Best Electric Guitars under $500 of 2019 – Reviews and Top Picks

There is a misconception that only expensive axes are good and professionals won’t consider a guitar that costs less that $2,000.

Wrong.

Honestly, guitarists aren’t billionaires (most of us anyway) and we need to improve our techniques, research new genres, tricks and brands and we need several guitars for it! Well, two at least, maybe three. The bottom line is that amateurs and experienced players also buy budget guitars for many reasons. For example, recently, I found myself in need of adding a new guitar to my collection, and I simply couldn’t afford another $2,000 Fender. I was searching specifically for budget Fenders like the Squier, but I stumbled upon several other good options, so I’ve decided to compile a small list of my favourites. Take a look!

  • Fender Modern Player Tele Plus
  • Rating:
  • Body type: Solid
  • Body shape: Telecaster
  • Body wood: Pine
  • Neck: “C”-shape, Bolt-on
  • Neck material: Maple
  • Pick up: H/S/S configuration: Dual Modern Player Tele / Strat single-coil; Modern Player Humbucker
  • Fretboard wood: Maple
  • Frets: 22, Jumbo
  • Bridge: Vintage Style 6-Saddle Strings-Through-Body Hardtail Bridge
  • Tuners: Vintage Style Tuning Machines
  • Ibanez JEMJRWH Steve Vai Signature 6-String
  • Rating:
  • Body type: Solid
  • Body shape: JEM
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Neck: Wizard III
  • Neck material: Maple
  • Pick up: H/H/S Dual Quantum Humbucker + Single-coil
  • Fretboard wood: Jatoba
  • Frets: 24, Jumbo
  • Bridge: Double-locking Bridge
  • Tuners: Cosmo Black
  • ESP 6 String LTD EC-256
  • Rating:
  • Body type: Solid
  • Body shape: Single Cutaway
  • Body wood: Mahogany
  • Neck: Thin U
  • Neck material: Mahogany, 3-piece
  • Pick up: Dual LH-150 humbuckers
  • Fretboard wood: Rosewood
  • Frets: 22, Extra-Jumbo
  • Bridge: Fixed Tune-o-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
  • Tuners: Deluxe sealed
Name
Body type:
Body shape:
Body wood:
Neck:
Neck material:
Price
Name
Body type:
Body shape:
Body wood:
Neck:
Neck material:
Price
№1
Solid
Telecaster
Pine
“C”-shape, Bolt-on
Maple
№2
Solid
JEM
Mahogany
Wizard III
Maple
№3
Solid
Single Cutaway
Mahogany
Thin U
Mahogany, 3-piece
№4
Solid
Les Paul
Mahogany
Slim Taper D Profile
Mahogany
№5
Solid
Double cutaway
Nato
Nato
№7
Solid
SG
Mahogany
SlimTaper “D”, Set
Mahogany
№8
Semi-hollow
Dot
Laminated maple
SlimTaper “D”, Set
Mahogany

The Fender Modern series is the reimagined classic that lives on the iconic “my-first-Fender tradition” and offers a vintage looking guitars with modern twists. The Tele Plus screams Fender traditions, as it looks exactly like a traditional Telecaster, but it has some cheeky add-ons such as H/S/S configuration of the classic Tele-style neck pickup, a Stratocaster-style middle pickup, and a humbucker at the bridge. In addition to that, it features a singular set of pickups with a Strat-style hardtail bridge.

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
Telecaster
Body wood:
Pine
Neck:
“C”-shape, Bolt-on
Neck material:
Maple
Pick up:
H/S/S configuration: Dual Modern Player Tele / Strat single-coil; Modern Player Humbucker
Fretboard wood:
Maple
Frets:
22, Jumbo
Bridge:
Vintage Style 6-Saddle Strings-Through-Body Hardtail Bridge
Tuners:
Vintage Style Tuning Machines
PROS

Original Tele tonewood and shape

Flexible H/S/S configuration featuring both Strat and Tele single-coil pickups

Sound Versatility

Cons

Might be challenging for novice players

Poor bridge pickup

I don’t know about you, but I have a soft spot for signature guitars. Steve Vai’s signature guitars became as iconic as he is, and even the budget version can deliver the versatility and playability they are famous for. The axe features a JEM body with Wizard III neck, and a signature “monkey grip” handle. It’s set up with two Quantum humbuckers and one Quantum single-coil pickup completed with five-way switching. It’s finished with a stable double-locking tremolo bridge.

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
JEM
Body wood:
Mahogany
Neck:
Wizard III
Neck material:
Maple
Pick up:
H/H/S Dual Quantum Humbucker + Single-coil
Fretboard wood:
Jatoba
Frets:
24, Jumbo
Bridge:
Double-locking Bridge
Tuners:
Cosmo Black
PROS

Wizard III neck

Ultra-fast playability

Quantum pickups

Tonal aggression and powerful sound

Cons

Does not stay in tune

Tremolo bar gets loose

Fret buzz

Japanese ESP is widely popular and respected for their LTD series of budget guitars. ESP LTD EC-256 is not, by any means, a top-of-the-line axe, but it’s a great basic guitar ideal for guitar beginners. It starts with classic woods: mahogany body and neck, and rosewood fingerboard. It does resemble a Les Paul, due to its flamed maple top, single cut shape and thing U-shaped neck. The guitar features two LH-150 humbuckers, with a three-way selector switch, die-cast tuners and fixed Tune-o-Matic bridge.

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
Single Cutaway
Body wood:
Mahogany
Neck:
Thin U
Neck material:
Mahogany, 3-piece
Pick up:
Dual LH-150 humbuckers
Fretboard wood:
Rosewood
Frets:
22, Extra-Jumbo
Bridge:
Fixed Tune-o-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
Tuners:
Deluxe sealed
PROS

Comfort build and smooth finish

Easy-to-control

Leaning towards metal sound

Cons

Muffled sound of the pickups

The world’s most popular electric guitar, Les Paul Standard carries out the classic Gibson sound and is a staple of the guitar history. The guitar is powered by two Alnico Classic humbuckers with Alnico-magnets. Pickups have Volume and Tone control with vintage-styled Amber ‘Top Hats” knobs and the Epiphone’s all-metal 3-way pickup selector switch. It also features feature the nickel LockTone™ Bridge and Stopbar Tailpiece combo, and the Grover tuning machines. The axe maybe slightly more expensive than other guitars on the list, but it is worth it and not only for beginners!

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
Les Paul
Body wood:
Mahogany
Neck:
Slim Taper D Profile
Neck material:
Mahogany
Pick up:
Dual Alnico Classic Humbuckers
Fretboard wood:
Pau Ferro
Frets:
22, Medium Jumbo
Bridge:
LockTone Tune-o-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
Tuners:
Grover Sealed
PROS

Classic Les Paul design and set up

Good electronics and minimal humming

Exceptional control

Sound and tonal versatility

Cons

Tricky to tune

Short scale length

Relatively new to the guitar scene, Yamaha appears to know what they are doing. The RevStar is inspired by London and Tokyo’s street-racing motorcycle, and has dramatic curves and truly bold look. The RS420 features Yamaha custom hardware and electronics, it produces muscular powerful sound. It has solid nato body, VH3 vintage output humbuckers, special Yamaha-only 3-way lever Dry switch.

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
Double cutaway
Body wood:
Nato
Neck:
Neck material:
Nato
Pick up:
VH3 Vintage output humbuckers
Fretboard wood:
Rosewood
Frets:
22, Medium Jumbo
Bridge:
Fixed Tune-o-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
Tuners:
Die-cast
PROS

Exceptional Playability

Sound quality

Visceral, punchy and powerful tone

Cons

Poorly set up knobs

And of course, the Squier is here. There are plenty of models in the series, but I’ve chosen the Classic Vibe 50’s Strat because it truly represents Fender’s identity without breaking the bank. “Vibe” in the title means that the guitar was made exactly to the specs of the original 50’s Strats, except maybe for the Alder body instead of classic basswood. It features 9.5 fingerboard with 21 frets and modern “C” shaped neck. It’s set up with 3 Custom vintage style single-coil Strat pickups with Alnico III magnet pole pieces.

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
Stratocaster
Body wood:
Alder
Neck:
“C”-shape
Neck material:
Maple
Pick up:
Three Custom Vintage Style Single-coil Strat
Fretboard wood:
Maple
Frets:
21
Bridge:
Vintage-style synchronized vibrato
Tuners:
Vintage-style Tuning Machines
PROS

Excellent craftsmanship

Solid electronics

Classic Gibson sound

Cons

Mediocre tremolo

The Epiphone G-400 Pro is a lean, mean music machine, just like it’s original counterpart and Gibson SG. Just like the Gibson SG – a favourite among iconic musicians such as Angus Yough or Tommy Iommi – G-400 delivers bitey sound and overdriven tones. It has solid mahogany body, a SlimTaper mahogany necks, a pair of smoking Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers and LockTone TOM bridge.

Body type:
Solid
Body shape:
SG
Body wood:
Mahogany
Neck:
SlimTaper “D”, Set
Neck material:
Mahogany
Pick up:
Dual Alnico Classic PRO Humbuckers
Fretboard wood:
Pau Ferro
Frets:
22, Medium Jumbo
Bridge:
LockTone Tune-o-Matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece
Tuners:
Epiphone Deluxe
PROS

Smoking humbuckers

Classic Gibson tone

Sounds sustain (both amped and acoustically)

SlimTaper neck

Cons

Came short of quality, compare to SG

Poor tuning stability

Occasional fret buzz

If you prefer semi-hollow electric guitars – everyone has preference – take a look at the Epiphone, who’s pretty damn good at this. DOT ES designed after the ES-335, and has mahogany centre block with maple top, sides and back. It features a set of Alnico Classic and Alnico Classic Plus humbuckers.

Body type:
Semi-hollow
Body shape:
Dot
Body wood:
Laminated maple
Neck:
SlimTaper “D”, Set
Neck material:
Mahogany
Pick up:
Dual Alnico Classic Humbuckers
Fretboard wood:
Rosewood
Frets:
22
Bridge:
Tune-o-matic, Stopbar
Tuners:
PROS

Ideal for blues

Sonic versatility

Minimum feedback

Cons

Sound isn’t too crisp

Buyer’s Guide

Used VS New

To be fair, unless you are searching for a guitar that’s been played by Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, I’d always recommend going for a brand new one. It simply has higher chance of playing better and lasting longer.

The main reason why people buy used guitars is to save money. Nowadays, it’s not that feasible anymore because of the many budget options on the market. Another problem with used guitars if that guitarists tend to tweak and upgrade guitars to their own preference, thus you’ll never know for sure what kind of sound you are going to get.

Overall, if we are talking about guitars for under $500, which I’d say is a minimum for a good quality instrument. There is no reason to pay this money for a used guitar. Maybe, they will lack compared to expensive options, but chances are, it will be better than a used one by a huge margin. Plus, you always have a room for improvement and can adjust the axe over the course of time.

Are they only for beginners?

The thing is, $500 falls into to the category of budget guitar simply cause some guitars go for $5,000. Thus, there is a presumption, that real professionals only buy expensive ones, while beginners have to go for cheap versions but honestly, that’s not the case. Not everyone can afford such expensive guitars, that’s exactly why prominent guitar brands produce budget series that range from $300-$1000.

I’d say $400-$500 is a minimum for a good quality instrument amateurs and professionals will appreciate. If you are a complete beginner and can spend this much on a guitar, you are in luck – guitars of this range are a huge step up in quality from the cheaper ones, and will last longer. For more experienced players, you can find truly solid axes such as Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Strat or Epiphone Les Paul. They sound great on their own, and powerful enough to improve your techniques and practive.

How to choose a $500 Guitar?

As with any guitar, it’s important to look at the materials- hardware and electronics.

When it comes to materials, bear in mind that a lower price range usually means a lower quality of materials so don’t be startled when you see pine, pau ferro or nato. They are still legitimate materials and sound good. Ideally, you should go for a mahogany/basswood tonewood, maple neck, and rosewood fretboard.

Hardware and electronics are tricky. Technically, budget guitars tend to have some issues with hardware setup – so whenever you get the axe, no matter what bridge it is – always check how tight it is screwed to the body. If it’s loose, either change the instrument or take it to the doctor to be fixed.

The Electronics of the guitar is an eternal fight for guitar players, based on your pure preference and skills. Humbuckers are considered to be an optimal option for electric guitars of any price range, but every third axe has single-coils. I personally prefer the combination of both (H/S/S), but I recommend that you try the guitars out in the store first and choose your favourite. Also, bear in mind you can always change the pickups (and bridge) to your liking.

What’s different between guitars under $500 and expensive axes?

Simple answer is – materials and electronics. Does it have significant influence on produced sound? Most certainly.

Budget guitars don’t have high-tech pickups, switches, bridges and other electronic thingies. They still deliver playability, sound versatility and suitable for jamming and gigs. However, if you are a professional, you need more from your axe in terms of sound production and control, which $500 can’t provide. Also, as budget guitars are usually produced in Asia, there is less strict quality control and they sometimes come with a poor finish and loose parts. This almost never happens with the high-end axes.

However, as I said earlier, $500 is a huge step up from the cheaper guitars, as it includes better electronics and guitars, and overall better sound and will serve you longer. These guitars might have their flaws, but minor tweaks and maintenance could give you an axe that sounds as good as a $2,000 guitar.

Conclusion

There are a lot of really good electronic axes for just $500. They might not be for complete beginners or professional, but everyone in between should focus on this price range if you don’t want to break a bank. Among all the guitars I looked at, I would personally recommend the Squier Classic Vibe 50’s and the Fender Modern Plus Tele. For everyone else, I’d say the Epiphone Les Paul would be a no-brainer – it’s classy, powerful and a lot of room for upgrades!

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By Max Hudson
    about author

    My name is Max Hudson, born and raised in Chicago. I'm 30 years old and like many other people, I discovered guitar in my teens and have never looked back since. It has quickly evolved into a passion and has given me a creative outlet, something to redirect my time and unlimited energy toward. I want this website to be a handbook for players of all skill levels. It can become a starting point for your new hobby, where you can find the right instrument, get tips for playing effortlessly or anything else music related.

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