10 Best Electric Guitars Under $500 – Quality Kicks In!
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Last Updated: November 19, 2019
A new year and some new updates for this affordable midrange category! We removed a few out-of-date models, including the Kramer Striker Custom 211 and Dean’s Dave Mustaine Zero, replacing them with some new legends. All new additions had a bit of a heavy rock theme going on, with two iconic signature guitars in the ESP LTD KH-202 Kirk Hammett and Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature, as well as a cool modern take on the Strat with the Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster.
Thanks to a fiercely competitive market and cheaper production methods, these days having $500 in your pocket gives you a huge range of quality electric guitars to choose from – whatever your style or ambitions.
Table Of Contents
- Top 10 Best Electric Guitars Under $500
- Where to Buy Your $500 Guitar
- Should You Go For Used or New?
- What You Should be Looking For In a $500 Electric Guitar
- Are The Reviewed Guitars For Beginners or Professionals?
- The Final Word
Whether you’re looking for a genuine Fender, a signature model, jaw-dropping aesthetics, or just something a little different, you can expect a bit more in this price range. Pickup quality drastically improves, as do body woods, tone controls and general playability.
We’ve tried and tested countless guitars and, while some fall short of the mark, there are many that we just couldn’t put down. To help you make the right decision, here are some of our favorites that fall in this price range:
Top 10 Best Electric Guitars Under $500
|Image||Electric Guitar / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| Yamaha RevStar RS420 |
Total of 4.88/5
Yamaha flex their vintage muscles with a real masterpiece.
|+ -|| Squier by Fender Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster |
Total of 4.74/5
A real vintage legend with an affordable Squier price tag.
|+ -|| Epiphone Les Paul Standard |
Total of 4.64/5
Style, sound and playability – the complete package.
|+ -|| Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature |
Total of 4.75/5
Hard to ignore a guitar that screams so loudly!
|+ -|| Yamaha Pacifica PAC311H |
Total of 4.64/5
A solid blues performer from Yamaha, with premium style and playability.
|+ -|| Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster |
Total of 4.72/5
A rebellious modern Strat made for heavy rock and metal.
|+ -|| ESP LTD EC-256FM |
Total of 4.73/5
ESP’s affordable take on the classic Les Paul.
|+ -|| Silvertone Classic 1478 |
Total of 4.66/5
A superb reissue of a nostalgic classic, with vintage style and modern playability.
|+ -|| Schecter Omen Extreme 6 |
Total of 4.64/5
The first guitar on any aspiring rockers’ list – beautiful!
|+ -|| ESP LTD KH-202 Kirk Hammett |
Total of 4.65/5
Shred and sound like Hammett for under $500!
Yamaha RevStar RS420
|Body And Neck:|
When Yamaha are feeling inspired you can guarantee a great guitar will shortly follow. So when the Japanese brand looked to London and Tokyo’s vintage street-racing motorbikes for inspiration, it’s no surprise that the RevStar series was born.
The RS420 is the mid-range version, with gorgeous retro style and superior comfort. With several cool color choices, the RS420 features a well-contoured solid nato body with a maple top and a slim 22-fret nato neck.
As we mention in the full review of the Yamaha RevStar RS420, the specially made humbuckers are excellent for this price, with a fantastic Dry Switch to offer a quality single-coil tone that adds to the versatility. A great purchase for vintage rock enthusiasts.
Squier by Fender Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster
|Body And Neck:|
The Telecaster was born at the height of rock and roll in the 50s and the Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster (click for review) is a modern tribute to the early Teles.
But it offers more than just classic 50s butterscotch blonde looks (which is reason enough to buy this beauty!), with a solid pine body and maple C-shaped neck and 21 medium-jumbo frets, offering excellent playability.
The two vintage-style single-coil pickups provide enough tone, twang and warmth to keep everyone from beginners to pros satisfied, while a single volume and tone knob keeps things simple. Versatile and well-suited to every style, from rock to pop, jazz to blues.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
|Body And Neck:|
A timeless classic and one that fails to put a foot wrong. Epiphone offer players authentic Gibson Les Paul looks and sound, at a fraction of the price.
Featuring a mahogany body with a flamed maple top there’s plenty of tone on offer, while the mahogany set neck provides the sustain you’d expect from a well-made Les Paul – especially when you combine it with a locking tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece. As for output, there are two Gibson-designed humbuckers at the neck and bridge, to give plenty of grit and substance to your playing.
Whether you’re plucking your first chords (this guitar is also featured in the beginner electric guitars chart) or looking for a solid, reliable guitar capable of taking on stage, Epiphone’s Les Paul Standard is hard to beat.
Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature
|Body And Neck:|
Whether you are a diehard fan of Steve Vai, or simply appreciate an iconic and ostentatious guitar, the JEMJR Steve Vai Signature from Ibanez is bound to impress!
With very similar features to the RG450DX, the JEMJR features a solid mahogany superstrat body (available in three cool colors), along with everything that makes a JEM a JEM. This includes the distinctive monkey grip in the body, the tree of life fretboard inlays, and a speedy Wizard III neck.
As we highlight in the complete JEMJR review, the trio of Quantum humbuckers offer a beastly tone while the reliable hardware makes this a sensible choice for any performing guitarist. At under $500, it shows seriously good value for money.
Yamaha Pacifica PAC311H
|Body And Neck:|
Yamaha have shown time and again how far they can make a budget go, and the Pacifica 311H is another fine example. With the classic Pacifica double-cutaway body shape, the 311H is made from solid alder, with a reassuringly heavy feel, although remains comfortable to hold and play.
Thereȍs a superb bolt-on maple neck, a rosewood fretboard and 22 medium frets, and some solid hardware including Grover locking tuners and a Yamaha-designed fixed bridge This stylish Pacifica features an Alnico V P-90 at the neck, with an Alnico V open-coil humbucker at the bridge, which has coil-splitting capabilities.
A versatile combo providing a palette of vintage and modern sounds that are perfect for classic rock and blues. We’ve reviewed the Pacifica 311H in full here.
Squier Contemporary Active Stratocaster
|Body And Neck:|
New for 2018 – and new to this chart – is the rebellious Contemporary Active Stratocaster from Fender subsidiary Squier. Part of the brand’s new Contemporary Series, the Active Stratocaster uses the tried-and-tested Strat body with a host of changes that make it a serious metal performer.
Most notably is the inclusion of two Squier Active Humbuckers to deliver a powerful but articulate metal tone, as well as a licensed Floyd Rose tremolo and locking nut that can cope with heavy playing. On that note, the slightly flatter 12” fretboard radius makes shredding easier, while the C-shaped satin-finished maple neck shows off typical Fender/Squier playability.
A real winner and a worthy contender for your cash – as we highlight in the complete Contemporary Active Stratocaster review.
ESP LTD EC-256FM
|Body And Neck:|
It’s not a Gibson or even an Epiphone – this Les Paul is from ESP’s LTD and shows off the fast playability and edgy design the metal brand is known for. With a unique Lemon Drop finish, the body takes the classic Les Paul shape and tweaks it.
It’s light and comfortable to hold, and the thin U-shaped set neck is a pleasure to get around. The body itself is crafted from solid mahogany, with a great-looking maple veneer on the top. There are 22 easily-accessible extra jumbo frets which give the lead player great string-bending capabilities.
As for hardware, there’s nothing too extraordinary, but the ESP-designed humbuckers are very versatile, especially with coil-splitting. Check out everything you need to know in the full EC-256FM review!
Silvertone Classic 1478
|Body And Neck:|
Searching for some true ’60s nostalgia? This Silvertone Classic 1478 may be just what you are looking for, with retro style and sounds aplenty. Faithfully based on the original 1478 from back in 1963 – albeit with some modern upgrades – this reissue has the familiar asymmetrical double-cutaway mahogany body, with a maple top, a modern C-shaped mahogany neck, and rosewood fretboard with 20 nickel-silver frets.
Upgraded hardware includes a fully adjustable chrome bridge, with an authentic Bigsby tremolo tailpiece, as well as sealed chrome vintage-style tuners.
The vintage sound comes from two Silvertone-designed chrome-covered single-coil pickups, which use similar materials to the originals, and offer bright and punchy tones that are versatile for anything from surf rock to blues. Check out our full review for more details.
Schecter Omen Extreme 6
|Body And Neck:|
Schecter is synonymous with high quality at low prices. And the Omen Extreme 6 is the perfect example of this, with looks, sound and playability at a price everyone can afford.
The guitar is wonderful to hold, with a carved quilted maple top on a mahogany body, and the finish – whatever color you choose – is second-to-none. The bolt-on maple neck is fast to get up and down, while 24 extra jumbo frets allow for easy string-bending.
Two Schecter Diamond Plus alnico humbuckers give a high-output sound that holds clarity when played at the loudest volumes, while the black chrome controls and string-thru bridge finish this guitar nicely. A real premium feel for a great price.
ESP LTD KH-202 Kirk Hammett
|Body And Neck:|
The KH-202 from ESP’s more affordable branch LTD is a superb replica of the higher-end iterations of Kirk Hammett’s signature axes, complete with reverse headstock, distinctive skull and crossbones inlays, and a good injection of classic Metallica tone.
With a hefty but comfortable build, this iconic axe features a black basswood body and a very thin U-shaped maple neck with 24 frets – bolted on as Hammett likes. This leads to excellent playability and great sustain.
The pair of ESP-designed passive humbuckers offer a powerful, clear and detailed tone, making the endless hours practicing Metallica covers very satisfying indeed! Be sure to read our full review of the LTD KH-202 for all the details.
Where to Buy Your $500 Guitar
Buying a new guitar is rarely done on a whim – especially when you’re dropping around $500. And whether it’s your first or twenty-first, you want it to be reliable, comfortable, and look and sound great.
After reading some reviews on this site, narrow down a couple you like, then go and test them out if possible. Head to your local guitar store and see what they have in stock. However, unless it’s a huge store, you may not get to see everything you want. So reading in-depth reviews and watching videos is a good way to learn about and hear your potential new instrument in action.
If you hear something you like, make sure to shop around and find the best price, especially if you’ve tried the guitar in a shop, as online stores like Amazon usually give you better prices. Plus they rarely run out of stock.
Should You Go For Used or New?
Both have their advantages. With a brand new guitar you know you’re the first owner, and probably have a warranty as well as a couple of weeks refund period in case you change your mind.
Buying a used guitar can work out much cheaper, but it comes with some potential pitfalls. To avoid buying something that will fail as soon as you get it home make sure you try it out before parting with your cash – and use an amp to see what the electrics are like. Treat it like you would buying a used car.
If you are going for used, avoid thrift stores or flea markets. Stick to online stores or dedicated-guitar shops that can advise you, and accept returns – especially in this price range.
What You Should be Looking For In a $500 Electric Guitar
There really is no one-size-fits-all answer, as different guitars will appeal to you based on your influences, style and aspirations. I’m not a fan of vintage, so the Danelectro D59 doesn’t really appeal to me (even though it looks pretty cool). On the other hand, Led Zeppelin may well be your idols and that’s the first guitar on your list. Everyone is different.
One thing you shouldn’t care too much about in this price range is the brand. Everyone wants to owns a genuine Fender or Gibson, but struggling to afford one when a Squier or Epiphone provide similar looks and sound quality for half the price, really doesn’t make sense.
As you’ve seen on the list, less known brands like Schecter and Kramer make awesome instruments that a seasoned pro would enjoy playing.
Other things to avoid getting caught up over is the body wood. There can be a little snobbery when it comes to cheaper materials, but these days – when you can buy a premium electric guitar for about $1000 which is made from basswood – it’s a moot point.
The woods do play a part in the overall sound of a guitar, but they should never be the defining factor.
Pickups are also important to consider. These are the voice of the guitar and your style will determine what kind will work best for you. The majority of pickups in this under $500 price range will be passive humbuckers or single-coils, and they’ll do a good job whether practicing, jamming or gigging. Most of them are considerable upgrade to the their counterparts that you can find in the electric guitars under the $300 range.
If you’re after a meaty rock sound, choose something with two humbuckers (look towards Dean), but if it’s vintage twang you prefer, the single-coils on the Squire Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster make for a better choice.
Are The Reviewed Guitars For Beginners or Professionals?
Short answer: both! Of course, some of the models that we’ve featured are more newbie friendly than others, but in this price range you’ll find a good mix of guitars available that will suit any level of experience and any style of playing from Jazz to Metal.
Remember that every model we present in our Top 10 Charts will have their own page with a detailed review that gives you the lowdown on its features, along with its pros and cons.
Keep in mind that if you are a beginner, you can start with a more affordable electric guitar – it’s not essential to spend big money from the start, especially as you’ll need to save some cash for an amp and accessories like a cable, picks and strap.
The Final Word
The guitars featured on this list are all excellent and our top choices for the under $500 price range. They offer great value for the money and are sure to keep you playing happily for a long time.
But there are hundreds of others that may suit you better. Whether you’re spending $100 or $2000 on a guitar, you’ll want to make an informed decision. Read as many reviews as you can, watch all the videos, and try out as many guitars as possible. Happy shopping!
I got a Shecter Omen Extreme – 6 as my first guitar its very good I have encounter problems with it but it was my fault for experimenting it. I do have to say shelters tend to be very high in quality
SQUIER DAMMIT!! 🙂
The Telecaster player is $500
Thomas Steven says
There is no PRS SE guitars worth this list?
The list will be updated soon! You can expect an SE as we agree it deserves a top spot!
Daniel Indru says
Both the Tele and the Strat are now just under $600.
So this list deserves an update.
R. Yaske says
Love the look of the Epiphone G-400 pro sg. Anyone play one or seen a review? How close to a sg standard?
David Mason says
I see a LOT of this from my students, and I can say that Schecter and ESP-LTD KILL at that price. Epiphones can be iffy, QC-wise. And there are all these non-existent people – Do you REALLY think there IS a “Michael Kelly?” On kind of a whim, I looked up the higher-end, local-market Corts. This is what the people in Korea make FOR THEMSELVES when they’re done with the Epi’s, Squires etc. I bought a something-or-other tricked out Samick – 15lbs and clear as a bell.
What’s kinda really weird – almost EVERY under-500 git has ONE THING really wrong – maybe the tuners, maybe the frets need work, or pickups swapped. But it’s never TWO things… we are tip-toeing through the field of golden daisies, it’s hog heaven out there.
At some point, some honest person is go to say “Guitars are now BETTER that the old stuff.” Nobody even THINKS that Clapton’s guitar were only a few years old in Cream, Mayall, etc. Bloomfield, Allman and Page were playing guitars that were 10 – 13 years old. EVERY old guy has the story of going to the music store and picking out the ONE great guitar. When Clapton “went Strat” he had to buy THREE and get the good bits offa them to have ONE… and somebody probably just paid $30,000 for the leftover crap. The ones that sucked back then, still do – it’s just a more MATURE crap. That wall full of suck? All the Strats with a big ol’ chunk of brass under the bridge? WHERE’D THEY FUCKIN’ GO?!?!
Kelsey Austin says
I can vouch for the fact that Schecters are an incredibly well built, great sounding guitar under and over the $500 mark. To this day, my favorite guitar is my Schecter Diamond Series Blackjack w/Seymour Duncan Jazz Set Pickups. It took me a day of testing out guitars at Guitar Center, but the time spent was well worth it.
That Schecter is the only guitar I’ve owned that didn’t require at least one upgrade (pickups, tuners, pots). It’s been my work horse for ten years and continues to do everything you expect your axe to do for you. If you haven’t played a Schecter, I encourage you to try it at least once.