I hesitate to recommend any of the good old brands that we used to depend on. Go with the best recent recommendations from the guys above.
Anything that I bought recently that I remember as reliable from my parents days has usually turned out to be crap.
As for install, you got this. Copper and/or new plastics are actually fun to work with. Easy to make a neat, professional install with your tech experience.
They really aren’t that hard to do I’ve done a few. Find a plumbing supply store like Ferguson not a big box (like Home Depot) unit.
If you are already into the plumbing consider adding a whole house filter. Filters all incoming water after the meter and before it goes everywhere else. I am amazed at how much crap that thing collects and we have pretty darn good water here already. Long story short it stops any sediment from even reaching the boiler, and that alone will help extend the life of it.
Just had mine replaced. Cousin is a master plumber and I asked him what to buy. I had a Bradford White, and it lasted 17 years and it never ran out of hot water. In fact, the longer the hot ran, the hotter it got. So I replaced it with the same 50 gal unit with a new expansion tank. Interesting part, the warranty. Of course, the longer the warranty, the more they cost, and that is the only difference. Same internals. You're just paying for the company to be on the hook longer for replacement. I would definitely not buy one from a big box store. Anymore you never know what these companies are willing to put their name on to get a piece of the pie. I think of that every time I walk into a warehouse store and see all those cheezy tractors lined up outside the door with big names on them.
Bradford White has been great for me. Our first one lasted 23 years, and I opted to replace it while it was still working perfectly. The replacement is the same brand, and I'm into the 11th year with it. I'm running off natural gas, 50 gallon units. Our neighborhood consists of 70 homes, and the builder used a variety of brands depending upon when the homes were built. Just about everyone who didn't have a Bradford White, only got about 10 years out of their originals.
I wonder how long these 20+ year units would have lasted in Phoenix. We have the harshest water around. Our water heaters last 7-10 years then split. Even if you drain them periodically.
Now that you posted this, I figure mine might make #3 since I installed it on 7/15.
That was the first time I ever used Shark Bites.
I was a little skeptical but they have never leaked a drop.
They aren't cheap but the next time this water heater needs to be replaced will be even easier because I can simply unscrew them from the heater, pull them out of the way for the R&R and reconnect them to the new heater.
No cutting or soldering will be required. (As long as the new heater is the same height.)
Some parts of the country (earthquake zones) require flexible connections and these fill that requirement.