The Best Cheap Electric Guitars Under $200

Here is a guide to selecting the best budget electric guitar that sells for less than $200.

Originally published on August. 16, 2016 and updated by Alexander Briones and Jason Horton on November 16, 2017.

This guide is primarily meant to help beginner guitarists in getting good affordable instruments. And it is also a good resource for experienced players who want a cheap guitar to modify and experiment with.

For this update, we've narrowed down the list to just six of the most popular guitar types, which include the Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster, SG, Super Strat (HH) and Super Strat (HSS). And to get straight to the point, each guitar type is represented by just one guitar, so you only get to see the best among the bunch.

Contents

The Best Cheap Electric Guitars Under $200

We have selected the highest rated option for each of the 6 popular guitar types listed here:

Best Budget Les Paul

Epiphone Les Paul Special II (HH)

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 3450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$130
Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Les Paul created an early solid-body electric guitar in his spare time after work at the Epiphone factory in the early 1940's famously known as "The Log". It is believed that this was the first solidbody 'Spanish guitar' every built. He went on to develop the idea further until he took it to managers at Gibson sometime in 1945 or 1946 who immediately...
...did nothing.

Luckily another guitar innovator, Leo Fender, began having some sales success with his solidbody electric in 1950 (initially named the Esquire, then Broadcaster, and now it's called the Telecaster), so Gibson about-faced and one of the most iconic instruments in music history went into production.

As our very own Alexander Briones once said of the Gibson Les Paul, "It's like carrying a trophy and a guitar at the same time!"

Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin helped make the Les Paul famous again in the 1970's and Slash from Guns n Roses brought in another generation of Les Paul fandom in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is today's entry-level version and is itself incredibly popular as evidenced by more than 4,100 reviews, critiques and recommendations for it currently on the internet along with the fact that Epiphone says this is their highest selling electric guitar.

Specifications

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Finish: Vintage Sunburst (pictured), Ebony or Heritage Cherry Sunburst
  • Bridge: Tune-o-matic
  • Pickups: Bridge - Epiphone 700T Humbucker, Neck - Epiphone 650R Humbucker
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12”
  • Number of Frets:
  • Nut Width: 1.68”
  • Controls: 1-volume, 1-tone
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way Epiphone toggle

Pros

Many users describe it by phrases like "great value for the money", "great beginner guitar", and "great quality for the price". And while most of the raves are from beginners, there were experienced guitarists who shared their positive sentiments, specifically pointing to its build quality and playability. And while many cheap guitars are plagued with mass production setup inconsistencies, the Epiphone Les Paul Special II gets a lot of kudos from users who found that it plays nicely right out of the box.

Cons

This guitar would've rated better if not for some users who rate it lower because of unfair comparisons to more expensive models. Still, there are valid complaints, including the quality of the tuners and minor cosmetic blemishes.

Overall

The vast majority of people who bought this guitar are very happy with it.

Here is Guns n Roses featuring Slash playing the riff and solo on a Gibson Les Paul replica of which Gibson later released their own replica version called the Slash Appetite Les Paul:

Best Budget Stratocaster (SSS)

Squier Bullet Strat (SSS)

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 1800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Squier Bullet Strat (SSS)

The Stratocaster, AKA 'The Strat', is almost certainly the highest selling electric guitar design of all time having first been released in 1954.

The list of famous Stratocaster players is almost endless, but it includes some of the greatest of all time including Jimi Hendrix and Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd

The Squier Bullet Strat is the lowest cost entry point into the world of Stratocasters but there is also a slightly higher spec'd version with a street price of $199.99 that you might like to check out called the Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster (SSS).

Specifications

  • Body: Basswood
  • Finish: Brown Sunburst / Polyurethane (pictured), also comes in Black, Fiesta Red, Pink or Arctic White
  • Bridge: 6-Saddle Vintage-Style Synchronized Tremolo
  • Pickups: 3 x Standard Single-Coil Strat
  • Neck: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5" (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.5" (241 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Nut Width: 1.650" (42 mm)
  • Controls: Master Volume, Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Middle Pickup)
  • Pickup Selector: 5-Position Blade: Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Middle Pickup, Position 3. Middle Pickup, Position 4. Middle and Neck Pickup, Position 5. Neck Pickup

Pros

This guitar is still consistently commended for its excellent value, thanks to its inherent versatility, which allows for 5 different tones via the pickup selector. It continues to get recommendations from experienced players, including those who want to try guitar modifications.

Cons

The tremolo bar (aka whammy bar) and tuners got some flak from users who reported having tuning stability issues, but this happens with most guitars in this price range. As expected from something that's cheap and popular, there are some users who unfairly compare this guitar to more expensive models.

Overall

This is the most inexpensive version of the Strat that you can buy, and it continues to be popular for many years.

Here is Eric Clapton playing the riff and solo on a Fender Stratocaster:

Best Budget SG

Epiphone SG Special (HH)

85
GEARANK

85 out of 100. Incorporating 2200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$179
Epiphone SG Special (HH)

The SG (Solid Guitar) was originally meant to be a re-design of the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson gave it the same name. Les Paul wasn't involved in the redesign and asked that his name be removed and so Gibson obliged and renamed it the SG.

The new design was meant to boost sales because the original was fading in the market, and it worked with more than 6,000 units sold during the first 3 years after the 1961 launch - more than 3 times the number of the original Les Paul Standards sold from 1958 to 1960.

Gibson said in 2009 that the SG Standard was their highest selling guitar of all time.

Legendary SG players include Angus Young from AC/DC and Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath.

Specifications

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Finish: Cherry (pictured), also comes in Ebony
  • Bridge: LockTone Tune-O-Matic
  • Pickups: Bridge 700T humbucker, Neck 650R humbucker
  • Neck: Hard maple
  • Scale Length: 24.75”
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 12”
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Nut Width: 1.68"
  • Controls: 1-master volume, 1 master-tone with KillPot
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way

Pros

Students and expert alike describe this guitar as a fun instrument, and goes further by commenting that it has exceeded their expectations. From its fast action playability to the quality of the finish, the Epiphone SGSpecial continues to rake in compliments. Several people even said that it comes surprisingly close to the feel and sound of a Gibson SG.

Cons

There were complaints about the quality and sound of the pickups - generally the same types of complaints found about most types of budget guitars. Some have gotten really good results by merely swapping out the pickups.

Overall

If you're a fan or classic rock and metal, then this is the budget guitar for you.

Here is AC/DC featuring Angus Young playing the riff and solo on a Cherry Red Gibson SG:

Best Budget Telecaster

Squier Affinity Series Telecaster (SS)

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 1650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Squier Affinity Series Telecaster (SS)

The Telecaster is the guitar that effectively started the solid-body electric guitar revolution.

During the 1930s and 1940s several companies tried to produce a solid-body electric but none of them were commercially successful. Then Leo Fender released his design in 1950 with a single pickup under the name Esquire, then added a second pickup and sold it under the name Broadcaster but soon had to change it due to a lawsuit from Gretsch who were already selling a drum kit using that name. Thus the "Tele" as we know it today was born.

Its popularity continues and as of today the Squier Affinity Series Telecaster is the highest rated solid-body electric guitar that sells for less than $200.

Specifications

  • Body: Alder
  • Finish: Lake Placid Blue / Polyurethane (pictured), also comes in Brown Sunburst, Gun Metal Gray, 2-Color Sunburst, Black and Arctic White
  • Bridge: 6-Saddle Top-Load Tele
  • Pickups: 2 x Vintage-Style Single-Coil Tele
  • Neck: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5" (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.5" (241 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Nut Width: 1.6” (40.6 mm)
  • Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone
  • Pickup Selector: 3-Position Blade: Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Neck Pickups, Position 3. Neck Pickup

Pros

It's hard to overstate how well liked this version of the Tele is by people who have bought and played it - something which is evidenced by its very high Gearank score. Most commendations point to its playability, tone and overall build quality.

Cons

For something that's continues to sell well, there are relatively very few complaints. Most of which are from people who encountered setup and cosmetic issues out of the box.

Overall

You can't go far wrong with the highest rated guitar under $200.

Here are the Rolling Stones with Keith Richards playing his Fender Tele:

As this is the highest rated guitar under $200 here is a second video showing the range of tones you can get from a Squier Affinity Series Telecaster:

Best Budget Super Strat (HSS)

Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J (HSS)

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J

The Pacifica series were originally designed during the 1990's in California and manufactured in Japan as Yamaha's take on Fender's two main designs - the Telecaster and the Stratocaster. The Pacifica PAC112J is a superstrat.

The Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J is their highest rated electric guitar under $200 but they also have a slightly cheaper option called the Pacifica PAC012DLX which also comes with a HSS configuration.

Specifications

  • Body: Alder
  • Finish: Black (pictured), also comes in Lake Blue, Natural, Old Violin Sunburst
  • Bridge: Vintage Tremolo
  • Pickups: Bridge Humbucking, Middle Single coil, Neck Single coil
  • Neck: Maple
  • Scale Length: 25 1/2" (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 13 3/4" (350 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Nut Width: Not specified
  • Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone
  • Pickup Selector: 5-Position

Pros

Many guitarists favored the Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J over the budget Squire HSS strats in their reviews. They commend its build quality and its tone. Value for money got repeated mentions, with some going as far as claiming that this guitar plays as well as those priced twice more.

Cons

There were no consistent complaints about this guitar in customer reviews - just a few of the same negatives about quality and tuning stability that most guitars in this price range get.

Overall

With its high rating, and Yamaha's reputation for student friendly quality, you can't go far wrong with the Pacifica PAC112J.

Here is a good review and demonstration of the Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J::

Best Budget Super Strat (HH)

Ibanez GIO GRX20Z (HH)

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Ibanez GRX20Z

Like many other Japanese guitar manufacturers in the 1960's and 1970's, Ibanez were essentially building copies of American guitars from the likes of Gibson and Fender which led to lawsuits which in turn led to Ibanez needing to come up with their own designs.

Then in 1986 they teamed up with Frank Zappa's guitarist Steve Vai to create a new design which led to the JEM and RG series that were launched in 1987 and Ibanez hasn't looked back since.

These types of guitars are known as 'Superstrats' because of their obvious body shape similarity to Fender's Stratocasters.

The GIO series are their current entry-level guitars with the GRX20Z, combining a superstrat style body with two humbucking pickups, being their highest rated option under $200.

Specifications

  • Body: Poplar
  • Finish: Black Night (pictured), also comes in Green Metallic, Jewel Blue, Vivid Orange and Silver
  • Bridge: FAT-6 tremolo
  • Pickups: 2 x Infinity R Humbucking passive/ceramic
  • Neck: GRX Maple
  • Scale Length: 25.5" (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard: Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Radius: 400 mmR
  • Number of Frets: 22
  • Nut Width: 42 mm
  • Controls: 1 x Volume, 1 x Tone
  • Pickup Selector: 3-way

Pros

This is another budget guitar that is routinely praised for the excellent value for money it provides. Many reviewers point to its playability as its strongest point, which is not surprising given that this guitar is from Ibanez. There were even several people who wrote in their reviews that they liked the GRX20Z so much that they had bought it more than once.

Cons

Other than a few complaints saying it doesn't stay in tune well enough (similar complaints can be found about all budget guitars) there weren't many consistently stated negatives about the GRX20Z.

Overall

If you're looking for an affordable shred machine that will help you get your chops up, then get the Ibanez Gio GRX20Z.

Here's a demonstration of a GRX:

Things to Consider When Buying a Cheap Electric Guitar

  • Cheap Electric Guitar Brands

    The two most prominent electric guitar brands overall are Fender and Gibson. Although you won't find guitars with those labels on the headstock in this price range, both of them have sub-brands under which they sell their entry level models: - Fender owns the Squier brand and Gibson owns the Epiphone brand. Other well-known brands that have guitars in this price range include Dean, ESP, Ibanez, Jackson, Kramer and Yamaha and Washburn.

  • Playability

    Since affordable guitars are designed for students, manufacturers know that playability is of utmost priority. This is the reason why many of these budget-friendly guitars don't stray from familiar neck and body measurements. This ensures that they feel as close to premium guitars as possible, albeit utilizing more cost effective materials and production methods.

    While many of them will satisfy players out of the box, it is unfair to expect these guitars to play like a dream, especially when considering their price. While not always required, it is recommended to have every guitar checked and set up by an experienced guitarist or technician, so you can make full use of its potential.

  • Pickups

    There are two basic types of pickups for electric guitars, Single Coil and Humbucking (double coil). The most practical difference is that single coils tend to sound crisp and bright while humbuckers tend to sound warmer (for more information see Seymour Duncan's detailed explanation). An electric guitar can have any combination of the two types and the combination on a guitar is described using the first letter of the pickup type in order from the one closest to the bridge. For example a classic stratocaster will be described as SSS meaning all three pickups are single coil. A more recent development is the HSS strat which means it has a Humbucker at the bridge with two Single coils. I've put the pickup configuration of each guitar below in brackets after the model name so you can easily see which pickups each guitar has and in what positing they are.

  • Scale Length

    This is essentially the distance measured between the saddle and the nut, or more accurately described as double the distance from the nut to the 12th fret plus some "compensation" added by the position of the saddle. A longer scale length requires higher tension in the strings and results in a brighter tone. A more detailed explanation with examples is presented quite well by Stewart MacDonald and a good description of the implications of different scale lengths can be found on Guitar Player. Guitars based on Stratocaster and Telecaster designs usually have a longer 25.5" scale while Les Paul and SG style guitars are characterized by a shorter 24.75".

Methodology

To make this guide as useful as possible for the purpose stated above, we've selected a strict set of criteria that ensures it covers the most widely available guitars that you will be able to easily find at online retailers and which have a good chance of being available from local stores as well.

To be considered for inclusion in this guide a guitar had to meet the following criteria:

  • We only included the 6 types of solidbody guitars above
  • They had to have a street price under $200;
  • They had to have 6 strings and be full sized meaning a scale length of at least 24";
  • Must have been widely available from major American music gear stores.

We looked at all of the guitars that met the criteria above and selected the most popular ones to process for their Gearank scores - you can find most of those guitars listed here.

We then chose the highest rated guitar in each of the 6 types listed above to recommend. For more information about this process please read How Gearank Works.

Comments

Post a Comment or Question

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Comments

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <b> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.