The 7 Best Electric Guitars Under to Buy in 2018 for Under $500

This fun hobby doesn't have to break the bank

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"Playing guitar is an expensive hobby,” is a common phrase uttered by anyone who’s spent years buying pedals, guitars and amps. But now, guitar players are lucky to have modern technological manufacturing that provides them many options in the mid-level zone. And that’s great because while some guitar players are perhaps past the bargain basement beginner models, most don’t want to shell out thousands of dollars for fully pro instruments. Thankfully, we’ve pulled together a list of best intermediate axes (think everything from homage-paying hollow bodies to completely full-featured Telecasters) that won’t cost more than $500.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Epiphone ES-335 PRO

Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO Electric Guitar
Courtesy of Guitar Center

All the great stuff you can say about Epiphone’s take on the traditional Les Paul, you can say about their take on the classic Gibson 335 double-cutaway hollow body. In fact, with the exception of more affordable lines from Gretsch, the ES-335 is honestly the best hollow body you’re likely to find for this price. But, unlike the Gretsch, the Epi ES-335 can give you a lot more bang for your buck in the way of high-output rock sounds. That’s because they’ve loaded it up with two Alnico Classic Pro humbucker pickups to give you plenty of rock snarl alongside the rounded jazz sound.

There are premium Wilkinson tuning machines, a Tune-o-Matic bridge, push/pull tone pots for splitting the pickups, plus four finishes to choose from (vintage sunburst, cherry, natural and ebony). It’s made of laminated maple for a warm wood tone and the slim-taper, D-shaped neck comes fitted with small block inlays on the fingerboard. It’s a premium-looking and -sounding guitar for right around that $500 price point, and it easily tops our list here.  

Best Budget: Epiphone Les Paul SL

EpiphoneLesPaulSL
Courtesy of Guitar Center

When the Epiphone Les Paul SL came out late in 2017, the whole industry – from basement guitar heroes all the way to top-notch gear reviewers – lit up with curiosity. Could this be a playable Les Paul (in some pretty amazing colors!) for less than $100? And, while the reviews are expectedly mixed, the consensus is that for a beginner or a project guitar tinkerer, this is a great option.

As stated, the color options are expansive, from a bright, whimsical yellow, to two different bright blues/greens all the way to a vintage burst finish. The build is a high gloss solid popular, single-cutaway body, so it’s definitely at the bottom of expectations for materials, and they’ve opted for a bolt-on neck rather than the standard Les Paul set neck. The neck shape is actually refreshingly playable, employing a ‘60s slim-taper D shape.

There are two single coil ceramic pickups (650SCR in the neck position and 700 SCT in the bridge position) that, while not super high output, offer a pretty nice, vintage bouncy sound. Finally, the hardware holds its own with a nice chrome look and a decently adjustable tune-o-matic bridge to dial the intonation much closer than most other guitars at the price point.

Best Metal: Chapman Ghost Fret

Chapman Ghost Fret
Courtesy of Guitar Center

 

If you haven’t heard of Chapman guitars, that’s okay – they’re a fairly new English maker that now sells their guitars via Guitar Center (having previously only offered stateside sales via smaller retailers). Rob Chapman is actually the frontman and one of two face-melting guitar players in the prog band Dorje, and one listen to their music will tell you that this guy knows shredding and metal. The Ghost Fret is your best bet for a metal guitar and the guys at Chapman have cut few corners for a sub-$500 guitar. 

The first thing that catches your eye is obviously the Explorer-like Z shape with the beautiful flame maple veneer top. The body is solid mahogany with a gloss finish and a set maple neck with a C-standard shape, and as we mentioned, the build quality is pretty amazing for the price. The Alnico humbuckers on the Ghost Fret are the real stars of the show, offering a superb amount of headroom and tons of snarl. There are volume and control knobs, as well as the three-way selector, but also more premium add-ons, including a push-pull coil tap option to split your humbuckers and get a single coil sound. Offered in a black or two-tone black and red finish and stunning black hardware, this is a shred-ready guitar that won’t shred your bank account.

Best Fender: Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus

Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus Electric Guitar
Courtesy of Guitar Center

Yes, it really is possible to get a true Fender (not a Tele, not used) for under $500. The Modern Player Telecaster is an uncommon type of Tele though, offering you the look and feel of a high-dollar standard with the addition of a really cool pickup configuration. The body is built of solid pine in a high-gloss finish – a strange material to use for a Tele, but the reviews indicate that the sound is a bit chunkier and less twangy because of it. That could have to do with the pickups, though, too, as there are three: a Modern Player Tele pickup in the neck position, a Modern Player Strat pickup in the middle (where there usually isn’t any pickup in a Tele), and a really loud Modern Player humbucker in the bridge. That means you can score a middle-pickup strat sound, a classic neck pickup Tele tone and even some high output oomph from the humbucker. Fender has even included a coil-splitting switch in addition to the volume, tone, and selector switch for a pretty versatile set of tone options. You can pick it up in either charcoal or honey burst, too, so it’s got a unique look as well.

Best Epiphone: Epiphone Les Paul Traditional PRO-11

Epiphone Les Paul Traditional PRO-11
Courtesy of Guitar Center

All things considered, an Epiphone Les Paul is almost as playable as many of the mid-to-low-range Gibson Les Pauls out there. Sure, it won’t rival a custom shop or even a Standard with Gibson on the headstock, but otherwise, that’s really all you’re swapping – Epiphone on the headstock instead of Gibson. The Traditional from Epiphone comes in just under $500 but it packs a lot of value in that price point.

First off, it has a solid mahogany body and a carved mahogany top for warm, rich sustain. Adding to that sustain is the set neck, which comes in a ‘60s slim taper shape for comfort and playability. There are 22 frets and the classic Les Paul trapezoid inlays give you a premium look. Adding to the premium look is the choice between a bunch of colors ranging from a vintage sunburst​ to wine red and even an ocean blue burst. There’s a Probucker humbucker in the bridge position and an Alnico Classic PRO in the neck position, plus the added benefit of a coil split for single coil sounds. Add that to the tone and volume controls and you have a loud, versatile guitar. It’s a great option for someone who wants a Les Paul without the Gibson price tag.

Best Hollowbody: Gretsch G2420 Streamliner

Gretsch Guitars G2420 Streamliner Single Cutaway Hollowbody Aged Brooklyn Burst
Courtesy of Guitar Center

When Gretsch first introduced their Streamliner level of guitars for right under $500, they offered a perfectly viable option for players who want that Gretsch look and sound without spending thousands. The G2420 is the perfect way to pay homage to the classic instrument, with a wide, fat single-cutaway body shape. Gretsch has thrown in the proprietary Streamliner pickups, which aren’t quite as great as the step-up options they offer but will do the trick for rockabilly sounds.

The body is built from laminated maple, which is right in line with the standard Gretsch construction. There are two volume knobs and a tone control on the bottom side, and the classic Gretsch master volume in front to cut your whole output with one twist. Add that to cool design features such as full block inlays and you have a pretty solid guitar.

Best Bass: Sterling SB4 Bass

Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. SB4 Electric Bass Guitar Black
Courtesy of Guitar Center

The Sterling SV4 Bass has a high-output active pickup system in the bridge position, giving you the Stingray’s classic twangy sound, which will make it great for everything from slap-pop funk playing to hammering away punk rock basslines. This particular model offers a thinner, easier-to-play 38mm nut width, giving you more freedom of movement particularly down in the first position. It’s a solid hardwood construction with high-gloss finish in a stark black with a matching black pickguard that is sure to look sleek and striking onstage. A budget bass player won’t go wrong purchasing this option.