There’s a lot to consider when it comes to buying an electric guitar – whether it’s your first or twenty-first! With so many brands and models on the market today, which one is best for you?
But there are more questions – are you a beginner, or do you have 20 years playing experience under your belt? Are you on a tight budget, or is money no object? Do you prefer funk, or are you a full-on metalhead? Somewhere the perfect guitar is waiting for you, and – with hundreds of reviews on this site – chances are we have featured it on these pages!
As a side note, if you’re looking for an acoustic instead of an electric, check out our complete round-up of the top rated acoustic guitars.
Defining The Term “Best”
The beauty of an electric guitar is there are so many manufacturers, models, shapes and styles. Why? Because everyone has different tastes. So the word ‘best’ is relative to the player. For example, hand me a $350 Ibanez Roadstar and I will happily play it for hours. Give me a $2,000 Telecaster and I will probably shrug.
While I appreciate the style, heritage and importance of the Tele, I’m just not as fussed when it’s compared to an Ibanez – no matter how much the price difference! Playing guitar is a very personal thing, so a five-star review for me may not be a five-star guitar for you.
Chances are, if you’re a complete newcomer to playing guitar you may not want to spend $4,000 on a custom Les Paul. And if you are a pro, an entry-level Squier Strat is unlikely to float your boat. This is why we categorize our reviews – Beginners, Under $200, Under $300, Under $500, Under $1000.
It also helps if you have a budget to stick to. If you have $300, you’re probably not going to want to be browsing the $1000 guitars, unless you want to be frustrated by all the guitars you can’t afford.
Remember that in each comparison article we summarize the guitars, but there are also links to more in-depth reviews for each one.
How We Rate Them
When rating a guitar we look at everything it has to offer in both looks and sound, although the ratings are separated into four key areas: Design, Features, Performance, and Value.
It’s also worth noting that the design is the most personal of all the ratings. For example, some people will love ESP’s eye-meltingly unique George Lynch Signature Kamakazi, while others will pretty much hate it. So the design ratings are very subjective!
Breaking It Down
As I’ve mentioned, there are five categories (for now) that we split our electric guitar reviews into: Beginners, Cheap, Under $300, Under $500, Under $1000. The names of each category are pretty self explanatory, but we elaborate on each of these below.
Remember that in these comparisons we only summarize the guitars briefly. By clicking on the title of each guitar you will find extended reviews with more information about the model’s design, features and performance.
Never picked up a guitar before? This is the section to start off in. The majority of these guitars will be in the cheaper end of the $100 to $600 price range, and what you go for will depend largely on your budget.
If you’re not sure whether you will stick with electric guitar, go cheap and cheerful. You can always upgrade at a later stage. However if you feel guitar is in your blood and you are aiming to become the next Joe Satriani, going for a guitar in the higher end of this section will definitely pay off in the long run.
There probably won’t be anything special when it comes to features on these beginner guitars – especially in the lower end – but you will have everything you need to start learning your first chords, riffs and solos. You’ll find all sorts of brands, with Squier, ESP, and
Yamaha all standing out as top manufacturers.
Make sure to check out our huge comparison article on the best electric guitars for beginners, which gives you everything you need to know about buying your first guitar.
Think you can’t get a decent guitar for less than $150? Think again! You can actually find some insanely low priced guitars that function properly, perform well, and sound pretty good.
If you’re looking in this price range you may be a beginner who fancies giving guitar a go without breaking the bank. Or you may be more experienced, looking for something you can travel with, take to the beach, or leave on the couch without worrying about it getting damaged.
But note that guitars in this price range aren’t likely to be without their faults. You will probably need to take them to a local guitar pro for a set-up if buying online, as fret edges may be sharp and the action may be too high or low. Finishes can be a little rough in some places, and you won’t get anything in the way of luxury looks or features – there’s a lot more plastic used in the under $150 range!
But for a complete beginner, or a second (or third, or fourth) guitar, it’s hard to go wrong with something under $150 – just don’t expect perfection. The current top 3:
The quality of guitars in the under $300 price range is naturally much higher than the cheapest guitars we have reviewed, although this is still budget territory and most guitars will be the manufacturer’s entry-level models. But look around and you can find some real quality from manufacturers like Epiphone, ESP, Oscar Schmidt, and Fender.
The finishes may not be flawless and you’ll still find a few sharp frets here and there, but generally things start to improve. Pickups – of course – will remain basic, and you won’t see any pro features, but body woods, necks, tuning stability, and overall versatility will certainly improve.
And if you’re looking for an instrument to modify – maybe adding new pickups or tuners – this is the cheapest price range you want to look at, as anything lower won’t give you as solid a base. The current top 3:
If you can up your budget to $500, the quality and range on offer literally doubles. These are guitars that will allow you to jam, gig, and record with confidence.
Firstly you are more likely to find a style you love. In cheaper price ranges it’s hard to find much more than Strat, Tele, or Les Paul-influenced designs – although there are certainly exceptions – however in this $500 range you can find some awesome and unique looks suitable for just about any style, as well as some pretty cool signature models.
The build quality, finishes, woods, pickups, controls, and tuners all feel more solid and durable, and you are likely to find a great guitar to jam, gig, or record with. Yamaha, Dean, Ibanez, Fender, Gretsch, Schecter, and Epiphone all offer some seriously good guitars in this price range. The current top 3:
Spending between $500 and $1000 will usually get you a lot of guitar, and one that will be able to handle anything you throw at it.
Mostly everything about a guitar in this price range feels premium, and the sound quality and playability is enough to put a smile on any guitarist’s face. You also start to find advanced features such as brand-name pickups, active pickups, and EverTune bridges, as well as unique signature models that are too expensive for manufacturers to produce as a budget line.
Ibanez, Jackson, PRS, and Schecter make some exceptional guitars in this price range, offering good value for money, while you also begin to see some genuine Gibsons and made-in-America Fenders on the market. Guitars in this price range should pretty much last you a lifetime, if you look after them. The current top 3:
The Top Electric Guitar Brands
From the giants like Fender and Gibson, to smaller brands like PRS and Schecter, there are so many guitar manufacturer out there catering to any style or budget. Here are some of the most popular:
- B.C. Rich
Where To Buy?
So you’ve read all the reviews, watched the videos, tried a few out, and finally found the right guitar for you – now you’ll want to buy it! And there are several options available to you.
An online retailer is likely to be your first port of call. Places like Amazon, Musician’s Friend, and Sweetwater have a huge selection of guitars in all price ranges. It’s easy to compare prices and find the best deals pretty quickly, and it’s usually hard to beat online retailers for price.
But while online is a good starting point, the advantages of buying in a store are just as good. Firstly, it can sometimes work out cheaper if you are able to strike up a deal – ask them what they can do if you buy a guitar and amp together and you may be surprised.
Another advantage of heading to your nearest Guitar Centre or local independent guitar store is you will have the chance to test out any models that take your fancy. You also get to inspect them for any imperfections that may cause problems at a later stage.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of buying in store is that the guitar will be usually set up correctly by a pro, which can be the difference between a decent and a great sounding guitar. It’s also much easier to return a guitar to a store if there’s a problem – no need to fuss around with posting and packaging.
Purchasing a new guitar isn’t something you’re going to do often, unless you have an endless stream of cash (and if that’s the case, lucky you!). So you will want to ensure you are buying the right guitar for you, because it’s not a nice feeling playing on something you regret buying – your licks and riffs will sound very sad indeed!
So when you do go to buy a new model, have an idea of what you want to do with it. Is it something for you to learn on? Do you plan to gig, or even record, with your band? Your aspirations will define what you should spend.
Make sure to try out as many guitars as you can, if possible. Chances are you may find something you didn’t originally consider, but something that makes complete sense when you are holding it.
Buying a guitar is not always as easy as walking into a store, pointing at the first one you see, and saying ‘I want that one’. It’s a very personal experience that will depend on your budget, style, and aspirations. Put some time into selecting the right one and you will have years of great playing ahead.
By reading our guides and reviews you should get a much better picture of what guitar will suit you best. Keep checking back, as we update our reviews regularly and there’s always something new to read. While you are here, sign up for our newsletter for more tips, news and opinion.