Now that you’ve decided to take up the electric guitar, only one question remains: what should I buy? It’s no easy task. Ask 10 players out there for their ‘beginner guitar’ recommendations and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. There are, after all, hundreds of models, each with its own strengths and shortcomings.
For those just starting out, however, we’ve decided to focus on a few factors: affordability, simplicity and versatility. 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 (nothing above $600). So we arrived at these 14 standard-issue models that you’ll find in almost every guitar store.
1Squier 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. Or, for a beginner with a small frame.
- 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
- Retails for $150
There are many reasons to hate this guitar. It’s not a ‘real’ Mustang, it isn’t particularly 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.
And the short scale length (which equates ‘looser’ string feel) and simplified controls on this Bullet Mustang are ideal for a beginner looking to learn a few songs. Although it won’t nail any specific tone you’ve heard out there, the ease of playing this guitar makes up for it.
It’s one of Ibanez’s longest-running models, and deservedly so. The S520 is a dependable, robust six-string that’s ever so slightly geared towards metal and rock thanks to its pickups, Floyd Rose-style tremolo system and fast neck. Beginner guitarists eager to dive into those heavier genres will find plenty to love about this axe.
- Sophisticated good looks with a sculpted top
- Two Ibanez Quantum humbuckers with heightened bass
- Mahogany body, maple neck and jatoba fretboard
- Edge Zero II tremolo bridge that offers tuning stability
- Very thin and flat neck with 24 jumbo frets
- Retails for about $500
Simplicity lies at the heart of the S520. Its elegant finish, sculpted top and black hardware don’t wail for attention, and it’s versatile enough for most (heavy) genres of music – you probably don’t want to be learning Texas Flood or Little Wing on this guy.
The S520’s pair of Quantum humbuckers are responsible for most of its ‘high-definition’ tone. These pickups offer a heightened bass response with a full midrange and articulate highs, perfect for the palm-muted riffs and screaming solos you’ll find in metal and rock. You can also engage the neck humbucker in parallel, which gives it a brighter, single-coil-ish bite.
The Wizard III maple neck on the guitar is built for shred players, too. It’s thin and has a very flat 15.8-inch fretboard radius – not to mention 24 jumbo frets – that your hands and fingers will have no problem gliding across. And an Edge Zero II tremolo system, which provides tuning stability as you’re abusing the whammy bar, is yet another shred-friendly feature.
3Yamaha Pacifica 112V
Having been in the market for over two decades, the Pacifica is Yamaha’s gift to all beginners out there. No matter 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.
- Contoured alder body with deep cutaways for playing comfort
- Versatile pickup configuration
- Retails for under $300
The first thing that you’ll notice about this guitar is its uncanny resemblance to Fender Stratocasters. But that’s not something to worry about – it just means that this Pacifica’s got its features in all the right places.
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.
4Washburn Parallaxe PXM100C
The Washburn Parallaxe PXM100C is a frills-free axe that, according to the company, is designed specifically for “intensive shredders”. While its specs point towards that direction, there’s no question that rock, punk or riff metal beginners will also feel right at home with this Super Strat.
- Sleek, metal-ready looks with extended cutaways for easy access to higher frets
- Basswood body, maple neck and ebony fretboard
- Two high-output Duncan Designed humbuckers
- Retails for under $500
If your music heroes tend to wear black, scream into microphones and play in bands with illegible logos, then the PXM100C is for you. The axe doesn’t just look the part – it’s spec’ed out to be an affordable metal machine suitable for beginners or those with tight purse strings.
Besides the tonewoods commonly used in metal guitars, this Washburn has been constructed to hold up to the ravages that heavy playing brings. Its quartersawn maple neck is better suited for heavier gauge strings, its neck is thin and fast, and its huge cutaways mean you can fly up to the higher frets with ease. It doesn’t, however, have a tremolo system, unlike the similarly priced Ibanez S520.
The PXM100C makes up for that lack with two Duncan Designed humbuckers: a HB-101 at the neck and HB-103 at the bridge. These are high-output screamers that are, respectively, patterned after Seymour Duncan’s SH-1 ’59 Model and SH-6 Duncan Distortion. Each pickup has also been coil-split should you want brighter, sparklier tones.
5Epiphone 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 recognisable. Not everyone can afford a bona fide Gibson, though, but the Epiphone Les Paul Standard makes those sounds accessible to most beginners.
- A pair of warm, fat-sounding Alnico and Alnico Classic humbuckers
- Robust mahogany body with a solid maple top
- Neck and body bindings, trapezoid fingerboard inlays for that classic Les Paul look
- 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 an iconic, rock-ready guitar that any beginner would love to have, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard should top your list.
6Squier 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 among 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. It isn’t only for beginners – seasoned players who don’t care about brand names can also get their Strat fix sorted 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, 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 synchronised 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.
7Schecter C-6 Plus
Designed in South Korea and assembled in Indonesia, the Schecter C-6 Plus asks for little, but gives a whole lot more. For less than $300, this workhorse of a guitar packs in solid specs that cater more to beginners aspiring to be the next shred king or queen.
- Beautiful ‘quilted’ top in many colours
- Diamond Plus humbuckers provide tighter and hotter tones
- For aspiring shredders: very flat fretboard and extra jumbo frets
- Retails for under $300
The first thing that you’ll notice about the Schecter C-6 is its sleek looks, with a quilted top peeking out from under a see-through finish. But here’s an important caveat: that quilted top is just a printed image and not the real deal. Still, the double-cutaway body, with a top contour for added playing comfort, looks like a contemporary guitar should.
Not to be outdone are the C-6’s technical specs. A pair of Schecter Diamond Plus pickups power the guitar; these are overwound humbuckers with a higher output, making the axe more suitable for metal and rock players. You don’t have individual controls, however. There’s only a master volume and master tone knob, along with a three-way pickup selection switch – all the better to concentrate on learning.
Add to those the 14-inch fretboard radius, 25.5-inch scale, thin C-shaped neck, and 24 extra jumbo frets, and you’re left with a guitar that’s built to be shredded on. A light basswood string-through body and a Tune-o-matic bridge – both of which improve resonance – are the other key highlights of the C-6. Frankly, you’ll find the hardest decision to make is choosing a finish from the five available.
8ESP 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
- Retails for under $200
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 hot enough (if a touch too muddy) to work well with distortion – just don’t expect sparkling, nuanced cleans with this.
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.
- Two bevelled cutaways for complete access to upper frets
- Unique, alnico V rail split-coil pickups for even more versatility
- For aspiring shredders: very flat fretboard and medium jumbo frets
- It looks like a premium instrument
- 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’ or ‘beginner’ guitar.
10Fender 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.
- Versatile and unique triple pickup configuration
- 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.
Dollar for dollar and feature for feature, the Epiphone Dot is arguably the best semi-hollow 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 semi-hollow to beginners, but if you must have one, hit up the Dot.
- Semi-hollow body that’s acoustically resonant
- Alnico Classic humbuckers are voiced to vintage tones
- That iconic Gibson ‘ES’ look
- Retails for under $500
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 SlimTaper D neck isn’t as fast as the Gibson’s rounded C, but it has thicker ‘shoulders’ that some players will find better for chords. Both the Gibson and Epiphone have a 12-inch fretboard radius.
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.
12Jackson 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.
13Gretsch G5425 Electromatic Jet Club
The cheapest Gretsch electric distils the stuff the brand’s known for – ringing sustain, semi-hollow bodies, classic good looks – into a beginner’s guitar that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. The G5425 Electromatic Jet Club lists for $429, but you’ll be able to score a retail unit for under $300.
- Light, chambered basswood body with an arched maple top – can be played acoustically
- A pair of vibrant humbuckers that are a little on the trebly side
- Anchored Adjusto-matic bridge and die-cast tuners for tuning stability
- Classic Gretsch aesthetics in an affordable package
- Retails for under $300
While it isn’t a traditional semi-hollow model with a centre block, the Electromatic Jet Club has a chambered basswood two-tone body. Which means it’s really light and you can play it loud without plugging it in. Well, louder than most solid-body electrics, anyway.
The Jet Club doesn’t come with Gretsch’s better-known pickups (the Broad’Tron and Filter’Tron) but a pair of stock Dual-coil Humbucking pickups. Although these aren’t as hot or nuanced, they’re versatile enough to get most jobs done – except for maybe doom metal. The 24.6-inch scale length here’s also shorter than most Fenders and Gibsons, while a 12-inch radius fretboard means you won’t have too much trouble bending and shredding.
14Dean 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 dollars
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, even beginner models. But 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.
If you need some help with the terminology or the basics on what to look out for, check out our guide to buying your first electric. Or read our recommended ‘value-for-money’ guitars, intermediate models, and axes under $200 and $500.