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.
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!