Top Rated Electric Guitars Under 500 Dollars: Reviews Of The “Better Than Basic”!

Entry-level guitars are great – they do a relatively no-nonsense job, and give you a platform on which to learn your first chords and licks. And as you may have seen in our comparison article on the best budget guitars, you can get some pretty great electric guitar deals for under $300 – including guitar and amp packages for an astonishing $99! However, by increasing your budget by a couple of hundred bucks, you can find a guitar that will last you a lot longer, and perform considerably better. Whether it’s better design or locking nuts, manufacturers raise the bar as you raise the cash.

In the chart below you’ll find our round up of the best guitars under $500, along with their individual ratings and links to our in-depth reviews. Make sure to check out our guide to guitars in this price range under the chart, for more tips and advice!

The Top 10 Electric Guitars Under $500:

Schecter Omen Extreme-6

4.55 Stars

What We like

  • Superb budget price.
  • Delicious looking guitar.
  • A good sound from the two Schecter humbuckers.
  • Solid finish and good craftsmanship.

What We don't like

  • It comes with little more than the guitar itself.
  • The quilted design may not suit everyone’s taste.

While this is not Schecter's entry-level guitar, it's still a budget model. But there are no real cut corners and the look, feel and performance of the Omen Extreme-6 would suit an experienced guitarist as much as a beginner.


AudioRumble rating 91/100

check price on amazon

Ibanez JEMJRWH Steve Vai Signature

4.55 Stars

What We like

  • Distinctive, iconic design.
  • Great power from the humbuckers.
  • Awesome performance neck.
  • Good versatility and tonal range.

What We don't like

  • The case is sold separately.

Awesome, head-turning looks? Check. Big sound? Check. Versatility, reliability and durability? Check, check, and check. Yes, this affordable Ibanez Steve Vai Signature JEM is a very solid shredder's guitar.


AudioRumble rating 91/100

check price on amazon

Epiphone Tom Delonge Signature ES-333

4.35 Stars

What We like

  • Classy, unique looks.
  • Feels very well made.
  • Premium, high-output American-made pickup.
  • Perfect for Blink 182 fans and general punk rockers.

What We don't like

  • It’s not very versatile.
  • A case is sold separately.

The affordable Epiphone version of Tom DeLonge's cool signature ES-333 is a real hit. What it lacks in versatility, it makes up for in sheer output thanks to the Gibson Dirty Fingers humbucker. Punk rock fans rejoice!


AudioRumble rating 87/100

check price on amazon

Dean ZERO AODII Dave Mustaine

4.3 Stars

What We like

  • Unique, eye-popping graphics.
  • Great pickups for metal.
  • Very light to hold.
  • Good resonance and sustain.

What We don't like

  • The case is sold separately.
  • Can be a little awkward to hold.
  • No whammy bar means no epic divebombs!

Eye-catching shape and graphics, full on sound, and an all round great metal performer – for well under $500 the AODII will be hard to beat for metal fans, especially those inclined to Megadeth.


AudioRumble rating 86/100

check price on amazon

Epiphone SG G-400 Pro

4.3 Stars

What We like

  • Classic looks and great craftsmanship.
  • Very versatile, with coil-tapping on both humbuckers.
  • Comfortable to hold and play.
  • Wonderful value at $350.

What We don't like

  • No KillPot – present on cheaper versions.
  • It doesn’t come with a gig bag.
  • Output jack on the face – feels a little awkward.

Whether you're a big AC/DC fan or just want a solid rock performer with bags of versatility, Epiphone's SG G-400 Pro is hard to fault – especially at under $350. Looks, sound and features combined ensure it's a big step up from their entry-level model.


AudioRumble rating 86/100

check price on amazon

Gretsch G5435T Pro Jet

4.25 Stars

What We like

  • Solid, flawless construction.
  • Vintage Gretsch tone thanks to superb Filter’Tron pickups.
  • Comes fitted with an excellent Bigsby B50 tailpiece.
  • Surprisingly affordable.

What We don't like

  • You’ll lose your tuning if you abuse the Bigsby.
  • It can be tricky to string this guitar if you’ve never done it before!
  • For an extra $300 you can get an American Standard.

With an iconic Gretsch design and such a wide range of sound, the Pro Jet is as solid and dependable as its older brother. You'd probably be happy spending an extra $200 on it – but thankfully you don't have to!


AudioRumble rating 85/100

check price on amazon

Fender Modern Player Tele Plus, Maple Fretboard

4.25 Stars

What We like

  • So versatile – a huge range of tones.
  • Wonderful finishes, especially the Honey Burst.
  • Excellent build quality for a Chinese model.
  • At $500 it’s a lot more guitar than you are paying for.

What We don't like

  • Doesn’t come with much more than strings out of the box.

For less than $500, this Fender Modern Player Tele offers superb versatility, build quality, and a wide-range of tones. It's made in China, but sounds like it was made by Leo Fender himself (alright, maybe not that good…).


AudioRumble rating 85/100

check price on amazon

Ibanez NDM4 Noodles Signature Guitar Review

4 Stars

What We like

  • Recognizable looks, especially for fans of The Offspring.
  • A solid, non-nonsense workhorse of a guitar.
  • Fast and comfortable neck.
  • Good sustain and tuning stability.

What We don't like

  • The looks aren’t as unique as previous models.
  • Seems a little over-priced for what you get.
  • It doesn’t come with a gig bag.

While it's not as unique or eye-catching as its previous incarnations, the NDM4 is a no-nonsense workhorse of a guitar that lends itself well to playing the kind of high-energy punk rock that Noodles is known for.


AudioRumble rating 80/100

check price on amazon

Yamaha Pacifica PAC311H

3.95 Stars

What We like

  • Hugely affordable guitar.
  • Two fine pickups with a good range.
  • Solid and durable construction.
  • Some good hardware.

What We don't like

  • You may want to change the garish pick-guard.
  • It doesn’t come with a gig bag.

In all, I'd say yes – this is worth the extra hundred bucks over the PAC112V. The PAC311H is a good all rounder, but more suitable for blues and classic rock, than the heavier stuff.


AudioRumble rating 79/100

check price on amazon

ESP LTD GL200K George Lynch Signature Kamakazi

3.9 Stars

What We like

  • Eye-catching, one-of-a-kind design.
  • Superb neck that plays very fast.
  • Good heavy rock sound.
  • Fantastic budget guitar that doesn’t look like a budget guitar!

What We don't like

  • The design won’t appeal to everyone.
  • The finish can be a little rough in places.
  • No dedicated pickup selector switch.

A loud, brash and good fun budget signature model from ESP, that mimics George Lynch's in both looks and playability. You're not getting everything Lynch gets, but you're not paying $4000 either.


AudioRumble rating 78/100

check price on amazon

Tips, Tricks, Guidelines And More

The first thing worth mentioning when it comes to guitars in the $500 price bracket is that in a lot of cases you are no longer getting ‘basic’. Of course, you are highly unlikely to be getting premium features or made-in-America models, but generally the quality of woods, necks, hardware, pickups, fretwork, and overall craftsmanship are a big step up from their cheaper cousins.

Don’t get me wrong – if you want to spend less, there’s a world of excellent entry-level and budget electric guitars for under $300. But if you are starting to get serious about playing guitar, looking at forming a band and gigging for the first time, or even an experienced guitarist looking for a reliable second guitar, spending that little extra is a smart idea in the long run.

Expect More

So what can you expect from a guitar in the $500 price range? Design-wise you certainly start getting a wider range to choose from. The beginner electric guitars category is littered with guitars that look like Strats, Teles and Les Pauls. Why? Because the design is tried and tested, easy to produce on a mass scale, and likely to appeal to the complete beginner.

However, with the extra cash you have more unique, considered designs available to you. For example Gretsch’s iconic Pro Jet is one of a kind, as is Epiphone’s premium look Wildkat, or Dean’s Dimebag Razorback series. All these guitars would make you look twice, and all come in at under $500.

Talking about the Dimebag series, you’ll also start finding affordable signature models from some of the biggest names in guitar – the likes of George Lynch, Steve Vai, Dave Mustaine, Kirk Hammett, and Tom Delonge all have signature models on the market for under $500. Yes, they aren’t the exact custom shop model that guitarist plays (if you want those, look towards the $4000 mark), but you still get their unique styles and overall spirit.

But it’s not just the looks that are better in this price bracket – we start seeing some quality in the features and hardware departments. One of my favorite features, and something you start seeing on some more rock-inclined guitars in this price range, is a Floyd Rose bridge and locking nut – an awesome combo for huge divebombs, string bends, and all round excellent tuning stability.

You’ll also start finding the build quality and finishes are nicer and feel more durable. Body woods will also start varying – you’ll still encounter a lot of basswood (which isn’t bad at all), but will also see more tonewoods such as alder and mahogany. Necks will usually be made from maple or mahogany, and fretboards from rosewood or maple. One thing you may also start noticing is more unique inlay designs – pearloid blocks instead of dot inlays for example.

Your pickups will remain quite basic, but they certainly improve. Output is louder, sound is clearer, electronics more stable, and tone is warmer. Versatility increases too, with more tone controls and occasionally five-way pickup selectors instead of basic three-ways.
And remember: these guitars offer a better platform for upgrading, so adding your own favorite pickups at a later stage wouldn’t be a problem.

Only you can define your budget and if it is set at $500 or under that’s great – as you have seen, there’s a lot you can get for your money. But if you can go a little higher – even to $600 – you will start to see even more improvements, including active pickups, bridge and saddle upgrades, and most guitars coming with their own gig bags.

Amplifying Your Sound

When spending around $500 on a guitar, you’ll want to consider the amp you’ll be playing it through. You may want to look at something more than the cheapest starter amps out there, but you don’t need to spend thousands to get a great sound.

The quality of practice amps these days will more than suffice if you are just noodling away in your bedroom or jamming with a few friends. Something like a Fender Mustang I V.2 retails for around $120 and gives you 20 watts of power, as well as 17 different amp models, tons of built in effects, and USB connectivity.

If you have your sights set on the stage, you may need an amp with more power. Sticking with Fender’s Mustang series, the Fender Mustang III V.2 ($330) offers everything you get with the practice combo, but with 100 watts of power which is more than enough for jamming and small gigs.

Brand Snob?

It’s worth mentioning, at this price range it’s certainly not worth being a ‘brand snob’. While you can indeed find ‘real’ Fender (as opposed to a Squier) for under $500, make sure you are getting it for the right reason; not just because it’s a name you know. Sure, Fender make a great guitar, but there’s nothing wrong with a Yamaha, Epiphone or ESP. In fact, you are more likely to end up with more for your money in most cases, as you’re not paying for the name. Just something to consider.

Super Second Hand

A good question. Buying a new high quality electric guitar usually means you’ll have a guitar that’s been untouched by anyone else, and the reassurance of a warranty should something go wrong. If you buy used, you are opening yourself up to a world of mystery. How old is it? Has it been gigged to within an inch of its life? Has anything on it been replaced?

But these questions shouldn’t put you off buying second-hand, because you will undoubtedly find some bargains – whether it’s $20 off the list price, or $100!

Just treat it like buying a used car, and do extra research. Avoid flea markets or boot sales, as you may not be able to test the guitar and you may not have the chance to return it. Look on sites like Amazon or eBay, and at least you have a bit of a safety net.

To Sum It All Up

With $500 in your pocket you can get a whole lot of guitar these days – the choice is huge. And whether you are buying new or used, it always pays to do your research first. A guitar in this price range can last you a lifetime. But make sure to check out our comparisons of guitars in the higher range of $1000, as you may find something more suitable for not that much more cash. Also be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on guitar news, reviews and tips.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HOW IT WORKS

The appropriate research can do wonders if done properly. We are here to help you and save your time and money at the same time. In our website you will see our personal recommendations based on our knowledge and extensive research. What we base our rating using the product details and customer feedback.