26 of the best budget electric guitars in the world today
Beginner guitarists and those on a tight budget have never had it so good. Whereas once the budget electric guitar market was awash with poorly made knock-offs, rising standards and production innovations have seen the big brands' Korea- and China-based factories turning out stunning models for the money.
Elsewhere, micro-brands like Chapman and Manson (the latter in alliance with Cort) have been putting Far East facilities to their own use, designing affordable instruments in response to players' feedback - offering great value for money, without the big name premium.
In this gallery, we've gathered a selection of electric guitars that we reckon offer the best bang for the buck in the sub £500 / $750 market. You may recognise some of perennial budget classics (hello - again - to the trusty Yamaha Pacifica), but there's a raft of high-scoring options out there for the more adventurous...
If you have a bit more cash, check out...
A solid mahogany body, set mahogany neck, loads of Trev Wilkinson designed goodies - including pickups and tuners - and classic looks to kill.
There can be no doubt that the V100 is an awful lot of guitar for a bafflingly small amount of money. An absolute must-try for any rock classicist on a budget.
"This is a proper instrument and the price of £299 compares favourably indeed with the Epiphone LP100."
FULL REVIEW: Vintage Icon V100 review
The original Pacer was born in 1983 at the height of the shred boom, and Kramer - now owned by Gibson - has reissued the original thousand-note-per-minute hero.
Great looks, phenomenal playability (thanks to a slim and wide maple neck), and perfect for hardcore shredders (check out the Floyd Rose, for all your dive-bombing needs,) players in search of speed will certainly want to try this one.
BUY: Kramer Pacer currently available from:
The TE-212 is hardly going to win any points in the originality department, but this guitar possesses an unassuming charm that will win over many naysayers.
The TE-212 playing experience impresses, too. Aside from a touch of buzz around the lower frets, the maple neck and fingerboard are smooth and satisfying to whip around, and combined with the resonant body, the overall feeling is one of robustness - this is a guitar that's built for the road.
"This UK-exclusive guitar has tweaks and tradition in all the right places, and that's just our cup of T."
FULL REVIEW:LTD TE-212
Sterling by MusicMan SUB AX3
Just look at it: the Sterling is a thing of beauty, with jaw-dropping looks (check out that quilted top-style finish) and the sort of playability that will make any shredder worth their salt have to give it some serious consideration.
The Axis remains a classic design that's well worthy of your attention. And thanks to Sterling by Music Man's thrifty SUB series, almost any guitarist can afford a slice of the action.
"The AX3 is a joy to play, and we'd heartily recommend it for a beginner who wants to hone their chops on an quality value axe with an 80s vibe."
FULL REVIEW: Sterling by MusicMan SUB AX3 review
If you're a sucker for Gibson looks (as most of us are) but can't quite stretch to the occasionally wallet-shattering prices of American made guitars, then Epiphone is the brand for you.
Epi has been turning out affordable, toneful guitars for a long time, and has become extremely good at replicating high-end Gibsons. Take the SG400: a heartbreaking, hard-rocking budget SG that wouldn't do Angus a disservice.
Epiphone Les Paul Special II
A Les Paul stripped of all frills and boiled down to the basics, the Special II is the sort of guitar that garage band dreams are made of.
Quite apart from being mind-bendingly affordable, it's a massive sounding guitar that retains everything that is rock-worthy about a Les Paul but shedding any shiny extras. Check out our review of the recent Slash 'AFD' signature version below...
"What it lacks in tone, it more than makes up for in value for money. Beginners could do a lot worse than this affordable Slash-er."
FULL REVIEW: Epiphone Slash 'AFD' Les Paul Special II review
Squier Bullet Strat
Need a Strat but are strapped for cash? The Squier Bullet is right this way, sir...
With all the iconic Leo Fender design, build quality and tone - but none of the pesky Morth American build costs - you can bring a Bullet Strat home for less cash than you'd spend on a good night in the bar. A no brainer for anyone in need of instant mojo.
Essentially a re-sized version of the iconic ES-335 shape, the ES-339 is an archtop that oozes class (if class was low-rent enough to do something like ooze).
A proper, beautifully crafted archtop with pinup good looks and the sort of tones that shouldn't be legal in guitars priced at this level, you'd be mad not to give it a go if you're on the hunt for something new.
Epiphone ES-335 Dot
Probably the best semi-acoustic around for the money, The Dot is becoming a legend in its own right.
Taking the ES-335 formula and making it an affordable reality for players who can't get enough f-holes in their lives, The Dot, simply put, needs to be played to be believed. A beast of an instrument with a veneer of respectability.
"If you fancy a no-nonsense semi with more than a whiff of background and expertise, cast your eyes in Epiphone's direction. The Dot is a gem."
FULL REVIEW: Epiphone ES-335 Dot review
Yamaha Pacifica 112V
One of the longest-standing, all-out brilliant budget guitars out there, the Pacifica remains one of the guitars to beat at this price point.
A brilliant player with a tone that sparkles, finished with attention to detail and wrapped up in a very pretty looking package, it's essentially the perfect beginner guitar. Don't make the mistake of not trying one.
"The Pacifica 112V remains not only the perfect start-up guitar for the serious student, but also a solid, reliable choice whatever your age or ability."
FULL REVIEW: Yamaha Pacifica 112V review
Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline
For a lot of players, 1972 was the year the Telecaster Thinline grew up; the model was originally introduced to bring down the weight of the Tele, following a shortage of Fender's go-to light ash bodies, but the addition of two Fender Wide Range pickups transformed it into its own entity.
Squier has now seen fit to introduce the '72 to its own range, and it looks the business, with white pearloid scratchplate, finely carved f-hole and Fender-embossed humbuckers.
"We can't fault the Thinline. Its price tag is seriously competitive, and considering the guitar's attention to detail and expensive-sounding tones, we implore you to give it a go."
Created by Youtube sensation Rob Chapman, Chapman guitars has been a phenomenon, and it was the ML-1 that led the charge.
Described as a 'Swiss Army knife' of a guitar that will give you everything from shimmering clean tones through to brutal riffage (thanks in no small part to the Chapman-designed pickups), expect first-rate build quality and plenty of bang for your buck.
"The ML-1 is a worthy competitor to similarly spec'd guitars from the likes of LTD and Schecter. It's beautifully put together and finished, and represents some great ideas, well executed."
FULL REVIEW: Chapman ML-1 review
PRS SE Tremonti Standard
As the second artist to receive a PRS signature model (after Carlos Santana), Mark Tremonti has become an important ambassador for the brand, and the Tremonti SE's debut in 2003 bestowed an affordable weapon on guitarists of a heavier inclination.
The Tremonti Standard retains the key features of the SE model, with black binding around the Platinum-finished body and PRS SE Treble and Bass humbuckers.
"The SE Standard may have the versatility, but when the Tremonti Standard rocks hard, there's little in this price range that can touch it."
FULL REVIEW: PRS SE Tremonti Standard review
PRS SE Standard 24
You might expect PRS' Korean-built SE Standard to pale in comparison to the American-made S2 Standard 24, but on first impression, that certainly isn't the case.
The tones are here: searing solos, toasty rhythms and coil-split quack are all within reach, and while they don't quite have the shimmering top-end of the S2's pickups, at this price it's an impressive performance.
"The SE Standard 24 delivers, equipping its owner with a comfortably playable guitar and a huge range of tones, which you're unlikely to outgrow in a hurry."
FULL REVIEW: PRS SE Standard 24 review
Manson MBC-1 Matthew Bellamy Signature
The MBC-1 is designed to hit a completely different price point to Mr Bellamy's upper-tier Manson creations, and although still designed by both Matt Bellamy and Hugh Manson, it's made in Indonesia by guitar-making giant Cort.
However, a quick strum lets you know this is a Manson through and through: it rings like a bell, the sort of acoustic response you'd expect from a quality guitar, but not always at this price. Game on.
"Bellamy, Manson and Cort have created one of the finest rock axes at this price. Let's hope this is just the beginning of a significant partnership."
FULL REVIEW: Manson MBC-1 Matthew Bellamy Signature review
BUY: Manson MBC-1 Matthew Bellamy Signature currently available from:
Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster
However you feel about its giraffe-esque appendage, the Baritone Jazz is one suave axe. The Antigua Burst finish is divisive, sure, but the matching scratchplate, vintage-style headstock decal and block inlays give the guitar a touch of 60s mojo.
We've played a lot of Squiers and a lot of baritones, and the Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster is the perfect marriage of the two. This 60s-inspired design just feels right, from the knurled chrome knobs to the pickup selector placement.
"Considering the faultless build quality, toneful Duncan Designed pickups and reasonable street prices, you'll struggle to find a baritone that offers more for the money."
FULL REVIEW: Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster review
G&L Tribute Series Fallout
The Tribute Fallout is based on G&L's SC-2, which was introduced in 1983 and used by the likes of Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh from New Wave kings Devo. Appropriately, it's a bit of an oddball.
With a humbucker in the bridge - tapped via popping the coil-tap in the treble pot - and a P-90 in the neck, the Fallout is a weird hybrid, like a victory lap for all of G&L's best ideas.
"A super-freak with Leo Fender's fingerprints on it; don't let it fade into obscurity again."
FULL REVIEW: G&L Tribute Series Fallout review
G&L Tribute Series ASAT Deluxe II
The G&L ASAT body shape is over 30 years old and is one of G&L's most-loved, most-recognisable silhouettes.
The ASAT Deluxe II plays quick and sounds lush and thick. It's also something of an individualist, too; few guitars at this price can compete tone-wise.
"Those who might have been considering an SG, LP or similar owe it to themselves to try this first."
FULL REVIEW: G&L Tribute Series ASAT Deluxe II review
Schecter Stealth C-1
With its Satin Black finish and black hardware, Schecter's Stealth C-1 certainly lives up to its name.
You'll be well aware of it when you strap it on, though, thanks to the slim yet weighty slab of mahogany that makes up the flawlessly finished body. Combine that with the mahogany set neck, and even unplugged, sustain is impressive.
"All in all, this is an impressively well-made and great-playing axe at any price - and one you won't want to keep hidden."
FULL REVIEW: Schecter Stealth C-1 review
Farida Freddie Cowan GNA
This gorgeous guitar is part of Farida's Artist Designed range. The Vaccines' Freddie Cowan is the artist doing the designing in this case.
Under the hood is an ingenuous switching system that allows you to combine the three Farida Jazz humbuckers in several different ways.
"If you fancy an affordable slice of unusual retro chic, you'd have to search far and wide to find a better option than this."
FULL REVIEW: Farida Freddie Cowan GNA review
Ibanez Roadcore RC320M
Despite its retro aesthetic, the Roadcore RC320M is part of a relatively new line from Ibanez.
Don't let that slim mahogany body and funky offset waist fool you, nor the UFO-style knobs, classy double binding or cool aged finish: this is a modern player's guitar, built for the road.
"If you're after an axe that's off the beaten track in both looks and sounds, a Roadcore makes for a worthy travelling companion."
FULL REVIEW: Ibanez Roadcore RC320M review
DiVill By Italia M100
Wits smooth single-cut contours and twin humbuckers, you might think you already know what the M100 plays and sounds like. Picking the guitar up shatters any preconceptions. Its agathis body makes for a lightweight guitar that's ready to swing around on stage - and trust us, you'll want to take this one out on the road.
"The neat tonal touches and body tweaks could just make the M100 the single-cut for players who don't like single-cuts."
FULL REVIEW: DiVill By Italia M100 review
Squier Vintage Modified Cabronita Telecaster w/ Bigsby
Following the wonderfully simple, ultra-desirable Custom Shop La Cabronita Especial's launch in 2009, demand has dictated the availability of lower priced options and now we find ourselves surrounded by Cabronitas in a variety of different orientations and denominations.
If you like raunchy retro rock 'n' roll, Squier's Vintage Modified Cabronita Telecaster w/ Bigsby is a no-brainer and a worthy addition to your collection. You might even find yourself picking it up more often than some of your more expensive toys...
"Rock 'n' roll thrills, hot-rod cool and a stable Bigsby for truly daft money? Hell, yes!"
Jackson Adrian Smith SDX
When Adrian Smith's signature model was released by Jackson, few could have possibly denied its workmanlike aura or its 'girl next door' good looks. As a USA Jackson, its price was on the thick end of £1,800, leaving the guitar out of reach for all but the most well-heeled of Maiden fanatics.
Luckily for us, the good folks at the pointy headstock company have come up with a more affordable version. It's a versatile guitar capable of covering many bases - and perfect for nailing your favourite 'Maiden tunes.
"A bit of a game changer in the sub-£500 guitar market. The SDX could convince you it's worth double the street price: no small feat."
FULL REVIEW: Jackson Adrian Smith SDX review
Since it was launched in 2012, there's been massive interest in Peavey's AT-200: the first digital guitar to tune itself at the push of a knob. The technology used to achieve this has been developed by Antares.
It seems more than logical to apply this tuning system to an electric guitar, and the Peavey AT-200 proves scarily accurate, even if the real-world guitar is out of tune and intonated incorrectly.
"The AT-200 may prove revolutionary for certain players."
FULL REVIEW: Peavey AT-200 review
Well-heeled purists might sneer about the 'jack of all trade' nature of HSS electrics, but for mere mortals, the versatility and value is a major draw and with the Ibanez SA160FM splicing sounds for under £300, we've got plenty of both.
The humbucker offers a joyous, woody, character-rich thump, but what's really cool is when you take advantage of Ibanez's flexible switching system.
"It's a little pricey for an entry-level axe. But if you're serious about braving the road or studio with just one electric, this is well worth the wedge."
FULL REVIEW: Ibanez SA160FM review