If you’re new to the world of electric guitars and wondering how much they cost, here’s a quick primer on everything you could possibly ever need to know…
The price of electric guitars varies MASSIVELY. You have ultra-cheap options from brands like Donner and Squier and Eastman and guitars that cost half a million quid or more like vintage Fender and Gibson guitars. But these are rare and are usually owned by famous people and billionaires, so we don’t need to worry about them.
The idea, however, that you need to spend a lot of money on an electric guitar to get a decent sound and playing experience isn’t correct either. Of course, an $800 guitar will always run rings around a $150 guitar, and sound better too, but there is a happy medium somewhere in the middle – and that’s where you want to be.
Before we delve into what to look for when buying an electric guitar, let’s first look at the myriad price tiers you’ll come across when guitar shopping. I’m going to add an artificial ceiling for the price too, topping things out at around the $2000 mark, because this is about the upper limit for most “normal” people living outside the 1%.
Electric Guitar Price Breakdown
- Ultra Premium, Professional-Grade Guitars – If you’re looking for a professional-grade guitar, something that can be used for recording sessions, gigging, and everything else in between, you’ll pay anywhere from $1500 to $3000. Brands in this niche include Fender, ESP, PRS, Gibson, Gretsch, Charvel, and Ibanez.
- Professional-Grade Guitars – Similar to ultra-premium guitars, these professional-grade guitars can be used for recording and gigging, and are used predominantly by professionals, but retail for quite a bit less than the true top-tier stuff (around $1000 to $1500). Brands include Fender, Gibson, Epiphone, ESP, Gretsch, Schecter, PRS, Ibanez, Yamaha, and Jackson.
- Mid-Tier Guitars (That Can Be Used Professionally) – These types of guitars are well built, run brilliant components and great-sounding pickups but they aren’t “hand-made” in US custom shops, so they retail for considerably less than the previous two price brackets. You’ll pay anywhere from $600 to $900 for one of these types of electric guitars. Brands in this niche include Fender, ESP LTD, Epiphone, Gretsch, Schecter, PRS, Ibanez, Yamaha, and Jackson.
- Affordable Quality Guitars – This is the price bracket where most of the action is for the average, non-professional player. In this price niche, you’ll pay anywhere from $300 to $600 for a guitar. They’ll look great, play great, and sound great too. Brands include Fender, Squier, Epiphone, Gretsch, ESP LTD, Schecter, PRS, Ibanez, Yamaha, and Jackson.
- Budget Friendly Beginner Guitars – If you’re a beginner or you’re buying a guitar for an aspiring guitarist, this is most likely the niche you’ll be shopping it. Guitars in this price bracket – $200 to $400 – probably aren’t good enough for recording or gigging professionally, but they’re great for learning the craft and most of them will sound decent too. Brands include Squier, Epiphone, Gretsch, Schecter, Ibanez, Eastman, Yamaha, and Jackson
- Dirt Cheap Guitars – If you’re keen to get yourself or someone else an electric guitar but you’re not sure the habit will last, it is probably advisable to get a very cheap guitar, just in case you decide to quit soon after receiving your order. In this price niche, you’ll pay less than $200 for a guitar. It won’t sound great or play amazingly well but it’ll be enough to get the juices flowing. Brands in this price niche include Donner, Kramer, Jackson, Epiphone, and Ibanez.
Cheap vs. Expensive Guitars: What’s The Difference?
When it comes to guitars, while technology has progressed massively since their invention, the process of creating and building a guitar has remained largely unchanged. Fender and Gibson still hand-make all of their most expensive models inside their respective custom shops in exactly the same way, more or less, as they did in the 1950s.
Innovation has happened, however, in other areas of the market, namely overseas production, cheap labor, and machine-lead automation. This is why you’re now able to buy an electric guitar for less than $150. Companies based in China can now mass produce electric guitars by the boat-load which is why we have myriad Chibson guitars on the market, claiming to be “just like a Gibson, but for a fraction of the price”.
The main difference between a really expensive electric guitar, let’s say a Gibson Les Paul Custom, and a cheap electric guitar, let’s say an entry-level Epiphone Les Paul, is that the Gibson model is hand-crafted in the USA, uses superior woods for the neck and body, and runs vastly superior (and more expensive) pickups. The Gibson looks, sounds, and plays better and is a far more labor-intensive product to create which is why it costs so much more.
People argue that cheap guitars now are so good, that no one should spend money on expensive guitars for Gibson or Fender. There is an element of truth to this but it does make one massive error that all professional musicians are all too aware of – generally speaking, a custom shop guitar, either from Fender or Gibson, is ALWAYS going to be more reliable than a cheaper alternative.
This is why the pros use expensive models rather than cheaper alternatives.
An expensive, premium-grade, professional guitar will be hand-made; it’ll hold its tune for longer; it’ll sound better; it’ll have pitch-perfect intonation across its entire fretboard; and its pickups will sound bigger, brighter, and more detailed.
This is the number one reason why these types of guitars are used to play live to massive audiences and produce platinum-selling records and $300 electric guitars are used by kids learning the craft in their bedrooms. It’s all about tone and reliability. Touring bands that play live and make records need reliable guitars to do their job. And, whichever way you slice it, you only this kind of thing at higher prices.
What Affects The Price of An Electric Guitar?
As noted above, there are a few significant things that really drive up the price of a guitar. But for the sake of brevity, let’s bullet point the main differences between an expensive electric guitar and a cheaper electric guitar:
- Where It’s Made – as we established earlier, expensive guitars, generally speaking, are made in the brand’s custom shop. Fender and Gibson’s custom shops are located in the USA, for instance, whereas other premium brands like ESP are based in Japan. Premium guitars are made in custom shops, basically, and cheaper guitars are mass-produced elsewhere – either in Mexico, China, Korea, or Japan.
- Wood Type – the cost of making a guitar is heavily dictated by the type of wood used in its construction. Experienced, professional players have a preference for higher quality woods that have a knock-on, positive, effect on the tonal qualities of the guitar. The more premium the wood, the more expensive the guitar (and the better it sounds). Cheaper guitars use more readily available types of wood that cost less to acquire.
- The Pickups – Pickups are integral to how a guitar sounds when it is plugged in. You have a range of different types from single coil to P90 pickups to humbuckers. Expensive and premium guitars use premium pickups that deliver superior sound and tone, whereas cheaper guitars will use lesser quality pickups.
- Hardware – locking tuners, the bridge, the tone knobs, even the internal wiring. These are all important facets that make up a guitar. Cheaper guitars tend to use more basic hardware and, as a result, tend to be less reliable compared to more expensive models that use high-end hardware in order to get the best possible reliability and performance.
How Much Should I Spend On An Electric Guitar?
If you’re loaded, have plenty of disposable income, and wouldn’t blink at paying $300 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant, you can pretty much get whatever guitar you like.
Budget is always a sticking point for guitarists. You can have all the talent and not enough money to buy a decent guitar, or all of the money and zero talent and/or ability. Everything balances out in the end though because a good player can make a $100 guitar sound incredible and a bad player, regardless of how good the guitar is, will always sound, well… terrible.
Most people, however, are not rich or even well off; it is 2022, after all, the year of recession and inflationary prices. This means, that if you’re brand new to guitar but are keen to learn, you probably don’t need to be spending over $1000 on a guitar – or even half that.
My advice? If you’re brand new to guitar but keen to learn, and you know you’ll stick with it, set yourself a budget and stick to it – around $300 will get you a very decent guitar. I would avoid anything less than $200, though – below this price point things REALLY drop off.
The best value guitar for you, generally speaking, will depend on what you want to do with it. If you want to play metal, you’ll need humbuckers. More interested in indie rock? Go with a guitar with P90 pickups or even single coil pickups.
Gretsch, Squier, and Epiphone are three guitar brands I would be looking at. Each of them makes excellent guitars for in and around the $300 mark. I recently just bought this guitar – I haven’t updated the post yet, where I say I am thinking of buying it – and the reason I did was that I wanted a guitar with a P90 pickup.
Do Any Pros Use Cheap Guitars?
As it happens, plenty of professional and iconic players use or have used cheaper guitars over the years. Kurt Cobain, a lefty, loved his cheap, knock-off Fender Mustang and Strats. Mike Rutherford of Genesis used a $200 Squier Strat on a recent tour – although this guitar was modded by his guitar tech.
Similarly, metal guitarists like Matt Heafy of TRIVIUM prefer to use Epiphone guitars over Gibson models. Heafy even has a selection of signature models with Epiphone, and so too does Slash. Again, these aren’t “cheap” Epiphone guitars; you’ll still pay close to $1000 for one of these. And in most instances, namely the pickups, they’re as good as their more expensive Gibson counterparts.
The main thing to take away from all this is that you do not need a super expensive guitar if you’re just starting out. Sure, it’d be nice. But you’re going to be far better off learning on a cheaper model and using the aspiration of a better guitar, an upgrade, as a reward once you start making some real, obvious progress.
In most cases, you’re going to be much better off going with a $300-$400 guitar and then spending a little extra on an amp. And when it comes to amps, our current favorite by a Texas mile is the Boss Katana MK11 100W – it is utterly brilliant, as you can see inside our Boss Katana MK11 100W Review.
The BOSS Katana MKII 100 watt combo amp is a stage ready beast! You get 8 preset slots for different tones, as well as a dedicated FX loop for all of your pedal needs. The built in attenuator allows you to play quietly at home, or full stage volume with the turn of a knob. Get our #1 pick for any guitarist!
As for what guitar to go and buy right now, I’d check out our guide to the best guitars for beginners right now – it’s constantly updated with new models as soon as we’ve tested them. All of the guitars that make it into this list are brilliant, sound great, and play wonderfully.
Basically, you cannot go wrong with any of them. And we’ve included a range of styles too.
RichardRichard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.
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