Top-Rated Electric Guitars Under $500 – List & Reviews

Top-Rated Electric Guitars Under $500 – List & Reviews

Have you been learning the basics of shreddability on a $100 First Act and are looking to step up your game? Or perhaps you’re a novice or entry-level musician looking for your first electric guitar? Or maybe yet you’re an experienced acoustic player looking to break into the world of electric-driven axes?

Whatever brings you to this list of the best electric guitars under $500, I’ve chosen a great arsenal for you to admire.

These electric guitars under $500 offer a serious amount of quality and playability while boasting a moderate price tag that shouldn’t leave your savings more sore than your over-practiced fingertips. They’re stage-ready rockers that will set you up for years of practice and performance.

Our Recommendation

At this price point, it’s really a toss-up between a few different guitars that I absolutely love. I’ve awarded the top spot to the signature style guitar of my favorite guitarist, Steve Vai.

The Ibanez JEMJR is the budget edition of the iconic JEM series by Ibanez, featuring a super fast Wizard III neck, beautiful tree of life inlays, and the monkey grip handle that sets these guitars apart.

It’s super shreddable and can make even a beginner look like a rock legend. We’ve talked about it before here, and as you can tell, I’m still a huge fan.

On the other end of the list we’ve got the Epiphone G-400 Pro, an affordable Gibson remake in the style of an SG. It’s got all the features of a great electric under $500, but I’m always a bit weary of Epiphone’s internal wiring quality, which lands this axe the #7 spot. Still a good guitar, but lacking the resilience needed to kick it farther up the list.

Now, let’s take a look at what makes these the seven best electric guitars for under $500.

The Seven Best Electric Guitars Under $500 – Overview

#7 Epiphone G-400 Pro Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Mahogany
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Pau ferro
  • Electronics – Dual Alnico Classic PRO humbuckers

Pros

  • An affordable SG model
  • Crunch, sustain, and classic looks
  • SlimTaper “D” neck adds speed and chording power

Cons

  • Pickup wiring can become loose after heavy bumps and bangs
  • Muddy tone doesn’t facilitate the cleanest sounds

Review

If you’re a fan of traditional Gibson models but don’t want to sell your first-born child to afford your hobby, Epiphone’s got your back. They’re a child-company of Gibson, and churn out a plethora of great guitars modeled after the most iconic axes in rock’n’roll history.

The G-400 Pro is a modern replication of the 1960s Gibson SG, beginning production in the 80s and updated every few years to keep it relevant in the modern age.

Epiphone has kept all the major components of the vintage Gibson, including a mahogany body and a fast and fun 1960s-style SlimTaper “D” neck while manufacturing these guitars using cutting edge efficiency that keeps them at an affordable price.

The G-400 Pro really rocks. It’s a powerhouse of tone and sustain, perfect for all genres of rock, most metal, and gritty blues. Its vintage-style dual Alnico humbuckers don’t really have the purity of tone that you need for sultry jazz or super-clean chorus work, but if your aim is to rock, it can no doubt hold its own.

I mention in about every Epiphone review that their wire-work is a bit shoddy. If they took the time to ensure their wiring was more stable, this would be an almost flawless guitar, but the extra production hours would certainly kick the price up a couple hundred dollars.

So, I’m satisfied with the balance, and know that if the pickups ever start getting some hiss and crackle, a quick trip to the guitar tech can solve the issue for still a lot less money than a brand-name Gibson.

#6 ESP LTD KH-202, Signature Series Kirk Hammett Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Basswood
  • Neck – Maple
  • Fingerboard – Roasted Jatoba
  • Electronics – Neck: ESP designed LH-301N humbucker Bridge: ESP designed LH-301B humbucker

Pros

  • Floyd Rose Special whammy bar bridge for tremendous squeals
  • Metallica’s Kirk Hammett’s signature guitar at a price you can’t beat
  • Ultra-thin U-shaped neck for playing at ultrasonic speed

Cons

  • Lacks individual tone knobs for the pickups

Review

Kirk Hammett is one of the biggest names in rock and metal. He partnered with ESP to produce this signature shred-machine which is now offered to you at a price tag that won’t make your bank account… fade to black.

At first look, this axe from ESP seems like a pretty standard electric guitar, but get a little closer and you’ll notice it has quite a few traits that set it apart.

Purely ornamental but cool nonetheless are the skull and crossbone fret inlays, adding to this guitar’s overall made-to-metal vibe.

It has dual ESP designed LH-301 humbuckers set in a lightweight basswood body, producing a sick sound perfect for everything heavy metal, from Metallica covers to new-age drop tuned breakdowns.

With the Floyd Rose Special bridge and whammy bar, you can do steep dive bombs and squealing harmonics without worrying about your tuning being shattered, and can wail to your heart’s content without stressing too much about mid-performance string snaps.

Although it has a three-way pickup selector switch, I always prefer total tone control, and unfortunately this ESP KH-202 lacks individual pickup tone knobs. However, it’s master tone control is good enough for most general purposes, and of course when you plug into a good amp you can dial in your sound to perfection.

Want to learn to play with Kirk Hammett speed? We wrote this how to guide to improve your performance with actionable tips.

#5 PRS SE Standard 24 Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Mahogany
  • Neck – Maple
  • Fingerboard – Rosewood
  • Electronics – Dual 85/15 “S” humbuckers

Pros

  • Push/Pull coil-tapping tone control for versatile pickup configurations
  • PRS tremolo bar gives you added opportunities for defining your sound
  • Mahogany + maple tonewood combo for crunchy overdrive to crisp, clean chords

Cons

  • Can use a tuning machine upgrade
  • PRS tremolo system not the best for tuning stability

Review

This PRS SE Standard 24 is the first guitar on this list that can perform in a clean setting just as well as a hair metal showdown.

I’m a big fan of coil-tapping mechanisms, since they allow you to experience both the fat power of dual humbuckers as well as the clarity of single-coil pickups, all with just the push or pull of a knob.

Thanks to this, the SE Standard 24 is capable of performing in nearly any electric guitar genre.

You can go with the default humbucker setup to grind out distorted progressions and deeply overdriven leads, throwing in some wacky whammy work as you please, or you can tap the pickups into single-coil mode for clean jazz, clear chords, and sultry solos in any softer music style.

Cosmetically, PRS guitars are always beautiful, the SE Standard 24 being no exception. It’s available in Tobacco Sunburst, Translucent Blue, and Vintage Cherry finishes, and all feature the signature PRS bird fret inlays.

Costing much less than most other PRS guitars but offering comparable tone and playability, the SE Standard 24 is a great choice for a first electric guitar or an upgrade from your current setup.

#4 ESP LTD EC-256FM Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Mahogany with Flamed Maple top
  • Neck – Mahogany
  • Fingerboard – Roasted jatoba
  • Electronics – Neck: ESP designed LH-150N humbucker Bridge: ESP designed LH-150B humbucker

Pros

  • Huge sustain in every range
  • Push-pull coil tapping feature for clean or dirty tones
  • Thin U-shaped neck for high-speed riffs and licks

Cons

  • No tremolo bar

Review

Another ESP making this list, the LTD EC-256FM is a fantastic instrument for all electric-driven music styles.

Like the PRS above, it features a push-pull coil tapping setup to give you a huge range of tones, from super crunchy rock riffs to a bright and articulate single-coil sound that can make angels weep.

It has a heavy-duty mahogany body with a beautiful flamed maple top that produces a large and robust voice that can not go unnoticed. Thanks to its set-in mahogany neck, you get sustain for days whether you’re in the midst of a low end quarter-time sludge breakdown or a wailing 22nd fret soulful solo.

The LTD EC-256FM’s pickups are upgraded a few notches above the KH-202 with dual LH-150 humbuckers that send forth a solid wall of sound.

It’s a beautiful guitar, with ESP flag fret inlays and finish options ranging from Cobalt Blue, to Dark Brown Sunburst, to my personal favorite, See Thru Purple Sunburst.

The only thing lacking in this axe is a whammy bar, which is unfortunate but can be overlooked considering all its other great aspects.

#3 Yamaha RevStar RS420 Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Nato with maple top
  • Neck – Nato
  • Fingerboard – Rosewood
  • Electronics – Dual VH3 Alnico V humbuckers

Pros

  • Power-packed tone in the mid and high ranges
  • Push-pull “Dry switch” for buzz-free single-coil mode
  • Slim neck profile for all-day playing comfort

Cons

  • No tremolo bar
  • Lags a little in the low range

Review

Yamaha’s RevStar lineup is rather unconventionally based on vintage-style street racing motorcycles. It’s not exactly surprising considering that Yamaha is a world-renowned producer of such bikes, but it’s the first guitar I’ve ever heard of to be based on such a concept.

Whatever the inspiration, the RevStar RS420 is a super cool looking electric that sports a few features bringing it close to the top of the list of the best electric guitars under $500.

Among these features is a thoroughly researched Push-Pull “Dry switch.” This mechanism comes after over 50 different design prototypes, and is there to give you the option to switch from double-coil to single-coil playing mode without the worrisome buzz that so often accompanies single-coil pickups.  You can read more about the Yamaha dry switch here.

When you want to play clean, or lighten up your dirty tone a bit for more alt-rock or pop punk style progressions, this dry switch is a dream come true.

Although nato is not a favorite wood among guitar manufacturers, it performs just about as well as the more traditional body woods while keeping costs low. The only problem in the RS420’s construction is that the nato doesn’t boast as thick a low-end tone as guitars with solid mahogany bodies.

Nonetheless, the RevStar RS420 is a great offering from a company whose quality is never a letdown, and can be used in pretty much every genre excepting the grimiest of metals that require the utmost of bass in the breakdowns.

#2 Fender Duo-Sonic Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Alder
  • Neck – Maple
  • Fingerboard – Maple
  • Electronics – Dual Duo-Sonic single coil pickups

Pros

Pros

  • Crisp Fender tone at an affordable price point
  • Vintage, comfortable body shape
  • Originally marketed as a beginner guitar due to smaller body shape, made famous by guitar greats

Cons

  • No individual tone controls

Review

The Duo-Sonic was initially released in 1956, marketed as a starter guitar and billed as a “3/4-size Fender.” However, it was quickly picked up by several great guitarists and rose to prominence over the next couple decades as a workhorse of a Fender. Curious? Fender has a great article all about the Duo-Sonic’s history

It has been seen in the hands of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, Blur’s Damon Alburn, and believe it or not, Jimi Hendrix.

I won’t mislead you and say that the Fender Duo-Sonic is capable of everything. For the heaviest rock genres, its single-coil pickups and bright-singing tonewood combo isn’t going to give you the crunch you need. But if you’re looking to play a style where distortion and grind isn’t the key factor, the Duo-Sonic delivers the signature sound that has kept Fender among the top brands of electric guitar since their inception.

It has a “C” shaped neck profile, perfect for long-lasting chord work and funky riffage. Its alder + maple tonewood combo produces bright, crisp, cheery tones that are great for jazz, pop, funk, blues, and the lighter rock genres.

When I pick up an electric, generally I’m looking for a fat metal tone and immediately jump into a drop tuning for in-your-face breakdowns, but I had a great time playing the Duo-Sonic and thought that it delivered a tone I could be happy with for ages.

#1 Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature Check On Amazon >>

Specs

  • Body – Meranti
  • Neck – Maple
  • Fingerboard – Jatoba
  • Electronics – Neck: Quantum passive ceramic humbucker  Middle: Quantum passive Alnico single-coil  Bridge: Quantum passive ceramic humbucker

Pros

  • 5-way pickup selector switch and 3 pickups for tonal versatility
  • Double-locking tremolo bridge so you can whammy all night long
  • Wizard III neck design for the fastest riffs you can imagine

Cons

  • None

Review

Finally, we’ve come to my #1 recommendation, the signature JEMJR signature guitar of my favorite guitarist, Steve Vai.

The JEMJR is the affordable version of Ibanez’s main Steve Vai lineup, the renowned JEM series. A few simple substitution were all it took to bring this line from over $1000 to the under $500 range we’re looking at now, such as meranti instead of alder for the body wood, jatoba in lieu of an ebony fingerboard, and Quantum pickups rather than the top-of-the-line DiMarzios.

These substitutions sacrifice very little in terms of tone as far as the average player is concerned. You might hesitate to play the jam-packed auditoriums that Steve Vai is accustomed to, but for smaller shows where your multi-million dollar reputation isn’t on the line, the JEMJR has everything you need for a rock solid performance.

I’m by no means a guitar god, but the simple act of picking up the JEMJR imbues me with loads more of playing confidence, and I can’t help but try my best to rip out some lightning fast arpeggios the moment I plug it in.

Its tone is no joke, with three powerful Quantum pickups that are super hot, highly articulate, and let every note sing loud and clear no matter the range or distortion level.

This guitar won’t instantly transform you into a rock legend, but it can sure start you down the path of mastering the electric guitar. Couple the JEMJR and our how to solo guide, and you’ll be on your way to feeling like a rock god yourself in no time.

Buyer’s Guide

Is it Worth Buying a Guitar for Under $500?

Without a doubt! Electric guitars under $500 come totally packed with features, and are 100% worthy of performances big and small.

You’ll find the tone of guitars in this price range to be on par with electrics costing up to twice as much, although the pickups in the higher end guitars are generally a lot more versatile and a lot more articulate.

As far as playability goes, there’s virtually no difference between an electric for under $500 and one for over $1000. These under $500 electric guitars have all the construction features of the more expensive guitars and are as fun and easy to play as a guitar can be.

Who Should Buy a Guitar in this Range?

Electric guitars under $500 are perfect for just about every skill level, but I’d probably recommend something on the higher-end for guitarists that are looking to play sold-out auditoriums

Beginners who’ve never played guitar before will find that they’ve bought an instrument that sounds better than they might expect and that are totally without the faults you can find in lower priced guitars. However, if there’s a chance that you might pick up this hobby for only a short while, never to return, I would suggest you test your skills with a more affordable option. We’ve reviewed several great electric guitars for under $200 if this is more where your budget and aspirations sit.

Intermediate players of course will love an electric guitar at this price point. They’re truly quality instruments with only minor differences between them and the most extravagant models. For just about everything you could need a guitar for, electrics under $500 will meet your demands.

Advanced and expert players who want to add another guitar to their collection will have no problem with most of these models, but depending on budget might want to look for something with better pickups or something specifically suited to their musical desires.

Another bonus and reason to buy a guitar at this price point is that they are perfect for upgrading. We’ll look at this a little closer right now.

Can Guitars Under $500 Be Upgraded?

These are perhaps the best electric guitars for upgrading. Depending on what you buy and what you want to change, they make excellent project instruments.

Guitars a couple hundred dollars below this range oftentimes have cheap bodies that for the most part aren’t worth upgrading, because if you’re starting from such a budget base, the money would be better invested in saving for a new guitar.

However, the guitars in this list are built with great care and quality, and usually only have one thing setting them apart from higher-priced models: the pickups.

If you want to start to learn to wire an electric guitar and otherwise fix flaws that you find in budget instruments, this is a great place to start. With a little know-how and extra money invested, you can take an under $500 guitar to a totally custom built axe with no problem.

Changing the pickups is a great way to boost your tone, and if you have a bolt on neck, this too can be swapped for an upgrade.

Another thing to change could be the bridge, swapping tremolo systems or adding one in the first place.

Of course, tuning machines are a simple, easy replacement job, but for the most part the guitars in this list have perfectly dependable tuners.

In the end, you can choose to upgrade or not. As long as you know what you’re doing, there can be only positive things to come from installing better pickups or giving yourself a new funky whammy bar.

The Final Word

We’ve explored a lot of great options in this list, with guitars suitable for every genre of electrified music.

The Fender Duo-Sonic is the clear winner for softer rock styles and clean guitar work, while the Ibanez JEMJR can do it all.

It was a challenge sorting guitars #3 through #6, as they’re all pretty much equally rock-worthy. Mostly, this part of the ranking was arbitrary, and you can trust that you won’t regret your choice among any of the guitars in this review.

Take the time to think about what direction you want to take your music, and what you really want in an electric guitar. These are the best electric guitars under $500, and I’m sure there’s one on this list for you.

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