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You can rub your hands together in eager anticipation when you have a wad of hundies in your pocket. The quality upgrade from the under $300 market is noticeable, and the sweet sound of resonant tunes and better than average pickups is what a few extra bucks can land you.
So, how do you make the most of your generous budget?
Is $500 enough to buy a guitar that will last a lifetime?
We scrutinize the very best electric guitars available and what they can do for your needs. These gits are the ones that you won’t ever put down once you’ve picked it up.
QUICK ANSWER: Best Electric Guitar Under $500
- ESP LTD EC-256 Review
- Epiphone Limited Edition 1961 G-400 Pro Review
- Schecter Omen-6 Review – Best Under $400
- PRS SE Standard 24 Review
- Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT Review
- Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature Review
- Yamaha RevStar RS320 Review
Our 7 Top Electric Guitars Under $500
|ESP LTD EC-256||VIEW ON AMAZON|
|Epiphone 1961 G-400 Pro||VIEW ON AMAZON|
|Schecter Omen 6||VIEW ON AMAZON|
|PRS SE Standard||VIEW ON AMAZON|
|Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT||VIEW ON AMAZON|
|Ibanez Steve Vai Signature JEMJR||VIEW ON AMAZON|
|Yamaha RevStar RS320||VIEW ON AMAZON|
$500 Electric Guitar Reviews
You’ll notice with this price range that there are a lot of electric guitars, and many from the same brand. However, we chose the most popular ones ranked and rated by your peers and guitar aficionados for tried and tested approval.
You should remember that what might be appealing to one player may not necessarily be your kind of style. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad guitar, it’s just not the right one for you. So, you’ll want to look for aesthetic appeal, pickups that maximize your unique expression, and build quality that supports guitar longevity to see you through the many performances ahead.
Thanks to the variety of guitars in this market, it’s appealing to players of all skill levels. Beginners might want to spend a little less and get a little more in the form of starter kits and packages. But, sticking with this route and buying a solo guitar, they can depend on quality offered in this price range while still finding a model that has playability in mind for the greenie.
Intermediate and pro players will find these options are reliable backup guitars, and they may even modify a few things to supercharge their playing style.
The point is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work here. With more money to spend, you deserve to be choosy. This means no beginner starter kits will be in this lineup. It also means you can be a little more selective with what brand you choose to support.
With all that said, let’s get to it!
ESP LTD EC-256 Review
- Offers a classic combination of a single-cutaway design with a mahogany body and neck and roasted jatoba fingerboard
ESP is a highly-respected guitar brand, and they made a name for themselves during the heavy metal era of the ’80s. Their LTD brand brings affordable models with the same great quality as their smoking hot guitars so that they can provide trusted guitars to players of all skill levels and budgets.
- Set neck
- Multiple binding
- Coil splitting
- Single cutaway
- Requires setup
There’s no disadvantage to buying the LTD EC series guitar. Since we couldn’t find any significant flaws on the guitar, we’ve defaulted to the fact that it will need some minor adjustments out of the box. Action has been set a little high so that may need to come down before you start playing. But, if that’s the only thing you’ve got to do, you know it’s a winner.
The guitar has a unique aesthetic appeal with its black gloss finish and gold hardware – it’s an eye catcher for sure. The solid body and 3-piece, set-neck are made from mahogany with a roasted Jatoba fingerboard. The body has curves and a single cutaway with body binding that extends along the neck and around the headstock like high-end guitars have.
The fretboard has 22 extra jumbo frets with pearloid flag inlays. The neck also features a thin style U-shape, a scale length of 24.75″, and it comes with D’Addario XL110 strings.
The gold bridge consists of a TOM (Tune-O-Matic) bridge and tailpiece, and the matching gold pickups are ESP’s designed LH-150 pups. They each have their own volume knobs and a shared tone control with a 3-way toggle switch. You can also split the coils with the push/pull tone knob for extra bite or tonal range.
For the price, the LTD guitar has a lot of value, and it’s sexy enough and performance worthy to hit the stage in style. Bling it out with gold!
Epiphone Limited Edition 1961 G-400 Pro Review
- 1960’s era “SG” with Mahogany body and neck
- Epiphone Alnico Classic PRO 4-wire humbuckers with coil-splitting
- LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge, Stopbar tailpiece, and Epiphone "Deluxe" 18:1 tuners
A genuine Gibson SG ’61 Red Devil guitar is definitely not in this price range, but who says you can’t have its lookalike? The 1961 G-400 Pro is designed after the first generation of the SG (Solid Guitar) series, and it has a striking finish that will get you in the mood to play every time you look at it.
- Candy Apple Red
- Slim Taper D neck
- 24.75″ scale
- 4-wire humbuckers
- Plastic nut
You’ll be guaranteed buyer satisfaction with the Limited Edition G-400 Pro electric guitar. There are no issues with the guitar itself except for the plastic nut. Many decent players have upgraded this one part and have continued on their way very happy with everything else.
As part of the Limited Edition, it features a wild Candy Apple Red finish that is a statement piece in and of itself. The body and glued, set-neck are made from mahogany and the fretboard from Torreffied Composite.
The guitar has a SlimTaper D-shaped neck with a 24.75″ scale. The frets have said to be a little rough and the action set high which means some setting up is required to reach maximum playability.
The electronics consists of two Epiphone Alnico Classics PRO 4-wire humbuckers that are wired for coil splitting to add dimension and bark to your tone. How do you do it on this guitar? Simply pull up the volume knob to switch to single coil mode. These types of pickups are also known to produce more output on the mids and highs. Each humbucker also has its own Volume and Tone controls.
What’s the difference between the G-400 Pro and this Limited Edition 1961 G-400 Pro? The G-400 has a cherry finish with a glued neck and Wilkinson Vintage Classic machine heads. This model has a Candy Apple Red finish with Epiphone Deluxe machine heads and a glued, set-neck.
The Red Devil doppelganger is a must-have for any SG aficionado and collector on a budget.
Schecter Omen-6 Review
- Pearloid Semi Goth Inlays
- Basswood Body
- Rosewood Fretboard. Neck Material:Maple
Schecter is a known brand among metal rockers, and it’s no surprise that they’re featured as a best electric guitar under 400 in our lineup. From its high-gloss black finish to its black hardware, the Omen-6 is edgy in every way.
- Goth inlays
- Black motif
- Graph Tech nut
- 25.5″ scale
- Build quality
Don’t get the wrong idea – the build quality is great, is made from basswood and has a bolt-on neck. These features are usually seen on cheaper guitars, but what you get out of the electronics makes up for the difference in choice of tonewood and neck construction. Besides, the bolt-on neck makes it easier for repairs and replacements – not that you should ever need to.
The guitar is sexy in every way. The high gloss black finish on the arched top is sleek and when paired with black chrome hardware, it glimmers with punky class. The neck is made from maple and has a thin C shape that is easy for beginners to get a grip on. It’s topped with a 24 X-Jumbo fret rosewood fingerboard that features pearloid semi-goth inlays. It also has Ivory 1-ply binding that doesn’t extend up the neck, but it does create a nice accent against the dark body.
The machine heads are Schecter’s stock tuners, but they hold tune very well. It has a Tune-O-Matic with string through body bridge, a 2-way adjustable truss rod, and a Graph Tech XL Black Tusq nut. What’s also nice is that the control knobs are made with metal for long-lasting durability and easy-to-grip knurling.
It’s outfitted with Schecter Diamond Plus humbucker pickups with a volume, tone, and 3-way pickup switch. The pickups are not wired for coil splitting, but no one has complained about the high output and clear definition of the system. While many stock pickups are muddy, the Diamond Plus humbuckers are warm and can still pull off high-end frequencies for screaming bark-style solos.
The point? No one has complaints about the pickups or the guitar. It’s just that awesome.
PRS SE Standard 24 Review
- Body wood: mahogany
- Neck wood: Maple
- Fretboard wood: rosewood
Yep, you got that right. We found a PRS guitar under 500 bucks. The SE Standard 24 guitars are new and already rocking up a storm with buyers on the lookout.
- Coil split pickups
- Nickel hardware
- Molded tremolo bridge
- PRS tuners
- 3-way pickup blade location
The SE Standard is a new line of guitars from PRS. The value in this model is geared towards beginners who value longevity and quality to encourage learning the guitar for longer than a year. With that in mind, it has a wide thin neck with what we’re assuming is like a C-shape profile that’s easier for beginner players to handle.
It also has aesthetic appeal with its Translucent Blue gloss finish and nickel hardware. Although nickel tarnishes faster than chrome, it has a warmer shine to it, and you may even like the look of tarnish indicating it’s a guitar worthy of so much use.
The solid body is made from mahogany, it has a maple neck, and rosewood fretboard with 24 frets, their trademarked pearloid bird inlays, and a scale length of 25″. PRS stuck on their very own designed tuners and their patented molded tremolo bridge. It’s like a fulcrum tremolo but with significant feature changes that ensures tuning stability, is made of brass to ring out, and other components are left un-plated to promote tone fidelity and even more sustain.
The 3-way pickup blade is a decent addition, but its location may get in the way when using the tremolo. No one has complained about it, but it still may be something to think about.
The 85/15 S pickups are a redesigned system of the pickups that PRS started out with in 1985. There has been excellent feedback about the 85/15 pickups, but they have their own signature tonal contribution that you may have to hear first before you buy. The humbuckers provide a note-defining high mid-range with less support for the low-mids, but clear and strong bass notes. Every note can be heard, and you can play around with splitting coils with the push/pull tone control.
The SE Standard may be a base model, but it has the defining characteristics of a genuine PRS guitar.
Gretsch G5220 Electromatic Jet BT Review
- Solidbody Electric Guitar with Mahogany Body
- 2 Humbucking Pickups - Black
- Walnut Fingerboard
This Gretsch is part of the Electromatic collection and the Jet line of guitars. It brings high-end features into an affordable package with its versatile controls and Broad’Tron pickups.
- Broad’Tron pickups
- Body binding
- Set neck
- Thin neck
- Laminated top
There are some awesome features on this guitar, and yet, there are a few surprises that we didn’t expect to see. One such surprise feature is the laminated mahogany top on the solid mahogany body. The other surprise is the slightly shorter scale length of 24.6″. They’re not necessarily bad things, just unexpected.
The good things are it comes with a set neck, white with black binding and white purfling that extends up and around the headstock. It has stock die-cast tuners and all the hardware is finished with chrome.
The bridge is an Adjusto-Matic bridge and the Gretsch V-shaped stoptail is a looker that adds some flair to overall look. The pickups are Broad’Tron humbuckers that eliminate the hum known with single coil pickups. These pups are hot and powerful, and yet, they rank better than average for definition.
Control knobs are designed with a G-Arrow and there are 4 on board. There is a Master Volume, Master Tone, neck pickup volume, and bridge pickup volume controls. The Master Volume has a treble bleed circuit which consists of a Gretsch Squeezebox 500KA pot.
The Electromatic has some nice features to boast about, and it’s certainly priced just right. The blocky inlays and simple finish with minimalistic detailing and logos is a big hit with us as it will be for you.
Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature Review
- Mahogany Body
- Wizard III Maple Neck
- Rosewood Fretboard
Ibanez has a more than a handful of signature guitars, but the JEM series are truly the showiest of them all. The Steve Vai JEMJR signature model in white is proof of that.
- Monkey grip
- Tree of Life inlay
- Wizard III neck
- Quantum pickups
- A few quality control issues
There are two features that attracts buyers towards the JEMJR guitars: the Tree of Life inlay and the Monkey Grip. The winding acrylic inlay is detailed and looks delicate against the Jatoba fretboard with jumbo frets. The signature Monkey Grip is obvious on the upper bout and takes portability to a whole new level. Another iconic JEM feature to notice is the double locking tremolo bridge with the lion’s claw routing.
Obviously, the showy features are all there on a classy white finish, but there’s more. The neck has the specs of a Wizard III neck which is the replacement for the Wizard II that ended in 2010. It has a C-shape profile, and it’s supposedly said to be the slickest neck there is.
The JEMJR has Quantum pickups with humbuckers for the neck and bridge and a single coil for the middle. It has a volume and tone control with a 5-way pickup blade switch. You might want to inspect the blade just in case the slot is too wide and not cut straight. This has been reported as a quality issue.
The sound is going to be kicker with the H-S-H configuration as you can switch between distorted, robust, and overdrive grinds to the clean, defined barks of the single coil. The guitar will keep its tune even with the use of the tremolo despite its stock Cosmo Black tuning gears. To support tuning stability, it has a locking nut and double locking bridge that won’t fail you.
The Steve Vai guitar in white is about as ostentatious as it gets without the flashy neon colors the JEMs are known for. For some killer features on a classy finish, this is about as custom as it gets in this price range.
Yamaha RevStar RS320 Review
- Ceramic magnet and brass baseplate for powerful, punchy tone
- H3 Hot output humbuckers
- Solid Nato Body
The RevStar RS320 may be the entry-level guitar to the series, but it’s still a RevStar and in your price range as the best electric guitar under 400 bucks. Yes, we could’ve gone with the more expensive RevStar RS420 model, but for those looking for simplicity done right, you’ll save some money with this one.
- Humbucker pickups
- 3-way pickup switch
- 24.75″ scale length
- No split coil features
The RS320 guitar is flawless, excellent value for the money, and is truly a no-nonsense guitar. The only difference between this model and the RS420 are the pickups. This model has two humbuckers with ceramic magnets, and the latter has Alnico V magnets with the ability to split coils. For that feature, you’ll have to spend about 100 bucks more.
However, for beginners landing their first-time buy, keeping the budget and features at a minimum is exactly what they need to keep from being overwhelmed with complexity. How does it sound? Surprisingly clean. Since it has ceramic pickups, they do play hot with pronounced mids and fast response on the bass notes. It cuts through with clarity, even with extreme gain, and will be popular with fast-paced metal styles.
The RevStar has a thin neck profile, 3-way pickup switch, Tune-O-Matic bridge, Stop Tailpiece, and die-cast tuners. It’s pre-strung with Elixir Nickel-Plated steel with Nanoweb coating, and action seems to be set low out of the box.
This model has the Black Steel gloss polyurethane finish on top of a nato body. The neck is also made of nato that has a rosewood fingerboard and 22 medium frets that are all easily accessible.
The body has gorgeous contours with its soft, curved cutaways. In fact, the RevStar was inspired by the Café Racer bikes that raced the London streets in the ’60s. They were known to be lightweight, powerful, and built for speed and handling. The RevStar couldn’t be more on point.
What to Look for in an Electric Guitar Under $500
While reviews are important, they’re also subjective, as are your own tastes, needs, and budget. So, it’s important to know the specs, identify what features are important to you, and decide whether you’re a shy player messing around at home for friends and family or a stage-performing artist that deserves to be seen and heard.
These determinations will help keep your focus on what really matters – the considerations we’re about to discuss.
Having $500 to spend is just enough to get lasting quality out of a guitar with good hardware and electronics, but it’s still not enough to land genuine brand-name guitars like Gibson and Fender. However, when you can have a look-a-like guitar that resembles the appearance and sound of one for a great deal less, consider it a worthy compromise.
Although $500 is a hefty hunk of cash to drop on a guitar, you’ll still have to fork out more for the necessary accessories to get plugged in. If you’re shopping in this price range, chances are you’re no green newb to the guitar and you likely already have an amp and cable to get started.
However, this price range is still considered entry level for some brands. As such, beginners can land a long-lasting, high-quality guitar here that will encourage them to practice and ultimately keep them wanting to learn. It can even be good enough for on-stage performances.
Electric Guitar Body Types
Now is the time when you can start being pickier about what type of body you want in a guitar as it can influence your playing style and the look you want to achieve.
All the guitars in this lineup have solid bodies. Cutaways are hugely popular in electric guitars, and whether you prefer accentuated double cutaways like a Super Strat or Ibanez RG, double cutaways like the Fender Strat, a single cutaway like the Fender Tele, or a guitar with thinner cutaways like a Gibson SG, you’ll still need to consider if the frets are accessible.
The lower bout and middle measurements will vary between manufacturers as well as the terms for the body style. But, not all electric guitars have these iconic body shapes. They can get funky and weird with V-shapes, seemingly lop-sided bodies, and very curvaceous bouts.
The electronics are usually the talk of the guitar that sparks the most controversy between players. What sounds good to you may sound like garbage to someone else. The pickups are the voice of the guitar that provides tonal versatility and can be used in a way to bring out a specific playing style and music genre.
The pickups are a huge upgrade from what you’ll see in cheaper electric guitars. However, the guitars in this budget are still configured with passive pickups with single coil, humbuckers, or a combination of both. But, this price range is where you start seeing coil splitting features for even more versatility.
This price range introduces a lot more options in terms of electronics, so we are obligated to give you some pointers. A consideration to muse over is the quality of the pots. Pots are potentiometers that are electro-magnetic transducers that regulate the flow and resistance of electricity. They are what you use to control the volume and tone controls on the guitar, and there are two parts to this.
Firstly, without getting into the physics of it all, most pickup configurations consist of humbuckers with 500K pots allowing for warmer tones and to help retain high frequencies. Single coils have 250K pots that sound brighter. There are also no-load tone pots because tone pots experience treble bleed. This circuitry completely disconnects the tone control when it’s not needed to emphasize those higher frequencies.
Secondly, the taper of the pot also has a role to play as it amounts to how much turning of a knob is required to expect a change in volume or tone. There are two main pot tapers to consider: log/audio and linear pots.
The general rule of thumb is that volume controls are equipped with audio pots that increase and decrease volume in a swell that is usually identifiable by the way your ears hear it. It’s why many might say they can’t hear any change in the volume until they’ve passed the halfway point and then there is a rapid increase towards max volume. This is normal.
Linear pots are usually equipped with tone controls where tone is increased in predictable increments, for example, “1” is equal to 10%, “5” is equal to 50%, and “10” is equal to 100%.
While the general rule of thumb is a good guideline of what to expect, guitar manufacturers will experiment with a combo of the two, or they will only equip audio pots for both controls or linear pots for both.
This is where personal preference comes into play and where many find dissatisfaction with the electronics. It’s not necessarily that the pickups, the pots, or the tonal range is limited or bad, it’s just the fact that you may prefer one type over the other to suit your needs.
If you’re an experienced player, you can be picky about these specs, so be sure to investigate before you buy.
Tonewoods matter, but in this price range, not so much. Don’t get too hung up on what it’s made with if you’re majorly concerned about tonal contribution to the guitar. Why? It’s not just the wood body that affects tone as the electronics, circuitry, and other hardware have a lot to do with it, too.
Most of the time, the heavy finishes on a guitar take away from any tonal contribution the solid body or top can provide. Even though 500 clams is still a lot to spend, it’s still a limited budget when it comes to what type of tonewoods are available. The common types of wood you’ll see are nato, Agathis, alder, mahogany, some maple tops, definitely maple necks, and rosewood fretboards.
Note: Basswood is still used in this price range. Basswood isn’t bad even though you see an abundance of them in cheaper guitars. Yes, it’s inexpensive, softer to work with, and is easier to abuse. But, as with all tonewoods, there are differing levels of quality. Don’t dismiss a guitar in this price range just because it’s made with basswood.
Bolt-On VS Set-Neck
You’re seeing a lot more set-necks versus the bolt-on necks in cheaper guitars. What’s the difference?
Bolt-on necks are easier and cheaper to manufacture. They’re also easier to repair and replace – all facts. However, they’re not as bad as some people may paint them to be. High quality bolt-on necks can be superior to poorly made set-necks. Tonally, bolt-on necks may be softer, and the vibrational acoustic response is slower, but it provides sharp, cutting note definition. However, if the neck joint is well done, a bolt-on neck can sound like a guitar with a set-neck, but not all players are after that. They prefer the twang that a bolt-on provides.
Set-necks are glued to the guitar body, are usually more expensive to manufacture, and are more difficult to repair and replace. They transfer vibrational energy in a rounded, woody, more controlled way that allows for thicker and fatter tones for warmth, sustain, and fullness in the played notes.
Neck-through-body necks are the most expensive type and not found in this price range. You are generally looking at electric guitars around $1000 and higher for this feature.
The most common neck profiles are C, U, and V. The type of shape it has will affect how you hold and play it.
The C-shape is the most common profile as it’s usually shallow and rounded making it easier for beginners to get a grip and hold comfortably. It can also be modified for thin and tapered profiles for even easier playing and to cater to a variety of music genres and playing styles.
The U-shape is thick, wide, and good for players with larger hands. The thumb can also rest comfortably and conveniently on the side or back of the neck. The V-shape can have a distinct or softer point at the peak of its curve, however, it’s not as common as the C or U profiles.
There is a variety of bridge types in this price range, so it will be up to you to decide if it will work for your style. Double locking, tremolo, fixed, floating, adjustable – they’re all available at your fingertips. However, a bridge can be replaced if you decide you’d rather give it an upgrade.
Tuners are usually like that seen on cheaper guitars – stock, standard, die-cast tuners. Except in this price range, you’ll see a lot of different finishes on the machine heads from the standard chrome finish such as black, nickel, and even gold.
Stock strings are usually mediocre, even on a guitar that costs half a grand. But, during setup, they should be switched out anyway.
The Hard Truth of Having More Money to Spend
With more money to spend on an electric guitar, the more you need to know. Even though $500 is only a small amount more than a $300 electric guitar, the options and quality of guitars is significant. This is the budget when you start to see more custom, higher-end features that you must educate yourself about before you buy.
Modifications can be made on these guitars, and they’re often done by intermediate and pro players looking to customize. Beginners, on the other hand, often leave their guitars unchanged as they’re happy with the upgrade in quality as they continue to shape their style and discover what features they’d like to maximize in their next buy.
Take heed of our advice, scrutinize the specs, and learn how to use your pickups to create sweet singing or screeching screams. The endless possibilities are yours for the taking!