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Best Budget Electric Guitars

Updated on August 13, 2016
Guitar Gopher profile image

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

Epiphone Les Paul Standard: A Top Budget Electric Guitar
Epiphone Les Paul Standard: A Top Budget Electric Guitar

If you are watching your budget but still need a new guitar you might think there is no hope of landing an instrument you'll love. Lucky for you, you’d be wrong! No matter what genre of music you are into there are some amazing, affordable, high-quality instruments out there, brought to you by some of the biggest names in the guitar world.

If you are a beginner these instruments are all great choices, but they are a notch above the typical starter guitar when it comes to quality and performance. In fact, for an up-and-coming guitar player they are good enough to carry onstage, or even into the recording studio.

So, what is a budget electric guitar, anyway?

To me, a budget guitar is not the same thing as a cheap guitar. There are plenty of cheap, low-quality instruments out there. You’ll never see me recommending those, not even to beginners. These days, there are so many excellent lower-priced instruments on the market that there really is no excuse to purchase some piece of junk you found for a bargain price at a big-box store.

There are also some outstanding electric guitars for beginners available. That's not what I'm talking about either, though the instruments you'll read about in this article would be great to start out on.

To me, budget guitars are instruments that are super affordable, and still bring a whole lot to the table when it comes to sound, performance and quality. They are a cut above beginner’s instruments, but not quite up to the level of pro gear.

In short, budget guitars give you whole lot of bang for your buck.

This article looks at what I think are your top options when it comes to affordable electric guitars. For serious beginners, these instruments will take you a long way. For intermediate players, they are an uber-affordable way to expand your collection, or move up from that crummy no-name starter guitar that Aunt Bernice gave you for your last birthday.

So let’s look at some guitars!

Epiphone Les Paul Standard

The Gibson Les Paul is a classic, and one of the best guitars you could ever own, but with a price tag of several thousand dollars it sure isn’t a budge instrument! But Gibson won’t leave you hanging. They offer awesome, affordable versions of their most classic instruments through their Epiphone brand.

This is a Les Paul built to the specs and quality standards of the people who invented the Les Paul!

As any true Les Paul should, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard features a mahogany body with a maple top, and set mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. Two Epi Alnico Classic Humbuckers, controlled via a pair of volume and tone controls and a 3-way switch, make up the electronics package.

This guitar looks and sounds a whole lot like the Gibson version it is meant to emulate, and it’s one of the best bargains out there.

For those interested in the Les Paul thing it is important to note that you have several budget options in the Epiphone lineup. The Les Paul Studio is a step down from the Standard, the most notable differences being open-coil humbuckers and the lack of a maple top and binding.

Or you can take a step on the other direction and go with the Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO. It’s a significant bump in price, but in quality as well.

Hear the Les Paul Standard in This Epiphone Demo

Squier by Fender Classic Vibe Stratocaster

Right up there with the Les Paul is the Fender Stratocaster. Fender is where it all started when it comes to the solid-body electric guitar, and today’s American-made Stratocaster is one of the finest instruments in the world. They are amazing guitars for players with deeper pockets, but if you are on a budget you need to look elsewhere.

How about a Squier Classic Vibe Strat? They're real Stratocasters made under Fender's Squier brand name, with a few corners cut to bring them down to a price that’s more affordable for many musicians.

Like their legendary Fender namesake, they feature alder bodies and a maple necks for that classic Stratocaster rip. There's a '50s version, and a '60s version, each with slightly different specs. The '50s Classic Vibe Strat takes you back to early days of Fender, where the '60s model captures the golden era of Hendrix, Clapton and the like.

The headstock says Squier, but don't let that fool you into thinking this isn't an amazing guitar. For players on a budget, it might be the perfect choice.

On the other hand, if you are into the Strat thing and feel like you need a higher-quality instrument but still don't want to break the bank, you may also want to check out the Standard Stratocaster, or the American Special Series.

Schecter Omen 6

When it comes to modern metal, Schecter is a guitar company that has really risen to the top of the heap in recent years. Their designs don't yet have the history of the other instruments in this review, but they have developed a solid reputation for quality gear and excellent attention to detail.

The Schecter Omen comes in a few different versions, but the basic model is pretty darn good. It’s a solid guitar that sounds and plays a whole lot better than you’d expect for the price.

This is not only my favorite budget guitar for metal, but one of my favorite all-around inexpensive guitars. In fact, I have one in my collection and couldn't be happier with it! You can read my full review here.

The Omen feature a basswood body with an elegant arch top, a maple neck and a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard. The pickups are Schecter’s Diamond Plus and the bridge is a Tune-o-matic with string-thru body.

Also consider: If you are into metal, think about the Schecter Omen 7, a super-affordable 7-string built in the Omen mold.

The Schecter Omen 6
The Schecter Omen 6

Epiphone G-400 PRO

Epiphone’s G-400 electric guitars are affordable versions of Gibson’s SG design. Like the Epi Les Paul, it gives you the chance to own a rock classic for a price that will still allow you to buy groceries for the next few months.

The Gibson SG actually started out as a re-imagining of the Les Paul design, but today it has a life of its own. The design is simpler than that of a Les Paul, but the SG still commands serious tone.

The G-400 has a mahogany body and set neck with a rosewood fingerboard. The pickups are Epiphones Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers, and the electronics are a volume and tone control for each pickup with a 3-way switch. There is also the push-pull coil tap design, a nice feature for a guitar in this price range.

So why would you choose the SG over the Les Paul? When comparing Gibsons there is a definite difference in sound, but when we’re talking about the Epiphone Les Paul Standard vs the Epiphone G-400 really it comes down to style. To me, the Les Paul is more elegant, where the SG has more attitude.

Check Out the Epiphone G-400 PRO

Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster

Before the Stratocaster, there was the Telecaster. Well, technically it was called the Broadcaster back then. The simple design that Leo Fender imagined over 60 years ago has changed little over the years, and the Telecaster is still one of top guitars in the world.

In this case we’re looking at the Squier Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster. Squier is Fender’s budget brand, and they build Fender-style instruments for beginners and those of us who are watching our pennies.

The Classic Vibe ‘50s Strat aims to recapture the essence of those early Fenders.

It has a pine body with a maple neck and fingerboard, a pair of Custom Vintage-Style Single-Coil Telecaster pickups, and even a vintage-style 3-saddle bridge.

It’s a guitar that captures the style and tone of the Fender Telecaster while retaining some modern updates, and remaining affordable.

You might also like the Fender Standard Telecaster, though it is a bit more expensive.

Jackson JS32 Rhoads

For decades the finest guitars for hard rock and heavy metal have come with the Jackson brand on their headstocks. The biggest names in metal music gravitated to the company back in the ‘80s and have never let go.

Of course those famous guitar players play instruments beyond the reach of many of us, but we can all afford the versions in the Jackson JS Series. These are epic Jackson designs presented in budget packages for all levels of guitarist.

The Rhoads is one of Jackson’s best-known design, and the JS32 version is perfect for anyone into classic metal, thrash, hard rock or today’s more extreme styles. It features a basswood body, maple neck with 24-fret rosewood fingerboard, hot Jackson humbuckers and a choice of a Floyd-Rose-style double-locking tremolo or Tune-o-matic-style bridge.

Also consider: Check out some of the other amazing instruments in the Jackson JS32 lineup!

Jackson's JS32 Rhoads Demo

Choose Your Guitar!

You may have already noticed this, but I’ve purposely chosen six distinctly different styles of guitar in my recommendations above. If you snoop around you will no doubt find other affordable instruments in each of these styles, but I feel these are your best bets.

While of course it is true that you can use any guitar for any purpose, some of these designs excel in specific style of music.

  • The Les Paul design is a benchmark of rock greatness, but it’s also a super flexible guitar that can handle pretty much any style you throw at it.
  • The Stratocaster is another iconic and versatile instrument, but with a decidedly different tone than the Les Paul.
  • The Telecaster is a staple in country music and known for its distinctive twang. It’ll work for rock and blues too, but doesn’t quite have the versatility of the Strat.
  • The G-400, or SG, is a rock ‘n’ roll machine, perfect for all forms of hard-driving rock.
  • The Omen 6 is made for modern metal, with a deep and resonant tone. Detune it and put it through a high-gain amp for best results.
  • The Jackson Rhoads is built for shred, hard rock and heavy metal, with a fast neck, hot pickups and Jackson attitude.

So, which guitar you choose depends on who you are, what kind of music you want to excel at, and what you want to accomplish. You can’t go wrong with any of the above, but the choice isn’t easy! Have fun picking out the best budget electric guitar for you and your style!

Affordable Electric Guitars

Which Budget Guitar Do You Like Best?

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