Are you looking for a bargain on a new guitar? The best cheap electric guitars under $500 might have you thinking that you’ll need to scrimp on quality, but you’ll actually be surprised at what you can get in this price range. With quality pickups, rock-solid hardware, and a whole range of different instrument types you can pick a gig-ready instrument from Squier, Epiphone, Schecter, Jackson, and many more major guitar brands for a lot less than you’d think.
It’s no longer the case that a cheap guitar automatically means it’ll play badly. Of course, you can still get some duds if you go below the unbranded, $100 mark, but if you’re willing to spend a little more, you can get yourself a guitar that’ll go from beginner right through to regular gigging workhorse. As the divide between foreign imports and American-made guitars blurs, you’ll find you don’t have to spend quite as much money to get a great playing and sounding instrument.
We’ve included some buying advice at the bottom of this page if you’d like to learn a little more about the instrument before purchasing. To see our top picks of some of the best cheap guitars available today, just keep scrolling.
Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Our top picks
If you want the absolute best in value for money, it’s almost impossible to beat the Epiphone Les Paul SL. At this price, it’s truly a wondrous feat to pack in so much guitar. Despite the lack of dual humbuckers that you’d expect in this style of guitar, the two ceramic single coils offer a distinctive flavor all of their own.
If you want something that feels a bit more premium have a gander at the Squier Classic Vibe '70s Telecaster Thinline. It’s equipped with two Fender-designed wide-range humbuckers, a resonant maple semi-hollow body, and the build quality is absolutely fantastic. Definitely one to try if you want something that’s versatile.
If you want something a bit more metal, the Schecter Demon-6 is spot on for heavy riffs and fast lead work - with the finish to match its ethos. Coming with active pickups this shred machine excels at high gain, but thanks to the active electronics, has an articulate clean voice too.
Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Product guide
A merger of the Les Paul Junior and the Melody Maker, the Epiphone Les Paul SL is one seriously kick-ass guitar. Its poplar body is light as a feather but still has all the substantial heft of a Les Paul Junior without feeling cumbersome. The SL features a custom single-ply pickguard that surrounds the two Epiphone 700SCT (bridge) and 650SCR (neck) ceramic single-coil pickups.
Aside from that though, the SL is a typical single-cut Les Paul Junior with no binding, a mahogany neck, a slim-taper D-profile neck shape, 22 medium jumbo frets, an adjustable intonated “wraparound” stop bar tailpiece, 'tophat' master volume and tone controls with a three-way toggle switch and premium die-cast 14:1 tuners.
Epiphone imbued the SL’s ceramic pickups with plenty of body and roundness, which gave these plump single coils a great deal of touch sensitivity. Even from a cranked amp, they still sound incredibly balanced and defined.
The guitar stands perfectly well on its own as an instrument that is poised for rock and blues, with a distinctive tone that cuts on its own terms. What’s even better is how flawlessly the guitar plays, thanks to Epiphone’s consistent textbook setup on its instruments.
Read our full Epiphone Les Paul SL review
Smooth, affordable, and ferocious all at once, the Schecter Demon-6 is perfect for unleashing your inner speed demon. The guitar's thin-C profile neck, cut from maple with a satin finish, is incredibly quick and rewards a light touch.
The bridge is simple but well-built, while the guitar's active pickups - powered by an easily accessible nine-volt battery - are absolutely terrific. Otherwise, the updated Demon-6 remains the same as its predecessors, with industrial black chrome hardware, burled tone, and volume knobs, and a Crimson Red Burst finish.
Tone-wise, the Demon-6 truly lives up to its name. The bridge humbucker is a workhorse with strong, growling mids and an absolutely diabolical amount of high-end - a gold mine for metal soloists, no doubt.
Those who don't wish to summon demonic forces with their playing will find that the Demon-6's cleaner tones are just as satisfying. Any punchy classic rock riffs are a breeze, while the cleanest settings yield startlingly articulate leads that are more than adequate for even the most subtle of parts. This electric guitar is - despite its maker's metal target audience - a true all-rounder.
Squier's take on the classic '70s Fender Telecaster Thinline brings the guitar's iconic looks and sound to the table at an incredibly affordable price point. With a white pearloid scratchplate, finely carved f-hole, and Fender-embossed humbuckers, Squier's version of the guitar certainly looks the part. Though like most other Squier guitars, the Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline features a gloss-finished modern C neck, the guitar's performance, and tone - considering its price tag - are simply phenomenal.
The '70s Telecaster Thinline's cleans from the neck and middle positions are rock-solid. Reminiscent of the sounds produced by fat P-90-esque single coils, they pack plenty of punch, while the semi-hollow body makes for a woodier, less aggressive tone than you'd get from a straight-up solid body.
The bridge humbucker yields a much more formidable voice that would sound right at home coming from an overdriven, cranked-to-11 valve amp. The guitar's open midrange makes it ideal for both delicate fingerpicking and massive, in-your-face rock riffing. Like its Fender-produced big brother, the Squier Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline is a beautiful instrument that can wear any number of hats.
If you’re after something a little different from your regular s-type guitar then the Sterling by Music Man Cutlass is a top-quality option at a relatively low price point. The price of a full-fat Music Man is enough to make anybody wince, but this guitar embodies the same spirit at a much lower cost.
Played clean it’s got a lovely sweet tonality and the pickups are pretty hot, in the bridge position especially you’ll find it to be really bright. Add in some overdrive and it has got a healthy growl that’s great for power chords.
The satin finish on the necks makes this guitar really easy to play, with a curved neck join for great upper fret access. The two-pivot bridge takes a little setting up, but once you get it right, works really well to add some flutter and shimmer to your playing.
The Fender Strat has long been considered one of the most versatile guitars of all time, and when you throw a high-output ceramic humbucker into the mix, it gets even better.
The Affinity series may be the entry-level point into the varied catalog of Fender guitars, but it certainly doesn’t hold back on quality. Featuring an attractive flame maple top, a slim and comfortable C-shaped neck, and the iconic large 70s headstock, it’s hard to believe this guitar comes in under $500!
The ace up the sleeve of this budget-friendly Strat is the Squier humbucker and single-coil neck and middle pickups. This allows you to achieve any tone imaginable with a simple flick of the 5-way selector switch.
The Epiphone Coronet, first introduced as a reliable and solid entry-level guitar back in 1959, is an icon of Epiphone’s solid-body guitar range. Reissued multiple times since the Coronet has proven itself to be a firm favorite. We can see why.
Equipped with a single Dogear P90 in the bridge position, the Coronet means business from first glance. You can expect gritty, abrasive-driven tones perfect for blues and rock, and with it being a fat single coil, the cleans are smooth, punchy, and prominent in any mix.
The Coronet’s hardware configuration continues the minimalistic theme, with a fixed wrap-over bridge and vintage-style machine heads adorning this straight-to-the-point axe. For under $500, this is ideal for anyone who wants to make a no-frills racket on a budget.
The Sterling by Music Man Albert Lee HH provides the eye-grabbing looks and the amazing buffet of tones supplied by its Ernie Ball Music Man-produced counterpart at a price that won't make you cringe when you check your bank account post-purchase.
Like the Ernie Ball Music Man version, the Sterling Albert Lee HH is built with an African Mahogany body and two humbuckers wired to a five-way switch. The vintage tremolo, optional on the Ernie Ball Music man edition of the instrument, comes standard.
Though it lacks the DiMarzios its big brother features, the Albert Lee HH's Sterling by Music Man four-conductor humbuckers certainly don't slouch themselves. From gorgeous, ringing cleans to chunkier single-coil sounds that charge forth with impressive clout, the Albert Lee HH punches well above its weight.
With its sturdy, player-friendly construction and dazzling tonal variety, you can see why Lee was convinced to abandon his signature vintage Teles to design his own standout mode - now available at an affordable price.
Sleek, and chock-full of visual and sonic attitude, the Jackson King V JS32T is simply one of the best bang-for-your-buck deals in the metal guitar market today. With Jackson's trademark pointy headstock and Sharkfin position inlays, this thing makes a hell of an impression before you even play a note.
The King V JS32T features a bolt-on, graphite-reinforced maple speed neck with 24 jumbo frets and a 12" to 16" compound radius. The guitar's two Jackson humbucking pickups are fitted with ceramic magnets.
The King V JS32T's tone is incredibly aggressive, while its sustain would please even the Nigel Tufnels of the world. The guitar's compound radius makes it incredibly easy to play. Sustained, steady riffage and hurricane-speed shredding both end up being a piece of cake as a result.
Its low action also lends a hand to the instrument's shredding prowess, while also paving the way for titanic string bends. Lean, mean, and incredibly easy on the wallet, the Jackson King V JS32T is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
The latest evolution in Ibanez's S series, the S521 gets you the look (and a lot of the great tones) of an Ibanez at a terrifically low price. The guitar's rosewood fretboard is two-octave and features 24 jumbo frets, while its mahogany body is coated in an eye-catching burst finish.
Quantum pickups (in the neck and bridge) plus a five-way switch also come as standard. Overall, the Wizard III maple neck is well-constructed and reliable. The Cosmo black finish on the S521's hardware adds an elegant touch to the low-budget model.
The S521's fretboard is incredibly quick, and smooth as silk. Tonally, though the guitar's cleans aren't always top-notch, its mid-range is phenomenal. On the higher end, its articulation is quite good and expressive, with leads sounding lean but nimble. In addition to its rock-solid variety of tones, the S521's sustain stands out within its price range.
It's fair to say we've been massive fans of the Revstar series since their debut in 2015, and with Yamaha recently updating the guitars to improve their playability, comfort, and visuals, we couldn't be happier.
These stylish and well-crafted instruments now come with a lightweight chambered mahogany body, which Yamaha says is to "sculpt tone and reduce weight". The RSE20 is also loaded with a dual set of Yamaha Alnico V humbuckers, which, when paired with a 5-way selector switch and the Revstar's high-pass "Dry" switch, deliver endless tonal possibilities.
For us, the Yamaha RSE20 proves that you can get a reliable, great-playing, and stellar-sounding guitar for under $500. It's worth noting that the left-handed model costs slightly more than $500, but despite this, we still think it's worth it!
Read our full Yamaha Revstar RSE20 review
Best cheap electric guitars under $500: Buying advice
Are guitars under $500 worth it?
In short - yes! To be honest, in this day and age, it's pretty difficult to track down a genuinely awful guitar. Advancements in technology have made high-quality instruments more accessible than ever before, with anyone being able to pick up a giggable guitar for well under $500!
While there is certainly an allure to expensive and premium six-strings, some guitarists just prefer to opt for a cheaper, more accessible model over a hand-crafted Custom Shop guitar at times.
For example, Biffy frontman and lead ax-slinger Simon Neil headlined Glastonbury playing his signature Classic Vibe Strat, and Mike Rutherford of Genesis played arenas with a $200 Squier Bullet. So, if this doesn't reassure you that the best cheap electric guitars under $500 are worth their salt, then we're not sure what else to say!
What makes a great budget electric guitar?
It’s all well and good for a guitar to be cheap, but a guitar has to be more than just affordable for us to include it in this guide to the best electric guitars under $500. For starters, the guitar should be well-built, finished to a reasonable standard, and sound great. Each of the hand-selected guitars on this list certainly meets this criteria and offers bags of style and superb value for money.
When looking at guitars in this price bracket, it’s essential to check the common areas in which entry-level guitars tend to fall down.
Frets can make or break your new cheap electric guitar. Now, thankfully most guitar brands won’t let a guitar out of the factory with a bad fret job, but it’s always worth checking them out just to be sure. Are the edges a bit sharp? Do they protrude out from the edge of the fingerboard? If so, we’d take a visit to a guitar tech to get those sorted out. Sharp frets will stop you wanting to play the guitar - and that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen.
Hardware is another crucial factor in what makes a cheap electric guitar good. All of the guitars in this guide feature solid and durable hardware which, if cared for and maintained correctly, will see you through most of, if not all of your guitar playing career. If your hardware isn’t up to scratch, you’ll have problems with your tuning, intonation and the playability of your guitar will suffer - so we think it’s worth spending some money and getting a well-made instrument with good hardware.
The neck of a guitar - being the part you hold in your hand whenever you play - needs to be comfortable in your hands. Now, going to a guitar store is the best answer here, as you can hold a few in your hands and see what feels right for you, but if you’re buying online, there are a few things to take note of. Most of the time, online guitar stores will tell you if the neck is thin, fat, wide, narrow, gloss-finished, satin-finished in their product descriptions - but if that’s not the case, most guitar stores will be happy to take a phone call if you want to double-check.
Pickups and electronics are also important - but not nearly as important as how a guitar feels to play. Of course, it helps for everything on your guitar to be perfect from the get go, but if you love a guitar and hate the pickups, you can always swap them out. If that’s the case, it might be worth checking out our best electric guitar pickups guide.
What style of guitar should I choose?
The first thing to consider when choosing from among the best budget electric guitars under $500 is what kind of tone you hear in your head. Is it darker and warmer? Thinner and slinkier? Somewhere in between?
To get an idea, look into the specs of the guitars wielded by your biggest guitar heroes or the players you’re attempting to sound like.
Funk players inspired by Nile Rodgers might gravitate towards Fender Stratocaster style guitars because of their single-coil pickups and five-way tone switch. Most Strat-style guitars also use body woods like alder or ash that are perfect for cutting through above any rhythm section, whereas heavy metal guitarists tend to prefer the hellfire of mahogany bodies wired with hotter humbucker pickups, in some cases with active circuitry.
Jazz guitarists, on the other hand, might gravitate to the woollier sound of a semi-acoustic with flatwound electric guitar strings. It’s worth bearing in mind that all of these factors will affect the tone of an instrument before any further coloration from amplifiers or pedals.
Other features to consider
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Guitars can come with a lot of different features that vary from model to model. For example, some come with a vibrato or whammy bar. If this isn’t something you see yourself taking advantage of, then it may be wise to avoid it. Likewise, a guitar with a locking tremolo such as a Floyd Rose requires a little more work to maintain and restring, so if you don’t need it, go for a fixed bridge guitar.
Then there’s the physical aspect of holding a guitar for hours on end. Do you prefer the sonic muscle of something heavy or instead like the idea of something less taxing on the spinal column? Ultimately, you should go with whatever feels most natural under the fingers. Try as many models as you can. See if you can remember what was different about the guitars you liked and the ones you didn’t, bearing in mind that action and string gauges can always be adjusted to suit each player.
Read more about our rating system, how we choose the gear we feature, and exactly how we test each product.
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