Table of Contents
- The Top Beginner Electric Guitars
- Should I Start With An Acoustic Or An Electric One?
- What should you look for when making your initial purchase?
There are few things that are as relaxing, mentally stimulating and socially rewarding as learning to play guitar.
Buying your first guitar, however, can be tricky. There are a lot of trashy versions available.
Just stop by any Wal-Mart where they almost always offer a First Act for well under $100.
These extremely cheap instruments are poor substitutes for the real thing. In this guide, I offer high-quality yet cheap electric guitars for beginners.
Too cheap of purchase will just give you tons of frustration and horrible sound.
You can easily buy the wrong first electric guitar. It is hard to practice when your equipment is always breaking. It’s also hard to learn to play by ear when you sound like a dying cat. And if it doesn’t hold a tune and has to be constantly re-tuned, it can be difficult as a newbie to always have to be fiddling with it. (You will have to learn how to tune, but it’s best if you only have to mess with it once a day at most.)
An expensive guitar won’t make you an amazing guitarist, but a crappy one will prevent you from ever learning your first three chords.
Most beginning guitarists really can’t afford to spend $500. You don’t know yet if you are going to stick with it — or even enjoy it, for that matter. Sure you may aspire to one day copy one of the greats — but you really don’t know what sound you are going to steer towards.
So it makes sends to spend conservatively, and get started, and then trade up on down the road once you have a better idea what you want.
For this list, I’ve gone through the most popular guitars on Amazon and picked out the best electric guitars. I really focused on durability and quality, aiming to guide you towards a cheap option that will hold its resale value.
I also spend some time explaining different features such as fingerboards, tuning pegs and pickups — and how they can help or hurt you as you learn to play.
The content here should make the selection process a lot easier!
The Top Beginner Electric Guitars
I remember saving up for my first guitar. It seemed like it took so long to get the money together. I was that guy always hanging out at the music store, looking longingly at the guitars while all of the shop employees felt bad for me.
Below, I go over 5 of the top guitars an entry-level player should consider.
1.Fender Squier Vintage Mustang
If you have $300 to spend, you are doing better than most beginners. For around $300, you should be able to buy a pretty nice beginner- to intermediate-level guitar
If there is one company that excels in producing consistent, quality instruments, it is Fender. Their guitars deliver some of the most consistent tones and reliable electronics on the market… and they’ve been on the market for quite some time.
Heck. They even have Bono on their Board of Directors.
You’ve got to check out the Squier Vintage Mustang. This classic design pulls in some of Fender’s most timeless work into a playing machine that will never go out of style.
The Mustang uses a basswood body that creates a “warm” tone perfect for growling Rock.
This guitar is not only constructed well, it has a lot of fun elements worked into it that makes it fun to play. Features like a dynamic vibrato tailpiece and the Duncan Designed magnetic pickups make this a guitar that sounds good both in the bedroom (or den) and on stage.
The downside to this guitar is that it is made in Indonesia and Korea. For a lot of people, this is a pretty big turn-off, and I can understand that. However, Fender has a reputation to uphold, and the Vintage Mustang does a good job of that.
This guitar is so solid that even when you move on to more fancy equipment, you will want to keep it for “messing around.”
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2.Epiphone Les Paul Standard
This is an easy choice. And the best part, is you’ll still have enough gas money left over to make it to your next gig.
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is our top pick for this category.
The solid basswood body and the rosewood fingerboard delivers a rich tone that is only made warmer by the shorter 24.75 scale fingerboard. The shorter fingerboard makes it easier for you to practice your patterns without needing a lot of time to “reset” between chords.
The tune-o-matic bridge is one of the best that you could hope to get, and works wonderfully for keeping this guitar in tune.
Quality-wise, this Epiphone is virtually unmatched. The Probucker2 and Probucker 3 Epiphone Humbucker pickups with a push-pull toggle lets you easily adjust between your pickups to get the sound you want.
This likely the most bluesy guitar on the list. so if you are looking to play rock, you might move on down to my review of the Stratocaster, Telecaster or Mustang. But for a warm, mellow blues sound, this epiphone is hard to beat.
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3. Ibanez Hollow Body
I thought it might be fun to include a hollow body guitar on this list. As a a primarily acoustic guitar player, I love the sounds that an acoustic guitar brings to the show. The added sustain is a unique sound that you won’t find in a solid body electric.
This is a sapele body guitar. Sapele is also known as “African Mahogany” and brings warmer tones to the guitar notes. This is complemented well with the Infinity R humbucker pickups which deliver that little bit of overdrive you need for ultimate flexibility.
One of my favorite artists — Chris Daughtery — makes liberal use of a semi-hollow body guitar. And it makes sense, this Ibanez is going to be perfect for Rock, Grunge, Blues and Jazz. It is literally stage-ready and even mid-level guitar players will be surprised at how little money you spent on it.
Be aware that the strings are a little thicker on this and the body is a little larger. If you are wanting a guitar that is easiest to play and that really sings on the high notes, then you might stick with one of the tele or strat classics.
However, for a partially-acoustic guitar that you can practice quietly with when it is unplugged, and that delivers a much better sound than what you are paying for, this one is hard to beat.
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4.Fender Squier Telecaster
You’ll notice that Fender is well-represented on this list with their Squier brand. As one of the few guitar manufacturers that has the connections to produce a guitar cheaply that still has a good sound quality, Fender is the top brand to consider.
It’s hard to beat the classic look of a Telecaster. With a solid alder body, this guitar feels authentic and delivers reliable sound and playability. The 1 piece maple neck has a comfortable 9.5 inch radius which makes this an ideal beginner guitar.
It comes with 3 single coil strat pickups. This uses the Alnico 35 single coil pickups in all three positions, which delivers a wonderfully full sound. The Alnico 5’s are considered a “brighter” sound with better emphasis on the mids and highs and I find that this guitar absolutely sings when playing lead role and delivers a pulsing rhythm that sets the pace when you need.
Well known as the sound behind classic country, this Telecaster is also one of the best guitars that you could consider for rock music, and will work for blues and jazz as well.
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5. Fender Squier Stratocaster
This list wouldn’t be complete without offering a Stratocaster in the beginner price range.
When Fender wanted to upgrade the Telecaster to create a more modern, rock and roll sound, they invented the Stratocaster. With more pickups, and individual knobs for each pickup, the Stratocaster quickly gained popularity.
As with the ofhter Fenders on this list, this one uses a solid alder body. This closed pore wood delivers excellent sustain and is perfect for adding the 3, single-coil Stratocaster pickups. Unlike the telecaster above, I don’t believe these are Alnico 3’s and you miss a little bit volume on the low end. So if that is something you are looking for, you may consider upgrading pickups down the road.
The Maple neck and fretboard is an absolute pleasure to play.
This strat comes with a tremolo bridge for adding that nice stat shimmy. I’m personally not a fan of tremolo bridges on a beginner’s guitar as I feel like it adds a level of complication to the instrument.
However, it wouldn’t be a proper Stratocaster without it.
Personally, I’m in love with the sound and playability of the Telecaster. But the Stratocaster is the iconic sound that most of us have grown up listening to and there is a reason it is considered the most versatile guitar. This one sounds good no matter what style of music you are playing (except for metal where you need a lot of output).
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6. Yamaha Pacifica
I’m pretty sure this list wouldn’t be complete without adding a Yamaha to it.
The solid body is made from Agathis. Agathis is a softer wood that sounds a lot like Linden or Basswood in the tonal qualities. There is plenty of warmth and sustain, but you will want to protect the body from dents and dings.
The Pacifica series is made for serious jamming. You’ll notice that they invest a little more in your pickups, providing you with a series of pickups that is normally reserved for more expensive guitars. It uses Alnico V magnets on all of the pickups. For the body and neck pickup it use a single coil, and then is has a humbucker in the bridge pickup position for that added volume. A 5-way switch gives you ultimate control over which pickup you are using.
It also comes with a vintage tremolo for that classic vibe and strat shimmerr.
This would be a good choice for those of you eyeing the flexibility of the stratocaster but wanting a cheaper option. The Pacifica will do everything the strat could do but it will also put a hundred dollars back into your pocket.
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7. Fender Affinity Squier Starter Kit
Package deals are an excellent way for a beginner to save money and get everything they need.
This is a great set up kit for the beginning to intermediate player. With your instrument, you receive an amp, digital tuner, strap, gig bag, 3 medium picks, cable, stand and an instructional DVD.
The instrument in this kit is a Squier Affinity solid body. It has great sound, wonderful tone, sweet looks and is very easy to play. The C-shape neck is constructed of maple and has a light varnish and is easy to play on. It has a rosewood fingerboard and 22 medium jumbo frets as well as three single coil pickups. The pickups give a wonderfully rich tone and all of the knobs are high quality and solid.
You will also appreciate the headphone jack that allows you to practice without bothering anyone around you. With several color options to choose from, this model is very stylish and pleasing to the eye. It is a great value and very good quality for the price tag. It comes pre-tuned and the set includes an easy to use a digital tuner to provide quick and easy tune ups when needed. (Thankfully, the instrument stays in tune very well between uses.)
The 15 watt practice amp is constructed solidly and comes with the useful addition of an auxiliary input allowing you to plug in other sources, such as your radio or iPhone and play along to your favorite tunes. It offers both overdrive (distortion) and good clean channels to choose from. Easily accomplishes a pleasing crunchy sound when you want it to.
Due to the fact that the amp is not very high end, the built in overdrive on this piece is rather muddy. Also, rather than having a gain knob for smoother adjustment, it comes with a button. To achieve better overdrive, consider hooking up an external distortion pedal. Having said all of that, it’s really best for use in playing blues or jazz, but if you are looking for someone that will accomplish more metal or rock sound, you might look elsewhere.
As far as looks go, this little amp is like a mini version of the larger, more expensive options, with the gray/ silver tweed cover and black top that is classic to Fender amps. It has a surprising amount of weight for its size and the same can be said for its volume levels. This little thing can easily fill up a decent sized room but also quiets down very well for softer playing without losing tone quality.
The included soft gig bag is padded and has a handy pocket on the front for carrying around your music, cheat sheets, tuner, picks, and other small gear.
In the end, more advanced players will likely want to look elsewhere, but if you have always wanted to learn guitar, or if you are in need of good quality, lower end model due to limited funds, this set will serve you well. With this set, you will have everything you need to get you going.
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8. Gibson Maestro
Most of these lists leave the Gibson off because it is difficult to get a Gibson for under $1,000. They are a phenomenal brand with a beautiful sound and top-level craftsmanship. Most of their cheaper models have been shuffled to the Epiphone brand which is owned by the same parent company.
So this Maestro starter kit is a fun addition to our list.
We often see guitars sold as being “basswood”. This one sells itself as a solid body “linden wood” guitar, but I think that is a typo since basswood comes from Linden trees. This gives the guitar a warm sound with good midrange, and is a lighweight wood which makes this instrument fun to play.
However, it is a softer wood, so care needs to be taken to not dent it.
The Bolt on neck is durable with a satin finish. This keeps it holding its tune well and and is an absolutel pleasure to play. The cutouts also allows easy access to the high notes, which allows for intricate fingering of the high notes.
The single humbucker pickup provides clear tones that work well with almost any amplifier.
When you buy this kit it comes with everything you need to get started, including a super quite practice amp. While it isn’t going to sing like the Fender’s I reviewed above, it is going to be an excellent beginner electric guitar that needs minimal effort to play.
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9. The Sawtooth Guitar and Amp Kit
This kit comes with a great electric guitar and the accompanying accessories include a clip-on digital tuner, an assorted pack of picks, a ten-foot cable, a strap, and a stand as well as a small amp and a lined vinyl gig bag. This is a really great kit for beginners and enthusiasts alike. The high quality of this package would be hard to match in any other guitar pack in this price range. Overall the finish and fit are excellent. The one has a solid basswood body, available in several different color/ finish choices.
The neck of this instrument is designed in an easy to play c shape. The fingerboard is made of maple and has 22 medium jumbo frets with dot position inlays to guide your playing. The instrument comes with an asynchronous tremolo bridge, a five-way selector switch, a master volume control, and two tone controls as well as three single coil pickups. The overall weight is about twenty pounds and is only available in right-hand configuration.
Sawtooths are highly versatile and will provide you with a good solid tone that is well suited to a very wide range of music styles. Great care is taken in the crafting of these instruments to provide you with not only a sleek and stylish look but also great sound, ease of play and a wonderful vintage vibe. You will find that this quality instrument is designed with built-in upgrades including chrome finish tuners, high-quality truss rod covers, knobs and nuts and three-ply pickguards for the ultimate playing experience.
The 10 watt Amp is small, about the size of a cereal box, but it is effective and you will find that it puts out a very good quality sound and it achieves great volume levels considering its size. The vinyl gig case is padded and the entire package is sufficiently compact so that you can easily carry everything around when you are on the go.
This kit will not only provide you with a great set up if you are a beginner, but it is high enough quality to appeal even to more seasoned players. Overall this is a great deal for the price and you would be hard pressed to find another kit within the same price range that provides the same level of quality you will find in this package.
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And that’s all for this comparison review! If you have a friend who plays, see what they think and get their recommendations! It never hurts to ask for another opinion! While we have worked hard to bring you a list of the best options available to purchase online, you will discover that musicians are more than happy to share information on their favorites!
Should I Start With An Acoustic Or An Electric One?
I’ve heard it discussed both ways. And I will agree that a lot of newbies get distracted by all of the “bells and whistles” that comes when you have an electric guitar.
You can easily spend 15 minutes of your 30-minute practice just playing with sound effects on your amp.
So if you go with an electric guitar, promise yourself that you will not mess with any of the effects for a good 6 months. Volume control. That’s it. You are here to practice.
However, if you are sure that you want to learn, they are a great way to go and you can even take advantage of some of the new systems and games — such as Rocksmith — to help speed up your learning and catapult you towards becoming a true musician.
What should you look for when making your initial purchase?
The Wood – This is the most important part of your guitar. You can even go a little cheaper on the pickups just to get a better tone. After all, you can always upgrade your pickups down the road as your playing gets more serious.
The wood of the neck and the body are referred to as “tonewood,” and can affect the sound it makes based on the type of wood and the region it was cut from. (Three identical guitars can all have slightly different tonal qualities).
Because of this, it is important to pay attention to the wood quality used for the tonewood.
However, you will likely need to play for a little while before you really settle on what pickup you like.
A Better Guitar DOES NOT Make You A Better Guitarist
Too many beginning guitarists get all hung up on their type of guitar. It really doesn’t matter. If it stays in tune, and you can practice on it, that is truly all you need. But, if the fretboard won’t adjust and you can’t depress the strings, or if it has cheap components that don’t let you adjust the tuning pegs without them stripping out… well, you are going to have a hard time learning to play.
A more expensive model won’t necessarily make you a better player.
But don’t run off to WalMart and pick up the first $40 “First Act” you run across. It’ll never sound right, and you’ll give up before you even begin.
New Vs. Used
Electric Guitars — especially beginner models — can go through a lot of rough treatment. The jacks get loose and crackly, the pickups go dead. A lot of peeps try to pass off these second-rate guitars on beginners who won’t know what to look for.
If you are buying used, give it a really thorough going over. Test each pickup. Adjust the guitar out of tune and then back in tune. Adjust the fretboard. Play it through the amp and wiggle the cord (gently) to find crackles.
Unless you are able to spend the money to buy a very nice used guitar from a reputable shop, you are probably better off sticking with new.