Think you can’t get a good Les Paul, Strat or Tele on a budget? Think again! Welcome to the wonderful world of budget guitars.
Let’s face it – if you had an unlimited stream of cash, you wouldn’t be on this page. So whether you are an experienced guitarist looking for something decent to travel with (instead of your $1,500 American Strat), or a complete beginner looking for a reliable first axe, the good news is that there are some excellent budget guitars on the market that beg the question – ‘how do they make them so cheap?’
In our easy-to-follow comparison chart below, we have collated the best budget guitars available – highlighting the different models, their ratings, and links to more in-depth reviews. Make sure to check out our guide to budget guitars underneath the chart for tips on buying a great budget axe that suits your style.
Top 10 Electric Guitars For Under $300:
As you’ve seen from our chart, it’s surprisingly easy to find a reliable performer that looks and sounds like a guitar twice its price. These days you can demand a lot more from a budget guitar – good body woods, versatile pickups, and even some extras like a kill pot or single coil tapping.
The first thing you’ll need to decide is what style of guitar and music you prefer. One with a fixed bridge or a tremolo system? Humbuckers or single-coil pickups? If you are an aspiring metalhead, ESP’s aggressive looking and sounding F-10 will undoubtedly suit you more than the similarly priced Squier Affinity Telecaster. When you know your style, narrowing down your ideal model will be easier, although it doesn’t help that the versatility of guitars these days means you can pretty much play any style on any guitar and get it sounding half-decent.
You’ll find most guitars in the budget bracket will be made from basswood, which is the cheapest solid wood out there that is also dominant in the lower-level budget electric guitars. Regardless of your ability, don’t bother with a plywood body – basswood should be the minimum any guitarist aims for. However, you can also find a few alder bodied budget models, including Yamaha’s excellent PAC112V, which can provide a slightly brighter sound to your playing.
On guitars in this price range expect to find basic, no-name pickups – you’re not going to see EMGs or Seymour Duncans on a guitar around the $200 mark. However the budget pickups you will find can be very versatile; offering clarity and warmth when played clear, and an aggressive, meaty sound when played with distortion. Besides, if you don’t like the pickups, you can always upgrade.
Country Of Origin
All budget guitars in this range will more than likely be made in China, Korea or Indonesia, coming off a factory line. Sadly, if you want something crafted in America, you need to look towards the $1000 mark. But the craftsmanship on a factory model can actually be pretty good. Yes, the paintwork won’t always be flawless and you may get some sharp fret edges, but they are not going to fall apart during your first chord.
But if it’s a possibility, it’s worth having a look at guitars in a slightly higher price bracket, if only to sound out what you could get if you increased your budget. For example Epiphone’s SG Special ($179) and it’s bigger brother, the SG G-400 ($349), are very similar in classic SG style. However, spending the extra $150 or so will give you stronger pickups, additional tone and volume controls, more robust tuners, traditional inlays, coil-tapping, and generally improved craftsmanship. It also gives you a better platform should you wish to upgrade components at a later stage. So it always pays to compare higher priced instruments in the long run.
Regardless of the price, no guitar should be purchased on a whim. Even if you can’t physically pick it up and play it, always make sure you know what it sounds like before you buy it – read our reviews, watch videos, find out how it feels, what it will perform like, and whether it is worth it.
What Is The Right Amplifier for a $300 Electric Guitar?
Remember with an electric guitar sound, the actual guitar is only half of it – the amp will also play an important factor in the sound. And chances are – if you are on a budget when it comes to buying the actual guitar – you will also have limited funds for an amp. So no Marshall stacks for you. But this is a good thing. You’re not really going to want to play a $200 guitar through a $1,500 amp.
What amp you look at will depend on your aspirations. Are you a complete beginner? If so you probably only need a practice amp. You won’t go far wrong with a budget Blackstar ID: Core Stereo Combo – retailing at about $130 – which is 10 watts, easy to use, and loud enough for a bedroom (you won’t even turn it up half way) or jamming with friends. You also save cash on pedals, with built-in modeling allowing loads of effects. Of course, if your budget stretches you may want to look at something more powerful – especially if you are looking towards a future on the stage.
Guitar Packs Or Just Electric Guitar?
On the subjects of amps, another advantage of falling into the ‘beginner’ price range is the packages you can get. If you can increase your budget – or put your guitar and amp budgets together – you can find some great-value packages, including a guitar, amp and accessories. The most basic kits actually start under $100 – for example Davidson Guitars offer a solid wood electric guitar, a 10 watt amp (with clean and distortion capabilities), a strap, lead, plectrums, and a pitch-pipe for $99. Unbelievable value.
However the actual guitar you are getting will be of little worth when you start playing more than basic chords. A more respectable package is the Squier Affinity Tele Pack, which offers a Tele with authentic looks and tone, and a Fender Frontman 15G amp with two channels, and a host of accessories for $254. For a beginner, you literally can’t go wrong with a package like this.
Are Used Guitars Worth Considering?
Finally, you could also consider a second-hand guitar. While you aren’t getting the joy of having something fresh out of the box – and you don’t know who has played and/or abused it in the past – buying second-hand is a way to guarantee good value for under $300. For around the same price of an entry-level Epiphone LP-100 (around $280) you can get a second-hand Epiphone Les Paul Standard, which is an all round step up, and a guitar that will give you plenty of room to grow. Just be careful when purchasing a used guitar – it could be on sale for a reason. Dented frets? Cracked neck? Faulty wiring? Make sure you know what you are purchasing, as repairs may cost more than the guitar itself!
However you could get lucky and find a near-perfect $500 electric guitar on sale for half the price simply because the owner realized he didn’t fancy guitar after all.
Whatever style or condition guitar you go for, we live in an age where 300 dollars will get you a lot of guitar for your money. Don’t be a brand snob – look at Epiphone, Yamaha, and Squier, who all produce a knock-out guitar on a budget. You’re not going to be getting hand-crafted, American made, active pickups, and custom paintjobs. But you will be getting a guitar that will serve you well for the first few years of your guitar-playing life.
As you can see from our chart and the above tips, there is a huge range of great electric guitar reviews. If you are a smart shopper you can compare and judge the best guitar for your playing style. Also make sure to have a look at our comparisons of guitars in a slightly higher price range, as splashing out a little extra can sometimes get you a whole lot more. While you’re here, make sure to subscribe to the newsletter for regular updates on guitar news, reviews and tips.