Two hundred bucks. You can spend it on a weekend getaway, a gift for a loved one, rent… But why would you, when you can get a solid guitar for the same price? Beginners, tinkerers, hoarders—it doesn’t matter what you intend on doing with a new, cheap axe. Just take a look at these eight, then start clearing up some room in your home.
And if you’ve got a slightly bigger budget, check out our list of sub-$500 electric guitars that are well worth the cash.
8. Mitchell MD200
Put plainly, the Mitchell MD200 is the younger, simpler sibling to the MD400. But fortunately, quality runs in the family. The MD200 is a well-built beast whose slick looks and souped-up specs debunk the notion that sub-$200 guitars are neither worth the time nor money.
- Two beveled cutaways for complete access to upper frets
- Ceramic rail split-coil pickups for versatility
- String-through body for enhanced resonance
The MD200 is a Super Strat that will appeal to beginners who are looking for a modern axe that can do rock, metal, blues, funk and what-have-you equally well. Yet, it isn’t as skewed towards lead playing as the MD400 is, and it swaps out a few components for more affordable ones.
Like the pickups. On the MD200, you’ll find a ceramic humbucker at the bridge and a ceramic mini-humbucker at the neck rather than the MD400’s Alnico 5 pickups. But as with the pups on its bigger brother, these are ‘rail’ pickups, which Mitchell says enhances tone and sustain, and they’ve been coil-split, too.
A tsung oil-finished rock maple neck, and a slightly more curved fretboard radius of 13.75 inches are the other small modifications to the ‘speed’ features on the MD200. It, however, has a thinner bolt-on neck as compared to the MD400’s wider mahogany set neck—that said, their profiles remain a shallow “C” shape, and their dramatically beveled cutaways give you ample room to reach the high notes.
A string-through basswood body, pearloid offset dot inlays and black nickel hardware complete the other key features of this looker.
7. Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster
If the Squier Classic Vibe models are still too pricey for you, the brand’s Affinity Series will suit you just fine. For $200, the Affinity Stratocaster delivers a great introduction to the world of Strats—it’s versatile, has those sparkling Fender tones, and is robust enough to fuel your rock ’n’ roll dreams.
- Offers a primer on the ‘Strat’ sound and features
- Killer looks: comes in seven finishes, from Two-color Sunburst to Black to Surf Green, and has an oversized headstock
- “C”-shaped maple neck and alder body that are both thinner than those on conventional Strats
While we wouldn’t recommend the Affinity Strat to intermediate and advanced players (unless they’re dying to add a Strat to their collections), it doesn’t make this a bad guitar. And it’s thanks to its solid construction, decent hardware and pickups that mimic the wide tonal palette of a bona fide Fender.
The three Squier single-coils that power this six-string are the same as those you’ll find on the Bullet Strats. They’re not as nuanced, articulate or powerful as those you’ll find on, say, the Classic Vibe. But they do possess ‘Strat-like’ qualities and can nail the ‘quack’ of the in-between positions.
The other components of the Affinity Strat are similarly ‘budget-ized’ versions of a Fender. It has a thinner alder body and “C”-shaped maple neck (which is unfinished), with a standard 9.5-inch fretboard radius and 21 medium jumbo frets. You also gotta love the oversized headstock, typically found on ’70s-inspired Strats.
6. ESP LTD EC-10
The ESP LTD EC-10 is crafted by the Japanese company’s budget subsidiary as a frills-free starter model—and that’s actually a great thing. Everything about this guitar is designed to be as easy to play as possible. And its price, under $200, is beginner-friendly, too.
- For aspiring shredders: very flat fretboard on a slim “U”-shaped neck
- Two LH-100 high-output humbuckers built for heavy-gain settings
- Contoured body for comfort, in both seating and standing positions
- Beveled cutaway for easier access to higher frets
For better or for worse, there’s nothing striking about this sleek unit inspired by ESP’s Eclipse series. But there’s more than meets the eye.
A well-balanced body with contours on the lower bout make the EC-10 comfortable to play either sitting or standing, and beveled cutaways mean you can reach those upper frets with ease. Add to that the thin “U”-shaped neck, a flat 13.8-inch fretboard radius and 24 extra jumbo frets, and you have a model that aspiring shredders will love.
The two LH-100 humbuckers that power the guitar are certainly not the best out there. Yet, they’re aggressive and high-output enough (if a touch too muddy) to work well with distortion—just don’t expect sparkling, nuanced cleans with this.
5. Squier Bullet Mustang HH
Don’t think of the Squier Bullet Mustang HH as a cheaper alternative to a Mustang—it’s a beast of its own. A beast that will put you a mere $150 out of pocket. And for that price, you’ll get a solid, if barebones, guitar that’s best employed for brasher, ‘looser’ types of rock, like grunge or indie.
- Short, 24-inch scale length
- Lightweight, with a thin body and quirky shape
- Fuss-free controls and simplified circuitry
- High-output humbuckers that work better distorted
There are many reasons to hate this guitar. It’s not a ‘real’ Mustang, it isn’t versatile, the hardware components aren’t great… But for a project guitar, something to noodle around with, or if you’re just aching for a Mustang, this Squier is absolutely perfect.
Everything on the made-in-Indonesia guitar simply works. It has a basswood body, one-piece satin-finished maple neck with a “C”-shaped profile, a flat 12-inch fretboard radius, and two hot humbuckers that sound as fat and creamy as budget pickups can get. Even when played clean, they’re urging you to hit that distortion pedal.
4. Dean Vendetta XM
At a whisker over a hundred bucks, the Dean Vendetta XM is the cheapest guitar you should consider bringing home.
- High-output DMT Design humbuckers for searing riffs
- Interesting tonewoods
- For aspiring shredders: slim neck, very flat fretboard and medium jumbo frets
- It’s about a hundred bucks, c’mon
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.
3. Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
Here’s the closest competitor to the Squier Bullet Mustang HH. Besides costing the same, the Epiphone Les Paul Special VE is also a dual-humbucking guitar geared towards rock, grunge and punk, but with several vintage-inspired finishes (the “VE” stands for “Vintage Edition”) and certain specs fit for an aspiring shredder.
- Five ‘worn’ finishes, from Vintage Worn Heritage Cherry Sunburst to Vintage Worn Walnut
- Hot Epiphone open-coil humbuckers
- Okoume neck with a ’60s SlimTaper “D” profile
- Very flat fretboard radius
Never mind the flat top, poplar body, simplified circuitry and bolt-on okoume neck—the Les Paul Special VE may not possess the high-end features of its Gibson brethren, but it remains, dollar for dollar, one of the better rock guitars out there. And that’s really thanks to its pickups.
This guitar uses an Epiphone 650R Humbucker at the neck and an Epiphone 700T Humbucker at the bridge. Both sport open-coil designs and are hot as hell—perfect for unleashing loud, chunky power chords à la Nirvana, Foo Fighters and other beginner staples with little more than your practice amp’s drive channel.
Monstrous pickups aside, the Les Paul Special VE has a very flat 14-inch rosewood fretboard radius and a ’60s SlimTaper “D”-shaped neck whose satin finish most beginners will find easier to play than, say, the Bullet Mustang HH’s unfinished one. They’re both exceedingly good instruments for their prices, though, and frankly, the biggest difference between them is their looks.
2. Ibanez GIO GRX70QA
It’s been about two decades since Ibanez dropped the affordable GIO series. And the GRX70QA—one of the ten axes in the line—will pique the interest of guitarists eager to dive into rock, metal and other shred-leaning genres. Like the kind Joe Satriani, Herman Li, Munky and other Ibanez signature artists play.
- Ibanez Infinity pickups in a versatile configuration
- Treated New Zealand pine fretboard on a slim maple neck
- Contoured poplar body for comfort and playability
Like many other ‘metal’ guitars at this price, the GRX70QA has a ‘quilted maple’ top—by that we mean an image of figured wood printed on a veneer—and a contoured, pointy Super Strat-style body. But with its price tag, you really shouldn’t expect a legit AAAAA figured maple top.
Compared to, say, the Schecter C-6 Plus, the GRX70QA is more versatile—inasmuch as they’re both built for high-gain genres—thanks to its pickup configuration and the addition of a whammy bar. Meanwhile, its slim neck plus a 12-inch fretboard radius make it easy for newbies to play.
Can’t decide between a humbucker and single-coil? Well, the GRX70QA has both, arranged in a humbucker-single-humbucker configuration with five possible combinations. The Infinity ceramic pickups on this model, however, may be nowhere near the top-of-the-line Ibanez pups. Yet, they can deliver neutral tones with bell-like harmonics, perfect conditions for distortion.
In terms of tonewoods, the GRX70QA has a poplar body—it’s softer and lighter than alder, its closest relative tone-wise—and an intriguing treated New Zealand pine fretboard. Ibanez says the wood has “gone through an advanced seasoning process” that results in “enhanced stability” and a “rich, warm tone.”
1. 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 aspiring shredders: compound radius fretboard
- High-output Jackson humbuckers voiced for richness, sustain and overdriven tones
- All-black hardware for the quintessential metal look
- Retails for under $200
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.