I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
The Best Electric Guitars for the Money
If you only have $500 to spend on an electric guitar you might think the best instruments are out of your reach. Reading the popular guitar magazines can be a little depressing. Those famous guys in the bands you love, it seems like every one of them plays an instrument costing thousands of dollars.
How are you supposed to compete with that if you’re a student or an average working Joe or Jane?
And who has a spare $3,000 sitting around to plunk down on a new Gibson? Not me, and I’m guessing not you.
I’ve played guitar for 35 years. It took me a long time to realize that the price tag on the guitar doesn’t always mean it will sound better, and it definitely doesn’t make you play better.
Don't let gear snobs convince you otherwise: The sound is all about you, not some pricey guitar. It's far too easy to lose sight of what's important.
In this article you'll read about some of the best electric guitars under $500, from some of the top guitar brands in the world. They are favorites of intermediate guitarists and veterans on a budget, and they routinely receive high marks for sound, quality and value.
They aren’t as pretty and perfect as their more expensive brothers, but they are solid instruments that a good player can make great. If you're more interested in your skills and your music than you are bragging about expensive gear, these guitars might be exactly what you're looking for.
If you want to find the best electric guitar for the money, this is a good price range. Unless otherwise noted, the guitars in this article could be had for under $500 at the the time of this writing. Be aware that prices and specs can change, so be sure to do your homework.
Let's check out some great guitars!
Top 10 Electric Guitars Under $500 at a Glance
- Epiphone Les Paul Standard
- Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster
- ESP-LTD EC-256
- Squier Classic Vibe ’50 Telecaster
- Schecter Demon 6
- Epiphone G-400 PRO
- Epiphone Dot
- Ibanez RG450
- Ibanez S520
- Jackson Adrian Smith SDX
Read on to learn more about each instrument.
1. Epiphone Les Paul Standard
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard gets my top recommendation here. At first glance this guitar looks almost exactly like its expensive Gibson big brother. That's because Epiphone is owned by Gibson, and only Epiphone has the right to produce Les Pauls to their specs.
How does the Epiphone Les Paul compare to the Gibson version?
Looking closer, you’ll note a few differences between the Epiphone and Gibson versions of the Les Paul. The headstock shape is unique to Epiphone, and the guitar is not quite as thick. The USA-made Gibson body features a maple cap, where the Epi has a maple veneer, and the hardware and finish are of higher quality on the Gibson.
The differences go deeper than cosmetics and tonewoods, as you would expect. The Gibson Les Paul sound has become legendary in the rock world, and the Epi just about nails it.
But you have to ask yourself: Is the difference in sound worth the $2,000 jump in price? Unless you’re a professional musician, the answer is usually No!
Both the Epiphone Les Paul and Gibson Les Paul have mahogany bodies, but because of the maple top the Gibsons have a little more bite. Then again, depending on your style of music, the Epi sound might be just what you’re looking for.
If you are willing to go slightly over your budget, I wound recommend moving up to the Epiphone Les Paul PlusTop PRO. The difference between the two guitars largely comes down to the pickups.
Where the PlusTop PRO features Epiphone's awesome ProBucker pickups, the basic Standard still uses the older Alnico Classics. They are still very good pickups, but in my opinion the ProBuckers are what make the PlusTop Pro worth the extra cash.
The Epiphone sound is very good, so good in fact that many gigging musicians leave their Gibsons at home and bring the Epi to work.
If you are still on the fence about whether you should choose Epiphone or save up for a Gibson, here is an article that might help:
Check Out the Epiphone Les Paul Standard
2. Squier by Fender Classic Vibe Stratocaster
In the past I’ve recommend the Fender Standard Stratocaster as one of my top picks in this price range. However, like Epiphone, Fender has bumped up some of their intermediate-level guitars. They’ve also replaced the Standard Series with the Player Series.
Squier Classic Vibe Strat vs. Fender Strat
The Players Series Strat is a lower-budget version of a classic, in this case the American Standard Stratocaster. Like the Standards before them, Player Series Fenders are made in Mexico, and you'll see them referred to as Mexican Strats or MIM Strats. MIM Strats have the same general specs as American-made Strats, though on the American version some of these appointments are kicked up a level.
I definitely recommend the Player Stratocaster if you have the budget, but since we are trying to keep things under $500, for the purposes of this review I'm going to point you to the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster.
There are actually two versions of this guitar: a '50s version and a '60s. As you probably guessed, these instrument aim to replicate those legendary Strats of days gone.
'50s vs. '60s Classic Vibe Stratocaster
If you are looking for a more vintage sound and feel, go with '50s version. On the '60s model pickups are a little hotter. Both versions have a feel quite similar to the quality of a Players Series Fender Stratocaster. Don't let the Squier name on the headstock worry you. These are solid guitars.
3. ESP-LTD EC-256
This ESP Eclipse is a gorgeous, single-cutaway electric guitar that you'll never fit in under your $500 budget. But ESP's working-man's brand, ESP-LTD, features some great renditions of the ESP Eclipse in their EC series. The EC-256 is a solid guitar with the vibe and sound of the original Eclipse.
Yeah, you know what a LP-style guitar looks like. But there are some cutting edge features you'll see in the EC series that you won't find in tamer versions of this design.
For one, the EC-256 features ESP-designed LH active pickups and a 22-fret fingerboard with extra jumbo frets.
Contruction and Tonewoods
And you also see some of the specs you'd expect to here, like a mahogany body with a mahogany beck and a rosewood fingerboard.
The ESP LTD EC Series is, in my opinion, one of the top alternatives to the Les Paul out there. Every time I've ever played one I've been impressed, especially since I have a thing for metal and heavy music.
If you like the Les Paul look and sound, but you want something a little more modern, and a little faster, this might be the guitar for you. The EC-256 will get you all of that, while keeping you under a budget under control.
4. Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster
You know I have to recommend a Tele here! It's one of the most iconic guitars in the world. The Fender Telecaster was also the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, though it was then called the Broadcaster.
The Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster is an affordable version of a classic Fender design. It sounds great, plays like a champ, and comes in at a price under your budget. You can save your pennies for the American version if you want to, but why wait?
Classic Vibe Telecaster Specs
The CS Tele features an alder body body and a pair of Fender-designed single-coil pickups. Along with a single volume and single tone control and one-piece maple neck this makes for the classic Telecaster setup.
The Fender Telecaster is, in my opinion, the best guitar for country music. If you play country it's a a must-have part of your gear arsenal, but rock and blues players can pull great sounds out of it as well. It's a bare-bones, no-nonsense classic for a great price.
5. Schecter Demon 6
Schecter has have gained tremendous popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Schecter guitars, in my opinion, are probably the finest medium-budget instruments out there.
Their quality is usually spot-on as far as fit and finish, and you’ll find features and options that you almost never see on instruments in their price range. The flagship of their guitar line is the C-1, and many other Schecter guitar models are built around this “C-style” body shape.
It is truly a beautiful shape for a guitar body, and when added to the finishes and details Schecter includes with their various instruments, it can make for some amazing guitars.
The Demon 6 features some great improvements to the basic C-1 Standard. This guitar has a basswood body and a maple neck, along with pair of hot Duncan Designed active pickups. This thing is built for metal.
More Schecter Guitars
Schecter has many affordable guitars in their lineup, including somewhat more expensive models such as the Blackjack and Hellraiser series. They also have a wide range of seven and eight-string guitars to choose from. These instruments are the reason Schecter has become one of the top metal guitar brands in the world.
Schecter Omen 6
Going in the other direction, if you wanted to spend even less money you can pick up the Schecter Omen for around $350. This is a guitar based on the C-shape body, but some of the features are downgraded. Still, the Omen is a great guitar for the price, and features many of the same appointments as its brothers.
Schecter guitars are definitely worth checking out. I believe they are the best values of any instruments on my list.
Hear the Schecter Demon 6
6. Epiphone G-400 PRO
Guitarists on a tight budget will appreciate the Epiphone G-400 PRO. This is Epiphone's version of the famous Gibson SG, and it has many of the features for a much lower price. It's a great choice for guitarists looking to make that jump to their first real guitar after they grow weary of the beginner's instrument they started out on.
Epiphone G-400 Specs
It's an SG, so it has the right tonewoods and electronics: mahogany body and neck, with a rosewood fingerboard, and Alnico PRO humbuckers with push/pull coil tap.
Another great thing about Epiphone guitars is that you don't need to feel guilty about swapping out pickups and parts. If you want to upgrade your Epiphone there are plenty of aftermarket options. Some guitarists love gabbing an Epiphone, then upgrading and creating a guitar that rivals a Gibson for a fraction of the cost.
If you really want an SG, there is no reason to let the Epiphone logo turn you off. Sure, they may not be up to the standards of Gibsons, but what is?
Epiphone makes great instruments for reasonable prices, and some of the best electric guitars under $500.
More on the Epiphone G-400 PRO
7. Epiphone Dot
The Epiphone Dot is a classic semi-hollow body guitar modeled after the famous Gibson ES-335. Even before their association with Gibson, Epiphone had a strong reputation for building quality hollow and semi-hollow instruments. This tradition continues today, and the Dot is one of the most popular guitar models in the world.
I wrote about the Dot in my article on top semi-hollow body guitars, but I think it warrants mention here as well.
Clearly this is a guitar that may appeal more to the blues and jazz crowds, but the Dot has been spotted in all kinds of diverse musical genres, from country to rock, and it even makes a rare appearance in metal.
Epi Dot Features and Specs
The Dot features a laminate maple body and top with a set mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. The pickups are Epiphone Alnico Classics. Epiphone pickups have come a long way in recent years, and on the Dot as well as on the Les Paul above they are no longer the weak spots they once were.
Of course you can swap out the pickups or anything else you want and customize your Dot. One of the reasons it is one of the best guitars under $500 is that it provides tremendous basic value, and a solid platform for upgrading to your dream guitar.
Or you may find out, like many players do, that your Dot is just perfect the way it is.
8. Ibanez RG450
Ibanez guitars are legendary, especially in the hard rock and metal community, and they have been among the favorite guitars for shredders for decades. Like Schecter, they feature some really great instruments for reasonable prices. The big dog of the Ibanez lineup is the RG, and many RG models will land you under the $500 spending limit.
The Ibanez RG is one of the classic superstrats out there. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from beginner's models all the way up to RGs that will run you more than the value of your car. The RG450 is a solid middle option for guitarists who like the RG vibe, but don't want to shell out a ton of cash.
The RG450 features typical Ibanez RG components: basswood body, Wizard III three-piece maple neck, the Ibanez Edge Zero II bridge and Ibanez Infinity pickups. There are a few different versions of the RG450.
This is one of the best electric guitars under $500, not only because it has the Ibanez name, but because it brings tremendous value for the money.
9. Ibanez S520
I couldn't mention the RG without adding in an S-model Ibanez. This instrument has become almost as popular among rock guitarists. The Ibanez S-series features guitars with smaller, sleeker mahogany bodies.
Just like with the RG, you can spend a whole lot on it if you want to. But the S520 is an excellent option for musicians on a budget who want that shredder vibe and still would like to keep some money in their pocket.
The Ibanez S520 features a mahogany body with a Wizard III three-piece maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, along with Ibanez's Edge Zero II bridge. There's a pair of Ibanez infinity pickups, and since this thing is built for speed and precision, the neck is lightning-fast.
Either the RG or the S is a great choice for hard rock and metal guitar players, and Ibanez is one of the top guitar brands in the world for heavy metal.
10. Jackson Adrian Smith SDX
Adrian Smith is one of the guitarists for metal giants Iron Maiden, and his signature model Jackson guitar is based on the Charvel San Dimas strat design. But he also puts his name on the SDX Model, a less expensive version of Smith's American-made Jackson masterpiece.
I'm usually not a huge fan of signature-model guitars. Except for Les Pauls, of course! But this guitar fills a void for musicians looking for a super-Strat-style guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge and a hot humbucker for under $500. I like it!
Jackson Adrian Smith SDX Specs
Specs include a basswood body, maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, Jackson pickups in a H/S/S configuration, and a Floyd Rose Special tremolo.
If you're into anything from '80s glam rock to modern metal, this guitar is a great choice. For those of us who miss the '80s a little more than we ought to, the San Dimas design is one we'd like to see a little more of.
Hear the Jackson Adrian Smith SDX
What Is the Best Electric Guitar Under $500
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is the best electric guitar under $500 and one of the finest guitars in its price range. It is an affordable instrument with the same features as the legendary Gibson version. If you are looking for a budget-level Les Paul, the Epiphone version is tough to beat.
In addition to those mentioned above, I'd suggest checking out the following:
G&L Tribute Series
Yes, I waffled back and forth between G&L and Fender on several occasions in writing this. They are both great brands, but G&L does have a somewhat different vibe. Check out the Tribute Series for some models that hover around the $500 mark.
PRS SE Series
Great quality guitars, modeled after legendary PRS models. As PRS is a big competitor for Gibson, the SE Series is competitive with Epiphone.
Dean has some cool offerings in this price range, especially if you are into metal. You can even grab a budget version of their legendary ML.
In my opinion, the Yamaha Pacifica is one of the top budget guitars out there. It's a little less expensive than most others in this review, but I'd still give it a look if you are short on pennies.
They have a few models in this price range. Check out the Omen Extreme 6 and some of the different versions of the Demon Series.
I get kind of crazy when it comes to guitars. After the first five in this review things got a little hazy. I started thinking of so many guitars I love, and I did my best to puzzle out where each one goes on my list.
The truth is, there are many, many amazing guitars out there, and lots of them could have been mentioned in this article. So I'm going to try to do that here, fully knowing I will still probably leave somebody out.
How to Choose an Electric Guitar Under $500
I’ve given you my best picks, but I’ve also told you that there are many, many other options out there. While I think my recommendations are solid, the guitars I like may not do it for you, and if you look around you may find something you like better.
So what the heck are you supposed to do if that’s the case?
It helps to understand what you can generally expect from guitars in the $500 price range. In this next section I’ll discuss some of the things I look for, as well as a few things you might be unsure about.
Before we begin, it helps if you have a good understanding of guitar specs, so you know what I’m talking about. If you have that under your belt, let’s move on to what may be you most pressing questions.
Where Are Budget Guitars Made?
With few exceptions you will see intermediate-level guitars made in countries where labor costs are a little more affordable. For example, most Epiphone guitars are made in China, and mid-priced Fender guitars are often made in Mexico.
This is a smart move by manufacturers who want to keep costs down and give consumers an affordable product. But the real question is: Does it affect quality?
Guitars made in countries like the United States, Canada, Germany or Japan typically have a better reputation for quality than their budget equivalents. But that doesn’t mean lower-cost guitars are bad, nor does it mean every expensive, American-made guitar is good.
In other words, you really need to judge each guitar on a case-by-case basis.
My opinion: Where a guitar is made used to matter to me a lot. However, more and more my attitude is shifting to where I kinda don’t care. Epiphone makes some great gear that comes out of Asia, and I love my Mexican Fender HSS Strat. A good guitar is a good guitar, no matter where it comes from.
Should You Expect to Replace Pickups and Hardware?
One of the great things about choosing an affordable, high-quality guitar is the freedom. They are excellent foundations on which you can build just about anything you want. You can install a different type of pickup, change caps, pots, bridges, tuners and just about anything else you can imagine.
In the end, you might find you have a much better guitar than the expensive models that cost many thousands of dollars, even though you only spent a fraction of that.
You can do all that if you want to, but do you have to? Mid-priced guitars have really come a long way in the past decade or so, and more than ever they are good to go right out of the box. For example, Epiphone has gone to great lengths to improve their pickups, hardware and electronics, and their guitars are much better than even a decade ago.
My Opinion: If you are choosing an electric guitar in the $500 range, don’t go into it thinking you have make a bunch of changes to get your guitar up to snuff. Yes, expensive guitars use better quality components, but most intermediate-level guitars have all you need for playing in band, recording and sounding great.
Epiphone vs Gibson Pickups
Do Tonewoods Matter for Budget Guitars?
At the $500 price point and below you will start to see some odd tonewoods, and some slightly different manufacturing techniques. You will also see affordable, alternative tonewoods used on occasion.
One big reason for this is the international crackdown on scarce or threatened wood species and CITES regulations that went into effect in January of 2017. Because of this, many Fender guitars that would have used rosewood for fretboards in the past are now using Pao Ferro in its place. Fender, of course, is not the only guitar builder effected, but that is one example.
Sometimes alternative build techniques are chosen simply to cut costs. For example, many arched-top guitars in this price range will have a thin maple veneer instead of the thick maple cap their higher-cost equivalents are known for.
My Opinion: I am one who believes tonewoods are important for the sound of a guitar. However, while you may see some alternative tonewoods, junk tonewoods aren’t usually a problem for guitars in this price range. If you see woods you’ve never heard of just do a little research to learn more about them.
Which Electric Guitar Should You Choose?
I’ve given you some good starting points for selecting your new guitar. Remember, this is all based on my opinion. I encourage you to do your own research, and you’ll likely discover some gems on your own.
Search around online so you can get a clear idea of exactly what you’re looking for in a guitar. Once you know what you want you can make the decision whether to buy local or online.
Personally, I think it's tough to beat the Epiphone Les Paul Standard and Squier Classic Vibe Strat in this price range. They're classic guitars that have proven themselves in just about every genre imaginable. If you are an intermediate player, or an advanced musician on a budget, either is a great choice.
If you're looking for something more modern, consider the Schecter C Series. Schecter makes some of the best guitars for the money, and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Good luck finding the best electric guitar for your $500 budget, and enjoy your new instrument!
Your Vote: Which is the Best Electric Guitar Around $500?
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.
Yudit on December 13, 2019:
Could you please review on G&L Legacy Tribute series, it's quite hard to find great articles about this guitar..
Michael James (author) on July 26, 2017:
@ Pat: Agile is a Rondo company, the same guys that make SX basses. Pretty decent gear for not a lot of cash. Definitely a great alternative to spending a little more on the big brands.
Pat madden on July 25, 2017:
What is your opinion of agiles?? Currently have an LP model very happy with it they appear to be sleepers
Michael James (author) on April 30, 2017:
@TjValion: Awesome recommendation! I already had the Modern Player Tele on here, but there are definitely other Fender and Squier Telecasters worth mentioning as well. Glad you found an amazing guitar!
TjValion on April 30, 2017:
At $399 the Squire Custom 50's Telecaster is an absolute steal! There is NO WAY that guitar should have been left off the list. I checked out all of the amazing reviews on it and bought one myself. Absolutely phenomenal guitar for the $$$$!
Keith on April 06, 2017:
You didn't really mention options. The Ltd. Ec 256 coil tap's and in my opinion is best wide ranged instrument in the lot..
Dave on February 25, 2017:
These are great choices, but if you want a great guitar for the price go used and get either esp ltd ec400vf or the ec401vf. They come w seymour duncan 59 neck and jb bridge or dimarzio pickups. Grover tuners jumbo frets set neck mahogany neck and body. You can find em used for $300-400 and need absolutely nothing but to be plugged in. The ec256 is a great option but for the same price get the 401 used. I have a 65 jaguar a newer mustang 2 epi's 1 paul 1 SG and when I picked up the ec401vf for $300 it was the best value to quality ratio I have ever had in a guitar. You won't be disappointed. The ec400 series were also made in s korea and the earlier 401s were made there also. The newer ones are made in China and Indonesia but the quality is still incredible. I got a s korea model ec401vf w seymour setup. It smokes my epi l.p. tradional pro and was $250 cheaper. By far best deal it there.
Aaron on December 13, 2016:
While they're still around, check out the Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster. Solid build, great neck and lots of useable sounds. Before Fender stops making them.
Michael James (author) on November 28, 2016:
Point taken, threeandme. I update this list after Winter NAMM every year, so I will surely look into adding Hagstrom.
threeandme on November 27, 2016:
Nice list but how did the Hagstrom Ultra Swede not make the cut? Not only does its quality exceed most of what Epiphone has to offer (not knocking Epi, just sayin) and match many other brands 3x+ its price, it is (in my opinion) also one of the most versatile guitars I can think of. Actually, it seems Hagstrom is ignored or forgotten in what seemingly appears to be every comparison or "top ten" list available... What gives?
Luiz on August 08, 2016:
What about those Vintage guitar..made in england...they are better than epiphones
A different Alex on June 08, 2016:
Another great one is the Squier classic vibe telecaster. Should have made the list
Guitar Guy on March 05, 2016:
What about the Chapman ML-1? It costs only $569. Less than a MIM Fender. It's a really good guitar! It has Grover Machine Heads. Or the Chapman ML-3 is only $589. Less than a MIM Fender. It has Grover Machine Heads too. Or for $689 you can get a ML-1 Cap10 with upgraded parts and 3 seymour duncan pickups.
Michael James (author) on February 19, 2016:
I agree that's a great guitar for the money, Apollo!
Apollo on February 18, 2016:
I think you should have included the JEM Jr. it's exactly $500 dollars and it has a beter bridge than the RG450. Both are great buys.
mbrohl on May 29, 2015:
Anything from the G&L Tribute series will blow all of these away in build quality, playability, and tone. They're fantastic guitars for the price.
Michael James (author) on March 06, 2014:
Thanks Alex. I dig the MIM Teles too. Glad you grabbed a great guitar!
Alex on March 05, 2014:
Great article! I have a 2013-14 MIM Fender Telecaster Standard and it is a fantastic guitar! The Strats are just as good