Yes, most Indie Folk music features acoustic guitar. But that doesn’t mean electric guitars are forbidden from the genre. In fact, a lot of modern Indie Folk artists make extensive use of electric guitars (and some wild effects pedals).
Most articles about “the best” type of guitar for a genre are quite generic. Usually, those articles just want to sell you something.
So, instead, I’ve taken the time to research what guitars are actually used by popular Indie Folk musicians. Mostly because I listen to a lot of Bon Iver and Phoebe Bridgers when I’m depressed (which is all the time).
Hopefully, this guide will teach you what guitars will get you closest to the tone and look of an Indie Folk musician—if you care about looking the part, that is…
- What is the Best Electric Guitar For Indie Folk?
- What Guitars Are Most Commonly Used By Indie Folk Artists?
- What To Look For In An Indie Folk Electric Guitar
- My Recommendations
What is the Best Electric Guitar For Indie Folk?
The Telecaster is your safest bet for playing Indie Folk on electric guitar, followed closely by a 335-style semi-hollow. This isn’t just an anecdotal suggestion: I actually compiled a list of Indie Folk artists and tallied up who played what.
And the numbers show that these two types of guitar are the most used among well-known artists in the genre.
However, electric guitars are very versatile instruments. Not only that, but the amplifiers and effects that you use impact your tone just as much (if not more) than the guitar you play.
In reality, you can probably play Indie Folk (or any genre) on any guitar. But there is a clear trend when you consider what other Indie Folk musicians are using. As you’ll see from the data, the Telecaster gets a lot of love.
What Guitars Are Most Commonly Used By Indie Folk Artists?
Based on my analysis (see below), Telecasters are the most common electric guitar used for Indie Folk music. But semi-hollows and offset designs are also quite common and rounded out the top 3 of my study.
It is true that “indie” artists are more likely to use alternative designs and brands. But, in reality, those alternative options made up only a fraction of the guitars being used by popular Indie Folk musicians.
The bulk of these artists are playing on Fenders and Gibsons, or their respective sub-brands (Squiers and Epiphones).
But that does not mean you need a name-brand Fender Telecaster in order to make real music. Any T-style guitar can sound the same as a Fender if it has the right pickups. The same premise goes for any style of electric guitar, really. Copies work just as well as the name-brand options so long as they use quality pickups and hardware.
My Original Indie Folk Electric Guitar Study
|Guitar Type||Percentage Used in Artists Sample|
|Gibson (solid body)||9.43%|
To determine the most common guitars for Indie Folk, I put together a dataset of Indie Folk guitarists. I sampled 22 artists that matched the following criteria:
- Considered to be an “indie folk” musician or play in a similar style,
- Used an electric guitar in some capacity, and
- At least mildly popular
Some artists on the list used many different types of guitars, so I only incorporated the top 4 electrics with which they were seen playing. Other artists only used a single electric. Overall, this gave me a list of 53 guitars used by 22 artists.
A rather small sample, but it’s never than just pulling recommendations out a hat.
I then broke down this dataset into common guitar types that would make analysis easier. The types were divided as thus:
- Semi-Hollow (335 types, thinline archtops, etc.)
- Offset (mustangs, duo-sonics, jazzmasters, jaguars, jagmasters, etc.)
- Gibson Solid Body (Les Pauls or SGs)
- Retro (weird off-brand and unique-design guitars that did not fit into the other categories; including brands like Danelectro, Harmony, Teisco, and Fano)
What To Look For In An Indie Folk Electric Guitar
There is no set rule on what type of guitars and pickups are needed to obtain an indie folk electric tone. The analysis in the previous section shows that both single-coils and humbuckers are used. Solid-body and hollow-body are both viable options.
But let’s generalize for a minute. If you want to get a typical Indie Folk electric guitar tone, then you have two primary options:
- The jangly and bright tone – a Fender-style solid body with single coil pickups
- The warm and woody tone – a Semi-hollow or Gibson-style with humbuckers
|Intended Tone||Guitar for the Job||Gets You The Style Of…|
|Jangly, twangy, clear, and bright||Solid body, especially a Telecaster or Fender-type Single-coil pickups, especially with AlNiCo III or AlNiCo VI magnets||Phoebe Bridgers Harrison Whitford (Phoebe Bridger’s backup guitarist) Julien Baker Wilbur Soot Clairo Mumford & Sons|
|Warm, woody, and reserved||Semi-hollow or archtop, although a Les Paul can work also Humbuckers, especially PAFs (stay away from EMG or high-gain models)||Bon Iver Gracie Abrams Elliott Smith Adrianne Lenker|
All of this info is helpful, but I assume many of you are not gear nerds like me. So let’s forget the technical analysis for a minute.
Maybe you just want a simple recommendation.
In that case, here are some specific guitar models I would consider if I was shopping for an “Indie Folk” electric right now.
The Jangly Sound
For emulating the style of: Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, etc.
Budget Friendly Options
- Squier Sonic Telecaster. Honestly, any Squier Tele with single-coils will work. But AlNiCo pickups will sound better than ceramic pickups most of the time. If you’re handy with a soldering iron, you can upgrade the pickups anyway (or bring it to a luthier to do the work).
- Squier Sonic Stratocaster. These come in both hardtail and tremolo options.
- Harley Benton TE-62CC. For roughly the same price as a Squier Sonic, you can get a Harley Benton that already has AlNiCo pickups and a sleeker look (if you ask me).
- Harley Benton ST-62CC. I own an ST-20 but, honestly, I could have saved myself the trouble of heavy modding if I just bought one of these (who am I kidding, I like modding…)
- Silvertone 1303 Reissue. Maybe you want a retro look without breaking the bank on a Danelectro or Eastwood. If that’s the case, this Silvertone copy has very similar looks to a Danelectro ‘57 model.
- Fender Player Telecaster. “Player” is the current marketing name of Fender’s entry level series. Older models with similar specs are often called “MiM” or “Made in Mexico” Telecasters.
- Fender Player Mustang. This mustang has the perks of short scale length without the hassle of a vibrato tailpiece. I rarely if ever hear use of vibrato in Indie Folk styles.
- Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazzmaster
- Eastwood Airline Tuxedo. Do you like weird guitars? Then here’s a reissue of a classic.
- Danelectro Stock ‘59 Model. This will get you jangle without the tired Fender look. Yes, Phoebe Bridgers plays a Dano but keep in mind that her guitar is a baritone (this model to be exact).
The Woody Sound
For the style of: Bon Iver, Elliott Smith, etc.
Budget Friendly Options
- Harley Benton HB-35. This is a 335 copy on the cheap.
- Ibanez Artcore AS53. Similar to a 335 but cheaper than an Epiphone.
- Harley Benton SC-450Plus. A Les Paul copy with AlNiCo vintage-voiced humbuckers. I will warn you though…Les Pauls are notoriously heavy guitars.
- Gretsch G2622. A Gretsch doesn’t really scream “folk” but these are pretty basic semi-hollows. The Broad’Tron pickups in these are closer to standard humbuckers than they are to TV Jones pickups.
- Squier Classic Vibe ‘70s Telecaster Thinline. Maybe you want a Telecaster but you also like humbuckers. In that case, here’s a nice crossbreed of sorts.
- Epiphone ES-335. The 335 model (originally by Gibson) is the golden standard of semi-hollow designs which nearly every other manufacturer is beholden to.
- Guild Starfire IV. A semi-hollow design with a little ‘70s flare. Fun fact: Phoebe Bridgers has used a Starfire occasionally when playing live.
- Epiphone Casino. A very popular alternative to the ES-335. Elliott Smith used a 1969 Gibson ES-330, which is a similar build that also sported P90 pickups.
- Reverend Jetstream 390. It’s weird looking, it comes in hip colors, and Bon Iver has one. Class dismissed.
- Duesenberg Starplayer TV Phonic. This is the kind of extreme high-end hippy indie guitar you buy after getting filthy rich from a hit single that you made with your $200 pawn shop Tele.
My Own Experiences and Setup
My only electric guitar right now is a Stratocaster copy. This guitar gets me in the ball park for Indie Folk, Indie Pop, Bedroom Pop, and Indie Rock genres.
Specifically, I’m playing a cheap-o $89 Harley Benton ST-20. But, in it’s defense, that guitar has been modded with boutique AlNiCo III pickups, cloth wiring, and Alpha pots.
I rarely use an actual amp when recording (because my amp sucks but anyway). Instead, I run the Strat directly into my audio interface and use Amplitube as an amp sim. For both folky chords and ambient background bits, I usually stick with the simulations of a Fender Princeton or a Fender Twin Reverb.
In short, Telecasters are a good first choice for any style of Indie music. If you don’t like the bitey sound of a Tele, then I suggest a semi-hollow instead. Either way, guitars are versatile. Any model with a good set of passive pickups can get you a nice clean, folky tone.
Thanks for stopping by. If you found this guide helpful, then here are a few more to consider reading: