The best cheap electric guitars for shredding in 2024

Thes sub-$300 guitars feel and sound better than their price tags suggest.

Best overall

Blue Donner DST-400 budget electric guitar on a Southwestern rug

Donner 39-inch Electric Guitar with Case

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Best value

A red Epiphone Power Player Les Paul guitar leaning to the right on its case on a plain background

Epiphone Power Player Les Paul

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Best kit

A light green Fender Squier Affinity Stratocaster Limited Edition guitar with its case on a plain background

Fender Squier Affinity Stratocaster Bundle

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Learning an instrument can be expensive, but a cheap electric guitar can provide a great place to start. In this case, “cheap” doesn’t mean “bad.” Many well-known guitar brands have specific budget- and beginner-friendly lines for players just starting out. These lines often share major characteristics and similar hardware of professional guitars in higher price brackets. A cheap electric guitar also means you won’t dump too much money into your new (and potentially fleeting) hobby if you decide that you’re not ready for the rockstar lifestyle. Shred some power chords—not the cash in your wallet—with the best electric guitars. 

How we chose the best cheap electric guitars 

We don’t mean to brag, but many of the PopSci Gear team know a thing or two about guitars. Although we’ve been in plenty of bands, we’ve also been beginners ourselves. We combined our personal experience with recommendations from professional music pals. We also heavily researched reviews from trusted sources to narrow our picks. To make sure each guitar was truly cheap, we capped prices at $300. Only one guitar on this list exceeds that range, but we had very good reason to make an exception, which we’ll explain.

The best cheap electric guitars: Reviews & Recommendations

From short-lived high school bands formed in garages to far-away travel gigs where you don’t want to bring your prized, expensive guitar on a budget airline, a cheap guitar can be a valuable addition to your guitar stand or rack. One of our choices should help you live out your rockstar dreams. 

Best overall: Donner 39-inch Electric Guitar

Donner 39-inch Electric Guitar

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Specs

  • Body: Solid alder, gloss polyester finish
  • Scale length: 25.5 inches
  • Fretboard: Laurel, 9.5-inch radius, 22 medium-jumbo frets
  • Accessories: Gig bag, guitar strap, guitar cable

Pros

  • Includes accessories
  • Classic style
  • Versatile single-coil and humbucker pickups

Cons

  • Need proper set-up for long-term playability

The Donner DST-400 is the ideal vision for what we want in a cheap electric guitar. It’s budget-friendly, but its solid body and reliable production quality control allow it to last well past your early stages. It includes both single-coil and humbucker pickups to play a wide range of styles, and its classic design means it will never go out of style. It feels great to play and is ready to go right out of the box. 

It also includes basic accessories to get you started: A gig bag, a guitar strap, and a guitar cable. You’ll need to upgrade your amp after the beginner stages, but there’s no better deal than this Donner. 

Best for beginners: Fender Squire Sonic Stratocaster Electric Guitar

Fender Squire Sonic Stratocaster Electric Guitar

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Specs

  • Body: Poplar
  • Scale length: 25.5 inches
  • Fretboard: Maple, 9.5-inch radius, 21 narrow tall frets
  • Accessories: No

Pros

  • Well-built for price
  • Feels good in hands
  • Recognizable body

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with accessories

The Stratocaster is one of the music scene’s most iconic and recognizable guitars. You’re in good company if you pick one up, too. Greats like Buddy Holly, George Harrison, and Jimi Hendrix have called the Stratocaster their choice guitar. Beginners can get in on the fun without shelling out too much cash with Fender’s Squire line, which gives you a reliable instrument made with low cost in mind. Its thin, lightweight body and matte neck feel good in your hands, and it has a similar feel and tone to more expensive Strats. Experienced players will hear the difference in pickups: This one comes with ceramic single-coil pickups, while a traditional Strat comes with alnico (short for aluminum, nickel, and cobalt) pickups. But to a newcomer, it’s a solid guitar that punches above its price point. 

Best for metal: Jackson JS32 Dinky DKA-M Electric Guitar

Jackson JS32 Dinky DKA-M Electric Guitar

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Specs

  • Body: Solid basswood
  • Scale length: 25.5 inches
  • Fretboard: Maple, 12” compound radius, 24 jumbo frets
  • Accessories: No

Pros

  • Big tone for low price
  • Ready to play out of the box
  • Quality construction

Cons

  • A bit more expensive than our other choices

If you’re looking for a guitar that doesn’t cost much but shreds a lot, this is the one for you. The neck is comfortable even when playing fast, speedy passages and its lightweight body doesn’t drag you down over the course of a set. Its solid construction holds up well for years and years, and it’s another choice that plays above its price. It’s playable out of the box and sounds punchy and vicious. It’s more expensive than our other picks, but only by $100. We think its design made for shredding is worth that extra dough.

Best kit: Fender Squier Affinity Stratocaster Limited Edition Bundle

Fender Squier Affinity Stratocaster Limited Edition Bundle

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Specs

  • Body: Poplar
  • Scale length: 25.5 inches
  • Fretboard: Maple, 9.5-inch radius, 21 medium-jumbo frets
  • Accessories: 10G amplifier, gig bag, instrument cable, tuner, strap, picks, and instructional DVD

Pros

  • Comes with an instructional DVD
  • Lots of bonus accessories
  • Incredible price for what you get

Cons

  • Reviews note some items from bundle are missing from order

This kit is a one-stop solution if you want to buy a guitar but don’t know where to start. The Fender Squire Affinity Stratocaster is the next price step up from the Sonic series, and the medium jumbo frets make for smooth playing. The amp is perfect for practicing at home, and the included instructional DVD means you don’t have to shell out cash for lessons. Some reviews note that their order arrived incomplete; the same reviews also noted that the seller is responsive and happily sends any missing items.

Best value: Epiphone Power Player Les Paul

Epiphone Power Player Les Paul

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Specs

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Scale length: 22.73 inches
  • Fretboard: Laurel, 12-inch radius, 22 frets
  • Accessories: Gig bag, strap, picks, guitar cable

Pros

  • Small scale
  • Iconic guitar
  • Stays in tune longer

Cons

  • Not great for someone looking for longevity

The Les Paul is an iconic guitar named and created by Les Paul, a prolific jazz, country, and blues guitar player. The Les Paul guitar is one of the most versatile guitars. It can tackle rock, blues, and jazz and is perfect if you’re looking for a full and resonant sound. This one comes from Gibson’s Epiphone line, which is similar to Fender’s Squire line. It’s a great size for youths and makes for a great travel guitar for more experienced players. It has a comfortable neck and stays in tune longer compared to other student models. Plus, humbucker pickups make even the easiest of chords sound rich, warm, and heavenly. This is a guitar made with students in mind, so it might need to be replaced as the player grows. 

What to consider when buying the best cheap electric guitars

Not all axes are made the same. Here’s what to look for when shopping for the best cheap electric guitars. 

Scale length

Scale length is the distance between the nut of the guitar and the bridge. Shorter scales can be good for younger players who don’t have large enough hands for bigger instruments. A normal scale for a guitar is around 25 inches. However, guitars with a shorter scale have less string tension, which is a recipe for fret buzzing (when the note sounds “fuzzy” because you’re not pressing hard enough on the string) and intonation problems. 

The fret distance on a 25.5-inch scale guitar only differs about a thousandth of an inch from that of a 24.75-inch scale guitar. That may not sound like much, but the difference is noticeable for players. At the end of the day, it matters that the guitar feels right in your hands, and choosing the right scale helps with that. 

Pickups

Without pickups, your electric guitar would just be a quiet, terrible-sounding acoustic. These magnetic components sit under the strings and convert the vibrations from the strings into electrical current and eventually sound.

Single-coil and humbuckers (double coil) are the most well-known designs of pickups:

  • Single coil: Brighter, crisper, work better with clean sounds, more note definition between strings.
  • Humbuckers: Warmer, darker, work better with distorted sounds, less note definition between strings. 

Pickups generate two kinds of voltage:

  • Passive: Generates voltage with magnets only. Guitars with passive pickups are generally cheaper and create more expression because they’re sensitive to the vibration of the strings. 
  • Active: Generates voltage with weaker magnets that are supported by a preamp. Greater tonal clarity. They create more tonal consistency at different volumes.

Versatility

Different guitars generate different timbres (the quality of the note), which suit specific genres. You can always change the sound with the pedals on your pedalboard, but some tones come inherent to the guitar. A Fender Stratocaster is great for rock, pop, blues, jazz, punk, and heavy metal. A Gibson Les Paul is excellent for rock, country, pop, soul, and rhythm and blues.

Fretboard radius

The lower a fretboard’s radius, the more curve it has. Predictably, a higher number translates into a flatter fretboard. Why does that matter? It all goes back to how the guitar feels in your hands. Choosing a fretboard radius is based on preference. Some musicians think curved fretboards are better for chords, while others feel flatter fretboards help them with bar chords.

Player experience

You don’t need to look too deep into things like pickups if you’re a beginner. However, you can save more bang for your buck if you look for a guitar that’s great for beginners and can grow with you as you improve as a musician. The Donner 39-inch Electric Guitar is an example of a beginner-friendly guitar that’s cheap and won’t need to be replaced after a year or two of learning. 

FAQs

Q: Do I need more than one electric guitar?

It depends. If you’re using different tunings for different songs, having a specific guitar for that tuning can make it easier to switch from one tuning to another. Guitars also have certain tones, from the crisp, cleanness of a Fender Stratocaster to the absolute sonic racket of a Gibson Les Paul. 

Q: How long do cheap electric guitars last? 

With good care, even a cheap electric guitar can last between 20-30 years. 

Q: Do electric guitars hurt less? 

By “hurt less,” we assume you’re talking about the raw, throbbing pain on your fingertips when you first begin to play. Electric guitars have a thinner neck, less space between frets (making it easier to reach each note in a chord), and the strings sit closer to the fretboard. This means it requires less pressure and a lighter touch to play a note. However, the only true way you’ll “hurt less” when playing the guitar is practicing, which will build up your calluses and finger strength.

Q: How do I choose the right guitar pickups?

That is an entire article in itself! To make a long answer short, it depends on personal preference and what you’d like your signature sound to be. A pickup alone also doesn’t determine your sound: neck and body tonewoods also have an effect. There is no wrong answer when it comes to choosing a guitar pickup

Q: How much does a cheap electric guitar cost?

Depending on the build, a cheap electric guitar will run you between $140-$400.

Final thoughts on the best cheap electric guitars 

If you want to learn to play guitar but don’t want to spend a lot of money, consider a cheap electric guitar. They’re perfect for beginners who may not want to invest a ton of cash into a new hobby, or for those who want to learn guitar on a budget. Many guitar makers have specific, beginner-friendly lines that are easy on your wallet—just add a stand and a practice amp and you’re set. Now get to practicing, you rockstar. 

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.

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Amanda Reed

Updates Writer

Amanda Reed is a commerce updates writer at Popular Science. She makes sure all product round-ups are up-to-date, shares deals happening all over the internet, and reviews various gizmos and gadgets. She lives in Pittsburgh with JunkJunk, a handsome, sad-looking tuxedo cat who only wants wet food and attention.