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The best cheap electric guitars 2021: our top picks for the best budget electric guitars under $/£500

Best cheap electric guitars 2021: our top picks for the best budget electric guitars under $/£500
(Image credit: Future)

The budget guitar price category has to be the most fiercely competitive, with more options than ever before from some of the biggest names in musical instruments. Whether you're looking for a budget-friendly Stratocaster, inexpensive hollow-body, or an affordable shred-guitar, you'll find it in this guide to the best cheap electric guitars. 

These cheap instruments used to be reserved for new players searching for a beginner's electric guitar, but with massive strides forward in quality control, they can now be a viable option for intermediate players looking to upgrade their first guitar or even pro players looking for a backup six-string. 

These guitars may not have all the bells and whistles of the high-end electric guitars on the market, but they aren't meant to compete with such luxury instruments. The purpose of these guitars is to provide fantastic playability, great looks, and all for a song. 

In this buying guide, we've outlined our choices for the 10 best cheap electric guitars that are available for you to order right now, for under $/£500. So without further ado, let's dive in.

Best cheap electric guitars: Our top picks

As we said before, this particular price bracket is more saturated than ever, making it very difficult to know where to begin. For absolute beginners or the player looking for a budget S-type guitar, the Yamaha Pacifica 112V is the perfect starting point. Robust build quality, elegant looks, and a surprisingly good tone for the price - what's not to love? 

Perhaps versatility is what you're looking for? Well, in that case, you can't go wrong with the PRS SE Standard 24. This Swiss army knife of an instrument can produce almost any tone you can think of at a seriously low price - all while managing to retain the high-quality PRS are known for. 

Best cheap electric guitars: Product guide & reviews

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1. Yamaha Pacifica 112V

The best cheap electric guitar with long-lasting appeal

Price: $299/£199/€277 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Alnico V bridge humbucker 2x Alnico V single coils | Controls: Volume, tone (with push-pull coil-split), 5-way selector switch | Hardware: Vintage-style vibrato with block saddle | Left-handed: Yes (Pacifica 112J) | Finish: Natural Satin, Old Violin Sunburst, Raspberry Red, Sonic Blue, Black, Silver Metallic

Ideal for beginners
Great design
Impressive build quality
Vibrato could be better

The Yamaha Pacifica has long proved a benchmark for quality and specification, and the 112V remains one of the best guitars for beginners. The 112 is far from fancy and simply concentrates on the bare necessities. Yet the construction is of excellent quality. Trust us, if looked after this will be a guitar for life. 

By design it's an altogether more modern, brighter and lighter take on a hot-rod Strat. But when we say brighter that doesn't mean overly shrill. In fact the bridge humbucker will surprise some, it's beefy without being too mid-range heavy and although the coil-split proves a little bland played clean, with a distortion boost it's a pretty useful gnarly and wiry rhythm voice. 

It's good to have the choice too when mixed with the middle pickup - switching between the full and split coil here is subtle but, especially with cleaner 'class A' amp voicings, there's enough character difference to be useable. 

The solo single-coils impress - plenty of percussion and with a little mid-range beef added from the amp these get you to the correct Texas toneland. Neck and middle combined produces a fine modern Strat-like mix - the added brightness will cut through a multi-FX patch nicely.

Read our full Yamaha Pacifica 112V review

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2. Gretsch G2622 Streamliner

Best cheap electric guitar for a real Gretsch vibe

Price: $449/£350/€478 | Body: Laminated maple, semi-hollow | Neck: Nato | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Broad'Tron humbuckers | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: Adjusto-Matic bridge, 'V' stoptail tailpiece | Left-handed: Yes: G2622LH | Finish: Walnut Stain, Black

Build-to-price ratio is very high
Broad sonic potential
Thicker-than-Gretsch tonality

The Streamliner concept is simple: to create more affordable Gretsch guitars without losing their specific DNA. Two new Broad'Tron humbuckers are controlled in classic Gretsch style by a three-way toggle selector switch on the bass side shoulder, a master volume on the treble side horn, and then a trio of controls by the treble-side f-hole for individual-pickup volume and master tone. 

The G2622's construction gives a different response and resonance to other new releases from Gretsch and, with these pickups, moves further from the Gretsch sound. And while its construction gives it a more solid, or at least ES-335, character, it's a little more airy and less punchy with a softer, squashier tonality. 

The beefier pickups certainly don't nail a classic Gretsch tonality – although if that's what you want, the full-size pickups are easy to replace – but they do broaden the sonic potential, especially for more gained styles, while staying close to the classic iconography. If you want a great-value semi-hollow, this is among the best electric guitars.

Read our full Gretsch G2622 Streamliner review

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3. PRS SE Standard 24

The most versatile cheap electric guitar available at this price

Price: $499/£475/€579 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x 85/15 'S' | Controls: Volume, tone (with push-pull coil-split), 3-way selector | Hardware: PRS vibrato, PRS tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Vintage Cherry, Tobacco Sunburst, Translucent Blue

Wide range of tones
Comfortable playing experience
Slightly loose vibrato arm fitting
Not the smoothest vibrato

You might expect PRS's budget take on its venerable Custom 24 to pale in comparison to the real deal, but that certainly isn't the case. Considering the price, this is one impressively put-together instrument; we scoured our review model for signs of the guitar's price tag, and all we could find was a slightly loose vibrato arm fitting – a minor point. 

Like the traditional USA-made Custom 24 design, there's no scratchplate, so the SE Standard 24's electronics are installed in a cavity. The non-locking SE-level tuners are smooth-handling, and visually, you'd struggle to distinguish the vibrato from top-end PRS guitars. 

The SE Standard isn't quite as refined or sleek a playing experience as PRS's S2 and above models, courtesy of the chunkier Wide Thin profile, higher action and slightly creaky vibrato response, but a more player-personal setup helps to rectify that. The tones are here, though: searing solos, toasty rhythms and coil-split quack are all within reach. At this price, it's an impressive performance from one of the best electric guitar brands in the market.

Read our full PRS SE Standard 24 review

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4. Epiphone ES-335 Dot

One of the best budget semi-hollow guitars

Price: $499/£279/€407 | Body: Laminated maple, semi-hollow | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Alnico Classic humbucker (neck), Alnico Classic Plus humbucker (bridge) | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, neck tone, bridge tone, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: LockTone Tune-O-Matic stopbar, Grover 18:1 tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Vintage Sunburst, Natural, Cherry, Ebony

Well-built and cool-looking
Versatile with usable tones
It's not a 'real' Gibson
Not a modern-feel neck

Near the beginning of Epiphone's thinline semi-acoustic range is 'The Dot', based on the timeless and legendary Gibson ES-335. The Dot feels comfortable to hold and play, and the neck, while by no means clubby, feels substantial in your palm, probably due to the 43mm width at the nut. Its slightly flattened C-profile increases marginally in depth further up the neck, making for a suitably vintage feel. 

An acoustic strum issues forth a pleasing, resonant ring. We'd wager that the Dot's all-maple construction has got something to do with that, but more obviously, the hollow bouts bolster the acoustic tone, inducing wry smiles to those listening. Before plugging in, listen to Ronny Jordan, then Noel Gallagher, then BB King, then George Harrison and John Lennon. It becomes immediately apparent that this style of guitar is hugely versatile. 

This Dot is no exception: the pickups, while not packing the punch of USA PAFs, offer everything form smooth and moody, front-position mellowness to screeching, bridge position rawk. It's one of the best electric guitars for jazz at this price point, too. The Dot looks fine, sounds great and plays great. To our minds, that's value for money indeed.

Read our full Epiphone ES-335 Dot review

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Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazzmaster on a white background

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Squier Classic Vibe '60s Jazzmaster headstock on a white background

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5. Squier Classic Vibe ‘60s Jazzmaster

Take a trip in Squier's time machine

Price: $399/£339 | Body: Poplar | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5” | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 21, Narrow Tall | Pickups: 2x Fender Designed Alnico Single-Coils | Controls: Lead Volume, Lead Tone, 3-way toggle, Rhythm circuit | Hardware: 6 saddle Vintage-Style bridge with non-locking floating Vibrato | Left-Handed: Yes | Finish: Olympic White, Daphne Blue, 3-Colour Sunburst, Sonic Blue

Great value for money
Solid build
Looks great
No jumbo frets

We’ve seen a bit of a Jazzmaster revival over the last few years, with anyone from Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys to Jim Root of Slipknot playing one. 

The Fender formula of a 25.5” scale length and single coil pickups is one that’s as old as the hills, but the offset design still feels modern over 60 years later.

The ‘60s Classic Vibe has an Indian Laurel fretboard adorned with era-appropriate Narrow Tall frets, which provide a slightly more old-school playing surface - a throwback to the early days of these iconic guitars - and the Fender-designed pickups offer up plenty of guts when needed. This Jazzmaster is a real swiss-army knife guitar, suitable for any age or ability. 

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Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Ibanez RG450DX

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Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Ibanez RG450DX

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6. Ibanez RG450DX

The best cheap electric guitars for speed players

Price: $399/£399 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5” | Fingerboard: Jatoba | Fret: 24 | Pickups: 2 x Quantum humbucker, 1 x Quantum single coil | Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector | Hardware: DL Tremolo bridge, locking nut | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Starlight Blue

Glorious neck
Loads of tones
Quality build
Not much

For many players, acquiring an Ibanez RG is a real rite of passage. This iconic range of super-strat shredders has been played by some of the biggest names in rock and metal over the years, and that appeal shows no sign of abating. The combination of super-thin neck and high-output humbuckers, in a lightweight body, makes for a guitar series that gives precise, technical styles of playing the perfect platform to shine.

The Ibanez RG450DX occupies that middle ground between entry-level and intermediate, and would make a superb workhorse or ‘step up the ladder’ for many players. The famous wafer-thin Wizard neck invites speedy legato licks, while there’s a surprising amount of versatility from the pickups. Sure, it’s a homage to a bygone era in metal, but it’s a darned good looking one at that.

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Best cheap electric guitars under $500: LTD EC-256

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Best cheap electric guitars under $500: LTD EC-256

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7. LTD EC-256

The best cheap electric guitar for rock and metal

Price: $449/£444/€490 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.75” | Fingerboard: Roasted Jatoba | Frets: 21 | Pickups: ESP-designed humbucker x 2 | Controls: 2 x volume, 1 x tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Tune-o-matic bridge | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: See-thru Purple Sunburst, Cobalt Blue, Snow White, Black Satin, Vintage Natural

Comfortable neck
Coil-tapping
Great sustain
Gloss finish is a fingerprint magnet

While the obvious choice for a Les Paul shape in this list would have been an Epiphone, we would veer more towards the superb LTD EC-256, particularly for rock and metal players. You get a slim-profile mahogany body and set neck, which deliver great sustain, and the ESP-designed humbuckers will cover a lot of ground tonally. 

What we liked about the EC-256 was the blank canvas it offers keen modders. As a base onto which you can add your own pickups, and tinker with other enhancements, the EC-256 is ready for whatever you can throw at it. We did have some slight reservations about the glossy finish, particularly on the neck, but that could be down to personal preference. Overall, there’s a lot to like about the LTD. 

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8. Squier Bullet Mustang HH

One of the best cheap electric guitars for new players on a tight budget

Price: $149/£120/€127 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24" | Fingerboard: Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x high-output humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Modern hardtail bridge, standard tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Imperial Blue, Black

Lightweight body
Comfortable neck and fingerboard
Short scale not won't suit big hands

This affordable signature model for Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith is an exemplary classic metal guitar for the money. It features a Jackson slim D profile neck with immaculately finished frets, while the oiled maple neck a joy to motor around on. Allied to the surprisingly good build quality, this imparts a premium feel to the SDX. 

Tonally, the body might not quite enjoy the snap and sparkle of Smith's alder-bodied American original, but basswood is a great tonewood anyway, particularly once you're piling on the gain. The bridge humbucker is plenty powerful, with just enough detail to prevent it sliding into the woolly morass suffered by many lower-end units, and the single coils give you more than a sniff of Strat flavour, making the SDX a versatile guitar indeed considering its heavy metal association. 

The Floyd Rose Special bridge also does a solid job of keeping you in tune, no matter how crazy you get. A versatile guitar capable of covering many bases, and perfect for nailing your favourite Maiden tunes? What more could you need, bar the white high tops and tight strides?

Read our full Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX review

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9. Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT Single-Cut

The best cheap electric guitar for old-school solidbody tones

Price: $449/£432/€466 | Body: Chambered mahogany body with laminated-maple top | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Black walnut | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Black Top Broad'Tron humbuckers | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, tone, master volume, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: Anchored Adjusto-Matic bridge, V-stoptail tailpiece | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Black, Dark Cherry Metallic, Casino Gold

Fantastic, responsive pickups
Incredible value
Classic look
Control layout is a tad awkward

This is a mahogany single-cut that offers a genuine alternative to the Les Paul approach without trying to ape it. It's packing two Broad’Tron pickups - a humbucker-sized Filter’Tron-style (PAF warmth and single-coil brightness). If you wrinkle your nose at some of the darker character in humbucker-loaded single-cuts, these could be a surprising treat. 

The responsiveness of the Broad’Trons here yields impressive harmonic detail when we test it with both tube amp drive and a Tube Screamer - for expressive, sustaining violin-esque lead work it’s inspiring and touch-sensitive. But get into traditional AC/DC and even metal territory and eyebrows start raising; it sounds like something that can really chase a Les Paul in the fat-but-articulated stakes. 

Gretsch has pulled a classic style into the present here with wider potential appeal, because the sheer versatility and finish quality for the money makes this the kind of deal that you’ll always find space for in the house.

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Harley Benton

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Harley Benton

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Harley Benton

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Harley Benton

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Harley Benton

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Harley Benton

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Harley Benton

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10. Harley Benton SC-Junior

A classic one-pickup single cut guitar with surprising depths and price

Price: $449/£179/€199 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany | Scale: 24.7" | Fingerboard: Black walnut | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Black Top Broad'Tron humbuckers | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, tone, master volume, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: Anchored Adjusto-Matic bridge, V-stoptail tailpiece | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Black, Dark Cherry Metallic, Casino Gold

Classic looks and mahogany build 
P-90 offers surprising diversity
Our test guitar was light at around 6.8lbs 
The higher profile doesn't allow the string to pickup height to be low enough to get the best from the P-90

Harley Benton has a proven reputation for great value, but even so, this LP Junior-style electric is a real bargain. While its ingredients of a mahogany build and single Roswell P-90 single-coil pickup seem simple, they make for a streamlined and classic look here and actually provide a surprising range of tones.

The SC-Junior's responsive tone and volume controls effectively allow you to move from your overdriven amp sound to cleaner territory without touching the amp or any pedals. Combined with a wonderfully playable neck experience, this is a great guitar for newcomers or anyone who wants to try a more streamlined approach with electric guitar. 

Best cheap electric guitars: Buying advice

Close up of Yamaha Pacifica 112V in Sonic Blue finish.

(Image credit: Future)

There are a few things to consider when you're looking for the best cheap electric guitar. Even though this is seen as an "entry-level" category, there's still a lot to think about. From construction to features, performance to finish, there are significant differences between all of these guitars. 

Primarily, the tonewoods used for the best budget guitars are the same. It's common to find guitars made of poplar, basswood, and mahogany. Where these guitars tend to differ is in the construction methods. The bodies of these entry-level guitars can be made out of multiple pieces of wood, whereas higher-end guitars tend to be made out of one or two pieces. 

Of course, as you'd expect, these guitars will also use lower-grade components and hardware. With that being said, with the massive leap forward in quality control, it's getting hard to find an entry-level guitar with a terrible set of pickups or lousy hardware - most guitars on the market are of a decent standard these days. 

At the lower end of the price spectrum, we do tend to see the occasional fret issue. This may be because corners have been cut in order to keep the cost as low as possible. For a beginner, these elements will not likely be an issue. That's not to say there isn't value to be had at the lower end, but it pays to do your research and, where possible, to try out a few models before you buy.

By rising ever so slightly above the $/£500 price point and you'll bag yourself an instrument that exceeds the normal parameters of a budget guitar. Fender, for example, offers Mexican-made versions of its famous Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars for not much more than $/£500, so you can buy into that iconic branding at a reasonable price. It is also worth looking at the higher-end of the Squier range, as many of these guitars feature some premium upgrades at a much lower cost.