In the good ol’ days, a good electric guitar used to cost a lot more than $200. If it didn’t, it was probably a tinny sounding piece of garbage that wasn’t worth the wood used to put it together. Perhaps those days weren’t so good…
Today, however, you can not only find some decent guitars for under $150, you can find some very good ones. And if you look towards combo packages, the value for money increases again. Beginners on a severely tight budget, listen up – we’re going to help you find your perfect first guitar!
In the chart below we have collaborated some of the best cheap electric guitars available on the market, as well as their ratings and links to more in-depth reviews. As you’ll see, there is plenty of choice. And make sure to check out our guidance on purchasing a guitar in this price range, below the chart.
The Top Rated Cheap Electric Guitars For Under $200:
If you are buying a guitar in this super budget price range you are more than likely either a complete beginner, or someone who has started out on an acoustic and now wants to take the plunge into the world of electric guitar.
And in the chart above, the electric guitars are perfect for beginners. That’s not to say someone who has been playing for decades couldn’t pick one up and enjoy it, but an experienced guitarist is more likely to find flaws and limitations, whereas a beginner probably wouldn’t.
What Is The Sub-$200 Guitar?
Let’s look at the guitars themselves. Firstly, you will understand that premium is not usually a word you associate with affordable electric guitars. If it is, you need to adjust your definition of premium. However in this price range you will still get great playability and a solid platform on which to learn, experiment and grow as a guitarist.
So what do you hope to find on a budget electric guitar? In most cases: a well-finished solid body, a playable bolt-on neck, pickups and tuners that actually work, and perhaps a little style. Anything else is a just a bonus.
Starting with the body and 90% of guitars in this price range will be made from basswood – also known as agathis – which is light, relatively warm in tone, abundant, and therefore very affordable. But it’s not a cheap and nasty wood. Many great guitars in the $500+ bracket feature basswood bodies, including the signature models of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. If it’s good enough for them, it will be good enough for you!
But whatever you find in this price range, just make sure the body is not made from plywood – while it may not always sound terrible, it’s a very cheap wood that does very little to enhance the overall tone.
As for your pickups they will be basic and a little noisy, and most likely designed and built by the guitar’s manufacturer. But they will certainly do enough to catch your first chords, riffs and solos. On some guitars in this price range you will find just a single pickup. Look at the entry-level models from Davidson Guitars (at the head-scratchingly low price of $59), which feature just one humbucker. It will do the job, but won’t be that versatile.
As you increase your budget, your choice of pickups also grows. Fender’s Squier Bullet Stratocaster ($149) has three pickups and a five-way pickup selector, giving you that added versatility, while Epiphone’s LP Special II ($119) has two humbuckers at the neck and the bridge positions.
Looking at design, and the majority of styles are likely to be heavily influenced by Fender’s Stratocaster or Telecaster, or Gibson’s iconic Les Paul. All are good designs and solid choices, but you can still find some individuality in the below $200 price range.
For example, take a look at Dean Guitar’s EVO XM ($113). On first glance, try to tell me it doesn’t look like a guitar three times that amount (especially in the natural satin finish)! Or what about Dean’s rock-fueled Vendetta XMT? Huge style, exceptional value.
If you are buying an electric guitar, you’ll obviously need an amplifier. At this stage in your guitar career it’s not essential to have a stage-worthy output or loads of built-in effects – if you are learning the instrument you want to be able to hear your chords clearly; not through a muddle of delay, chorus and reverb (regardless of how cool they sound). But you will almost certainly want some basic crunch and distortion.
Other things to consider when looking at your first amp is headphone capabilities, as not everyone will want to hear you practice late into the night. Also, an aux input will be useful if you want to plug in a personal music device to play along to your favorite tracks.
A practice amp from Fender is always a good call. Something like the Frontman 10G, which offers 10 watts, volume, gain, bass and treble controls, and is a snip at $59. You won’t have to turn this up more than half way before the neighbors start to complain. Another amp to consider is the super cool vintage-style Orange Micro Crush PiX 3 Watt Mini Amp ($83), which is perfect for bedroom playing and also has a built in tuner. Neither of these will give you complex, meaty distortion, but they will give you an ideal entry-level amp.
Extra Cash Always Helps
If you are willing and able to spend a little more money, it’s worth looking at more expensive budget options. Chances are you will outgrow your entry-level guitar pretty quickly and will start looking at better ones within a few years, so why not go for a better one straight off?
Epiphone’s glossy, cherry red SG Special comes in at $179 and would last you a lot longer than your most basic model – the pickups are decent, the neck and body construction is solid, and it even comes with a KillPot for some awesome effects.
Or for $160, there’s a one-of-a-kind florescent green model from Dean Custom Zone, with a mahogany body and two humbuckers. Its severe color is not going to suit everyone, but for the most extroverted of beginners this is a great choice.
The Complete Package
As a complete beginner you can get better value by purchasing a guitar/amp combo package, put together direct from the factory or by your local guitar store.
These will come with small practice amps, like the ones we discussed above, as well as essential accessories such as a lead, strap, plectrums, chord chart, and pitch pipe. These packages can offer huge value. Look at the Sawtooth ST-ES-BKB-KIT-3 package, which comes with a cool all black Strat style guitar, mini amp, strap, lead, plectrums, padded gig bag, digital tuner, and a stand for the guitar – all for $149!
These packages are very convenient, and give you everything you need and more to be able to learn your first chords. But sometimes it can be false economy. The straps and leads are likely to be the most basic and quite flimsy, and therefore may need instant upgrading if you start taking guitar seriously.
Sure – if the guitar and amp together show a good saving (which they usually do), buy it! But don’t be swayed just because it comes with a $5 strap and a few plectrums. You may find a better suited package for you by buying everything separately.
To Sum It All Up
You’ve seen this price bracket can actually get you quite a lot when it comes to your first electric guitar. But even for the relatively low amount, it’s advisable to make a considered purchase. Are you better buying individual items or a combo pack? Can you afford to go slightly higher? If so check out our comparison article on the best electric guitars under $300, for some great quality. And also read our in depth beginners guide to buying an electric guitar, for everything you need to know.