So, you’re on the hunt for one of the best electric guitars under $500/£500? In that case, you’ll probably have noticed that the sheer number of options in this bracket is staggering! Regardless of your musical leaning, you’re sure to find a stellar axe that is just as capable of taking centre stage as it is at accompanying you on the sofa at home. We’d go as far as to say we are living in the golden age of affordable instruments, with vintage reissues from Squier, hard-rocking options from Epiphone, and fully-loaded six-strings from Music Man among the best on offer.
While there’s a sea of wallet-friendly guitars out there, it doesn’t mean all of them are a catch. Yes, inexpensive guitars are built better than ever before, but that doesn’t stop poorly made instruments from flooding the market. So, it’s worth doing a little research before splashing your hard-earned cash on a new guitar. Luckily, we’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you, tracking down what we feel are the best electric guitars available right now for under $500/£500.
In this guide, we’ve opted for guitars that we found to be reliable, stylish and most importantly, fantastic sounding. We wholeheartedly believe that every guitar on this list is not only playable but giggable. So without further ado, let’s dive into these moderately priced tone machines.
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Best electric guitars under $500/£500: Our top picks
Now, if you browse the MusicRadar buyer’s guides regularly, chances are you’ve probably seen one of the Squier Classic Vibe guitars pop up in many of our electric guitar lists. We feature this vintage-inspired series from Squier a lot, and for good reason – they rock! The guitar we’ve opted to showcase here is the Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster because, in our experience, you’d struggle to get a better Tele at this price point. For us, this guitar looks, sounds and feels just like the real deal. It’s dripping with vintage mojo and has more than enough Tele spank hiding away inside those stellar pickups – what more do you need?
If you are seeking a new axe with a little more bite, then the Epiphone SG Special P-90 might just be the guitar for you. We’ve always had a thing for the unadulterated midrange bark of the P-90 – and this humble SG delivers this sound in spades. Heavily inspired by its more expensive big brother, this Epiphone features everything you’d expect from an SG special. With an insanely comfortable neck, vintage-style wrap tailpiece, and attractive finish options, this is a guitar that punches way above its weight.
Best electric guitars under $500/£500: Product guide
The Telecaster is a guitar that everyone should at least try – if not own. The simplistic layout and sonic versatility has captured the hearts of many legendary players from Keef to Springsteen and has even found its way into the hands of modern players such as Jim Root and Tom Morello, proving just how genre-defying this beloved six-string can be.
If you do fancy giving one a go – or indeed adding one to your collection – then you could do far worse than the stunning Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster. This guitar has all the features you’d expect from a retro-inspired Tele, just without the astronomical price tag.
The Classic Vibe alnico single-coil pickups are a perfect throwback to the bright, articulate low output pickups of the early ’50s. At the same time, the vintage-style bridge – with period-correct barrel saddles – gives you the tone and feel you’d expect to see on a higher-end instrument. Really there aren’t enough good things we can say about this guitar. For us, it has the feel, sound and looks and that’s all without mentioning the price!
What’s cooler than a well priced Epiphone SG? One loaded with P-90 pickups and a Pelham Blue finish, of course. Over the years, many players have flocked to the aggressive power of the SG Special, whether that’s Carlos Santana, Pete Townshend or Josh Klinghoffer, and with Epiphone releasing an affordable – yet well spec’d option – now you can as well.
Epiphone are currently going through somewhat of a return to form, so we really shouldn’t be surprised with how good this guitar feels to play. That said, we were taken aback with just how close it was to its more expensive big brother, Gibson. It may not feel exactly like its USA counterpart, the neck profile is different for a start. Still, it does have the same vibe and is able to get you very similar tones at ⅓ of the price.
The return of the classic Kalamazoo headstock is a welcome addition, and so is the GraphTech NuBone nut, era-appropriate wiring, and CTS pots. All this adds up to a guitar that is far more than the sum of its parts and is well worth looking at if you fancy some hard rocking tones on a budget.
Sometimes you just need a hollowbody guitar. For certain applications, the thick, full-bodied sound of these large guitars is just what the doctor ordered, and the Gretsch G2622 Streamliner is a very viable option for those looking to keep the cost down.
The Streamliner series has gone from strength to strength since it was released back in 2016, with one of our personal favourites being the G2622. Just one look at this guitar and you know it has all the retro-stylings you’d expect from the legendary guitar maker. Still, in our experience, it has the tone to boot. This sound comes courtesy of the dual Broad’Tron pickups, which offer a slightly higher output when compared to the FilterTrons found in classic Gretsch models.
Now, as much as we love Gretsch, their completely hollow guitars can get, well, a little vocal at loud volumes, so to speak. Gretsch has included a centre block at the heart of this instrument to combat this and make the guitar appeal to the modern player. As well as taming feedback at excessive volumes, this also alters the overall tone, resulting in more midrange punch and a less boomy low-end – something we certainly appreciate.
Read our full Gretsch G2622 Streamliner review
You don’t need us to tell you that Yamaha makes high-quality guitars – as well as digital pianos, motorcycles and speedboats, for that matter. Still, what you might not know, is there are more options outside of the beginner-friendly Yamaha Pacifica model.
While we love the humble Pacifica – it tops our list of the best beginner electric guitars, after all – we found that the Revstar brings a little more uniqueness to the table. This guitar isn’t just a take on an S-type axe or a reimagined LP, the Revstar is its own thing, with its own personality, and we can’t get enough of it.
While the RS502 can be seen in the hands of YouTube sensation Chris Buck, the RS320 offers a similar look at a fraction of the cost. This low-priced variant keeps the trademarked horned body and dual humbuckers but strips away all other features, leaving you with a straightforward rock machine that just begs to be played – and played loud!
Read our full Yamaha Revstar RS320 review
Ibanez is no stranger to affordable guitars, but the newly released RG421MSP is one of the best we’ve seen from Ibanez in a very long time. Combining out there styling with insane playability, this RG is easily one of the best electric guitars under $500/£500 on the market right now.
Shredders – or aspiring shredders – know just how crucial a thin neck is to achieve those lightning-fast legato licks, and the Ibanez has one of the thinnest out there. Luckily the RG421MSP employs the Wizard III neck profile, meaning you won’t feel any resistance when you are attempting your very best Steve Vai impression.
The main tone generators come in the form of a set of ceramic Quantum humbuckers, which provide plenty of volume and high-end sparkle, perfect for high octane shred or metal and the 5-way selector switch turns this metal monster into a versatile genre-defying axe, that will cover anything you throw at it.
The Cutlass most definitely wears its influence on its sleeve, mind you, the forefather of electric guitar – Leo Fender – did have a hand in the design. While the Cutlass may look strikingly similar to the classic Fender Stratocaster, it feels completely different to play, thanks to its very smooth and rounded neck. If you’ve played a Music Man instrument before, you’ll know what we mean.
Sterling by Music Man brings you all the features and style you’ve come to expect from MM, but at a much more accessible price, and frankly, we can’t believe this guitar in particular, is under $500/£500. With its trio of single-coil pickups, 5-way switching and Fulcrum tremolo system, this guitar isn’t just highly playable, but it wouldn’t look – or sound – out of place on the biggest stages in the world.
This guitar comes in three stunning finish options, two vintage throwbacks, Daphne Blue and Fiesta Red, as well as a sleek modern option – and our personal favourite – Charcoal Frost.
The Affinity series has long been a go-to option for beginners and players on a budget, and when you see how much you get for your money, it’s easy to see why. Like many of the guitars on this list, the Affinity Strat features a poplar body, maple neck, laurel fingerboard and ceramic pickups, but really this guitar is more than a collection of parts – it’s the perfect guitar to kickstart your guitar-playing career.
All of the Affinity guitars we’ve tried – whether that’s the Strat, Tele, or Tele Deluxe – feel incredibly well made and put together. It’s clear that care has been taken when finishing the instrument. Issues such as high-frets or sharp fret ends seem to be few and far between, with the overall quality of the finish being stellar.
It’s worth noting that Fender frequently releases limited-edition versions of the Affinity Strat, with new colour options or pickup configurations, so be sure to keep an eye out for them!
Playing the guitar is 60% attitude, right? Well, the Jackson Rhoads JS32T has bags of attitude – and doesn’t cost the earth. If you are playing extreme forms of music, you’re going to need an extreme axe, and they don’t come more deadly looking than this. Featuring the now iconic offset Rhoads V body, a fast maple neck and high output ceramic pickups, this pointy guitar is built with one thing in mind – metal!
Now, when we stated at the start of this piece that we are living in a golden age of affordable guitars, it was instruments like this that led us to that conclusion. This guitar is insanely well spec’d for its price. We have a mahogany body, graphite-reinforced truss rods, pearloid sharkfin inlays and a Jackson-branded Floyd Rose, all for under $300/£300!
So if you are looking for a low-cost metal guitar, then the Jackson Rhoads JS32T definitely gets our vote.
Read our full Jackson JS32T Rhoads review
Best electric guitars under $500/£500: Buying advice
What we look for in an electric guitar under $500/£500
When trying to pick the best electric guitars under $500/£500, it isn’t good enough to just look at the price. In reality, it doesn’t matter how cheap a guitar is if it doesn’t call to you or set your heart fluttering. So with that in mind, what do we look for?
Well, first of all, we are looking for guitars that aren’t just playable but are giggable as well. Therefore, we need an instrument that’s reliable, well built, and loaded with great sounding pickups. Thankfully, there are many options on the market that suit this criteria – as this list proves.
Now, obviously, we also want a guitar that looks the part as well. We don’t want a guitar that looks entry-level, and we’d say that every guitar in this guide most definitely looks the part.
What type of guitar is right for me?
When it comes to choosing the right guitar for you, it really depends on what sound you are searching for, as this will determine which pickup configuration is right for you. Those longing for a clean, snappy sound may lean towards the iconic bright attack of the Tele, while those looking for something softer may prefer the Stratocaster or Cutlass. On the other hand, if you want to melt faces, you’ll need a decent set of humbuckers and the Jackson or Ibanez models featured here, include stellar humbuckers perfect for high octane playing.
Next is the feel of the guitar. Each brand has its own characteristics and offers a unique playing experience. For example, the Epiphone SG special and Ibanez RG421MSP are worlds apart in terms of feel. One offers players a vintage neck profile, while the other is designed to appeal to contemporary guitarists. So it’s worth trying a few out and seeing which feels right for you.