There are many great axes out there for those of you on a tight budget, and I’ve picked the best of the best electric guitars under $300 for you to try out.
At this price point, you need to know what to expect from a guitar.
As far as the foundation goes — that is, the tonewoods and other non-electrical components — these guitars can in many ways rival electrics worth several hundred dollars more.
It’s when you get into the pickups that the difference is evident; these guitars are wired for beginners, and while they won’t blow the minds of any audiences, they’re perfect for practicing and building your skill set.
This under $300 price range is great for entry-level musicians, as well as for acoustic guitarists who are wanting to try their hands at some amped up electric work.
It’s an unusual choice for me, but our winner in this review is a model from Gibson’s child company, Epiphone.
The Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT is a great beginner’s electric guitar; it has a really solid build, a mahogany body that supports sustain, and two humbucking Zebra pickups that are as powerful as you can hope for at this price point.
If I were looking for my first electric guitar all over again this is definitely the one I would go with.
Jumping now to the lesser side of this spectrum, and we’ll find the Squier Affinity Series Telecaster. It too is a good electric guitar for beginners, but at the below $300 mark I think the single coil pickups generate enough buzz to be distracting.
It plays well and is a fun Tele to jam on, but with only 21 frets and no special features giving it a boost of coolness, it’s my least favorite of this roundup.
The 4 Best Electric Guitars Under $300 – Overview
|Squier Affinity Series Telecaster
|Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT
Squier Affinity Series Telecaster
- Top: Maple Wood
- Body: Poplar
- Back: Poplar
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Laurel Wood
- A tonewood combo that makes a Telecaster sound like a Telecaster
- Comfortable to play “C” shape neck
- Pickups designed for vintage Telecaster tone
- Only 21 frets limits your riffing capabilities
- Low end single coil pickups have a lot of buzz and feedback
For the most part, I’m not one to knock a certain guitar just because it comes from a maker who is considered “cheap.” There are some exceptions to this, but Squier is not one of them.
I like Squiers just fine, especially their higher end guitars, as they do a good job of replicating Fender’s most famous models in both looks and sounds.
The Squier Affinity Series Telecaster is a good enough Fender Telecaster remake to make it to this list of the best electrics under $300, and overall is a great choice for your first electric guitar. In fact, this is the second time it’s made our lists, and you can read more about it here.
It meets all the basic standards of quality: solid construction, fun and comfortable playability, dependable wiring, decent tone, and good aesthetics.
However, its pickups leave something to be desired, which we’ll talk about just a little later.
This Squier Tele’s body is made of alder, a lightweight tonewood with a well-defined upper midrange, good sustain, and great attack. Its the wood that Fender uses on the majority of their guitars, and you can read Fender’s article to find out more about it.
In almost every Fender, and in this Squier, an alder body meets a maple neck and fingerboard, which really sharpens your tone and gives Telecasters their bright, crystalline sound.
This makes the Squier Affinity Tele just one step away from greatness, only missing the mark with its substandard single coils.
These pickups are fine for at-home applications, especially if you’re playing at a low volume. But, the moment you turn it up to 11 you’ll find that the Vintage-Style Telecaster single coils become overbearingly noisy.
Considering all it has going for it and the ease with which pickups can be replaced, these pickups are not enough reason to pass on this guitar. Ask yourself how loud you need to play, and if the answer is “not very,” and you’d love to see yourself with a Telecaster, this could be the guitar for you.
- Top: Maple Wood
- Body: Alder
- Back: Alder
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Versatile pickup configuration and controls to dial in your tone
- Lightweight alder body reduces player fatigue
- Great for many different genres and playing styles
- Can be very noisy due to three pickups
- So many pickup configurations can overwhelm beginners
Yamaha’s Pacifica series guitars are great beginner electrics. They give you a lot of control over your tone, and with three pickups you can tune into whatever is best for your preferred genre.
This PAC112V has a lot going for it. It’s got a great alder + maple tonewood combo, bringing its sound pretty close to modern Telecasters.
It sports a C-shaped neck and rosewood fingerboard, so you can play for hours without excessive finger pain and hand cramps. This setup promotes speed, so practicing scales and licks will come with ease.
The Yamaha PAC112V is one of the rare beginner guitars with three pickups. Two single coils join a bridge-position humbucker, all under one tone control and a 5-way selector switch, so you can play around with different sounds to find what works best for your needs.
Add to this a push-pull coil switching feature found in the volume control, and you can really tweak your tone for just about every genre except death metal.
This can be a little too much control for a beginner, who should be focused less on precise tone and more on technique, but it’s always fun to experiment to find the tone that works best for you.
I think Yamaha’s are great, and this entry-level instrument can carry you through every practice and beyond til you’re ready to hit a real stage.
- Top: Maple
- Body: Mahogany
- Back: Mahogany
- Neck: Maple
- Fretboard: Rosewood
- Lighting fast Wizard III neck
- Mahogany + maple tonewood combo for great tonal balance
- Powerful Quantum humbuckers
- Quantum humbuckers have too much noise at high volumes
- Cheap plastic nut reduces note clarity
I’m a huge Ibanez fan, and the RG421 could have had the top spot if its pickups weren’t so noisy when you crank up the volume.
As far as playability goes, this is an amazing electric guitar, and any beginner can almost immediately feel like a shred-master with this axe in their hands.
The Wizard III neck is one of my favorite in the world, with an ultra thin profile that makes riffs practically explode from your fingertips.
Ibanez’s RG421 is made with mahogany and maple, which respectively are great for low to mid and high range frequencies, making this guitar really well balanced in terms of tone. Mahogany adds depth and darkness while maple contributes sparkle and articulation, combining to form an electric that sounds great no matter where it’s played.
Unfortunately, the Quantum humbuckers in this guitar are not great at cancelling out unwanted buzz, so even at medium volumes you can start to get feedback and annoying fuzziness. Not a huge problem, but it’s worth talking about.
You might find the action set a bit too low for many uses, and for beginners whose fingers aren’t dialed in for finesse, I’d recommend having it setup just a bit higher.
In the end, I had a tough time choosing between the Ibanez RG421 and the Epiphone Les Paul for first place, but I think the Epiphone is more versatile overall so I had to give it the crown.
Think Ibanez might be the brand for you but just not this model? Check out the Ibanez Mikro in this review.
Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT
- Top: Mahogany
- Body: Mahogany
- Back: Mahogany
- Neck: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Mahogany
- 60’s SlimTaper “D” neck profile gives classic comfortable playing
- Powerful budget Epiphone Zebra humbuckers give loads of power with little extra buzz
- A very close remake of the famous Gibson Les Paul
- Can benefit from a tuning machine upgrade
Epiphones were at one time a guitar brand that I would ignorantly consider to be too cheap to play. But, with age comes wisdom (hopefully) and now I know them as one of my favorite names in electric guitars.
The Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT is a true-to-form replica of Gibson’s iconic Les Paul, differing only slightly in a few ways but for a price that’s roughly $1000 less.
First, we’ll start with similarities.
Like the Gibson it’s based on, this Epiphone Les Paul is an all-mahogany build in the body and neck, which gives Les Paul its signature fat, warm sound.
It’s equipped with a smooth-playing rosewood fingerboard whose naturally oily surface feels great on the fingertips and transmits each vibration with sonic sweetness.
The neck is in the Gibson-style of the 1960s, a SlimTaper “D” profile that incrementally curves in going toward the upper frets, giving you a thin enough field for speedy solos but maintaining enough space for gripping chords with ease.
Last of the similarities, it looks pretty much exactly like any name-brand Les Paul, save for having an Epiphone logo rather than the Gibson.
The differences are harder to spot, but of course they exist.
Least obvious is that Epiphones are machine-made, without any of the finesse that comes with Gibson’s hand-binding or other attention to detail.
Next, you’ll notice that the tuning machines are definitely not the greatest. They hold well enough to not be annoying, but you will have to retune a little every few songs.
Lastly, Gibson’s use top-of-the-line humbuckers, whereas Epiphone uses their house brand. Of course, this changes the tone a lot, but the Epiphone Zebra pickups in the Les Paul Studio LT are perfect for practicing, and might even suffice for playing small shows. No doubt, I’d play at least an open mic with this guitar.
It’s got a thick tone with great sustain and a well-pronounced low to midrange. The highs are fine, but don’t exactly scream like they would if the pickups were higher quality.
All in all, I think this is a great guitar for the price, and if you were to upgrade the tuning machines and pickups, you could have an almost professional grade instrument in the Epiphone Les Paul Studio LT. Looking for a hollow body electric? Epiphone has a great guitar you can read about in our hollow body review.
Buyer’s Guide – Choosing The Best Electric Guitar Under 300
Who Should Buy a Guitar in this Price Range?
I would consider this price range to be mostly for beginner players. It is, as a matter of fact, the best price range for beginners.
At less than under $300, guitars will start to have some annoying problems. Think sharp fret edges, bad tuning and intonation, wiring issues, and poor playability. However, there are a few good choices at under $200, and we’ve outlined them for you here.
Between $200 and $300, you start to see electric guitars that are made with a decent standard of quality. They’re perfect for learning and practicing, and you can really start to master your hobby on these instruments.
Intermediate players who already own an electric probably won’t find much of an upgrade in this price range. Sure, if you’re playing a FirstAct electric, each guitar on this list can blow that out of the water. But, if you already know how to play pretty well and are looking to take your trade to the next level, I’d recommend spending a little more. We wrote about the best electric guitars under $500 that might be perfect for you.
Professionals already know that these aren’t meant for them, and I don’t need to say much more about it. Unless you’ve got the money to blow and are looking for a guitar to smash on stage, none of these electrics are really worth the time of an expert musician.
Are Electric Guitars Under $300 Good?
Good is subjective, and it depends on who you ask.
Fancy guitar connoisseurs will probably tell you no, that these guitars are substandard.
I like to take a more realistic approach, and consider the pros and cons of each model and who is most likely to buy a guitar in this range.
Overall, these are “good” guitars, or else they wouldn’t have made it to our list of the best electrics under $300. They play great, look good, and sound good enough to please amateur to intermediate player.
However, they’re not good in the sense that I wouldn’t play any serious show with them. The pickups just can’t cut it, and you’ll sound unprofessional in any kind of real-world performance.
So in short, they are not only good, but great for beginners, but they are not good guitars for anyone wanting to do professional performing or recording.
What are Electrics Under $300 Good For?
Genre-wise, I’ve got a guitar in this list that you can use in any genre.
The best for metal is definitely the Ibanez. Its super fast Wizard III neck and dual Quantum humbuckers give you the speed and low-end power you need for the heaviest music genres.
After that one, the other electric guitars reviewed here are pretty versatile and can be played in, I’d say, every genre. I recommend the Squier Telecaster for things like country, pop, and soft punk, the Yamaha Pacifica for most rock genres, funk, and jazz, and the Epiphone Les Paul for all rock genres, blues, and most other styles.
Can Electric Guitars Under $300 Be Upgraded?
This is a big yes from me. Not only can they be, but I’d recommend it.
The bones, so to speak, of electric guitars under $300 are usually great, and barely differ from guitars costing several hundred more.
It’s the hardware and electronics in these guitars that keep them at a low price, and these are parts that are relatively easy and fun to upgrade.
As an entry-level guitarist, you might not want to buy your first electric and immediately rip out its pickups, but after you’ve played for a while and your interest in electric guitars has grown, changing out your pickups for something with more power and precision can be a great project.
My first ever DIY guitar upgrade was upgrading the tuning machines on my Yamaha bass. It was a bit stressful, but after it was done, I felt like a champion. In some of these guitars, the tuning machines can definitely use a boost, so if you feel handy and want to make the guitar feel more like it’s yours, I highly recommend giving this a go. This article from Wired Guitarist will walk you through it step-by-step.
The Final Word
The under $300 range has more guitars than I can count, some of them great like the ones I’ve reviewed here, and some of them total trash.
Before you make any multi-hundred dollar decision, I think you should do a lot of research and soul-searching to find out what exactly it is that you want and need from a guitar.
Any that you choose from this list will do you good, and if one of them calls your name, I don’t think you can go wrong.
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