9 Best Electric Guitars Under $500 In 2020

Five hundred bucks is heck of a lot of money, but it’s really not far from entry-level quality in the guitar industry.  But, there are some popular gems from the best guitar brands that are serious about providing quality in this price range, even if it’s only in their base models. 

Brands like Ibanez, Dean, PRS, and Schecter come to the forefront and they stand out from the mediocre options in the market.  Why deal with off-brand guitars when you can get brand-name awesomeness for the same price? 

Here is our lineup of our favorite guitars worthy every penny! 

Snapshot: Top 9 Electric Guitars Under $500

  1. ESP LTD EC-256FM Review
  2. Dean Michael Batio MAB4 Gauntlet Review
  3. Hagstrom ULSWE-BLK Review
  4. Ibanez RGA42FM Review
  5. Yamaha RevStar RS320 Review
  6. Schecter Omen 6 Review
  7. Ibanez RG450DX Review
  8. PRS SE Standard 24 Review
  9. Kramer Pacer Classic Review

The Best Electric Guitar Under $500

It appears the $500 price range is full of rock and metal guitars.  But, these guitars are also good for blues and jazz if humbuckers are your choice of pickups.  With them, you’ll eliminate the hum that single-coils are notorious for, but with coil splitting features, you’ll still be able to reach that single-coil vintage sound. 

While all these guitars are great for many playing styles, you’ll want to match your guitar with a quality amp to shape the sound the you’re after.  None of them come as a package, and often, it won’t even come with a gig bag, so you’ll need to look at our best beginner electric guitar bundles if you’re without any extra gear.  But, if you’re spending half a grand on your guitar, you’re likely more skilled than a beginner player, so you probably already have a few accessories at home. 

The hardware in this price range should be a notch above stock.  Some will be better than others, and some will call for an upgrade at some point.  The most effective process to execute when buying a guitar that’s right for you is to always put player preference first.  If you can identify the features you want to see in a guitar, you’ll be able to choose between the many great models in our lineup. 

There are no off-brand manufacturers here.  Every one of these guitars are from well-known brands with quality and reputation at stake.    You be the judge of who does it best. 

1. ESP LTD EC-256FM Review

ESP LTD EC-256FM

What better guitar to start with than one that’s been proven to be excellent for all music genres and has been rated by the masses?  ESP proves that quality is still a primary and obvious focus even when the budget caps off at $500. 

Body & Neck

The EC-256 has a curvaceous lower bout with a single cutaway body and a Flamed Maple top.  Both the body and 3-piece neck with a Thin U shape are made from mahogany.  The Roasted Jatoba fretboard has a luscious warm brown color, and it has 24 XJumbo frets onboard.  The radius is 13.78”, so it’ll be great for those looking to shred, lead, and bend. 

It has a 24.75” scale length, 3+3 headstock, and hardware that also falls in line with a Les Paul.  The neck shows an upgrade indicative of its price range with its set-in construction and fretboard binding that extends around the headstock and body.  We’ve gotta say, the color options for this model are fantastic.  From See Thru Purple Sunburst to Lemon Drop, Cobalt Blue, and Dark Brown Sunburst, they’re glossy and colorful. 

Electronics & Hardware

ESP puts their own LH-150 designed humbuckers on the EC-256 with a volume control, two tone controls, and a toggle switch conveniently located on the upper bout.  They have LTD tuners that stay in tune and are quite precise.  The bridge system consists of a Tune-O-Matic and tailpiece, so there will be no whammy issues or complicated string changing here.  A molded nut completes all the hardware.

Sound

ESP’s stock pickups could use some more aggressiveness as they’re relatively mild on output which we weren’t expecting.  You get sustain, bright attack, and sharp, clear tones that’s partly in contribution from the set-neck construction.  With 24 wide frets, it forces that humbucker closer to the bridge that picks up a stronger frequency of the high-end trebles.  The humbuckers are naturally darker sounding, but with a tweak of the tone controls and making use of the push/pull coil tapping feature, you can brighten up and access single-coil vintage sounds. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard Material: Roasted Jatoba
  • Pickups: ESP Designed LH-150
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic w/tailpiece

Good hardware.  Quality neck.  Great finish.

Final Thoughts on the ESP LTD EC-256FM

For the price, we love the Les Paul copy as an alternative to the famous Gibson original.  It doesn’t sound like a Les Paul because it has its own signature tones.  With good hardware, a quality neck, and a great finish, the EC-256 is a guitar is a favorite worthy of its price tag. 

2. Dean Michael Batio MAB4 Gauntlet Review

Dean Michael Batio MAB4 Gauntlet

If you want to shred like the great, self-taught Michael Batio, you should look for a guitar with his stamp of approval on it.  Perhaps, the Gauntlet might pique your interest? 

Body & Neck

Super Strat body.  Pointy headstock.  Killer graphic.  What more could you want?  It has all the right edge and dark style worthy of a Batio guitar.  Affordable and highly resonant basswood makes up the body, and forgoing the arch top, it has a flat top with beveled edges.  The bolt-on neck with a 25.5” scale length is made from maple.  The Jatoba fretboard has 24 jumbo frets and a 12” radius that allows maximum use along the entire neck to shred and bend as much as you can pull it off. 

But, it’s the Gauntlet graphic with snakes that speaks to the crowd.  What’s it saying to you? 

Electronics & Hardware

All the hardware is in black. It’s a smart move because chrome would distract from the hair-raising graphic.  You have DMT Design pickups with a single-coil in the middle and humbuckers at the neck and bridge.  Dome-style knobs cover up volume and tone pots, and there’s a pickup selector blade to customize your sound palette. 

Those wanting to satisfy their whammy bar fix will find it here with the Floyd Rose Special bridge.  To support tuning stability, the MAB4 has a Floyd Rose R3 nut and quality Grover tuners.  Dive bombs, here we come! 

Sound

The pickups have more of a smooth tone that we would say has mid output.  They’re not excessively hot, so you’re not losing any tonal character when activating those humbuckers.  But, cranking up the distortion may muffle the sound somewhat – we just hope you have a high-quality amp to give it the grit it needs.  The addition of a single-coil in the middle provides an excellent option for playing clean and adding in some chimey, Strat-like tones.    

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Basswood
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Jatoba
  • Pickups: DMT Design
  • Bridge: Floyd Rose Special

Killer graphic.  Shredder neck.  Dean sound.

Final Thoughts on the Dean Michael Batio MAB4 Gauntlet

The MAB4 attracts the shredders, but its platform is built to pull off the tones and playing styles you need to experiment with other genres as well even though its graphic finish suggests you stick with heavy rock.  We’re okay with that.  Serious tunes to match a serious finish. 

3. Hagstrom ULSWE-BLK Review

Hagstrom ULSWE-BLK

Hagstrom – the Swedish brand with a global reputation.  The model under scrutiny with an opportunity to be highlighted is the Ultra Swede guitar.  Built to compete against other guitars for the modern player, it’s been recognized as a high-quality ax that is often compared to the likes of Gibson, Martin, Taylor, and Fender. 

Body & Neck

Right away you see its curves and single cutaway body that has long been an iconic body shape.  Under the black gloss finish, it has a 2-piece basswood body with a maple top.  A maple set-in neck is supported with Swedish technology expressed with an H-Expander truss rod made of lightweight alloy that provides tension at both ends of the neck.  This enables the neck to have an ultra-thin D neck with low action that’s extremely fast to work. 

The fretboard is made from a Resinator that is a composite material that is dense and stable.  It has 22 medium jumbo frets with a 15” radius and 24.75” scale length.  All these features tell you that guitar is made for rapid playing with no dead spots to be heard. 

Electronics & Hardware

There are two Hagstrom Custom 62 humbuckers, a mini toggle coil split switch between the volume and tone controls, and a pickup selector switch.  The brand puts their own 18:1 gear ratio tuners on the 3+3 headstock that have been designed to be precise and provide stable tuning. 

It looks like there’s a lot going on with the bridge system.  You have a Long Travel Tune-O-Matic bridge and a very attractive, thick Hagstrom Sustain Block Tailpiece that has Single Brass String Blocks built in.  What this means is, each string terminates within its own brass block that is coupled to the guitar’s body.  The blocks don’t touch each other to eliminate string interference.    

Sound

High output is what you want when you’re holding a shredding guitar with all the bells and whistles.  The humbuckers are raucous, aggressive, and can be manipulated with the coil split toggle to pump out single-coil tones.  The neck pickup is smooth, well-balanced, even has some nice jangle and chime to it.  The bridge pickup has that high-end attack you need to solo and cut through the mix.  The pickups have a lot of potential, but do you have an amp that can handle it?  Coming from the hardware and neck, there is support for longer sustain, note articulation, and a rounded sonic attack. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Basswood/Maple top
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Resinator (Composite material)
  • Pickups: Hagstrom Custom 62 Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Long Travel TOM w/Hagstrom Tailpiece

Ultra-sweet.  Modern appointments.  Preeminent build.

Final Thoughts on the Hagstrom ULSWE-BLK

The Swedish say, “Ultra Swede.”  We say, it’s “Ultra Sweet.”  Whichever way you want to play on the name, it’s one of the best guitars you’ll ever see in this price range.  We really like the tailpiece design, but it means forgoing the use of a tremolo.  Not a big deal if you’re not into that anyway.  But overall, Hagstrom has put meticulous attention to detail in every part of this guitar – we love! 

4. Ibanez RGA42FM Review

Ibanez RGA42FM

Ibanez has a fiercely strong reputation when it comes to metal guitars.  It’s been earned, in part, by the RGA42FM electric guitar. 

Body & Neck

Meranti tonewood with a Flamed Maple top makes up the body of this Super Strat guitar.  It’s paired with a Maple neck and Jatoba fretboard.  It has the Wizard III neck shape that is fast, thin, and flat – exactly 15.8” radius kind of flat. 

The off-set white dot inlays provide a barely noticeable, but nice change from their regular center positions.  The white body binding and beveled horns continue the theme of slight modifications that makes for a stunning overall appeal.  The pointed headstock is expected for a shredding, metal guitar. 

Electronics & Hardware

Quantum pickups consists of humbuckers at the neck and bridge.  Keeping things simple, there’s a fixed bridge in black that matches the finish of all the hardware.  Additional hardware includes stock tuners, Dome-style volume and tone knobs, and a black tip 5-way pickup selector blade. 

Sound

The pickups are made with ceramic magnets that provide a guaranteed attack of crisp and snappy tones.  They were reintroduced in 2014 with the neck being pickup primarily used for playing clean with its full, clear tones.  The bridge pickup is hotter, has dynamic response for tracking those punchy mids and trebly riffs.  With a regular fixed bridge, you have long sustain, and don’t forget you can’t use a whammy bar with it. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Meranti
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Jatoba
  • Pickups: Quantum Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Fixed

Great shredding guitar.  Quantum high-output pickups.  Great finish.

Final Thoughts on the Ibanez RGA42FM

While the pickups are seen on Ibanez’s mid-range guitars, the rest of the hardware is stock.  Its body shape, flamed maple top, and beveled cutaways add some flair to the Super Strat appeal, and its specs speak of shredding greatness. 

5. Yamaha RevStar RS320 Review

Yamaha RevStar RS320

Yep – you can afford not just any Yamaha, but RevStar, in this price range.  The RS320 may be the entry-level model of the lot, but it still has the features that makes it a RevStar.  Can’t complain with that. 

Body & Neck

While there some characteristics that resemble an SG, it’s really its own creation inspired after the London Café Racer bikes that were known for their stripped-down appeal.  It has a Nato body and neck.  There are scaled down double cutaways with one slightly raised than the other that sets it apart from an SG.  The scale length is a familiar 24.75”, and there’s a Rosewood fretboard with a 13.75” radius and 22 frets. 

The neck is set-in – good feature for the price, and it has a thin profile that’s caters to easy and rapid playing. 

Electronics & Hardware

This RevStar has Yamaha custom designed pickups with HH3 humbuckers at the neck and bridge.  Since it’s the entry-level model for the series, it lacks a push/pull “dry” switch, but you still have the usual – volume control, tone control, and 3-way pickup blade. 

A Tune-O-Matic bridge with a Stop Tailpiece make up the bridge system, stock tuners sit at the headstock, and a 1-ply black pickguard and Elixir 10s come installed on the guitar. 

Sound

With ceramic magnets and brass base plates, you can bet you have hot output.  They’re also mounted directly to the body of the guitar which helps with resonance and tonal contribution from the tonewood.  The sound is punchy with bright attack and long-lasting sustain.  There are no complaints when it comes to its sonic personality as they provide good tonal variation even without the coil split feature. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Nato
  • Neck Material: Nato
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: YGD HH3
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic w/StopBar Tailpiece

Hot pickups.  Solid quality.  No-nonsense appeal.

Final Thoughts on the Yamaha RevStar RS320

It certainly is a no-nonsense guitar, but everything about it from the great solid finish to the small yet stylish pickguard and custom designed pickups speaks volumes.  For the price, the RevStar is a great buy. 

6. Schecter Omen 6 Review

Schecter Omen 6

Schecter is another excellent metal brand, and it’s not often that you find one of their electrics for under 500 bucks.  The Omen 6 sounds ominous, and its black finish supports our theory.  But, does it have the specs to pull of spine-chilling tones? 

Body & Neck

Not quite as pointy as some of Schecter’s other guitars, the double cutaways sort of have a softer curve.  That soul-losing black finish sits on top of a Basswood body that is attractively accented with a 1-ply Ivory body binding.  The maple neck has a Thin C shape that’s fast and slim making easy work for running the 24 X-Jumbo frets with the 14” radius.  So far, this guitar has a solid foundation capable of melting brains if you have the skills to get aggressive with it. 

Finishing off body specs, it has a 25.5” scale length, a 2-way adjustable truss rod accessible above the nut, and an arched top. 

Electronics & Hardware

Now’s the time to really scrutinize its thrashing ability.  To cause an earthquake, you have Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers, a 3-way pickup switch, and volume and tone controls.  The brand doesn’t skip a beat when they installed a Graph Tech XL Black Tusq nut at the head, and beginner players will appreciate the Tune-O-Matic bridge.  With no tailpiece in sight, it’s obvious the strings terminate with the string-through-body design.

Sound

These pickups are sort of dark and heavy sounding.  While you can still get clean tones, there’s going to be a hint of distortion through the clean channel.  It gives your jazz licks a little bit of rock character.  They’re high output humbuckers that are articulate, have long-lasting sustain, and are better-than-average for stock quality.  If you have an amp that can push the limits, you just may be able to shatter some skulls.  Just so you know, there is no coil splitting on this model. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Basswood
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Schecter Diamond Plus
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic w/String-Through-Body

Sexy black finish.  Screaming pickups.  Gothic appeal.

Final Thoughts on the Schecter Omen 6

It’s a great rock and metal guitar that can achieve the tones you need to play all the variations of these genres.  It’s sexy in black, has great Semi-Goth inlays, and quality hardware.  For beginners and intermediates, this is a hell of a buy. 

7. Ibanez RG450DX Review

Ibanez RG450DX

If you couldn’t tell by its very pointy Super Strat horns and headstock, this is an Ibanez.  But, it’s no ordinary Ibanez, it’s an RG450DX in Starlight Blue with shredder specs and endless tonal variations. 

Body & Neck

The body is right in line with Ibanez’s metal guitars.  This is one of their mid-range models, but it’s geared towards beginners and intermediates looking for a deal.  The body is made from the same materials as many other RG guitars with Meranti, a Maple neck, and bound Jatoba fretboard. 

The neck has Ibanez’s Wizard III neck that is super slick, slim, and fast, and you can bet it has a 25.5” scale length with a shredder’s 15.75” radius and 24 Jumbo frets to work with. 

Electronics & Hardware

Quantum pickups are expected, but you have ceramic humbuckers sandwiching an Alnico single-coil.  The pickup configuration already sets you up for tonal variety, but then you can also split the coils with the 5-way selector blade at positions 2 and 4.  The pickups are all wired to single volume and tone pots. 

Going the more complicated route, Ibanez leaves off the fixed bridge and trades it in for a double locking tremolo bridge.  Obviously, with this style bridge, you also have a locking nut.  Not only can you get your whammy on, but you won’t have to worry about tuning issues with this system making the stock Ibanez tuners are a non-issue. 

Sound

The Quantum humbucker tones are a given – hot, dynamically responsive bottom-end, and punchy in the mids with high-end definition.  Although warm and thick, the single coil with its Alnico magnet provides extra sound-shaping opportunities and more vintage spice good enough to pull off some soulful blues and jazzy licks without issue. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Meranti
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Jatoba
  • Pickups: Ibanez Quantum
  • Bridge: Std. DL Tremolo

Extended tonal variation.  Great tuning stability.  Excellent all-round guitar.

Final Thoughts on the Ibanez RG450DX

It’s truly a guitar made for almost every music genre.  Sure, it can pull off metal and rock tones in an instant, but with its extended tonal ranges, you can create the sonic palette that gets your bones shaking and your heart singing. 

8. PRS SE Standard 24 Review

PRS SE Standard 24

There’s no difference in whether you’re a beginner looking for a first-time, quality buy or if you’re a seasoned guitarist looking for your next collector’s item.  The PRS SE Standard ends your search for the best guitar. 

Body & Neck

If the Les Paul and the Stratocaster had a baby, the result would be an SE Standard 24.  Soft, carved double cutaways, 25” scale length, and 24 frets – the perfect compromise of both designs.  It’s a classy looking guitar.  Both the Mahogany body and Maple neck with a Rosewood fretboard are gorgeously bound in gold binding.  We’ve seen some guitars that have gone overkill with gold crazy everything, but PRS nails it here. 

The neck has a wide thin shape that’s easily playable, and of course, PRS puts their signature bird inlays on board. 

Electronics & Hardware

85/15 “S” humbuckers are classics.  They’re wired to volume and tone pots with a push/pull on the tone knob for coil splitting and there’s a 3-way pickup blade.  You also have a PRS patented molded tremolo that you may know as a fulcrum tremolo.  But, PRS has designed their model with improved support for tuning stability and is made of brass and un-plated components to support sustain and tone fidelity.  You can bet PRS put their own nickel tuners on, too. 

Sound

The prominent tonal range that comes through is the upper mids, but there is some bass support that makes its way through.  With 24 frets, it forces that humbucker to get closer to the bridge, and the base plate is mounted to the guitar body and not a pickguard, so it’s going to resonate, respond, and provide added sustain while bringing out the high trebles and bark that you’re after.  On a Mahogany body, you also have that nice, warm tone that provides full, thick, and fat sound. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: 85/15 S Humbuckers
  • Bridge: PRS Patented Tremolo, Molded

High class appeal.  Gold elegance.  Wicked and tame sound.

Final Thoughts on the PRS SE Standard 24

In a word – excellence.  This guitar is classy, so if you wear socks with your flip flops – go away, this isn’t the guitar for you.  While it may exude an air of posh snobbery, it will definitely growl when you order it to and play nice when you demand clean.  Now, that’s everyone’s perfect kind of pet guitar. 

9. Kramer Pacer Classic Review

Kramer Pacer Classic

It’s crazy what just a decade can do in the guitar industry.  Kramer has had a difficult history, but Gibson has revitalized this brand that was once known for its aluminum necks.  Once a brand that lead the trend for shred guitars in the mid ‘80s, it’s surprising to know that original Kramer guitars were largely ignored in the early ‘90s but they are now highly collectable items.  Perhaps not a future collectible, but a decent guitar for today, the Pacer Classic comes with an affordable price tag. 

Body & Neck

You have classic tonewood combinations with a mahogany body and maple neck.  Like many shredder guitars, you also have a maple fretboard that provides a tight low-end but also provides a bright snap. 

The body shape takes on the design of the original Pacer but with modern appointments to turn this into an epic shred machine like its 12” fingerboard radius and fast neck.  It looks largely like a Stratocaster, and even its 25.5” scale length, 22 frets, and slim wide neck profile lends to that idea, but hey, we’re not complaining about it. 

Electronics & Hardware

Turns out, the Kramer guitar has hardware that are better than stock versions on comparable guitars.  It has Alnico V humbuckers even though there seems to confusion about single-coils being on deck – it’s a false rumor.  And yes, you can see that whammy bar and locking nut, so you know it has a Floyd Rose Tremolo bridge.  The bridge is floating that enables you move that bar up and down.  Premium die-cast tuners are good – no issues there.  Frets have said to be sharp, so make sure you do some setup work before you get playing – there will be blood. 

Sound

This guitar is crunchy sounding, even when you want to be the responsible player with clean tones.  You can dial down on the gain, but because the pickups are so hot, you’ll lose some of those trebles that you may need to clean up the tone.  Obviously, that’s not its strong point.  Where does it shine?  In high gain and dirty playing.  If you’re hard rocking and head thrashing all the time, the grittiness and sharp tonal punches will suit you well. 

Specs Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Maple
  • Pickups: Alnico V Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Floyd Rose Tremolo

Great hardware.  Crunchy sound.  Low price.

Final Thoughts on the Kramer Pacer Classic

For under $400, the Pacer Classic is an awesome guitar.  You’re getting premium appointments from the FR bridge and locking nut to the premium tuners, hot pickups, and classic tonewoods.  With Gibson supporting them from behind the scenes, it just makes it even more favorable. 

All the Bells & Whistles for Less Than $500

For 500 bucks, you can get all the bells and whistles you could want on a guitar.  Heck, there are Floyd Rose bridges, brand-name pickups, and set-in necks.  These guitars are mid-range and some models even toe the line in entry-level quality.  But, when “entry-level” means getting a guitar from high-end brands like Schecter and PRS, what’s there to complain about? 

You’re getting name-brand options, better hardware, and great sound compared to cheap electric guitars.  Now, that sounds like a heck of a deal to us.  You can’t go wrong with any of the guitars in this lineup.  This price range is dummy proof. 

Further Reading:
About Evie | Owner & Editor of MagicInstruments.com

For me, music really is a form of magic. It has the ability to transport you to another time and place with just a few soft notes, drifting on the wind. It can invoke joy, excitement, sadness and even fear. Music can strengthen communities and bridge cultural differences. Our lives are truly enriched by the music entwined within them and I look forward to helping make your musical journey a magical one.