Cheap Electric Guitars: Best Guitars Under $500

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

As we discussed in our post about cheap effects pedals, price does not always indicate quality. As with buying anything, simply picking out the most expensive item isn’t the way to ensure you get the best product for your needs. Sure, you might really want to own a Ferarri, but have you ever spent any time driving one around town to pick up your groceries?

This is no different in the world of guitars. You want something well-made that sounds good. You could go pick up a Gibson Les Paul Custom or even have something handmade just for you, but that’s a lot of money. Sometimes it’s hard to see what you’re getting for the price, too. As David Gilmour said, “I think I could walk into any music shop anywhere and with a guitar off the rack, a couple of basic pedals and an amp I could sound just like me.” The music comes from you and you can’t buy your way into that. Even Angus Young said, “Every guitarist I would cross paths with would tell me that I should have a flashy guitar, whatever the latest fashion model was, and I used to say, ‘Why? Mine works, doesn’t it? It’s a piece of wood and six strings, and it works.'”

Still, a badly made guitar is incredibly frustrating. I’ve had several in my years of playing that were at the very least uninspiring, but could border on maddening. Flat, quiet pickups. Unfinished frets with burrs that interrupt slides and bends. Faulty switches. Flaking finish. It’s true that you can (and should) overlook a few issues here and there if the guitar sounds or feels great to you, but if it gets in the way of playing, it’s a problem.

Fortunately, we live in an era of truly great, yet inexpensive, guitars. There are lower-priced riffs on old classics right alongside purpose-built value axes. You don’t have to settle for that rattling pawn shop special. With a few hundred dollars you can buy a guitar that will suit all your needs and last for many years to come.

The $500 threshold is still quite high for your very first guitar, so if you’re just starting out, check out our list of the best electric guitars for beginners here. And while you’re at it, if you’re in the market for a new amp, try our list of the top ten best small combo amps.

If you have a modest budget for your rock and roll dreams, check out our list of the top ten best cheap electric guitars.


1. Schecter OMEN-6

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Schecter)

For years, Schecter has provided a nice counterpoint to the various Les Paul and Strat look-a-likes on the market (many of which are very good) at an affordable pricepoint. As my local guitar shop owner once said, for the money, they might make the best all around guitar south of $1,000. You can spend more than that, but the point is, they don’t skimp downrange.

The Omen line is made for everyone, but perhaps leans just slightly toward the shredding crowd. This guitar features a maple bolt-on neck which features a rosewood fretboard with pearloid inlays. The inlays are a nice touch at this price, if you’re into that sort of thing. The pickups are Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers and offer a well-balanced tone that can also be aggressive when needed. Twenty-four jumbo frets means this is good for speed.

I have one of these and what I like about this guitar are the little touches. The arch top and binding helps set it apart from other guitars around this pricepoint, as does the black chrome hardware. Schecters are enormously comfortable guitars to play and their finish work is excellent. This is a lot of guitar for the money, but you can upgrade twice within $500 with the Omen Extreme-6 and the Omen Extreme-6 FR, depending on your needs.

Need more options? Browse more Schecter products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: Thin C
  • Body wood: Basswood
  • Bridge: Thru-body Tune-O-Matic
  • Country: Indonesia (according to their website)

Price: $299.99 (4 percent off MSRP)

Buy the Schecter OMEN-6 here.



Pros:

  • Excellent aesthetic touches
  • Fast-playing neck
  • Great value
  • High versatility

Cons:

  • Thru-body bridges can be unfriendly to bends near the nut
  • A little heavy
  • Could need an initial professional setup
  • Constant palm muting could cause paint wear at the bridge

Find more Schecter OMEN-6 information and reviews here.



2. Ibanez JEMJRWH Steve Vai Signature

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Ibanez)

Since the lawsuit era, Ibanez has delivered a lot of value and quality at low prices relative to their peers. Especially popular with metal guitarists of various kinds, their guitars tend toward the lean and fast, usually with thin bodies and necks. This JEM JR is no exception.

If the Schecter wasn’t quite fast enough, this lower priced version of Steve Vai’s signature guitar should get the job done. The Wizard III neck is a direct copy from its more-expensive variation, and when combined with the 24 jumbo frets, creates a speed machine. Because Vai himself is a versatile guitarist, though, this guitar can pretty much do it all, though if you like a chunky neck for chords, you’ll have to look elsewhere. You even get the Tree of Life inlay at twice price, which looks great.

The Quantum pickup configuration of H-S-H offers a wide variety of tones, and since this isn’t a Telecaster, having a humbucker in the neck position is especially nice, I find. That single coil in the middle should be used more as a coloring device on selector positions two and four than as a straight-ahead choice. Augment the natural fullness of the humbuckers with a little jangle from the single coil and you’re in business.

No matter how you slice it, this guitar just looks like it should cost more than it does.

Need more options? Browse more Ibanez products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: Wizard III
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Bridge: Double-locking tremolo
  • Country: Indonesia

Price: $497.30 (25 percent off MSRP)

Buy the Ibanez JEMJRWH Steve Vai Signature here.



Pros:

  • Ultra-fast Wizard III neck
  • Value version of Steve Vai’s JEM 7V
  • Double-locking bridge holds tuning with heavy whammy use
  • Very high-end for the money

Cons:

  • Locking bridge and nut requires special attention during string changes
  • Handle cutout may be polarizing
  • No coil tap for humbuckers
  • Could need an initial professional setup

Find more Ibanez JEMJRWH Steve Vai Signature information and reviews here.



3. Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Yamaha)

Yamaha guitars, like their other musical equipment, benefit from a strong pedigree of excellent electronics. While their acoustic instruments are also quite good, especially their pianos, it’s the reliability and accuracy of their electronics that really make their products work. Ask anyone who owned one of their component stereo pieces.

The Pacifica family of guitars was launched years ago to address this market in particular. They’re excellent guitars for the working man and student alike. After a break-in period, these machines should provide stable, frustration-free operation for many years, with enough tone and versatility to play any style. The video below even demonstrates how, with a solid amp, you might not even know it was inexpensive.

This model offers the pretty standard budget Stratocaster experience, with the bright, open tone of alder as the body wood. It comes in two configurations, S-S-H and H-H, and given that the humbucker is the star, you might opt for the H-H version, especially because it comes with a coil tap. It’s a solid guitar and should give you everything you need for short money, minus the frustrations of a lot of cheap guitars out there. If you’re just starting out, you could also go cheaper with the PAC112J, but you have to give up the coil tap.

Need more options? Browse more Yamaha products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: C
  • Body wood: Alder
  • Bridge: Strat-style tremolo
  • Country: Indonesia

Price: $299.99

Buy the Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V here.



Pros:

  • Coil tap for humbucker
  • Good versatility
  • Pro-level hardware and electronics
  • Several color options

Cons:

  • Neck and middle pickups a little flat
  • Possible intonation issues on some units
  • Not quite as polished as other options at this price
  • Could need an initial professional setup

Find more Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V information and reviews here.



4. Paul Reed Smith Guitars ST24TS SE Standard

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Paul Reed Smith)

You might know PRS guitars as being Santana’s go-to for decades. They make a wide variety of very fine guitars, usually with carved arch top bodies and timeless, classic finishes. I typically think of these as being great for clean tones, or lightly overdriven lead work.

This guitar is no exception. It’s a PRS through and through, redesigned slightly for a somewhat lower price bracket compared to the majority of their guitars. You still get the lovely bird inlay in the rosewood fretboard, while the guitar is accented with nickel hardware, including locking tuners.

As the name implies, it has 24 frets (standard size), and is loaded with PRS-designed humbuckers that provide the full, smooth tone PRS is known for. There’s a push-pull tone pot that controls the coil tap for access to single coil sounds. It’s a solid guitar that looks like a showpiece.

Need more options? Browse more Paul Reed Smith products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: Wide Thin
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Bridge: PRS tremolo
  • Country: Indonesia

Price: $499

Buy the Paul Reed Smith Guitars ST24TS SE Standard here.



Pros:

  • Classic PRS look and feel
  • Versatile tones
  • Mahogany body grants excellent sustain
  • Carved top looks good and is comfortable

Cons:

  • Pickups might be a little muddy
  • Heavy whammy bar use will put it out of tune
  • Could need an initial professional setup

Find more Paul Reed Smith Guitars ST24TS SE Standard information and reviews here.



5. Cort MBC-1 Bellamy Signature

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Cort)

I don’t know about you, but I kind of dig unusual guitars. There are so, so many Strats, Teles, and Les Pauls of various stripes out there, and while they’re great, I’m always interested to see something different. This Cort model, based on one of Matthew Bellamy’s custom designs, is just that. It’s half Tele, half something else, and even though it’s simple, it stands apart.

The neck pickup captures all the bright Strat tones you might need, while the humbucker is voiced for the heavy, open riffing Bellamy uses in Muse. It’s a hot, high output sound that is somewhat surprising from the relatively unassuming Cort. The button on the top horn is a kill switch, which you can use as an interrupt to introduce all kinds of interesting textures.

The controls are simple, as is the fretboard, which lacks the nicety of the custom-looking inlays of some of the other guitars on this list. Still, with the matte black finish and interesting body shape, the overall effect of this guitar is that it looks custom for not very much money at all.

Need more options? Browse more Cort products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: D
  • Body wood: Basswood
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic
  • Country: Indonesia

Price: $499.99 (15 percent off MSRP)

Buy the Cort MBC-1 Bellamy Signature here.



Pros:

  • Kill switch
  • Staggered height locking machine heads
  • Locking tuners
  • Standout body shape

Cons:

  • Pickup selector placement could be annoying
  • Kill switch crackles and pops a bit when playing clean
  • No coil tap
  • Plastic nut leads to some fret buzz

Find more Cort MBC-1 Bellamy Signature information and reviews here.



6. ESP LTD EC-256

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(ESP)

ESP is perhaps best known for guitars that hang around the Les Paul area of the spectrum, but are cheaper than the Gibson versions and better than they have any right to be. They’re known for their excellent out-of-the box setups and end construction.

Their LTD value line offers similar quality, often producing guitars that look like they should cost much more. This model, which is based on their Eclipse body shape, is squarely in Les Paul territory, perhaps specifically “Black Beauty” territory with its gold hardware. It’s quite a bit thinner than a Les Paul, but still weighs somewhere in the area of ten pounds.

Custom-looking fretboard inlay makes a comeback, as does coil tapping. This guitar can certainly do anything a Les Paul can do, though it lacks the four-knob configuration controls, if that’s a requirement. For a budget guitar, you certainly wouldn’t be ashamed to play this robust option.

Need more options? Browse more ESP products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Set-neck
  • Neck shape: Thin U
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic
  • Country: China

Price: $399.99

Buy the ESP LTD EC-256 here.



Pros:

  • Excellent build quality
  • Coil tap
  • Set-neck construction for greater sustain
  • Extra-jumbo frets

Cons:

  • Only 22 frets
  • Could need an initial professional setup
  • Heavy

Find more ESP LTD EC-256 information and reviews here.



7. Fender Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Fender)

Once upon a time, the best deal in the music world was a Mexican-made Fender Telecaster. They sold for under $500, but every unit that rolled off the line was more than reliable enough for everyday gigging use. Some even claimed to prefer them to the American version. All good things must come to an end, though, and Fender closed the loophole and capitalized on the popularity of the MIM Teles by raising the price to $599.99.

As a passing gesture to holding onto the low-end market, they released the Modern Player line of instruments made in China. Because Fender has relatively strong quality controls and the specs for these machines have existed for decades, these are still fine instruments for everyday use. True, they don’t have quite the same fit and finish, but a quick trip to your local guitar expert will sort that and you’ll have saved a little cash in the process.

This particular Thinline is not the standard Tele, either. The P-90s are jangly and loud, as they should be, and individually controlled with their own volume and tone pots. As the name implies, this is a modern Telecaster for everyone, an update to the venerable classic, both in design and construction.

Need more options? Browse more Fender products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: C
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Bridge: Strat-style hardtail thru-body
  • Country: China

Price: $499.99

Buy the Fender Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe here.



Pros:

  • Separate controls per pickup
  • Hot P-90 pickups
  • Semi-hollow mahogany body
  • Still better than Squier counterpart

Cons:

  • Not quite as good as the comparable Mexican-made version
  • Wood grain pictured may not be as visible on actual unit
  • Could need an initial professional setup
  • P-90s are noisy; consider better shielding during setup

Find more Fender Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe information and reviews here.



8. Epiphone Casino Coupe Thin-Line

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Epiphone)

If you love the idea of a hollow-body, P-90 packed guitar, but aren’t so much feeling the Tele vibe, consider this fresh take on an old favorite. The Casino was popularized by Beatles Lennon and Harrison as an alternative to the larger electric hollow bodies made by Gibson and Epiphone at the time. Gary Clark Jr. plays one, too.

Unlike the semi-hollow and center block guitars of years past, this is a fully hollow body machine. The enhanced acoustic quality pair nicely with the P-90s to create a warm tone that excels when clean. It diminishes the sustain somewhat, so when playing clean, you’ll want to choose pieces that don’t require ringing out for very long.

Still, it’s hollow, so if you want to crank it and let it feedback, it’ll comply. You’ll get that bright, resonant drive tone even as the smaller body defeats the out-of-control feedback of previous eras. If you’re playing in a noisy room, you’ll probably want to invest in a Noise Suppressor. It’s a nice second guitar to have that expands your sonic capabilities.

Need more options? Browse more Epiphone products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Glue set
  • Neck shape: 60s SlimTaper
  • Body wood: Maple
  • Bridge: LockTone Tune-o-matic with Coupe Trapeze Tailpiece
  • Country: China

Price: $449

Buy the Epiphone Casino Coupe Thin-Line here.



Pros:

  • Relatively small compared to vintage versions
  • Smaller body cuts feedback problems
  • Excellent warm acoustic tone
  • Twangy dogear P-90 pickups

Cons:

  • Somewhat limited sustain
  • Inconsistent finish application
  • Poor fret finish (note: frets can be crowned by local guitar tech)
  • Bridge may rattle

Find more Epiphone Casino Coupe Thin-Line information and reviews here.



9. Godin Redline 2 Electric Guitar

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Godin)

It’s true, there is a North American made guitar available for less than $500. Even better, it’s comparable to Fender American-built guitars. Godin’s Canadian guitars are some of the best available. Anyone shopping for big name guitars will find a Godin model that works for them, and generally for much less.

The Redline is very similar to the Schecter above, only with a considerable upgrade in the pickup department. These are the active EMG 81/85 set, which is the same that Zakk Wylde uses. Between that and the ultra-fast neck, this is really meant to shred. This one has a fixed bridge, but you could opt for the Redline 3 in Roadkill or Carnage finishes to upgrade to a Floyd Rose. Even those are well under the $500 price cap.

You don’t often see Godin guitars in stores, but I grew up in the Northeast and had the opportunity to play several of them. They always felt great right out of the box and kind of give off that unassuming underdog quality. Consider this if you want to surprise someone with something new.

Need more options? Browse more Godin products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: Modern C
  • Body wood: Silver leaf maple centre with poplar wings
  • Bridge: Hardtail
  • Country: Canada

Price: $483.38

Buy the Godin Redline 2 Electric Guitar here.



Pros:

  • North American made
  • Supreme versatility
  • EMG 81/85 active pickups
  • Excellent build quality

Cons:

  • Some fret buzz
  • Active pickups not for everyone

Find more Godin Redline 2 information and reviews here.



10. Epiphone G-400 Pro

cheap electric guitars, electric guitar, guitar for beginners, beginner guitars, best electric guitars

(Epiphone)

Epihphone became a clearinghouse for cheaper versions of Gibson’s guitars in the very late 50s. I can tell you from experience that much like some of Fender’s Squiers, this hasn’t always been a happy arrangement for players. In fact, I once had the lesser version of this very model, the SG Special, and it is one of the most uniquely terrible guitars ever to be built. There’s hope, however.

You really do get what you pay for in most instances. For $159 more than the SG Special, you get this model, which is aesthetically very similar, which is, of course, the take off of the Gibson SG. Where the cheap one is prone to spur-of-the-moment neck adjustments if you fret too hard (yes, really), this one is a solid guitar that lives up to the billing.

The Alnico Classic PRO pickups are designed to produce that signature SG snarl, though they don’t necessarily emulate the ’57 reissues in the Gibson one. The coil splitting gives you a variety of tones and wide dynamic range. This is built as a sustain machine, and will deliver much of the SG experience for far less. As a bonus, the tuning machines are lighter than in other versions, which helps with the overall balance.

Need more options? Browse more Epiphone products here.

Specs:

  • Construction: Glue set
  • Neck shape: SlimTaper D
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Bridge: Stop tail Tune-O-Matic
  • Country: Korea

Price: $359

Buy the Epiphone G-400 Pro here.



Pros:

  • Separate controls per pickup
  • Coil tap
  • Wilkinson tuning machines
  • Wide frets are comfortable for all skill levels

Cons:

  • Could need an initial professional setup
  • Some fret buzzing
  • Struggles to stay in tune
  • May have to make routine truss rod adjustments

Find more Epiphone G-400 Pro information and reviews here.


Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.
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1 Comment

Damon Brawn

I always found Schecters to have superior quality for their price. I never understand the bad rep. Probably cause they often come horribly setup? Or they are pretty unoriginal designs? Maybe so but for the price you pay they are exceptional!

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