If you’re looking for a quality guitar but don’t want to spend a fortune, now is a great time to look for an instrument. Many brands are building decent guitars these days for under £500. This gives musicians a huge range of quality instruments to choose from, without having to mortgage the house. In Part One of this series, we’re looking at guitars with traditional shapes in the price range 300-500 GBP. If that’s your budget, these should be on your radar.
Quality Budget Guitars
There’s an almost bewildering range of budget guitars available taste these days, catering for any taste and style. These include classic models like the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Les Paul, Explorer, Flying-V, Jazzmaster, Jaguar, SG and 335s.
In this round-up we’ve taken a look at the four most popular guitar shapes, the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul and SG, with two models in each category. And they’re all under £500!
When buying budget guitar you should look closely at the specifications and then take into account any upgrades that you may want to do in the future. Read the buyer reviews, too, to see what people that have bought that particular model have to say.
Probably THE classic among electric guitars, if not the first. If you see an electric guitar in film and television, it is very likely a Stratocaster. It has been manufactured by Fender since 1954 and is the best-selling guitar in the world.
Fender Squier CV 50 Stratocaster
Many will say: if you want a Strat, get a Fender one. The in-house subsidiary Squier offers Stratocaster models with original specs at lower prices. The Classic Vibe (CV) series is dedicated to instruments from past decades. It’s a high quality series, and some guitarists even prefer this series to a “real” Fender.
The Fiesta Red version is a real eye-catcher and priced well at GBP 369*.
G&L Tribute Legacy
Less known than his work at the company bearing his name is Leo Fender’s later career at G&L. Here he reconsidered his old designs and some see the G&L guitars as “the better Fender models”. The “successor” to the Strat is called the Legacy. The Tribute series is made in Asia rather than the USA, making it less expensive. The quality is at least good and the sound is slightly more modern.
Definitely worth the GBP 435* asking price.
The world’s first mass-produced electric guitar was the Telecaster (sold as the Broadcaster in 1950). Again, I would be tempted to go for a Squier, although there are outstanding copies from other manufacturers at the same price. However, as always in the lower price ranges: test them out. The lower the price, the bigger the likely fluctuations in build quality.
The Fender SQ CV 50s Tele MN WHB is a great bet for well under 500 pounds. It’s certainly got those classic looks and the Tele-twang we all know and love. Squier models have improved in recent years and this one could be a great bet for a quality instrument for players on a budget.
And GBP 329 is a great price.
FGN Boundary Iliad
Fujigen, also known as FGN, is one of the Japanese manufacturers producing guitars for Fender Japan. These models enjoy an excellent reputation. A nice option if you fancy a T-Style guitar made in a renowned factory.
If you do not place value on the Telecaster-shape headstock shape with Fender on it, you will definitely get a guitar for life at a budget price of GBP 421.
Fender’s big adversary has always been Gibson. The Les Paul is arguably the second best-known electric guitar in the world and the counterpart to the flexible Stratocaster. There are usually two humbuckers, a thick mahogany body and a lot of “rock”. But they are rather heavy and without special body modifications (weight relief) in the higher price ranges. If you have problems with your back, you might need to avoid the heavier models. And yes, some of the best budget electric guitars are Les Pauls.
Epiphone Les Paul Classic
Gibson owns all rights to the name Les Paul, and the subsidiary Epiphone, which was later acquired, builds cheap copies of the iconic models. For me, the Les Paul Classic is THE Les Paul par excellence. Although opinions out there about the quality of Epiphone’s offering is mixed, it’s a brand that does produce good quality guitars at low prices, so this is actually a relatively safe bet. You see them often enough on stages and at least as backups in studios, proof enough that this series contains good guitars?
For around GBP 435 you can get as much original Les Paul as nowhere else.
ESP LTD EC-256
Here’s a more modern guitar catering for harder rock styles. LTD is the lower-budget brand by Japanese maker ESP. It’s good value for money, it’s a brand belongs in our round-up of quality guitars for under 500 quid. This model costs an affordable GBP 352. The EC-256 is a modern Les Paul (aka Single-Cut) with a mahogany body and thin thin U-neck profile. It’s got ESP humbuckers, so a great guitar to get started with.
The other big model from Gibson is the SG, which stands for Solidbody Guitar. Bands like AC/DC gave this guitar a firm place in rock history. With a thinner body and bony sound, it’s a good main or secondary guitar. However, SGs are usually rather top-heavy, albeit significantly lighter than the Les Paul. The most original copies are probably from Epiphone.
Epiphone SG Standard
In this price range, we’re obviously going to be looking at an Epiphone guitar rather than Gibson. The Epiphone SG G-400 accompanied me for several years in my career and I found it played well in every style. Its strengths are crunchy and distorted sounds. Clean, it sounds a bit ‘sticky’ compared to guitars with single coils.
If I were looking for a SG in the lower price range, I would probably start with this model for around GBP 389. It’s darn close to the Gibson models in terms of specs.
ESP LTD Viper
A modern version of this design is the LTD Viper, here in the version 256 in Snow White. It’s an “offset-SG” mainly used by bands playing harder music. For example the guitarist from Code Orange relies on the LTD Viper. It has a three-part mahogany neck, mahogany body, thin-U fingerboard and other modern visuals. Overall it’s a distinctive look.
In this price range, you won’t get active pickups or electronics, but the passive version for GBP 395 is a guitar that you can have fun with for a long time.
In part 2 of this series, we’ll be going down in price even further to see what the best guitars are under 200 GBP!