If you’re looking for a cheap electric guitar, you’re in luck. Electric guitars are a lot cheaper and easier to produce than they were fifty years ago – and this means that it’s much easier today to find an affordable guitar that still has great tone and plays like it was built for you.
If you were buying your first electric guitar in the beginning days of rock n’ roll, you’d have to blow most of your life savings on a solid Fender, Gibson or Rickenbacker – and there was no such thing as “starter” guitars or guitar kits, you just played on whatever ended up in front of you and saved up until this changed.
Today, it’s clear that “cheap” guitars doesn’t have to mean bad guitars. Cheap just means that some of the fancier bells and whistles of the model (if it has a more expensive equivalent) aren’t included – but often the body and neck is as good as its more expensive counterpart.
“Cheap” electric guitars can also be bought for several different reasons. You might be buying a cheaper electric guitar as your very first one – some of the best beginner electric guitars fall into the ‘cheap’ category. Or you might be a professional gigging or studio musician who needs a cheaper guitar for traveling, modifying or just messing around.
Saying you need “a cheap electric guitar” is like going to a restaurant and ordering “a meal.” It’s such a general term that no salesperson or waiter will know what you mean – or what you want.
To one person, the best electric guitars under $500 might be considered cheap, for others, under $200 might be a more realistic target. We have tried to cover a range of the best cheap electric guitars in our roundup.
Snapshot: Best Cheap Electric Guitars
Struggling to find the right guitar for you?
Here’s our list of the best cheap electric guitars that you can get. No matter which one of these you choose as your next guitar, you’ll be making a good choice – and the hardware and electronics of these guitars are all generally well made enough for the guitar to last you for thousands of gigs, probably decades and through any modifications.
Cheap Electric Guitar Reviews
1. SX Stratocaster
A lot of people might not be familiar with the SX line of guitars: If you’ve already been a guitarist for a few years or you’re into guitar modifications, it’s likely that you’ve played or owned one of these already.
SX Stratocasters are great because they offer extremely high quality construction at a decent price – and they’re one type of guitar that loves to be modified from the base pups and paint job, but still manages to be a decent guitar that plays very well even if you don’t.
Body & Neck
One of the first things players will notice about the SX Stratocaster style body is the fact that the guitar is a lot thinner (and just a little bit lighter) than your average Stratocaster shape. Having said this, it’s durable – and it’s the kind of durable that means your SX is likely to survive a fall down the stairs without anything more than a scratch.
The neck has a slightly thicker profile than 90s Stratocasters, and the SX copy’s neck can remind you a lot of the 70s series Strats with slightly thicker necks instead.
Electronics & Hardware
The stock electronics issued with SX guitars are surprisingly excellent – and not just good, but excellent. By some miracle, SX is one of the very few single coil manufacturers that aren’t Alnico that managed to get the characteristic twang that you’re expecting from a Strat just right. There’s usually no need to change out your pickups unless you’re looking for something very specific, like Seymour Duncan pups for metal playing instead.
As for the hardware, some models of the SX guitar will arrive at your door with perfectly fine hardware that never gets changing: But for some reason, some of these models came with inferior tuners, and you might want to think about changing the tuners first if you notice you have to retune your guitar too often.
It’s also recommended that you tighten the screws of the input jack when you first get the guitar: Not hearing the right sound through your amp? It’s commonly this, and a lot of people will go to a lot of effort to replace the pups thinking they’re faulty when they could have just tightened a few screws.
The sound you can get out of an SX guitar without the need to change anything is surprising: And you can toy with this even further depending on which amp you’re running the guitar through – and pedals can fill in the rest. Right out of the box, even most studio guitarists find themselves surprised by how damn good the SX sounds and plays.
SX is one of the few guitar brands that play fine out of the box: Most models are good, and most guitarists who play one (with the exception of a select few) are very happy with how they play compared to some of the “bigger name” brands in their collection.
SX guitars is one of the most understated brands of the guitar world – and they don’t cost as much as you would expect. If you tacked on another zero to the price of your average SX, it would still be a price worth paying for the guitar you get.
2. Squier Bullet Stratocaster
Usually if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a USA or Mexican-made Fender guitar, your first option used to be the Squier Standard Stratocaster. Later on, the company would introduce the Squier Bullet Stratocaster – an option even cheaper than the Standard. But is it worthwhile?
Guitar buyers should keep in mind that the Fender Bullet and Squier Bullet are not the same guitar. The Fender Bullet was released directly under the Fender label in the early 1980s. It would only become the Squier Bullet during later models – but if you ever encounter a used guitar deal that speaks of a Fender Bullet, make sure both of you know which model you’re really talking about.
Body & Neck
The majority of Squier Bullet guitars to make it off the production line are made from basswood, although there are some earlier (and probably newer) models that will vary when it comes to the type of wood the body was made from. Some of the much earlier ones were instead made from plywood – and although this seems terrible, a handful of these were still excellent.
Ideally, you want one that’s made from basswood. It’s light – but it also has the potential to be soft, so this isn”t the kind of Strat that can get knocked around nearly as much.
It’s light, much lighter than your average MIM or USA Strat, and has a much thinner neck than most standard Squiers. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you and what you prefer.
Electronics & Hardware
The electronics in the Bullet Strat pass for decent (whereas comparatively, the electronics found in Squier Standards would be a few steps better).
If you intend on using your Bullet Strat for live playing or recording, you might want to change the pups out first: MIM Standards are nice, but so are the pickups you’ll find in USA Standards – and they’re available all over sites like eBay for not too much. If you don’t want to change out the pickups, rely on an amp for better sound.
With the stock pickups, the Bullet Strat can sound thin – and it lacks most of the characteristic natural “twang” or “pop” that you want from Squier or Fender single coil pups. Sometimes these pups can also have an issue with humming – this is fixed with some foil and encasing the pickups, but it’s best to call a guitar tech for this instead.
Most change pickups for the studio or live eventually if they’re playing a Bullet Strat. Of course, you don’t have to, but you’ll find the sound lacking otherwise.
Overall, you can expect a decent affordable guitar if you decide to buy a Bullet Srat. Some of the models will come off the production line with small flaws such as sharp fret edges, but if you get one of these (or one with a body made out of plywood), don’t think that you got a lemon: It’s still a great guitar, and at most all this means is you’ll need to get it set up by a guitar tech (with a possible fret filing) to make it into an excellent one.
The Bullet Strat is another favorite of guitarists who love to modify, repaint and kit out their guitars anyway. Even if you aren’t, the Bullet Strat makes a great cheap guitar that’s well-built enough to last you for many hours in the studio or on stage.
3. Epiphone SG Special
If you aren’t into the most traditional of guitar shapes like Telecasters, Stratocasters or ES-335 hollow-bodied guitars, the SG might be one of the guitar shapes that catches your attention first.
Famously, the shape can be associated with guitarists like Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi: And it could be your guitar choice if you’re looking for a comfortable humbucker-pickup monster of a guitar.
There’s one problem for most people who admire the shape. If your criteria includes the word “cheap”, you can cut the Gibson name out of your search almost immediately – and for many people, the Epiphone SG guitar is also out of their chosen price range.
If this describes your guitar-buying situation, you should consider the SG Special from Epiphone instead.
Body & Neck
The body of the Epiphone SG Special is nothing particularly special, but sometimes that’s fine if you’re looking for a simple practice, gigging or traveling guitar – and yes, the Epi Special can still become a pretty treasured guitar in your collection. Usually, the body is from a lighter tonewood like alder or basswood and it’s extremely light.
If you have back issues and want a guitar that’s lighter than air while it still has a neck that you can hold on to, this is it.
If you’re not after the SG-shaped body, but want a LP Special shape instead, there’s the Epiphone Les Paul Special: A little heavier than the SG, but still just as solid.
Electronics & Hardware
The electronics are possibly one of the first things a guitarist might choose to change out for the Epiphone SG Special: While the body is great and the neck is a very comfortable fit for most hands, the same isn’t true for the pickups.
The stock Epiphone Special humbucker pickups just feel and sound a little weak.
If you want the full sound of proper humbuckers, switch them out for more expensive pickups: At least when you buy the SG or LP Special from Epiphone, you know you’re buying a pretty good yet cheap body for a base.
Like already mentioned, the sound of the Epiphone SG and LP Special aren’t great right out of the box. But this doesn’t mean that it’s bad. With some decent playing technique and a proper tube amp, you can make almost any guitar sound like a roaring beast. If you still don’t like the sound of the guitar when it’s played through a better amp, change the pups to something better.
The SG Special goes to show that great guitars can be cheap – and don’t have to be complicated, either. If you want a guitar that doesn’t mind really being played, this is a great one.
There’s a lot of reason why you don’t want to take your prized Gibson SG worth a few hundred to the average bar or club gig: Eventually, your guitar will get knocked around – and you’re going to be the one to pay for it. Get an SG Special if you need a lighter, simple workhorse guitar or if you want to protect another model in your collection from any potential harm.
4. Epiphone LP Standard
Some players are just in love with the LP shape, while other players consider themselves devout Stratocaster worshipers who just want to dip their feet into the LP-playing waters for a few songs in every gig.
If you’ve decided that you want a LP shape and that nothing else will do it, the Epiphone LP Standard is one of the best guitars you can get next to a Gibson.
Body & Neck
The body of the Epiphone LP Standard is usually made from mahogany with a laminate top. They’re traditionally heavier than shapes like an SG or Strat, but that’s what you would expect when you buy a LP.
Most of the time, the neck you get out of an Epiphone LP is solid: And you’ll be happy with it guaranteed. At worst, it’ll require a setup by a professional guitar tech, but that’ usually the most of it.
Electronics & Hardware
The stock electronics you get with the Epiphone LP Standard are surprisingly great. Blues, jazz, rock, metal: What you can get out of your LP Standard with stock pickups depends on you and your amp. There’s usually no need to change them – although guitarists chasing a specific sound (like the Seymour Duncan crunch) could appreciate a change of pups from what’s in the Standard to begin with.
The hardware is more than decent: But if you notice your guitar going out of tune too much, you’ll want to change the stock tuners out for better ones.
A Les Paul with humbuckers generally doesn’t sound like a Stratocaster – and for most players who were never inclined to single coil pickups to begin with, the sound is perfect. If you aren’t getting the sound that you want out of the guitar you’re playing, your first step is to take a closer look at your amp rather than make drastic modifications to your guitar.
The stock sound and feel of an Epiphone Les Paul is pretty excellent right out of the box. Whether it’s for studio or live playing, there’s usually absolutely no need to modify or alter your guitar – unless you experience issues like a guitar constantly going out of tune, which can happen to some production line models that get to customers.
An Epiphone Les Paul is priced cheaply enough not to break the budget for most guitar players: It ranks as “cheap but with a little more to spend” on the budgetary scale – and it’s often worth saving up for one if a Les Paul-shaped guitar is what you want. Generally, most of the models you’ll find are well made – and they stand up well enough to their more expensive Gibson counterparts that a lot of players have started to prefer the Epiphone models, especially in recent years since the Gibson company has been rumored to decline in quality even for their top-priced guitars.
How to Choose a Cheap Electric Guitar
Everyone who just goes out and “buys a guitar” turns out to regret their guitar choice in a week or less. Guitars are a very personal thing, and you have to be happy with the way it feels and sounds or you won’t be happy with any of it: Take some time to find your ideal fit before saying, “Sure, I’ll take it.”
Even if you’re ordering online, it helps to stop by a real-life music store (or just a friend’s house) to try the guitar for yourself: There’s no way to tell how a guitar is going to fit your hands from a picture online – and until you’re physically holding the guitar, you usually won’t know how you feel about it.
As a general rule, there are a few different elements that can help you to decide whether a guitar is right for you. These are things like the overall build quality, the neck construction and the body type. Taking all of these elements into account can help to make the process of choosing a guitar a lot easier for you from the start.
Here’s your “best cheap electric guitar” buying guide that can help tell you what to look for when it’s time to make your choice.
It’s perfectly fine to buy a guitar first when you can afford it, and to buy other accessories like the amp later when you have the budget to buy the right match.
A lot of people will tell you that you shouldn’t buy an electric guitar without an amp – but it’s not like the chords you learn are going to change in any way if your guitar isn’t plugged in, so no, you don’t have to do or buy anything.
Nobody needs to go nuts on guitar accessories: Focus on the guitar first as one of the most important factors and choose your accompanying accessories later.
Some players use guitar effects pedals and others really don’t give a damn about their use. Others prefer to play certain songs with a Capo – and you guessed it, some other players might not give a damn.
Which guitar accessories are really necessary? As a beginner, invest in a good amplifier, always buy a few sets of cables, buy a strap by default – and get accessories like a strap and capo just because it’s useful to learn how to play with them from the beginning. (If you don’t like to play with these accessories later, discard their use as you develop more of your own playing style.)
Just to prove a point about tonewoods, guitars have been built from traditionally “bad” tonewoods like pine – and they still sounded great. Guitars have even been built from concrete, although admittedly these lacked the warm you would expect from a wooden guitar body.
A lot can be said about tonewoods, and not all guitarists are in agreement about how much of a difference it really makes to how your guitar sounds. Not even all luthiers can agree on this.
Tonewoods do affect the sustain and sound of your guitar, even if nobody can really agree on how much.
More importantly, the wood used for your guitar affects other things: How well it will respond to being knocked around or dropped, and how the guitar will respond to things like moisture, mold or humidity. Softer tonewoods mean that your guitar is more likely to get damaged if you drop it: Harder tonewoods are more durable, but also a lot heavier which isn’t great for anyone nursing an old shoulder or back injury.
When it comes to choosing your tonewood, do your research on each and compare this to what your needs are in terms of durability, sustain and weight.
A guitar’s build quality says everything about the guitar and has everything to do with how long any guitarist will be playing this guitar for. When you hold a guitar for the first time, the build quality is one of the first things you should look at.
Are the frets even or did they leave sharp edges? Does the input jack make a weird popping noise when you rotate the cable? Is the neck straight as an arrow, or didn’t they bother to check out of the factory? Are all of the screws where they should be? Are there rough edges that haven’t been sounded down, or places that haven’t been laquered properly?
There are a thousand different “points” that can be mentioned when it comes to build quality. Those are some of the most important ones, although you’re likely to pick up the rest of the nuances as you go along if you’re a beginner.
Not sure how to access a guitar’s build quality? Make friends with a guitar tech and ask their opinion or call up a luthier ask.
There are several different popular body types: Some are Stratocaster shapes; others are Telecasters or hollow-bodied guitars or superstrats. And once a guitarist has been convinced they’re in love with a specific guitar body type, it’s usually true that nothing else is going to tell them any different.
Take a look at the musicians you admire (and of course, consider what type of guitar you actually enjoy playing) to find the right body type for your needs.
There’s no right and wrong when it comes to body types. Some people play jazz just fine on a flying V.
Let’s talk scale length. Some guitars are ¾ scale, which means the body is smaller and the neck is slightly shorter. Why? Smaller players (sometimes children, sometimes just smaller stature adults) take to shorter scale length guitars easier.
But before switching around and choosing a ¾ scale length guitar, try another guitar body type to find out if it’s a better fit for you.
As one example, If you don’t like reaching around the fat body of an ES-335 to reach the strings, switch to a LP Special or Fender Strat and you’ll almost always be happier.
Obviously, buy a guitar with a durable and well-made neck. The guitars that have been mentioned in this article are usually pretty good. But also remember that good or bad neck construction is also individual for guitar models.
You could put two of the very same guitar models off the very same production line next to one another and you wouldn’t have the same feel on the necks of both guitars. It doesn’t work that way.
You might have one LP with a terrible neck and another LP that’s technically the same model with a neck that you love playing on.
As a rule, judge the neck construction of every guitar individually.
Things to look for:
- Are the frets properly trimmed? If not, sharp edges can cut your hands.
- Are the frets properly filed? If not, it can make the notes buzz – and you’ll have to pay to have the frets filed down by a guitar tech. (For gee-tar novices: Yes, it’s worth doing.)
- Is the neck straight when you look at it down the length? Where it isn’t, sometimes it can be adjusted by a guitar tech (by adjusting the truss rod with a wrench), but sometimes it’s too bad to be fixed and can mean that particular guitar neck is doomed.
- Check where the guitar joints to the neck: See any thin or hairline cracks here? It can mean that the guitar was previously dropped, or previously snapped off and then repaired and covered up. It’s never something you want to see in a new guitar, and it can affect the playability of old ones where the repairs weren’t done by a professional. This is very true for neck-through guitars. This type of issue can be repaired, but, remember that it always creates a weak spot where the guitar last snapped.
- What’s the condition of the fretboard? In rare occasions, the fretboard of even new guitars can be dry or cracked. Sometimes a treatment with sandalwood oil can repair a fretboard and make it look good as new. Other times it could need serious and expensive repairs to the neck that might not be worth it for a cheaper guitar unless it’s a very treasured one.
One of the ways a guitar manufacturer might make a guitar “cheaper” is by not putting their most expensive, vintage-style pickups in it. If you buy a cheaper guitar, the electronics are fine for starting out and usually live playing – but not the best for specific sounds or studio recording.
Having said this, one of the first things that guitar players want to change in cheaper guitars is the electronics. Choose the right pickups for the sound you want, then match this up with the right amp and you’re good to go – but don’t worry about changing out the electronics to begin with.
Affordable Guitars Can Be Great Guitars
There are a few different reasons why you might use “cheap” as the first defining factor for the next electric guitar you need. It might even be your very first guitar.
Make sure that you look a little beyond the “cheap” factor at what makes the guitar either good or not: Affordable guitars can still be great ones.