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Best Guitars for Delta Blues Sound: A Guide for all Budgets

Best Guitars for Delta Blues Sound: A Guide for all Budgets

As Jimi Hendrix said, the blues is easy to play but hard to feel. A man jamming on his guitar might not be the most sophisticated thing, but it evokes at times more emotions than an entire band. If, like me, you’re fascinated by the Delta blues, then you have been obsessed with the one quality photo of Robert Johnson and his acoustic Gibson on the internet. We might not be able to play his guitar again, but I can guide you to the best guitars for Delta blues sound.

Bottom Line Up-Front: You can play the blues with any guitar, but not all guitars will recreate the Delta sound and feel. The best guitars to play Delta blues are all inspired by instruments of the era but don’t have to be vintage.

If you know what to look for in a guitar, you can find hundreds of modern budget alternatives or mid-range modern reissues in any local shop. My goal is to help you find the guitars that best fit your budget.

If you are serious about Delta blues, you can find a pair even for legendary instruments that created the genre.

Best Delta Blues Guitars at a Glance

  • Harley Benton Delta Blues OE- Best For Beginners: As the name suggests, this guitar is specifically designed for blues beginner/intermediate guitarists on a budget.
  • Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Metal Resonator – Best Tone on a Budget: A resonator guitar is not just a historical piece of the pre-amplified era. This guitar has the classic Delta twang, and it’s very loud!
  • Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog – Best Slide Tone: A Dobro is a resonator guitar at the core of American musical tradition since the 20s. This instrument is a mid-range alternative that perfectly recreates the legacy.
  • Gibson SG Special – Best Electric: An SG might not be an obvious choice; however, the guitar has one of the best necks to play slide with. Legends like Dereck Trucks can testify for that. If this is too expensive, there are plenty of Fender budget series SG reissues for players on a budget.
  • Gibson Acoustic L-00 Acoustic Electric – Best Overall: This guitar is inspired by Johnson’s L-1 and KG-14 he used on his legendary recordings. It is a costly instrument, but you can look for similar, less expensive guitars even if you can’t afford it.

What Makes a Good Delta Blues Guitar?

essential delta blues

The Delta Blues was born among the poor Mississippi class. Second-hand instruments and some homemade ones were the norms. The few recordings we have of the time are full of one-note lines, out-of-tune strings, and many buzz notes; this shows that the guitar quality might not have been as good.

Even though the genre is based on ‘In between’ notes and purposely out-of-tune phrases, you don’t need your guitar to do that for you! The skill lies in consciously going out of the scale or having the ‘feel’ for it.

There’s a saying that any guitar is fit for the blues; however, I will list a few perks that make a great blues guitar.

Tuning Stability

Most Delta blues is played on Open-G or open E tuning. Ideally, you want a guitar that can switch from standard to any of the two without tuning issues. For electrics, it’s wise not to go with tremolo bridges.

Comfortable neck

Slide guitar is tricky to play with low action. A slightly higher action helps avoid frets buzz; however, you have to be careful in picking a guitar that plays well even on higher actions. Consider that you might want to get thicker strings for a fuller tone.

The Shape

Shape, playability, and tone are all connected in acoustic guitars. The Delta blues has a quality that accepts all guitar shapes, yet some do the job better than others. I recommend Orchestra-shaped small/medium-sized guitars as they tend to be more comfortable in playing and have more than ‘glassines’ on the tone.

Overall Build Quality

The guitar should not only be meant for delta blues. It should be good enough to sing along with or even play a non-blues gig with.

Should You Use The Guitars You Already Own for Delta Blues?

If your guitar matches the above criteria, the only reason you should for another is if you’re serious about playing the blues or don’t want to mess with your existing one.

I own three acoustic guitars, yet I only use one of them for Delta blues or slide guitar in general.

The first reason is that the guitar is small and doesn’t have the rich acoustic tone I look for when recording in the studio. The second reason is that I don’t want to change the tuning on my other guitars, while on these, I’m free to experiment with different open tunings and string gauges.

Harley Benton Delta Blues OE

Harley Benton Delta Blues OE

Harley Benton is proof that cheap guitars can be decent instruments. This guitar costs less than your first instrument but is smartly designed to play Delta blues flawlessly.

The guitar is not as great as it sounds, just like Robert Johnson probably didn’t make a pact with the devil to learn the blues. The HB Delta blues lacks the volume and the warm midrange that all good acoustic guitars have. Even though Delta Blues does not need a big body or that much woody acoustic tone, open chords should ideally sound big and full.

Considering the price, though, I can’t think of another better beginner guitar for Delta Blues. Even if you need a better guitar in the future, you can turn this into a great beater guitar or even a travel instrument.

Harley Benton Delta Blues OE Pros

  • Fantastic price/quality ratio
  • Easy to play neck
  • Balanced tone

Harley Benton Delta Blues OE Cons

  • Average build quality
  • It does not have a rich acoustic tone
  • It’s not loud

Gibson SG Special 

Gibson SG Special

The SG has more blues than any other ‘modern’ solid body electric. I choose it not only for the perfect neck but for the wide tonal palette PAF pickups can get.

Your guitar must do more than one thing in a real-life gigging situation well. If you’re playing a blues show, there’s no guarantee it will all be slide guitars and open tuning strumming I-IV-V. The blues is much bigger than that, and this guitar can respond to anything you ask it to do.

It’s unbelievably stable and much easier to play with a slide than a Tele or Strat. Even if the specs are the same on paper, the slide and SG go better together than humbucker and distortion.

This guitar is expensive, but you should not be discouraged. Hunt any non-US-made SG, and you won’t be disappointed with playability.

Gibson SG Special Pros

  • Easy to play neck
  • Wide tonal range 
  • Extremely versatile for most genres
  • Easy to play with a slide
  • Light to carry
  • Very stable tunning

Gibson SG Special Cons

  • It’s an easy guitar to break
  • Expensive

Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Metal Resonator

Gretsch G9201

It’s obvious a resonator needed to appear on the list; why this, though? The short answer is that I don’t think you need a more expensive resonator than the Gretsch G9201 unless you’re playing at a very high level.

Resonators are unmatched in what they do, but their usage and sonic range are sometimes limited. You can fit the resonator in Blues, Country, Folk, and rarely in modern settings. An instrument that can do well within that limit is all you need at home or in the studio to play incredible-sounding delta blues licks. 

There are three main resonator designs: “Tricone,” “Biscuit,” and “Single Cone Spider.” I choose the Biscuit style because it gives a warmer midrange to the rough metallic sound. The slide sound with a resonator is a unique vintage delta tone that will take you back to the classic recordings.

Good tone is heavy and hard to carry, and so is this guitar, unfortunately. It’s worth it, though, as it will overpower in volume, probably any other acoustic instrument you ever played.

Interesting Read: The Best Resonator Guitars.

Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Pros

  • Vintage feel and look.
  • Loud and warm tone
  • Excellent for fingerstyle and slide playing
  • Versatile for every style of playing that fits its tonal range

Gretsch G9201 Honey Dipper Cons

  • Very heavy guitar to carry
  • Open chords might sound dark and muddy if amplified

Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog

Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog

This round-neck dobro will take your slide playing to the next level. Compared to the Gretsch, I only recommend this guitar to slide players who feel comfortable playing it as a lap steel guitar.

You could play it as a regular guitar, yet I’d recommend setting the action high in open tunings only and specifically using it for typical Delta slide playing.

Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog Pros

  • Vintage look and feel
  • Excellent for fingerstyle and slide playing
  • Great built quality
  • Loud 
  • Fantastic price/quality ratio

Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog Cons

  • Not very versatile for rhythm playing
  • It has a steep learning curve

What is the difference between a Resonator and a Dobro?

Dobros are resonator guitars; sometimes, you’ll hear the name dobro describing all resonator guitars. The easiest way to think of a Dobro is to consider them wooden acoustic resonator guitars. 

Tone-wise, Dobros sound more like regular guitars than metal body resonators due to the wood. This makes the slide sound less harsh and well-rounded. Strumming might even sound more present compared to the darker tone of the Resonator.

Gibson Acoustic L-00 Standard Acoustic Electric

Gibson Acoustic L-00

If you’re serious about Delta blues guitar, this instrument is probably the best modern recreation of Robert Johnson’s original Gibson. I must admit though, that most of its high price comes from historical values rather than the guitar’s actual worth as an instrument.

It is almost perfect in every way, giving off Delta vibes from the first chord. Small enough to carry it easily from gig to gig without compromising its rich tone. All the tonewoods are aged and handled by the best Gibson luthier in the US. 

The electronic system is flat and well hidden on the guitar. It sounds plugged in almost as good as it does unplugged. You can tell, especially when playing open tunings with a slide. The natural reverb of the open strings is amplified from the PA, leaving no need for any fx from the console or pedals.

If you’re a touring blues musician or want to get as close as possible to the 100 years old legacy of the Delta sound, few guitars match the Gibson L-00.

Gibson Acoustic L-00 Standard Pros

  • Best acoustic Delta blues tone 
  • Flat and responsive pickup
  • Easy to play with fingerstyle and slide
  • Fantastic build quality and materials
  • Vintage look and feel

Gibson Acoustic L-00 Standard Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Not very loud when unplugged
  • The EQ is not very detailed

Other Alternatives To Consider

The blues is universal and can easily be transferred to other instruments you will most likely find in a local music store.

Fender PS – 220E Parlor Acoustic-Electric

Fender PS - 220E Parlor

I first played this guitar, thinking it would sound tiny and thin like most small-bodied instruments. In truth, it was the opposite in every aspect. This is not only a parlor body guitar good for delta blues but an overall quality acoustic guitar.

The only setting I could not use it was in the studio to record open chords. For everything else, it’s as good as a small body instrument can get under 1000$.

Fender PS – 220E Pros

  • Best value for money
  • Easy to play neck
  • Vintage look 
  • Warm tone fit for the blues and more

Fender PS – 220E Cons

  • The EQ on the preamp is not very detailed
  • Not loud when unplugged

Washburn Woodline 010SCE

Washburn Woodline 010SCE

Most of you might not be very familiar with this guitar as it is a personal choice from my collection. I used this instrument to play most of my blues shows when I started my professional career, and it never disappointed me.

It’s not the most classic-looking guitar nor the richer sound, but it’s extremely comfortable to play and feels very easy to play slide with. I love that for under 500$, this guitar can get you through an entire acoustic gig of blues, rock, pop, or country.

Washburn Woodline 010SCE Pros

  • Easy to play neck
  • Classic looking finish
  • Balanced tone
  • Good EQ system

Washburn Woodline 010SCE Cons

  • The tone is not very rich
  • Not very stable with open tunning


Question: What are some famous Delta blues guitars?

Answer: Apart from Robert Johnson’s Gibsons, Muddy Waters’ Telecaster,  John Lee Hooker’s Epiphone, and Skip James’ Gibson J-185 are famous Delta blues guitars. 

Question: Who are some famous Delta blues guitarists?

Answer: Some of the biggest delta blues guitarists and artists are John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnsons, Skip James, Bukka White, Blind Willie Johnson, etc.

Question: What are some easy Delta blues songs?

Answer: After getting your first Delta blues guitar, some easy songs to learn are the following: “Matchbox” by Carl Perkings, “I’m Tone Down” by Freddie King, “Boom Boom’ by John Lee Hooker, etc. Fender Play is a great place I recommend learning these songs quickly from.

Final Thoughts on Best Delta Blues Guitars

Before choosing any guitar for Delta blues, I can best advise you to get a feel of the “blue” note in your playing. A good guitar will make you sound better but won’t recreate the feel. 

It’s wise to always go for a guitar inside your budget and only buy a specific delta blues guitar when you can afford other spare ones. Remember that having one guitar dedicated to the genre will make you even more comfortable playing it on stage and push it to its limits.