Best Electric Guitars on a Budget

The best budget electric guitars include the Epiphone Les Paul Classic, Steinberger Spirit GT Pro, Epiphone Casino, and Schecter Demon 6.

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Whether you have a budding musician in your family or you just want to learn some Black Sabbath riffs to show your pals, it’s important to find a decent quality instrument for the cost. In this article, I’ll give you my top picks for the best electric guitars on a budget.

Audio summary:

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Personally, I started my guitar journey with a Squier Strat and practice amp combo for a couple hundred bucks 20 years ago. This is still a great option today, though the price is a bit higher nowadays.

P.S. Don’t know where to start when shopping for guitars? Check out my picks for the best electric guitar brands.

Brogan’s Quick Take

The best guitar on a budget is subjective and depends on your specific needs and preferences. When looking for a budget-friendly electric guitar, consider options like the Epiphone Les Paul Classic, Steinberger Spirit GT Pro, Epiphone Casino, Schecter Demon 6, and Jackson JS Series King V JS32T, all available for under $1,000 each. Each of these guitars offers unique features and benefits, so it’s essential to choose one that suits your playing style and sound preferences.

5 Best Budget Electric Guitars

We’re about to dive into the world of some top-notch, yet affordable guitars. For this article, I’m recommending electric guitars, not acoustic guitars. We’ll cover the best cheap acoustic guitars in another article. You can find all these guitars for under $1,000 each. (For some really cheap axes, check out the Best Guitars Under $300.)

Here are my top five picks:

  • Epiphone Les Paul Classic
  • Steinberger Spirit GT Pro
  • Epiphone Casino
  • Schecter Demon 6
  • Jackson JS Series King V JS32T

And here’s a quick comparison table looking at each model:

FeatureEpiphone Les Paul ClassicSteinberger Spirit GT Pro DeluxeEpiphone CasinoSchecter Demon 6Jackson JS Series King V JS32T
Body ShapeSingle CutawayDouble CutawayThinline HollowbodyDouble CutawayV-shape
Body MaterialMahogany with Maple TopMapleLaminated MapleMahoganyPoplar
Neck MaterialMahoganyMapleMahoganyMapleMaple
Fretboard MaterialRosewoodRosewoodPau FerroRosewoodAmaranth
Scale Length24.75″25.5″24.75″25.5″25.5″
Frets2224222424
PickupsProBucker HumbuckersEMG HumbuckersEpiphone P-90sSchecter Diamond Active HumbuckersJackson High-Output Humbuckers
BridgeLockTone Tune-O-MaticDouble-Ball BridgeLockTone Tune-O-MaticTune-O-Matic with String-Thru BodyTune-O-Matic with String-Thru Body
HardwareNickelBlackNickelBlack ChromeBlack
Unique FeaturesSlim Taper 60s Neck ProfileHeadless Design, Locking Nut, Steinberger Gearless TunersHollowbody Design, Trapeze TailpieceThin C Neck Profile, Active PickupsCompound Radius Fretboard, Pointed Headstock
Ideal GenresRock, Blues, CountryRock, Metal, FusionJazz, Blues, RockMetal, Hard RockMetal, Hard Rock

1. Epiphone Les Paul Classic: Top Budget Guitar Pick

Les Paul Classic from zZounds

The Epiphone Les Paul Classic emerges as an excellent budget electric guitar due to its combination of quality construction, classic design, and versatile sound. When compared to other popular budget guitars, such as the Squier Stratocaster or the Yamaha Pacifica, the Epiphone Les Paul Classic offers a distinct set of features that cater to a wide range of guitarists.

One of the primary advantages of the Epiphone Les Paul Classic is its pickups. Equipped with Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers, this guitar delivers a warm, rich tone with a substantial amount of sustain, typical of the Les Paul lineage.

These humbuckers provide a noticeable step up from the standard pickups found in many budget guitars, which often lack the tonal depth and clarity that the Epiphone offers. For example, while the Squier Stratocaster is equipped with single-coil pickups that excel in producing bright and twangy sounds particularly suited to genres like surf rock or blues, the Les Paul’s humbuckers are more versatile for heavier rock or jazz.

The tonewoods used in the Epiphone Les Paul Classic also contribute to its sonic palette. With a mahogany body and a maple top, the guitar provides a resonant blend of warmth and brightness. This combination is well-regarded for its balanced sound, which is conducive to a multitude of musical styles. Guitars often utilize lighter woods such as agathis or alder, which offer a different tonal profile that may be preferred for its sharper attack and lighter weight, but that may not provide the same level of sustain and richness as the mahogany-maple duo of the Epiphone.

Unique features of the Epiphone Les Paul Classic include a set neck joint which offers enhanced sustain and stability when compared to the bolt-on necks found in many budget models. The guitar’s classic Les Paul design and aesthetics also provide a timeless appeal that is hard to resist. Moreover, the inclusion of features such as coil-tapping, which is not commonly found in guitars at this price point, allows players to achieve single-coil tones, adding to the guitar’s versatility.

Overall, the Epiphone Les Paul Classic holds its ground as a great budget electric guitar, with its superior pickups, tonewoods, and unique features, making it a worthy contender among its peers in the budget guitar market.

Product specs
  • Solid mahogany body
  • Indian laurel fingerboard
  • Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers
  • LockTone ABR bridge
ProsCons
AffordableWorn finish may not appeal to all
Classic designNo accessories included
Versatile tonal optionsMay require setup out of the box
Solid tuning stability

2. Steinberger Spirit GT Pro Deluxe: Best Ergonomic Budget Guitar

Steinberger Spirit GT Pro Deluxe from zZounds

The Steinberger Spirit GT-Pro Deluxe is another great budget electric guitar for several reasons. Firstly, its innovative design eliminates the traditional headstock, resulting in a compact and lightweight instrument that is ideal for musicians on the go. The headless design not only contributes to its portability but also enhances tuning stability, an advantage over other budget guitars that may struggle to maintain their tuning.

In terms of pickups, the Spirit GT-Pro Deluxe is equipped with a versatile HSH (humbucker-single-humbucker) configuration, providing a wide tonal palette. This setup allows guitarists to explore various genres, from heavy rock tones to crisp, clean sounds. The budget alternatives, like the Squier Affinity Series or Epiphone Les Paul Special II, typically come with a more basic pickup configuration, which may not offer the same level of tonal diversity.

Another significant aspect is the use of materials in the Steinberger Spirit: it’s got a basswood body, three-piece hard maple neck, and an engineered wood fingerboard. The engineered hardwood fretboard is more impervious to changes in humidity and temperature and should have better longevity over the long term.

Unique features of the Spirit GT-Pro Deluxe include the patented R-Trem locking tremolo system and the direct-pull tuning system at the bridge. These features provide excellent tremolo functionality and fine-tuning capabilities, often lacking in other budget guitars that may have less reliable tremolo systems.

Overall, the Steinberger Spirit GT-Pro Deluxe offers a combination of innovative design, versatile pickups, and unique features that make it a standout choice among budget electric guitars. It delivers a playing experience that is often on par with more expensive instruments, making it an excellent value for both beginner and experienced guitarists seeking a reliable and distinctive option.

Fun fact: I played a Steinberger on a tour of a Broadway show and it never let me down. The tuners held the strings in place very well and it was the guitar I had to tune least often. The guitar has a leg rest that flips out so you can play without a strap, too.

Product specs:
  • Gloss finish
  • 3-pc Hard Maple neck
  • Poplar body
  • 1960s SlimTaper; D profile neck shape
  • Basswood composite fingerboard
ProsCons
Compact and comfortableSome may find the compact size too small
Innovative tuning systemThe unconventional design may not appeal to everyone
Balanced headless design
Excellent sound quality

3. Epiphone Casino: Best Budget Jazz Guitar

Epiphone Casino from zZounds

The Epiphone Casino stands as a venerable choice among budget electric guitars. Guitarists often praise it for its unique combination of affordability and quality. When considering its place in the pantheon of budget-friendly axes, the Casino distinguishes itself with several key features that resonate with players across genres.

Firstly, the Casino’s pickups are a distinctive aspect of its appeal. Unlike the Stratocaster’s bright single-coil pickups or a Les Paul’s darker humbuckers, the Casino is equipped with a pair of P-90 pickups. These pickups offer a warmer, richer tone with more bite, granting the Casino a sonic versatility that’s well-suited to everything from jazz and blues to rock and pop.

The Casino’s body is crafted from laminated maple with a mahogany neck and a rosewood fretboard. This combination yields a resonant and balanced tone with a pleasing sustain. You don’t have to be afraid of laminated wood, either. Many prized jazz boxes use laminated woods including the Gibson ES-175. Laminated wood controls feedback better and stands up to shifts in the environment.

Unique features of the Epiphone Casino include its fully hollow body design, which is relatively rare in the budget segment. This gives the guitar an acoustic quality, with more airiness in the sound and a natural reverb that’s hard to replicate with solid or even semi-hollow body guitars. In comparison, most budget electrics, including the aforementioned Squier and Yamaha, are solid-bodied, offering a more focused tone that doesn’t quite capture the organic depth of the Casino.

In summary, the Epiphone Casino’s P-90 pickups, choice tonewoods, and fully hollow body design make it a standout option for those seeking a rich and versatile sound without breaking the bank. Its unique characteristics offer a distinct alternative to other budget guitars, providing a vintage feel and sound that belies its modest price point.

Product Specs:
  • Body Material: Layered Maple
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Scale Length: 24.724
  • Bridge: Tune-o-matic bridge
ProsCons
Bright and clear to mellow tonesWorn finish might not appeal to everyone
Comfortable and fast-playing experienceOptional hardshell case sold separately
Available in three new finishesLaurel fingerboard may not suit all player’s tastes

4. Schecter Demon 6: Best Budget Rock Guitar

Schecter Demon 6 from zZounds

The Schecter Demon 6 stands out is my pick for the best budget rock guitar for several reasons, particularly when contrasted with its competition within the same price range. Firstly, the guitar features a basswood body, a common tonewood in budget guitars for its lightweight and balanced sound.

Basswood is favored for its ability to provide a warm tone while still offering enough clarity for higher gain settings, which is especially beneficial for genres like metal or hard rock. This gives the Schecter Demon 6 an edge over other budget guitars that might use less resonant materials.

Secondly, what sets the Demon 6 apart are its active pickups. The guitar comes equipped with Schecter Diamond Active pickups, which are known for their high output and clear articulation. These pickups are often compared to the likes of the EMG 81/85 combination, which is a popular choice in higher-end guitars for metal players.

The active nature of the Demon 6’s pickups allows for a tighter bottom end and a crisper top end, providing a more professional sound than what’s typically found in budget guitars with passive pickups. This difference is particularly noticeable when compared to guitars like the Squier Affinity Series that usually come with standard passive pickups, lacking the punch and clarity of the Demon 6’s active set.

The Schecter Demon 6 also includes a thin ‘C’ shaped neck made of maple, which is not only sturdy but also provides a smooth and fast playing experience. This is a feature that players may not find in other budget models like the Epiphone Les Paul Special II, which has a thicker neck profile that some may find less comfortable for fast playing techniques.

Lastly, unique to the Demon 6 is its Gothic Cross inlays on the fretboard, which contribute to its distinct aesthetic appeal. While inlays do not affect the sound of the guitar, they are just freakin’ cool, making the Demon 6 stand out on stage and appealing to players who value the style of their instrument as much as its sound.

With these features in mind, the Schecter Demon 6 offers a combination of tonal versatility, playability, and aesthetic appeal that is hard to match within its budget category, making it a top choice for players looking for high-value without a hefty price tag.

Product Specs:
  • Body: Basswood
  • Neck: Bolt-On Maple with Thin C Neck Shape
  • Pickups: Schecter Diamond Active
  • Bridge: Hardtail bridge
ProsCons
Balanced, clear toneMay not be suitable for non-rock genres
Comfortable, fast-playing neckBasswood body may lack the resonance of denser woods
Aesthetically appealing designActive pickups require battery replacement and can sound more clinical to some players

5. Jackson JS Series King V JS32T: Best Budget Metal Guitar

Jackson JS King V from zZounds

The Jackson JS Series King V stands out as a quintessential budget electric guitar, especially tailored for metal enthusiasts, thanks to a combination of its aggressive aesthetics, high-output pickups, and playability. It is equipped with Jackson’s high-output ceramic-magnet humbucking pickups, which are engineered to deliver a heavy tone, a perfect match for the high-gain requirements of metal music. This contrasts with many budget guitars that use lower output pickups, which might not provide the necessary punch for metal.

In comparison to other popular budget electric guitars, such as those from the Squier Stratocaster or Epiphone Les Paul Special series, the Jackson King V offers a more focused design for metal. While the Stratocasters and Les Paul Specials are versatile, they typically come with pickups that cater to a broader range of genres and might lack the aggressive edge that metal players seek. The King V’s pickups are designed to cut through the mix with a sharp attack and a tight low-end response, which gives them an advantage for metal tones.

The tonewoods of the Jackson King V also contribute to its suitability for metal. It often features a poplar body, which is a balanced and resonant wood that supports the guitar’s overall tone. This is a common choice among budget guitars, but Jackson’s implementation ensures that the King V retains the clarity and sustain needed for fast-paced, heavy riffs and solos.

Unique features of the King V include its distinctive V-shaped body and the 25.5-inch scale length, which offers a comfortable tension for down-tuning—a common practice in metal music. The longer scale length (compared to 24.75 inches on Gibson/Epiphone guitars) helps maintain string tension and intonation when tuning down, providing a stable foundation for aggressive playing styles. Additionally, the compound radius fretboard is a standout feature typically found on higher-end guitars. It allows for comfortable chording near the nut while flattening out up the neck for easier bends and faster playing, which is essential for metal guitarists.

Overall, the Jackson JS Series King V distinguishes itself as a great budget electric guitar for metal, due to its high-output pickups, suitable tonewoods, and metal-centric features, making it a strong competitor among its peers in the budget segment.

Product Specs:
  • Body: Poplar
  • Neck: Bolt-on maple speed neck
  • Finish: Glossy body, satin neck
ProsCons
High-output humbucking pickupsStrings may need replacement for better sound
Affordable pricePotential upgrades for nut and tuners
Excellent build qualitySome may find it heavy

Budget Guitar Buyer’s Guide

When shopping for a budget guitar, you should consider a variety of factors that can significantly impact your satisfaction and the instrument’s playability:

  1. Purpose of the guitar
  2. Type of guitar
  3. Build quality
  4. Materials
  5. Size and shape
  6. Sound quality
  7. Action
  8. Brand and model
  9. Potential for upgrades

Initially, take time to reflect on the purpose of the guitar. Is it for a beginner, for casual playing, or perhaps for a seasoned player needing an inexpensive backup? The intended use will guide the selection process, ensuring the features align with the player’s needs.

The first consideration is the type of guitar: acoustic or electric. Acoustic guitars are typically favored for their portability and the fact that they don’t require an amplifier, making them ideal for beginners or those who enjoy the purity of an unamplified sound. Electric guitars, on the other hand, offer a wider range of sounds and require an amplifier, which is an additional cost if not already owned.

The build quality of the guitar is another significant aspect to ponder. Budget guitars can vary greatly in construction; thus, buyers should look for a solidly built instrument that stands up to regular use. This includes checking the neck’s straightness, the comfort of the fretboard, and the stability of the tuning machines. A guitar with a warped neck or poor-quality tuning machines will be challenging to play in tune, which can be discouraging for any player.

The materials used in the guitar’s construction also play an important role. For instance, a guitar with a solid wood top typically offers better sound quality than one with a laminate top, but it may also come with a higher price tag. Even within budget constraints, aiming for the best quality materials possible will result in a better sounding and more durable instrument.

Additionally, the guitar’s size and shape should be taken into account. A comfortable fit is crucial, especially for beginners who may be discouraged by an instrument that is too large or too small for their body size. Adults might prefer a full-sized guitar, whereas children or individuals with smaller frames might find a ¾ size or a parlor guitar more manageable and comfortable.

Sound quality, while subjective, should not be overlooked. Even on a budget, a guitar should have a clear, pleasing sound. Buyers should play the guitar or have someone play it for them to listen to its tone and sustain. Guitars with dead spots or buzzes can indicate poor construction or a need for setup adjustments.

Action, or the height of the strings above the fretboard, is critical for playability. A guitar with high action will be harder to play, as it requires more finger strength and can cause quicker fatigue. Conversely, action that’s too low may result in fret buzz. While action can often be adjusted, it’s best to find a guitar with comfortable action from the start.

The brand and model should be researched as well. Some brands are known for producing high-quality budget guitars and may offer better craftsmanship and sound quality than lesser-known brands. Product reviews, forums, and music store staff can provide insights into which models deliver the best value for money.

Lastly, the potential for upgrades should be considered. A budget guitar with a good basic structure might be significantly improved with better strings or upgraded hardware in the future. This can extend the instrument’s lifespan and tailor it to the player’s evolving needs.

Final Thoughts: Best Cheap Guitar on a Budget

So, you’ve navigated the world of budget guitars, and it’s clear: affordability doesn’t mean compromising on quality. Remember, a well-cared-for guitar can serve you for decades. And, as the reviews show, there are many great options out there.

Further Reading

Best Budget Guitar: FAQ

Below are a few frequently asked questions on the best budget guitars:

What price range is considered “budget” for a guitar?

Budget guitars typically fall within the $100 to $500 price range. However, you can find decent guitars for even less, especially if you’re open to buying a used instrument.

Are budget guitars suitable for beginners?

Yes, budget guitars are often an excellent choice for beginners. They offer a balance of affordability and quality, allowing new players to learn the instrument without investing too much money upfront.

Can I find a good budget guitar for specific genres, like rock or jazz?

Absolutely! Many budget guitars are designed to cater to specific genres. You can find budget electric guitars suitable for rock, metal, or blues, as well as affordable acoustic guitars that work well for folk, country, or jazz.

What should I look for when choosing a budget guitar?

When selecting a budget guitar, consider factors such as the build quality, materials used, playability, and sound. Look for a guitar with a solid construction, comfortable neck, and good intonation. Reading reviews and trying out the instrument in person can help you make an informed decision.

Are there any reputable brands that offer budget guitars?

Yes, many well-known guitar brands offer budget-friendly options. Some popular brands to consider include Squier (by Fender), Epiphone (by Gibson), Yamaha, Ibanez, and Cordoba, among others.

Should I buy a new or used budget guitar?

Both new and used budget guitars have their advantages. New guitars come with a warranty and ensure you’re getting a pristine instrument. Used guitars, on the other hand, can offer even better value for money, as long as you carefully inspect the instrument’s condition before purchasing.

Can budget guitars be upgraded later on?

Yes, many budget guitars can be upgraded with better components, such as pickups, tuners, or bridges, as your skills progress. This allows you to improve your instrument’s performance and sound quality over time without buying a completely new guitar.