So I have a confession.
I’ve never spent more than $200 on a guitar.
It’s not that I don’t like more expensive guitars… but I’ve just never really had the need.
So in this article we’re going to justify the use of cheap/inexpensive guitars and give some suggestions for the best inexpensive guitars.
We’ll cover both the top affordable acoustic guitars, as well as the best budget electric guitars.
Why bother with cheap guitars?
Well… a few reasons:
- Affordability (obviously).
- Most sound pretty good (especially to beginner ears).
- You don’t have to worry about special guitar-care.
- You can get a lot of them without breaking the bank (see photo below)
Lastly: Inexpensive guitars are perfect for beginners.
You don’t have to invest a lot of money to test the guitar-playing-waters.
But be warned: Not all cheap guitars are created equal – some are downright awful (and can end up costing you more money in the long run).
So let’s get started…
Let’s define what “cheap guitar” means.
First: please don’t by a $25 guitar.
Second: If you’re spending $28,000 on a guitar why are you even reading this article?
So what does cheap mean?
Cheap doesn’t mean crappy or poorly made.
Cheap just means inexpensive (which I also realize is subjective).
For our purpose cheap means $200 or less.
It also means we’re only going to recommend decent quality affordable guitars. This means we’re ruling out the $25 guitar.
So what can we expect to spend?
On a new guitar: Between $80 – $200
On a used guitar: Between $40 – $200
Which cheap guitars should I avoid?
I’d stay away from any brands by “First Act”
I’d also stay away from anything you can buy at a toy store.
Other than that – I can’t really give you any other advice.
There are so many different brands of guitars.
A good rule of thumb for first time buyers – if there isn’t a brand name or serial number on the guitar (that you can look up and then review)… stay away from it.
If you’re buying a used guitar it’s a whole different ball game, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
So what are the best affordable guitar brands?
These are the best guitar brands for beginners:
Not only are these great guitar brands for beginners, they’re also cheap guitars for beginners.
Many of these companies make both excellent high end guitars as well as inexpensive models.
If you’re buying new, you generally can’t go wrong with one of these models.
It’s also worth mentioning that the best electric guitar brands are probably:
And the best acoustic guitar brands are probably:
- Takamine (Jasmine is the cheaper sub-brand of Takamine)
Those Gibson, Taylor, and Martin guitars do NOT fall under the affordable category (unless you find a really good deal somewhere).
If you’re looking for cheap acoustic guitars I’d stick with Fender, Yamaha and Takamine.
What is the best cheap electric guitar?
Best Cheap Electric Guitar: Fender Squier
Bottom line: The best affordable electric guitar is the Fender Squier.
They can be found online (new) for around $150.
They are extremely versatile (meaning that you can play tons of different kinds/styles of music with them).
The model above has three single coil pickups (which allow for the diversity in sound).
I’ve known guitar players who upgrade the electronics in these guitars because they love them so much.
One word of warning: If you buy a Squier, make sure you buy an actual Squier (full sized) and not the Squier-Mini (which is 3/4 sized and for kids).
Runner up: Yamaha Pacifica
The Pacifica is another good cheap electric guitar.
They are some of the easiest guitars to play.
The only reason that the Fender Squier wins out is due to price (slightly cheaper guitar) and how easy it is to find.
Those are my picks for the top electric guitars (for less than $200).
Now on to the best acoustics…
What is the best cheap acoustic guitar?
The Best Cheap Acoustic Guitar: The Jasmine
The Jasmine is the entry-level (i.e. affordable) model by the brand Takamine (just like the Squier is based off of a Fender Stratocaster).
Initially I was very wary about recommending an $80 acoustic guitar.
But after having played a few, I don’t see why you wouldn’t get a Jasmine if you’re on a tight budget.
As far as budget guitars go – this is your best bet.
It sounds good.
And it’s easy to play.
Runner up: The Fender FA-100.
The Fender FA-100 is another good cheap acoustic guitar.
I have a similar model to the FA-100 (though mine is considerably older).
I’ve owned it for 20 years and it just gets better with age.
If you’ve got a little more wiggle room in your guitar budget, I’d go with the Fender over the Jasmine (but either are great affordable acoustic guitars).
Those are my picks for the top acoustic guitars (for less than $200).
How to make an $80 guitar feel like an $800 guitar.
So here’s the secret: your cheap guitar can feel (and sound) like a much better guitar with one special thing: a guitar setup.
Having your guitar setup is like a little tune up for your guitar.
Think about it this way:
When you buy a new guitar its usually been sitting in a warehouse somewhere or (worse) on display somewhere in a music store (where anyone and everyone can play around with it).
This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but guitars (even cheap guitars) are instruments that can use some fine tuning.
So what’s the benefit of having your new guitar setup?
A guitar setup does a few things:
- It raises or lowers the action of the strings
- It adjusts the neck of the guitar
- It measures and adjusts the intonation of the guitar
Depending on your guitar there may be a few other adjustments involved.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of a setup is the adjustment of the action.
The action is the distance of the strings from the fretboard.
In other words: How far/hard you have to press down on the strings with your fingers.
The harder you have to press (or the more distance your fingers have to travel), the more finger pain you get.
This can make a world of difference to both beginner guitar players as well as advanced guitar players.
Finger pain is probably the biggest complaint from new guitar players. And while setting up your guitar won’t alleviate finger pain – it absolutely helps.
So how do you get your guitar setup?
Just take it to your local guitar store and have them do it for you! It usually runs between $60-$70. But it’s totally worth it (even if you just bought a guitar that costs around that).
You can try to setup a guitar yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Where can I find the best inexpensive guitars?
Your best bet for buying cheap guitars is probably any music store or online via Amazon or MusiciansFriend.com.
You can probably find the best prices through large retailers like Amazon.
What about used guitars?
Used guitars are a great option if you’re looking to save money.
It is a little bit riskier, but you should be able to manage.
First off – stick with the brands that I mentioned above and you’ll generally be in good shape.
Yard sales and craigslist can be a great place to start.
Where can I get a free guitar?
If you can get a free guitar, go for it.
Whether it’s from a friend or family member, a yard sale, or a dumpster… my philosophy is to always accept a free guitar.
Worst case scenario: you throw it away.
Best case scenario: you stumble across your new favorite guitar (well… I guess best case scenario is that the free guitar is actually the same model as this guitar).
More likely, you’ll end of with a middle of the road, cheap guitar from one of the popular brands I listed above.
If that’s the case: go get it setup, throw a new set of strings on it, and you’ll be good to go!
That’s it! Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.
Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.