Have your budget all planned out for your first or next electric guitar purchase and more or less $500 or under is what you’ve got to spend?
There are many guitar options ranking under $500, but not all of them are good. If you head to a guitar forum for an answer to your question, the amount of conflicting opinions and general arguments are bewildering – and good luck finding out which guitar you should buy when everyone tells you something different.
We’ve gotten some of the confusion out of the way and taken a look at some of the best electric guitars you can get for under $500.
Ready? Here goes.
Snapshot: Best Electric Guitars Under $500
- Cort G100
- Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature
- Squier Standard Stratocaster
- Ibanez RG450DX
- Schecter Demon-6
- Squier Jim Root Telecaster
Top 6 Electric Guitars Under $500
Need a new electric guitar? There are great ones out there that don’t have to destroy your budget: All of the options on our list rank under $500 – and many studio and live guitarists both use some of the guitars on this list for a living.
Choose any of them and you know you’re making a good choice: Sure, you can make modifications like new pickups, but you don’t have to, because the stock electronics that come with the guitar are usually more than good enough (and you’d be surprised at how much of a difference a simple amp adjustment can make to how full a guitar sounds no matter which pups it has).
1. Cort G100
If you’ve never heard of the Cort brand of guitars, you’re missing out. They make everything from guitars for metal through to acoustic guitars – and you’ll be happy with most of the guitars originating from the Cort brand, including the G100. They’re great for live playing, perfect for the studio – and being played by an increasing amount of big-name bands.
Body & Neck
Unlike a lot of other guitars you’ll find at the same price point, the G100 guitar bodies are made from walnut. It’s a stronger, harder wood – but surprisingly not a much heavier one. The neck profile is thin and comfortable.
If there are any neck issues that you aren’t happy with, take it to the nearest guitar tech before you assume you got a lemon. If it’s been properly set up, you’ll turn out pretty happy with your G100 guitar.
Electronics & Hardware
Cort makes pretty good stock pickups: The Cort G100 pups sound like a dream when they’re played through the right amp. The same isn’t true for a lot of guitars you’ll find at the same price point.
What’s the sound like? Surprisingly, you can get a nice single coil “twang” out of the Cort G100 without the need to make a huge amount of adjustments to the guitar or the amp – and if you’re not into the twangy sound for whatever reason, the G100 allows you to switch. For studio playing or session musicians, this is pretty useful.
To summarize, the Cort G100 can meet the needs of several guitarists: Advanced players, beginner players and regularly recording or gigging players who could use some more versatility in their gear. Most of the time, it’s not necessary to change the pickups or the other hardware except in the case of models that came with slipping tuners.
If you’re looking for a guitar that’s versatile and durable, you’ll be both surprised and satisfied with what you can get out of a Cort.
2. Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature
Signature guitars generally don’t turn out to be anything special, but there are a few exceptions to the rule that have produced some really damn good signature guitars that’s worthy of your attention even if you’re buying on a budget. The Steve Vai signature JEM from Ibanez is one such guitar – and if you want a gorgeous, versatile guitar that’s perfect for fast playing and sweep picking, let this be it.
Body & Neck
One of the first reasons you might buy a Steve Vai signature is the weight. It’s not a very heavy guitar: If you’re getting tired of the weight that you’ve been carrying around as a regular Les Paul player and you want to switch to a guitar that has the very same growl in the tone, this is the right one.
As for the neck, it’s thin and allows for comfortable speed playing, sweep picking and overall great playing.
Electronics & Hardware
The electronics and hardware that you get with the Ibanez JEM signature can’t be faulted right out of the box. Why would you want to change the electronics if you just bought a signature guitar for the sound? It’s more than decent.
If you want Seymour Duncans in there instead, that’s still going to be your choice.
If you’ve never seen the movie Crossroads, look up the guitar battle featuring Steve Vai. This demonstrates just what the man can do with a guitar – and even though he’s not playing a JEM in the video, it’s close to the sound it’s going to give you. For any other sounds you’d like to achieve out of the same guitar, it’s more about the amp and your playing technique than the sound of the pickups: And that’s a fact.
The only way to summarize what you’re going to get out of the JEM signature is excellent. But is it for you? That’s up to you to decide.
A lot of players find themselves not wanting to play the signature guitar of another guitarist, especially not if the guitar or inlays are so characteristically specific to the guitarist it’s modeled after. But if you can get over that and having a good guitar is more important, the JEM ranks right up there with many of the great classic guitar shapes.
3. Squier Standard Stratocaster
Squier Standard Stratocasters have only gotten better in recent years. For studio playing, recording and live playing, they can be one of the most durable and lasting guitar types you get – and when it comes to Fender-shape imitations, consider a Squier brand guitar and opt for the Standard.
Sure, there are other guitar brands imitating the same shape, but most of them are not the same quality by a long shot.
Body & Neck
The Squier Standard Stratocaster is a little heavier (and more solid) than the cheaper Squier Bullet, and just a little bit lighter on average than the standard USA and MIM Fender models. What the body of your Squier is made of depends on what year it was crafted – sometimes it’s alder, sometimes it’s not, but it’s almost always very well made (and impressively so).
Electronics & Hardware
The Squier Standard (and Classic Vibe) are a rare breed: They’re one of the only Stratocaster copy guitars that can give you the closest feeling to a USA Strat that you can get – and one of the only single coil guitars besides Fender themselves that can give you the characteristic twang that most people are after when they buy one.
The hardware quality is generally the only thing that might not come out great right off the production line; if your guitar keeps going out of tune, change your tuners.
The sound of a Squier Standard is fine for live playing, and perfectly fine for studio playing right out of the box. If you want a specific sound that you can’t get out of your guitar, try changing your amp and settings before you take the Drastic Step of spending more money and time to change your pickups.
It has twang, and mess with the settings a bit for either more or less of it.
Summarized, you’ll be more than surprised with how most Standard Squier guitars play: You might even decide right then and there that it’s the right guitar as your main or secondary backup.
If you think that Squier Standard Stratocasters have a bad reputation, you’ve been listening to the wrong guitar players: There are many Squier modifiers, collectors and players – and it’s rare to be able to spot the difference between a Squier and Fender on a recording.
What’s the difference between a Fender and a Squier Standard? The replacement value if it gets damaged or stolen at a gig – and that’s about it.
4. Ibanez RG450DX
Even if you aren’t a traditional metal player, you can get a lot of great sounds out of an Ibanez guitar – and yes, you can even play some great jazz licks on it with no problem. The RG450DX might be one of the most complicated and least catchy guitar names out there, but that’s no reflection on the way that it plays.
Body & Neck
The RG450DX is the kind of guitar that you can take out on the road, throw down a flight of stairs and the worst thing that will have happened to the guitar is a little bump on the side. You’ll only know why this matters if you’ve ever taken a guitar out for regular gigging.
Electronics & Hardware
The stock electronics are better than anyone would expect: It can be a radical change from tone if you’re traditionally used to what comes out of a Fender or Telecaster, but this isn’t always a bad thing. Unless you want something very specific, keep the electronics of the Ibane as it is: For some metal players, something of the Seymour Duncan type can make a very good replacement if you ever decide to do it (and their pup range is huge).
The Ibanez guitar ranks high up in terms of sound whether you’re a metal player, jazz player or blues player instead. No matter what genre you play, you can get what you need out of this one – even if you’re in the process of recording a 60s tribute album or doing metal for the studio.
If you aren’t happy with the sound you get out of the guitar, change your amp (or just fiddle around with the settings) before you go to drastic measures and try to change the pickups.
Most of the Ibanez models off the production line come out well. For any new guitar, it’s recommended that you take it for a setup anyway – this sets essentials like string height and tells you whether the rest of the guitar is in the condition it should be.
Any of the issues the guitar might have off the production line can be fixed with a decent setup, including sharp frets (which is surprisingly rare).
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to an Ibanez. There’s only the choice of deciding whether you like the look, feel and sound of the guitar – is it right for you? The only way to know for sure is to play one before you make your final decision.
5. Schecter Demon-6
Schecter has been growing in popularity as a mainstream guitar manufacturer up there with classic brands, and there’s a lot of great music recorded on Schecters – including metal, jazz, grunge, blues… Before you settle on another guitar on this list, make sure you’ve given a Schecter a test run to see if it could be right for you: Especially if you like a thinner neck and a lighter body (but a damn great feel and a growl in the tone), this is it.
Body & Neck
The Schecter Demon-6 has one of the most comfortable necks you’ll ever play on – and it’s considerably thinner than your traditional Stratocaster neck for comparison. If you’re struggling with cramping in your hands as a guitar player or you just can’t make the stretch for that chords, the Schecter Demon can be a good choice. That’s why it’s so popular for metal playing.
Electronics & Hardware
The stock electronics with the Schecter Demon are perfectly fine and there’s not a single reason to say any different. Is it right for what you’re trying to play? Check out some YouTube videos of the guitar in action or take one for a test drive if you want to find out.
Sometimes the tuners might slip and need either tightening or replacement, but that’s likely the worst issue you’ll have. If you can’t get any sound out of your guitar or there’s a popping noise when you plug it in, the at best you’ll have to tighten your input jack.
If you want to know exactly what a Schecter Demon 6 sounds like, you have two options. Either head to your local guitar store and try one there or head over to YouTube and check out what some of the played guitars sound like through different amps.
The Schecter Demon 6 is going to surprise you in a really good way if you’ve never played a Schecter before. Solid construction and great sound, and the only thing you’ll really have to decide over is whether or not this guitar is the right one for you personally.
Final thoughts on the Schecter Demon 6 would have to be that it’s a damn good guitar no matter what your playing level or needs. If you’re a studio player, it’s versatile – and if you’re a live player who travels a lot with your gear, it’s durable.
6. Squier Jim Root Telecaster
The Ibanez JEMJ Steve Vai signature isn’t the only worthwhile signature guitar that you’re going to find – and it’s not the only signature that’s worth buying at a decent price point. There’s also the Squier Jim Root Telecaster and it just might be the perfect guitar to use for practice, live playing or studio recording when you don’t want to risk a guitar worth more.
Body & Neck
The Squier Jim Root Telecaster is one of the best guitars you can get if you want a versatile Telecaster-shaped guitar that still enables you to get the characteristic twang while still keeping up with metal when you want the sound with the twang removed.
The neck is the average Strat or Tele profile neck, but don’t expect a neck as thick as a 60s or 70s Strat.
Overall, the frets on the neck are in good condition right out of the factory and most players that have bought one of these as their studio or gigging guitar have been entirely happy with it.
Electronics & Hardware
Are you going to be happy with the stock electronics in the Squier Jim Root Telecaster? If that’s the sound you’re going for and you’re playing it through a proper amp, you should be good to go – and if that’s not the sound or feel that you’re after, you might be better off switching over to another guitar that’s not the Jim Root Signature.
What you should know about the electronics and hardware attached to the Jim Root Telecaster is that they’re generally perfect right out of the factory. Unless you want something specific that you can’t get out of the guitar you’ve bought, there’s no need to mess with it too much.
The Squier Jim Root Signature can sound like a twangy Telecaster – or it can sound just as crunchy as you need it to. Listen to a few videos on YouTube or physically go out and play one if you want to know what it’s like – and consider the guitarists that you admire if you want to know what sound you’re really going for.
This guitar caters extremely well to metal, but can also cater to jazz, blues, soft rock, hard rock and anything that ends in -core. It’s a damn good guitar: It can take a few knocks on the road and still function fine. (It wouldn’t be surprising if you can light this guitar on fire, drive over it and still have it play perfectly fine at the end of it.)
For durability, this one ranks right at the top: And that’s why there are already many professionally gigging musicians who choose this as their versatile workhorse guitar.
If you’re in love with the Telecaster shape and won’t let yourself be convinced of anything different, try out a few different guitars in the Tele line – and it’s a likely option that you’ll be so impressed with the Jim Root signature Telecaster that you end up choosing one. As far as Telecasters go, the Jim Root is one of the best ones you can play – and it stands on its own as a great guitar that plays well even if it wasn’t attached to the name of a famous guitarist.
Tips to Choosing an Electric Guitar Below $500
Struggling to tell a good deal from a bad one? You’re not alone: Which guitar to buy is one of the most common guitar-related questions, but it’s also one of the most difficult ones to answer. The real answer is that different guitars work for different players: The term “diff’rent strokes” applies.
There are a few different elements that any guitarist should look at when picking a new guitar. These are things like the pickups, the body type, the tonewoods and the neck profile of the guitar. If your chosen guitar ticks all the boxes and you like the way it plays and feels, it’s the right guitar for you (and it doesn’t matter if anyone has a different opinion if YOU like your own guitar and you get good sound out of it!).
Would Jimi Hendrix have played guitar any differently if he had done it on any of the guitars on this list? No: He was still one of the best guitarists around. (In fact, look up the footage of Hendrix playing a very uncharacteristic 12-string acoustic to see what we mean.)
Here are some of the elements you should use to Judge Your Next Guitar.
Unless you buy your
guitar as part of a guitar starter kit that usually comes with accessories like
a bag, practice amp and cables, odds are you’re going to have to buy everything
yourself. The basics for practical guitar playing includes:
- A bag or hard case – with the last option being the most recommended one for protecting your gee-tar against knocks and dust.
- Spare strings, which you’re always going to need and can never buy enough of.
- Cables and connectors, which you should always have several spares of.
- Guitar picks: These tend to disappear under couches and into black holes, so buy in bulk and stash a few in your case or bag.
accessories like slides and capos are your personal playing choice but are
great to have around.
The other important accessory is an amplifier.
If you’re just practicing, you can plug your guitar into a PC or even iPhone with the right adapter and software: And you get amplifier emulators that can copy the sound of almost any amp you can think of accurately.. These are usually for studio recording, but they’re great for practice at home too.
If you’re going to buy an amp, tube amps can make any guitar sound like a dream – and there are great solid state amps like the Roland Cube available in several wattages too. (Yes, 30W is enough to cover a gig: Put a microphone in front of it.)
Should you buy a beginner electric guitar kit that comes with all the accessories? Most of the time, the answer to this question is no. Spend the money on a great guitar and you’ll have a guitar that moves and evolves with you over time – that way, you might still be playing the same guitar in ten or twenty years.
A lot of guitarists and builders can’t agree on just how much of a difference tonewoods make to the sound of a guitar, but most of them are in agreement that it does. The wood used for a guitar can make it sound warmer (or the opposite), but more than this, the wood used for a guitar affects things like how it responds to damage and humidity.
Weight also factors in. Do you like the feel of a heavier guitar – or do you need a lighter one? Considering the weight, how does this influence your eventual sound? Choose between humbuckers and single coils, and then take a look at the body shape and tonewood that will suit you best from there.
Mahogany guitars and bodies are hard and heavy. Basswood and alder-bodied guitars tend to be a little softer and lighter, but it’s not always a bad thing. There are many guitarists who don’t want a heavy guitar to begin with.
Guitars come in many different shapes: From Les Paul through to the ES-335. Which one of these you like the most is an entirely individual choice: And once you’ve been attracted to a specific guitar choice it’s going to be likely that you love this guitar shape forever.
Play everything. Look at the players you admire. Eventually you’ll find the body type you like best. For once, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your chosen guitar body shape.
Sometimes guitarists think they have their ideal body type figure out until they try something else and realize that this might be it. That’s why it’s best to go to a physical guitar store so you can try before you buy.
One of the first corners guitar manufacturers cut when it comes to their cheaper guitars versus their most expensive range is the pickups and electronics. Most stock pups are good, although some of them are likely to come out sounding a little thin.
You can fix this with a little bit of adjustment to the tone knobs and adjustments to your amp. Try this first before you spend more money on more expensive pickups when you didn’t need to.
Bolt On VS Set Necks
Bolt on neck or set neck?
Again, it’s one of those things that are up to you. As a rule, bolt-on necks are stronger than set necks – and bolt-on necks are easier to replace if something happens to them during the lifetime of the guitar.
Why buy a set neck at all if this is true? Sometimes set necks give better sustain – and sometimes, like with Epiphone LP guitars – that’s just how the guitar was built.
The neck shape is one of the things where it’s better to go somewhere and try out a few guitars with different neck profiles to find the one you like best. If your hands are hurting more than they should with the guitar you’re using now, switch to a different type of neck to see if it can fix the issue.
Some guitars have thinner necks, or wider necks, or thicker necks. Find one that fits your hands best and you might find that it reduces the amount of pain complicated chords cause and it can even make you a slightly faster player, too.
The majority of cheaper electric guitars come with decent electronics – and most of them had to pass a quality control test to confirm they’re in working order to make it out of the factory at all. This means that you’re much less likely to experience certain types of issues with newer guitars (and if you do, they’re cheap and easy to fix if you take your guitar to a professional guitar tech).
Excellent Quality Starts Here
Fifty years ago, if you wanted a good electric guitar that was cheap at the same time, you’d have to wait until Christmas and hope someone buys you one. Today, excellent electric guitars have become naturally cheaper to produce – and there’s been a boom in budding guitarists for this reason.
Choose any of the guitars on this list and you’re guaranteed a decent, high quality guitar that’s perfect for practice, learning, playing in the studio or heading to the stage.