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10 best cheap electric guitars under $/£500 2020: budget electric guitars for all

10 best cheap electric guitars under $/£500 2020: budget electric guitars for all
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The best cheap electric guitars under £/$500 are usually targeted at new players searching for a reliable beginner’s electric guitar, but they could also be the best electric guitar choice for less for intermediate players who want an upgrade on their first guitar. These cheap electric guitars offer good playability for less, and suit a range of genres including rock, blues, metal and indie.

In terms of price and features, they’re in stark contrast to something like the best high-end electric guitars, for example, but then they aren’t meant to compete with such luxury six-strings. 

When it comes to the best cheap electric guitars under £/$500, right now there are more options than ever from some of the biggest names in musical instruments. Whatever your playing style, cheap electric guitars nowadays offer far more in the way of performance, playability and tone than they ever have.

With Black Friday on the horizon, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new sub-$/£500 electric guitar until the Black Friday music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers right through to Black Friday itself. 

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Gone are the days of cheap electric guitars with the playing action of a suspension bridge. Instead, quality control methods have ensured giant strides forward, so choosing a guitar in this bracket no longer feels like you have to make certain compromises.

In this expert buying guide, we've outlined our choices for the 10 best cheap electric guitars under £/$500 that are available for you to order right now, so that you can start playing guitar as soon as possible. But first, let's take a sneak peek at our top choice... 

What are the best cheap electric guitars under £/$500?

This particular price bracket is more saturated than ever, with competition between brands driving huge improvements in standards across the entire range. Guitars from factories in the Far East are now displaying the levels of quality and performance once reserved for much more expensive models, and all of us guitarists are better off for it. 

For this money, you’re spoilt for choice. Certain old favourites always tick the right boxes, with the Yamaha Pacifica 112V and PRS SE Standard 24 always winning out. While the Yamaha is the perfect guitar to learn on, the PRS makes for a superb step up, delivering versatility and amazing tones at a great price.

Best cheap electric guitars under £/$500: advice

When you’re looking for the best cheap electric guitar under $/£500, there are a few things to consider before you buy. Even within that price spectrum there are some significant differences in everything from construction to features and performance. Push towards the top of that price point and you’ll find models that exceed the normal parameters of a budget guitar. 

Fender, for example, offers Mexican-made versions of its famous Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars, so you can buy into that iconic branding at a reasonable price. The cannier buyers among us may be aware that a high-end Squier model may actually offer better fixtures and fittings for less money. 

Largely, the tone woods used in guitars at all ends of the spectrum are the same. A lump of mahogany is essentially the same, no matter where it’s used, right? Ok, there are some caveats to that statement, but the areas where guitars mostly tend to differ include the construction methods, pickups, hardware – like bridges, nuts and tuners – and in the overall levels of craftsmanship. 

We mentioned quality control earlier; this becomes apparent when you play one of the best cheap electric guitars ‘out of the box’. A well set-up, higher quality guitar will have better playability, perfect frets and will be free of buzzes across the fretboard. Or, at least, you can reasonably expect it to be. 

At the lower end of the price spectrum, it may be that certain corners have been cut in order to keep the cost as low as possible, or that certain factors need fine-tuning. 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. Let’s now take a look at some of the best cheap electrics under $/£500 to point you in the right direction.

Best cheap electric guitars under £/$500 to buy

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1. Yamaha Pacifica 112V

The best cheap electric guitar with long-lasting appeal

Launch price: $299 / £199 | 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 under £/$500 for a real Gretsch vibe

Launch price: $749 / £350 | 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 for under $500.

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

Launch price: $499 / £399 | 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 semi-hollow guitars under $500

Launch price: $499 / £279 | 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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Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Ibanez RG450DX

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Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Ibanez RG450DX

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5. Ibanez RG450DX

The best cheap electric guitar under £/$500 for speed players

Launch 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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6. Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline

Heavyweight tones in a lightweight body

Launch price: $499 / £406 | Body: Ash, semi-hollow | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 21 | Pickups: 2x Dual Wide Range humbuckers | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Strings-through-body Telecaster bridge with six saddles | Left-handed: No | Finish: 3-Color Sunburst, Natural

Fender Thinline tones, Squier price
Good build level
Gloss finish neck won't suit everyone

Squier has now seen fit to introduce Fender's revered '72 Thinline to its own range, and it looks the business, with white pearloid scratchplate, finely carved f-hole and Fender- embossed humbuckers. While you'll find the gloss-finished modern C neck across much of Squier's Vintage Modified range, you're unlikely to find tones quite like the Thinline's anywhere else, certainly at this price. 

Cleans from the neck and middle positions are punchy and persuasive, not dissimilar to fat P-90-ish single coils, but flicking over to the bridge humbucker yields a burly, resonant voice that screams for big open chords and an overdriven valve amp. That's why it's one of the best electric guitars for Indie and alt-rock players.

Read our full Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline review

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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

Launch price: £444/$449 | 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

Launch price: $149 / £120 | 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

The original Fender Mustang is something of a cult classic. It was loved by alternative bands and players - including Kurt Cobain - in the '90s for its short scale, affordability and potential for modding. The Bullet Mustang is the most affordable version of the model yet. In keeping with Squier’s other entry-level models, it features a basswood body, which gives it an incredibly lithe, lightweight feel. 

This, combined with its 24-inch scale length, makes it a great choice for beginners. The two humbuckers are the most obvious departure from the original, providing angular grit in the bridge position and a pleasing, earthy warmth in the neck. The bolt-on maple neck and six saddle hardtail bridge feel reassuringly rigid, while the tuners did a sterling job in our tests of holding their pitch without too much hassle. 

The volume and tone knobs, often a clear indicator of quality control in budget guitars, are installed firmly enough with no evident wobble, while the pickup selector switch is angled so it won’t get knocked if your playing becomes too... ahem... enthusiastic. 

Meanwhile, the 12-inch radius, rosewood ’board is pancake flat and makes string bends simple for even the most sausage-fingered player. The C profile neck is also extremely comfortable to hold, while the satin finish makes fretboard-spanning licks a doddle. $149/£120 is practically peanuts to spend on a new guitar. 

For Squier to cram in the features it has, with the overall levels of build quality on display, is seriously impressive.

Read our full Squier Bullet Mustang HH review

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9. Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

The Iron Maiden guitarist's signature model is a real hell-raiser

Launch price: $499 / £430 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Jackson high-output humbucker (bridge), 2x Jackson single-coils | Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way selector | Hardware: Floyd Rose Special locking vibrato, Jackson tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Snow White

Versatile tones
Sounds like a guitar twice its price
Locking vibrato is ace
Floyd Rose can be tough to set up

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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10. Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT Single-Cut

The best cheap electric guitar for old-school solidbody tones

Launch price: $449 / £432 | 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.