Best Electric Guitar Under $300 2016
Cheap Guitars and Snooty Guitar Players
If you're trying to choose the best electric guitar for less than $300 you may find it tough to wade through all the confusing information out there on the internet.
Unfortunately, some veteran guitar players can be downright snooty when it comes to gear, and 300 bucks isn't much to spend when you look at the cost of big-name guitars. If there isn’t a high-profile name on the headstock some players are prone to look down on the guitar and the player who wields it. It’s not fair, but it kind of goes with the turf.
Some think such snobbery is an indication that they know their craft and, like a high-society wine connoisseur, are enlightened enough to hold their heads above those who do not agree with them. It's a shame, because they are really missing out on some of the best guitar bargains out there.
I have to admit I spent some time thinking this way in my younger days. You know, before years of guitar playing led me to something that can be loosely called wisdom. Now I know that it's more about the player than the instrument, and that a quality guitar doesn't have to be expensive to get the job done. There are some real gems out there if you take the time to look.
In this article you'll read about 10 of the top electric guitars in the $200-300 price range. They're excellent for beginners, but intermediate and advanced players might find them worthy of adding to their collections as well.
It also doesn't hurt that they're made by some of the best names in the guitar world, so you can expect quality and value. Big-name guitar manufacturers might makes some expensive instruments, but they know today's beginner and intermediate player is tomorrow's pro.
If you are a total beginner on a tight budget you may prefer to check out the following article:
Otherwise, let’s get to it. Here are some of the best electric guitars under $300 for beginners and intermediate players.
Squier Vintage Modified Stratocaster
You may not have heard of Squier, but you’ve probably heard of Fender. The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most iconic guitars in the rock world, played by legendary players since the 1950s.
Squier is owned by Fender, so beginning guitarist can own a real-deal Stratocaster right from the start of their playing careers. If you are looking for an awesome guitar for the money, check out the Squier versions of the Stratocaster and Telecaster..
In recent years Squier has been putting out their Classic Vibe and Vintage Modified lines of guitars and basses. These instruments are a cut above the standard Squier, and have gotten outstanding reviews, even from seasoned players.
Personally, I count myself among the veteran guitarists who are pleasantly surprised with these guitars. They are a perfect example of a guitar company that knows how to give you what you need to sound good without all the bells and whistles that drive up the cost of the guitar.
They are definitely worth checking out if you're looking for the best electric guitar under $300.
Best for: Country and rock players who love that classic Strat sound. Players who already own high-end Stats but are looking for a great guitar to mod. Intermediate players who are looking to own their first Strat.
Hear the Squier VM Stratocaster
Squier Standard Telecaster and Vintage Modified Series
The other big dog in the Fender lineup is, of course, the Telecaster. The Tele actually came first, but ever since the arrival of the little brother Strat over 50 years ago players have been comparing the Stratocaster and Telecaster and arguing over which is better.
After you’ve been around guitar for a while you kind of figure it out. Both of these instruments are iconic designs that have stood the test of time, and while each fits into a slightly different niche it really comes down to personal preference.
The Telecaster isn’t quite as versatile as the Strat, but it does have a distinctive sound. And if you are looking for your best option under $300 you have a couple of choices in the Squier lineup.
The first is the Standard Tele. It’s basic and gives you everything you’d expect in a Telecaster, especially when it comes to that classic tone. The body is agathis, not alder, and you don’t have the choice of a maple fingerboard. But otherwise this is a great guitar for the money, and a smart way to grab an affordable Telecaster.
But if you want to go a different route you can also check out the Vintage Modified Telecasters. There are a few models for under your budget, including Thinline Teles with semi-hollow bodies, and Teles with some unique pickup configurations.
Best for: Country players looking for that distinctive Tele twang, but Telecasters also make the cut in blues and rock. Check out the Vintage Modified options for more expansive tones that take you places Telecasters don’t often go.
Check out the Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster Special Demo
Epiphone Les Paul 100
Epiphone is owned by Gibson, the company famous for guitars like the Les Paul, SG and Explorer. Gibson guitars are some of the best in the industry, and feature incredible craftsmanship and design. Epiphone is licensed to make Gibson-style guitars, and the Les Paul 100 is a good choice for a guitar in this price range.
Of course its not a Gibson, but with a price tag of a couple of thousand dollars less surely nobody expects Gibson quality. But it is a real Les Paul, and a way for beginners and intermediate guitar players to get that Les Paul sound and vibe without spending their college savings.
It's even made with a mahogany neck and body, just like a Gibson Les Paul!
Epiphone guitars have their share of fans and haters. Personally, I really like them, and in my opinion an Epiphone is an outstanding choice for beginners and intermediate players who don't yet have the cash or experience for a pro-level instrument.
Best for: Guitarists who like a hard-driving rock. Players who are into a wide range of styles, from country to rock to jazz, especially beginners who don't feel like dealing with a tremolo system.
More on the Epiphone Les Paul 100
Epiphone Worn G-400
If the Les Paul doesn’t do it for you, the SG probably will. When it comes to Epiphone guitars, their version of the Gibson SG is the G-400. Just like with the Les Paul, this is a budget version of a Gibson classic, put within the reach of newbies and intermediate players.
You can grab an Epiphone G-400 PRO. It’s a great guitar and super affordable, but it will bump you slightly over your $300 budget. Fortunately, Epi also gives us the Worn G-400, an SG version with a slightly less pretty finish but an outstanding sound.
This isn’t quite the same guitar as the PRO version. It does have the same mahogany body and neck, same rosewood fingerboard, same slim-taped “D” neck and both have a Tune-o-matic bridge.
But the Worn version is equipped with Epi’s Alnico Classic pickups, while the PRO G-400 Alinco Classic Pros, which include a coil tap function. The PRO version also has slightly upgraded hardware and electronics.
Is it worth the bump of fifty bucks to upgrade from the Worn G-400 to the PRO? For me, you betcha. But that’s a decision you have to make for yourself based on your budget.
Best for: All genres of music, but rock guitar players in particular may appreciate the growl and grit of the SG.
Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V
Yamaha makes some great basses and acoustic guitars, but they don’t always get credit for their electric guitars. The Pacifica is the exception, and it has long been regarded as one of the best inexpensive guitars out there.
It’s a fairly basic guitar, yet offers a little more than you’d expect in a guitar of this price. It’s got an alder body with a bolt-on maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, a HSS pickup configuration, vintage-style tremolo system and a coil tap, which can give you a single-coil sound with the bridge pickup.
The Pacifica is a versatile guitar for rock, jazz or country, and has earned its reputation as an excellent guitar for beginners or intermediate players. You can find cheaper models, but the PAC112V probably offers the best bang for your buck, and gets a lot of very positive reviews.
If you are on the fence between the Fender and the Epiphone above, this HSS pickup configuration of this Yamaha might be the right choice. Younger players who don't yet know exactly what kind of pickups they prefer in a guitar will appreciate the versatility.
Best for: Anyone looking for a versatile guitar. Players who aren't yet sure what pickups are right for them and need a guitar for many styles.
Check out the Pacfica
The Ibanez RG is a metal classic. Spawned in the ‘80s, it has since appeared in the hands of metal guitarists and shredders around the globe. If you’ve heard of the RG’s reputation there is no need to wait until you are a more advanced guitar player to grab one.
The RG421 may be at the lower end of the RG spectrum, but it checks all the right boxes. RGs typically feature basswood bodies, but this guitar is made from mahogany. Mahogany is a warm resonant tonewood, similar to basswood but a bit richer across the tonal spectrum. From there we have a fast Wizard III maple neck (check), rosewood fingerboard with 24 jumbo frets (check), and a pair of hot Quantum pickups (check).
Then only thing you may think the RG421 is lacking is a locking tremolo. You’ll have to bump up to the RG450 for that, but don’t let that sell you short on the 421. It’s a solid guitar for the money, and a great way to grab a real Ibanez RG and stay within your budget.
Best for: Metalheads and shredders love the RG for its speed, precision and scorching sound, but any humble rock guitarist will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of sound Ibanez brings to the table.
Parker guitars are on the wish lists of many guitar players, myself included. They're super high-quality in design, function and sound, and, unless you are willing to remortgage your house, you are probably never going to own one.
But you can own a PDF-series Parker. These are budget-level guitars based on the Parker Maxxfly design, and the PDF30 is one of the best electric guitars under $300 you’ll find.
On paper the PDF30 doesn’t look a lot different than some of the other guitars in this review: Mahogany body with bolt-on maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, dual humbuckers and a Tune-o-matic bridge with string-through body design. But one look tells you this guitar is something different, with that unmistakable Parker vibe. The PDF30 only comes in black or white, but both look classy as all get out.
Admittedly, this design isn’t for everyone. However, for those who dig the Parker thing but could never afford the real-deal, this guitar is a must-have. It’s a bit of high-end class for not a lot of cash, and that’s tough to beat.
Best for: Parker fans, or any guitar player looking to take a few steps off the beaten path, in any genre.
Schecter Omen 6
Schecter Guitar Research has gained a reputation for making quality instruments that cost less than you’d think. Middle and upper-level Schecters are beautiful instruments, but they also offer a few outstanding options at lower price points,
The Omen 6 is one of those instruments. It’s an outstanding guitar for the money, with solid construction that can lend well to modding down the road. It's got a basswood body with a bolt-on maple neck, 24-fret rosewood fretboard, string-thru design and hot humbuckers.
If you play extreme metal you may love the stock pickups, but if you want a little more clarity you might look at replacing them down the road. You'll still end up with an amazing guitar for a fraction of the cost.
In my opinion, the Omen 6 is at the top of the list of best electric guitars under $300. In fact, you can read my review of my Omen 6 here.
It might sound weird for a veteran guitar player with 30 years of experience, but I've had a Schecter Omen in my collection for years. I got it hoping to mod it and maybe beat it up a bit, but I liked it so much I've kept it stock. It is an amazing guitar.
Best for: Extreme metal and heavy rock players, especially those who plan to tune the guitar down a step or more. Newbie looking for their first metal guitar.
ESP LTD MH-50
Like Schecter, ESP LTD is a guitar company that walks a clever line between quality gear and affordable pricing. There are a bunch of guitars companies with entries into the modern super strat category, and some guitars that will come in under your $300 budget. In my opinion the Schecter Omen is the best of the lot, but I’d also suggest checking out the ESP LTD MH-50.
The ESP LTD MH-50 has more of a traditional metal look as compared to the Schecter design, but the guitars share many specs. Both have basswood bodies with bolt-on maple necks and 24-fret rosewood fingerboards. Both have passive open-coil humbuckers controlled via a 3-way switch and one each volume and tone control.
However, you can get the MH-50 with a Floyd Rose tremolo for under your budget, where if you want an Omen with a Floyd you’re going to have to bump up to the Extreme model. That may make your decision easy right there.
Give ESP LTD guitars a good look in this price range. You may even be able to grab the MH-100 if you can get a good deal.
Best for: Guitarists who are into metal and hard rock, particularly modern, more aggressive styles.
Jackson JS Series
Speaking of metal, the name Jackson has become synonymous with heavy metal guitar. Jackson guitars are sleek and fast, and considered among the best guitars for shredders for decades. Classic Jackson body designs such as the King V, Warrior, Rhoads, Dinky and Kelly can all be found for under three hundred bucks with the Jackson JS line.
The Jackson JS Series is a stable of classic Jackson shapes available to anyone with $300 in their pocket. They feature solid appointments like hot Jackson pickups, double-locking tremolos and fast neck, of course with the classic Jackson "shark fin" fret markers.
If you play rock or metal, the Jackson JS series offers some of the best electric guitars under $300 you're going to find. Best of all, the affordability and quality here means beginners and intermediate players can own the Jackson they've always wanted without killing their budget.
Along with the Schecter above, these are truly the best beginner guitars for metal. Jackson designs with hot pickups and a quality build. What more could you ask for as a newbie metal guitarist?
Best for: Beginners looking for a metal guitar. Intermediate and advanced players who love the Jackson look and sound and want to expand their collections.
Check out the Jackson JS32T Rhoads
Choosing Your New Guitar
By going with a brand listed above you’re giving yourself a great shot at success as a new guitarist.
And, if you later find out you’d rather be a drummer instead, a guitar with one of those names on the headstock will be a lot easier to resell than the cheap thing you saw at the big-box store for $100.
So which one should you pick? It's up to you of course, but here are some thoughts:
- If you are into country or blues, you may want to go with the Squier Strat or Tele. The single-coil pickups are classic for those styles of music. Of course both are great all-around rock guitars ad well, but be a aware that single-coil pickups present a brighter sound.
- For a hard rock or classic rock sound, consider the Epiphone. Dual humbuckers and mahogany construction with get you into that AC/DC, Guns 'n' Roses, Led Zep kind of thing. Whether you choose the Les Paul or the SG, you'll land a great rock guitar.
- For something in the middle, consider the Yamaha with its HSS pickup combination, or the Parker.
- For metal, choose between the modern sound and look of the Schecter and ESP LTD, or the more classic vibe of the Jackson JS Series or Ibanez.
Not a beginner? If you’re already a seasoned pro, these guitars might serve well for alternate tunings, as the base for project guitars, or just for annoying your spouse by buying a $300 guitar and telling them you spent $1,000. You might even find you like one of these guitars so well it becomes you main axe.
You may choose to purchase your guitar online or from a local shop. If you buy online, just be sure to use a reputable company with a good return policy.
Good luck in choosing your new guitar.