5 Best Budget Electric Guitars Under $400
Top Budget Electric Guitars
If you are searching for a great electric guitar you might be surprised by how far a budget of only $400 can take you. Brands like Epiphone, Squier by Fender, Ibanez and Jackson don’t just make high-end gear for pros and gigging musicians. They also produce affordable instruments for up-and-coming players, or those who are looking a quality instrument that won’t break the bank.
Guitars in this price range are intermediate-level instruments with appointments that make them good enough for a band situation or recording. No matter what your skill level, you can find a few diamonds in the rough if you are willing to do a little digging.
In this article you’ll find my recommendations for the best electric guitars under $400. In many cases these instruments have more expensive big brothers, but even at this price range you’ll recognize some iconic designs. They might be affordable, but these are quality instruments you can depend on.
In many cases you’ll see instruments with a great body and neck, but downgraded components to keep the price under control. That means, if you eventually decide you don’t like the pickups, hardware or electronics, you can upgrade components and greatly improve the quality of your instrument for not a lot of cash.
This is one of the great things about budget-level instruments: You never have to feel bad about taking a wrench to them! Then again, you may never feel the need. I think each of these guitar companies has done a great job of building a well-rounded, quality guitar that sounds great right out of the box.
I’ve done my best to give a good snapshot of each instrument, breaking down the tonewoods, hardware and electronics. Remember this is all my opinion, based on my thirty-plus years as a guitar player. It is meant to give you a starting point for finding the perfect instrument for your needs.
So let’s get to it! Here’s my shortlist of the top electric guitars under $400.
Epiphone Les Paul Studio
The Epiphone Les Paul Studio gets my top spot on this list. You know the Gibson Les Paul is one of the most legendary guitars in history, for just about every style of music. Epiphone is owned by Gibson, and builds budget versions of some of Gibson’s most classic guitars. The Studio is a stripped-down version of the Les Paul, with all the important stuff minus fancy bindings, inlays and other ornate appointments.
This makes it more affordable without sacrificing sound. This is guitar at home in any genre, from rock to metal to country, blues and jazz. That, along with Epiphone quality, is why it got my top spot.
- Mahogany body with carved top. Mahogany is the deep, resonant tonewood that gives the Les Paul its distinctive sound.
- Set mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard. A set neck means full tones and great sustain.
- Two Epiphone Alnico Classic open-coil humbuckers, three-way pickup selector switch, volume and tone control for each pickup.
- LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge with stopbar tailpiece.
Also Consider: While the Les Paul Studio gets my top slot for best all-around budget guitar, the Epiphone G-400 PRO is another great guitar that will fit into your price range. This is based on the Gibson SG, and features many similar appointments, including covered Alnico Classic humbuckers for that legendary Gibson sound.
Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ‘60s Stratocaster
Along with the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster is probably the most famous guitar in the world. Of course you aren’t going to grab one in this price range! But you can find some awesome Squier Strats. Squier is Fender’s budget brand, as Epiphone is to Gibson. This means Squier Strats have to live up the standards set by Fender, and Squier offers a great way to land an affordable Stratocaster.
Classic Vibe Series Stratocasters are quality instruments that seem to cost a lot less than they should. The ‘60s model marks one of the great ages of the Strat. These guitars found their way into the hands of legendary players like Hendrix, Clapton and Gilmour. Squier does a great job of re-capturing that era with the Classic Vibe Series.
- Alder body. This is the classic midrangy-snappy tonewood that gives the Stratocaster its bite.
- Maple bolt-on neck with rosewood fingerboard, another Stratocaster hallmark.
- Custom Vintage Single-coil Strat pickups (Alinco V), three-way switch, one volume and two tone controls.
- Vintage-style Synchronized Tremolo, Vintage-style tuners.
Also Consider: The Classic Vibe '60s Strat is an awesome choice for rock, blues and country, but there is another guitar in the CV lineup that will get the job done as well: The Classic Vibe ‘50s Strat will take you back to the dawn of the Stratocaster. Check out the Squier Vintage Modified Series too!
Jackson JS32 Rhoads
Jackson is one of the biggest names in metal, and has been for over 30 years. You’ll find their guitars in the hands of professional musicians around the world, but thanks to the JS Series a Jackson guitar is affordable for just about everyone.
There are a bunch of models to choose from here, but my favorite is the Rhoads. It’s an iconic body style, based on the legendary Jackson Concorde prototype played by the late, great Randy Rhoads. Today’s models are sleeker, and of course bear now carry Rhoads’s name.
Randy Rhoads is one of my all-time guitar heroes, and I played a Rhoads-style guitar for many years as a teenager. I really love the shape, and thanks to Jackson quality you know even their budget guitars will get the job done.
- Basswood body. This is a resonant tonewood with a loose bottom-end. Next to mahogany, this is my favorite tonewood for heavy metal music.
- Maple neck with 24-fret rosewood fingerboard. Jackson guitars are known for flat, fast necks.
- Jackson High-output Humbuckers, one each volume and tone controls, 3-way pickup selector switch.
- Floyd Rose Licensed Tremolo (also available as hard-tail)
Also Consider: I recommend the Rhoads because it is my favorite design, but you can find a bunch of Jackson models in the JS32 Series. Check out the King V, Warrior, Dinky and Kelly.
More on the Jackson JS32 Rhoads
Squier by Fender Classic Vibe ‘50s Telecaster
I couldn’t do this review and leave out a Telecaster! Just as with the Stratocaster, you can find an affordable Tele in the Squier by Fender Classic Vibe Series. The ’50s Telecaster features some vintage looks and appointments, but a modern feel. The Telecaster is the guitar that started this whole solid-body guitar thing back in the 1950’s, and here Squier takes us back in time.
But that doesn’t mean you can't expect modern performance out of this guitar. If you are into country, blues or classic rock and you need a great guitar for under $400 the Classic Vibe ’50s Strat might be just what you are looking for.
Should you choose the Telecaster for the Stratocaster? It’s an age-old problem, and one that requires a little thought. I prefer the Strat as a rock guitar, but for genres like country it’s hard to beat the Tele.
- This guitar has a pine body. Yes, really. This is keeping with the design of the original Esquire models from the 1950s.
- One-piece maple neck with maple fingerboard.
- Two Custom Telecaster Vintage Single-coil Pickups (Alnico V), volume and tone controls, three-way switch.
- Vintage-style Telecaster bridge, Vintage-style tuners.
Also Consider: Check out Squier’s Vintage Modified lineup for some funky takes on the Telecaster design. You'll some classic designs from days gone by, and a few surprises such as the cool '72 Tele Thinline.
Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline
Ibanez is the go-to name when to comes to shred, and along with Jackson they are among the top metal guitars in the world. The RG is a classic superstrat-style guitar, and one of the flagships of the Ibanez brand.
Ibanez RG guitars are known for a few things: Fast necks, hot pickups and great hardware. You can spend a lot on a high-end RG in the Ibanez Prestige Series, and you’ll get an amazing guitar well worth the asking price. But it is also nice to know you can get all of those things and still stick with your $400 budget in the RG450.
Of course there are more affordable RGs too, but I think the RG450 marks the point where you are getting a serious guitar with all the earmarks you’d expect in a high-end RG. It’s a great guitar for the money, and worth a hard look if you are into metal.
Mahogany body. Many RGs feature basswood bodies, but I really like mahogany here.
Wizard III maple neck with 24-fret fingerboard. Ibanez necks are known for speed, and the RG450 delivers.
Ibanez Quantum pickups, two humbuckers with a single coil in between. One each volume and tone control, 5-way switch.
Double-locking tremolo system.
Also Consider: Along with the RG, the Ibanez S Series is another shred mainstay with a smaller, thinner body. You can find a few great options in the $400-$500 range. Can't decide which awesome Ibanez shred machine you like better? This article can help:
Choose Your Guitar!
The purpose of this article is to present you with a starting point when it comes to finding the right guitar for you. This is all based on my opinions. Of course you are going to have to do your own research too, but hopefully this helped you get on your way. Remember to check with gear companies for exact specs and any changes to their prices or products before making your decision.
So, how are supposed to choose between these five guitars? I think you need to look at your needs and goals. Ask yourself what kind of music you intend to play, because each guitar in this review is best suited to a specific genre.
- Epiphone Les Paul Studio: This is a great all-around guitar, but I think it is most at home in hard rock, rock and jazz.
- Squier Stratocaster: Another great all-around guitar with a different sound thanks to the single-coil pickups. Great for rock and blues.
- Jackson Rhoads: It’s a metal machine! If you are into anything from old-school metal to thrash to modern death metal this is the guitar for you.
- Squier Telecaster: Think country twang! Of course it can also make a great rock guitar.
- Ibanez RG450: This guitar is made for speed. If you are into shred or metal, check it out.
I hope this article helped you on your quest to grab the best electric guitar for under your $400 budget. Good luck, and don’t forget that this guitar thing is supposed to be fun!