The Best Electric Guitar for Your Price Range
The beginner's guide for buying your electric guitar
So, you have subscribed to one of the top online guitar lessons sites out there and decided to buy yourself an electric guitar, and most likely if you are reading this guide then you need some solid advice on what to purchase. It’s not an easy decision to make as the market is flooded with a variety of brands, some well-known other newcomers to the game.
Before you head to the music store or purchase online there are a few pointers to remember. After all, when it comes to any product an educated buyer always fairs better than someone who just jumps right in. Even if you are someone who doesn’t play the guitar, and you are buying one for a gift, I highly recommend reading this whole article.
Ok most of us aren’t that rich, if we were we would be buying top of the line and previously owned guitars of the most famous guitarists. Us simple folk have realistic budgets that we have to work within. However, the biggest mistake made by new instrument buyers is paying too little. Being cheap is never your friend when it comes to buying any instrument. The greatest guitar player on Earth cannot get a good sound out of poorly made electric guitar knockoffs.
Let’s take a look at specific electric guitars in some various price ranges. Some of the prices may vary between retailer, but most will always have an average range. Also keep in mind that the definition of “best” is clearly subjective. What we have done in our examples below is found a variety of styles and brands that are highly rated in each specific price range.
A thousand dollars is really a great budget to have for a guitar. It is really almost the perfect amount. Spending anymore is really something you should do only if a professional or a seasoned guitarist. Spending any less and you begin to cut back on quality in exchange for a better deal. Often folks will buy a cheaper guitar, try it out and later move up to something better, with a grand you cut right to the chase and get yourself something nice immediately!
Image credits: ZZsounds.com
This solid body Stratocaster has a maple neck and headstock with three single coil pickups. It also has the Fender trademarked Greasebucket circuitry, which despite the name actually gives the tone a clean sound. It has a five way pickup switch and vintage style synchronized tremolo bridge, so you can attach a “whammy bar” to it. The Stratocaster was first built in 1954 and is still one of the most popular guitars to this day. Folks like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, and Buddy Holly were all fans of the Fender Strat! It is a guitar that really works well in almost any genre.
The Fender Telecaster was built four years before the Strat and was the world’s first commercially successful guitar. It also is a solid body with single coil pickups, but in this model, they are dual wound to give a bigger blues sound. It also has the trademarked Greasebucket circuitry giving it a very clean tone that can cut through the other instruments in the band. It also has a vintage style bridge to give it an authentic look. Famous Telecaster players are Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Waylon Jennings, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen. Like the Strat is used in a variety of musical styles. Here is a great link to check out if you want to read about the differences between the Strat and the Tele.
Les Paul has a permanent and stand-alone exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that is because he is one of the greatest innovators and players of the electric guitar. The Gibson Guitar Corporation paired with Les Paul in 1952 to create this famous guitar. The current Faded model has a mahogany solid body and maple top with a pair of Gibson 490 pickups. These pickups are humbucker double coil pickups meant to reduce interference. Even though these are new guitars they are made to have a used and older look. Famous Gibson Les Paul players, besides Les Paul, are Bob Marley, Slash, Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, and Neal Schon.
So far, we have been looking at solid body guitars, some players prefer semi-hollow and hollow body instruments. Many original rock and roll and rockabilly players used hollow body guitars. The Fenders above have double cutaway bodies while the hollow body Gretsch is only a single cutaway. This particular model has “Black Top” humbucker pickups and an Adjusto-matic bridge. It also includes a Bigsby B60 tailpiece for pitch modulation. The hollow body guitar allows for a much twangier sound that is reminiscent of early rock. Famous Gretsch players include; Chet Atkins, Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, Brian Setzer, and Bono.
So far, we have focused on guitars that are more known for rock n roll genres, this Ibanez is meant for those who specifically play metal and fusion. This guitar has a solid ash body and three-piece maple neck. The Fusion Edge humbucker pickups are meant for “djent chugs and high speed staccato riffing.” The Nitro Wizard neck and 24 jumbo frets make for effortless and smooth fretting. Everything about this guitar was made for heavy metal. Famous Ibanez players are Joe Satriani, Alice Cooper, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Vai.
Godin Guitars are a Canadian company that is not as popular as some of the other names on this list. However, they make some phenomenal instruments and are worth looking into. The Godin 5th Avenue is an archtop hollow body made of wild cherry and maple. It has an adjustable TUSQ bridge and uses Godin Kingpin P-90 single coil pickups. This guitar is absolutely gorgeous and looks far pricier than it is. Some famous artists who have discovered this unique brand are John McVie, Roger Waters, Steve Stevens, and Lionel Loueke.
Paul Reed Smith Guitars started in Maryland in the mid-80s, they became known for producing custom shop instruments. The SE Custom 24 is a beautiful guitar made from mahogany and maple. It has 24 frets and two 85/15 S humbuckers (one bass and one treble). There is also a push/pull tone knob to access a single coil tone. A few musicians who have played and loved PRS electric guitars are Carlos Santana, John Mayer, and Alex Lifeson.
A budget of $700 is still going to buy you a great electric guitar. Of course, the brands mentioned above are still found in this $700 price range. For example, Fender Strats with less features can be found for lower than $1000. Instead of repeating ourselves though, we are going to touch on some other brands that have great reviews and high ratings.
The Guild guitar brand started in the early 50’s, the brand was notably used in in the 60’s by psychedelic rock bands like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. This specific style is a solid body guitar made of mahogany. One of the important features of this guitar is the “little” humbuckers which can be ran as full humbuckers or switched with a capacitor to get a more single coil type sound. This Guild S-200 is not as popular as other Fenders or Gibson guitars, however for someone looking for a different style and sound they are worth trying out if looking for a guitar in this $700 price range. Well known Guild players (besides the bands mentioned above) are Nick Drake, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, David Byrne, and Paul Simon.
ESP is a Japanese guitar company started in 1975, and their guitars have found a home with metal bands. Like most heavy metal guitars, the ESP has 24 instead of 22 frets, it is solid body, and with jumbo frets perfect for thrash metal playing. This guitar also uses EMG active humbucker pickups perfect for some intense rock. Famous ESP electric guitar players are James Hetfield, Ron Wood, Alexi Laiho, Stephen Carpenter, and Bruce Kulick
This guitar takes its name from Dimebag Darrell and is included in the list for those who are looking for a truly different style of guitar. On some sites it is currently unavailable, but it gives you an idea of other design options out there. It has a mahogany solid body and Dean humbuckers. It also has a Floyd Rose bridge which is a locking vibrato arm for the electric guitar, it essentially helps the guitar stay in tune through large pitch changes. Dean guitars are often decent guitars at lower prices. Famous Dean players besides Dimebag Darrell are Michael Angelo Batio, Michael Arnott, and Dave Mustaine.
Epiphone is a subsidiary of the Gibson Guitar Corporation. They are essentially more modest priced versions of Gibson Les Paul models. This guitar has a mahogany solid body with a carved maple top. Like the Gibson they have Tune-o-matic bridges and classic Gibson humbuckers. A few famous Epiphone players are Noel Gallagher, Jack Casady, Keith Richards, Robb Flynn, and The Edge.
Schecter Guitar Research was started in the mid 70’s as a parts company for existing Fender and Gibson guitars. They now produce their own electric and bass guitars like the Hellraiser C-1. The body has an archtop of maple with the rest being mahogany. It has 24 jumbo frets and uses EMG humbuckers. Some famous guitarists who use Schecter guitars are Prince, Robert Smith, Robert DeLeo, Balsac, and East Bay Ray. These days Schecter is becoming a well-known guitar among metal bands.
In the $600 range we are starting to get into lower tone wood qualities, however it is still a price range that can bring in some playable and decent guitars. Many of the same brands we have mentioned also make great electric guitars in this price range.
This electric guitar is one of the better sellers out there, it is a real Fender Stratocaster at an affordable price. The solid body is made of alder wood and the neck of maple. It has 21 frets and uses three standard Strat single pickup coils. It has a vintage style tremolo and five position pickup switching. If you are looking for a very basic electric guitar that is very versatile among many genres, it doesn’t get much better than the Fender Standard!
The Epiphone Casino is a true hollow bodied archtop guitar first made in 1961. This guitar was made famous by The Beatles in songs like “Ticket to Ride”, “Drive My Car”, and “Taxman”. The body material is laminated maple and the neck is mahogany. It has a Tune-o-matic bridge and P-90 Gibson single coil pickups. Because it is a true hollow body it sounds louder without an amplifier and with one it can be more prone to feedback. Other notable players besides The Beatles are Howlin’ Wolf, Joshua Homme, and Dave Grohl.
Another hollow body guitar that is great for rock or jazz is the Ibanez Artcore Expressionist. In fact, it is a little smaller making it more of a semi-hollow body, it is the perfect balance between a solid and semi-hollow guitar. It is made of quilted maple with 22 frets and a Super 58 humbucker. The Artcore series is known as one of the best value guitars on the market. Jazz artists like John Scofield, Pat Metheny, and George Benson are fans of the Super 58 pickups.
This ESP series can range from $500-$700 depending on which specific style you are looking for. Like the ESP EC-1000 it is a solid body guitar built for hard rock. It is made of mahogany with two EMG humbuckers and 24 extra jumbo frets. It also has a Floyd Rose double locking tremolo. If you are a heavy metal guitarist the ESP 400 series or EC 1000 are great electric guitars to look into.
The Gretsch Streamliner is a semi-hollow body guitar that has both Broad Tron humbucker and P90 single coil pickups. Because semi-hollow bodies can produce lots of feedback it has a spruce center block to counteract it. It also has a Bigsby B50 vibrato for pitch bends. It can produce both vintage and modern tones. If you are looking for the Gretsch style and sound, yet not wanting to break the bank this is the perfect guitar for you!
Cort Guitars are a manufacturer out of South Korea that have found a bit of a following in their Cort MBC-1 signature guitar. This guitar was created for Matthew Bellamy the lead singer of the band Muse. This guitar has a Telecaster like form made of basswood and maple. It has 22 frets with a Manson single coil and Manson humbucker pickup. Many players of this guitar say it sings like a far more expensive instrument. A few online sites seem to have it on back order which is a good sign of a quality product.
Once we start going under $500 we are again getting lower quality tone wood and into mass produced guitars. The kind of instruments that are basically stamped out with little human interaction. Guitars that are made on assembly lines are more likely to have potential intonation and quality issues. To be clear $500 is nothing to scoff at and if you look around you can find a great guitar for that price, however you have to be careful to make sure you get a guitar that essentially isn’t a lemon with any major problems.
Like the standard Fender Stratocaster the Telecaster has an alder wood body and maple neck and fretboard. It has 21 frets, two hotter voice single coil pickups, and three position pickup switching. This is the most basic and affordable telecaster out there. If you can’t afford the $1000 special edition, then this standard model is the next best thing. Like the Strat the Tele is a very versatile guitar that you can’t go wrong with.
If a Gibson Les Paul is out of your price range, this Epiphone model is a great place to start. It has a mahogany body with a maple veneer top, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and two ProBucker Humbucker pickups. Depending on the specific design and style you can find this guitar for $400-$600, it is a quality guitar that successfully emulates much more expensive electrics.
Just like the Epiphone is the cheaper emulation of the Gibson, the Squier is the more affordable Fender. This Squier Classic Vibe is a Stratocaster with an alder wood body and 21 medium jumbo frets. It has three single coil pickups and a five-position pickup switch. Basically if you are looking for a Strat and can’t afford a Fender Special or Fender Standard the Squier is your best bet!
This guitar has a mahogany body, 21 frets, and two LH-150 humbuckers. These pickups have a push-pull coil tap that gives you access to both humbucking and single coil tones. It also has a TOM bridge/tailpiece for tuning stability and intonation. Basically if you cannot afford some of the more expensive models from ESP this is the electric guitar for you.
This solid body electric guitar has a mahogany body and maple neck. It has three pickups, two quantum humbuckers and a quantum single coil. With 24 jumbo frets and an Edge Zero II tremolo it allows you access to great metal and fusion playability similar to what you get with more expensive models. If you are looking to buy an Ibanez yet have a tight budget this is a great model to buy.
With a body of maple and neck of nato this Yamaha has VH3 vintage output humbuckers. In fact, this guitar has quite the vintage look, a very unique guitar. This Yamaha is the kind of guitar that players are attracted to on looks alone. And as for famous players, many guitarists started on Yamaha’s as kids!
At the price range of $300 we are really getting into lower quality beginner guitars.Most of the guitars in this price range are solid body as hollow body guitars are too labor intensive for this low price. Usually guitars of this price range are for testing new students. If they show an interest and love for playing the guitar that’s when they can graduate to a higher quality guitar. Just be careful that they don’t confuse lack of progress with a simply poorly made instrument, especially if it can't maintain tuning.
This Yamaha is actually known for being quite a great guitar for the price, perhaps the best on this list in the $300 price range. It has a solid alder body, 22 frets, and two single coil and one Alnico V humbucker. While it isn’t made of anything particularly special it still happens to have great sound and playability.
With an alder wood body, 22 jumbo frets, and three single coil pickups this is about the cheapest, yet playable, Stratocaster you can get. You will likely encounter some intonation issues and a little more electronic humming than normal. However, if you don’t need perfection this is a nice little guitar to learn on… not the greatest but not the end of the world!
This guitar is about $50 more than the Fender Squier Affinity, and you essentially get $50 more in value. The body is made of agathis, with 22 jumbo frets, and also three single coil pickups. It is mostly the same guitar as the Affinity with just slightly better hardware and some people find that it looks nicer, it has a “pricier” look to it. However, you are likely to encounter similar issues as the Affinity.
This solid body guitar has a mahogany body and neck. It has 22 medium jumbo frets, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and two humbucker pickups (650R and 700T). It has the classic Les Paul body shape and is about the cheapest you can go in Les Paul styles yet still keeping some quality. The sites that sell these guitars will claim outstanding tone and blasting leads, but honestly, they will have their share of issues.
Jackson is one brand we have yet to discuss in this article. It is owned by Fender and essentially a cheaper style of guitar like Squier. There are more expensive models of Jackson that are worth looking into, some that range up to $1000. Often used for heavy metal with famous players like David Ellefson, Phil Demmel, Phil Collen, and Chris Beattie. However, this specific style above costs about $200. The JS Series has a poplar body with a maple neck and 22 jumbo frets. It also has two Jackson High Output ceramic humbuckers. Like the other cheaper guitars you will likely encounter problems with this affordable but lower quality guitar.
For those looking for a more metal looking guitar Dean electrics have you covered. The Dean ZX has a basswood body and maple neck. And with a Tune-o-matic bridge, 22 frets, and Zebra humbuckers. If you know a guitar student that has an interest in playing metal or fusion this may be a great starter guitar. Of course at the $200 price it will likely have its issues.
Guitar intonation is one of the most important factors, in fact any string instrument must have excellent intonation. If you pluck the standard tuned open 6th string (the fattest and thickest string) you will hear a low E note (known as E2). On the guitar each fret is a half-step apart, so if you play the first fret of that 6th string the note should be an F. The second fret an F#, the third a G and so on. Each guitar string should be in tune for the note it is supposed to be. If the intonation is off (whether sharp or flat) any chord you play will not sound right, making the guitar worthless junk.
The more expensive your guitar the more exact every note will be. If buying a guitar in person, you can take a tuner with you to check the intonation. Especially if you are completely new to electric guitars I would take an experienced individual along to help make sure the intonation is in tune. Now if you find one that has bad intonation it is possible to pay extra to have a setup done on the guitar where it will likely be fixed with simple bridge adjustments. However, that adds to the price and the fact that it wasn’t setup by the shop in the first place isn’t a very good sign. It is always great to learn how to fix your intonation yourself, but when buying a new guitar, it is wise to just make sure it sounds great in the first place.
The action of the strings is simply how far away they are from the fretboard. Too much action makes it hard to press down on the strings, too little and you will have strings hitting the frets at the wrong place and deadening the sound. This another situation that can be adjusted with proper setup, however it is smart to buyone with good action in the first place.
Luckily the electric guitar is way easier than the acoustic to adjust the action on. (Actually, the lap steel guitar is the easiest of all because in that case we don’t even want the strings to touch the frets at all!). Action will always be lower at the neck end of the fretboard as opposed to the sound hole because the natural bow of the guitar neck.
That bow in the neck is controlled with a metal rod going down the center of a fretboard. It is adjusted with a little allen wrench at the top of the fretboard on electric guitars. By loosening or tightening the screw we can either put more or less bow (relief) on the guitar. We want just the right amount of relief so that the strings are not too high and so that none hit any frets causing buzzes or dead sounds.
Truss rod adjustments are often used to fix bad action, which is not the best way to fix the action. In fact, leave truss rod adjustments up to professionals as the fretboardcan crack if done wrong! Do not buy a guitar without a truss rod as that is a sign it is too cheap and there will never be any way to adjust a badly bowed neck.
The wood that a guitar is made from is very important for the sound quality. Some electrics are solid body while others are hollow or semi-hollow. Mahogany, maple, ash, and even cherry is used in higher quality guitars, while alder, poplar and agathis are found in lower quality. However, sometimes you will get lucky and find some great wood in a lower priced guitar.
Make sure all the tuners and knobs move freely, nothing should be stuck or hard to move. If the volume and tone buttons are put on right than the volume level should match what the knob says (if the knob is turned all the way down with no sound the number should read zero). The string tuners should easily move and hold the tune of the string, if the tuning slips very soon after tuning that is a bad sign.
We could really get into detail on the difference of pickups like single coil or humbucker, we will touch on it more in different electric guitar models below. The key to remember as a beginner is to pay attention to the sound. While some background humming sound is normal (especially with single coil) we want to make sure it isn’t overwhelming.
Also, as we turn the knobs there should be no crackling, as that is a sign of dirty pots (potentiometers). Even with your inexperienced ears it should be possible to tell what sounds good and what doesn’t. We all have different tastes and what sounds good to you might not to others.
Now that you have an idea of the basics of buying an electric guitar and some fine examples of what you might like let’s go over some important final thoughts. In this day there are many online places to buy from, it can be overwhelming. 10 or more years ago, the advice would be to go into an actual music store and physically touch and play what you might want to buy. However, now that may not be possible to do for many people.
Brick and mortar stores are disappearing because of online sales, in fact you will often pay more if you purchase a guitar in a local shop. We all want to support local business, but if you can save $100 online it is a no brainer to purchase from a website.If you want to buy in a local store great, it is the best way to try out different guitars. However, many of us will be buying online so there are a few pointers to remember:
Always buy from a retailer that has a free return policy. If you get a guitar with bad action or intonation or any issues you want to be able to send it back with no hassle. Most reputable sites will also pay for the return shipping.
Ordering from retailersis better than ordering directly from manufacturers. It is cheaper to order from retailers unless you need something custom made. The MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) is always much higher than the price on retail outlets.
Be wary of sales that are too good to be true. If a normally $1000 guitar is suddenly being sold for $200 than it likely was not a popular product or the model had major flaws. I made this mistake once with a VOX guitar, it had intonation that just couldn’t be perfected. No matter how I worked on the setup it just always sounded very off.
Sometimes people like to quote the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price as the original price they bought it for, in hopes of inflating their current used price. And of course, never send money and be sure to physically see and play the product to make sure seller is being honest. Be careful in how you deal with strangers.
Instruments are like cars, they do not hold value very well. Unless they are autographed or have some historic significance they lose their value quickly. Many people will attempt to sell used instruments at an incredibly high price, in many cases it is smart just to buy a new guitar!
With the information and examples above you should be very prepared to go out or look online and buy a great electric guitar that fits your budget and the music style you wish to play. Good luck and take your time shopping, your electric guitar will patiently wait for you to find it!
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