Now that you’ve decided to take up the electric guitar, only one question remains: What should I buy? It’s no easy task. Ask ten players out there and you’ll likely get ten different answers—there are, after all, hundreds of models, each with its own strengths and shortcomings.
For those just starting out, however, we’ve decided to focus on a few factors: affordability, simplicity and versatility. A beginner’s guitar should be easy to learn on (no complicated switches!), neutral or flexible enough for a few styles (no one-trick ponies!), and reasonably priced (nothing above $600!).
So we arrived at these 13 standard-issue models that you’ll find in almost every guitar store. And if you need some help with the terminology or the basics on what to look out for, check out our guide to buying your first electric. Now on to the instruments, in no particular order:
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Alongside the Stratocaster, Les Pauls have pretty much defined rock ’n’ roll. Everyone from Jimmy Page to Slash to Zakk Wylde has wielded one of these, and the guitar’s fat, creamy tone with near-endless sustain is instantly recognizable. Not everyone can afford a bona fide Gibson, though, but the Epiphone Les Paul Standard makes those sounds accessible to most of us.
- A pair of warm, fat-sounding Alnico and Alnico Classic humbuckers
- Robust mahogany body with a solid maple top
- Neck and body bindings, trapezoid fingerboard inlays for that classic Les Paul look
- It’s a fraction of the price of a Gibson Les Paul
Epiphone Les Paul Standards are built in China, South Korea or Indonesia. They no longer come with figured maple tops (you’ll find those on the Plustop PRO models), but have the cream neck and body binding, chrome pickup covers, and trapezoid inlays of their Gibson cousins. In other words, they are drop-dead gorgeous.
They don’t just look the part, either. Epiphone Les Paul Standards come with an Alnico humbucker at the neck and Alnico Classic humbucker at the bridge, which yield the classic thick, saturated tone Les Pauls are renowned for. And like a Gibson, these Les Pauls have a set of volume and tone knobs for each pickup.
The other specs on these also mimic those of a Gibson: a mahogany body and set neck, 12-inch fretboard radius, 24.75-inch scale, and Tune-o-matic bridge, among others. If you’re hankering after a rock-ready guitar that won’t break the bank, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard should top your list.
Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Stratocaster
There’s nothing much to say about a Stratocaster that hasn’t already been said over the 50 years since it made its debut. Fender’s flagship instrument shares the same reputation as a Les Paul: They’re the most iconic electric guitars. Ever. And the Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Stratocaster is one of the most value-for-money Strats out there today.
- Plays and feels like a high-end Strat at a fraction of the cost
- Has a 9.5-inch fretboard radius that’s neither too flat nor too curved
- Three Alnico III single-coils emulate a ’50s-era tone
- Retails for under $400
Don’t be put off by the Squier logo on the headstock. This model encapsulates a Strat’s reputation of being a versatile axe that can swerve from rock to blues to funk to ambient—and everything in-between.
The three Alnico III single-coils, wired up in five positions, are partly responsible for that. You can go from glassy tones of the neck pickup to the bite of the bridge pickup to the ‘quacks’ of the positions in-between, the latter of which refers to two single-coils activated in tandem.
Like many Fender Strats, the Classic Vibe ’50s has a lightweight alder body, maple neck and maple fretboard. Its “C”-shaped neck and 9.5-inch fretboard radius mean it’s comfortable for both rhythm and lead playing, while a vintage-style synchronized tremolo bridge makes the guitar even more of an all-rounder.
Wondering about the differences between the Classic Vibe ’50s and the Classic Vibe ’60s? Easy. Cosmetics notwithstanding, the latter has hotter Alnico V single-coils and an Indian laurel fretboard. Everything else—including their price tags—is identical.
Schecter C-6 Plus
Designed in South Korea and assembled in Indonesia, the Schecter C-6 Plus asks for little, but gives a whole lot more. For less than $300, this workhorse of a guitar packs in solid specs that cater more to lead guitarists of heavier genres.
- Beautiful ‘quilted’ top in many colors
- Diamond Plus humbuckers provide tighter and hotter tones
- For aspiring shredders: very flat fretboard and extra jumbo frets
- Retails for under $300
The first thing that you’ll notice about the Schecter C-6 is its sleek looks, with a quilted top peeking out from under a see-through finish. But here’s an important caveat: That quilted top is just a printed image and not the real deal. Still, the double-cutaway body, with a top contour for added playing comfort, looks like a contemporary guitar should.
Not to be outdone are the C-6’s technical specs. A pair of Schecter Diamond Plus pickups power the guitar; these are overwound humbuckers with a higher output, making the axe more suitable for metal and rock players. You don’t have individual controls, however. There’s only a master volume and master tone knob, along with a three-way pickup selection switch—all the better to concentrate on learning.
Add to those the 14-inch fretboard radius, 25.5-inch scale, thin “C”-shaped neck, and 24 extra jumbo frets, and you’re left with a guitar that’s built to be shredded on. A light basswood string-through body and a Tune-o-matic bridge—both of which improve resonance—are the other key highlights of the C-6. Frankly, you’ll find the hardest decision to make is choosing a finish from the five available.
ESP LTD EC-10
The ESP LTD EC-10 is crafted by the Japanese company’s budget subsidiary as a frills-free starter model—and that’s actually a great thing. Everything about this guitar is designed to be as easy to play as possible. And its price, under $200, is beginner-friendly, too.
- For aspiring shredders: very flat fretboard on a slim “U”-shaped neck
- Two LH-100 high-output humbuckers built for heavy-gain settings
- Contoured body for comfort, in both seating and standing positions
- Beveled cutaway for easier access to higher frets
- Retails for under $200
For better or for worse, there’s nothing striking about this sleek unit inspired by ESP’s Eclipse series. But there’s more than meets the eye.
A well-balanced body with contours on the lower bout make the EC-10 comfortable to play either sitting or standing, and beveled cutaways mean you can reach those upper frets with ease. Add to that the thin “U”-shaped neck, a flat 13.8-inch fretboard radius and 24 extra jumbo frets, and you have a model that aspiring shredders will love.
The two LH-100 humbuckers that power the guitar are certainly not the best out there. Yet, they’re aggressive and high-output enough (if a touch too muddy) to work well with distortion—just don’t expect sparkling, nuanced cleans with this.
Simply put, the Mitchell MD400 boasts features and specs that are more common on a guitar quadruple its cost. It’s a good-looking, versatile beast that you can use for pretty much any application.
- Two beveled cutaways for complete access to upper frets
- Unique, Alnico V rail split-coil pickups for even more versatility
- For aspiring shredders: very flat fretboard and medium jumbo frets
- It looks premium AF
- Retails for about $400
It’s a Super Strat, but not of the headbanging variety. The MD400 has a gorgeous AAA quilt maple veneer top in a variety of translucent finishes, body and neck bindings, offset abalone dot inlays, and a carved mahogany body. But where it really shines is in its features.
The MD400 has one Alnico V humbucker at the bridge and one Alnico V mini-humbucker at the neck. Both are ‘rail’-style pickups, which are quieter, and provide more consistent tone and sustain across the strings. And both pickups have been coil-split, too—so push or pull the master tone knob to disable one coil of each humbucker, effectively turning them into single-coil pickups.
Other features on the instrument tilt towards the speed merchant category: It has a flat 15.75-inch fretboard radius, shallow “C”-shaped neck, 24 medium jumbo frets, dramatic bevels on both cutaways, and a string-through body and set neck for added sustain. Like we mentioned, the MD400 is not your average ‘budget’ guitar.
Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus
It’s the cheapest Fender electric out there, and, honestly, we’re not sure why. The Mexican-made Modern Player Telecaster Plus is brimming with contemporary features you won’t find on your average Tele, American or otherwise.
- Versatile: unique triple pickup configuration
- Coil-split bridge humbucker takes you from aggressive to traditional
- String-through pine body with a hardtail bridge
- Retails for under $500
The first thing you’d notice about this Tele is its unique triple pickup configuration: There’s a humbucker at the bridge, a Telecaster single-coil at the neck, and a Stratocaster-style single-coil in the middle. Which means it can get way more aggressive than your average Tele.
However, the humbucker is coil-split: You can flick a toggle switch on the guitar to transform the pickup into a single-coil if you want the traditional Tele ‘spank.’ Mind you, the bridge humbucker probably won’t get you that exact tone, but it’s a trade-off for versatility.
A pine body is another unusual choice for today’s guitars (it was, however, the standard tonewood in earlier iterations of the Telecaster). But everything else about the Plus is modern. Like the 9.5-inch fretboard radius to easily switch between rhythm and lead playing, to the glossy “C”-shaped neck, to the Strat-style bridge for better stability and intonation.
Ibanez GIO GRX70QA
It’s been about two decades since Ibanez dropped the affordable GIO series. And the GRX70QA—one of the ten axes in the line—will pique the interest of guitarists eager to dive into rock, metal and other shred-leaning genres. Like the kind Joe Satriani, Herman Li, Munky and other Ibanez signature artists play.
- Ibanez Infinity pickups in a versatile configuration
- Treated New Zealand pine fretboard on a slim maple neck
- Contoured poplar body for comfort and playability
- Retails for under $200
Like many other ‘metal’ guitars at this price, the GRX70QA has a ‘quilted maple’ top—by that we mean an image of figured wood printed on a veneer—and a contoured, pointy Super Strat-style body. But with its sub-$200 price tag, you really shouldn’t expect a legit AAAAA figured maple top.
Compared to, say, the Schecter C-6 Plus, the GRX70QA is more versatile—inasmuch as they’re both built for high-gain genres—thanks to its pickup configuration and the addition of a whammy bar. Meanwhile, its slim neck plus a 12-inch fretboard radius make it easy for newbies to play.
Can’t decide between a humbucker and single-coil? Well, the GRX70QA has both, arranged in a humbucker-single-humbucker configuration with five possible combinations. The Infinity ceramic pickups on this model, however, may be nowhere near the top-of-the-line Ibanez pups. Yet, they can deliver neutral tones with bell-like harmonics, perfect conditions for distortion.
In terms of tonewoods, the GRX70QA has a poplar body—it’s softer and lighter than alder, its closest relative tone-wise—and an intriguing treated New Zealand pine fretboard. Ibanez says the wood has “gone through an advanced seasoning process” that results in “enhanced stability” and a “rich, warm tone.”
Dollar for dollar and feature for feature, the Epiphone Dot is arguably the best semi-hollow out there. It retails for a little over $400, and is versatile enough to take you from rock to blues to jazz, easy. Frankly, we wouldn’t recommend a semi-hollow as a starter guitar, but if you must have one, the Dot is your answer.
- Semi-hollow body that’s acoustically resonant
- Alnico Classic humbuckers are voiced to vintage tones
- SlimTaper “D” neck for comfort
- That iconic Gibson ‘ES’ look
- Retails for under $500
In simple terms, the Dot is a budget Gibson ES-335. And like the far more expensive guitar, this one has a laminated maple body and top, a mahogany neck, and a center block running within the otherwise hollow body to help out with the sustain and feedback—more and less, respectively. The SlimTaper “D” neck isn’t as chubby as the Gibson’s rounded “C,” but both models have a 12-inch fretboard radius.
The biggest difference between the two (besides the logos on the headstock, of course) is in the pickups. The Dot uses Epiphone’s Alnico Classic humbuckers, which admittedly don’t have the character, clarity and ‘singing’ mid-range of the ES-335’s PAF-harking Gibson Burstbuckers. But they’re still ace for the price: clean, thick and punchy.
You won’t be able to throw the horns up and unleash metal riffs with the Dot, yet it’s versatile enough for most types of rock, blues, country and jazz. Thanks to the center block, you’ll be able to drive this fella hard. And lest we all forget, the Dot clocks in at about an eighth of the price of a new 335.
Jackson JS22 Dinky
If you aren’t already playing metal, the Jackson JS22 Dinky will make you want to. This guitar represents all the things upon which the brand has staked its claim to fame: metal- and rock-ready performance axes with fast necks and bold humbuckers.
- Graphite-reinforced slim, satin-finished maple neck that’s built for speed
- For aspiring shredders: compound radius fretboard
- High-output Jackson humbuckers voiced for richness, sustain and overdriven tones
- All-black hardware for the quintessential metal look
- Retails for under $200
This Super Strat model’s minimal looks belie its bevy of features that you won’t typically find on a sub-$200 guitar. The biggest of these is the compound radius fretboard: It goes from 12 inches at the top, all the way down to an extremely flat 16 inches nearer the body. Which means it’s as comfortable to hold down chords as it is to shred at a hundred miles an hour on the upper frets. And the 24 extra jumbo frets here lend even more shred cred to the Dinky.
The two Jackson High-output Humbucking ceramic pickups are exactly that: They’re loud, work beautifully with distortion, and deliver full, rich tones with a long sustain. But as with many similar guitars in this price range, don’t expect amazing clean tones.
In terms of aesthetics, though, the Dinky doesn’t disappoint. Its arched top, pearloid sharkfin inlays and all-black hardware make the guitar stand out from the pack, while bindings on the neck give it a high-end vibe.
Meant as a ‘student guitar’ when it was released in the ’60s, the Fender Mustang has come a long way. The offset guitar is now known for its bright and punchy tone, smallish size, and, of course, its role as the main instrument of many alt-rock legends, Kurt Cobain included.
- Short, 24-inch scale length
- Lightweight, with a thin body and quirky shape
- Fuss-free controls and simplified circuitry
- Retails for under $500
Unlike an OG Mustang or the Squier Vintage Modified models, the new, made-in-Mexico Mustang is stripped-down but just as ballsy. Gone are the complex circuitry and switching systems—you only have a three-way pickup selector, and a volume and tone knob to negotiate.
The two single-coil pickups on this Mustang are modeled after the originals, but are slightly hotter in output. Couple these with the short, 24-inch scale and you can get percussive slaps the harder you hit the strings. And thanks to their pronounced midrange, the pickups also lend themselves well to effects, be it a fuzz or reverb. Or both.
Other modern appointments on the Mustang include a flatter, 9.5-inch radius fretboard, a Strat-style hardtail bridge, and a “C”-shaped neck. Tonewood-wise, the six-string uses alder in its body, and maple for its neck and fretboard.
Gretsch G5425 Electromatic Jet Club
The cheapest Gretsch electric distills the stuff the brand’s known for—ringing sustain, semi-hollow bodies, classic good looks—into a beginner’s guitar that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. The G5425 Electromatic Jet Club lists for $429, but you’ll be able to score a retail unit for under $300.
- Light, chambered basswood body with an arched maple top—can be played acoustically
- A pair of vibrant humbuckers that are a little on the trebly side
- Anchored Adjusto-matic bridge and die-cast tuners for tuning stability
- Classic Gretsch aesthetics in an affordable package
- Retails for under $300.
While it isn’t a traditional semi-hollow model with a center block, the Electromatic Jet Club has a chambered basswood two-tone body. Which means it’s really light and you can play it loud without plugging it in. Well, louder than most solid-body electrics, anyway.
The Jet Club doesn’t come with Gretsch’s better-known pickups (the Broad’Tron and Filter’Tron) but a pair of stock Dual-coil Humbucking pickups. Although these aren’t as hot or nuanced, they’re versatile enough to get most jobs done. Except for maybe doom metal. The 24.6-inch scale length here’s also shorter than most Fenders and Gibsons, while a 12-inch radius fretboard means you won’t have too much trouble bending and shredding.
Dean Vendetta XM
At a whisker over a hundred bucks, the Dean Vendetta XM is the cheapest guitar you should consider bringing home.
- High-output DMT Design humbuckers for searing riffs
- Interesting tonewoods
- For aspiring shredders: slim neck, very flat fretboard and medium jumbo frets
- It’s about a hundred bucks, c’mon
Curiously, Dean went with paulownia for the body—it’s a lightweight substitute for mahogany—and black walnut for the fretboard. These aren’t common woods for guitars, but hey, anything to distance itself from other budget models, right?
While the Vendetta’s Tune-o-matic bridge and string-through body are worth highlighting, its other features aren’t as risk-taking. Two DMT Design high-output humbuckers, slim “C”-shaped maple neck, 14-inch fretboard radius and 24 medium jumbo frets make this made-in-China model fairly unspectacular, but solid nonetheless.
Yamaha Pacifica 112V
Having been in the market for over two decades, the Pacifica is Yamaha’s greatest gift to all beginners out there. No matter whether you’re looking for excellent construction, quality tonewoods or enhanced playability, the Pacifica 112V’s got the features to back its reputation as one of the best starter axes out there.
- Contoured alder body with deep cutaways for playing comfort
- Versatile pickup configuration
- Retails for under $300
The first thing that you’ll notice about this guitar is its uncanny resemblance to Fender Stratocasters. But that’s not something to worry about—it just means that this Pacifica’s got its features in all the right places.
Take its body for instance. Like Strats, the Pacifica sports an alder body with contours, albeit upgraded with deeper cutaways. It also has a “C”-shaped neck with 22 frets (not a Strat’s 21!) that make it easy for beginners to maneuver.
But the Pacifica’s got unique specs, too. Its pickup configuration of two single-coils and one Alnico V humbucker on the bridge yields clear, rounded tones with a boosted midrange. Combine this with a five-way switch, and you’ve got a guitar that not only emulates that shimmering Fender sound, but delivers across a variety of genres, too.