The best guitars to buy in 2021: The 14 best electric guitars for beginners

Starting out in the world of guitar? Here are your best choices for your first six-string.

Picking your first guitar isn’t always as straightforward as it should be. That’s especially the case in 2021, due to how accessible the instrument has become and the plethora of options available. From budget Strats to Dinky’s, there’s a daunting amount of six strings on the market.

To give you a head start, we’ve compiled a guide that will help you kickstart your six-string journey.

What do you need to look for in a beginner guitar?

Here, you’ll find guitars that score highly across four metrics: affordability, simplicity, versatility and coolness. We believe a beginner’s guitar should be easy to navigate, neutral or flexible enough for a range of styles and genres and reasonably priced, too.

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You’ll see some key terms come up in this list, and they might throw you for a loop if you’re new to the world of guitar, so let’s clear them up. Firstly, ‘neck profile’: this refers to the shape and thickness of the guitar’s neck. Often, guitars with thinner necks are viewed as more approachable for beginners, especially younger players. However, if you’ve got larger hands, a super-thin neck can, counter-intuitively, be rather uncomfortable as there’s not enough material to grip on to. Keep this in mind as you look for your first guitar.

Secondly: ‘fretboard radius.’ This is referring to how rounded the guitar’s fretboard is – imagine the ‘board continuing on either side, forming a cylinder with the stated radius. Generally, a very round radius such as 7.25 inches is associated with vintage instruments, and flatter radii above 12 inches with modern design.

Which one is better for beginners? Again, it depends on the player. A very round radius is associated with more difficult bends, but some prefer them for open chords at the lower frets. It’s really a matter of preference: establishing which style of radius you prefer will likely take some time – luckily, most beginner-friendly guitars split the difference with a medium fretboard radius, in between 9.5 inches and 12 inches.

In terms of other specifications, if you’re looking for your first guitar, you’re probably not going to be too picky about tonewood choices or how vintage-correct the pickups are. However, there’s no use trying to learn on a guitar you don’t enjoy playing – luckily, there’s a huge range of inspiring instruments for beginners on the market. Let’s dive in.

The best electric guitars for beginners at a glance:

  • Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335
  • Squier Bullet Mustang
  • Epiphone Les Paul SL
  • Cort X100
  • Hartwood Fifty6
  • Harley Benton SC-Junior Black
  • Gretsch G2210 Streamliner Junior Jet
  • Epiphone Les Paul Special
  • Jackson JS22 Dinky
  • Ibanez S521
  • Squier Classic Vibe 70s Jaguar
  • Fender Player Telecaster
  • Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster ‘50s
  • Yamaha Pacifica 112 V

Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335

Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335

+ Looks and sounds the part
+ Affordable, especially considering the build quality
– Semi-hollow construction not ideal for every style

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The Inspired By Gibson range is Epiphone’s rather successful approach to striking a balance between authenticity and affordability: guitars in the range sit comfortably at around half a grand each, but they still sport hand-wired CTS control pots, quality pickups and an impressive fit and finish.

While it may not exhibit the finesse of higher-end ES-style guitars, nor as impressive an acoustic character, the Epiphone Inspired By Gibson ES-335 certainly looks and feels the part. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a guitar for a beginner.

Price: $599/£549
Build: Semi-hollow, bound maple-ply body with AAA flame veneers, maple centre-block, mahogany set neck, bound 12-inch Indian laurel fretboard with small block inlays, 22 medium-jumbo frets, Graph Tech NuBone nut
Hardware: Epiphone nickel-plated LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece, Epiphone Deluxe tuners
Electronics: 2x Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, 2x volume and tone controls, 3-way pickup selector switch
Scale Length: 24.72”/628mm

Read our full review here.

Squier Bullet Mustang

Squier Bullet Mustang

+ Short scale ideal for younger players
+ Punchy-sounding humbuckers
– Some concessions made for affordability

The Squier’s Bullet Mustang’s minuscule price tag already makes it great for the tentative beginner, but it’s not the only approachable thing about the guitar. It’s got a light basswood body and a short 24-inch scale length – both of which make it a fantastic choice for a younger player.

In terms of electronics and hardware, you’ll find two humbuckers joined by a hardtail bridge. It’s a classic combo found on countless guitars across basically all genres, and so it definitely won’t limit you if you want to play metal, country, pop or jazz or rock – especially alternative rock or grunge.

Price: $189.99 / £119
Build: Poplar body with bolt-on maple neck, 12” radius indian laurel fretboard and 21 frets
Hardware: Hardtail six-saddle bridge, stock Squier tuners
Electronics: Two Squier humbuckers, one volume control, one tone control
Scale Length: 24” / 609.6mm

Epiphone Les Paul SL

Epiphone Les Paul SL

+ Lightweight body
+ Slim, fast-playing neck
– Tricky to intonate

The Les Paul SL doesn’t come with any of the bells, let alone whistles, that many other budget models have on offer. Rather, it focuses its finite resources on delivering two of the most important aspects in music: sound and simplicity.

A favourite among punk rockers, the Asia-made Les Paul SL is purpose-built for thrashing around with power chords and simplistic lead lines. That comes from the 14-inch-radius rosewood fretboard as opposed to the more popular 12-inch radius on most Les Pauls, a chunky 1960s SlimTaper D neck profile, lightweight poplar body, and two brash ceramic single coils.

The bridge Epiphone 700SCT pickup is overwound, and has a sharp bite and snarl. Meanwhile, the neck 650SCR offers more clarity, with a rounded tone that’s still unkempt at the edges. Both single coils can get a little noisy with a distortion pedal cranked up, but if you’re playing rock or punk, it should be noisy.

And you can’t ignore the Les Paul SL’s nostalgic aesthetics. It’s available in six super cool finishes – we’re partial to the drop-dead gorgeous Turquoise – and the unique pickguard on each model, reminiscent of that seen on a Melody Maker, is another head-turner.

Price: $139/£129
Build: Bolt-on Mahogany neck, light poplar body,
Hardware: Chrome-finished Grover Rotomatics, wraparound stop-bar tailpiece
Electronics: Two Epiphone single-coil pickups, master volume, master tone
Scale Length: 24.75” / 629mm

Cort X100

Cort X100

The Cort X100 is a perfect affordable guitar for the discerning shredder. Fitted with 24 frets, a contoured body, a hard maple neck and two powerful humbuckers, the guitar’s no stranger to power. The instrument’s very flat 15.75-inch radius fretboard also makes learning bends a breeze.

The body’s deep contours allow for access to all 24 frets, great for prospective shredders. And the guitar’s finish notably punches far above the guitar’s price bracket: a sleek, open-pore satin finish allows the grain character of the wood to peek through a little, making the instrument look and feel a little rawer.

Price: $250/£179
Build: Meranti body, bolt-on maple neck, Jatoba fretboard with 15.75” radius
Electronics: Two Cort Powersound humbuckers
Hardware: Cort six-point vibrator, die-cast tuners
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Hartwood Fifty6

Hartwood Fifty6

+ Great for budding rock and metal players
+ Simplicity of a single pickup lets you focus on the music
– Scale length might deter younger players

Gear4Music house brand Hartwood’s Fifty6 is very approachably-priced, but comes with a surprisingly interesting feature set. There’s a string-through tune-o-matic hardtail bridge for bags of sustain, a single humbucker for straightforward rock tones, and a deep lower cutaway carve to allow easy access to all 24 frets. The neck finish is also satin, meaning a smooth feel that won’t snag your hand as you move around it.

Unusually for this style of guitar, its scale length is 25.5 inches. While this might not be great for younger players or those just looking for a looser feel, if you’re looking to start learning heavier rock – especially any that involves downtuning – the longer scale will keep things sounding and feeling tight.

Price: £199.99
Build: Alder body with set maple neck, thermally-treated maple ply fretboard with 14” radius and 24 frets
Hardware: String-through tune-o-matic-style bridge, locking tuners
Electronics: Single bridge humbucker, master volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 25.5″ / 648mm

Harley Benton SC-Junior Black

Harley Benton SC-Junior Black

+ A lot of great specs for the price
+ Great hardware from Wilkinson
– Hard to come by outside of Europe

Speaking of European house brands – Harley Benton guitars’ reputation as ridiculous value for money precedes them, and for good reason. For less than £200, you’re getting a set-neck single-cut with a single P90 in the bridge position.

A single pickup might sound limiting to some, but for others, it’s a great way to get on with thinking about playing rather than switching up your tone. There’s a great argument to be made that a single P90 is all you’ll ever need, and if that attitude appeals the SC-Junior will be a great entry point to the world of guitar.

Price: £170 / €199
Build: Mahogany body with set mahogany neck, Amaranth fretboard with 12” radius and 22 frets
Hardware: Wilkinson wraparound bridge, Wilkinson vintage-style tuners
Electronics: Single Roswell P90 pickup, master volume and tone
Scale Length: 24.72” / 628mm

Read about the guitar here.

Gretsch G2210 Streamliner Junior Jet

Gretsch G2210 Streamliner Junior Jet

+ Comfortable neck
+ Full-sounding and characterful pickups
– Some might want a set neck for this price

Handily for beginners, this hot-rodded electric is quite light – especially compared to some single-cut-style guitars – and has a slim, comfortable neck and relatively flat 12-inch fingerboard radius.

The controls are similarly stripped down, with a master volume, master tone and a three-way toggle pickup selector. These controls manage a pair of full-size Broad’Tron humbuckers for full-sounding rock tones and punchy cleans.

With some nice ergonomic touches, versatile sounds and a straightforward control set, the only thing to turn off a beginner might be the price. It’s by no means expensive, but if you’re looking to invest in a guitar you won’t need to replace down the line, the G2210 is a fantastic option.

Price: £305 / $299.99
Build: Solid nato body, bolt-on nato neck, bound laurel fretboard with 12” radius, 22 medium-jumbo frets, synthetic bone nut
Hardware: Compensated wraparound bridge, diecast tuners with ‘kidney’ buttons
Electronics: Two Broad’Tron humbucking pickups, master volume and tone controls, three-way toggle pickup selector
Scale Length: 24.75” / 629mm

Read our full review here.

Epiphone Les Paul Special

Epiphone Les Paul Special

+ Excellent build quality
+ P90s are famously versatile
– Neck profile might not be the best for younger players

New for NAMM 2020, Gibson stole the show with their relaunched Epiphone Inspired by Gibson range, complete with a new open book headstock. Fans have been crying out for the traditional headstock on Epiphone’s and Gibson’s more budget-friendly models, and now they can rejoice.

The Epiphone Les Paul Special’s P-90 Pro soapbars have more late- than early-50s treble characteristics, but the extra cut is no bad thing. They also capture the effortless sustain, harmonic complexity and tonal balance we hear unplugged.

It’s one of those guitars you have to force yourself to put down because it sounds wonderful and has no discernible compromises. If you don’t like fat necks, you probably won’t like this one, but we find its playability hard to fault and overall, we’re blown away. When you factor in the remarkable price, it’s hard to find any faults with this beautiful guitar.

Price: £349 / $399
Build: Solid mahogany body, set mahogany neck with ‘Vintage 50s’ profile, bound Indian laurel fretboard with 12” radius, pearloid dot markers, 22 medium-jumbo frets, Graph Tech nut
Hardware: Lightning Bar wrapover bridge, Epiphone Vintage Deluxe 18:1 tuners with ‘ivory’ buttons
Electronics: Two P-90 Pro soapbar pickups, two volume and tone controls, three-way toggle pickup selector
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm

Read our full review here.

Jackson JS22 Dinky

Jackson JS22 Dinky

+ Compound radius fretboard for best of both worlds
+ Vibrato for expressive solos
– Metal stylings might deter some

If you aren’t already playing metal, the Jackson JS22 Dinky will do its utmost to change that. This guitar represents all the things upon which the brand has staked its claim to fame: metal- and rock-ready performance guitars with speedy necks and bold humbuckers.

Featuring a compound radius fretboard, it’s as comfortable to hold down chords as it is to shred at break-neck speeds when you venture past the twelfth fret.

With two Jackson high-output humbucking ceramic pickup, expect loud, distortion friendly pups that deliver full, rich tones with long sustain. But as with many similar guitars in this price range, don’t expect particularly pristine tones.

In terms of aesthetics, 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 that high-end glamour.

Price: £199 / $199.99
Build: Basswood body with bolt-on maple neck, amaranth fretboard with 12” to 16” compound Radius
Hardware: Two-point vibrato, Jackson sealed die-cast tuners
Electronics: Two Jackson high-output humbuckers, three-position blade switch, master volume and tone
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Ibanez S521

Ibanez S521

+ Slim, speedy neck
+ 24 frets ideal for budding shredders
– Slim neck and body might deter those looking for a fuller feel

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.

Price: $399.99 / £359
Build: ​​Mahogany body, Wizard III maple neck with 15” radius rosewood fretboard and 24 frets
Hardware: Hardtail six-saddle F106 bridge, Ibanez tuning machines
Electronics: Two Ibanez Quantum humbuckers, five position blade switch, master volume and tone
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Squier Classic Vibe 70s Jaguar

Squier Classic Vibe 70s Jaguar

+ Short scale ideal for younger players
+ Versatile electronics
– Offset vibrato requires some setup and maintenance

If you’re looking for a six-string that carries all of the high-end retro styling you can expect from Fender but without the price tag, the Squier Classic Vibe 70s Jaguar is the answer. With two Fender-designed alnico single coil pickups, a nickel-plated vintage style vibrato and floating bridge, it’s surprising it comes in at just £389.

With a comfortable C-shaped neck and 70s style block-inlays, players young and old will also appreciate its 24″ short scale length. Perfect for those with smaller hands, or those who are looking for something that’s just a little more fun to play.

With a vintage-tint gloss neck and headstock and in a choice of Surf Green (obviously the coolest), black or three-colour Sunburst, this guitar is guaranteed to turn heads. Just wait until you tell them that it’s under 400 quid…

Price: $479.99 / £359
Build: Poplar body with a bolt-on maple neck, Indian laurel fretboard with 9.5” fretboard radius and 22 frets
Hardware: Floating offset vibrato system, vintage-style tuners
Electronics: Two Fender-designed alnico single-coils, rhythm / lead switch, rhythm / lead volume and tone controls, individual pickup switches and ‘strangle’ switch
Scale Length: 24” / 610mm

Read about the guitar here.

Fender Player Telecaster

Fender Player Telecaster

+ Fender quality at relatively affordable price
+ Updates Telecaster platofrm to modern specs
– Scale length might not suit younger players

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.

Price: £579 / $799.99
Build: Alder body with bolt-on maple neck, maple or pau ferro fretboard with 9.5” radius
Hardware: Six-saddle telecaster bridge,
Electronics: Two alnico single-coils, three-position blade switch, master volume and tone
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster ‘50s

Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster ‘50s

+ Affordable entry into classic Strat features
+ Excellent-sounding pickups
– Scale length might not suit younger players

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.

Price: £349 / $449
Build: Pine body with bolt-on maple neck, maple fretboard with 21 frets and 9.5” radius
Hardware: Strat-style vibrato, vintage-style tuners
Electronics: Three Fender-designed alnico single-coils, master volume and two tone controls, five-way blade switch
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Yamaha Pacifica 112 V

Yamaha Pacifica 112 V

+ Combines classic S-type features with modern playability
+ HSS pickup configuration for versatile tones
– Scale length might not suit younger players

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 manoeuvre.

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.

Price: $299.99 / £249
Build: Alder body with bolt-on maple neck, maple fretboard with 13.5” radius and 22 frets
Hardware: Vintage-style tremolo, diecast tuners
Electronics: Alnico single-coils in the neck and middle position, alnico humbucker in the bridge position, five-way blade switch, master volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

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