Guitarists all the time ask if there is a do it all guitar or “Swiss Army Guitar” out there, that can cover any sonic territory. Today we will break down what it means, and which guitars actually fit the bill!
The Do It All Guitar: Is It A Myth?
A lot of guitarists have spent years chasing a particular sound. Some people have had a tone that they desire and they have gone to great lengths to find the gear that makes that tone. You probably see this behavior in some of your guitar heroes. Take Jimi Hendrix for example…
Jimi was known to play a Fender Stratocaster, and his sound and image are almost synonymous with that guitar. But Jimi certainly played other guitars! He had Gibson guitars, and a few Epiphone guitars. But he favored the Fender, and used it the most because it helped to define his sound.
But the thing you have to remember about guitar, is that it is different for every single player out there. What I think is the perfect guitar, may be the exact opposite of what you are looking for. Guitars are tools first and foremost, and should be treated as such. You wouldn’t bring a hammer to cut down a tree would you? Just like I wouldn’t bring a Fender Strat to play Djent Metal.
Which brings us to the topic at hand! What if you need a LOT of tools in your guitar toolbox? There are a couple of ways you can do this. Which path you take is going to be down to your space, budget, and time. You can:
- Have several guitars for each tuning and genre that you want to play. Like a Schecter for Metal, A Gibson for Rock, and a Fender for Blues. Each guitar can have it’s own setup and tunings.
- You can have a do it all guitar. A guitar that can cover all kinds of sounds, tones, and genres.
Which route you take is up to you in the end. But what would be considered a do it all guitar? We have taken a look at the guitars that have came out this past year or two, and found a few that definitely fit the bill for the legendary “Swiss Army Guitar” that can cover a lot of ground. Let’s take a look at a few, and talk about what makes them the best for so many different applications.
Fender HSS Stratocaster
A Fender HSS Strat is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about a do it all guitar. I have owned quite a few of these models, and I can definitely speak on why they are versatile. The Stratocaster has been around since the invention of the solid body guitar, and it remains a viable contender to this day for a lot of reasons.
The HSS in the name means “Humbucker, Single, Single”. This means that you have two single coil pickups like you would have on a regular Strat, but the humbucker in the bridge is what makes this guitar a game changer. While most people wouldn’t think that a Fender is great for playing heavy music, Jim Root and Iron Maiden would disagree with you.
The advantage of the HSS setup is that you can still get some beautiful clean tones from the single coil pickups. You can also utilize the single coils for playing some Blues or any type of music that uses light amounts of distortion. Single coil pickups are pretty noisy, so using them with a ton of gain and distortion is not exactly ideal.
But this is where the humbucker comes in. The humbucker in the bridge can do all kinds of awesome tones that are good for heavier music. First and foremost, it is less noisy. You can crank up the gain and start chugging with some palm mutes. The bridge humbucker is also good for shred lead playing. Basically, anything high gain can be done with the humbucker in the bridge.
So with the Fender HSS, you have something pretty close to a do it all guitar. The only downfall is the tremolo system. You will not be doing any big dive bombs with a Fender trem. You can find a Strat with a Floyd Rose pretty easily, but that is really not necessary with a do it all guitar. The Fender HSS is a good starting point though, and you will find loads of versatility in one of these models.
The Fender HSS Strat is a great guitar for anyone that is looking for versatility. The 5 way switch allows you to go through pristine cleans, to blistering solos.
The PRS S2 Standard 22
It is no secret that PRS guitars are high quality workhorse guitars. The biggest problem with the Core PRS series, is the price of these instruments. These are made in America and are usually constructed with boutique-style woods and appointments. The Core Series also usually involves some amazing hand painted designs. All of this attention to detail is what makes PRS so expensive.
But several years ago, PRS announced the “S2 Series” of guitars. These are still made in the USA, constructed with great woods, and they have a fine attention to detail. The difference is the much lower price! These sell for a fraction of the cost that a Core PRS sells at.
So what is the difference? Well the S2 line is not very flashy looking. These all have “nice” paint jobs, but nothing like the outrageously priced Core Series. There are a few minor compromises to these guitars that really only come down to aesthetics. I played an S2 PRS guitar for a few years, and it was one of the best guitars I have ever owned.
These can easily be a do it all guitar, and I think they beat the HSS Stratocaster by a longshot. The PRS hardware makes all the difference here. You have a fully functional tremolo that can handle anything you throw at it. You also have a graphite nut and locking tuners. These stay in tune without any problems.
But tone is where the idea of a do it all guitar lies, and I am happy to report that PRS definitely do not slack in that department either. You have a dual humbucker setup, but each humbucker can also be coil tapped to get a single coil sound. This means that you have 6 distinct tones from the pickups that can cover just about anything you toss at them. These are great for Metal, Rock, Blues, and even Country!
PRS is at the top of the game when it comes to thoughtful and functional guitar design. Just look at the artist roster that the company has. You have every genre of music represented by PRS, and that is a true testament to the versatility of the guitars.
PRS is the pinnacle of innovation and design when it comes to modern, versatile guitars. The Standard 22 is a budget model, but do not let the price fool you! This is a beast!
Charvel Pro-Mod DK24
Charvel has been around a long time and created a legacy for themselves that usually revolves around Metal. The last few years, Charvel has been about making some of the most versatile guitars on the market, putting these models high on the list of do it all guitars. The best in my opinion, is the Charvel Dk24.
This has everything you could want in a guitar, right out of the box. The “Pro-Mod” moniker isn’t just a sales gimmick. This Dk24 has actually been modded with some impressive features. The hardware is all Gotoh, which is usually an aftermarket brand. The smooth trem system and tuners allow you to play just about anything.
But even more impressive, is the pickups. The DK24 comes loaded with Seymour Duncan Alnico II pickups. These pickups sit right in the middle when it comes to being hot and heavy. This gives you a versatile humbucker sound that can be used for any genre. The series switch allows you to put the pickups in series or parallel, giving you 3 more options for tones.
Charvel has been making so great doi it all guitars over the last few years. So don’t just think that Charvel means “pointy metal guitar”“. These can be both beauty and the beast with the new features Charvel has to offer!
Charvel has entered a new era of affordable, professional guitars with tons of modern features. These are versatile monsters that can handle any session!
Schecter Nick Johnston HSS
I know what you are thinking. Did we not just talk about an HSS Stratocaster? We did, but the Schecter NJ HSS is a totally different beast for the player that needs a do it all guitar. This may look like a Fender copy upon first glance, but it is far from that, I assure you.
If you have not heard of Nick Johnston, then it might be time to look up some of his music. Nick is one of the craziest players of the new generation, and with his innovative playing he needed a hybrid guitar. He needed a guitar with classic looks and modern appointments. A do it it all player, needs a do it all guitar, right?
The Schecter NJ HSS has all of the advantages of a Fender HSS, but it also has some more modern themes that make it better for certain players. First, we have a more modern fretboard. Fender necks are not known for being flat. The Schecter NJ HSS has a much flatter fretboard radius, for people that want to shred.
The hardware is a totally different caliber as well. The bridge and the tuners help to keep dives in tune by being Schecter branded locking systems. Since this is a vintage style trem, I would not suggest going absolutely nuts with it and trying to do crazy whammy effects. But as far as flutters and gentle bending goes, you will not have to worry like you do with a Fender.
The pickups are also a little bit hotter than a Strat, so you can get some really nasty tones out of all three pickups. The single coils are Nick’s own design, and they can be as clean or as dirty as you want them to be. The humbucker in the bridge is like a hot PAF, lending it to more aggressive sounds and tones.
You also have modern features like a roasted maple neck, one tone/volume knob setup, and a heel spoke truss rod. These are all features that you will only find on a Fender that costs thousands of dollars. But Schecter managed to pull it off and remain in budget territory! This is the best do it all guitar you can get for under $1000.
The Schecter Nick Johnston pairs classic looks with modern day features. The Schecter NJ is designed to be a speed machine that cleans up as nicely as it roars!
Yamaha Pacifica 612VII
I will spare you the reasons why an HSS setup is so needed when it comes to a do it all guitar. In fact, I will jump straight to the point when it comes to the Yamaha Pacifica 612 Series of guitars. We can skip all of the guitar jargon here and I will tell you why this is a great choice.
This is the do it all guitar for people on a budget. The Yamaha Pacifica has everything you need in a do it all guitar. It has quality hardware, pickups, and construction. So how do you get so much value for such a great price? The thing is, Yamaha has always made great guitars for beginners. Most guitarists have no idea that Yamaha makes professional guitars as well!
In fact, I had no idea myself until I started really researching the guitars that Yamaha has to offer. This is a mean machine for under $700, and I am really tempted to buy one for myself. You get a Wilkinson Trem system, that will never give you any tuning issues. You also get a guitar that is loaded with Seymour Duncan pickups. It’s a no brainer at this price!
If you are looking for a do it all guitar, that comes way under the budget of most guitars on this list… the Yamaha Pacifica 612VII is the perfect guitar for guitarists of any style or genre. I am kind of stunned at the features you get for such a bargain price.
The Yamaha Pacifica is the true "Swiss Army Guitar" in every meaning of the term. This guitar can do just about anything a player could want, at a budget price!
The Do It All Guitar: Wrapping Up…
Not everyone needs a do it all guitar. If you play Metal pretty much exclusively, then you should probably buy a guitar that suits that purpose. The same can be said for any genre of music. Guitars are our tools, and you have to have the right tool for the job! So what kind of guitarist needs a do it all guitar?
The guitars on this list are for a special breed of guitarist that likes to have options. Any guitar on this list would be good for a studio musician for example, who never knows what kind of music they have to play next. Any guitarist in a cover band will tell you that you need a lot of tonal options on stage as well.
My #1 choice for a do it all guitar is always going to be a Core PRS. PRS is designed to be the king of do it all guitars! But not everyone has that kind of money to spend on a guitar (some cost as much as my car!). I hope these guitars give you some ideas of what you can do on a more limited budget. The best do it all guitar for you, might be on this list!