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Updated Sep 6, 2022 11:12 AM

Thanks to the instrument’s rich history, decades of design and development, and the prevalence of high-quality CNC machining, it’s never been easier to find an electric guitar under $500. Unlike the budget guitars of years past—which often suffered from issues with durability, tuning stability, and overall playability—approachable electric guitars today are built to precise standards and designed for comfort and reliability above all else. Whether you’re looking for an affordable way to build your existing guitar collection or you’re shopping for a beginner-level instrument, a sub-$500 electric guitar is a great way to get very close to the sound and feel of the pro-level instruments after which they’re modeled while spending less than half the money. In this article, we’ll dive into the best electric guitars under $500 currently available and detail what sets them apart from the crowd.

How we chose the best electric guitars under $500

When selecting the best electric guitars under $500, we combined personal musical and production experiences, as well as the opinion of trusted peers, published critics, and online user impressions. We also considered a handful of criteria when compiling our list, beginning with the sound of a guitar, so we selected products that are capable of delivering some of the most versatile and well-known tones from popular music throughout history. In the case of the purely electric guitars, tone is dictated largely by the pickup configuration, while the acoustic-electric guitar’s body and pickups both contribute equally to its sound performance.

The design and materials of an electric guitar in general play a significant role in the overall playability of the instrument, so we aimed to select electric guitars with woods, finishes, and designs that are easy to play and comfortable to hold. But great instruments are becoming more affordable every day, so we made sure to select instruments that offer the best price-to-performance ratios available, whether as a standalone guitar or as a part of a bundle. Finally, brand reputation goes a long way in determining whether an electric guitar is likely to satisfy its users. Manufacturers like Fender, Gibson, and Martin have decades of experience under their belts, and their sub-$500 instruments are designed specifically to emulate their more expensive guitars at a friendlier price.

Things to consider when buying one of the best electric guitars under $500

What size of guitar do you need?

Not all electric guitars are the same size, so it’s a good idea to consider and compare the arm length and hand size of the prospective player to the scale length and neck profile of the guitar before making a purchase. The measurement from a guitar’s nut to its bridge is known as its scale length, with the most common electric guitar scale being 25.5 inches. Gibson and Epiphone guitars like the Les Paul Special-II have a 24.75-inch scale length, which makes them a little more compact and requires less reach while playing. Scale length differences are even more pronounced in electric bass guitars, where the most common length is 34 inches. For this list, we picked the Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass as the best bass guitar under $500 in part thanks to its shorter and easier-to-play 30-inch scale.

Do you need to purchase accessories?

Electric guitars require amplification to function properly, so you’ll need to factor in the extra cost of at least an amplifier and a cable when buying a guitar under $500. Some electric guitars, such as the Les Paul Special-II, come in a bundle with everything you need to get started. Opting for an electric guitar bundle can be a cost-effective way to stay within your budget but the quality and durability of the accessories usually pale in comparison to more expensive piecemeal items.

What style of music will you be playing?

Every type of electric guitar has its own unique sound. For most pop, rock, and R&B-based styles, a classic solid-body electric guitar like the Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster will cover nearly all the bases. If you’re aiming to play pop, folk, or country styles of music, an acoustic-electric guitar like the Little Martin LX1E may be a better choice thanks to its bright, shimmery tone that’s perfect for strumming. Electric bass guitars are arguably the most versatile option since they offer a sound that’s appropriate for almost every musical style, but they’re very different in function and musical role than a standard guitar.

Best electric guitars under $500: Reviews & Recommendations

Best overall: Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster

Fender

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Why it made the cut: The Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster pulls off the clarity, responsiveness, and unmistakable twang of a vintage Tele at a wallet-friendly price.

Specs

  • Pickups: 2 x single-coil Alnico
  • Scale Length: 25.5 inches
  • Materials: Maple neck, Pine body

Pros

  • Timeless and versatile single-coil electric tone
  • Comfortable modern C-shaped neck profile
  • Stylish hardware and wood finish

Cons

  • Relatively heavy, weighing an average of 9 pounds
  • Gloss neck finish may feel “sticky” to some players
  • Frets may require edge filing out of the box

The Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster is one of the best guitars under $500 currently available, boasting a build quality and finish that prove you don’t have to spend a fortune to find an instrument that sounds, feels, and looks fantastic. It’s built from a sturdy and rather heavy combination of pine and maple and comes in two distinct polyurethane body finish options (white blonde or butterscotch blonde) paired with a black pickguard to closely emulate the look of Fender’s legendary “black guard” Telecasters from the early 1950s. The guitar’s two single-coil Alnico pickups gracefully deliver Fender’s timeless palette of warm and woody tones at the neck coupled with a bright and snappy bridge sound, and its modern C-shaped neck features a 9.5-inch radius to maximize comfort and ease of playability.

Overall, Fender’s quality control of the Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster is excellent, but its price point corresponds to a relative lack of attention to some small finishing details. While any guitar can benefit from a professional setup to ensure that it performs at its best, small issues like sharp, unfinished fret edges and high string action may make a setup more or less a necessity for this Telecaster straight out of the box. Some players may also find its glossy neck finish a bit too grippy, but this is mostly a matter of personal preference and shouldn’t affect playability for the majority of guitarists. Still, if you’re open to a bit of initial maintenance and setup, the Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster is built to sound and feel nearly identical to more expensive models like the Fender Player Telecaster, making it a fantastic way to enjoy one of music history’s most versatile and ubiquitous instruments on a budget. If a Stratocaster is more your style, consider the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster by Fender from the same product line.

Best acoustic-electric: Little Martin LX1E

C. F. Martin & Co.

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Why it made the cut: The Little Martin LX1E is a convenient travel-sized acoustic guitar built from durable laminate wood and equipped with a built-in pickup for amplification.

Specs

  • Pickups: 1 x Fishman Sonitone piezo pickup
  • Scale Length: 23 inches
  • Materials: Birch laminate neck, Spruce top, Mahogany laminate back and sides

Pros

  • Rugged medium-density fibreboard construction
  • Spruce top delivers powerful projection in spite of its small size
  • Includes a padded gig bag for easy transport

Cons

  • The small body delivers less low-end than full-sized acoustics
  • Recessed truss rod requires a special tool for adjustment
  • Built-in tuner is sometimes slow to respond

The Little Martin LX1E’s compact frame, impressive unplugged volume, and easy-to-use electronics make it one of the best acoustic-electric guitars available under $500. As the most affordable acoustic-electric model in the legendary Martin company’s product line, the LX1E is a short-scale travel-friendly instrument composed primarily of a tough wooden fibreboard that’s as cost-effective as it is durable. The guitar features the same traditional solid spruce top found on the best full-sized acoustic guitars, like the Martin D-10E and D-18, which gives the LX1E outsize volume and projection performance for its relatively shallow body. A single 1/4-inch jack and a built-in Fishman pickup allow players to connect the guitar to any PA or amplifier and enjoy clearer and fuller amplified sound than can be achieved with a microphone. 

Like other Martin guitars, the Little Martin LX1E comes with a non-standard truss rod, so you’ll need to purchase a specific wrench to make neck adjustments. Because of its small dimensions, the LX1E also lacks some of the round and open low-end resonance that’s typical of standard-sized acoustic guitars. Though its unplugged sound is bright and woody with plenty of projection, amplifying the LX1E by plugging it in is the best way for players to enjoy a more traditional and full bass response from the guitar. If you have a bit more to spend, the slightly larger body cavity and solid back and sides of the Martin 000Jr-10E deliver a similar unplugged sound with some added low-end presence. But if you’re on a budget, the Little Martin LX1E offers some of the best sound and performance available anywhere in the sub-$500 range.

Best bass: Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass

Fender

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Why it made the cut: This short-scale bass from Squier has a classic and stylish design that’s comfortable to play and delivers a rich low-end thump that’s ideal for a wide range of musical styles.

Specs

  • Pickups: 1 x Alnico split single-coil
  • Scale Length: 30 inches
  • Materials: Maple neck, Nato body

Pros

  • Punchy single-coil pickup delivers timeless and versatile bass tones
  • Short 30-inch scale is comfortable for smaller players
  • Bone nut offers greater sustain and tuning stability than plastic

Cons

  • Requires a setup out of the box for optimal performance
  • Single pickup provides limited tone-shaping options
  • Prone to low-volume electrical hum in certain situations

The Squier Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass is one of the best bass guitars under $500 thanks to its combination of superb build quality, punchy tone, and easy-to-play design. Its single split-coil pickup configuration is similar to that of the legendary Fender Precision Bass, delivering a comparable tonal range that’s appropriate for almost every musical style from rock to R&B. Like other basses in the Mustang product line, the Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang is a short-scale instrument, measuring in at 30 inches from nut to bridge. This smaller scale, combined with the neck’s C-shaped profile, gives the bass an accessible guitar-like feel in the hands that makes it easier to play than standard full-sized basses, especially for players with smaller hands. Despite its small size, the Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass offers up plenty of beefy low-end and defined attack with excellent sustain and tuning stability thanks to its real bone nut and string-through bridge design.

Like other instruments in this price tier, the Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass will perform and feel its best if it’s given a proper initial setup. This may involve neck and bridge adjustments, fret filing, and other small considerations that are overlooked on the production line. The bass may also be prone to buzzing audibly when players’ hands aren’t in contact with the strings, which may catch new owners off guard despite being a fairly common occurrence in the world of electric guitars. All in all, the Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass is an incredible option for a punchy and straightforward tone, but If you’re looking for a wider palette of sound options, the Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Jazz Bass is a solid, similarly priced alternative to consider.

Best beginner: Epiphone Les Paul Electric Guitar Player Pack

Epiphone

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Why it made the cut: The Epiphone Les Paul Player Pack is built around a dual-humbucker Les Paul Special-II electric guitar and includes all the accessories a beginner needs to get started.

Specs 

  • Pickups: 2 x open-coil humbuckers
  • Scale Length: 24.75 inches
  • Materials: Maple neck, Alder body

Pros

  • Includes gig bag, amplifier, strap, cable, and more
  • Dual humbucker configuration offers a variety of tones
  • Comfortable 24.75-inch scale suitable for beginners

Cons

  • Small 10-watt amp limits tonal options
  • Quality control of components necessitates initial adjustments
  • Barebones accessories may lack long-term durability

Assembling all the mandatory accessories for an electric guitar can be a daunting task if you don’t know where to begin. This all-inclusive Player Pack from Epiphone includes everything you need to hit the ground running—including an amplifier, cable, strap, gig bag, and tuner—making it one of the best values on the market for beginning guitarists. The Epiphone Player Pack is built around the Les Paul Special-II, a solid body electric guitar with a dual-humbucker pickup configuration capable of a wide range of sounds suitable for rhythm and lead guitar. Like the Gibson Les Paul after which it’s modeled, the Epiphone Les Paul Special-II features a 24.75-inch scale that’s a little easier to play than the more common 25.5-inch scale found on guitars like the Fender Telecaster. This, combined with the neck’s flat 12-inch radius, make the Les Paul Special-II perfect for playing chords, basic lead lines, and getting acquainted with the instrument overall.

The star of this bundle is definitely the guitar itself—while the inclusion of an amp and cable presents a great value, the low price point of the bundle is reflected in the limited durability and overall quality control of the accessories included. For example, the 10-watt amplifier features a relatively small 6-inch speaker that’s great for basic practice but lacks the detail, volume, and tonal range of more substantial designs. Other components—like the cable, strap, and gig bag—aren’t as durable as other options on the market, but they should hold up fine to light use. In short, the Epiphone Les Paul Player Pack is an absolute steal for any beginning guitarist, but expect to need to upgrade the amplifier, cable, and other accessories down the line if you want to continue growing your relationship and developing your performance with the instrument.

Best budget: Donner Electric Guitar DST-100R

Donner

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Why it made the cut: The Donner DST-100R is an incredibly affordable budget electric guitar that’s capable of a wide range of sounds and comes with a ton of extras.

Specs 

  • Pickups: 2 x single-coil, 1 x humbucker
  • Scale Length: 25.5 inches
  • Materials: Maple neck, Basswood body

Pros

  • Stratocaster-style electronics offer a range of classic guitar tones
  • Amplifier, cable, and other essentials included
  • Easy-to-play C-shaped neck with satin finish

Cons

  • Budget-level build quality affects longevity
  • Issues like jagged frets make some initial user setup mandatory
  • Tuner, amp, and other accessories have limited functionality

If you’re shopping for an electric guitar below $200, the Donner DST-100R is one of the better budget values currently available on the market. Consisting of a Stratocaster-style electric guitar bundled with an amplifier, gig bag, tuner, capo, and more, the DST-100R offers a good balance of sound, value, and functionality that will be adequate for most players who are starting from scratch. The guitar itself is built from solid basswood and features two single-coil pickups and a humbucker in the bridge position, giving users access to five different tonal variations suitable for a variety of musical styles. The DST-100R’s C-shaped maple neck features a smooth satin finish that’s comfortable to play and conducive to rapid movements and quick fretting.

The Donner DST-100R offers good build quality and machining overall, but the durability and finish of the components make it more of an instrument to start with and graduate from than anything else. It suffers from a few issues commonly found at this price point like unfiled fret ends, but some users have reported quality control issues like cold solder joints and loose connections as well, which would make a setup all but mandatory. Critical accessories, like the amplifier and tuner, offer a barebones user experience that should suffice for learning, but you’ll definitely want to upgrade them for anything other than simple practice use.

FAQs

Q: How much do electric guitars cost?

Electric guitars can cost anywhere from around $100 up to the tens of thousands of dollars for vintage and collector-grade instruments. Thanks to the reliability and quality of modern machining, low- to mid-tier instruments are much better today than they were even a couple of decades ago, so it’s not hard to find a guitar under $500 that will sound great and last for years.

Q: Do electric guitars need amps?

While you can certainly play an electric guitar unplugged, electric guitars need amps to be heard at any volume louder than human speech. Acoustic-electric guitars are the exception to this rule, since they’re usually designed to produce moderate sound levels without the need for an amplifier.

Q: Do acoustic-electric guitars sound different?

Apart from nontraditional designs, the vast majority of acoustic-electric guitars sound identical to normal acoustic guitars when unplugged. When amplified, acoustic-electric guitars have a unique sound that’s usually bright, clear, and somewhat compressed.

Q: Do electric guitars have batteries?

Most electric guitars don’t have batteries due to being equipped with passive pickups, which are powered by the guitar’s connection to an amplifier. However, the piezoelectric pickups found in most acoustic-electric guitars are active designs that require a battery to produce sufficient electrical signal.

Q: What are the three types of electric guitars?

The three types of electric guitar design are solid body, semi-hollow, and hollow body constructions. Solid-body guitars like the Fender Telecaster are the most commonly found type of electric guitar and offer good sustain with minimal potential for producing feedback. Semi-hollow guitars typically incorporate hollow chambers and solid inner blocks of wood to produce a warmer and rounder sound than a solid body guitar. Hollow body guitars are popular for traditional styles of music including jazz thanks to their unique and woody resonance.

Final thoughts on the best electric guitars under $500

For our money, the best electric guitar under $500 overall is the Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster, thanks to its vintage looks, timeless sound, and great build quality. The Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ’60s Mustang Bass is fantastic for the same reasons and it’s much smaller and easier to play than a standard-sized bass guitar. If folk music is more your thing, the Little Martin LX1E is one of the best acoustic-electric guitars under $500 due to its travel-sized frame and loud volume projection. To save money on accessories, consider an all-in-one beginner package like the Epiphone Les Paul Electric Guitar Player Pack or the Donner Electric Guitar DST-100R, which both feature solid-body electric guitars bundled with an amplifier, cable, strap, and more.