How much can you hope to get out of some of the best electric guitars under $200 or $300? Budget picks tend to get better every couple of years in the audio industry, and electric guitars are no exception.
While you may not see Steve Vai or James Hetfield rocking a $200 guitar on stage, those that are interested in learning and having an instrument capable of sounding decent in small venues can get a lot of value out of a budget instrument. Of course, you have to know what to look for.
13 Best Cheap Electric Guitars - Budget Picks
Table of Contents
- 13 Best Cheap Electric Guitars - Budget Picks
- 1. Fender Squier Bullet Stratocaster
- 2. Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
- 3. Fender Squier Affinity Telecaster
- 4. Squier Bullet Mustang HH
- 5. Ibanez GRX70QATBB
- 6. Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112J
- 7. Epiphone SG Special VE
- 8. Schecter 432 C-6 Deluxe
- 9. Jackson JS Series JS22 DKA
- 10. Donner DST-1S
- 11. ESP LTD EC-10
- 12. Oscar Schmidt OE20B
- 13. Ivy IP-350 TGR PRS
- Cheap Electric Guitars – What to Expect
- What to Look for in Pickups
- Controls and Options
- Buying New or Used
- Buying the Right Size
- Leave Room in Your Budget for an Amp
Made in the style of the HSS Stratocaster, the Squier Bullet Strat is one of the most affordable hard tail electric guitars on the market. For years this guitar has been used by kids and adults that wanted to take up guitar lessons.
It features a standard Maple neck and a C-shaped profile, typical of an HSS Strat. The fretboard is made of rosewood and comes with 21 full frets. Standard fender inlays are applied on the appropriate frets. The quality of the paint job is quite impressive.
In terms of electronics, this Squier guitar has a humbucker bridge pickup, and standard single-coil neck and middle pickups. There’s a 5-way pickup switch that lets you make smooth transitions between them, depending on what arrangement you’re playing or studying.
As it is common with most guitars that feature more than two pickups, the Squier comes with two 1-position tone control knobs, along with the volume knob. The only thing that may not be to everyone’s taste is the socket position, which is on the front of the guitar body as opposed to underneath it.
The Epiphone Les Paul Special VE is an electric guitar that offers a great price-to-performance ratio. It is available in a variety of colors: vintage sunburst, ebony, cherry, cherry sunburst and vintage worn walnut. This just goes to show you that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to have a premium-looking guitar.
Regardless of the color, the poplar body with mahogany neck will remain constant. The Special VE comes with two open-coil humbucker pickups. This offers plenty of volume and a good amount of tonal clarity whether you’re playing clean, soft overdriven tones, or even a heavy metal-type distortion.
The Rosewood fretboard is thick, durable, and very smooth. It’s not a slippery fretboard but it does make it easy enough to slide and bend strings. There are 22 full frets, which will give you a nice range to practice scales, licks, full neck runs, and pretty much reproduce most of your favorite solos.
There are two control knobs on the front of the body, for tone and volume, and a simple 2-way pickup switch. The jack socket is in the standard position, under the body. One of the best features of this guitar is its medium cutaway.
The Squier Fender Affinity Telecaster guitar is available for both right and left-handed guitarists. It also comes in a wide range of colors. As an entry-level guitar, the Squier Affinity Telecaster has some very nice single-coil pickups, which give the guitar a vintage tone.
One of the best features of this guitar is the top-loaded bridge. This type of bridge helps improve the tuning retention. It’s not the easiest thing to adjust for a beginner but it offers a lot of customization. Each of the six saddles allows for precise intonation and constant string tension.
The guitar comes with a 3-way pickup switch, a tone control knob, and a master volume knob. It’s quite the standard setup but more than enough for what these Telecaster single-coil pickups offer. If you’re looking for versatility in soft rock, blues, and country, there are a lot of tonal variations that the Squier Affinity Telecaster can offer.
The Squier Bullet Mustang HH is a very interesting entry-level affordable guitar. It has a Mustang build with a scale length of 24”. This is one of the reasons why the guitar is approachable for students of all ages.
Another interesting design feature is the narrower C-shaped neck profile with the medium-to-large cutaway. This should allow most players to easily reach the last frets.
Both of the humbucker pickups have their own tonal controls, which is quite a surprising feature to see in this price range. As both the neck and the bridge pickups are humbuckers, the Bullet Mustang has impressive tonal clarity on all possible configurations.
The body is solid basswood, which increases the weight of the guitar but also gives it a more durable build. The tailpiece is a 6-saddle hardtail one for rock solid durability. You'll get a lot of versatility when playing lead while not having to deal with a Floyd rose or tremolo bar.
In terms of play style, the Mustang body is quite comfortable to hold without a strap. The upper section has a low descending slant which offers enough stability and should prevent your forearm from slipping when picking at high tempos.
This entry-level Ibanez electric guitar boasts the wildly popular GRX maple neck and a quilted art grain top. The rosewood fretboard with medium-sized frets should be more accessible to beginner players.
The guitar features two humbucker pickups (one at the neck and one at the bridge) and a single-coil pickup. The single coil can be used for lead and clean acoustic playing, with the latter being the recommended choice.
An interesting addition is the Floyd rose. While it’s not typical of most entry-level guitars, it does give the guitar more value and usability for intermediate and advanced guitarists as well. However, keep in mind that having a tremolo bar will make tuning and adjusting the string tension a bit more difficult.
If you plan on setting up the guitar for a lower tuning than the standard EADGBE, you will need to study up on some pro tutorials.
Due to the use of dual humbucker pickups, the Ibanez GR70QATBB has the potential to be a very loud guitar (when paired with the right amp, of course). The stock pickups are nothing too special but have impressive clarity and brightness on clean, and they don’t do a bad job when using distortion either.
If you’re looking for a guitar with larger frets and more string separation, the Yamaha PAC112J is one of the most affordable options for right- and left-handed players. Though available in multiple finishes, the PAC112J always comes with an alder body and a maple bolt-on neck.
The rosewood fretboard gives it nice durability and a rather smooth finish. Pearl inlays are available up to and including the 21st fret. However, the guitar has 24 full frets. All things considered, this guitar is somewhat larger than most entry-level guitars mostly because of the larger frets and increased fretboard length.
When it comes to electronics, the PAC112J won’t disappoint. It has a humbucker bridge pickup and two single-coil pickups. Playing lead on a single-coil pickup isn’t bad, especially if you’re playing clean or with a soft overdrive.
There’s also a 5-position switch which allows for plenty of tonal variation. However, there’s a single tone control knob on the guitar. The PAC112J also comes with a vintage tremolo bar, which is an easy accessory to master.
Available in a wide range of colors, this Mahogany Epiphone guitar sounds as good as it looks. The Epiphone SG Special VE is an affordable guitar with good potential for live performance and recording. Most of the heavy lifting is done by the two humbucker pickups, 700T on the bridge and 650R on the neck.
The SG Special VE has two control knobs, one for volume and one for tone. Keep in mind that these are master controls and not individual controls for each pickup. The overall build quality is nothing short of impressive at this price range.
With a bolt-on neck, the SG Special VE is not just durable but also easy to adjust for various tunings. The neck profile is slimmer than that of most Epiphone guitars and the 24.75 scale length really puts players to work in terms of dexterity and flexibility.
The 22-fret fretboard is smooth and easy to grip. Even the strings that come with the SG Special VE are premium-quality D'Addario standard strings. All in all, if not for the slightly smaller cutaway, this electric guitar could’ve been an ideal choice for anyone.
For quite a while, Schecter guitars were known for premium pricing to go with the impressive sound. These days, finding an affordable Schecter is a lot easier than you would think. Take the Schecter 432 C-6 Deluxe guitar for example.
This guitar features a high-end Tune-O-Matic bridge, which is easy to configure even for beginner players. The pickups are Schecter Diamond Plus humbucker passive pickups. They’re known for their impressive clean clarity and minimal noise when using distortion effects.
Whether you get this guitar in black, blue, or white, the body has impressive contours, derived from the Schecter A-6. These contours are not just for show, of course. The top contours create maximum stability spots for the dominant hand.
The 14” neck radius make the C-6 an accessible guitar for beginners and a breeze to handle for advanced players. On top of that, the Ernie Ball 9 strings come pre-tuned, which means the guitar will be ready to play out of the box.
If you want an affordable guitar that screams metal, the Jackson JS22 may be the one for you. This guitar has the classic metal guitar design with its arched body and satin black finish. It also features classic Jackson triangle inlays which give it a different kind of appeal.
The guitar is suitable for beginners but can also act as a nice transition guitar to intermediate and advanced levels. Its sound is powerful and provides a bright tone even when played on the clean pickup position. There’s a hit of twang to the tone and most of it comes from the bolt-on neck which improves the dynamic response.
Speaking of pickups, the JS22 comes with the same standard pickups found on all guitars in the JS series. They’re Jackson’s high-output humbuckers that come with ceramic magnets. Of course, if you really want to impress on a stage, this guitar would make a great home for a set of EMG 81/85 active pickups.
Don’t get me wrong, as this guitar is great for beginners. In addition, the upgrade path, overall tone quality, and super-comfortable build design make it one of the best budget electric guitars for metal guitarists.
10. Donner DST-1S
What’s better than a cheap electric guitar to get you started? How about a complete beginner’s kit? The Donner DST-1S is not just an affordable guitar but rather a guitar that comes as part of a bundle, complete with a carry bag, strap, tuner, amplifier, and more.
If you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, the DST-1S bundle is a good place to start. It has a maple neck, a basswood body, and an ebony fingerboard with a smooth satin finish. The fretboard offers 22 full frets, which offers a good amount of range for beginners and intermediate players.
The guitar has been fitted with a humbucker bridge pickup and two single-coil pickups. This allows for a nice separation between rhythm, clean, and soloing. The tremolo is a basic one-way tremolo, but it does make it easy to learn some intermediate soloing techniques.
The 3W mini amplifier should offer a decent sound, especially if you don’t want to risk ruining your computer speakers. Among the other accessories you will find a capo, an extra set of strings, and some guitar picks. Pretty much everything you need to start playing as soon as you unbox the DST-1S.
Although this doesn’t matter in terms of sound, the DST-1S also comes in a variety of finishes. This should make it easier to find one that fits your style and personality or a model that looks more appealing to a kid that’s just picking up a guitar for the first time.
11. ESP LTD EC-10
ESP Guitars is known for its ability to put together great sounding guitars at any price point. The ESP LTD EC-10 is one of the most recognizable entry-level ESP guitars. It comes with an affordable price tag, a very comfortable feel, and nice contours that improve dominant hand stability and accuracy.
The U-shaped maple neck is thin and very accommodating for beginners. The large cutaway provides plenty of access to the higher frets and should make full neck runs more enjoyable. There’s just enough string separation to help beginners learn the basics of guitar playing while also catering to more advanced players during solos.
The EC-10 comes with LG-100 passive pickups at the neck and bridge. Only two control knobs are available, for tone and master volume. The LTD tuners guarantee long-lasting tuning retention, which is always nice to have. Of course, like many other guitars, there seems to be an issue with tuning retention of the G string.
I also liked the fact that a gig bag is also included in the price. And, although the guitar may look simplistic, the EC-10 inlay on the 12th fret looks like the perfect touch to make the guitar stand out.
The Oscar Schmidt OE20B comes with durable diecast tuners, which provide very good tuning retention. It has a stoptail feature and looks and feels like pretty much any Gibson guitar. The body has a large neck cutaway which provides easy access to the higher frets. This should come in handy when practicing full neck runs.
For a budget electric guitar, the dual humbucker pickup configuration offers a great deal of volume. The tonal clarity is not bad either. The OE20B is good for a variety of genres and effect configurations.
There are four volume and tone control knobs with brass finishing on each. Regardless of the finish, the OE20B feature brass control knobs of various shades.
When it comes to durability, the OE20B is a lot sturdier than you would expect in this price range. The maple neck, rosewood fretboard, and solid wood body have been built to last. And, given the humbucker configuration and overall tonal clarity, this instrument will transition well into intermediate lessons and even jam sessions.
This is a very interesting electric guitar. Unlike most on this list, it’s not made by a world-renowned manufacturer. Unlike most budget-friendly guitars, this one can offer you the full 24 frets, with inlays up to the 24th.
The fretboard seems a bit wide but not too thick that it would be hard to grip for those who are new to chords. The guitar has a simple 2-way pickup switch, a tone control, and a volume control knob. One thing that’s not ideal is the positioning of the pickup switch, which is a bit further back and aligned with the bridge.
The two humbucker pickups sound good when playing clean or slightly overdriven. One more thing that’s noteworthy about this guitar, besides its obviously low price tag, is the light body. It’s more beginner-friendly at just 7.25lbs.
Cheap Electric Guitars – What to Expect
To begin with, cheap electric guitars are definitely made overseas. They tend to be considerably lighter than premium guitars. In a way, they are easier to use because of their lightweight bodies. But, this also means that the overall build quality won’t be too impressive when compared to more expensive models.
What to Look for in Pickups
In order to keep the price tag down, you should look for passive pickups. Passive pickups are cheaper but that doesn’t mean that they’re not good. For learning purposes, passive pickups are actually better for use with budget amps since they have a naturally high output.
Active pickups, on the other hand, need to be driven in order to deliver their distinctive clarity and crispness.
Controls and Options
Every guitar will have at least one tone control knob and one volume control knob. But, if you want more tonal variety, it’ll be important to find a guitar that has more individual channel controls. At the very least, this would allow you to create enough separation between rhythm and solo.
You shouldn’t expect to get too much in terms of accessories. There are very few affordable electric guitar bundles that also come with high-end electronics.
That said, a complete kit with an amp, picks, chords, and a bag can be a very valuable alternative for some users, especially students.
Buying New or Used
When looking for a cheap guitar, depending on the brand, you can usually find a great guitar for cheap second hand.
As long as a guitar is taken care of, they are quite resilient instruments that can last almost indefinitely.
You can often find even higher end guitars that are a few years old for a fairly reasonable price.
Of course, buying second hand does have its disadvantages. For starters, you’re not getting any sort of warranty with the instrument. So, if anything happens to the guitar, you’ll be stuck with any repairs or replacement costs.
Secondly, unless you’re able to verify the condition of the guitar, you might end up getting a guitar that is either damaged or completely broken.
But don’t be discouraged from buying guitars second hand. I would recommend always looking at any local listings before just buying a brand-new instrument.
Buying the Right Size
If you’re looking at buying a cheap guitar, chances are you’re buying for a beginner.
The best type guitar for a beginner is a short scale guitar. These have a shorter length neck, making them easier and more comfortable to play for beginners.
Short scale guitars are between 22 and 24 3/4 inches long. So, try out various guitars between these sizes to find the one that feels the best.
Leave Room in Your Budget for an Amp
Along with an electric guitar, you’re going to need an amp. You can play an electric without an amp, but the best way to practice is with the guitar plugged in.
This will help you train your ears faster, and will make mistakes more noticeable, allowing you to correct them.
You don’t need, and in fact should avoid, expensive amps if you’re buying a cheap guitar. The amp won’t make the guitar sound better and will probably just be a waste of money.
You can also get amps for fairly cheap second hand, as long as you know you’re getting an amp in good condition.
Affordability is not a Sign of Low Performance
As you can see, my top picks for the best electric guitars under $300 or $200 were chosen based on very specific characteristics. They all feature highly-capable stock pickups that are suitable for a wide range of genres.
The best budget electric guitar for you will be up to you to decide based on your unique requirements and expectations.