The 10 best electric guitars under $/£500: our pick of the best guitars for beginners and experts

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(Image: © Future)

Beginner guitarists and those on a tight budget have never had it so good. Rising standards and production innovations have seen the big brands' Korea- and China-based factories turning out stunning models for the money.

So, which are the best budget electrics guitars available today? We've gathered a selection of the electric guitars that we reckon offer the best bang for the buck in the sub-$/£500 market. You may recognise some of the 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.

Finding the best electric guitar for you is a very personal choice - there are countless shapes and sizes to choose from, all of which suit different musical genres and goals. We've recommended a host of instruments across several key price points, which cover all the bases.

No matter what kind of music you play, or what you want to hear from your gear, we've got you covered: these electric guitars are sure to hit the mark.

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1. Yamaha Pacifica 112V

One of the best beginner electric guitars 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
Modern sounds
Versatile
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 the full review: Yamaha Pacifica 112V review

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2. Gretsch G2622 Streamliner

The budget semi-hollow with authentic 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
Hotter pickups broaden sonic potential
Centre block widens use at higher gains/volumes
Slightly sponge-y tuners
Thicker-than-Gretsch tonality
High-fret access not as good as an ES-335

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 the full review: Gretsch G2622 Streamliner

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3. PRS SE Standard 24

The most versatile 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

Comfortable playing experience
Wide range of tones
Excellent build and value for money
Not as refined as higher-spec PRS models
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 the full review: PRS SE Standard 24

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4. Epiphone ES-335 Dot

One of the best semi-hollows 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 very usable tones
It's not a 'real' Gibson
Some players may seek a more modern-feeling 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 the full review: Epiphone ES-335 Dot

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5. Schecter Demon-6 2018

An excellent choice for metal and shred players

Launch price: $419 / £495 | Body: Basswood | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 24 | Pickups: Duncan Designed HB-105B humbucker (bridge), HB-105N (neck) | Controls: Volume, tone, 3-way selector | Hardware: Tune-o-matic bridge, Graph Tech XL Black Tusq nut | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: Crimson Red Burst

Powerhouse high-gain tones
Slick, speedy playability
Solid tuning stability
Active humbuckers
Not designed for clean sounds
Aesthetics could prove divisive
Requires a 9V battery

Those aspiring to kill the next-door neighbour’s lawn by the malevolent force of their playing alone would do well to speak to their local dealer about Schecter’s Demon-6. Updated with fresh set of Schecter active humbuckers and a super-smooth wenge fretboard for 2018, the Demon-6 is a mean- looking S-style that’s built for shredding  - and it’s also available as a seven-string for a little extra. It’s one of the most powerful and playable instruments on the market at this price. Its thin-C profile neck, cut from maple with a satin finish, is super-quick. Shredders will love that a light touch is rewarded on the fretboard - that wenge feels slick ’n’ slinky. The bridge’s construction fits the two most important tenets in bridge design: it’s no-fuss and industrial-strength. The Demon-6 feels indestructible. It might make you feel likewise; at least, its active pickups (powered by a nine-volt battery that’s easily accessed via a clip on the rear of the instrument) will ward off most predators if you crank the gain high enough. Tonally, that’s the Demon-6’s wheelhouse. The bridge ’bucker has plenty of grunt but an abundance of top-end that metal soloists will love. Overall, the Demon-6 is a metal guitar, designed to summon something much more sinister, and it delivers in spades.

Real the full review: Schecter Demon-6 2018

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6. Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline

Lightweight body, heavyweight tones from this budget stunner

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 at a Squier price
Nice attention to detail on the build
Gloss-finished neck won't be to every player's taste

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 the full review: Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline

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7. Chapman ML2 Modern Standard

Versatile single-cut tones from this do-it-all LP-style

Launch price: $449 / £449 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple | Scale: 25" | Fingerboard: Ebony | Frets: 24 | Pickups: 2x Chapman Stentorian Zerø humbuckers | Controls: 2x volume, tone (with push-pull coil-split), 3-way selector | Hardware: Chapman tune-o-matic bridge with stoptail, Chapman 18:1 tuners | Left-handed: Yes | Finish: White Dove, Lunar

Lightweight with comfortable contouring
Great upper-fret access
Coil-split adds versatility
Not one for LP traditionalists
Not everyone will dig the Modern look

The Chapman ML2's classic, single-cut body, two chrome-plated humbuckers and a black pennant headstock that’s not a million miles away from Gibson’s Les Paul. But appearances can be deceptive: this instrument is a very different beast. Chapman pegs its weight at a relatively svelte 3.5kg, so it’s unlikely to see you turning over your salary to the chiropractor. It’s also heavily contoured with its cutaway and heel carved for easy access to the upper frets. It has a modern, satin-smooth C-profile neck, hewn from maple (another deviation from the LP blueprint) and glued neatly to the body. The 25" scale lends it a unique feel - and with 24 jumbo nickel frets, the ML2 Modern is hugely shreddable. Both pickups feature an Alnico V magnet at the heart (think tight low-end, brightness, a little less on the mids), but with a coil-split, accessed by pulling up on the master tone pot, you can split the signal of these humbuckers for some single-coil snap and sizzle. The ML2 Modern makes a good claim on being all things to all guitarists. With coils split or not, we love its tone. That bridge ’bucker really sings with some gain. While the neck pickup is a great ‘rhythm’ humbucker - articulate and dynamic. Whether you find the modernity in its versatility, or in a feel that’s more Jackson than Gibson, the ML2 Modern sure lives up to its name.

Read the full review: Chapman ML2 Modern Standard

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8. Squier Bullet Mustang HH

This affordable short-scale model is one of the best electric guitars for beginners

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

Short scale length is great for beginners
Lightweight body
Comfortable neck and fingerboard
Incredible price
Players may want to upgrade the pickups eventually
Short scale won't suit players with larger 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 the full review: Squier Bullet Mustang HH

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9. Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

The Iron Maiden guitarist's signature model is perfect for metal on a budget

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

Sounds and feels like a guitar twice its price
Great looks
Versatile tones
Floyd Rose Special locking vibrato is great fun
Floyd Rose can be a hassle 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 the full review: Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

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10. Gretsch Electromatic G5438 Pro Jet

The best Gretsch guitar for old-school solidbody tones

Launch price: $499 / £445 | Body: Chambered basswood body with arched-maple top | Neck: Maple | Scale: 24.6" | Fingerboard: Rosewood | Frets: 22 | Pickups: 2x Black Top humbuckers | Controls: Neck volume, bridge volume, tone, master volume, 3-way pickup selector | Hardware: Anchored Adjusto-Matic bridge | Left-handed: No | Finish: Gold, Silver Sparkle, Black

Great looks
Classic tones
Chambered body makes for lighter weight
The neck might be a little slim for some
Not one for more modern styles

Okay, it is a single-cut and dates back to a similar era, but this single-cut is very different to a Les Paul. The Pro Jet has a basswood body with an arched maple top, and like many of Gretsch’s solidbody electrics, it’s chambered, making it lighter, and, they say, more resonant. It sports a pair of Gretsch’s Black Top Filter’Tron pickups, giving you a bright snap and twang that’ll cut through any mix. In short, it’s incredible. Uncanny, even. For here we are in 2018, and yet you fret a couple of doublestops on the Pro Jet Electromatic and all of a sudden it’s like you’re the Fonz, just waiting for Richie, Joanie and Chachi to show up. The cleans are sharp and jazzy, but just take your amp into overdrive and you’re in rockabilly heaven. The tone is so hot you could grill hamburgers by wafting it in front of the speaker cone. Tex-mex shuffle, country, blues, jazz, rockabilly... You name it, and it’ll play it, retro-style. if you want the versatility and the kudos that comes with a Gretsch, it’s hard to look past that finish, that build, and that tone.

Read the full review: Gretsch Electromatic G5438 Pro Jet

For more buying choices, try these…

The 18 best electric guitars: our pick of the best guitars for beginners and experts

The 12 best electric guitars under £1,000/$1,300

The best high-end electric guitars

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