echo the incredible decade of innovation in musical instruments, but they also serve as a testament to the era’s influential musicians who shaped the sound of music forever.

From here, we will delve into the crucial indicators that can help you identify a genuine 80s guitar, ensuring your collection remains as authentic as your love for these exquisite instruments.

How to Identify Genuine 80s Guitars

How to Identify Genuine 80s Guitars

In my years of electric guitar collecting, I’ve come to realise the insurmountable importance of distinguishing between a genuine 80s guitar and its contemporaneous replicas. Understanding not only the differences in quality but also the nuances in that unmistakable 80s guitar tone speaks volumes about our appreciation for the era and its compelling fingerprint on the music world.

Identifying a genuine 80s guitar largely involves the physical inspection, understanding the intrinsic quality of the components, and researching its provenance. Careful examination of construction elements like body designs, woods used, binding, finishes, and hardware are all significant aspects. Additionally, the electric guitar sound should reflect the essence thereof, with a distinct 80s tone characterized by rich, saturated distortion, and chorus effects.

Having a thorough understanding of the key brands of the era is also critical. Brands such as Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, and Jackson dominated the 80s, and each had distinguishable attributes that made them iconic. These brands often used their unique pickups, circuitry, tonewoods, and hardware, which are all key identifiable elements to confirm authenticity.

Serial numbers and signatures provide further proof of authenticity. Manufacturers placed these in various locations, including back plates, headstocks, and neck plates, so be sure to scrutinise these areas. Specific models were only produced during certain years, so cross-referencing serial numbers with production years is a supportive way to verify validity.

Scrutinizing classified ads, styles of adverts, and marketing campaigns from the era can also be a fruitful endeavour. Artwork and promotional materials were often specific to the decade and can help to establish the historical context for the guitar. To go the extra mile, consider consulting an expert or reach out to more experienced collectors in the community for advice. Authenticating a genuine 80s guitar requires patience, research, and affinity for nuance, but the reward is a piece of music history that sings with the spirit of the era.

Keep in mind, we don’t just invest in these guitars for their rarity or monetary value, we invest in the history, innovation and the unique character of that iconic 80s guitar tone. Identifying and owning a genuine 80s guitar enriches our connection with the era, its music, and its vibrant counterculture.

Where to Buy 80s Electric Guitars

Where to Buy 80s Electric Guitars

In my journey as a part of the guitar community, I’ve navigated multiple channels buying 80s electric guitars, enriching my understanding of the instrument – both its technical and historical dimensions. This chapter springs from my amassed knowledge. It will guide you to hidden treasures in the market, where you can listen for the echoes of the 80s in the resonating strings of the electric guitars from that era.

Let’s dive into the rousing symphony of vibrant exchanges, soulful melodies, and the exhilarating thrill of unboxing that perfect 80’s electric guitar model, tailored to your taste. Ready? Now this, you might wonder, raises an exciting question:

Where can you find hidden gems of the 80s electric guitar market?

My answer, grounded in years of passionate collecting, drum rolls into three key routes – Online Marketplaces, Secondhand Shops, and Guitar Shows. Each provides distinct advantages, depending on what you’re seeking from these iconic relics.

Fruitful avenues for sourcing 80s electric guitars online include eBay, Reverb, and even more targeted virtual communities such as The Gear Page. These virtual marketplaces can offer up an astonishing array of used guitars from the 1980s, along with a wealth of technical details and historical context. However, online purchasing may come with certain drawbacks, such as uncertainty about a guitar’s playing condition.

For those preferring to hold a potential purchase in hand before buying, Physical secondhand or vintage shops prove priceless. While area and luck play considerable roles in the finds available, there’s nothing like the thrill of unearthing a perfectly preserved Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul from a pile of forgotten instruments. Such stores often brim with hidden gems waiting to be discovered by diligent seekers.

Another source is Guitar Shows- events where like-minded enthusiasts gather to buy, sell, trade, and discuss guitars. The atmosphere is infectious, and the opportunities to learn and network with other enthusiasts are invaluable. Here, you can find rare models or strike cost-efficient deals.

Between these three routes, there’s an intersection where my personal experiences, insights, and passion for 80s electric guitars align. Hunting for your ideal 80s electric guitar isn’t solely about engaging in commerce; it resembles an exciting search for a lost treasure. To find these gems, you need patience, determination, keen observation, and an enthusiasm for engaging in the rich historical tapestry these instruments represent. Whether you’re leafing through online pages, wandering through bricks-and-mortar stores, or navigating crowded aisles at a guitar show, each interaction is a chord in the authentic music of 80s guitar collection.

So there you have it! Those are my insights on where to source 80s electric guitars. But remember, buying a vintage guitar isn’t just a financial exercise, it’s a personal journey, a sonic adventure echoing the elemental rock-and-roll ethos of discovery.

As you leap onto this enchanting path, armed with the knowledge from previous chapters, let the spirit of the 80s guide you further down this article, towards answering the most frequently asked questions on the subject. Happy hunting!


What made the 80s electric guitars special?

The 80s was a defining era for electric guitars. They were known for their flamboyant designs and spectacular sound. The prominent use of the guitar in hard rock and heavy metal music made it an integral part of the culture. Use of innovative technology, incorporation of onboard effects and features like Floyd Rose and Kahler tremolo systems made these guitars special.

Who were the popular electric guitarists in the 1980s?

The 80s was filled with electric guitar icons such as Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani. Their command over the instrument set new boundaries in the music world, influencing a generation of guitarists. Their signature sounds and playing styles became the defining sound of the era.

What were the popular electric guitar brands in the 1980s?

Some of the popular electric guitar brands in the 1980s included Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, and Jackson. These brands consistently produced high-quality instruments that were favored by professional musicians and amateurs alike.

What makes the 80s electric guitars withstand the test of time?

The versatility, build quality, and unique sounds of the 80s electric guitars have helped them withstand the test of time. These guitars with their unique designs and groundbreaking features have influenced countless musicians and continue to inspire many up-and-coming guitarists today.


In wrapping up this comprehensive exploration into the magnificent world of 80s electric guitars, it becomes apparent just how impactful this era was. The subtle nuances, design trades, innovative breakthroughs, and the seismic cultural shifts that these vintage electric guitars inspired, remain instrumental to our understanding of music history today.

Through key sections – from probing its evolution to examining the era-defining brands, the remarkable impact of various music genres, the pivotal role of 80s rock, not forgetting essential guidelines for collectors and enthusiasts; I trust that the rich tapestry of the 80s electric guitar models has been illuminated.

Is the era of 80s electric guitars really over, or are we just witnessing a pause before its resurgence? My extensive experience leads me to believe we may be on the brink of a revival. They often say that history has a way of repeating itself. Could the ambiance, staccato strums, and wild wails of the 80s electric guitars soon be echoing through our halls again?

It’s essential to keep an eye on the ebb and flow of trends in the music landscape while savouring the unique nostalgia of these iconic models. I envisage my insights and reflections throughout this guide to have lent you a hand in demystifying the glam and groove encapsulated in the world of 80s electric guitars and also, stoking a deeper appreciation within you.

As we journey through the decade’s intricate web of sounds, styles, and seismic shifts, there’s a sense of wonder at the heart of this era that continues to shape our musical landscape even today. So, let’s keep the sound – that classic, hard to define 80s guitar sound – alive in our hearts, listeners’ ears, and within the music we continue to create. This is, after all, the undeniable legacy of 80s electric guitars.

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