5 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? 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 best cheap electric guitars.

What are the best electric guitars under $500?

Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Fast-playing neck
  • Excellent aesthetic touches
  • Great value
Price: $349.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Ultra-fast Wizard III neck
  • Affordable version of an iconic guitar
  • Way better than the price
Price: $499.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Coil tap
  • Color options
  • Versatile
Price: $299.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cool signature vibe
  • Excellent value
  • Flexible switching options
Price: No price available Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Better build quality than the price
  • Distinctive
  • Versatile
Price: $219.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. Schecter OMEN-6

    Pros:
    • Excellent aesthetic touches
    • Fast-playing neck
    • Great value
    • High versatility
    Cons:
    • Thru-body bridges can be unfriendly to bends near the nut
    • Jacks aren't the best
    • Could need an initial professional setup
    • Constant palm muting could cause paint wear at the bridge

    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. After owning mine for a few years, I tossed a couple of Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups in it to give it a serious upgrade and more longevity.

    Specs:

    • Construction: Bolt-on
    • Neck shape: Thin C
    • Body wood: Basswood
    • Bridge: Thru-body Tune-O-Matic
    • Country: Indonesia (according to their website)
  2. Ibanez JEMJRWH Steve Vai Signature

    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

    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

     

  3. Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V

    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

    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.

    Specs:

    • Construction: Bolt-on
    • Neck shape: C
    • Body wood: Alder
    • Bridge: Strat-style tremolo
    • Country: Indonesia
  4. Squier by Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster

    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
    • Switching can be a little confusing for beginners

    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. Alternatively, you could save about $50 by opting for the Vintage Modified Jazzmaster, instead.

    Specs:

    • Construction: Bolt-on
    • Neck shape: Modern C
    • Body wood: Basswood
    • Bridge: Adjusto-Matic floating tremolo
    • Country: China
  5. Sterling by Music Man Silhouette Silo3 Electric Guitar

    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

    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

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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