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Best Starter Electric Guitars for Adults and Serious Beginners

Updated on February 11, 2016
Guitar Gopher profile image

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

Epiphone Les Paul Studio: A Great Starter Guitar for an Adult Beginner!
Epiphone Les Paul Studio: A Great Starter Guitar for an Adult Beginner!

Guitars for Serious Beginners

When you are a beginner at anything there is always a steep learning curve. For a kid choosing a starter guitar the terminology and sheer number of instruments can be pretty overwhelming. It’s no different for adults, but as an older guitar student you do have a few things in your favor.

For one thing, many kids are at the mercy of parents who don’t truly believe they will stick with the instrument, and go out of buy the least-expensive starter guitar they can find. I always say quality matters a great deal in a beginner’s instrument, and a well-made guitar that is easy to play will mean a new student is more likely to succeed.

When a parent hands a kid a tree branch with strings and tells them to go practice, often times their guitar career is doomed from the beginning!

As an adult guitar student you will have no such problem. You are in control of your finances, and you know what you want to accomplish as a new guitarist. Your destiny as a musician is truly in your own hands.

You’ve also been around long enough to know what kind of music you like. Maybe you’ve always been inspired by a certain band or guitar player, and its finally time to step up and make your dreams come true.

So, what are you waiting for? The time to start playing guitar is now!

How Much Should You Spend?

For kids starting out on guitar I usually recommend electric guitars in the $200 range. As an adult beginner you many want a higher-quality instrument, but of course budget is always a concern. In this article I’ll give you a few different options in different price ranges, and let you know the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision.

You may recognize these instruments. I’ve chosen to focus on two of the most popular guitars in the world for this article. The Les Paul and Stratocaster are not only excellent instruments, but I think they offer the widest array of possibilities for beginning guitarists. Whether in rock, metal, jazz, country, blues, or just about anything else, the Strat and Les Paul have proven themselves time and again.

The guitars you’ll see here are budget versions of some very expensive classic instruments. They are authorized copies, made to the high standards of the parent companies that make the big-time instruments. And, they make amazing starter and mid-level guitars.

Let’s check out some gear!

Epiphone Les Paul PlusTop PRO

The Gibson Les Paul is a legendary guitar, and musicians in just about every genre you can think of have used it to get the sound they need. Of course a Gibson Les Paul is beyond the price range of most beginning guitar players.

But Epiphone is a company that is owned by Gibson, and they do a nice job of offering a quality guitar modeled after the Gibson version, for a fraction of the price.

This means everything Epiphone does needs to be up to Gibson’s standards!

The Epiphpone Les Paul PlusTop PRO is among the top guitars in its price range. It looks almost just like a Gibson, unless you know the subtle differences. But where it really shines is in its performance. This has always been a good guitar, but in recent years Epiphone has made some changes that really bump it up a notch.

Along with improved electronics and hardware, the Epi now features Epiphones ProBucker pickups, which have proven very impressive even to veteran guitar players like me. Other features include the Tune-o-matic bridge with stop-bar tailpiece, which means solid tuning stability, and a pretty “PLUS” top.

The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is really a mid-level guitar, but for an adult beginner it will take you a long way before you need to upgrade to something better.

Epiphone ProBucker Pickups Impress Guitar Experts

Epiphone Les Paul Studio

If you really like the Les Paul thing but the Standard Epiphone model is a bit out of your price range, think about the Epi Les Paul Studio.

As are most Epiphones, the Studio is modeled after a Gibson classic. The Studio series from Gibson is designed to offer all the good stuff of the Les Paul for a lower price.

You may notice Les Pauls are somewhat ornate guitars, with nice binding around the body, block fretboard inlays, chrome pickup covers and attractive tops. The Epi Les Paul Studio skips all of that, and gives you the bare-bones of what you need.

Like the Standard model, it features a mahogany body and neck, rosewood fingerboard and the same two-humbucker layout. However, the pickups here are open-coil Alnico Classic humbuckers, which are good quality but a step down from the ProBuckers.

In the Studio you get a quality guitar that isn’t quite up to the level of the Standard, but still pretty darn good. Plus, by choosing the Studio you shave a big chunk of cash off the price tag. For the budget-minded, it is a great choice.

Epiphone Les Paul Performance Pack

If you are on an even tighter budget, of if you aren’t totally convinced you’ll stick with this guitar idea, consider a starter pack. When you start playing guitar you need an instrument, but you also need an amp, cable, strap, picks, a gig bag, extra strings and maybe some materials to help you learn the thing. You get all of that in a starter kit, in one package.

The guitar is the Epihone LP Special II LTD, a Les Paul-style guitar that sounds better than it should for the price. The pack also includes a 15-watt Electra amp and all the accessories you need to get playing today. It will provide you with a solid starting point, and you can upgrade components as you go along.

If you want to save money and time and just grab a quality starter kit all in one shot, going with something like the Epiphone starter pack is a smart idea. Epiphone has a few more guitar packs in their lineup, so be sure to check them all out before making a choice.

Epiphone Starter Packs

Fender Standard Stratocaster

Like the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Statocaster has really made its mark in the music world. While the Standard Stratocaster is technically a Fender, this is not the same guitar that the pros play.

There is a subtle but important distinction between American-made Fender Standard Stratocasters, and plain ol’ Standard Strats. The former is the flagship of Fender’s lineup, and made in America to the highest of quality standards.

The latter is a great guitar, but features downgraded components and is made in Fender’s factory in Mexico. These are often called “Made in Mexico” or “MIM” Strats.

What does this mean to you? Honestly, the bottom line is that by choosing a Standard MIM Strat you will land an amazing guitar for around half of what you’d pay for the American version. Some guitarists even insist they would never part with their MIM Fender, even for an American Strat.

Like the Epiphone Les Paul Standard this is a guitar that's affordable, and these are the top two guitars in the intermediate price range. The Strat has three single-coil pickups (SSS) which, compared to the Les Paul dual humbuckers, will give it a crisper, thinner sound and a wider choice of available tones.

Also note that there are versions of the Strat with one humbucker and two single-coil pickups (HSS), for the best of both worlds.

If you think it is tough choosing between the Les Paul and Strat as a beginner, just know that it never gets any easier. I’ve been playing over 30 years and I still find it hard to pick a favorite.

Fender Standard Stratocaster
Fender Standard Stratocaster

Squier by Fender Vintage Modified Strat

Squier is to Fender as Epiphone is to Gibson. They are a company owned by Fender, and they make budget versions of classic Fender guitars. Squier guitars are generally aimed at beginners and young players, but when the Vintage Modified Series hit the scene experienced guitarists took notice.

Many guitarists agree that the Vintage Modified Series offers excellent value for the price, and some are even comparable to Standard-series Fenders.

For a beginner, this means your money will go a lot further, and you can grab a quality instrument for the price of starter guitar.

There are a few different models in the Vintage Modified lineup, and typically they come in around half the cost of a Standard MIM Fender.

Like Standard Fenders you can find the in SSS or HSS pickup configurations.

You may also wish to look up the Classic Vibe series. Though they are slightly more expensive than the Vintage Modified Squiers, both are tremendous values for beginner or intermediate guitarists.

Further reading: Squier Classic Vibe vs Vintage Modified Strats

Hear the Squier Vintage Modified Strat HSS

Squier by Fender Starter Packs

Squier has starter kits for beginners too. The come with the Affinity Stratocaster which is quite a step down from the guitars listed above, but you can save a few bucks by choosing an all-in-one package.

However, the Fender Frontman amp is a great feature of this starter kit. It’s not the rig you are going to blow away arenas with, but when you move on a larger amp you’ll probably want to keep it around as a practice amp. That adds some great value to an already solid starter pack.

Like the Epiphone kit, you get a strap, cable, picks, gig bag, tuner and some learning materials.

Choosing a starter kit for your first guitar won’t line you up with the best gear, but it will save you some money. Just be wary of choosing no-name brands. I recommend the Squier and Epiphone kits because, in my opinion, they provide the best values of any starter packs on the market.

Your First Guitar

As an adult beginner looking for your first electric guitar you have a lot of options. Your journey as a guitarist starts with picking out your first guitar. I’ve given you some solid starter guitars to choose from at several different price points. Though I think the Strat and Les Paul are your best bets in mid and budget-level guitars, there are of course other brands worth consideration.

Good luck, whatever you choose. And congratulations on taking the plunge into the world of guitar!

Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO
Epiphone Les Paul Standard PlusTop PRO

Here are a few more resources to help you make your choice:

Jackson JS Series

  • If you are into metal, and you know that is where you are going to concentration your efforts, check out the Jackson JS Series. Jackson, as you may know, is a legendary name in the metal world, and over the years more shredders and metalheads have probably looked to Jackson more than any other brand. The JS Series offers some very affordable versions of their classic designs.

Electric Guitars for Intermediate Players

  • As an adult beginner you may want to skip the starter guitars altogether and get right to the good stuff. Intermediate-level instruments are good enough for a band or recording situation, but not yet up to the level of pro gear. Some of these guitars were mentioned in this article, but here are a few more! For a serious beginner they are a smart choice, as you won’t need to upgrade your guitar so soon.

Budget Electric Guitars

  • This article is a list of instruments that I personally think are better than their price would indicate. Realistically, they are intermediate or low-intermediate guitars, but for serious beginner they are great options. No matter what your skill level you don’t need to spend a lot of grab a quality guitar, a point proven by these instruments.

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    • Clarence Ragland profile image

      Clarence Ragland 2 years ago

      I elected to go with an Epiphone ES-335 Limited PRO for my very first electric guitar. I'm a total newbie, but I want to play blues guitar. This guitar appeals to me in that regard. If I get good enough, I'll look at a Les Paul in the future.

    • Guitar Gopher profile image
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      Guitar Gopher 2 years ago

      Nice choice, Clarence! Epiphone has a great reputation for semi-hollows, so you may never feel like you need to move up from your ES-335. Good luck and have fun learning guitar!

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