July 24, 2024
Buyer's Guide

Budget Brawlers: Electric Guitars Under $500 That Rock

Guitars hanging in a shop.

The world of electric guitars can be daunting, especially for aspiring musicians. Dream instruments adorned by rockstars often come with hefty price tags, leaving beginners wondering, “Can I find a quality electric guitar under $500?”  The answer is a resounding yes! This guide dives into some incredible electric guitars under $500 from the best electric guitar brands, each offering exceptional features, sound quality, and playability that defy their price tag.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned player looking for a reliable backup axe, these “budget brawlers” are ready to elevate your musical journey.

1. Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster (Best electric guitar under $500 for classic tones)

A timeless classic reborn, the Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Telecaster embodies the legendary Fender Tele sound in a budget-friendly package. Its lightweight ash body delivers a resonant foundation, while the comfortable C-shaped maple neck with a smooth satin finish allows for effortless fretting and developing finger strength. The iconic single-coil pickups are the heart and soul of this guitar, delivering a bright, twangy tone – perfect for clean tones, country riffs, and venturing into blues and rock territory.

The simplicity of the Tele’s controls – volume knob, tone knob, and three-way pickup selector – makes it a fantastic choice for beginners, offering an intuitive platform for learning the fundamentals of tone shaping. This guitar is a phenomenal choice for players seeking a versatile instrument steeped in musical heritage, making it one of the best electric guitars under $500 for classic sounds.

2. Yamaha Pacifica 112V (Best guitar under $500 for versatility)

Offering exceptional value for its price, the Yamaha Pacifica 112V is a well-rounded option for beginners seeking a modern playing experience. Its alder body provides a balanced tonal foundation, while the comfortable bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard offers smooth playability. The Pacifica 112V shines with its versatile pickup configuration – two single-coil pickups and a humbucker bridge pickup. This combination allows you to explore a wide range of tones, from sparkling cleans to roaring distortion.

The five-way selector switch facilitates seamless switching between different pickup configurations, allowing you to experiment and discover your sonic preferences. Additionally, the Pacifica 112V boasts a vibrato system (often referred to as a “whammy bar”) for adding expressive bends and divebombs to your playing. While vibrato systems can be intimidating for beginners, the Pacifica’s design makes it user-friendly and encourages exploration of this technique. With its versatility and features, the Yamaha Pacifica 112V makes a strong case for being the best guitar under $500 for beginners seeking a well-rounded learning experience.

A yellow electric guitar

3. Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90 (Best electric guitar under $500 for rock tones)

Dive into the world of iconic rock tones with the Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90. This stripped-down version of the legendary Les Paul features a stunning mahogany body with a comfortable slim-taper mahogany neck. The solid mahogany construction translates to a warm, rich tone, perfect for blues, rock, and even heavier styles.

Unlike its humbucker-equipped counterparts, the Les Paul Special I P90 features P-90 pickups, delivering a brighter, more articulate tone that sits well in a band mix and cuts through the noise. P-90s offer a nice middle ground between the warmth of humbuckers and the twang of single-coils, making them popular among rock and blues players.

The simplified control layout, featuring just two volume knobs and two-tone knobs, makes it easy for beginners to grasp the fundamentals of tone shaping. While the lack of a vibrato system might limit some sonic possibilities, the Les Paul Special I P90 rewards players with a focused, no-nonsense approach, allowing them to concentrate on core playing techniques. Its rock pedigree and warm tone make it a strong contender for the best electric guitar under $500 for aspiring rock players.

4. Gretsch G262T Streamliner Jr. Center Block (Best electric guitar under $500 for vintage aesthetics)

For guitarists seeking a distinctive aesthetic and a sound brimming with vintage character, the Gretsch G262T Streamliner Jr. Center Block emerges as a captivating option. This hollow-bodied beauty evokes the golden age of rockabilly and jazz, transporting you to a bygone era of slicked-back hair and driving rhythms. Its smaller size, compared to traditional Gretsch hollow-body guitars, makes it ideal for players with a smaller frame or those seeking a more lightweight and comfortable playing experience.

An Ibanez amp

The Gretsch’s charm starts with its construction. Unlike a traditional hollow-bodied guitar, the G262T Streamliner Jr. incorporates a strategically placed center block running the length of the body. This center block serves two crucial purposes. Firstly, it enhances the guitar’s sustain and feedback resistance. Hollow-bodied guitars are notorious for their susceptibility to feedback, especially at higher volumes. The center block effectively mitigates this issue, allowing you to crank up the gain without unwanted squeals and howl.

Secondly, the center block contributes to the guitar’s overall tonal profile. It adds a touch of warmth and body to the sound, complementing the inherent brightness and airiness of a hollow-bodied instrument.

Whether you’re strumming classic rockabilly rhythms, exploring jazz-inspired fingerpicking patterns, or venturing into blues territory, the Filter’Tron pickups provide a versatile sonic foundation for your musical explorations. The Gretsch G262T Streamliner Jr. Center Block is more than just a guitar; it’s a portal to a bygone era of musical expression. Its captivating aesthetic, comfortable playability, and versatile Gretsch Filter’Tron tone make it a compelling choice for guitarists seeking a unique and inspiring instrument and a strong contender for the best electric guitar under $500 for those seeking vintage aesthetics.

5. Squier Affinity Mustang HH (Best electric guitar under $500 for surf rock and alternative)

For players drawn to the infectious energy of surf rock and garage bands, the Squier Affinity Mustang HH offers a wave of sonic possibilities at an attractive price point. This short-scale Mustang, a smaller cousin of the iconic Fender Mustang, boasts a comfortable poplar body that’s perfect for younger players or those seeking a more lightweight instrument. Don’t underestimate its size, though – the Mustang packs a punch in terms of both sound and style.

The Mustang’s charm lies in its unique design. Its offset body shape, a hallmark of Fender’s alternative guitar lines, provides a comfortable playing experience for both right-handed and left-handed players. Its humbuckers deliver a hotter output compared to single-coils, providing a thicker and more aggressive tone that caters to modern musical styles. While purists might miss the classic Mustang chime, the HH configuration opens doors to exploring heavier genres like grunge and alternative rock, making this Mustang a versatile choice for the modern guitarist.

The Squier Affinity Mustang HH injects a dose of vintage cool, and modern functionality into the world of beginner guitars. Its comfortable size, unique aesthetics, and versatile HH configuration make it a compelling option for players seeking an instrument that’s as fun to play as it is visually striking, making it a strong contender for the best electric guitar under $500 for surf rock and alternative music enthusiasts.

6. Ibanez GRX20 (Best electric guitar under $500 for modern rock and metal)

For aspiring guitarists drawn to the world of indie rock, alternative, and even heavier genres, the Ibanez GRX20 emerges as a feature-packed option ready to fuel your creative fire. This sleek, modern guitar boasts a comfortable poplar body with sharp contours and a double-cutaway design, providing easy access to the higher frets for effortless lead playing. The bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard offers a familiar platform for beginners, while the slightly flatter neck profile (compared to a traditional C-shape) caters to players who prefer a faster playing experience.

A Marshall amplifier.

Ibanez equips the GRX20 with a pair of Infinity humbucking pickups. These Ibanez-designed pickups deliver a hot and aggressive tone, perfect for chunky rhythm work, soaring leads, and achieving that quintessential modern rock sound. The individual volume and tone knobs for each pickup, along with a five-way selector switch, offer a wide range of tonal possibilities.

You can switch between both humbuckers for a thick and powerful sound, split the coils for a brighter and more single-coil-like character, or select just one pickup for a focused and articulate tone. This level of control allows you to explore a variety of styles and personalize your sound.

Adding to the versatility of the GRX20 is the synchronized tremolo system, also known as a whammy bar. This system allows you to create expressive pitch bends, divebombs, and other vibrato effects, adding a dynamic element to your playing. The tremolo system on the GRX20 is designed for stability and ease of use, making it a great option for beginners who want to experiment with this technique without sacrificing tuning stability.

The comfortable design, versatile pickup configuration, and synchronized tremolo system make the Ibanez GRX20 a compelling choice for beginner guitarists seeking an instrument that can keep up with their evolving musical tastes and playing styles. With its features geared towards modern rock and metal, it becomes a strong contender for the best electric guitar under $500 for those players.

7. Jackson JS Series Dinky JS11

For aspiring shredders and metalheads on a budget, the Jackson JS Series Dinky JS11 emerges as a surprisingly strong contender. Don’t let its affordable price tag fool you – this Jackson axe packs a punch in terms of playability, sound, and the quintessential Jackson aesthetic.

The JS11 features a comfortable poplar body, a familiar choice for electric guitars due to its balanced tonal foundation and lightweight construction. Perfect for extended practice sessions or energetic stage performances, the poplar body won’t weigh you down. The bolt-on maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard offers a classic playing experience. The rosewood fingerboard provides a smooth and comfortable surface for fretting, while the maple neck adds a touch of brightness and snap to the overall tone.

The neck profile leans towards the “speed neck” category, featuring a slightly thinner profile than some traditional C-shaped necks. This allows for effortless string bending and rapid fretting maneuvers, ideal for shred techniques and fast passages.

Jackson equips the JS11 with an HSH pickup configuration, catering to a wide range of musical styles. The single-coil pickups in the middle and neck positions deliver a bright, articulate tone, perfect for clean passages, funky rhythm work, and even exploring blues territory. When you switch to the humbucker bridge pickup, the JS11 unleashes its inner beast.

The humbucker delivers a thick, high-output sound, perfect for heavy riffs, soaring leads, and achieving that signature Jackson distortion. The combination of these pickups provides a versatile sonic palette, allowing you to explore different genres and experiment with your sound.

Adding to the shred-ready persona of the JS11 is the synchronized tremolo system, also known as a whammy bar. This system allows you to create expressive pitch bends, divebombs, and other vibrato effects, adding a dynamic element to your playing. While beginners might need some practice to master the whammy bar and stay in tune, the JS11’s design makes it user-friendly and encourages exploration of this technique.

A closeup of a red guitar

The JS11’s hardware package rounds out the picture with die-cast tuners that offer smooth and reliable tuning adjustments, and standard strap buttons for secure attachment of your favorite guitar strap. All hardware comes in a sleek black finish, complementing the guitar’s overall aesthetic.

While the JS11 might not boast high-end woods and components, it prioritizes playability, affordability, and a taste of the Jackson shred legacy. It’s a fantastic option for beginner guitarists drawn to heavier styles of music, or for those seeking a comfortable and versatile instrument to hone their skills. With its shred-focused features, the Jackson JS Series Dinky JS11 becomes a strong contender for the best electric guitar under $500 for aspiring shredders.


The world of electric guitars under $500 is brimming with fantastic options for players of all skill levels and musical preferences. This list merely scratches the surface of the incredible instruments available. Remember, the most important factor is to choose a guitar that inspires you to pick it up and play. With a little research and some hands-on time trying different models, you’re sure to find the perfect “budget brawler” to fuel your musical journey! If you’re looking for acoustic guitars for beginners, you can also find recommendations for those with String Savvy Blog, along with content on the best accessories for guitar, the best online guitar lessons, and more.

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