The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Budget Guitars and Brands
Nobody wants to spend too much on a guitar. At the same time, we all want instruments that are well made and sound great. Can we somehow have the best of both worlds? Are there really amazing, affordable instruments out there that not only make great first guitars for serious beginners but might even serve advanced guitarists well?
Many guitarists say nope. They see any inexpensive guitar, and even certain brands, as low-quality and not worth their time. Maybe these instruments are acceptable for beginners who don’t know any better, but they aren’t the real deal.
I think that perspective is incorrect and outdated. Back when I started playing guitar, over thirty years ago, there was a very clear separation between cheap guitars for beginners and the better instruments meant for serious players.
Today’s beginner guitars are far superior to the hunk of wood with strings I started with, and now there is a huge array of instruments to choose from. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you only intend to play guitar for fun you’ll never need to spend another dime on gear beyond your starter setup if you don’t want to. (Except for things like strings and picks, of course.) That definitely wasn’t true thirty years ago.
One difference today is the number of big-name guitar brands that make affordable acoustic and electric guitars, which are often versions of their pro-level instruments. These days, you can own a Les Paul or a Stratocaster as a beginner or intermediate player. Of course, they aren’t the same as the Gibson or Fender flagship models, but they are still darned good guitars based on those designs.
This article covers my top 10 budget acoustic and electric guitar brands. These are the brands I most often recommend to new and intermediate guitarists, and I own or have owned many of them myself.
I know a lot of people are looking for cheap guitars and these brands are a good place to start. However, I feel like the word cheap implies low-quality or inferiority. That is not what you get here, so I prefer to use the term budget guitar.
Top 10 Budget Guitar Brands
Here is my list of the best budget guitar brands. Remember this is all based on my opinion and experiences. There are many great guitar companies out there, so check them all out before making a decision.
- Squier and Fender
Read on to learn more about each brand and some of the awesome acoustic and electric guitars they have in their lineups.
Epiphone does a great job of making instruments for all levels of guitar players, especially those looking for affordable acoustic and electric instruments. Epiphone is owned by Gibson and therefore can make official copies of Gibson guitars like the Les Paul, SG, and Hummingbird. Many are good enough for pro players to use in the studio or on stage.
Others are perfect for getting started. In fact, the Epiphone Les Paul Special II is the electric guitar I most often recommend for beginners. This is an instrument that’s modeled on the legendary Gibson Les Paul, with many of the same attributes such as a single-cutaway body, dual humbuckers, and tune-o-matic bridge. It is a simple yet versatile setup.
Epiphone has some pro-level Les Pauls in their lineup too, such as the Les Paul PlusTop PRO and Custom PRO. The Les Paul is one of the best electric guitars of all time. These instruments look so close to their Gibson big brothers that most people won’t know the difference, but they come in at a fraction of the price.
When it comes to acoustic guitars you can look to the Epiphone Hummingbird PRO, EJ-200SCE and Dove PRO, which are all versions of Gibson classics. Fortunately for anyone who wants an affordable, amazing acoustic guitar they cost much, much less.
Best Budget Epiphone Guitars
- Les Paul Standard
- Les Paul Custom
- SG Standard
- SG Special VE
- Les Paul Special II
- LP 100
- ES-339 PRO
- Hummingbird PRO
The Epiphone Les Paul Special II
Squier and Fender
Many people will recognize Squier as a budget brand, but it may be a little less clear why I included Fender here. Squier and Fender are both parts of Fender Musical Instrument Corporation, and Squier makes many affordable versions of classic Fender instruments.
We get the Affinity Series Stratocasters and Telecasters, which are also among my top recommended electric guitars for beginners. There are also the Squier Vintage Modified and Classic Vibe instruments, which are, in my opinion, some of the best bargains in the guitar world and plenty good enough for intermediate and advanced players.
So, why did I include Fender here? One reason is their made-in-Mexico Player Series instruments. These guitars aren’t cheap, but they only cost a fraction of what you’d spend on an American Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster, and they are really, really good.
Another reason is because of the affordable acoustic guitars for beginners made under the Fender name. This includes excellent starter guitars such as the CD-60S and the FA-125. Yes, if you are a total beginner you can start out on a guitar with the Fender name on the headstock!
Best Budget Squier Guitars
- Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster
- Classic VIbe '60s Stratocaster
- Classic Vibe '70s Stratocaster
- Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster
- Classic Vibe '70s Jaguar
- Classic Vibe '60s Jazzmaster
- Contemporary Strat
- Contemporary Tele
- Affinity Strat
- Affinity Tele
Yamaha makes a lot of great musical instruments, including some pricey pro-level gear. But there is a reason they are at the top of the brands I recommend for beginning acoustic guitar players. I am always impressed by the sound and feel of their budget acoustics.
I usually suggest beginners start out of the Yamaha FG800. It has a dreadnought-style body which makes for a solid compromise between projection and note articulation.
I think a dreadnought-style acoustic is the right choice for most beginners who are still trying to figure out which sounds they should expect from their new instrument. But, some newbies who think they might benefit from a smaller-bodied instrument may prefer the FS800, a guitar very similar to the FG800 with a slimmer body.
You can move up their Yamaha acoustic guitar lineup from these beginner guitars to intermediate and pro-level instruments. I always feel like their guitars should cost a lot more than they do.
Through their Pacifica series, Yamaha gives us some great electric guitars as well. The PAC112J is another one of the best electric guitars for beginners, but there are more expensive models for intermediate players as well.
Best Budget Yamaha Guitars
The Yamaha FG Series
My first real electric guitar was an Ibanez. I still have it. It cost something like $400 back in 1985, which equates to a little over $900 in today’s money. It was a great guitar and still is, even though I’ve modded the heck out of it (and plan to work on it more in the future.)
You can still get an outstanding Ibanez guitar for $900. Fortunately, you can still get one for $400, and for a heck of a lot less as well. Intermediate guitarists can look to Ibanez for quality gear, specifically some of the RG and S models.
I typically recommend Ibanez instruments to a newbie who knows they want to play metal. Ibanez is one of the top metal guitar brands out there, and beginners may as well start off right with their GIO Series. Like all of these brands, they also have some cool starter packs for the budding rock and metal guitarists.
All of that is awesome, but it might surprise some people to know that Ibanez also makes some great acoustic guitars under $500. Intermediate guitarists and serious beginners should check out the Artwood Series from Ibanez.
Best Budget Ibanez Guitars
- Talman TCM50
You might not expect to see Dean listed here. I think this is a brand that has really found a niche when it comes to budget acoustic and electric guitars. They make some cool high-end instruments, centered on their ML, Z and V designs.
They have affordable versions of those instruments as well, such as the MLX, and other models such as the Vendetta XMT. These are outstanding starter guitars for rock and metal.
Dean has great options when it comes to acoustic guitars too, many with gorgeous tops you’d expect to see on much more expensive instruments. Beginners might want to check out the Dean AXS Dreadnought. They even have a 12-string you can grab for a reasonable price point.
If you want to get the best value sometimes you have to look for diamonds in the rough. Don’t discount Dean as a quality brand for both acoustic and electric guitars. This is a guitar company that knows how to give intermediate and beginning guitar players what they need to succeed.
Best Budget Dean Guitars
- Dave Mustaine VMNTX
- Dime Razorback
- AXS Dreadnought
- AXS Parlour
- AXS Grand Auditorium
5 More Budget Brands
I chose my top 5 budget guitar brands because they make excellent, affordable instruments for both acoustic and electric guitarists. Some brands veer one way or another, but for the very top of my list, I wanted to choose companies that do both well.
With that said, I think a few other companies deserve mention here, even though they may specialize in one type of guitar or another. We can consider these as honorable mentions, I suppose.
Jackson makes some legendary high-end guitars which have been used by professional rock and metal player for decades. They make this list because of their JS Series, which brings awesome Jackson designs like the Rhoads, King V, Dinky and Kelley down to affordable prices.
Cordoba is among my favorite brands when it comes to classical guitars, and they make some beautiful high-end instruments. But, since they made this list, you’ve probably guessed that, at least in my opinion, they also make affordable acoustics. Beginners might want to check out the Cordoba C3M.
While there are few low-priced guitars in Schecter’s lineup, most of their gear is aimed at the mid-price market. The reason I mention them here is because of the Schecter Omen, which I think is among the best affordable electric guitars out there. Grabbed one for myself over a decade ago and I’ve never regretted it.
I know I’ve said it before, but Breedlove is a brand I’m coming to like more and more. Their single-cutaway acoustics are just beautiful, and you can find many of them in the $300-$500 range. They are definitely a good choice for serious beginners.
I remember loving the look of ESP guitars a few decades, and thinking I’d never get my hands on one. Back then they did a lot of high-end electrics for famous rock stars, and that certainly wasn’t me. Eventually, they introduced the ESP-LTD range of more affordable instruments, and today they are a great choice for guitarists on a budget.
The Jackson JS Series
Finding the Perfect Guitar
It’s hard enough to find the right acoustic or electric guitar without being limited by your wallet. Thankfully, unlike when I first started playing, you have a lot of choices. You’ve probably noticed that many of the same companies that build the high-end gear for the pros also make affordable instruments.
For them, it’s a smart way to introduce younger players to their brand and hopefully make them lifelong fans. For us, it means we don’t need to drop a ton of cash to get a great instrument made by one of the best companies in the guitar world.
Finally, if you’ve been looking around at different instruments you may have noticed some really cheap guitars by brand names you’ve never heard of. I always recommend starting out on a quality guitar made by a company you can trust. However, I’m also not going to look down on anyone who has to get something less expensive because it is all they can afford.
The most important thing is to start playing guitar and never look back.
Harry on December 29, 2019:
I think the most underrated acoustic guitars are Alvarez. Excellent sound, playability, and construction.
Laughing Gravy on November 03, 2019:
Godin has a Strat type guitar made in the USA that sells for $599.
Steve McGee on September 14, 2019:
I have a old burny Les Paul custom black and locking tuners brass nut and two screw truss rod cover. Great guitar
Mark on September 04, 2019:
Did you look at Orangewood guitars? The Mahogany Oliver is not bad.