The best electric guitars to buy in 2021: 10 best budget guitars under $300

You don’t have to break the bank to get a great instrument.

Despite many preconceptions, there are still plenty of gems to be found among electric guitars under the $300 bracket. While they may have imperfections in their build and tend to possess less than spectacular pickups, they’re far from bad guitars. Many of these affordable models are great for beginners or are perfect for modifying and experimenting with new configurations and constructions.

In picking the 10 guitars on this list, we focused on a single factor: value. In other words, how well do their build quality, electronics and specs stack up to their price tags of under $300? Pretty well, it turns out…

The best budget electric guitars under $300 at a glance:

  • Epiphone Les Paul SL
  • Yamaha Pacifica 012
  • Squier Affinity Series Jazzmaster
  • Squier Affinity Telecaster
  • Ibanez GRG121DX-WNF Gio RGone
  • Epiphone Les Paul Special VE
  • Squier Bullet Mustang HH
  • Jackson JS22 Dinky
  • Cort X100
  • Harley Benton SC-550 II

Epiphone Les Paul SL

Epiphone Les Paul SL

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+ 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

Yamaha Pacifica 012

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Yamaha Pacifica 012

+ Classic looks
+ Versatile electronics
– Relatively flat fingerboard radius

The chances are you came across a Yamaha Pacifica as a young rockstar in waiting. Yamaha’s tried to give a taste of everything a beginner could possibly want or need, with the Pacifica Series PAC012DLX HSS Deluxe. So if you’re not too sure what your groove is yet, here’s a great place to discover it.

Similar to a model made by another popular guitar manufacturer but with a thinner waist, sharper horns and deeper cutaways for easier access to the upper registers, the PAC012DLX is a more modern take on Fender’s trailblazer. Tone snobs may scoff at the agathis – rather than a traditional Strat-style’s alder – used in the body, but when the guitar on offer retails for under $200, you can easily look past the soft and cheaper tonewood.

The HSS pickup configuration, along with a five-way switch, provides a wide enough tonal palette that you won’t need to upgrade until you’re entirely certain of what you’re looking for. The single coils are bright and clear, while the bridge humbucker has a solid crunch when played through distortion. As usual, though, you can expect the same drawbacks with all budget pickups.

The other specs on this model lean towards the more modern end of the spectrum, too. A 13.75-inch-radius rosewood fretboard, a narrow and shallow maple neck, and the aforementioned deep cutaways make playing fast a breeze. A chrome tremolo bridge and master volume and tone controls round up the specs on this great value-for-money guitar.

Price: $209/£199
Build: Bolt-on maple neck, agathis body, sonokeling rosewood fretboard with 13.75” radius
Hardware: Vintage-style vibrato unit, Sperzel tuners
Electronics: Single coils in neck and middle, humbucker in bridge, five-way switch, master volume and tone
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648 mm

Squier Affinity Series Jazzmaster

Squier Affinity Series Jazzmaster

+ Jazzmaster single coils for an affordable take on the classic sound
+ Great upgrade platform
– No full-size offset vibrato

In 2021 Squier overhauled its Affinity range, with the Affinity Jazzmaster receiving some of the biggest changes. Previously, the guitar had two humbuckers and a hardtail bridge. This version is still available at a number of dealers, and is a great deal for those looking for an affordable (if non-traditional) offset.

But the announcement of the 2021 Affinity Jazzmaster was great news for anyone looking for an entry point into more traditionally-spec’d offset instruments, thanks to the addition of the vibrato and two Fender-voiced Jazzmaster single coils. Jazzmaster single coils have a unique character like no other pickup – their colourful cleans and out-there interaction with fuzz and drive help you really stand out from the crowd.

While the vibrato is a Stratocaster-style vibrato, this might be a benefit rather than a hindrance for some. The full offset vibrato is notorious for how much esoteric setup work it can need, especially at the more affordable end of things. For a beginner, however, the plug-and-play nature of the Strat vibrato might be a much better way to get into the world of wobble.

Price: $279/£219
Build: Poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, 9.5” radius laurel fretboard
Electronics: Two Fender-voiced Jazzmaster single coils, with
Hardware: Stratocaster-style vibrato, vintage-style split-shaft tuners
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Squier Affinity Telecaster

Squier Affinity Telecaster

+ Solid, dependable Telecaster performance
+ Humbucker-loaded Deluxe version also available
– Ceramic pickups can be a little bright

Less of a departure from previous years than the above Jazzmaster, the Affinity Telecaster serves up classic Telecaster stylings with not many sacrifices made for the sake of affordability.

One subtle change that has been introduced for this newer Affinity Telecaster is that the bridge is now string through. What does that mean? Well, previously, it was top-loading – the strings being fed through the thin metal backplate that the saddles screw into. While the tonal impact of this – as with every minor change to a guitar’s specs – is debated, it leads to more downward tension on the saddles, meaning a more solid connection for vibrational transference. In other words, a string-through design is said to have a little more sustain.

One of the best things about the Squier affinity range is Leo Fender’s approach to the Ship Of Theseus problem. Investing in an affordable Telecaster like this can save you even more money in the long run, if you don’t mind fitting an aftermarket neck, bridge, saddles or pickups. Luckily, thanks to the modular nature of Fender instruments, doing so should be a breeze – and is a great way to learn a little about taking care of your instrument.

Price: $229.99/£219
Build: Poplar body, bolt-on maple neck, 9.5” radius laurel fretboard
Electronics: Two Squier ceramic single coils
Hardware: String-through hardtail Telecaster bridge, vintage-style split-shaft tuners
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Ibanez GRG121DX-WNF Gio RG

GRG121DX-WNF Gio RG

+ Aggressive yet minimalist aesthetic
+ Incredibly slim and fast neck
– No vibrato might deter those looking for a shredding guitar

Ibanez is no stranger to the sleek S-type, and while the GRG121DX-WNF Gio RG isn’t the brand’s most affordable take on the format, it strikes a balance between accessibility and performance. Divebomb-ready this guitar is not, as there’s a hardtail bridge, but for those looking for stability throughout a performance that’s no bad thing.

The hardtail also means that experimenting with alternate tunings becomes a lot easier, as does the 25.5-inch scale length. The two ceramic humbuckers give off a lot of attack thanks to their relatively bright character, and Ibanez’s Wizard neck profile is slim and comfortable – great for any genre, unless you have a strong preference for a chunkier neck.

While the guitar clearly is geared towards rock and metal, it’s not ridiculously pointy – and the walnut finish retains a little class to its look, so if you’ve got a jazz gig in the afternoon and a power metal gig in the evening, you won’t look out of place on either stage.

Price: $199.99/£179
Build: Poplar body, bolt-on maple neck with 15.75” radius, contoured heel
Electronics: Two black-covered passive Ibanez humbuckers
Hardware: Ibanez hardtail bridge, black tuners
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Epiphone Les Paul Special VE

Epiphone Les Paul Special VE

+ An ergonomic lightweight
+ Full-sounding humbuckers
– Single volume and tone control for both pickups

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 heavier genres but with several vintage-inspired finishes (the “VE” stands for “Vintage Edition”) and certain specs fit for an aspiring rock and roller.

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 in the neck and an Epiphone 700T Humbucker in the bridge. Both sport open-coil designs and are hot as hell. They’re perfect for unleashing loud, chunky power chords à la Nirvana, Green Day and other beginner staples with little more than your practice amp’s dirt channel.

Pickups aside, the Les Paul Special VE has a pancake flat 14-inch-radius rosewood fretboard and a 60s SlimTaper D-shaped neck whose satin finish most beginners will find smooth and welcoming to use.

Price: $179/£149
Build: Poplar body, bolt-on mahogany neck with blackwood Tek fingerboard and 14” radius
Hardware: Two-piece Tune-O-Matic bridge
Electronics: Two Epiphone humbuckers
Scale Length: 24.75” / 629mm

Squier Bullet Mustang HH

Squier Bullet Mustang HH

+ Short scale, great for beginners
+ Hardtail bridge to add some stability that might be lost with a short scale
– Flat 12-inch radius fingerboard might not be for everyone

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. For that price you’ll get a solid, if not barebones, offset guitar that’s best employed for brasher types of rock such as grunge, punk and indie rock.

It might not seem like a ‘real’ Mustang, it isn’t as versatile, the hardware components aren’t great… But for a project guitar under $300, something to noodle around with, or if you’re just aching for a Mustang, this Squier is exactly what you need.

Everything on the Indonesia-made guitar simply works, and works well. Featuring 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 coaxing you into hitting that distortion pedal.

Price: $189.99/£119
Build: Basswood body, bolt-on maple neck and laurel fingerboard, 12” radius
Electronics: Two Squier Humbuckers
Hardware: Hardtail top-loading bridge, Squier modern-style tuners
Scale Length: 24” / 610mm

Jackson JS22 Dinky

Jackson JS22 Dinky

+ Comfortable arch top
+ 24 frets and a vibrato, perfect for solos
– Some might want more versatile electronics

If you aren’t already playing metal, the Jackson JS22 Dinky will do its best to change that. 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.

This Super Strat model’s minimal looks belie its bevy of features that you won’t typically find on a guitar under $300.

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. 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 long sustain. But as with many similar guitars in this price range, don’t expect amazing clean 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: $199.99/£189
Build: Basswood body, bolt-on maple neck, Amaranth fretboard with 12-16” radius
Hardware: Two-point vibrato, Jackson die-cast tuners
Electronics: Two Jackson humbuckers
Scale Length: 25.5” / 648mm

Cort X100

Cort X100

+ Sleek, open-pore finish
+ 24 frets with deep cutaway
– Aesthetics might be too aggressive for some

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, you’ll be guaranteed comfort and power throughout even the most demanding tremolo-picked riffs. A a six-point vibrato can also lend some drama and expression to your solos.

An easy way to spot a metal-focused S-type is how aggressively its horns are designed, and here, there’s a lot of aggression. While they’re not as razor-sharp as some, they offer deep, contoured access to all 24 frets, and their substantial length balances out the body’s design, preventing neck dive.

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. And if you’re after a riff-ready axe, that’s no bad thing.

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

Harley Benton SC-550 II

Harley Benton SC-550 II

+ Comfortable neck join for this style of guitar
+ High-end looks for low-end price
– Hard to come by outside of Europe

The SC-550 II is one of the more premium Harley Benton guitars, but in the brand’s affordable spirit it’s still under $300. It features two alnico-V Tesla Humbuckers, along with many of the standard fittings of a dual-humbucker LP-type guitar. There’s a mahogany body, which is weight relieved for comfort and topped with a piece of triple-A flamed maple. The neck is also mahogany, with a pau ferro fretboard and trapezoid inlays.

One of the coolest things about this guitar is the neck join. If you’ve ever played high up on the fretboard of an LP-style instrument, and you have smaller-than-average hands, you know the chunky neck join can occasionally get in the way of things. But here the join is angled dramatically down towards the lower cutaway for easier upper-fret access.

It’s also worth noting that for UK and EU buyers, the SC-550 II is comparable in price to the other guitars on the list – US buyers may find that conversion rates and shipping mean it peeks over the price bracket, however, it’s still a huge amount of guitar for the money.

Price: €279
Build: Mahogany body, set mahogany neck, flame maple top, pau ferro fretboard with 12” radius
Electronics: two Harley Benton Alnico-V humbuckers
Hardware: Vintage-style tuners, two-piece Tune-O-Matic-style hardtail bridge
Scale Length: 24.72” / 628mm

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