A few of Steve Vai’s guitars

How many guitars do you need – as opposed to how many guitars do you want – depends on a few things. For many people want becomes need quite quickly. In that case money becomes a  factor quickly followed by space. Touring players and session players might need more than most but most of us need to decide what we actually need and then choose wisely. 

After more than 40 years of playing I now have 3 guitars: two electrics and an acoustic. I’ve had the two electrics for 20 years or so. My partner has two – an acoustic and a bass which we share.

A friend of mine has the walls of his man cave/studio covered in guitars. I think he has 20 or more. I’ve seen videos of Steve Vai and other big name players showing off their collections of hundreds of guitars hanging in their own temperature controlled houses. 

Its horses for courses really. I don’t play in a band these days but do some home recording. My friend plays (or did before covid) in a couple of bands. Steve Vai et al tour and record constantly so obviously need more guitars than most. He also designs them so I imagine has a lot given to him by Ibanez – but hundreds of guitars? I wonder if they all get played. How often do the strings get changed?

Needs Must

Some of my friend’s guitars – there are a few more now

Over the years I have been in a number of bands and have played and toured a fair bit. I’ve been through a lot of different guitars but have never owned more than 3 or 4 at any given time. My old faithfuls are my 98 Les Paul Studio and my 90’s Strat. I’ve always owned an acoustic guitar of some sort. My current one – a Yamaha – is a recent purchase and is set up with Nashville high strung tuning. In a previous band I used a couple of different tunings and played some slide so had extra guitars – an Epiphone LP and a Squier Tele – set up for those. 

Don’t get me wrong I do love guitars. I’ve just never wanted to own a stack of them. Collecting them never became an addiction as it seems to for others. I worked my way through a load of cheap copies until I could afford the guitars I really wanted. Once I had them I was happy. Those, a few pedals and my old Marshall valve amp have given me all the flavours I’ve needed for my music. Truth be told I rarely even fire up the Marshall these days. Between my Boss GT100 and Logic Pro, I have all the amps I’ll ever need and they all fit in small bag.

So I guess the question is really how many guitars do you need to A. Cover your needs and B. To be content. Everyone will have a different answer but I suspect that most guitarists will have more than they need. 

How Many Sounds Can You Use?

My lot (plus cello)

Here’s a thing to consider too when you are working out how many guitars you need. Do all guitars really sound and feel THAT different from each other that you need loads of them? Obviously a guitar with humbuckers and a one with single coils sound very different – hence my Les Paul and Strat. Solid bodies and hollow bodies sound very different. Body shapes, pickups and hardware produce slightly different sounds. Necks have different profiles. Given that to most non guitar players differences in tone go under the radar, how many sounds do you actually need? 

There are enough pickups, effects pedals, amps and accessories around these days to make pretty much any guitar sound the way you want. Isn’t it then more important to find one or two that feel great to play? Take my strat for example. It plays beautifully and looks gorgeous but until I paired it up with my GT100 I didn’t much like it’s sound with an amp. Now I love it. It’s actually like having a new guitar. 

The Does It All Guitar

I always liked the idea of having a “does it all guitar”. The closest I have come to that was a Washburn Chicago which was stolen and which I still miss. It had two single coil pick ups in the neck and middle positions and a coil tapped humbucker in the bridge. A lockable Floyd rose trem and fat frets made the whole package very versatile. Kind of a poor man’s PRS but it sounded great through my Hiwatt Custom (also stolen and greatly missed) 

So we can probably conclude that the how many guitars do you need question is a how long is a piece of string kind of deal. Although most non guitarists can’t really hear the differences in sounds of guitars, guitarists can. Its absolutely true that you can pick up a guitar – especially an acoustic – and immediately hear something unique. I understand that for guitarists for whom  money and space are no object its nice to have loads of guitars. On the other hand for me there is nothing sadder than guitars that are hung on walls and seldom played. I’d rather see them in the hands  of a player who can afford just one  which they will treasure and play to death. 


I'm Dave Menzies a digital entrepreneur, photographer and guitarist. I live on the Argyll coast of Scotland. My partner and I write, record and produce our own music and videos in our home studio. I love to help individuals discover the lifestyle freedom offered by the digital world and guitarists to develop their own style.