10 Best Cheap Electric Guitars Under $500 (2018)

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.

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

Image of schecter omen-6

(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.

Specs:

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

Price: $349

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

Image of ibanez jemjrwh

(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.

Specs:

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

Price: $499.99

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

Image of yamaha pacifica

(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 245STTS SE 245 Standard

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.

Specs:

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

Price: $429

Buy the Paul Reed Smith Guitars 245STTS SE 245 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
  • Wraparound bridge can’t be intonated as precisely
  • Could need an initial professional setup

Find more Paul Reed Smith Guitars 245STTS SE 245 Standard information and reviews here.


5. Cort MBC-1 Bellamy Signature

Image of cort bellamy signature

(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.

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

Image of esp ltd ec-256

(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.

Specs:

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

Price: $399

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

Image of fender modern player thinline telecaster

(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 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.

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

Image of epiphone casino

(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.

Specs:

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

Price: $495

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. Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster

Image of squier j mascis jazzmaster

Squier

Squier used to make some truly detestable instruments, not good for much beyond the first couple years of lessons at a stretch. These days, Fender has embraced their value line as being able to meet the needs of guitarists at a variety of skill levels, as evidenced not only by this Jazzmaster, but pretty much anything from the Classic Vibe line.

This guitar is the J Mascis signature, specifically spec’d out by the man at an affordable pricepoint. Jazzmasters will never not be cool, in part because their versatility tends to exceed expectations. Like the Modern Player Tele above, Fender leveraged much-improved Chinese production to bring this in under $500. They also opted for lesser P90 pickups compared to the expected (and usually truly excellent) proper Jazzmasters, but many players won’t notice this.

This guitar is a great platform for making a few mods to turn this into something that punches away above its weight. For more on this, check out this blog post from guitar experts Mike and Mike’s Guitar Bar, who also go to the trouble of running down the various aspects.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: Modern C
  • Body wood: Basswood
  • Bridge: Adjusto-Matic floating tremolo
  • Country: China

Price: $449.99

Buy the Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster here.


Pros:

  • Cool signature vibe
  • Excellent value
  • Dual circuit design with rhythm/lead switches for both

Cons:

  • Some players may require mods
  • Very likely to need a setup

Find more Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster information and reviews here.


10. Sterling by Music Man Silhouette Silo3 Electric Guitar

Image of sterling by music man silo3

Sterling by Music Man

Much like the Ray 4 we included on our best basses under $500 post, the Silo3 outclasses a lot of guitars at this price. The build quality is significantly better than most guitars under $300, with final inspection and setup occurring in the Music Man factory in the U.S. before shipment.

The body is clearly a tweaked vintage shape, meant to evoke — and depart from — a more-typical Strat-type. It’s an exceptionally comfortable guitar and the H-S-S pickup layout allows for wide-ranging tones. They’re definitely on the airy side, as can be expected at this price, but the guitar itself is good enough to withstand future upgrades, if you should desire them.

Speaking of, you’ll probably look to upgrade either the bridge or the tuners at some point, because heavy whammy use will pretty quickly throw this out of tune. If you don’t use a whammy often, this makes a very fine choice, indeed. The neck is satin finished for better feel. All in all, a very worthwhile guitar that comes in at less than half the price of most of the other options on this list.

Specs:

  • Construction: Bolt-on
  • Neck shape: C
  • Body wood: Basswood
  • Bridge: Tremolo
  • Country: Indonesia

Price: $219.99

Buy the Sterling by Music Man Silhouette Silo3 Electric Guitar here.


Pros:

  • Above average build quality for the price
  • Despite foreign build, final inspection and setup happens in the U.S.
  • Distinctive look
  • H-S-S pickups offer good versatility

Cons:

  • Could need an initial professional setup
  • Pickups are obviously on the inexpensive side
  • Struggles to stay in tune

Find more Sterling by Music Man Silhouette Silo3 Electric Guitar information and reviews here.


See Also:

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1 Comment

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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