In this review, we’ll explore five instruments that are the best electric guitars in their respective price ranges.
These electrics are all stage-ready and more than enough to get you gigging. This doesn’t mean that if you’re an absolute beginner you should move on though! My high range for an entry-level guitar is also the bottom range for perfomance-grade instruments, so for the most part we’ll be looking at guitars in this sweet spot.
I could write a list like this featuring only multi-thousand dollar guitars, knowing that their quality is practically unbeatable, but I and no one I know has that kind of money to drop on a new instrument. So, I’ve kept our options realistic and within a budget that the average player can afford.
It’s never easy choosing the best of the best, and I feel like I’m doing the #2 spot a bit of injustice when I say they’re any lesser than the #1 guitar in this type of review.
But, specs and everything aside, going solely on my own preference, I’m gonna say that the best electric guitar for the money is the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR.
It has everything I want in an electric: a Floyd Rose whammy bar, 24 extra jumbo frets, powerful dual humbuckers with a push-pull coil splitting option, and killer looks. I’d say this beast is practical in just about any electric guitar application, and it’s right around the highest amount I’d be willing to pay for a new guitar.
The bottom end of the best goes to the Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT. It’s a great electric by many standards, but is a little short on features compared to the other guitars we’ll take a look at. For its price, you can’t do much better, but there are enough guitars I consider much cooler to push this model to last place on our list.
The 5 Best Electric Guitars for the Money – Overview
- Top: Maple Wood
- Body: Maple
- Back: Maple Wood
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Laurel
- Chambered body for added tone depth and resonance
- Mahogany + Maple body tonewood combo brings sparkle to the warm voice
- BroadTron humbucking pickups have just enough juice to hit the stage with
- Chambered body makes this more a semi-hollow than a solid body guitar
- No tremolo bar, limited features
I’ll never be one to badmouth Gretsch guitars. They manufacture some great instruments in a huge range of prices, and even their bottom-line beginner series are better than the average electric.
Whether you’re a fan of Gretsch or not is a matter of taste, and is probably largely based on aesthetics. Their guitars all look kind of old-fashioned, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that.
With the Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT, classic looks combine with modern electronics to form an excellent performing guitar for under $500.
It uses their in-house model BroadTron pickups, which are pretty powerful lower cost humbuckers that sound just as good clean as they do distorted. Gretsch has this handy guide to all their pickup designs, so you can see if the BroadTrons are right for you.
These pickups set into the Electromatic’s chambered mahogany body give you a tone that’s heavy in the bass end, with booming lows, a sultry midrange, and highs are never shrill.
Individual volume controls for each pickup and a 3-way selector switch give you a decent amount of control over your sound, so you can dial into the best tone for whatever genre you’re playing.
Some players might feel deceived to find out this is a chambered guitar. What this means is that the mahogany in the body is cut out in some spots, which is hidden by the maple top.
This adds resonance to the tone and reduces the guitars weight, but gives you less articulation and precision of sound than you’ll find in a standard solid body electric.
You’ll have to see if the Electromatic sounds right for your purposes, but I think it works great for most genres. And if you really love the tone of this guitar, you should take a look at some of Gretsch’s higher-end models, like the G5420 that we reviewed here.
- Body: Poplar
- Fretboard: Indian Laurel Wood
- Retro look and sound in an affordable throwback model
- Versatile vintage tone and volume controls
- Shorter-scale C-shape neck with comfortable 9.5″ radius
- Squier often mocked as a trash brand — NOT TRUE
- Funky Jaguar body shape not choice for all players
If you’re a fan of vintage guitars, you’ll love Squier’s Classic Vibe series.
If you don’t already know, Squier is a branch of Fender that produces guitars that are generally much less expensive than their Fender-branded counterparts. They often use comparable materials, and the difference mostly lies in the electronics and hardware.
Unfortunately, Squier has an unjust stigma attached to them, often viewed as a brand for kids, or just as cheap and low quality. The truth is that they have some really decent guitars under their name, and if you know what you want in an electric, you can probably find a Squier model that you’ll love.
The Squier Classic Vibe 70s Jaguar is a modern take on Fender’s 1970s-era Jaguar models. It is kind of an odd-looking guitar, with an unusual body shape and even more unusual tone controls.
In this guitar, you alter the tone through a series of switches and knobs configured in a way that makes it look a bit like an old sci-fi prop — like a guitar they might play in Star Trek or “Invasion of the Pick Snatchers” type deal.
As far as tone and playability goes, this Jaguar model is great for softer rock, clean genres, and anywhere that you want the snap and shine of single-coil pickups.
It’s not a guitar I’d play a colosseum with, but for smaller shows and definitely for honing my skills at home, I think it’s a super fun, happy sounding electric. We featured another model from the Classic Vibe series that you can read about here.
- Body: Alder
- Back: Maple
- Lightweight alder body for all-night playing comfort
- Quick playing satin finished maple neck
- Classic Stratocaster sound
- Stratocaster sound not for every player or every genre
I started playing guitar with aspirations to be one of the greatest metal guitarists around. Because of this, I was at first pretty anti-Fender. They were softy guitars, more for country and pop than the heavy grindcore I was practicing.
However, the older I’ve grown the mellower I’ve become and the more I’ve come to appreciate this brand of electric. Now, I think it would be great to own a Fender, and I can see myself playing one every day for the rest of my life.
You’re probably already at least somewhat familiar with Stratocasters. They’re almost 60 years old, and are such iconic guitars that it’s hard to imagine you’ve never seen or heard of them before.
The Fender Player Strat is the up-to-date version of the guitar that has been famous in rock’n’roll for over half a century.
It has retained all the features that make Stratocasters so popular; the lightweight body, the bright happy tone, the three single-coil pickups, and the comfortable fingerboard great for both high-speed chops and chilled out chord progressions.
Its modernized features include redesigned Alnico V pickups, the ability to control the middle pickup’s tone, and a streamlined manufacturing process that allows it to be sold at a price that won’t make your hair stand on end.
Stratocasters have their pros and cons like any other model, but are functional in a large variety of genres and playing styles, from classic rock and country, to fingerpicked folk, to blues and jazz and much more.
I wouldn’t throw it in Dropped-C tuning and try to play some palm muted breakdowns, but I know what it’s capable of and will play all my favorite soft rock covers to my heart’s content on this beauty.
- Top: Maple Wood
- Back: Maple Wood
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Mahogany
- Ibanez trademark Nitro Wizard neck for lightning fast playing
- Coil tapping feature for single-coil sounds
- Ultra-responsive ebony fretboard for powerful chords and precise licks
It was a real close tie for first place between this guitar and the ultimate winner, and truthfully they’re both about equal depending on your needs and desires.
The Ibanez Iron Label from their renowned S series is a guitar specifically made for metal, and is the first guitar on this list really suited for that genre.
First and foremost, like most Ibanez guitars it is designed for super fast speed. If your ambition is to be one of the speediest solo guitarists in the world, this guitar will give you a good boost in that direction.
Wizard necks are the fastest playing in the industry, and the Nitro is the head of the pack in this line. In the Iron Label SIX6FDFM, the neck is topped with a bound ebony fretboard, giving you a responsive playing field that is great for arpeggios, riffs, bends, and tapping style leads. We talked about the JEMJR, another guitar equipped with a wizard neck, in this article.
Its body is primarily mahogany, giving you an overall dark, warm, bass heavy sound, but is capped with flamed maple to bring out the brightness and clarity of each note.
This is all brought to life by super powerful DiMarzio Fusion Edge humbuckers. These double coil pickups are packed with coils and deliver tons of boom in every range. There are no fizzly highs, no weak lows, and the midrange is as pronounced as can be.
If you need to go clean or get a lighter sound, the Iron Label has a coil tapping feature so that you can easily switch to single-coil mode.
As a huge metalhead, this is electric designed for the genre is one of my favorite guitars available today.
- Top: Quilted Maple
- Body: Mahogany
- Back: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Coil tapping mechanism for a huge variety of tones
- Floyd Rose tremolo bridge for super high squeals and tremendous dive bombs
- Extra deep cutaway for flawless upper fret access
In our #1 spot is the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR, another great metal guitar whose coil tapping feature lets you play in pretty much every genre you desire.
Schecter makes some mean looking guitars, and the C-1 FR is among the meanest. It’s a beaut, looks like the kind of electric the devil would give you in exchange for your soul, and plays like one too.
Looking at it, you could guess that this is a great guitar for playing metal, but you might be surprised at its other capabilities. The coil tapping feature, one of my favorite additions on higher end electrics, allows you to switch from double coil humbuckers to single coil configured pickups with the simple push or pull of a volume knob.
Since both pickups can be tapped individually, you have a plethora of configurations you can choose from. This enables you to play full humbucker for the heaviest music in existence, switch to full single for softer styles such as funk and jazz, or to mix it up for strange fusion tones or your own custom sound.
It’s powered by two beastly EMG humbuckers, commonly considered to be some of the best on the market. They’re built for power and crunch, but deliver clean tones with a clear sonic aesthetic that is without rival.
Top all this off with the Floyd Rose tremolo bridge, which you can find out about more here and lets you warp your riffs in unimaginable ways, and you’ve got one of the best value electric guitars money can buy.
What Makes the Best Electric Guitar?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different electric guitars available today.
Some are totally substandard and won’t give you even a day’s worth of playing pleasure.
Some are good enough for practice at home, but I wouldn’t play them in front of any size crowd.
Others are show worthy, but have their limits.
I tried to present to you only guitars that I would play in at least an average sized show.
They’re solidly constructed, with no flaws that can’t be overlooked or otherwise remedied, and some are true powerhouses of electric guitar rockability.
To be considered one of the best, a guitar needs to be not only playable, but super fun to play and have features that reduce fatigue and add comfort to every performance.
Their pickups can not be substandard at all. This is the driving force of an electric guitar, and each one on this list has pickups that will do more than the basic job of transmitting your vibrations. They pick up on each frequency and transfer it with trueness to the amplifier, so you don’t have to worry about overwhelming the mix with wacky tones in any range.
Additionally, I think an electric guitar has to look pretty cool. There were some options I could have told you about, but they just look too weird to make the cut.
So the guitars on the list have the following features:
- Their playability is not only functional, but of top-notch quality
- Their tone is more than standard; it is outstanding
- They’re made to last, so you can rock as hard as you want
- They’re versatile, and can perform in a range of genres. No one trick ponies
- They not only sound and play good; they look good and will make you look good playing them
- You’re getting your money’s worth, and not spending more than you need to sound great
As you can see, there are no Gibsons on this list. Gibsons are great guitars, no doubt, but I think they’re usually overpriced and you will mostly be paying for the name and for the prestige that comes with owning this brand. For the money, there are many options that are much more worth it.
Who Should Buy One of These Guitars?
I strive to be inclusive in my recommendations and avoid reviewing guitars that are totally out of the league for most players.
In the bottom end of this list, numbers 4 and 5, you’ve got guitars that are great for beginners, but can also please a pro.
If you buy one of those guitars as your first instrument, you won’t need to buy another one for years. They’re versatile performers that you can master the craft on, and will take you from learning the basics at home to playing your first shows.
Higher up on the list, we start to get into guitars that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend for first-timers. If you’re just starting out, keep your costs low so if you decide that playing guitar isn’t for you, you haven’t sunk a fortune into equipment you’re not going to use. We’ve reviewed lots of less expensive guitars here.
Starting with the Fender, the guitars become professional grade. They’re capable of playing public, from dive bar open mics to relatively large official venues.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4-7mCCycvw
It’s not until we get to the last two that I would really consider them good enough to play for huge crowds, but this is a matter of opinion. But, if you’re a touring musician who plays for large crowds, you can be sure that #2 and #1 are top-quality axes that are ready to melt your fans’ faces.
Can These Guitars Be Upgraded?
I’m of the belief that most electric guitars can be upgraded, at least to a point.
For the first two guitars in this list, they could definitely benefit from a pickup upgrade. This small change can bring you so much tone you’d be surprised.
This can be done either by a guitar tech or by you if you’re feeling handy and adventurous. The Gretsch and the Squier are both great project guitars if you’re looking to learn the craft of wiring or other basic guitar tech skills.
For the higher end guitars, that not much that you need to change, but there’s always something you can change. I’ve had multiple friends remove their Floyd Rose bridges in exchange for Ibanez locking systems, and you might not be a fan of either DiMarzio or EMG pickups and may want to switch out for your preferred electronic system.
The basic fact is: yes, these guitars can be upgraded depending on how much extra time, money, and effort you’re willing and able to spend.
What Are These Electric Guitars Good For?
A quick rundown of what these guitars are best for:
- Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT – blues, jazz, country, soft rock, classic rock, funk, rockabilly
- Squier Classic Vibe 70s Mustang – blues, jazz, country, soft rock, punk, funk, classic rock, alt rock, rockabilly, pop, soul
- Fender Players Stratocaster – blues, jazz, country, all rock genres, punk, funk, rockabilly, pop, soul
- Ibanez Iron Label SIX6FDFM – all rock genres, all metal genres, punk, funk, jazz, fusion
- Schecter Hellraiser C-1 FR – all rock genres, all metal genres, punk, funk, jazz, fusion
The Final Word
You’ll see that in this review, the lowest priced guitars are just under $500 and the price range extends to right under $1000.
I think this is the perfect price range for finding the best guitars for the money, and if you spend any less or any more, you’re not going to do any better.
This is the sweet spot for electric guitars. They run from beginner level to professional quality, but are all playable outside of your bedroom.
You and you alone know what makes a guitar best for you, so do your research, meditate on your options, and go where the music leads you.