What the hell is ‘cheap,’ anyway? If you’re a 40-year-old beginner, you’re more likely to drop more cash on a guitar than a teenage shred machine. Or if you’re balling out in a mansion, then a grand may just be pocket change. The bottom line is: Affordability is a relative concept.
And thus so are ‘cheap’ guitars. So with that in mind when building this list, we’ve picked instruments that cost less than the sum of their parts. Whether it’s fancy pickups, uniqueness or a solid build for a couple of hundred bucks, these guitars are worth much more than the cash you’ll splash for them.
1. Ibanez RGEW521FM
The Ibanez RGEW521FM represents exactly what we mean by a “value-for-money guitar.” It sports all the features of a premium model—such as after-market pickups—and is designed for one distinct use, in this case modern rock and metal. Oh, and it’s also super affordable for mere mortals like us.
- Very thin Wizard III roasted maple neck
- Stunning good looks: a flamed maple top, bound Macassar ebony fretboard and bound body
- DiMarzio Tone Zone and Air Norton humbuckers
- Very flat 15.75-inch fretboard radius with 24 jumbo frets
- Retails for under $700
The standout feature of the RGEW521FM is its pickups. You get two DiMarzio humbuckers—an Air Norton at the neck and Tone Zone at the bridge—that are built for crunchy rhythm and hot-as-hell leads. The pickups are wired up to five positions, which include the neck unit in a parallel configuration.
Everything else about the axe also screams “rock” and “metal.” Its Wizard III neck is really thin, its 15.75-inch-radius fretboard is super flat, and its mahogany body fattens up your tone and enhances sustain.
The cosmetic features on the RGEW521FM also tip towards the high-end. It has a gorgeous flamed maple top—only one, natural finish, though—a blazing red back, and a bound body and neck. Wherever your tastes lie, you can’t deny that for 700 bucks, this Ibanez kills it.
2. Epiphone Casino Coupe
You’ll know the Epiphone Casino best as “John Lennon’s guitar,” but here’s a smaller version, modeled after the Gibson ES-339: the Casino Coupe. And just like with the big boy, you’ll get all that sweet, fully hollow goodness without breaking the bank.
- Great for less gain-intensive genres
- Fully hollow, laminated five-layer maple body
- ’60s SlimTaper set mahogany neck for playability and comfort
- Retails for under $500
The first thing you’d notice about the Coupe is its smaller body. It sits more comfortably on your lap and generates less feedback than its larger sibling—but without dramatically affecting the tone that made the Casino such an icon in rock ’n’ roll.
Compared to, say, an Epiphone Dot, the Coupe offers a ‘woodier,’ more acoustic timbre. “Sparkly,” “bell-like” and “jangly” are often associated with the guitar and its stock pair of P-90s, and cranking the gain up elicits more a sizzle than a roar. Be careful with the distortion, though—without a center-block like those you’ll find on semi-hollows, the Coupe is still fairly susceptible to feedback.
3. Fender Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster
Not to be confused with the Classic Series models, the Fender Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster is, in our opinion, the better instrument. It’s designed by Fender Custom Shop masterbuilder Dennis Galuszka, has fancier pickups and a bevy of modern appointments that make it far comfier for today’s player.
- Easy to nail that beautiful, sparkling Fender tone
- Three American Vintage Strat single-coils
- Modern specs with classic aesthetics
- Retails for under $800
The Classic Player ’50s Strat and the Classic Series ’50s Strat may look identical, yet they’re completely different beasts. Both are made in Mexico, but the former feels like a better built guitar—it isn’t as rough around the edges, construction-wise. And where the Classic Series is devoted to vintage specs, this axe takes plenty of liberty in that regard.
Yes, both have “V”-shaped maple necks that have been ‘softened’ into a more rounded cross-section. But the Classic Player has a modern 9.5-inch fretboard radius rather than the 7.25 inches. It’s a matter of taste, but a 9.5-inch spec is far more versatile—you can bend notes without fear, for instance.
And then we come to the pickups. The three single-coils on the Classic Player are from Fender’s American Vintage line, having been reverse engineered from an original 1963 Strat. They have Alnico 5 magnets, staggered hand-beveled pole pieces, and the middle pickup has been reverse wound to cancel hum when it’s activated in tandem with the other pups.
Oh, and did we mention both the Classic Player and Classic Series Strats cost exactly the same?
4. Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Stratocaster
There’s nothing much to say about a Stratocaster that hasn’t already been said over the 50 years since it made its debut. Fender’s flagship instrument shares the same reputation as a Les Paul: They’re the most iconic electric guitars. Ever. And the Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Stratocaster is one of the most value-for-money Strats out there today.
- Plays and feels like a high-end Strat at a fraction of the cost
- Has a 9.5-inch fretboard radius that’s neither too flat nor too curved
- Three Alnico III single-coils emulate a ’50s-era tone
- Retails for under $400
Don’t be put off by the Squier logo on the headstock. This model encapsulates a Strat’s reputation of being a versatile axe that can swerve from rock to blues to funk to ambient—and everything in-between.
The three Alnico III single-coils, wired up in five positions, are partly responsible for that. You can go from glassy tones of the neck pickup to the bite of the bridge pickup to the ‘quacks’ of the positions in-between, the latter of which refers to two single-coils activated in tandem.
Like many Fender Strats, the Classic Vibe ’50s has a lightweight alder body, maple neck and maple fretboard. Its “C”-shaped neck and 9.5-inch fretboard radius mean it’s comfortable for both rhythm and lead playing, while a vintage-style synchronized tremolo bridge makes the guitar even more of an all-rounder.
Wondering about the differences between the Classic Vibe ’50s and the Classic Vibe ’60s? Easy. Cosmetics notwithstanding, the latter has hotter Alnico V single-coils and an Indian laurel fretboard. Everything else—including their price tags—is identical.
5. Jackson JS22 Dinky
If you aren’t already playing metal, the Jackson JS22 Dinky will make you want to. This guitar represents all the things upon which the brand has staked its claim to fame: metal- and rock-ready performance axes with fast necks and bold humbuckers.
- Graphite-reinforced slim, satin-finished maple neck that’s built for speed
- For shredders: compound radius rosewood fretboard and 24 jumbo frets
- A pair of high-output Jackson humbuckers voiced for richness, sustain and overdriven tones
- All-black hardware for the quintessential metal look
- Retails for under $300
This Super Strat model’s minimal looks belie its bevy of features that you won’t typically find on a sub-$200 guitar. The biggest of these is the compound radius fretboard: It goes from 12 inches at the top, all the way down to an extremely flat 16 inches nearer the body. Which means it’s as comfortable to hold down chords as it is to shred at a hundred miles an hour on the upper frets. And the 24 extra jumbo frets here lend even more shred cred to the Dinky.
The two Jackson High-output Humbucking ceramic pickups are exactly that: They’re loud, work beautifully with distortion, and deliver full, rich tones with a long sustain. But as with many similar guitars in this price range, don’t expect amazing clean tones.
In terms of aesthetics, though, the Dinky doesn’t disappoint. Its arched top, pearloid sharkfin inlays and all-black hardware make the guitar stand out from the pack, while bindings on the neck give it a high-end vibe.
6. Schecter Omen-6
One look at the Schecter Omen-6 and you’ll know what it’s built for: metal. The made-in-Indonesia Super Strat is one of the brand’s most affordable instruments, but it’s a well-crafted, sleek-looking piece that aspiring riff gods will love to have in their arsenal.
- Two Diamond Plus overwound humbuckers for tighter and hotter tones
- Sleek looks: Arched top on a bound basswood body and pearloid Semi-Goth inlays
- For shredders: rosewood fingerboard with very flat 14-inch radius and thin “C”-style neck
- String-through body and Tune-o-matic bridge for enhanced resonance
- Retails for about $350
If you’re not a fan of the ‘quilted’ (it’s a printed image) top on the Schecter C-6, the Omen-6 will fit you just fine. Three sophisticated—if a little subdued—finishes grace the arched top of this six-string, the body binding looks premium, and those Gothic inlays are wicked enough for your metal band.
Which is what you’ll be doing with the Omen-6: lay down heavy riffs and unleash screaming solos. Two overwound Diamond Plus humbuckers are responsible for the guitar’s hot and thick output, while a thin “C”-shaped neck, 14-inch fretboard radius and extra jumbo frets keep things fast and comfy. Although this doesn’t have a tremolo for those dive bombs, a Tune-o-matic bridge and string-through body ensure your sustain will sing for days.
Other specs of the guitar are fairly ordinary: It has a basswood body, bolt-on maple neck, rosewood fretboard, a 25.5-inch scale length, and simple master tone and volume controls.
7. Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster
If you’re lusting over an OG Jazzmaster but don’t want to plonk down thousands of bucks for it, the Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster is right up your alley. The offset guitar retains many of the old-school specs that made the model famous back in the day, with a few modern enhancements to appeal to contemporary players.
- Original Jazzmaster rhythm and lead circuits
- Duncan Designed Alnico V single-coils for that syrupy Jazzmaster tone that works great with effects
- Floating vibrato system, just like on a traditional Jazzmaster
- Retails for under $400
Despite its low price, this is not a guitar for newbies. The circuitry’s complex, the bridge is notoriously wonky, and it feels huge when you’re playing sitting down. But it is the most authentic Jazzmaster you can get for the price—it’s even more legit than the new Mexican-made Fender Standards.
The Vintage Modified Jazzmaster has the tried-and-tested dual circuitry of the original models from the ’60s. The “Rhythm” circuit activates only the neck pickup, while the “Lead” circuit lets you pick between neck, bridge and both at the same time. Each circuit has its own dedicated master volume and tone knobs. (In comparison, the new, way-more-expensive Fender American Professional Jazzmasters don’t have this circuitry.)
A non-locking floating vibrato system and the vintage-style bridge—with those ‘grooved barrel’ saddles that many players consider unstable—are the other vintage-style specs on this guitar. They aren’t exactly downsides as they contribute to the Jazzmaster’s cherished low sustain and sonic artifacts, though.
On to the modern appointments. A pair of Duncan Designed JM-101B Alnico V single-coils give this Squier that coveted clear, syrupy and mellow Jazzmaster tone that works brilliantly with effects—which is one reason why you’ll find many shoegazers, post-rockers and experimental musicians toting this iconic axe.
8. Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Alongside the Stratocaster, Les Pauls have pretty much defined rock ’n’ roll. Everyone from Jimmy Page to Slash to Zakk Wylde has wielded one of these, and the guitar’s fat, creamy tone with near-endless sustain is instantly recognizable. Not everyone can afford a bona fide Gibson, though, but the Epiphone Les Paul Standard makes those sounds accessible to most of us.
- Classic Les Paul features, looks and tone
- A pair of Alnico Classic humbuckers with loads of warmth
- Robust mahogany body with a solid maple top
- It’s a fraction of the price of a Gibson Les Paul
Epiphone Les Paul Standards are built in China, South Korea or Indonesia. They no longer come with figured maple tops (you’ll find those on the Plustop PRO models), but have the cream neck and body binding, chrome pickup covers, and trapezoid inlays of their Gibson cousins. In other words, they are drop-dead gorgeous.
They don’t just look the part, either. Epiphone Les Paul Standards come with an Alnico humbucker at the neck and Alnico Classic humbucker at the bridge, which yield the classic thick, saturated tone Les Pauls are renowned for. And like a Gibson, these Les Pauls have a set of volume and tone knobs for each pickup.
The other specs on these also mimic those of a Gibson: a mahogany body and set neck, 12-inch fretboard radius, 24.75-inch scale, and Tune-o-matic bridge, among others. If you’re hankering after a rock-ready guitar that won’t break the bank, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard should top your list.
9. Gretsch G2420 Streamliner
For a guitar that’s just under $500, the G2420 Streamliner channels a whole lotta Gretsch. Think ringing sustain, hollow-body construction and retrolicious looks. But it isn’t only for jazz cats and country pickers—this guitar has plenty of brawn, bite and balls.
- Excellent hollow-body build
- Broad’Tron humbuckers pus three-way switching for a modern and dynamic sound
- High-quality hardware: Adjust-o-matic bridge, harp tailpiece and gold vintage-style knobs
- Retails for about $450
Besides its classic vibe, the best part about this guitar may be its Broad’Tron pickups. These were designed specifically for the Streamliner, and are known for their throaty midrange, booming lows and sparkly highs. They’re also louder than Gretsch’s other popular pups, the Filter’Tron, so push them hard and they’ll snarl and scream. Dial back the volume knob, however, and you’ll encounter the warmth and rounded tone for which Gretsch hollow-bodies are known.
The other specs of the guitar are far from vintage. Take the (white-bound) nato “U”-shaped neck, 12-inch rosewood fretboard radius and 22 medium jumbo frets. Together with nickel hardware and gold knobs, they make a guitar whose beauty extends well below the surface.
10. Dean Vendetta XM
At a whisker over a hundred bucks, the Dean Vendetta XM is the cheapest guitar you should consider buying.
- String-through body for enhanced resonance
- Two high-output DMT Design humbuckers for searing riffs
- Interesting tonewoods: paulownia body and black walnut fretboard
- It doesn’t get more ‘value-for-money’ than this—it’s only about $130
Curiously, Dean went with paulownia for the body—it’s a lightweight substitute for mahogany—and black walnut for the fretboard. These aren’t common woods for guitars, but hey, anything to distance itself from other budget models, right?
While the Vendetta’s Tune-o-matic bridge and string-through body are worth highlighting, its other features aren’t as risk-taking. Two DMT Design high-output humbuckers, slim “C”-shaped maple neck, 14-inch fretboard radius and 24 medium jumbo frets make this made-in-China model fairly unspectacular, but solid nonetheless.
11. ESP EC-256
Weighing in at less than $400, the EC-256 is ESP’s ‘budget’ version of models in its Eclipse line. And while it’s no mystery where it draws its good looks from, don’t let that distract you from its other features. Everything about the EC-256 is decidedly modern, and can take you from blues to rock to metal, easy.
- Single-cutaway with mahogany body and three-piece mahogany set neck
- Thin “U”-shaped neck for fast playing and comfort
- ESP LH-150 pickups that are coil-split
- Retails for under $400
The EC-256 looks like a Les Paul Black Beauty, and has very similar specs. Like a mahogany body and set neck, 24.75-inch scale, a Tune-o-matic bridge and a pair of humbuckers, in this case ESP Designed LH-150. The pickups here are a tad muddy when played clean, even when switched to ‘single-coil’ mode, but they’re easily swapped out, anyway.
However, it isn’t quite as traditional as a Les Paul. Many features on the guitar are better suited for today’s players: a thin “U”-shaped neck that’s faster to play on, a flatter fretboard radius of about 14 inches, 22 extra jumbo frets, and coil-split humbuckers. A deeper cutaway also makes reaching those higher frets easier.
12. Mitchell MD400
Simply put, the Mitchell MD400 boasts features and specs that are more common on a guitar quadruple its cost. It’s a good-looking, versatile beast that you can use for pretty much any application.
- It’s gorgeous: double cutaway with a quilt maple veneer top (some models), body and neck bindings, and abalone dot inlays
- Dual beveled cutaways for complete access to upper frets
- Unique, Alnico V rail pickups: a humbucker at the bridge and a mini-humbucker at the neck
- Both pickups are split-coil for even more versatility
- Retails for about $400
It’s a Super Strat, but not of the headbanging variety. The MD400 has a gorgeous AAA quilt maple veneer top in a variety of translucent finishes, body and neck bindings, offset abalone dot inlays, and a carved mahogany body. But where it really shines is in its features.
The MD400 has one Alnico V humbucker at the bridge and one Alnico V mini-humbucker at the neck. Both are ‘rail’-style pickups, which are quieter, and provide more consistent tone and sustain across the strings. And both pickups have been coil-split, too—so push or pull the master tone knob to disable one coil of each humbucker, effectively turning them into single-coil pickups.
Other features on the instrument tilt towards the speed merchant category: It has a flat 15.75-inch fretboard radius, shallow “C”-shaped neck, 24 medium jumbo frets, dramatic bevels on both cutaways, and a string-through body and set neck for added sustain. Like we mentioned, the MD400 is not your average ‘budget’ guitar.
13. PRS SE Standard 24
Older players will remember that PRS used to be the sole province of seasoned players or those with fat bank accounts. Not since 2001, when the brand launched the SE Standard range. And the 2018 PRS SE Standard 24 continues the series’ reputation for being solid, well-crafted, modern and versatile guitars.
- All-mahogany body with three lip-smacking finishes and PRS’ signature Birds inlays
- PRS’ own 85/15 “S” humbuckers that are high-output, articulate and fat
- Coil-split pickups for versatility
- Ultra-smooth molded tremolo
- Retails for under $500
The SE Standard 24 is the ‘budget’ version of the Custom 24, which is PRS’ flagship instrument. Besides their almost-identical looks (save for the Custom’s carved figured maple top), both guitars are some of the most versatile instruments in their price ranges. Blues, rock, metal, shoegaze, ambient—you name it, the SE Standard 24 can handle it.
The 85/15 “S” humbuckers here—again, they’re affordable versions of the Custom’s 85/15—are transparent, ‘hi-fi,’ articulate and high-output. Lush while clean and thick when clipped, the pickups have also been coil-split to take you into glassier, single-coil territory. However, you can’t coil-split them individually to form HS or SH combinations, for instance.
Even its other features don’t lean towards a specific style of playing. The SE Standard 24 has a very thin neck profile, moderate ten-inch fretboard radius, 25-inch scale, 24 frets and a molded tremolo that, like the guitar as a whole, is pretty amazing for its price.
14. Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus
It’s the cheapest Fender electric out there, and, honestly, we’re not sure why. The China-made Modern Player Telecaster Plus is brimming with contemporary features you won’t find on your average Tele, American or otherwise.
- Triple pickup configuration that’s unique among Teles
- Coil-split bridge humbucker takes you from aggressive to traditional
- String-through pine body with a hardtail bridge
- Retails for under $500
The first thing you’d notice about this Tele is its unique triple pickup configuration: There’s a humbucker at the bridge, a Telecaster single-coil at the neck, and a Stratocaster-style single-coil in the middle. Which means it can get way more aggressive than your average Tele.
However, the humbucker is coil-split: You can flick a toggle switch on the guitar to transform the pickup into a single-coil if you want the traditional Tele ‘spank.’ Mind you, the bridge humbucker probably won’t get you that exact tone, but it’s a trade-off for versatility.
A pine body is another unusual choice for today’s guitars (it was, however, the standard tonewood in earlier iterations of the Telecaster). But everything else about the Plus is modern. Like the 9.5-inch fretboard radius to easily switch between rhythm and lead playing, to the glossy “C”-shaped neck, to the Strat-style bridge for better stability and intonation.