The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
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 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 some 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 make some expensive instruments, but they know today's beginner and intermediate players are tomorrow's pros.
If you are a total beginner on a tight budget you may prefer to check my article on beginner's electric guitars under $200.
Otherwise, let’s get to it. Unless noted, at the time of this writing these are, in my opinion, some of the best electric guitars under $300 for beginners and intermediate players.
1. Squier by Fender Standard 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 guitarists 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.
The Squier Standard Strat is a solid option for serious beginners or guitarists looking to step up from their starter instrument. However, there are many serious players who appreciate what Squier has to offer as well.
Personally, I count myself among the veteran guitarists who are pleasantly surprised with Squier guitars. They have a great feel, solid components, and a sound that gives Fender MIM Stratocasters a run for their money. Squier is the 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.
Squier Standard Stratocaster Specs and Features
- Body: Agathis
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Indian Laurel
- Pickups: Standard single-coil Alnico
- Electronics: 1 volume, 2 tone, 5-way switch
Best for: Country, blues, 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.
2. Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT
Epiphone is owned by Gibson, a company famous for guitars like 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 Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT is a good choice for a guitar in this price range.
Epiphone guitars have their share of fans and haters. Personally, I really like them. Epi Les Pauls sound and play like a Les Paul, and that's a pretty big compliment coming from me. In my opinion, the Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT is an outstanding choice for beginners and intermediate players who don't yet have the cash or experience for a pro-level instrument.
Of course, the Studio LT is 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 body, just like a Gibson Les Paul.
Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT Specs and Features
- Body: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Pickups: 650R/700T Zebra Humbuckers
- Electronics: 2 volume, 2 tone, 3-way switch
Best for: Guitarists who like a hard-driving rock sound. 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.
3. Squier Standard Telecaster
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 Standard Tele is basic and gives you everything you’d expect in a Telecaster, especially when it comes to that classic tone. The body is alder, and you don’t have the choice of a maple fingerboard, and instead get Indian Laurel. This is a great guitar for the money and a smart way to grab an affordable Telecaster.
But are Standard Squiers good guitars? I've written extensively on the discussion surrounding Squier quality.
My verdict: Don't believe the naysayers. While you always have to choose carefully, Squier makes some darned good guitars for the money.
Squier Standard Telecaster Specs and Features
- Body: Alder
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Indian Laurel
- Pickups: Standard Single Coils
- Electronics: 1 volume, 1 tone, 3-way switch
Best for: I recommend this guitar for rock, blues, and country players looking for that distinctive Tele twang, but Telecasters also make the cut in blues and rock.
Jackson JS32 Rhoads
The name Jackson has long been synonymous with heavy metal guitar. Jackson guitars are sleek and fast and considered among the top guitars for shredders for decades. Classic Jackson body designs such as the King V, Warrior, Rhoads, Dinky, and Kelly are all amazing, but the high-end models are too expensive for many players.
Fortunately, Jackson doesn't leave us monetarily challenged guitarists out of the loop. The Jackson JS Series is a stable of classic Jackson guitars, aimed and beginner and intermediate players. They feature solid appointments like hot Jackson pickups, double-locking tremolos, fast necks, and, of course, the classic Jackson "shark fin" fret markers.
If you play rock or metal, the Jackson JS series offers some of the best affordable electric guitars you're going to find. I was dubious, having a fair amount of experience with high-end Jacksons, but after playing a few I feel quite confident recommending them to metal players on a budget. My favorite it the Rhoads. It's a body style I grew up with, and my first real electric guitar was a Rhoads shape. To me, it screams metal, through and through,
In my opinion, these are at the top of the list when it comes to the best beginner guitars for metal. Jackson designs with hot pickups and quality build. What more could you ask for as a newbie metal guitarist?
Jackson JS32 Rhoads Features and Specs
- Body: Poplar
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Amaranth
- Pickups: Jackson High-output Humbuckers
- Electronics: 1 volume, 1 tone, 3-way switch
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.
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 in my opinion, it is 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, an HSS pickup configuration, a 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.
Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V Features and Specs
- Body: Alder
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Pickups: One Yamaha Alnico V Humbucker. two Yamaha Alnico V single-coils
- Electronics: 1 volume, 1 tone, push-pull split, 3-way switch.
Best for: Anyone looking for a versatile guitar. Younger players who don't yet know exactly what kind of pickups they prefer in a guitar will appreciate the versatility.
Here are a few more awesome guitars that didn't make my Top 5 for one reason or another.
Schecter Omen 6
This one is an honorable mention only because the price tag has risen slightly above our stated budget. 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 guitars, 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.
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.
I used to call be Schecter Omen the best metal guitar under $300, though now I'd have to say it is the best under $350 or so. You can read my review of my Omen 6 here.
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.
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 PRO. Just like with the Les Paul, this is a budget version of a Gibson classic, put within the reach of newbies and intermediate players. Epiphone makes some of the best electric guitars for intermediate players.
The G-400 PRO is a great guitar and super affordable, but it will bump you slightly over your $300 budget. Fortunately, Epiphone also gives us the G-310, an SG with slightly downgraded components and a very wallet-friendly price tag.
This isn’t quite the same guitar as the PRO version. It does have a mahogany body, the same rosewood fingerboard, same slim-taped “D” neck and both have a Tune-o-Matic bridge.
But the 310 version is equipped with Epi’s 650R/700T pickups, while the PRO G-400 PRO has Alnico Classic Pros, which include a coil-split function. The PRO version also has upgraded hardware and electronics, and a mahogany neck instead of Okoume.
Is it worth the bump in price to upgrade from the G-310 to the G-400 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.
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).
The 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.
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.
How to Choose a Low-Budget Guitar
Remember, these are my choices, based on my opinion and experience. You should do your own research and decide for yourself. Also, be aware that a guitar company may change their specs over time, so be sure to check that out as well.
The guitars are made by some of the best guitar brands in the world, and by going with an instrument 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 aware that single-coil pickups present a brighter sound.
- For a hard rock or classic rock sound, consider the Epiphone Les Paul or G-310. 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.
- 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 your main ax. Or, you might want to check out the list of the best electric guitars under $500 for something a little better.
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 with choosing your new guitar.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
James on May 01, 2015:
I have played Les Paul, Squier, and Yamaha. In my opinion the Squier that has the HSS option(not shown here) is the best one. Why, the neck radius and sound. You see, when you are learning how to play guitar one of the first things you learn is how to play chords. The Squier is easier to master chords because the neck has a slight curve to it. The radius on the squier is 9.5, Las Paul is about 12, and the Yamaha is 13.75. The bigger the number, the flatter the Finger Board is. But remember your hands have a curve to them. Whether you are typing, driving, or even fighting. Your hands grasp and curve.The higher number of the neck radius means you have to keep your fingers more straight while playing chords which to a beginner can be very hard to do. So to start I would recommend the Fender Squier just to learn how to play. After that, then go to another brand you chose after you learn the basics. Your fingers will be trained where to go and all you have to do then is modify your fingers to the different neck radius slightly. One of the reasons you don't break the bank on your first Guitar and just have something you can play, learn,and to have fun playing Guitar. The HSS option is to me the way to go because you have the Single coils and the Humbucker. The 5 way switch means you can play each pickup separate,or you and combine them. You can play single coils for some songs or play the Humbuker for some songs. To me its an all in one guitar. A great way to hear both and decide which sound you like.