The Best Electric Guitars Under $500 - Solidbody

Best Electric Guitars Under $500

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The quality of solid body electric guitars start to shoot up dramatically in the $200 to $500 price range, making them ideal for intermediate to advanced level players, while remaining budget friendly.

And while many of the guitars in this price segment are rating well, this guide will only feature the cream of the crop, based on the most recent reviews and ratings data up to June of 2020. And since not all guitar guitars are created equal, we've divided our recommended guitars according to the pickup type they use, which include Single Coil, Humbucker, Filtertron and mixed combinations of these. It is our hope that this guide can help you find your first (or next) serious axe.

The Best Electric Guitars Under $500

Pickup Type: Single Coil

Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster (SS)

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster '50s

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Solely Single Coil Equipped Solidbody Electric Guitar from $200 to $500 and the Equal Highest Rated across all pickup types in this category along with the Gretsch G5220.

The Fender Broadcaster, later renamed to Telecaster, is considered as the first commercially successful solidbody guitar - and now, decades later, the Telecaster is as in-demand as ever. The Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster '50s continues this legacy with its combination of vintage features and modern reliability.

Features of this guitar follow vintage designs closely, including its single-cutaway body, the specs of its maple neck, and it comes equipped with a set of vintage sounding Alnico III magnet pickups. To keep the price affordable and improve playability, Fender utilized lightweight pine wood for the body and went for a modern C neck profile, and a flatter 9.5" fingerboard radius over the 7.2" that's seen on vintage specimens.

Specifications

  • Body: Pine
  • Finish: Butterscotch Blonde (pictured), Vintage Blonde, Natural, 3-Color Sunburst
  • Bridge: 3-barrel Bridge
  • Pickups: Custom Vintage-Style Alnico III Single-coil Tele
  • Neck: Maple (Bolt-on "C" shape)
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Maple
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.5”
  • Frets: 21 Medium Jumbo
  • Nut Width: 1.65”
  • Controls: 1-volume, 1-tone
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way blade pickup switch

Pros

Review pages are filled with positive comments from guitarists who were impressed by how this affordable guitar successfully captured the classic vintage vibe of old instruments. Even experienced players with actual vintage Telecasters were appeased enough to take their time to write detailed reviews and recommendations. Many users were happy with its lighter pinewood body, thinner neck, vintage appointments and twangy tones. And it is clear that this is not your average practice guitar because a good number of reviewers reported using the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster '50s in actual gigs and recordings.

Cons

There are a few who mentioned minor imperfections on the finish and fretwork. There are also those who reported having to make minor adjustments to the guitar's setup out-of-the-box, but most of them still rated the guitar very high. A few experienced players mentioned that swapping out the bridge pickup greatly improved the tone and enjoyment they get from this guitar.

Overall

If you're in the market for a reasonably priced Telecaster, then the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster '50s should definitely be the first model for you to seriously consider.

The video below puts the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster '50s into its paces:

Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster (SSS)

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster '50s

Wielded by the virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, Eric Johnson and many more, the Stratocaster is undeniably one of the most instantly recognizable guitars in the world today. This is further evidenced by the number of versions available, along with the many ways other manufacturers have copied and modified the design for themselves.

Speaking of copying, you will notice that a number of guitars in this list follow the Strat's double-cutaway shape, a testament to its legacy and continued popularity.

This model follows after old Stratocasters from the '50s, featuring an alder body with a maple neck, as well as familiar specs that include a 25.5" scale length, 1.65" nut width and "C" shape profile. To cater to today's players, the fingerboard radius is adjusted to meet modern standards at 9.5". Finally, three single coil pickups give the guitar its tone, all of which feature alnico III magnets and are custom wound to reproduce the sound of vintage specimens.

Specifications

  • Body: Alder
  • Finish: 2-Color Sunburst (pictured), Sherwood Green Metallic
  • Bridge: Vintage-style Synchronized Vibrato
  • Pickups: 3 x Custom Vintage-Style Single-coil
  • Neck: Maple (Bolt-on C Shape)
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Maple
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.5”
  • Frets: 21 Medium Jumbo
  • Nut Width: 1.65”
  • Controls: 1-volume, 2-tone
  • Pickup Selector: 5-way blade pickup switch

Pros

The overall market opinion for the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster '50s (CV Strat '50s) is that it provides the best balance of quality and affordability. Reviewers commend its build quality, vintage style appearance and genuine sounding old school Fender tones. Even players who have played more expensive Fender Stratocasters found the shimmer and quack of the CV Strat '50s to be convincing enough to take on the road. And what's particularly interesting about the reviews is that people were not expecting too much from this Squier Strat, but were pleasantly surprised when it exceeded their expectations.

Cons

As much as I would like this guitar to be perfect, there are users who raised concerns about the quality of the tuners, and minor finish issues. And while many did find the guitar tone to be convincing, there are some who found that upgrading the pickups made a very big difference to the sound.

Overall

You're looking at the best Stratocaster in this price range, so this is the right guitar to start your hunt for your first or next Strat.

See and hear the Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster '50s in action below:

Pickup Type: Humbucker

ESP LTD Eclipse EC-256 (HH)

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$449
ESP LTD Eclipse EC-256

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Solely Humbucker Equipped Solidbody Electric Guitar from $200 to $500.

The ESP LTD Eclipse EC-256 is a modern take on the classic LP design, with the flexibility of push-pull coil tap for switching between single-coil and humbucker tones. And this guitar is a good representation of what ESP is all about - which is to produce modern high quality iterations of classic guitar designs.

The Eclipse EC-256 has the same familiar mahogany body with single cutaway shape, but with a bit more upper fret access. The guitar's neck setup is also meant to cater to contemporary playing styles with its fast action. Other features include having TOM bridge/tailpiece and set-neck construction.

Specifications

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Finish: Black Gloss, Black Satin, Snow White
  • Bridge: Tune-o-matic Bridge with Tailpiece
  • Pickups: ESP LH-150N & ESP LH-150B
  • Neck: 3-piece Mahogany
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 13.7”
  • Frets: 22, Extra Jumbo
  • Nut Width: 1.653"”
  • Controls: 2 x Volume, 1 x Tone (Push/Pull Coil-Tap)
  • Pickup Selector: 3-Way Toggle Pickup Switch

Pros

Guitarists of today are very meticulous when it comes to playability and tone flexibility, yet the EC-256 easily passes these criteria with flying colors. Many are impressed with its gritty tone, while experienced players appreciate the flexibility afforded by split coil switching. Build quality is also often commended, from its finish down to the quality of the fret work and neck setup.

Cons

There aren't many complaints from owners, just note that there is still a recognizable difference between split coil tone vs actual single coil pickups. So if you are really into single coil Fendery tone, this is not for you.

Overall

If you want nothing less than the best rated dual humbucker equipped electric guitar in the $300 to $500 price range, then check out the ESP LTD Eclipse EC-256.

PRS SE Standard 24 (HH)

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$499
PRS SE Standard 24

Founded more recently compared to other big brands, Paul Reed Smith guitars has quickly established itself to be a solid competitor in the guitar market, tackling even the iconic brands head on. And they are doing so with much success, especially in the upper mid to premium tier price ranges, thanks to big name artists like Carlos Santana giving the brand world recognition.

The PRS SE Standard 24 is their attempt at taking a slice of the pie in the entry to mid tier market, bringing with it PRS' build quality but at a more modest price point. It features a mahogany double cutaway body, a 24-fret mahogany set-neck, and a rosewood fingerboard complete with PRS' bird inlays.

Specifications

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Finish: Translucent Blue (Pictured), Black, Vintage Cherry, Tobacco Sunburst
  • Bridge: PRS designed Tremolo
  • Neck Pickup: SE Vintage Bass Humbucker
  • Bridge Pickup: SE HFS Treble Humbucker
  • Neck: Maple (Wide Thin Shape)
  • Scale Length: 25”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12”
  • Frets: 24
  • Nut Width: 1.6875”
  • Controls: 1-volume, 1-tone with Coil Splitting
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way blade switch

Pros

The PRS SE Standard 24 carries most of the features that make PRS guitars appealing, from impeccable build quality, to great neck setup down and great tone. And all these traits earn the appreciation of many users, including experienced guitarists. The tone of this guitar is described as really clean with lots of sustain, and there's a lot of positive responses towards its coil split tones.

Cons

While the tremolo system and tuners are good in general, those who utilize extreme tremolo bar techniques may find the hardware lacking.

Overall

If you are into the PRS' brand of build quality and tone, then this is a no-brainer. It is also well worth checking out if build quality is high in your requirement list.

Schecter Omen Extreme 6 FR (HH)

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$499
Schecter Omen Extreme 6 FR Vintage Sunburst

From their humble beginnings as a repair shop and parts manufacturer for Fender and Gibson guitars, Schecter has grown to be a major manufacturer in their own right. From guitars for artists like Jeff Loomis, Ritchie Blackmore and more, the company is now mass producing electric guitars that are specifically design for modern rock style players.

The Omen Extreme 6 FR is a great example of what Schecter is all about, a hotrod take on classic guitar Super Strat designs. It features a double cutaway basswood body with carved maple top, and a 24-fret fingerboard with a bolt-on maple neck. True to its super strat roots, this guitar comes with a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, generally considered to be more capable of keeping the instrument in tune while handling modern tremolo bar playing techniques. Finally, it sports two high-output alnico humbuckers with coil-splitting, that are meant for various styles of rock.

Specifications

  • Body: Mahogany with Quilted Maple Top
  • Finish: Black Cherry (pictured), Vintage Sunburst, See-Thru Black
  • Bridge: Floyd Rose Special
  • Pickups: Two Diamond Plus Humbuckers
  • Neck: Maple (Bolt-on Thin C)
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 14”
  • Frets: 24 Extra Jumbo
  • Nut Width: 1.625”
  • Controls: 1-volume, 1-tone with Coil Tap
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way toggle switch

Pros

Although expressed differently, most users appreciate the Omen Extreme 6 FR's overall build quality. There are plenty of positive remarks regarding the profile of its neck and fretwork quality, which translate to good playability. Many also commend its Floyd Rose setup, which they describe as reliable and stable. And while most of its users are happy with its rock tone, there are some who also appreciate the sounds coming from its split coil feature.

Cons

There are a few reports of minor cosmetic flaws, while others report that getting the guitar setup professionally improved their playing experience.

Overall

If you're looking for highly rated Floyd Rose bridge equipped guitar in this price range, this is where you should start.

Pickup Type: FilterTron

Gretsch G5426 Jet Club (FF)

94
GEARANK

94 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$350
Gretsch G5426 Jet Club Silver

While Gretsch is mostly known for their hollowbody guitars, they do have a lineup of solidbody electric guitars that are doing well in the market, thanks to the fact that they literally made their own pickup category via their Filtertron pickups.

The G5426 Jet Club Silver is exemplifies what Gretsch is all about, utilizing familiar retro guitar designs and making them unmistakably their own. This one features a single cutaway basswood body with maple top, with a nice silver finish that makes this guitar easily stand out. Other features include rosewood fingerboard, maple neck, Adjusto-Matic bridge and dual filtertron pickups.

Specifications

  • Body: Chambered Basswood with Maple Top
  • Finish: Silver
  • Bridge: Adjusto-Matic Bridge with Stop Tailpiece
  • Pickups: Filtertron Humbuckers
  • Neck: Maple
  • Scale Length: 24.6”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12”
  • Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo
  • Nut Width: 1.6875”
  • Controls: 1-volume, 1-tone
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way Pickup Selector

Pros

Groovy, beautiful and stunning are just a few of the various ways people describe their appreciation of this guitar. Many love its trebly and gritty tone, thanks to its Filtertron pickups. It is also often commended for its visual appeal, which gets complimented often, even by non-musicians. Playability is also another important consideration for those who recommend this guitar.

Cons

Its clear and bright tonality may not be a perfect fit for those who are into heavy distortion musical styles. Not many complaints leveled against it by buyers, other than a few shipping related issues.

Overall

If you're looking for a visually striking solidbody electric guitar with that familiar Gretsch twang, then this is for you.

Gretsch G5220 (FF)

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$500
Gretsch G5220

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Solely Filter'Tron Equipped Solidbody Electric Guitar from $200 to $500 and the Equal Highest Rated across all pickup types in this category along with the Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster.

While Gretsch did not reinvent the wheel so to speak, they've definitely made their guitars their own - in terms aesthetics, quality and even sound. The G5220 is a good example, even with its familiar single-cutaway shape, it does not look like your average Les Paul clone.

Its bound body, headstock and neck, along with its V-stop tail piece reinforce its distinct retro appeal further. This guitar has a chambered mahogany body with maple top, and comes equipped with Blacktop Broad'Tron pickups, which gives it the trebly tone that the brand is known for.

Specifications

  • Body: Chambered Mahogany with Maple Top
  • Finish: Black, Casino Gold, Jade Grey Metallic, Dark Cherry Metallic
  • Bridge: V-Stopbar Tailpiece
  • Pickups: Broad'Tron Humbuckers
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Scale Length: 24.6”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12”
  • Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo
  • Nut Width: 1.6875”
  • Controls: 2-volume, 1-tone
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way toggle switch

Pros

Many users report that this guitar exceeds what they expect in terms of aesthetics appeal and build quality, some even describing it as a near perfect guitar. Many others are just as impressed with its tone, with some commending it for being transparent and dynamic. Rob Laing of Music Radar concludes his review of the Gretsch G5220 nicely by saying that "the sheer versatility and finish quality for the money makes this the kind of deal that you’ll always find space for in the house".

Cons

There are some who wish that it had a more traditional control configuration, some even went as far as re-configuring the potentiometers to their liking.

Overall

If you want a retro styled electric guitar that impresses both the ears and eyes, then check out the Gretsch G5220.

Pickup Type: Mixed

Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V (HSS)

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Yamaha PAC112V

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Mixed Pickup Solidbody Electric Guitar from $200 to $500.

The PAC112V is part of Yamaha's Pacifica line of electric guitars, it is basically a modified Strat / Superstrat style guitar marketed for students of the instrument. At its core is its double cutaway alder body, with more room on the lower cutaway for reaching the highest notes.

The neck is crafted from maple, and topped by a rosewood fingerboard, with a C-shape profile that's familiar and beginner friendly. Finally, it comes equipped with two singlecoil pickups for the neck and middle position, and a humbucker with coil splitting for the bridge position.

Specifications

  • Body: Alder
  • Finish: Natural, Violin Burst, Black, Red Raspberry, Silver, Sonic Blue
  • Bridge: Vintage Style Tremolo with Block Saddles
  • Pickups: Two Alnico V Singlecoils (Neck, Middle), One Alnico V Humbucker (Bridge)
  • Neck: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 13.75”
  • Frets: 22 Medium
  • Nut Width: 1.614”
  • Controls: 1-master volume, 1-master tone (push/pull coil-split), 5-way blade pickup switch
  • Pickup Selector: 5-way toggle switch

Pros

Value for money is this guitar's main strength, many are surprised with its sonic flexibility, especially when considering the price tag. Playability and overall quality are also often pointed to by satisfied owners and expert reviewers like Music Radar who said, "the construction is of excellent quality". More importantly, the Yamaha PAC112V gets a lot of complements from long time owners of the guitar, establishing its reliability and longevity, and further expanding the value that you're getting from the guitar.

Cons

There are a few complaints about the strings it comes shipped with, along with the need for adjustments out of the box.

Overall

If you're looking for a shred and rock style friendly beginner guitar, then do check out the Yamaha PAC112V.

Things to Consider When Buying a Solidbody Electric Guitar

  • Pickup Configuration

    Much of how an electric guitar sounds like is dictated by the type of pickups used. The most common pickups you'll find on electric guitars are Humbucking (double coil) and Single Coil pickups. Single Coil pickups tend to emphasize the upper frequencies, while Humbuckers have a rounder tone with more of the low-end. In addition to their expected characteristics, the position of the pickups and the way they are combined also affect the resulting sound. FilterTron is another popular pickup type that is available in this price range, it is a staple pickup of Gretsch guitars and is a big part of their sound, which is described as a cross between a singlecoil and humbucker pickup. Shape and size-wise, filtertrons are similar to humbuckers, but they have different dimensions.

    There are a few more pickup variations, but we've left them out because they are not as popular in this price range. If you're not sure which one to get, you can look at the configuration used by your favorite guitarists.

    Here's a list of the most popular pickup configurations:

    • SSS - Guitars with three single coils, as seen on traditional Stratocasters.
    • SS - Guitars with two single coils, as seen on Telecasters.
    • HH - Guitars with two humbuckers as seen on Les Pauls, SGs, Super Strats, Flying Vs, and more...
    • FF - Guitars with two Filter’Trons, most commonly found on Gretsch guitars but can also be found on some Fender guitars - you can learn more in this article by James M Brill for Reverb.
    • HSS - Guitars with two single-coils and a humbucker on the bridge position, as seen on some modern Stratocasters and Superstrats.
    • HSH - Guitars with two humbuckers for the bridge and neck position, and a single coil for the middle position, as seen on Super Strats and Custom Les Pauls.

    In addition to the above configurations, technology has made it possible for humbuckers to sound like single coil pickups via "coil tapping", allowing for flexible tone options that were not possible with older guitars.

  • Playability

    This is where the neck specifications come into play - which when neglected can result to unpleasant playing experience for both students and advanced players. We've listed the four most important specs to consider below, along with a quick overview of how they affect playability.

    • Scale Length - the distance where-in the strings are stretched, from the nut to the bridge saddle. Physics dictate that the longer the scale length is, the more tension is required to get strings in tune. This is the reason why some players prefer the "slack" feel of a Les Paul with its 24.75" scale length, while others want the biting attack of the tighter strings on a 25.5" Scale Length Telecaster.
    • Nut Width - dictates the space between strings at the nut, those with smaller hands will appreciate smaller nut widths (1.65"), while others who prefer more room for their fingers will want the opposite.
    • Fingerboard Radius - without going too technical, this specification describes how flat or round the fingerboard is. Generally speaking, the flatter the radius, the lower the string action can be, which means easier single-note playing and bending. On the other hand, rounder fingerboards follow the natural shape of the fretting hand so are more chord friendly. Some players prefer the feel of vintage Fender guitars with 7.25" radius, while others want slightly flatter ones at 9.5". Those who are into shred and modern rock usually go for flatter radius that range from 12" to 16". Compound radius fingerboards try to give players the best of both worlds, by making the fingerboard flatter as you go up the neck, where you usually do your noodling.
    • Neck Profile - describes the shape of the back of the neck. Together with the fingerboard radius and neck finish, it dictates the overall feel of the neck. Flat radius guitars are usually complemented by wide thin neck profiles, while rounder fingerboards come with U or C shape necks. Again, this is more a matter of preference than being right or wrong.
       
  • Bridge

    This price range is where bridge hardware quality begins to improve over cheaper models, from the usual tune-o-matic style bridges to a licensed Floyd Rose bridge system that allow for tricks like note dives and pull ups. While having a fancy tremolo bar system maybe a good thing, there are a few downsides, including tuning instability (Floyd Rose systems are better at preventing this), inconvenient string changes, and longer learning curve for its operation and maintenance. The choice is up to you whether to go for simplistic tune-o-matic bridge setups or the more complex floating bridge ones.

  • Body Shape and Finish

    The guitar's shape and finish can spell the difference between a boring and an inspiring instrument, so better get one that looks great and feels comfortable to you. Guitar players are drawn to the style of instruments that their heroes play, so they are your best starting point, but don't be afraid to look at other styles.

    Decades after they were first released, the Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul and SG are still the most prominent solidbody guitar shapes. While there are other more eccentric shapes meant for rock and metal, most of what guitar builders produce today are either inspired by, or a direct clone of these guitars. In line with this, we covered a wide variety of popular guitar shapes, to help you find one that suits your taste.

Best Electric Guitar Under $500 Selection Methodology

The first edition was published November 2016 written by guitar teacher Alexander Briones who also wrote the latest edition published on June 20, 2020.

The goal of this guide is to find the best solidbody electric guitars that you can readily buy in the $200 to $500 price range. And to keep this guide focused, we decided to filter for highly rated solidbody 6-string electric guitars that are widely available from major online US retailers. With these filters in place, we ended up with 20 guitars on our short-list for closer examination (see them in the database), which entailed the analysis of over 7,700 reviews, ratings and forum discussions, including the most recent ones up to mid June 2020.

All these data were then fed into the Gearank Algorithm, which resulted in scores out of 100 that closely represent how actual owners, users and experts feel about the guitars. We used these rating scores to cut down the list to just the very best, separated into pickup type used - single coil, humbucker, filtertron and mixed. Finally, we drilled down on the pros and cons of each guitar as reported in customer and expert reviews to give you an overall idea of why these guitars are well loved. For more information about our methods please read How Gearank Works.

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