Best Cheap Electric Guitar: Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Though it's not the "cheapest" the Epiphone Les Paul Standard is still firmly in the budget electric guitar category, yet brings with a positive and realistic playing experience that will motivate - as opposed to discourage - the beginner who wants a taste of the real thing.
The best cheap electric guitars shouldn't just fit your budget (although it should at least do that). It should fit your style, musical interests, and your wants.
It bothers me how a lot of people looking for an economy guitar end up with garbage.
Garbage is not fun to play.
It ruins the experience of the player and, in many cases, discourages interest in the instrument itself. Especially in regards to something like the electric guitar - where pride of ownership and the window-shopping factor are both really high - it's important to get an instrument you actually like.
As a consequence, buyers seeking the best cheap electric guitars should consider the following:
- An established budget
- A musical niche
- A musical genre of interest
- Aesthetic preferences
- Build and sound quality
In other words, we might get something cheap, but we won't get something "cheap." We get a guitar we can afford, that we'll enjoy playing, and that will last us beyond just the first few years we put up with having to play it.
When I was 15 my guitar teacher and my Dad spent a fair amount of time helping me pick out my first "real" guitar. Back then it was the old version of the PRS SE Santana, the black one. At the time of writing this, I'm 32 and still have that guitar, having put several hundred dollars into upgrading it, and it's still one of my go-to options.
In this article, I'll go over absolutely everything there is to consider when shopping for cheap electric guitars so that you can have a similar story.
We'll look at the following:
- Basic properties and features of an electric guitar
- Different price ranges
- What features to look for in which price ranges
- Which brands to target
- Strengths and weaknesses of specific options
Let's get started.
For those that want a quicker answer, here are the cheap electric guitars that I most often recommend, and that were part of this article when it was originally published:
Best Cheap Electric Guitars: Top Picks
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Epiphone Les Paul Starter Package
Epiphone Les Paul Special II
Squier Short Scale Stratocaster with Fender Amp
Epiphone SG Special
Squier Affinity Telecaster
Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar
Oscar Schmidt OE20TS Electric Guitar
Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster
Electric Guitar Buying Considerations (the basics)
When buying an electric guitar you have several basic features to consider. I recommend understanding those basics ahead of time so you know the terminology when you see it and you know what types of electric guitars you're looking at and why they might be priced a certain way.
We'll start with broader concepts and work our way into more specifics.
Solid Body VS Semi-Hollow Body
The most broad category of electric guitar is solid body and hollow body or semi-hollow body.
This is the first decision you'll have to make when it comes to getting one, cheap or not:
- Solid body
- Hollow or semi-hollow body
What's the difference?
Solid body guitars are made of a single, solid piece of wood without any hollowed out elements.
Semi-hollow or hollow body guitars often use a somewhat larger body design and are partially or completely hollowed out. They're more of a cross between an acoustic and electric guitar.
While the tone and purpose of each type of guitar varies quite broadly, solid body guitars are typically used for heavier styles, having a punchier, more "purely electric" tone. Hollow body guitars - on the other hand - are used for lighter, more airy sounds and lower intensity music genres.
Jazz and light blues are styles where hollow body electrics are commonly used.
Which one is Cheaper?
In terms of cost hollow body guitars are typically more expensive. This is partially because of the prestige factor, but also because it's just more work to add chambers and hollow out the body.
If you're just looking for the cheaper of the two options, I'd say the solid body electric is an easy place to camp.
Another thing you'll want to consider when buying an electric guitar is pickup configuration. This relates to the type, number, and arrangement of pickups on your electric guitar.
Just to be clear, these are pickups:
To understand pickup configurations, you need to understand the two basic types of pickups:
- Humbuckers: The big rectangle-shaped pickups
- Single Coils: Thin rail-like pickups
Between these two types of pickups we get the following pickup configurations, where "H" stands for humbucker and "S" stands for single coil:
- SSS (three single coils)
- HH (two humbuckers)
Most of the electric guitars you can buy, cheap or otherwise, will employ one of these pickup configurations.
What's the difference between each one?
The differences between each configuration depends on a lot of other variables. Generally speaking humbuckers are heavier, thicker, and more often used for modern styles, while single coils are bluesier, more melodic, and often used for more vintage styles.
It doesn't have a ton of bearing in terms of which electric guitar might be cheaper, but it is something you should consider as a potential buyer.
Guitar Body Material (Tonewood)
Though it's not the most exciting thing in the world to research, tonewood - the type of wood used in your guitar - has a say in the final price tag, as it's one of the more significant costs incurred by the guitar's manufacturer.
In a lot of cases, the price of an electric guitar will closely follow the price of the wood used in the body and neck.
This tonewood also has a significant impact on the overall sound quality.
Here's a quick rundown of the different types you'll see:
- Swamp Ash
I won't get into the nuanced quality and tone differences of each one. Just know that Mahogany, Maple, Rosewood, and Swamp Ash are some of the more common types you'll see. The grade of wood used (which is often not listed by manufacturers) will also have an impact on the quality of the instrument.
Three Basic Guitar Body Types
The body type of your electric guitar is going to be closely tied to the brand, which is going to say a lot about the price. Thus, I think it's helpful to do a rundown of the typical body styles you have to choose from before you start looking at how to keep the price down.
While there are a ton of different physical shapes of guitars, there are surprisingly few body types that have been able to stick over the years.
Let's look at a few of the most common electric guitar examples:
The Stratocaster Body Type
The original Leo Fender design is still one of the most common and is easily found in the cheaper price ranges, primarily from Fender, but it has been copied by a slew of other manufacturers as well.
- Fender: $300 - $700
- Squier : $50 - $300
- Ibanez: $200 - $400
The Telecaster Body Type
Like the Strat design, the Telecaster or "Tele" body design is widely circulated in fairly cheap forms.
- Fender: $300 - $700
- Squier: $100 - $400
The Les Paul Body Type
Though Gibson guitars are almost never budget friendly (if you can get them at all anymore), Epiphone and a number of other smaller companies make versions of this body style that are fairly cheap and affordable.
- Epiphone: $200 - $800
Together, these three body types form the basis for nearly all other styles and forms of the the electric guitar shape.
For example, take a look at this graphic of a Fender Stratocaster style guitar:
Now, look at this similar graphic, but for a PRS solid body electric guitar:
While the shape is somewhat different, the PRS body design is still based on the Stratocaster body type.
Deciding which body type you want is mostly a matter of style and preference, but it will say a lot about what brands of guitar you target, and what price points you have to work with inside of those brands.
We can now break down common brands, which will help us more narrowly break down price and find the cheapest options.
Electric Guitar Pricing by Brand
Thus far we've look at solid VS hollow body, pickup configuration, and body shape and design. These are three of the high-level decisions you'll need to make when buying an electric guitar, regardless of price.
You'll need to decide:
- Do I want a solid or hollow-body electric?
- What type of pickup configuration do I want?
- What body style do I want?
If you don't make these calls up front, you can sort out each question as you browse through brands.
Understanding Electric Guitar Brands and Pricing
You can't really understand the cost and value of an electric guitar without first understanding the brands and the landscape they've created.
Keep in mind that all brands will have different levels of pricing within their own company.
Most of the PRS electric guitars are priced high, though the PRS SE series is what's called an "economy" line, which means they are manufactured differently and are much cheaper than other PRS models.
Other companies like Fender have an even wider range of pricing, with Custom Shop models reaching into the $2000 and $3000 range, and Standard models down near $400.
Another strategy companies will use is to have an off-brand or eco-brand of guitar, like Fender does with their Squier lineup. Another example would be the Sterling electric guitars, which are a subsidiary of Ernie Ball, or Epiphone which is primarily an economy line of the more expensive Gibson electric guitars.
Here's a quick list of well-known economy brands:
It's far more common for companies to use models within the same brand name in order to provide a cheaper version of a more expensive guitar. The "all-economy" brands are somewhat rare.
Brand Pricing Tiers
But even while you have variance in quality within brands you can still group brands into general pricing tiers based on their primary market. I like to break these brands down into three simple pricing tiers.
I'll make a list of brands that fall into each tier.
Electric Guitar Brands In the High Price Range
Typically this price range will be $1000 and higher.
- PRS (models made in the United States)
- Fender Custom Shop Models
- Ernie Ball Music Man
Electric Guitar Brands in the Middle Price Range
The middle price range would be from around $400 to just under $1000.
- PRS SE models
- Fender Standard Models
- Gretsch Streamliners
- ESP LTD
- Schecter Guitar Research
Electric Guitar Brands in the Low Price Range
I would consider anything under $400 a cheap electric guitar or in the "low" price range.
- Epiphone (lower series)
- Ibanez (lower series)
Now, if we take all of the approximate price ranges for each brand and put them into an Excel chart, we can build visual representation of what we'd consider a cheap electric guitar.
Here's how I set it up:
I've highlighted the price range running from $300 to just under $700 because I believe that's where you get the most value.
Now of course these are average or approximate prices that I'm giving to each brand. Yet, it can help us see which brands we should be targeting since we're trying to get a cheap electric guitar that still has a lot of good qualities.
The brands highlighted in green will get you the low retail price tag but also a decent instrument that isn't total junk.
To summarize, I'm advising you to target the following brand names:
- PRS (SE Models)
- ESP LTD
To start filtering using this information it's best to go to Amazon and search for "Electric Guitar." To save you some time, I've pre-populated the search for you through this Amazon link.
Next, look in the left menu. Under "Department" click on "Electric Guitars:"
Then, in the same sidebar - under the "Brands" section - check the box for all of the brands we mentioned above.
It should look like this:
Now, this is going to drop a ton of different guitars from these brands into your results.
To get you into the "cheap" categories we've established, grab the price range from the above Excel graph, $300 to $670:
This gets rid of everything that doesn't fit our brand and price preference and also filters out a lot of the Amazon kit deals and amp packages.
By browsing through electric guitars this way (whether you use Amazon or not), we can isolate the best cheap electric guitars for easier browsing with an established price range.
In this next section, I'll go through several of these brands and highlight the top cheap electric guitars within each brand.
We'll start with Fender and work our way down:
Cheap Fender Electric Guitars
Now that we've covered a lot of the basic features and what you can expect from a pricing perspective, I want to highlight some of the cheap electric guitars within brands that I would recommend.
I'll also group these recommendations into pricing sub-categories.
Where applicable we'll do $450 to $670 and $300 to $450 categories.
Fender Recommendations Between $450 and $670
Cheap Squier Electric Guitars
Remember, Squiers are not equal to the Fender name.
It's an "economy" brand, which means they're made to be cheaper and are manufactured differently than the real Fender guitars.
Yet, they're great beginner guitars and - for what you pay - provide a decent level of quality and playability. I know a lot of people that have had a really positive experience with Squier electrics and continue to use them even as they progress past the beginner stages of guitar playing.
Here's what I would recommend:
Squier Recommendations Between $300 and $450
Cheap Epiphone Electric Guitars
Though owned by Gibson since the late 1950s, Epiphone has grown into a brand of its own, known for more than simply providing economical versions of more expensive Gibson guitars.
Their lineup spans a wide price range, so I'll break them up into two sections, cheap and cheaper.
Epiphone Recommendations Between $450 and $670
Epiphone Recommendations Between $300 and $450
Cheap PRS Electric Guitars
As I mentioned earlier, PRS guitars can be broken up into two primary categories:
- The SE models
- Everything else
Most PRS guitars are made in Maryland and are very expensive (over $3000 in many cases). But, the SE models are manufactured in South Korea and are far cheaper than the ones made in the United States.
All the electric guitars we'll list for this brand are from that SE series and are around the $600 price point.
They're still not the cheapest, but their value exceptionally high.
PRS Recommendations Between $450 and $670
Cheap ESP LTD Electric Guitars
ESP makes a modern electric guitar, within a fairly wide pricing range. Though they have a lot of models that fall into our established salary caps, while some are even under $200.
While I wouldn't recommend them for classic rock, blues, or softer playing styles, they're a great fit for those that like heavy distortion, metal, or are just more into the modern musical genres.
ESP Recommendations Between $450 and $670
ESP Recommendations Between $200 and $450
Cheap Schecter Electric Guitars
Schecter plays to a crowd similar to ESP LTD.
It's a modern brand with a lot of low to mid-range pricing options and plenty that we could consider high value, based on the quality standards they're able to meet. They haven't done any original body designs in favor of using other well-known body shapes.
Still, they're a solid brand with some good options in the middle pricing ranges.
Spending $400-$500 on a Schecter guitar is usually pretty good value.
I'll highlight a few of my favorites.
Schecter Recommendations Between $450 and $670
Other Budget Options Under $300
I know that a lot of what has been covered here might not be considered cheap electric guitars by other standards. But, what we've tried to do is get you an electric guitar at a good price without sacrificing too much quality.
Once you get under the $300 price point, quality is fairly scarce.
There are a handful of recommendations we can make for those that must be in the lowest possible price range.
1. Epiphone Les Paul Starter Package
This starter kit comes with everything you need, including a 10-watt amp (perfect volume for bedroom jamming) guitar cable, picks and even an Epiphone branded strap. The body style of the guitar is a classic Les Paul shape, which Epiphone is known to do a great job of replicating. While it isn't necessarily a pro-level or long-term solution, it's a great starter set for beginners.
- 10-watt amp included
- Guitar is a Les Paul body design
- Dual Humbucker configuration with tone and volume control
- Cable, picks and strap included
- Great price point includes everything to get you started
2. Epiphone Les Paul Special II
If you don't need the extras included in the starter package, you can grab just the Epiphone Les Paul Special guitar and knock a few bucks off an already rock-bottom price tag. This is the same guitar that's in the starter package, though with a few more color options, including the sunburst design pictured here. Also note the body is made of Mahogany, which is not a cheap tonewood and often found in much nicer electric models.
- Dual humbuckers with tone and volume controls
- Sunburst finish
- Mahogany wood used in the guitar's body
3. Squier [Short Scale] Stratocaster Starter Package
This starter package comes with a guitar that is scaled shorter than a normal-sized neck and body, making it much easier for younger kids and even children to handle. For kids in the age range of five to eight years, this model is going to be easier to handle and play. It also comes with everything they need to get started, including a strap, cable, Squier Frontman amp, tuner and even some guitar picks.
- Short scale is perfect for kids
- Squier design looks and feels similar to Fender Stratocasters
- Comes with everything necessary to pick up and play
4. Epiphone SG Special
The Epiphone SG Special is similar to the Les Paul Special I mentioned earlier, with a dual humbucker (two pickups) setup and a body composed of both Maple and Alder tonewood. This was actually one of the first guitars my parents bought me when I was 10 years old and had first started playing (I remember it was a deep forest green color). Again, the retail price makes it a low-risk purchase, ideal for beginners or even novice players who want to try the SG design.
- Alder and Maple Tonewood Combination
- Dual Epiphone Humbucker Setup
- Tone and Volume Controls
- Great price point
5. Squier Affinity Telecaster
This particular model is one of my favorite Squier options, just because it looks great and does an excellent job of giving you the feel of a much nicer instrument. The Affinity Telecasters are a solid mid-range beginner guitar, as they're scaled to a normal size and have the classic tube and bridge Telecaster pickup design. The Maple fretboard (the lighter colored wood used in the neck) is a nice touch as well.
- Looks exactly like the real deal Fender Telecasters
- Classic Telecaster pickup configuration
- Maple fretboard
- Overall aesthetics get high remarks
6. Oscar Schmidt OE20TS
Though Oscar Schmidt is a lesser-known brand name, their Les Paul mimic is a fantastic looking guitar that also plays really well. I got some time with the OE20TS down at a pawn shop near where I live, and the sound it produces is surprisingly good, especially given the sub-$200 price tag. Everything about this guitar, right down to the white pickguard, looks like an honest Gibson Les Paul. It's a great beginners option for those who like the Les Paul look and design but want to avoid the associated cost.
- Looks fantastic
- Every detail is true to classic Les Paul form
- Sounds and plays better than the price tag would indicate
Finding a cheap electric guitar is about finding quality at a price you can live with.
It's not always a matter of just getting the lowest price.
What I've covered in this article should help you shop by price and features with an eye towards which brands are going to provide you with the most value. This way, you get a cheap electric guitar but you also get something with a decent amount of quality.
As a result:
You'll actually enjoy playing and won't be turned off by a poor quality instrument.
Your Questions and Thoughts
If you have questions about the electric guitars in this list or others I may not have mentioned, feel free to leave those in the comments section below, and I'll do my best to help out.