Picking your first guitar isn’t as straightforward as it seems. That’s especially the case in 2019, with how accessible the instrument has become and the sheer variety available.
To that end, we’ve put together a guide that will help you kickstart your six-string journey. On this list, you’ll find axes that score highly across three metrics: affordability, simplicity and versatility. We believe a beginner’s guitar should be easy to learn on (no complicated switches), neutral or flexible enough for a few styles (no one-trick ponies) and reasonably priced ($700 and below).
So if you’re ready to start rocking out, read on to find the perfect companion for your endeavour.
1Jackson JS22 DKAM
This affordable axe plays right into the wheelhouse of budding metalheads. Its menacing aesthetic is complemented by a pair of high-output Jackson humbuckers and a synchronised fulcrum tremolo bridge, the latter of which is a great starting point to explore whammy dives.
The JS22 excels in the area of speed playing thanks to a satin-finished maple neck and a 12- to 16-inch compound radius maple fretboard. It’s also worth highlighting the maple bolt-on neck which features graphite reinforcement and a scarf joint that caters to an angled back headstock. This, in turn, provides increased tension behind the nut, eliminating the need for string trees.
Where tone is concerned, the axe features two Jackson high-output humbuckers with ceramic magnets. These are wired hot, covering searing leads, chunky riffs and everything in between.
Retails for $272.10.
2Schecter Solo-II Standard
For $629, you’d expect a well-built guitar crafted from decent tonewoods. The Schecter Solo-II Standard offers just that. This instrument features a mahogany body, flamed maple top, three-piece mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard adorned with pearloid and abalone inlays. Not too shabby for a starter guitar.
Zooming in on playability, you’ll find that the 24.75-inch scale length and 12-inch-radius fingerboard offer a great deal of comfort. These Gibson-style build specs ought to edge you closer to that famed neck feel.
As for electronics, the Solo-II Standard is loaded with Shecter’s Diamond Alnico Plus humbuckers. These have a PAF-like character, supplying you with silky, fat tones perfect for rock and blues. If you need it to cut through the mix, however, simply engage the push-pull tone control and dime the volume knob.
Another noteworthy feature on this guitar is its high-grade hardware components, including a set of Grover tuners, a TonePros T3BT tune-o-matic bridge and TonePros ToneT1Z tailpiece. Collectively, these components provide better tuning and intonation on the instrument.
Retails for $629.
3LTD Eclipse EC-256
The LTD EC-256 is a strong contender for the best beginner guitar on this list simply because of the value it offers. For $399, you get an LP-style axe with a solid mahogany body, headstock binding and dual humbuckers with coil-splitting action. A pretty sweet deal on all counts.
On top of the appointments mentioned above, the EC-256 also features a thin U-contoured three-piece mahogany neck, designed for hours of comfortable practice. It also has a roasted Jatoba fingerboard with a relatively flat 13.8-inch radius for slicker playing.
In terms of tone, the aforementioned pup configuration provides a wide range of sounds to ensure you get your money’s worth. You’ll be able to wring out some raunchy tones from the humbuckers as well as some twangy goodness from the coil split. It’s worth noting that coil-splitting is available on both pickups. The control setup also features individual volume pots and a toggle switch.
As for hardware, the EC-256 keeps it simple but effective. You’ll find a set of ESP-branded tuners as well as a standard stoptail and tune-o-matic bridge – trusty components designed to keep tuning very stable.
Retails for $399.
If playability ranks high on your starter guitar requirements, look no further than Ibanez’s S521. This instrument features the brand’s Wizard III maple neck, a thin, flat and sturdy base for you to hone your lightning-quick chops. Complementing the neck is a 15.75-inch-radius jatoba fretboard, which should provide you with a solid grip when playing.
The S521 derives its tone from two Quantum humbuckers. These pups boast great low-end response, beefy midrange and articulate high-ends – a perfect combination for heavier styles. There’s nothing overly complicated about controls, with a volume knob, tone knob and five-way pickup selector at your disposal.
On the hardware front, the S521 offers solid choices, including a fixed bridge with six fully adjustable saddles. This will aid with intonation and action adjustment, on top of providing tonnes of sustain.
Retails for $399.99.
At $199.99, Ibanez’s China-made GART60 is one of the most affordable guitars on this list. It’s perfect for those exploring jazz, blues and rock, featuring classic humbucking tones with loads of sustain.
The first thing you’ll notice about the GART60 is its stylish single-cutaway appearance and glossy arched top body. The GART60 also features poplar as its body tonewood – known for its characteristic well-balanced tone.
As far as electronics go, this guitar is loaded with two Infinity R humbuckers with ceramic magnets. The latter’s stronger field tends to result in a hotter output, which should be a good fit for those wanting to take on rock and metal. Tone-sculpting is rather fuss-free on this guitar, which features a master tone knob and dedicated volume pots for each humbucker.
Retails for $199.99.
6Oscar Schmidt OE20
Going for abouot $200, the Oliver Schmidt OE20 has all the makings of a Les Paul – from a single cutaway to dual humbuckers to a tune-o-matic bridge – without the corresponding price tag.
The OE20 surprises with a decent selection of tonewoods: a solid mahogany body, a maple set neck and a rosewood fingerboard. The two stock humbuckers are nothing to scream about, but they’ll get the job done. They provide a sufficient variety of clean and driven tones while you earn your stripes. It won’t be too difficult to swap these out when you decide to invest more into your tone either.
At the bridge, you’ll find a reliable tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece combo, providing you with decent tuning stability and waves of sustain.
Retails from $190.
7Chapman V2 ML1 Traditional
The Chapman ML1 traditional is branded as a “trusty companion”, and for good reason. The guitar’s fingerboard and neck are touted to wear with grace, moulding into an instrument of your own after a period of time. You’ll also have access to a variety of tones from three single-coils, which serve up crisp chords, soaring leads and everything in between.
The guitar features a body crafted from ash, a tonewood with decent resonance and a slightly scooped midrange – perfect for blues and indie genres. The ML1 also scores well for playability, with a rear heel contour – allowing easier access to upper frets – and rolled edges on its maple fretboard. The latter makes practice that much more comfortable.
When it comes to tone, this axe certainly does not hold back. It’s loaded with three Venus Witch Zero single-coils featuring alnico V magnets. These provide a sparkly twang which complements the instrument’s ash and maple tonewoods perfectly. Tone can be easily shaped with just two master controls – volume and tone – as well as a five-way pickup selector.
Retails for $583.50.
8Epiphone DC PRO
If you’re on the hunt for premium-leaning features at a reasonable price, Epiphone’s newly minted DC PRO is right up your alley. This is a modern take on the brand’s 70s-era Del Rey Double Cut, featuring handsome tonewoods, shiny hardware and quality electronics.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Epiphone DC PRO is its striking double-cut design, combined with a AAA flame maple veneer top and pearloid-and-abalone inlays, making for a flashy instrument that’ll turn heads.
That said, looks aren’t everything on the DC PRO. It’s also voiced for a range of tones, derived from a pair of Epiphone ProBucker humbuckers. These pickups are coil-split and let you switch from throaty humbucking to glassy single-coil tones at the push of a button. Additionally, the DC Pro also features a treble bleed circuit, which lets in just enough high-end when your guitar’s volume is rolled back – hone your chops quietly, with all tone retained.
Retails for $599.
9Gretsch Streamliner G2420T with Bigsby
Announced at NAMM 2019, this guitar has reinvigorated Gretsch’s Streamliner range with the all-new Broad’Tron BT-2S humbuckers and a slew of finishes. If your first steps in the six-string world lean towards jazz, this Indonesia-made hollowbody is a great option.
The two Broad’Tron BT-2S humbuckers mentioned above are capable of defined lows, sparkling highs and a throaty midrange – a combination that is tailored for blues and jazz. These pups are also wired to a comprehensive set of controls: master volume, master tone, neck and bridge volume, and three-way selector. While these may seem daunting at first, they provide a good introduction into tone-sculpting.
In terms of build, the G2420T straddles the line between style and playability. It features a comfortable 12-inch-radius laurel fingerboard, a thin U-shaped neck – varnished with gloss urethane for a smoother feel – and enlarged f-holes for improved acoustic projection. The Bigsby trem also lends as much stability as it does street cred.
Retails for £485.
10Fender Player Telecaster
As its name suggests, this 2018 Mexican-made model is for the players. Its satin-finished neck is designed to sit comfortably in your hands as you conjure classic single-coil twangs from two alnico V Tele pickups.
As far as playability goes, the Fender Player Telecaster features a 9.5-inch-radius fingerboard, modern C-shape neck profile, and glossy neck finish – contributing to fuss-free movement and enhanced comfort. The ingredients to tone, on the other hand, lies with the instruments’ two alnico V Tele single-coils. These deliver that classic Tele tone, but also have an edgier profile that might be suited to those working their way up to fiery leads.
All in all, beginners will find the Player Telecaster to be a trusty workhorse, capable of cutting it across a variety of genres, from country all the way to high-octane rock ’n’ roll.
Retails for $674.99.
11Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster ‘50s
There’s nothing much to say about a Stratocaster that hasn’t already been said over the past 50 years. It’s one of the most iconic electric guitars ever, and the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster ’50s represents one of the most value-for-money versions today.
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, and everything in-between. It isn’t only for beginners – seasoned players who don’t care about brand names can also get their Strat fix with the Classic Vibe.
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, this one 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 synchronised tremolo bridge makes the guitar even more of an all-rounder.
Retails for under $400.
Dollar for dollar and feature for feature, the Epiphone Dot is arguably the best semihollow out there. It retails for a little over $400, and is versatile enough to take you from rock to blues to jazz, easy. Frankly, we wouldn’t recommend a semihollow to beginners, but if you must have one, check out the Dot.
In simple terms, the Dot is a budget Gibson ES-335. And like the far more expensive guitar, this one has a laminated maple body and top, a mahogany neck, and a centre block running within the otherwise hollow body to help out with the sustain and feedback.
The biggest difference between the two (besides the logos on the headstock, of course) is in the pickups. The Dot uses Epiphone’s Alnico Classic humbuckers, which admittedly don’t have the character, clarity and singing mid-range of the ES-335’s PAF-harking Gibson Burstbuckers. But they’re still ace for the price: clean, thick and punchy.
You won’t be able to throw the horns up and unleash metal riffs with the Dot, yet it’s versatile enough for most types of rock, blues, country and jazz. Thanks to the centre block, you’ll be able to drive this fella hard. And lest we all forget, the Dot clocks in at about an eighth of the price of a new 335.
Retails for $449.
13Yamaha Pacifica 112 V
Having been in the market for over two decades, the Pacifica is Yamaha’s gift to all beginners out there. Whether you’re looking for excellent construction, quality tonewoods or enhanced playability, the Pacifica 112V’s got the features to back its reputation as one of the best starter axes around.
Take its body for instance. Like Strats, the Pacifica sports an alder body with contours, albeit upgraded with deeper cutaways. It also has a C-shaped neck with 22 frets (not a Strat’s 21) that make it easy for beginners to maneuver.
But the Pacifica’s got unique specs, too. Its pickup configuration of two single-coils and one alnico V humbucker on the bridge yields clear, rounded tones with a boosted midrange. Combine this with a five-way switch, and you’ve got a guitar that not only emulates that shimmering Fender sound, but delivers across a variety of genres, too.
Retails for $299.99.
For more buyer’s guides, click here.