Despite many preconceptions, there are still plenty of gems to be found among electric guitars under the $200 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 14 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 $200? Pretty well, it turns out…
Sterling by Music Man SUB Silo3
The Sterling range by Music Man is the more wallet friendly cousin to Ernie Ball Music Man, and the SUB Silo3 is an entry-level version of the latter’s now timeless Silhouette model. Extremely comfortable and with plenty of versatility to boot – an absolute bargain of an instrument whether you’re just starting out or simply desperate to add another six-string to your ever-expanding collection.
- Iconic Silhouette body shape with ergonomic touches
- Versatile HSS pickup configuration
- Comfortable asymmetrical neck profile
- Patented Ernie Ball four over two headstock
- Retails for under $200 (depending on the finish)
It’s great to see brands working hard to ensure even their budget models are of a highly respectable standard. The SUB Silo3 is no exception. It looks – and, more importantly, feels – special, especially for a guitar that hovers around the $200 mark.
Sterling’s main priority with the SUB Silo3 is comfort. Its svelte and body includes chamfer’s exactly where you’d want them, and the asymmetrical neck profile – it’s slightly slimmer towards the treble strings – feels natural in your hand, whilst the vintage-style tremolo bridge has a flat surface at the tail end for more comfort and balance. Add a light basswood body, and you’re ready to rock for hours on end.
The HSS pickup configuration with a five-way switch ensures versatility doesn’t come at a premium. Two single-coils in the neck and middle positions and an overwound bridge humbucker provide a good mix of both pristine Strat-like and warm Les Paul-esque tones that can cover a plethora of genres from straight-up rock and metal to funk, blues and country.
Elsewhere on the axe, you’ll find a hard maple/jatoba (depending on the finish) fretboard with a 12-inch-radius, a hard maple neck and master tone and volume knobs.
Epiphone Les Paul SL
The Epiphone Les Paul SL admittedly keeps its features to a minimum, but its barebones makeup is precisely what has made the guitar a hit among punk and garage rockers – and beginners of all stripes. It’s a dependable grab-and-go gem that, at well under $200, you won’t find much to complain about.
- Flat top Les Paul shape in a myriad of finishes
- Two Epiphone ceramic single-coil pickups
- 1960s SlimTaper D neck profile with a flat 14-inch-radius fretboard
- Retails for about $120
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 unkept 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.
Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC012DLX HSS Deluxe
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.
- Features for learning and exploration
- HSS pickup configuration offers a variety of tones
- Vintage-style tremolo bridge
- Retails for $179
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.
Schecter C-1 SGR
Here’s an instrument that’s as unabashedly straightforward as it is feisty. The Schecter C-1 SGR packs a handful of metal-leaning touches that feel, look and sound like a guitar that costs much more than its asking price of just $150.
- Super Strat body with an arched top
- Thin C-shaped neck, flat fretboard and 24 frets
- String-through Tune-o-Matic bridge
- Cool aesthetic details, from the Gothic cross inlay and black chrome hardware
- Retails for $150
The Chinese-made C-1 SGR is a Super Strat whose arched top, Gothic cross inlay and black chrome hardware don’t so much as scream “elegance” as whisper it. But, like the JS22 Dinky, this is still very much an instrument for music to get all riled up for.
Beveled cutaways, a thin C-shaped maple neck, 14-inch-radius rosewood fretboard and 24 medium frets ensure the guitar is as suited to shred as it can possibly be at this price point. While you may not be able to divebomb with this guitar, a Tune-o-Matic string-through bridge will keep your sustain ringing for days on end.
For pickups, the C-1 SGR comes with a pair of Diamond Plus humbuckers. These are overwound pups that are tight and hot enough – while not so nuanced or clear – when the gain’s cranked up.
Although many budget guitars keep to conventional designs, the Dean MLX takes a proudly opposing stance. Its ML body shape, popularised by the late Dimebag Darrell, commands attention with an out-of-this-world design. And the guitar’s other specs are just as geared towards aggressive styles such as Pantera’s.
- Eye-catching looks
- Two DMT Design humbuckers
- Tune-o-Matic bridge with a unique V stoptail
- Retails for about $200
The MLX is made in China, but, like all other Asia-made guitars on this list, that doesn’t make it a lesser instrument. Plug it into a hard rock or heavy metal rig, and the guitar will lay bare its potential.
Its two DMT Design humbuckers are hot enough to push the front-end of your amp, its flat 14-inch-radius jatoba fretboard is shred-friendly, and the funky headstock lengthens the strings for added resonance, according to Dean.
Elsewhere, however, you’ll find that the MLX is comfortable and familiar. It has a basswood body, bolt-on C-shaped maple neck, 24.75-inch scale length, and 22 jumbo frets. Additionally, a Tune-o-Mmatic bridge with a stoptail, simple controls (no coil-splitting here), and Grover tuners keep things beginner-friendly.
Squier Affinity Series Jazzmaster HH
The Squier Affinity Series Jazzmaster HH is a streamlined rendition of a vintage-spec’ed Jazzmaster. It sacrifices the configurability found on a traditional Jazzmaster for pure simplicity, aggression and affordability. What you’re left with may not be what purists expect, but if you’re into the classic offset shape and need a snarling guitar for under $200 then look no further.
- Classic, timeless appearance with an alder body
- Dual humbuckers for fat and hot tones
- Six-saddle hardtail bridge for tuning stability
- Retails for just under $200
This simplified Jazzmaster is a great starter guitar for punk, indie rock, grunge and other garage-infused genres. There’s no fiddling with an original Jazzmaster’s rhythm/lead circuit and floating tremolo system here. Instead there’s a three-way pickup selector switch, master volume and tone dials and a hardtail bridge to ensure grab-and-go convenience.
The model’s other appointments also represent a break from tradition. Two surprisingly hot in-house humbuckers aren’t the most refined pickups around, yet they provide the requisite growl for rock and punk. A satin-finished C-shaped maple neck and a 12-inch-radius rosewood fretboard make it more a modern and progressive instrument.
Squier Affinity Telecaster
A true blue-collar workhorse, the Fender Telecaster has been a mainstay in popular cultural since its invention. With Squier’s Affinity Series Telecaster this solid guitar ensures that anybody can get their hands on a timeless design, no matter what their budget is.
- Traditional alder body
- True Telecaster pickups
- 9.5″ radius
- Retails for just under $200
The Squier Affinity Series Telecaster is one of the best bang-for-buck instruments available today, coming in just shy of $200 dollars and not skimping on any standard Tele features.
Featuring two vintage-style single coil Tele pickups, this guitar delivers warm and clear tones, with enough Tele twang in the bridge to satisfy any customer. With a master volume and tone control the price point becomes more audible, these pups hum and buzz slightly in the upper register. More suited to atypical Tele genres such as country or blues, these pickups can comfortably cover more aggressive tones in the rock and indie world. Best not try too hard to start playing djent on this one, though.
With a six-saddle top loading bridge to allow for more modern playing styles, you’ll find intonation much easier to set than on a traditional Tele. While that might not be ideal for the more historically inclined player, this is perfect for beginners or tinkerers to get on with their playing, rather than worrying about why their guitar sounds “weird”. The alder body proves you don’t always have to trade off for a cheaper wood, and while it comes in a polyureathane finish, the C shaped maple neck has a satin stain, for easier grip and a more comforting feel.
Available in eight different finishes, this is not to be scoffed at. A true classic, regardless of the price.
Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster
If the Squier Classic Vibe models are still too pricey for you, the brand’s Affinity Series are here to save the day. For $199, the Affinity Stratocaster is a wonderful introduction to the enormous world of Strats – it’s versatile, robust and has those cherished sparkling Fender tones.
- Offers a primer on the ‘Strat’ sound and features
- Comes in seven finishes, from Two-colour Sunburst to Surf Green
- Features an oversized headstock
- C-shaped maple neck and alder body that are both thinner than those on conventional Strats
- Retails for just under $200
While the Affinity Strat isn’t the best fit for intermediate and advanced players, it nonetheless shouldn’t be cast aside. Its solid construction, decent hardware and pickups that mimic the wide tonal palette of a bona fide Fender make it an excellent starter or backup guitar, or even a perfect platform for modding.
The three Squier single-coils that power this six-string are the same as those you’ll find in Fender’s Bullet range, and still possess ‘Strat-like’ qualities that easily produce the sought-after ‘quack’ of positions two and four (neck plus middle, and middle plus bridge).
The other components of the Affinity Strat are also budget alternatives to Fenders higher up the food chain. 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. It also the super cool oversized headstock, commonly found on 70s-inspired Stratocasters.
ESP LTD EC-10
The ESP LTD EC-10 is crafted by the Japanese company’s budget subsidiary as a no-frills starter model – and that’s actually a great thing. Everything about this guitar is designed to cut out all distractions and streamline your playing.
- 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
- Bevelled cutaway for easier access to higher frets
- Retails for just 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 whether you’re sitting or standing, while bevelled cutaways mean you can reach those upper frets with consumate 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 for years to come.
The two LH-100 humbuckers that power the guitar aren’t going to blow you away. Yet, they’re aggressive and loud enough enough to work well with overdriven and distorted amplifiers. Just don’t expect sparkling and responsive cleans with this.
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. 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.
- 24-inch scale length
- Lightweight, with a thin body and offset shape
- Fuss-free and simplified circuitry
- High-output humbuckers
- Retails for just under $150
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 $200, 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.
Ibanez Gio GRGM21 Mikro
Made for our young siblings to help them on their quest to become the torch bearers for future guitar music, the Ibanez Mikro series is, despite its puny size, something of a dark horse when it comes to a beginners guitar.
- Ibanez sharktooth fret markers
- Ceamic pickups
- Fixed F106 bridge offers high level of tuning stability
- Retails for about $159
Every young player has to start somewhere, and while there’s something to be said for immediately starting on a full scale model, why would you scoff at something from a company known for it’s powerful yet comfortable guitars. While it comes equipped with two humbucking pickups the tone produced leans towards to the harsh end of the spectrum, due in part to its poplar body. Don’t let that put you off though, it still produces ample driven and distorted sounds, perfect for this guitars target market.
The guitar’s 22.2″ scale length makes it extremely fun and fast to play, and it hasn’t shyed away with the fretboard wood. Boasting a jatoba fretboard and 24 frets, this is a neck that begs to played with sweeping legato or y’know, monster power chords. Perfect for beginners and those who want something different to the standard LP or Strat-style models, this guitar is a fun and wallet-friendly option for players of all abilities. Not sure it’s suited to bluegrass, though…
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 heavier genres but with several vintage-inspired finishes (the “VE” stands for “Vintage Edition”) and certain specs fit for an aspiring rock and roller.
- 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
- Retails for just under $150
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.
Ibanez GIO GRX70QA
It’s been nearly two decades since Ibanez debuted the affordable GIO series. And the GRX70QA – one of 10 axes in the line – will pique the interest of guitarists eager to dive into metal, djent and other genres famous for shredding.
- Ibanez Infinity pickups in a versatile HSH configuration
- Treated New Zealand pine fretboard on a slim maple neck
- Contoured poplar body for comfort and playability
- Retails for just under $200
Like many other ‘metal’ guitars at this price, the GRX70QA features a quilted maple top and a contoured, pointed Super Strat-style body.
Compared to the more expensive Schecter C-6 Plus, the GRX70QA is arguably more versatile due in part to its pickup configuration and the addition of a whammy bar. Meanwhile, its slim neck and a 12-inch fretboard radius make it easy for newbies to play.
Can’t decide between a humbucker and single-coil? No need, the GRX70QA has both arranged in an HSH configuration with five possible combinations. The Infinity ceramic pickups on this model aren’t the best pickups that Ibanez have to offer but they are able to deliver neutral tones with bell-like harmonics.
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 latter tonewood has “gone through an advanced seasoning process” that results in “enhanced stability” and a “rich, warm tone.”
Jackson JS22 Dinky
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.
- Graphite-reinforced slim, satin-finished maple neck that’s built for speed
- Compound radius fretboard
- High-output Jackson humbuckers voiced for richness, sustain and overdrive
- All-black hardware for the quintessential metal look
- Retails for just 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. 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.