Best Beginner Guitar – The Ultimate Acoustic & Electric Buyers GuideGuitarSpotting
Best Beginner Guitar – The Ultimate Buyers Guide
So you’re thinking of buying a guitar. And you’re looking for information on how to choose the best beginner guitar.
Maybe you’re thinking about finally learning how to play. Or planning to get back into it after some time away.
Perhaps you’re shopping for someone else, your significant other, a kid, a friend or relative. Or just looking for recommendations on a good entry-level acoustic or electric guitar.
Whatever your reason, congrats on making a great decision! Learning to play a musical instrument can be extremely rewarding.
But there’s so much information out there to sort through, it can get overwhelming.
In this article, you’ll learn about the key factors to consider when narrowing down your options. And I’ll make a few suggestions on what I believe are top candidates for the title of best beginner guitar.
Don’t worry – we’ll figure this out together.
For those of you with some time to read, you’ll find lots of great information in this article on how to select the Best Beginner Guitar for your specific needs. You can use the Contents Box below to skip to a particular section, or just keep on reading.
If you’re in a hurry, you can check out a great value beginner guitar on Amazon right now, by clicking either link below:
- 1 Best Beginner Guitar – The Ultimate Buyers Guide
- 2 Acoustic or Electric?
- 3 Shapes of Things
- 3.1 Acoustic Guitar Shapes & Sizes
- 3.2 Electric Guitar Shapes and Sizes
- 3.3 Les Paul vs. Stratocaster
- 4 Woodstock
- 5 Best Beginner Guitar Recommendations
- 6 Best Acoustic Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
- 7 Best Electric Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
- 8 Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
- 9 Conclusion
Hello, my name is Fred, and I’ll be your humble narrator as we discuss several acoustic, electric, and acoustic-electric guitars you should consider when looking for a quality starter guitar.
Full Disclosure: if you buy a guitar by clicking a link in this article, I’ll receive a commission, which would really help out the site. This won’t add anything to your cost, and you’ll get all the great advantages provided by Amazon, like free (or low-cost) shipping, an excellent return policy, and extremely competitive prices. I only recommend guitars that I personally believe provide great sound and excellent value.
All the guitars discussed here (with one exception) are currently available for under $500. It makes sense that you don’t want or need to break the bank when you’re just starting out.
The truth is, there are all kinds of guitars on the market today, and there’s never been a better time to buy one.
Guitar manufacturers have streamlined the process of guitar building and figured out how to give them as much sound and build quality for as low a price as possible. But since there are so many options to choose from, finding the best beginner guitar can be a little tricky.
Before I get into specifics, let’s try to determine your main area(s) of concern.
The first decision to make is one we have to deal with every time we want to buy something new:
Price vs. Quality.
It happens all the time.
You start off saying I just want something cheap but good. But when you dive into the options, there’s always a better model available for just a few dollars more. Or you find a good choice, but it’s missing a key feature that makes you pause.
You may also be thinking, I just want a great guitar and am not all that worried about the price. But what if there are better or equally good options available for less money?
With guitars, you want to think about their overall quality and how you’ll feel about them not only now, but a year from now.
If you buy the wrong one, you may think it sounds fine at first, but over time you will start to notice its shortcomings.
And you definitely don’t want to buy a poorly-made guitar that will be falling apart in 6 months.
Of course, the opposite is also true. You don’t want to spend a huge chunk of coin on a beginner guitar that might be collecting dust in the back of your closet in 6 months. Or when another guitar would have been equally fine for half the price.
But eventually, a choice must be made. There is no perfect guitar.
I could show you the sweetest most beautiful acoustic guitar in the world, but if you’re auditioning for Metallica next week, it isn’t going to do you much good. And the coolest electric guitar with great distortion and lots of gadgets isn’t a good choice if you’re just looking for a guitar you can bring with you to sing songs beside the campfire.
Bottom Line: You don’t want to buy a cheap, mediocre guitar, because if you’re still playing a year from now, you’ll probably need or want to replace it. Plus, if it doesn’t sound good or is hard to play, you may find it difficult to keep practicing.
Conversely, if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure how committed you’re going to be over the long-term, you don’t want to spend a fortune on a guitar when you’re still not sure what type of sound or features you’ll need.
Start with a rough idea about how much you’re able to spend, and let’s dive right in!
To try and focus in on the best option for your specific needs, let’s consider 4 Questions to ask yourself.
Acoustic or Electric?
- What Size or Shape?
What Type of Wood?
- What Style of Music Turns You On?
Acoustic or Electric?
A simple question:
Are you looking for an acoustic or electric beginner guitar?
This is a question that only you can answer.
You may be thinking …
But which one should I get if I’m just starting out? I have no idea!
The best answer I can give is a little unsatisfying, but here goes:
Making this decision is not as easy as it sounds, because there are pros and cons to both options.
Acoustic Guitar – Pros
With an acoustic guitar, you start out with a more natural sound, and can play it anywhere. Pick it up and you’re ready to go.
You don’t have to make sure there’s an electrical outlet nearby, and you don’t have to worry about tripping over a cable or plugging it in. Or buying expensive accessories like an amplifier or pedals. You also won’t need to fiddle around with settings and distortion on the guitar or the amp.
Acoustics are great for both strumming chords and fingerpicking, and work quite well for solo performances where you sing along with the guitar.
They’re also generally a little cheaper.
If your top priority is to buy a guitar you can just pick up and play whenever you want or take with you when you go camping, to your friend’s place, or even just the backyard, an acoustic guitar is calling your name.
Acoustic Guitar – Cons
While you can strum along and play an electric sort of like an acoustic, it isn’t quite the same the other way around. For obvious reasons, acoustic guitars are more limited than electric guitars.
You’re not using an amp, and you can’t easily change the volume, settings or tone, or add distortion. You can get an acoustic-electric guitar, but while they do provide amplified sound, it’s more about volume and projection than creating similar sounds and effects to an electric guitar.
Most people feel that acoustic guitars are a little more difficult to play than electrics, which may provide some frustration in the early going. However, if you learn on an acoustic, switching to an electric later on is a little easier than doing it the other way around.
Acoustics are also generally a little bigger, which may be a factor if you have a smaller frame.
Electric Guitar – Pros
Electric guitars usually have thinner necks, and slightly thinner strings.
They also generally have lower action, which is the distance between the guitar string and the fretboard. Strings closer to the guitar’s neck are easier to press down and hold when forming chords and playing notes.
Electrics often have smaller bodies, making them a little bit easier to hold and play, especially in the beginning.
They also have more sustain, and a much wider variety of sounds to experiment with thanks to the tone and gain settings on the guitar or amp. As a result, a beginner often sounds a little “better” on an electric than an acoustic early on.
If your top priority is to play with distortion and you love exotic sounds and guitar solos, an electric guitar is your destiny.
Electric Guitar – Cons
An electric guitar provides a lot of bells and whistles, but this can actually be a distraction when you just need to learn how to play first.
They also require an amplifier and cable, which is a factor if your main priority is to keep costs low. Plus the need to be near an amp and an outlet whenever you play limits your mobility.
In addition, while an electric guitar can create a wide variety of sounds, a lot of them sound better when accompanied by bass and drums, or with one guitarist playing lead guitar while another plays rhythm.
The #1 enemy you (or the person you’re buying the guitar for) will face early on is the threat of quitting. Learning to play guitar isn’t easy, and it can be frustrating. Of course, it can also be extremely rewarding, but you’ve got to stick with it in order to progress your skills.
Practice makes perfect.
I discussed the pros and cons of both an acoustic and an electric guitar above. Ultimately, the 3 main factors to consider when making your final decision are as follows (with help from the Eagles):
I Can’t Tell You Why – Which one fits your needs the best? Are you excited to play around with different tones and amplify your sound? Or do you simply want a guitar that you can pick up and start playing whenever you want? Do you like the sound of acoustic guitar strumming and picking? Or do you prefer distortion and power chords?
Already Gone – Frequent practice is necessary to improve your skills. Sometimes it can be a bit of a drag, so it’s a good idea to think about whether an acoustic or electric guitar is more likely to keep you motivated to continue learning and practicing well into the future.
- The Long Run – Picture yourself playing guitar 6 months or a year from now. Visualize it. Now, where were you, what type of music were you playing, and what kind of guitar were you holding?
Electric guitars are slightly easier to hold and play for a beginner, and may help you sound a little better early on.
However, I still give a slight edge to acoustic guitars when started out, because you can focus on learning how to play without worrying about buying an amp or fiddling around with settings.
After you get comfortable, switching from an acoustic to an electric will be relatively easy, because you’ve already learned how to play with a slightly bigger body, higher action, and a more natural sound.
However, it’s just as important to consider the style of music you want to play.
If you like the thought of bringing your guitar to a social gathering or just picking it up and playing, go acoustic. If you love music with distortion and want to crank out power chords and solos, go electric.
If you want to play acoustically but would like to plug in for some added volume at a party, or perhaps do some solo gigs at a coffee shop or small venue from time to time, choose an acoustic-electric.
These factors are only about 25% of the equation, though. The other 75% is on you:
Which type of guitar are you most excited about playing right now? Which type are you most likely to keep practicing on, even on those days when you don’t feel like it?
If you’re still playing 6 months from now and loving it, you can always get another guitar later. You can sell the beginner guitar, or play more than one.
Warning: holding and playing a variety of cool guitars can get a little addictive …
Bottom Line: Lots of people have opinions about what makes the best beginner guitar. And there are pros and cons to either option.
Just understand this:
There is no wrong answer.
Only you can decide whether an acoustic or electric guitar is right for you personally.
Ultimately, the second most important factor is how the guitar sounds.
You also want it to be well-made and look cool.
But the most important factor, by far, is to choose a guitar you’re going to play.
Hopefully by now you have a pretty good idea whether an acoustic or electric guitar is what turns you on:
Choose that one.
Les Paul vs. Stratocaster
There are many shapes to choose from but if you’re just starting out, the first order of business to decide is whether you prefer the Les Paul or Stratocaster design.
They produce different sounds, and the visuals also have to be considered. Because you want to look cool too, right?
The Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster are premium guitars. They look and sound great, but can also be fairly expensive.
If you want to dip your toe in the water before diving in, luckily there are cheaper beginner guitars worth owning. Epiphone makes quality budget Les Paul guitars, and Squier makes quality beginner Strats and Teles.
The Les Paul has a fat, meaty, warm tone, leading to a rounder sound with lots of sustain. While they can produce some squawk, they’re famous for their “clean” tone.
It’s often heard in classic rock, and frequently used to play blues and jazz.
- 24.75” scale length
- glue-on neck
- body usually mahogany
- bulky and a little heavy
- single cutaway
- 2 humbucker pickups (bridge & neck)
- fixed bridge (no tremolo)
The Stratocaster features a bright tone with some bite, leading to a sharper, twangy sound. While they can produce a quality clean sound, they’re famous for their “dirty” tone.
It’s known as a rock guitar, but is versatile enough to handle many different musical genres.
- 25.5” scale length
- bolt-on neck
- body usually alder or ash
- thinner, lighter contoured body & neck
- 2 cutaways
- 3 single-coil pickups (bridge, mid & neck)
- tailpiece & tremolo
The body of a Telecaster is fairly similar to a Stratocaster, but has a single cutaway, larger bridge and smaller headstock.
It usually has either 2 single-coil pickups or 1 single-coil and 1 humbucker, and has 1 tone control (compared to 2 on a Strat).
The Tele has a bright sound with a little extra twang, and is often used to play country music. Though it’s actually quite a versatile guitar as well.
SG (Solid Guitar)
The SG was created by Gibson in 1961 after alterations were made to the original Les Paul design.
It’s a similar guitar to a Les Paul, usually made of mahogany with humbucker pickups and fixed bridge. But it has a different shape with a pair of long “horns”, thinner flat-top contoured body, double cutaway, and slimmer neck.
These changes mean it’s lighter and easier to hold for long periods of time, and it produces a slightly grittier sound with less sustain than a regular Les Paul.
Gibson first introduced the futuristic Flying V guitar in 1958, but it didn’t sell and disappeared until 1967.
It’s a light guitar with a more focused mid-range sound than the Les Paul.
The Flying V later became popular with heavy metal musicians due to its aggressive appearance.
If you love the sound, tone and music of guitarists listed mostly in either the Les Paul or Stratocaster section below, this may help point you in the right direction. Of course, most guitarists play multiple guitars, but these guitar icons are strongly associated with one or the other:
- Jimmy Page
- Randy Rhoads
- Pete Townshend
- Joe Perry
- Ace Frehley
- Billy Gibbons
- Alex Lifeson
- Zakk Wylde
- Jimi Hendrix
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Eric Clapton
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Jeff Beck
- Billy Corgan
- Buddy Holly
- Yngwie Malmsteen
Best Beginner Guitar Recommendations
(Disclaimer: All guitars listed in this section were under $500 at the time the article was written. However, be aware that prices often fluctuate and are always subject to change.)
When looking for the best beginner guitar suitable to your own specific needs, obviously you want to find a guitar with great sound and build quality. And since you may have a budget in mind, or may not yet be sure exactly what you’re looking for, or even how much use it will get, you want to keep the cost reasonable.
The type of wood used to build an acoustic guitar is a key factor in the type of sound it generates. Solid wood means that the guitar part in question is usually made from a single piece of wood.
However, many cheap acoustic guitars are made of laminate, which consists of thin sheets of wood layered on top of one another like plywood. Often layers of higher-quality wood are mixed in with several different layers of cheap, inferior wood. This is obviously done to save money, which is important when trying to build a guitar that can be sold at a low price.
The problem is that in addition to the lower-quality wood, laminate is also quite stiff, providing less vibration leading to lower quality sound. When you strum the strings of an acoustic guitar, their vibrations are translated into sound waves throughout the guitar body, especially in the top.
A guitar’s neck and headstock are also made of wood, and they can also influence the overall sound and tone of a guitar. However, the differences are subtle and difficult to notice at first. Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry too much right now about the type of wood used for the neck.
The most important factor to look at in an acoustic guitar is the type of wood used for the top, back and sides of the guitar body, especially the top, which generates the majority of the sound.
For an acoustic guitar, you want a solid wood top if at all possible.
It would be great to have an all solid-wood guitar body (top, back, and sides) as these guitars do have better overall tone and sound, but they can also be quite expensive.
If you’re going to make a compromise in order to save some cash, getting a guitar with a solid wood top and laminate back and sides is the best way to do it.
The Strings: You may also be wondering about guitar strings. If you’re not sure, choose a guitar with nylon strings if you plan to play predominantly classical or flamenco music. Choose a guitar with steel strings for everything else (rock, blues, folk, country, etc.) Strings come in various gauges (measuring how fat the strings are), and thicker strings are a little better for strumming and bass sound, whereas lighter gauges work a little better for fingerpicking.
Every guitarist has their own preference, but we recommend starting out with light strings (which most of these acoustics come equipped with), and consider upgrading to medium if you do a lot of heavy strumming.
Best Acoustic Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
Most of the guitars recommended in this section have solid wood tops. But I wanted to include one under $100 on this list, because some people are just looking for a low-cost beginner acoustic guitar, and this may represent the high end of your budget. But you’re not going to find guitars with a solid wood top in this price range.
The Jasmine s35 was originally designed as a budget guitar by Takamine, a Japanese guitar manufacturer well-known for their high-quality acoustics. They later sold the Jasmine line, but these guitars are still made using the same design and a similar build process.
The s35 is a full-size dreadnought acoustic guitar made with a laminate select spruce top, laminate agathis body and sides (agathis is similar to mahogany), and a nato wood neck. The guitar is lighter, and the neck is slimmer, than many other acoustics in this price range.
Most importantly, the Jasmine s35 sound is surprisingly good, and surprisingly loud, for such a cheap guitar.
It’s also reasonably well-built using Takamine’s clever design. It’s comfortable to hold, plays well, and looks cool.
If you just want to dip your toe in the water, the Jasmine s35 is a pretty good place to start.
The sound and build quality are as good or better than most acoustic guitars priced this low. If you buy one and find that you (or the person you’re buying it for) continue to play well into the future, you can always upgrade later and still use it as a travel or practice guitar.
You can read my full Jasmine s35 review here.
Summary: Quality budget guitar.
Yamaha makes a lot of high-quality musical instruments, and they definitely know a thing or two about designing and building acoustic guitars.
They seem to have figured out how to hit that sweet spot at the intersection of quality and value. Priced a little above typical mediocre entry-level guitars that don’t cost a lot but also look and sound cheap, the Yamaha FG800 is still available at a very reasonable price.
For some time, the Yamaha FG700s has been one of the best selling acoustic guitars in the world. In early 2016, Yamaha announced that they were discontinuing the 700 Series guitars, and replacing it with the 800 Series.
Yamaha modified the way their guitar tops are constructed by adding scalloped bracing. This improved an already excellent guitar design, providing additional resonance, volume and punchier bass. As a result, you get even better sound quality for the same price as the FG700s.
If you’re looking for a standard dreadnought-size beginner acoustic guitar, the FG800 is an excellent choice.
The Yamaha FG800 is a well-made guitar that looks pretty and sounds great. In fact, this guitar may be the best overall value on this entire list.
It’s made with a solid wood Sitka spruce top, and nato/okume laminate back and sides. The nato neck size is about average.
If you prefer a different wood for the back and sides, or even a solid mahogany top, there are several other guitars worth considering in the 800 Series. I love the sound produced by the Yamaha FG830 (and FS830), with its solid Sitka spruce top and rosewood back and sides.
If you’re looking for a smaller ‘concert-size’ guitar, consider the Yamaha FS800 instead. These new FS 800 Series guitars are very attractive, with a bold sound and cool look, and made with the same wood types as the FG models.
Check out my Yamaha FG800 Review for more information about this guitar along with full details about the 800 Series and the different FG and FS guitar models currently available.
if you’re just starting out, unless you have a specific wood type in mind I recommend choosing either the Yamaha FG800 or Yamaha FS800, depending on whether you want a full-size dreadnought (FG), or the smaller concert-size acoustic guitar (FS).
Summary: Awesome value.
Takamine is a Japanese guitar manufacturer well-regarded throughout the industry for the quality of their acoustic guitars.
The Takamine GD20 is part of their G Series of guitars, and it’s a lovely dreadnought-style acoustic with a solid cedar top and mahogany back and sides.
The combination of cedar and mahogany gives this guitar a warm, detailed tone. It just sounds sweet!
This Takamine acoustic has great playability and feel, and comes with a satin finish that gives it a cool, elegant look.
If you’re interested in a Takamine but need to save a few bucks, you can also consider the Takamine GD10. It has a select spruce top (not solid wood), and would be a decent beginner guitar. Another option is the Takamine GD30, which has a solid spruce top and is a little more expensive.
But the Takamine GD20 provides the best combination of sound and value.
It’s got a rich, sweet sound at a fair price. The design and build quality are excellent as well.
Summary: Cool guitar, great for strumming.
The Seagull s6 is a little pricier than some of these other options, but it’s well worth it. It’s a great guitar with excellent sound, high-quality build, and smart design. The s6 is made in Canada with a strong attention to detail.
The s6 has a solid cedar top, wild cherry wood back and sides, and a maple neck.
If you’re able to spend a little more money now to buy a higher-end acoustic that you will play and cherish for a long time without having to think about upgrading, the Seagull s6 is an excellent choice.
The sound of a solid wood tops opens up over time, but it happens a little quicker with cedar than it does with spruce. As your playing improves and the wood matures, you’ll sound amazing in no time.
The neck is a little bigger than some similar acoustics.
Most players get used to this pretty quickly, but if you think it’s going to be an issue you can choose the Seagull S6 Original Slim instead, which is essentially the same guitar, but with a slimmer neck.
For more info, you can also read my Seagull S6 Review.
Summary: Fantastic sound and build.
Most of the acoustic guitars I’ve recommended here are versatile dreadnoughts that can be used to play a wide range of musical styles. Regular dreadnoughts have been the most popular acoustic guitar shape for decades, but they can also be a bit large for some people, especially children, teens, and people with small frames or arms.
If you’re interested in a smaller guitar but still want a dreadnought shape with great sound, the Baby Taylor might just be Taylor-made for you.
It’s a 3/4 dreadnought, meaning that it’s still got the traditional dreadnought shape, but at 3/4 the size.
Taylor is world-famous for their awesome guitar tone, and this is a high-quality acoustic guitar, sacrificing a small amount of bass when compared to a full-size dreadnought, but providing similar sound.
The mahogany version (shown here) has a solid mahogany top and layered sapele back and sides. It’s got a gorgeous dark look and punchy mid-range, bringing a bluesier, earthy edge to the sound. The Baby Taylor can also be found with a Sitka spruce top (they’re both usually around the same price).
If you’re intrigued but think the Baby Taylor might be a little small for your needs, you can also consider the Big Baby Taylor, which is made in the same dreadnought shape, bigger than a regular Baby Taylor but just a little bit smaller than a full-size dreadnought.
If you’re more interested in a full-size Taylor acoustic guitar, take a look at the Taylor 110e. It’s an acoustic-electric guitar (they no longer make the acoustic-only Taylor 110), and it’s discussed in more detail a little further down in the acoustic-electric guitar section.
Summary: Small Guitar, Big Sound.
Bonus Option: Cordoba C5 (Classical)
The focus of this article is on versatile, mainstream steel-string acoustic guitars suitable for many different musical styles including rock, folk, pop, country and blues.
But if you are specifically looking for a nylon-string classical guitar, check out the Cordoba C5.
The c5 is a full-size classical guitar that is still very light, with a thin playable neck and excellent sound and build quality.
It has a solid cedar top, and mahogany back and sides. It’s crafted in the traditional Spanish style, and comes with quality nylon strings.
The design and bracing pattern used here let the soundboard vibrate more freely than those found in cheaper classical guitars, providing better tone and added volume.
It also includes a truss rod inside the guitar (something not always found in classical guitars), which would enable you to have it set up if it requires an adjustment down the road.
It comes with a gig bag included.
The Cordoba c5 is priced a little above your standard entry-level classical guitar, but it’s a great guitar at this price. It has a lovely soft, warm sound and looks beautiful. It’s also well-designed with reasonably low action.
It’s a stunner.
Summary: Suitable for beginner and intermediate classical guitar players.
Many different types of wood are used to make acoustic guitars in all shapes and sizes. And plenty of them are awesome guitars.
But guitars built with unusual tonewoods in exotic body styles are usually more expensive, and as a beginner you may not yet be sure exactly what type of sound or shape you’ll prefer down the road. If you have a particular option in mind, certainly feel free to choose any body type or wood you like.
But I suggest keeping it simple unless you know exactly what you want.
The guitars I recommended are all made with spruce, cedar or mahogany tops. Solid spruce tops are great for beginners because they provide balanced sound. Cedar and mahogany tops are also quite common, with slightly different (but still great) sound characteristics.
They use various types of wood laminate for the back and sides to help keep costs down. It’s not a major concern because the sound difference between a guitar with solid wood back and sides and one with laminate back and sides is very subtle.
If you’re still a little unsure about the shape, go with a dreadnought unless you have a specific reason to choose otherwise.
For example, if you know you’re going to need a smaller guitar body, choose a concert-size or 3/4 acoustic instead.
The beginner acoustic guitars listed here are all excellent values.
If your maximum budget is around $100 and you don’t need a solid wood top for now, get a Jasmine s35.
If you want to experience a dreadnought shape but require a smaller guitar, the Baby Taylor is a perfect fit.
The Takamine GD20 is a good option if you prefer a solid cedar top and a lot of strumming.
And if you can expand your budget, the Seagull S6 is probably the best sounding acoustic guitar on the list.
But if I’m going to declare a winner for best overall value, taking cost, sound, build, and look into consideration, it’s hard to top the Yamaha FG800 as the best beginner acoustic guitar.
The Yamaha is a bit more expensive than a cheap entry-level guitar, but spending a little extra money now is worth the investment.
When you consider what you’re getting, the price is a steal. It’s an acoustic guitar with great sound and build quality, and you won’t have to worry about upgrading for quite a while.
If you’re interested in a Yamaha but prefer a smaller guitar, the concert-size Yamaha FS800 is an equally good choice.
Good luck! I sincerely hope you find an acoustic that is your perfect best beginner guitar.
Best Electric Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
(Disclaimer: While these guitars can usually be found under $500, prices are always subject to change.)
The first thing to do when shopping for a beginner electric guitar is decide whether you’re interested in a Les Paul or Stratocaster, or if you prefer a different shape.
For many years, a battle has raged for electric guitar dominance between the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster. They’re great guitars but can both be quite expensive, especially for a beginner on a limited budget.
Luckily, a couple of companies have stepped in to fill the gap.
Epiphone has been making musical instruments since 1873, and they’re the go-to company for budget Les Paul guitars. They offer quite a few high-end models as well, and their entry-level guitars are known for having quality sound and build.
Epiphone guitars are well-regarded by many professional musicians and others in the music industry. The company is actually owned by Gibson, and they definitely influence how these guitars are designed and manufactured.
The same applies if you prefer the Stratocaster or Telecaster design.
Squier is a guitar manufacturer owned by Fender, and they produce several good quality budget guitars that let you experience the look, feel and tone of a Stratocaster or Telecaster without breaking the bank.
With most products, including guitars, the law of diminishing returns kicks in once you reach a certain price. Sure, you can get a better quality instrument with a 5-15% increase in sound or build quality or a couple of extra features, but at double the price.
It’s like getting a great Smart TV for $500, or getting a slightly better model with a few extra features for $999.
These days, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great beginner guitar.
The type of wood used in the construction plays a role in an electric guitar’s overall sound and tone, but the pickups, amplifier and strings you use are more important.
Listed below are several popular electric guitars that are strong contenders for the title of best beginner electric guitar.
The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is the textbook definition of a starter electric guitar.
It’s the cheapest way for a beginner to experience the tone and feel of a Les Paul, and many guitarists earned their wings playing one of these guitars.
They certainly have the look down pat, and the sound and build quality are pretty good, especially when you consider the price.
The Les Paul Special II has a mahogany body that is flatter than a regular Les Paul, and a slim neck. It comes equipped with a pair of hot open-coil Epiphone 700T and 650R humbucker pickups, providing a thick Les Paul tone. It also features a fixed Tune-o-matic Bridge.
The sound it produces isn’t special, but it’s not bad either, and it definitely looks, feels and sounds like a Les Paul. To keep the cost down, it’s missing several features included in higher-end models including a pickguard, arched top and binding.
The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is specifically made for people who want to purchase an electric guitar and are (a) a beginner, and (b) on a tight budget.
So if you just want to get started and your budget is limited, this would make a solid beginner guitar. If you continue to upgrade your skills and save a little extra money in the future, you can always upgrade later.
If you have extra cash to spend right now, you may want to consider the Epiphone Les Paul Standard instead. It’s a higher quality guitar, and includes the features missing from the Special II (binding, arched top, & pickguard). It’s also made with better wood (mahogany body, maple top) and higher-quality Alnico pickups. These additions mean it has better overall sound and tone and will stay in tune longer. It can get you reasonably close to the Gibson sound for a lot less money.
The Epiphone Les Paul Standard is great for blues, hard rock and metal music. It’s got an excellent clean tone, and attention-grabbing distortion.
Epiphone does offer another similar guitar priced in between these two (the Epiphone Les Paul 100), but if you can afford to go up in price from the Special II, I’d recommend either spending a little extra on the amp, or going straight to the Standard. You’re going to want one soon enough anyway.
When you consider the low price of the Epiphone LP Special II, it’s just a damn good value for a beginner on a budget.
If you can afford the Les Paul Standard, it will provide you with much better tone and several useful features, and can stay with you from the beginner through the intermediate stage.
Summary: The Epiphone Special 2 has the price. The Les Paul Standard turns it up to 11.
If you want a quality Strat but also enjoy paying your rent, the Squier Affinity Stratocaster is a great place to jump in.
These Squier Strats are pretty good guitars for the price.
There are several options to consider, the cheapest one being the Squier Bullet Stratocaster. If your budget is extremely limited, this basswood guitar is a decent starter guitar. But the Affinity is a better choice if you can afford it. It’s a better guitar, and not that much more.
The Affinity has a contoured body, and feels a lot like a Fender. Upgrades on the Bullet include the use of alder wood and die-cast tuners, and a thinner neck. Both have 3 single-coil pickups with bite, a 5-way switch and a tremolo.
One reason the price is so low is that they’re factory-made overseas, and some budget guitars have a minor defect of some kind. Most are fine but if you buy one, give it the once-over to make sure everything checks out.
Many players feel that a Squier Affinity Stratocaster can sound pretty close to a Fender Stratocaster with a few modifications.
And it’ll definitely have more value than the Bullet if you decide to sell it and upgrade later on.
If you’re more interested in a Telecaster than a Stratocaster, consider a Squier Affinity Telecaster instead.
Both the Bullet and Affinity Strats have a thinner body than a regular Fender Stratocaster, so if you think you’ll want to play a normal size Strat in the future, and you’ve got some wiggle room in your budget, you may want to consider going straight to the Squier Standard Stratocaster instead. In addition to the larger size, it comes equipped with upgraded Alnico pickups, a slimmer neck, and a better tremolo system.
Although not a massive upgrade, the Squier Standard Strat (made with agathis wood) will sound, feel and play a little better than the first two options.
Of course, you may need to find a place with cheaper rent first. But then you’d need the extra room to store all your guitars. It’s a catch-22.
Summary: Classic Stratocaster look, feel and sound on a budget.
Another electric to consider choosing for your beginner guitar is the Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V.
It’s an excellent guitar at a surprisingly good price, and is made with an alder body and reasonably thin maple bolt-on neck.
The PAC112V has good action and quality electronics, including a vintage vibrato and 3 great-sounding Alnico V pickups (2 single-coil, and 1 humbucker in the bridge position). This will give you the flexibility to utilize both a powerful humbucker sound and more traditional single-coil Strat tones. It has a 5-position switch with coil tap.
It has a bright sound that can handle a wide variety of musical styles, and the neck plays fast. It’s a great guitar for rocking out, and can be used to play everything from country to metal. Though it isn’t made for shredding.
And the vibrato can make the guitar go out of tune fairly quickly.
The Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V is a beautiful, versatile electric guitar that you’ll be proud to own for a long time. It has a unique design, and is built to last with quality construction and a lovely finish.
Guitarists often rave about its comfortable feel and playability.
Summary: Excellent sound and build quality at this price.
(Note: If you’re feeling adventurous, another cool guitar to consider is the G&L Tribute Fallout. It’s got a pickup pairing of a humbucker and a P90 and is capable of producing a surprisingly versatile range of tones. Good value for the price. Check out the G&L Tribute Fallout review for more info).
The previous options are all versatile guitars designed to play many different types of music, but if you (or the person you’re buying a guitar for) are really into hard rock and metal music, there is also the Ibanez RG421.
Ibanez has a great reputation throughout the music world for the sound and build quality of their guitars. The RG421 is a good starter guitar that can also lead you well into the intermediate stage. It can handle many different musical genres, but really shines for shredding. It’s often referred to as a “Superstrat“.
And if you’re itching to get your shred on, why start out with a more traditional guitar like a Les Paul or Strat and spend your time dreaming about upgrading to a more “metal” guitar when you can do it now instead?
This version is made with a rosewood body and 3-piece maple Wizard III neck. It has a fixed bridge, 24 frets, and comes equipped with Ibanez’s new Quantum neck pickups, which provide added bass response.
The Ibanez RG421 has a great hard rock and metal tone for this price range, letting you unleash some high-speed riffing with precise articulation.
Most Ibanez guitars are equipped with thin necks for fast playing, and their entry-level guitars provide excellent value.
Summary: Play it fast and crank the volume!
Bonus Option: Blackstar ID Core 20 (Amplifier)
If you’re buying an electric guitar, you’re also going to need an amplifier. The amp is an underrated contributor to overall sound and tone, and you don’t want to plug a nice guitar into a mediocre amplifier. But if you’re just getting started, you’ll do fine with a small practice or “bedroom” amp for now.
As with guitars, the quality of budget amps has improved dramatically in recent years, and you won’t need a more powerful amplifier until you start to play with a drummer or in large, noisy rooms. Even if you do require a bigger amp for gigs down the road, you’ll probably still find a use for your practice amp at home.
The debate has raged for years about what type of amp is better: digital or analog. You’ll find true believers on both sides of the argument, and there is merit to the more natural sound of a tube amp. However, they tend to be expensive and also more limited in terms of the variety of sounds they can produce. Until you know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s probably a good idea to start out with a solid state amp, and experiment with many different sounds.
There are quite a few good-quality solid state amps on the market these days, and I really like the Blackstar line.
The Blackstar ID Core 20 is a digital stereo amp with 2 speakers (2x10w) and an impressive range of tone versatility. It was designed to sound like a traditional amp, but with a series of settings and options that allow you to fully customize your sound.
The ID Core has six different “Voice” settings: Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD 1, and OD 2, so you can easily modify your sound from twangy clean to dirty crunch. It has a volume and gain knob, and also an EQ, which uses Blackstar’s ISF system to move between an American or British sound. And it’s got several built-in effects (Delay, Reverb, Modulation) with 4 different styles for each.
It has a line in and headphone out, and you can also save presets if you’re messing around with the settings and find a sweet tone you really like.
If you’re strapped for cash, you can save a few bucks by purchasing the smaller ID Core 10 instead (2x5w), but I’d recommend getting the Blackstar ID Core 20 if you can swing it. It doesn’t cost much more and the bigger speakers will give you a better open sound and a little more volume. There is also an ID Core 40 available if you need a larger amp now.
The Blackstar can handle most musical styles, and has enough options that with a little tweaking, you should be able to find a tone that you dig.
If your main focus is metal, another option is the Peavey Vypyr VIP 1, a versatile amp that also has acoustic guitar and bass modes.
Choose either a Les Paul or a Stratocaster guitar, unless you have a good reason to look elsewhere.
I have to admit I’m partial to Les Paul guitars, and the Epiphone Les Paul Standard would be my pick from this list. But if your budget is limited, the Epiphone Les Paul Special II provides a good entry point.
If you’d rather get a Strat, I’d go with the Squier Affinity Stratocaster – a great beginner guitar with excellent value for the money.
If you want versatile, the Yamaha Pacifica PAC112V is a really cool guitar with high-quality components and premium build.
And if you’re mostly into heavy rock music, bang your head in style with the Ibanez RG421.
If any one of these best beginner guitar choices makes your heart beat just a little faster, that’s the one you should choose.
Unleash your inner rockstar.
Best Acoustic-Electric Guitar Under $500 for Beginners
(Yet Another Disclaimer: Prices are Always Subject to Change!)
Acoustic-electric guitars are basically acoustics with added electronics built-in to the guitar which allow the sound to be amplified when necessary. When played acoustically, a good acoustic-electric guitar should sound and play like a regular acoustic.
If your goal is to apply distortion and effects to your music, you should probably consider an electric guitar instead. You can apply distortion to an acoustic-electric guitar using a pedal, but the sound is not always consistent and often leads to feedback.
If you’d like to play acoustically some or most of the time but may require amplification on occasion for a live performance, an acoustic-electric guitar is a great way to cut through the din and let your guitar be heard.
An acoustic-electric can be plugged into an amp or PA system for added volume and projection.
The alternative is playing a regular acoustic and using a mic, which can lead to uneven sound, and prevent you from moving around properly. This may also lead to you spending more time worrying about where the mic is than what chords you’re playing.
An acoustic-electric guitar is also easier to record.
Another key benefit of some acoustic-electric guitars is the presence of a built-in tuner and EQ.
The Epiphone Hummingbird Pro is universally acclaimed as a high-quality acoustic-electric guitar, providing value with excellent sound at a great price.
They’re well-made and usually set up properly and ready to play straight out of the box.
It has a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides, and will give you a bright, rich tone when played acoustically.
It has quality electronics as well, using a Shadow Performer preamp and Shadow Nano Flex pickup system.
It sounds great acoustically and when plugged-in.
Note that it doesn’t include a built-in tuner and doesn’t come with a case (although you can purchase them separately).
The Epiphone Hummingbird Pro would make a fine beginner acoustic-electric guitar, but it’s also one you likely won’t “outgrow” any time soon.
Plus it looks gorgeous.
Summary: Great Value.
As discussed in the acoustic section, the Yamaha 800 Series of guitars is impressive from top to bottom. And 6 of these guitars are also available in an acoustic-electric version.
Depending on your preferred wood used for the back and sides, you can choose either an 800 (nato), 820 (mahogany) or 830 (rosewood) model, in either an FG (dreadnought) or FS (concert-size) option.
The Yamaha FGX830c is made with a solid spruce top and rosewood back and sides, and has a beautiful voice. The combination of spruce and rosewood provides a rich and clear complex sound with some punch.
And Yamaha’s System-66 electronics let you amp up with quality sound if you need to play an acoustic gig and require some extra volume.
It’s got a great look, and includes a 3-band EQ and onboard tuner.
Summary: Great sound.
The Taylor 110e is the only guitar listed in this article with a price tag over $500 at this time. But I feel I should mention it because the Taylor guitar tone just sounds so great.
If you’re looking for a quality acoustic-electric and want to spend a little extra money up front to buy a sweet guitar you’ll be playing for a long time, this one is definitely worth considering. Especially if you’re interested in owning a Taylor.
Taylor Guitars founder Bob Taylor is known throughout the guitar world as an innovator, and their guitars are extremely well-designed and built for maximum quality sound.
The 110e is a full-size dreadnought with a thin neck and low action. It has a solid Sitka spruce top, and layered sapele back and sides.
Taylor recently revamped the electronics and moved to the new and improved ES2 pickup system, designed for easier plug-and-play and a more natural amplified sound.
The Taylor 110e is a high-quality acoustic guitar, but really sings when plugged in, providing crystal clear sound and great tone even at high volume.
Be aware that it doesn’t have an onboard tuner or a cutaway (if you require a cutaway, get the Taylor 110ce instead).
This guitar is an excellent choice for recording. And it comes with a stylish, quality gig bag.
Check out my Taylor 110e review for more info.
Summary: Awesome Guitar.
These are all great options.
If you’re looking for premium sound and build, the Taylor 110e rocks. And if you prefer to spend a little less, the Epiphone and Yamaha both make a great beginner acoustic-electric guitar, with impressive sound, build quality, and overall value.
By now you should have a pretty good idea whether you’re looking for an acoustic or electric starter guitar. Hopefully one of the best beginner guitar options I listed caught your fancy.
The way forward now is to make a decision, and get to work.
If you’ve played a little in the past but fell off, it’s time to get back on the horse.
And if you’re just starting out …
Isn’t it about time you finally learned how to play guitar?
There are so many ways to learn these days. You can find a local private instructor, or choose one of the many guitar lesson programs and online courses available. And there are thousands of free guitar lessons available on YouTube.
If you’re concerned about cost, there’s a great set of free guitar lessons available (with videos) from Justin over at justinguitar.com.
And if you’re a gamer, Rocksmith 2014 is an innovative and effective guitar learning tool.
Get serious about learning how to play, set a time for daily “guitar practice” and stick to it. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week. Just keep moving forward, day by day, week by week, and you will soon start to notice your skills improving.
Lots of cool, quality guitars were discussed in this article, but here are my winners for best overall value and the title of Best Beginner Guitar:
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to like and share it! The more people we can help learn how to play guitar, the better.
And I wish you the very best of luck in finding the perfect guitar for you.
Now go make your own kind of music!