Top 5 Electric Guitar Brands for Beginners

Updated on April 24, 2017
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Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

Squier by Fender is one of the best electric guitar brands for beginners!
Squier by Fender is one of the best electric guitar brands for beginners!

The Right Electric Guitar for a Beginner

When it comes time to choose a first electric guitar, it is smart to do as much research as you can. Figuring out which brand is the best match for a new guitar player’s style and goals is important.

The right starter guitar will inspire and encourage a new player, while the wrong instrument may frustrate them to the point of quitting.

Some guitar companies are better than others when it comes to beginner guitars. You may think it is wise to go with a cheap, no-name guitar and save a few bucks, but I always recommend choosing a brand that has built a strong reputation in the guitar world.

There are a few reasons you want to choose a quality brand name for your first guitar. For one thing, learning guitar is hard enough without the stress of a cheap instrument that is hard to play and sounds awful. A solid instrument provides a better learning experience, and will give a new guitarist the best shot at success.

Secondly, and more practically, if a wannabe guitarist decides the instrument isn’t for them, a guitar made by a good brand name will be much easier to resell. Let's hope it never comes to that, though!

Unfortunately, unless you already know a lot about guitars, the research involved in figuring this out can be pretty confusing. This post can help. Here you will get some advice on the top electric guitar brands for beginners, based on my 30+ years as a guitarist.

So, what are we looking for here? Brand name recognition alone isn’t good enough to make this list. In fact, you may notice there are some fairly big guitar companies left out here. You also won’t find any guitars made by companies that don’t have a great reputation for quality.

To make my list a guitar a company had to meet the following criteria:

  • They must produce a range of guitars around $100-$200. In my opinion, that’s a good budget for a starter guitar.
  • They must have a reputation for quality, not just for their high-end instruments but their budget models as well.
  • They must build guitars with the sound and looks to inspire a new guitar player. Even newbie guitarists want instruments they can be proud of!

So, let’s get to the guitars!

Epiphone

Epiphone makes some great guitars for beginners, and they get the top spot on my list. Epiphone is owned by Gibson, one of the biggest names in the guitar world. As a subsidiary, Epiphone is allowed to make budget versions of classic Gibson guitars. This means newbies have a shot at starting out on a legendary Gibson design such as the Les Paul or SG.

There are two guitars in the Epiphone lineup I recommend checking out:

  • Epiphone LP Special II: In my opinion, the Epi Les Paul Special II is the top electric guitar for beginners. It is modeled after the Gibson Les Paul, with a single-cutaway design and a pair of humbucking pickups. It even features the same mahogany body/mahogany neck tonewood profile as a Gibson. Of course it doesn’t cost nearly as much!
  • Epiphone SG Special: There is also the SG Special, a starter guitar modeled after the Gibson SG. Like the LP Special, it has a couple of humbuckers and a mahogany neck and body. Both guitars also have Tune-o-matic-type bridges, which means they are a little easier to keep in tune compared to budget guitars with tremolo systems.

The LP Special and SG Special come in around the same price, and both have similar tonewoods and electronics. They even sound similar. They are both outstanding starter instruments, and they are the reason Epiphone gets my top pick when it comes to electric guitar brands for newbies.

Like many guitar companies in this article, Epiphone also offers starter packs. These include a guitar, an amp and all the accessories you’d need to get playing. They are not only great deals, they also take away a lot of the frustration and confusion that comes with locating all the gear needed to learn how play guitar.

Hear the Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Squier by Fender

Squier is another brand that makes excellent starter instruments. Just as Epiphone is authorized to make budget versions of Gibson guitars, Squier is a guitar company that brings us quality, affordable versions of classic Fender guitars. A new guitarist can start out on a Stratocaster or Telecaster that looks and sounds almost (but not quite) as good as the Fender version. In fact, based on looks alone, Squier guitars are pretty close to Fender instruments.

Squier has a couple of affordable models in their Affinity Series that beginners should consider:

  • Squier Affinity Stratocaster: The Affinity Strat has all the good stuff you'll find in a Fender Stratocaster at a budget price. Like a Fender it has an alder body and maple neck for the snappy Strat tone, and a trio of single-coil pickups controlled via a 5-way switch. It also has a vintage-style tremolo system
  • Squier Affinity Telecaster: The Tele features the same tonewoods as the Strat, with a slightly different single-cutaway body style. It also has two pickups instead of three, and a fixed bridge. Single-coil pickups have a thinner sound compared to humbuckers, and it case of the Telcaster they create the signature twang that put the guitar on the map.

I consider Squier and Epiphone to be the two top brands beginners should be looking at for their first guitar. However, there are some key differences when it comes to their flagship instrumets. Where the Epiphones listed above have a pair of humbucking pickups, the Squier Stratocaster has a trio of single coils, and the Telecaster a pair of single coils.

Stratocasters also feature tremolo systems, where the Les Paul, SG and Telecaster have fixed bridges. Epsecially in the budget price range, tuning is typically a little more stable for fixed-bridge guitars. If you really want a Strat with a tremolo it’s nothing to be super concerned about, but newbies should be aware of the difference. A good guitar tech at the local music store should be able to set your Strat up so it stays in tune just fine.

Like Epiphone, Squier also has come excellent starter packs to choose from.

Squier by Fender Affinity Stratocaster
Squier by Fender Affinity Stratocaster

Yamaha

Yamaha always gets my top recommendation when it comes to acoustic guitars for beginners, but it appears they’ve made this electric guitars list too. That’s because of the Pacifica.

The Yamaha Pacifica has been among the top recommended electric guitars for beginning player for a long while, and it receives excellent marks for playability and sound. It is also very versatile. The PAC112 has a single humbucking pickup along with two single coils for a wide array of available tones .

In many ways this guitar is the best of both worlds if you are trying to decide between the Epiphone and Squier guitars above. It will give you some of that thick, humbucking tone you’ll find in the Les Paul, but with an alder body and maple neck it has a tonewood profile more similar to a Strat-style guitar.

What this means is that you’ll have the breadth to explore different sounds, because the Pacifica can get the job done in every genre out there, from rock to blues, jazz, country and metal. It also doesn’t hurt that Yamaha is known for the outstanding quality of their budget guitars.

If you are on the fence between Epiphone and Squier, but you want a versatile guitar, the Yamaha Pacifica is a great choice.

Yamaha Pacifica PAC012
Yamaha Pacifica PAC012

Jackson

For most new players I think it’s smart to start off with one of the Les Paul or Strat-style guitars listed above. New guitars players don’t always know what their musical direction may be, and it takes a lot of experimentation to figure it out. A flexible guitar is helpful, as it presents more opportunity for exploration.

Then again, some new guitar players know what they want from the beginning. Some just want to play metal!

In many ways Jackson guitars are the benchmark of greatness when it comes to extreme metal, thrash, hard rock, shred and just about every other sub-genre of heavy metal. In my opinion wannabe metalheads should look no further for their first instrument. Jackson’s JS Series features affordable versions of their epic metal designs.

Models in the JS Series include the:

  • King V
  • Dinky
  • Rhoads
  • Kelly
  • Warrior

Many Jackson JS guitars will land within your $200 budget, but others come in a few bucks more. These guitars are among the rare cases where I would suggest a beginner spend a little extra on their first guitar.

But that’s only if you know you are absolutely sure you want to focus on metal. Like thoroughbred racehorses, Jackson guitars are made to do one thing, and they do it really, really well.

Check Out the Jackson JS32 Rhoads

Ibanez

While Ibanez may have a reputation as one of the best metal guitar builders on the planet, when it comes to budget guitars they make some outstanding all-around instruments for new players.

There are a few things I really like about Ibanez, starting with their guitar necks. Ibanez guitars have thin, fast-playing necks. This means newbies, especially those with smaller hands, may find it a little easier to fret notes.

Ibanez also does a great job of building much of their own in-house bridges and pickups. This quality shines through on their high-end guitars, and trickles down to their budget instruments as well.

Probably the two best-know Ibanez electric guitars are the RG and the S. Ibanez makes them both available as budget guitars with their GRG and GS Series.

Which Brand Should You Choose?

Here are a few final thoughts that might get you closer to making a decision. Keep in mind these are all general statements, and nobody is stopping you from using any of these guitars for whatever style of music you want.

  • For newbies who are interested in hard rock, classic rock and jazz consider the Epiphone LP or SG Special. This is because the combination of mahogany and humbucking pickups offers a thick, rich tone that works well in these genres.
  • If you are into blues, country and classic rock think about the Squier Telecaster or Stratocaster. With a thinner sound these guitars are capable of everything from vintage rock to glassy clean and chicken-picken country.
  • If you are into rock, and especially if the idea of a thin, fast neck appeals to you, consider a guitar like the Ibanez GSR120. Even though it is based on the RG, a known metal monster, I think it is versatile enough for beginners to explore any genre.
  • Metalheads should look to the Jackson JS Series. But only if they are absolutely sure metal will be their focus. A Jackson King V looks awesome for metal, but not so much if you are playing in the school jazz band.
  • If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, give the Yamaha Pacifica some thought. It’s a little off the beaten path, but has many great features in one instrument. I’d call this is the more verstatile beginner guitar.

Good luck with your choice! Remember, the most important thing for a beginner is to be excited about their guitar, so they are encouraged to pick it up and play!

Your opinion: Which guitar brand for beginners?

Which will you choose?

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