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The 5 Best Stratocaster Guitars on a Five Hundred Dollar Budget

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.



Music is a powerful force, and many people are drawn to it. In this day and age the guitar is maybe the single most widely used musical instrument, as it can be used in such a huge array of musical genres. Many people wish to, at one point or another, try their hands at making music with a guitar, and very often they'll wish to do so with a Stratocaster.

We live in a world where there is immense wealth, but working musicians generally don't have so much of it. The working musician usually has a tight budget but also needs gear that can deliver on promised performances. The market moves to satisfy a need, and so here we are with affordable Stratocaster guitars. The Strat has long been one of the most preferred guitars in this world, and the reasons for this extend far beyond its stellar looks.

Leo Fender designed his Strat to be more ergonomic than the Tele, and also more diverse, for the traditional Strat comes with three pickups instead of two, and the neck pickup, in the case of the Strat, is not one modeled after a pedal steel guitar's pickup. The body contour and double cutaway allow for great comfort and balance while playing, and then there was another huge Fender engineering marvel, the Strat's tremolo arm.

Stratocaster Guitars on a Budget

The Stratocaster was destined to become one of the most played and desired electric guitars regardless, but when Buddy Guy took on the Strat from seeing Guitar Slim play one, the guitar really started down the path to greatness. The list of star Stratocaster players is far too long to compile, and especially because it never stops growing. Someone may find they prefer Gibson-style guitars or semi-hollow body electric guitars, but no one seems to ever play a Strat and have a bad experience because of it. It is as much a universal solid-body electric guitar as is the Les Paul, the Telecaster, and the SG.

Guitarists don't buy Strats simply because so many guitar heroes play them, they buy Strats because the Strat feels and sounds right to them. Most important is how comfortable the guitar feels in your hands, as most of the sound you will create will come from your hands. You buy a budget Stratocaster, and later think the guitar's tonal aesthetic could be something more to your liking, well, that's never a problem. Customizing or modifying a Strat is something done so often and so thoroughly there are segments of guitar manufacturing dedicated to just that.

So this page is to provide the persons who've got five hundred bucks, maximum, to spend towards a Strat. This page is not meant to be completely comprehensive on the subject, but it is meant to give some very solid information to interested parties so they can compare and contrast and consider the options along with the finances. All will be great guitars that can be upgraded with more expensive and custom hardware, should the individual feel the need, at any time.

Squier Affinity Stratocaster

Squier Affinity Stratocaster

The Squier Affinity Stratocaster looks for all the world just like the Strat Ritchie Blackmore forever plays. You notice right away the larger than usual headstock. Some persons believe that the larger headstock gives the guitar more sustain than the smaller headstock will give. Whether or not that is true is not definite, but the look is distinct. Yngwie Malmsteen is another proponent of the large headstock, and there are certainly others still.

At less than two hundred US dollars, you simply aren't going to find a new Stratocaster for less, unless you're buying from someone who stole several of them. Even more encouraging, you can often get these guitars with a small practice amplifier in a package deal, generally for fifty bucks more. These are fabulous places to start. And if you're someone who's been playing a while, but you don't want to take your prized guitar out from the house? Yeah, the Squier Affinity is a great guitar to have to take with you on your travels.

These guitars are available in several colors. If you want a humbucker at the bridge instead of a single-coil pickup, that isn't a problem, as there is a Squier Affinity Series HSS Stratocaster, with a practice amp for an additional fifty bucks. Without the amp, it still costs one hundred and ninety-nine dollars.

Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster Electric Guitar Features:

  • Fender quality at a great Squier value
  • Three single-coil Strat pickups
  • Individual tone controls for the neck and middle pickups
  • Maple neck with maple fingerboard
  • 21 medium jumbo frets
  • 6-saddle vintage-style synchronized tremolo
  • Standard die-cast tuners

Fender Squier Affinity Strat review and demonstration

Squier Standard Stratocaster


Priced at just fifty dollars more than the Affinity Strat, the Squier Standard Strat is a guitar of different body wood. The body is of agathis, a softwood related to alder. So the use of agathis isn't really something to think differently of. Again you can see Squier uses the larger headstock on this guitar.

The Squier Standard Stratocaster plays great with a traditional vibe and modern feel. Recently upgraded throughout, these classics boast player-friendly features like the 22-fret fingerboard and a slimmer neck for easier playing and choke-free bends. Plus, Alnico single-coil pickups.

The affinity Strat has 21 frets, but the standard has 22. This shouldn't really be too important, but it certainly could be, depending upon who you are and what sorts of solos you wish to emulate. The real upgrade offered here is the alnico magnet pickups.

Squier Standard Stratocaster Features:

  • Series: Standard Series
  • Color: Cherry Sunburst (Polyurethane Finish)
  • Body: Agathis
  • Neck: Maple, C-Shape (Polyurethane Finish)
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood or Maple, 9.5" Radius
  • No. of Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo
  • Pickups: 3 Alnico Magnet Single-Coil Pickups
  • Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle Pickup)
  • Pickup Switching: 5-Position Blade
  • Bridge: Synchronous Twin-Pivot Tremolo
  • Machine Heads: Standard Die-Cast Tuners
  • Hardware: Chrome
  • Pickguard: 3-ply parchment
  • Scale Length: 25.5"
  • Width at Nut: 1.650"
  • Large '60s Style Headstock
  • Gold and Black Squier Logo
  • Engraved Neckplate
  • White Plastic Parts
  • Dot Position Inlays

Squier Standard Strat demonstration

Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster


When you step up to the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster, you're stepping into a guitar that ought to be good enough for anyone. This is the cream of the Squier line's crop. All Squier guitars are made in Indonesia, and make no mistake about it, these are of great quality for little in price.

The beauty of guitars such as the Strat and the Tele is how easily one can change parts on any of them. Want a different neck with a different fretboard or headstock? it's simple to change out. The Classic Vibe Strat has a smaller head-stock because it is designed to be like the Strat guitars Fender put out in the 1950s.

God and the people at Fender only know why the Classic Vibe has a 21 fret fingerboard and the Standard has 22. Well, the Classic Vibe has superior hardware than the others, and this is the primary reason it costs significantly more. We're still talking a bargain guitar here, priced at three hundred and ninety-nine dollars.

Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster '50s Features:

  • Alder body
  • 1-piece maple neck with modern C-shape (gloss polyester finish)
  • Maple fingerboard
  • 21 medium-jumbo frets
  • 3 custom vintage-style single-coil Strat pickups with staggered Alnico III magnet pole pieces
  • Aged white pickup covers, knobs, and switch tip
  • 5-position blade for pickup switching
  • Vintage-style synchronized tremolo
  • Vintage-style tuning machines
  • Chrome hardware
  • 25.5" scale length
  • 1.650" nut width
  • Vintage-tinted neck
  • Black dot position inlays

Squier Classic Vibe '50s Sunburst Strat demonstration

G&L Limited Edition Tribute Legacy


All Squier guitars are made in Indonesia these days. Again, Squier is a subsidiary of Fender, so when you buy a Squier you're buying an Indonesian-made budget Fender. Well, when Leo Fender sold his namesake guitar manufacturing business to CBS, he wasn't done with guitars. He had to wait ten years for a no-compete clause in the sale contract to run out, and then he went straight to work with G&L and Music Man.

G&L is a much smaller company than Fender, but like Fender, they make guitars both in the USA, and Indonesia. The Indonesian G&L guitars have an absolutely sterling reputation. The American-made ones are even more highly reputed, though many times more expensive. To cut to the chase here, there are a lot of persons out there who will make no bones about it telling you the Indonesian G&L guitars are better than some of the U.S.-made Fender.

I'm not prepared to make such a statement, but I'm not about to refute or dispute any of it either. G&L of Indonesia didn't luck into their fine reputation, they earned it. There is some exceedingly stiff competition in the guitar manufacturing business these days. It's easier to get scorn than praise, and I've never encountered anything like disappointment in any person who owns a G&L guitar of any design.

So I don't want to be ambiguous here, my suggestion for the best budget Stratocaster is either of the G&L Strats. Yes, they cost right at five hundred dollars. I'm also seeing them at times at three hundred and ninety-nine dollars. These guitars are the best bang for the bucks spent.

G&L Limited Edition Tribute Legacy Electric Guitar

  • Body shape: Double cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Body wood: Basswood
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Neck shape: C medium
  • Neck wood: Hard-rock Maple
  • Joint: Bolt-on
  • Scale length: 25.5 in.
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood or Maple
  • Radius: 9.5 in.
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Dot
  • Nut width: 1.63 in. (41.4 mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: SSS
  • Neck: CLF-100 Alnico V
  • Middle: CLF-100 Alnico V
  • Bridge: CLF-100 Alnico V
  • Control layout: Volume, treble, bass (PTB system)
  • Pickup switch: 5-way
  • Bridge type: Tremolo/Vibrato
  • Bridge design: G&L Dual-Fulcrum
  • Nickel Color Tuning machines: Die-cast sealed
  • Special features: Body finish
  • Case: Sold separately
  • Accessories: Truss-rod tool

G&L Limited Edition Tribute Legacy HSS


No Stratocaster guitar cares a whit about what sort of music you make with it. So far as I can tell, the Stratocaster just wants to be played as often as possible. In any event, when Leo Fender-designed the things, he designed them to be ergonomic, diverse, and mass-produced. The ghost of Leo will only ever smile upon you for making music, of this I'm certain.

That all said and said in good faith, I must now say this particular G&L Strat would be most suited to the rock and metal music of all gits on this page. Why is this? Two reasons and number one is the humbucker pickup in the bridge position of the guitar. You get more crunch, more bark, and growl from a humbucker. If country twang and super-defined, glassy, bell-like tones are what you're after, the other two pickups will afford that tonality in spades. But there is another thing going on here that is important, and that is the body of this guitar is all mahogany.

Mahogany isn't ever going to be a normal wood for a Stratocaster. Mahogany is what most of a Les Paul is made of, and the SG. Mahogany, like the humbucker pickup, is associated with crunch, heavy metal captain crunch, to be sure. You'll still get plenty of sparkle and twang from the middle and neck position pickups, so this guitar may provide a bit more diversity for the guitarist who wishes for such.

The G&L Limited Edition Tribute Legacy HSS fattens things up with a G&L AW4368 alnico bridge humbucker to complement the vintage G&L Alnico V single-coils in the neck and middle positions. Then, the Legacy HSS brings all of the Legacy features, starting with Leo’s PTB (Passive Treble and Bass) system which functions on all three pickups for dramatically more variety than the vintage setup. What’s more, the Legacy HSS features a Leo Fender-designed Dual-Fulcrum vibrato, a work of engineering art that allows bending up or down with unsurpassed stability, while offering a silky feel through its beefy aluminum vibrato arm.

G&L Limited Edition Tribute Legacy HSS specifications:

  • Body shape: Double cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood mahogany
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Neck shape: C standard
  • Neck wood: Hard-rock Maple
  • Joint: Bolt-on
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Satin
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 9.5"
  • Fret size: Medium
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Dot
  • Nut width: 1.63" (41.4mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: HSS
  • Neck: G&L designed Alnico V Single-coil
  • Middle: G&L designed Alnico V Single-coil
  • Bridge: G&L AW4368 Alnico bridge Humbucker
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Special electronics: G&L PTB System
  • Control layout: PTB System. Volume, Treble, Bass
  • Pickup switch: 5-position
  • Bridge type: Tremolo/Vibrato
  • Bridge design: G&L Dual-Fulcrum
  • Black Color Tuning machines: Deluxe sealed

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw