Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Fender’s Tele may have been the first commercially successful electric guitar, but when it comes to “cool,” the brand's Strat takes the title. With ash on the sunburst and a solid alder body — the longtime wood of choice for Strats — the guitar delivers firm, clean and snappy sound.
In terms of design, the satin-finished deep C neck feels very pro and premium, and three standard single coils are V-Mod passive pickups — Fender’s attempt at the clearest possible sound for a modern guitar. There’s a two-point synchronized trem system with bent steel saddles and a pop-in trem arm that 's way easier to deal with than your standard screw-in whammy bar. The hardware is nickel/chrome with deluxe staggered tuners for increased stability. All in all, the model isn't over-the-top fancy, but it is one of the most well-built, American-made Fenders.
The Epiphone Les Paul SL lands nearly every list of best budget guitars — and for good reason. When the axe dropped in 2017, it did so with a bunch of enviable features that people couldn't believe for the price tag.
The Epiphone sports a solid poplar body, a ‘60s slim taper neck, medium frets with dot inlays, ceramic single-coil pickups (650SCR in the neck, 700SCT in the bridge), pairs of volume and tone knobs, a tune-o-matic bridge, chrome hardware and surprising playability for the price. Add that to the fact that you can get it in six colors (turquoise, Pacific blue, ebony, heritage cherry sunburst, vintage sunburst and natural yellow sun), and you have a great guitar for an unfathomably low price.
It should come as no surprise that our pick for the best beginner guitar is a Squier. Fender’s entry-level brand has a great track record for amazing value and quality to match. When it comes to a beginner axe, you don’t just want affordable — if you get something too cheap, it won’t play well, won’t stay in tune and will ultimately just frustrate new guitar players. Squier’s high-quality affinity line is just a bit more expensive than the guitars that come in starter packs, but it’ll give you a lot in the way of features and playability.
The Squier Affinity Telecaster has an alder body, a classic maple fingerboard, two standard single coils (giving you that clear Tele twang), medium-jumbo frets for plenty of playing room and a vintage Telecaster bridge. In the end, it all adds up to an incomparable beginner guitar that will take any new player well into their intermediate years.
Most people think of Epiphone as the budget range that comes in just under Gibson, and while that can be true for a lot of their newer models, the brand has a history all its own and an impressive line of midrange instruments. The Les Paul Standard Plus-Top is a guitar that exemplifies that to a T.
The guitar's solid mahogany body is loaded with a premium carved maple top to give a great wood-grain look and plenty of warm, rich sustain. The slim-taper set neck carries that sustain through to the playability, meaning you won’t have to fight this thing to shred like a pro. There are also Probucker pickups in the neck and bridge positions — Epiphone’s take on the top-dollar humbuckers in Gibson ranges — and it's all rounded out with a Tune-o-Matic bridge and solid stopbar tailpiece for a seriously premium look and feel. And the best part? You’ll have five classic colors (wine red, honey burst, translucent blue) to choose from— each a steal for the included features.
Martin, Gibson and Taylor may all offer exceptional acoustic guitars, but our nod for the best goes to Taylor as the brand's acoustic and electric instruments are basically unmatched. This 200 series offers a Venetian cutaway for easy access to the highest string, a solid Sitka spruce top (for excellent highs), layered rosewood back and sides (for warmth) and forward shift pattern bracing for excellent lightness and ample sturdiness. But what about the electronic factor we touched on?
Taylor’s professional audio-grade system employs transducer sensors behind the saddle that are fully adjustable, giving you a richer, rounder sound than the standard Piezo pickups. Plus, that adjustment lets you really dial in the sound you’re looking for. There’s also an onboard phase switcher to fine tune the fullness, as well as volume and limited EQ controls. The guitar comes in natural and sunburst, and while it doesn’t offer top-of-the-line vintage Martin sound, as an all-around acoustic/electric, you won’t regret this purchase.
The sleeper pick in this category — the Guild Starfire III — has a whole lot of history and even more mystery. A decidedly American brand, Guild has tried to play in a lot of spaces over the years, competing with hollow body giants, well-crafted parlor acoustics and everything in between. But the Starfire III — with its sharp-horned cutaway and rich, almost growly sound — edges out the Gibsons on cool factor alone. Usually, we’d advise you to troll your local music store for a vintage Starfire III, but those can cost a serious penny. Luckily, new models still hold their own and are worth every cent of their surprisingly low price point.
Available in black and cherry red, the new guitars are made from laminated mahogany (for added warmth) and feature an arched top that gives you that hollow body roundness. Classic “dual-coil" anti-hum pickups fall somewhere between a massive humbucker sound and a single-coil snap. The guitar is also supremely playable with its jumbo frets and one-piece mahogany neck in a soft vintage U shape. Finally, the classic Bigsby trem system gives you all the vintage warble you’ll want whether you’re playing jazz, rockabilly or anything in between.
Amongst Ibanez's insanely spec’d out machines, you might overlook the RG550 — a reissue of one of their classic 80s workhorses. Don’t sleep on it, though, because if high-speed metal is what you’re after, it delivers.
Let’s start at the neck: the proprietary “Super Wizard” shape of this five-piece maple/walnut neck is, oddly, the centerpiece of the guitar as it makes it extremely playable. Where looks are concerned, the super-sharp solid basswood body (available in purple neon, desert sun yellow and gloss white) is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. But how does it sound? Well with V7 and V8 humbuckers in the far bridge and neck positions, as well as the nice option for an S1 single coil in the middle, you’ll get a 5-way sound set similar to that of a Strat, just way louder and way more metal. Add that to the Ibanez Edge tremolo system (not dissimilar from a Floyd Rose), and you’ll be able to add dive bomb bends into your arsenal, too.
Let’s talk about Gretsch for a second here: it is simultaneously one of the most storied and most misunderstood brands in the guitar world. Sure, instruments in the Gretsch Pro line may run you in the thousands, but they also have some working man’s models that play almost as well. Go for something in the brand's midrange Electromatic line and you and your wallet will both be happy campers.
The G5622T is an absolute steal of a guitar as it plays and feels like one worth twice as much. As for specs, you get a full laminated maple guitar, a standard U maple neck, medium frets, two Super HiLo’Tron pickups (surprisingly close in sound to the more expensive filtertrons), volume and tone pots (as well as a cool master volume) and a Bigsby-licensed B70 tailpiece for soft, expressive tremolo. If you read those features first, you’d assume this guitar would break a grand, but at well under that price, it’s a no-brainer buy.