Ask Paul: Five Great Guitars for Under $500, Part 1

In addition to receiving lots of praise and hate mail as Guitar World’s gear editor on video, I’m often asked, “Hey, Paul, can you tell me a good guitar I can get for under $500?”

To which I say, “Why do you want to go ahead and ruin your life by playing guitar?”

Seriously, though, there are plenty of great, affordable guitars available nowadays. With all the precise automation in guitar manufacturing, it’s difficult to find poorly made guitars. Not to say that they don’t exist; but for the most part, I find many guitars from overseas are surprisingly good and won’t have you rifling for money from your mother’s purse.

Rather than listing five affordable guitars, I decided to categorize this topic by application, including "metal/shred" and "classic" (with three more coming up in part two).

Be sure to check out the four photos in the photo gallery at the bottom of this blog post.

1. METAL/SHRED:Schecter Guitars Damien Elite, $499

Schecter Guitars has always had the unfair stigma for producing guitars that cater to metal and shred players; so what the hell, I’ll perpetuate that stereotype: Yes, the Damien Elite with its low-action, 24 extra-jumbo frets and full metal requisite of EMG 81 and 85 active humbuckers for tight and aggressive sounds makes this one Godzilla of a guitar.

For the price, it comes with top-of-the-line pro hardware like Grover tuners, Tone Pros Tune-o-matic bridge with thru-body string mounts, GraphTech TUSQ nut (for precise intonation and tuning stability), and having the upgraded EMGs means you won’t have to change the pickups!

I like the see-thru black and crimson-red finishes on this guitar because it makes it look far more expensive than it actually is. I also love the headstock because it’s not obnoxious or overtly pointy like other metal guitars.

2. CLASSIC:Epiphone Les Paul Traditional Pro, $499

The Les Paul is my favorite guitar, and after many years of coveting them, I now have way too many of them. But for those of you who have always dreamed of owning one, Epiphone puts them within reach.

Nine times out of 10, I’m recommending an Epiphone guitar because, across their line of electrics, arch tops and acoustics, they’re well made and set up perfectly right out of the case. The Les Paul Traditional has uncovered zebra pickups, which give you a throaty humbucking tone but also include push/pull coil splitting so you can get some single coil sounds. It has all the expected Les Paul appointments like mahogany body, set neck and Locktone Tune-o-matic bridge. You’ll never get thrown out of an audition for showing up with this sharp-looking guitar.

For an extra $100, bump yourself up to the Epiphone Les Paul Custom. It’s what I use most, and with its elegant looks and awesome playability, you can’t go wrong.

Click here to read about guitars 3 through 5.

Paul Riario on Paul Riario:I try very hard to remain under the radar, despite being on camera as gear editor at Guitar World; but in this age of social media, it was only a matter of time before it came to this. So with that, I’ll make my blog painless and a quick and easy read so you can get onto more important things like practicing guitar and sweep picking. Or, if you’re like me, getting tiger blood transfusions and figuring out how to be Olivia Wilde’s boy toy. I’ll use this blog to inform you of things I find cool, like new gear I’m playing through and what I’m watching, reading or listening to at any given moment. So feel free to ask me anything that’s gear-related — or if you have a problem with your girlfriend, ya know, life-lesson stuff, I’m pretty good at that too — and I’ll do my best to answer or address it here.

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Paul Riario

Paul Riario has been the tech/gear editor and online video presence for Guitar World for over 25 years. Paul is one of the few gear editors who has actually played and owned nearly all the original gear that most guitarists wax poetically about, and has survived this long by knowing every useless musical tidbit of classic rock, new wave, hair metal, grunge, and alternative genres. When Paul is not riding his road bike at any given moment, he remains a working musician, playing in two bands called SuperTrans Am and Radio Nashville.