Best Guitars under $500
You have a $500 budget and are looking for the best electric guitar for your money. You may be thinking that a high quality instrument is out of your reach. Don’t despair! $500 is all you need to purchase an amazing guitar. In fact, the guitars in my list will leave you wondering why anybody would waste thousands of dollars on an expensive guitar. I mean, who has $2,500 (sometimes $6,000) to spend on a new Gibson?
Don’t let the gear snobs convince you that having an expensive guitar is part of being a real guitarist. Challenge them to a shred-off, savage them with your guitar playing, then throw salt in their wounds by showing them how big your price tag is.
My advice for finding the best electric guitar for you along with the best deal is to go to a guitar store, try out all of the guitars on the list, then shop online for the best price. Most major retailers will offer free shipping and a 15% discount (20% around the holidays). Also, these guitars are even more heavily discounted if you are patient enough to wait for a “stupid deal of the day” or similar promotion.
I’ve ordered the list from most to least expensive. Let me know in the comments section if you found a guitar that should have been included and please enjoy my list of the top ten best electric guitars under $500 in 2017.
G&L Tribute ASAT
For those that don’t know, G&L was the second company started by the legendary Leo Fender of Fender Guitars. As you would expect, G&L claims that their guitars are an improvement upon the original Fender designs, but I think that most will say they are practically the same thing. Case in point, the G&L Tribute ASAT looks and feels almost exactly like a Fender Telecaster, but at a much lower price point even compared to the Made-in-Mexico (MIM) Fender Telecasters. The price reduction is mainly due to the fact that this model is made in Indonesia.
Years ago, a guitar from Indonesia would be automatically regarded as junk, but now, foreign-made guitars can compete very well with American-made quality, and if you are in the market for a Telecaster, then the ASAT is a steal.
It either comes with an ash or basswood body depending on which finish you choose, two Leo Fender-designed G&L MFD single-coil pickups that are made in America, and a bolt-on maple neck with maple fingerboard. In other words, everything you need to achieve the country twangs to bluesy crunches, and it comes in right at our budget of $500.
Please note that I have seen this guitar heavily promoted in recent months, and I expect it will probably be on sale during the holidays as well. Also, you can buy one of these used for even less.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Epiphone is the only guitar manufacturer that is licensed by Gibson to build models to exact Gibson specifications. This means that if your heart is set on a Gibson, but your head (wallet) says no, then you should go with an Epi.
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard comes with many of the features of a full priced Gibson; you get the mahogany body with mahogany set neck, rosewood fingerboard, maple top (veneer unfortunately), Grover tuners, and two humbucker pickups. I’ll let you decide if a few more bells and whistles are worth an extra $2,000. There is nothing stopping you from trying out a Gibson and an Epiphone at the store to determine for yourself which one plays better.
Epiphone has several different models in the price range of $400-500, but the standard is tried and true. If you can muster another $100, then I would recommend that you check out the Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro. The upgraded pickups and coil tap feature are worth it in my opinion.
For those looking to play metal, rock and blues, the Ibanez RG450DX offers a little something different. Instead of the three single-coil or two humbucker pickup configurations seen in other guitars on the list, the RG450DX sports a humbucker, single-coil, humbucker configuration. Combined with a five-way pickup selector, this guitar is capable of a tonal diversity that others are not. Whether those tones are good or bad will be up to you.
Ibanez is known for building their guitars for speed and the RG450DX does not disappoint. A very lightweight mahogany body and three piece, bolt-on Wizard III maple neck provide you with the speed you expect from an Ibanez guitar.
A word of caution: I hear that the quality control on the RG series has not been great recently. I recommend trying one of these out at the store and either purchasing there so you know the quality is high or purchase from a reputable online distributor with excellent customer service in case anything goes wrong.
Gibson USA 2017 M2
Did you know that you can buy a Made-in-USA Gibson guitar for only $400? Well, let me introduce you to the Gibson M2. The M2 is based on the popular Melody Maker series and is considered a beginner guitar. You get the full Gibson experience which includes exceptional craftsmanship and a picture of your guitar being made in the factory here in the USA.
But, that is where the value ends in my opinion. As you can see there are other guitars in this price range that have outstanding features and tone woods, and I can’t help but feel that you are paying mainly for the Gibson name with the M2.
Anyone expecting this to sound or play like a Les Paul will be very disappointed. The body is made of poplar instead of Mahogany. The neck is made of maple instead of mahogany. There is no maple cap. The humbucker pickups sound okay, not great. I would put it on par with something like an Epiphone Special II which can be had for around half the price of the M2. The only things that stand out at this price point are the Gibson craftsmanship and the fact that it comes with a gig bag.
Now, that being said, the M2 is an Amazon exclusive guitar and I have seen Amazon put it on sale for only $250. That would be a steal.
Schecter Omen Extreme 6
Let me start by saying that this guitar is ridiculously priced for what you get. Schecter Guitar Research is clearly making a move on the market by offering what the people want at a lower price point than their competitors.
The great tone wood combination of mahogany body, bolt-on maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard paired with Schecter Diamond Plus high-output alnico humbuckers give it a very warm tone suited for rock, metal, and blues. But wait. There is more. The Omen 6 also comes with the coil tap feature if you wish to turn your pickups into single-coil and brighten up the tone.
Have I mentioned how beautiful the Omen 6 is? It comes in a variety of finishes and all have a carved quilted maple top and crème binding. I am a huge fan of crème binding.
The Omen 6 was built for speed and Schecter has absolutely done their research. This model has 24 jumbo frets, a double-cutaway body, and fast maple neck. Schecter has even taken into account small nuances such as placing the pickup selector within range of your pinky finger so as little movement as possible is needed by the player.
To top it all off, the Omen 6 rings in at $100 under budget. There is even a version that includes a Floyd rose locking tremolo for $50 more, still bringing us in under budget by $50.
ESP LTD EC-256
Electronic Sound Products (ESP) has created an incredible value in the LTD EC-256. And that value goes hand-in-hand with their philosophy as a company. ESP really cares about their artists and several major ones such as James Hettfield of Metallica have left Gibson to work with ESP.
However, at this price point they are competing with Epiphone rather than Gibson, and in my opinion, ESP wins. This model is about the same price as an Epiphone Les Paul Standard, but also comes with coil tap, better pickups (my opinion), and a sexier paint job. They have an EC-256FM version that includes a flamed maple veneer top (the FM part) for a few extra dollars.
The LTD EC-256 has a solid mahogany body, three piece mahogany set neck, and rosewood fingerboard; the ideal combination for rock and metal. If you are a fan of the Les Paul look and feel, then this guitar will be a strong contender for you.
Hagstrom Ultra Swede
Hagstrom is not as popular of a company as Gibson or Fender or Epiphone, but definitely give the Ultra Swede a try if it is available in your area. Hagstrom necks were known as “the fastest in the world,” and a lot of effort has been put into maintaining that legacy.
The tone woods are not my favorite (basswood body), but the point here is the playability. The Ultra Swede includes their H-Expander truss rod and Resinator fingerboard. This enables the neck to be an astonishing 18 – 19mm thick which, for many guitarists, means that they will be able to play faster on an Ultra Swede than on anything else.
Also, something to note is that the Ultra Swede sports two ceramic humbucker pickups. This is different from the typical alnico magnet humbuckers on other guitars on this list. It will be up to you to decide what you prefer, but some guitarists complain that ceramic pickups dampen the dynamic range of their tone.
If you don’t like the pickups, but love the neck, then that is an easy fix. While the set neck obviously can’t be switched, the Ultra Swede rings in at about $100 under budget which means that you save some money to put towards upgrades.
Squier Classic Vibe Stratocaster
As with the Epiphone, the Squier brand hails from China. But don’t let that fool you; the Classic Vibe has to be played to be believed. I have run into guitarists that are actually mad and upset after playing one of these because they feel they were fooled into spending too much money on their American Fenders.
The Squier Classic Vibe looks and feels like what you would expect from an expensive Fender Stratocaster, and it comes in at $100 under budget. The bright tone woods include an alder body with a bolt-on maple neck and fingerboard. It sports three single-coil Strat pickups, a five-way selector, and a vintage-style synchronized tremolo.
When you are at the guitar shop, compare this guitar with a Fender Standard American Stratocaster and one that was made in Mexico. The MIM Strat has been bumped from the list due to a price increase, but it is a great value. I mention it because it is only $100 over budget and comes with a few upgrades over the plastic parts of the Classic Vibe.
Epiphone G-400 Pro
The Epiphone G-400 makes the list because of the popularity of the Gibson SG design. The cherry red finish and double cutaway design are iconic, and Epiphone has done their best to match it in the G-400.
The original Gibson SG design came about because after Fender released the lightweight Stratocaster, the heavy and clunky Gibson Les Paul stopped flying off shelves. Gibson’s answer was the Solid Guitar (SG). They released it in 1961 and were back in business; the SG standard is Gibson’s best-selling model of all time. However, Les Paul hated the design and refused to endorse it which is why it isn’t called a Gibson Les Paul SG.
The tone woods and features are what you would expect from an SG. It has a mahogany body, mahogany neck, and rosewood fingerboard. It also comes in well under budget at around $360 – $400 depending upon who you purchase from. This means that it is a perfect guitar for upgrades if you love the SG design.
My suggestion is to purchase this guitar then take it to a luthier for a professional setup and pickup upgrade. You will still pay less than an American-made Gibson SG and be able to shape your own tone.
Agile AL-3010 SE 2TS Flame
Now we come to the least expensive guitar on the list, but not by much. The Agile AL-3010 can be had for around $315, and it comes with a lot of great features that help it stand out on this list.
For instance, the AL-3010 is the only guitar on the list equipped with an ebony fingerboard. While maple fingerboards produce bright tones and rosewood fingerboards produce warm tones, ebony fingerboards produce a tone somewhere in the middle. Also, ebony is a more expensive wood and ebony fingerboards are typically only found on premium guitars.
Other than the ebony fingerboard, the guitar is clearly designed like a Les Paul. It has a mahogany body, mahogany neck, flame maple top, Grover tuners, and two Type V Alnico humbucker pickups.
Agile does not have wide distribution so finding one in the store probably isn’t going to happen. However, considering the price and the value, it could be worth it to take a chance and purchase an AL-3010.