Best Budget Electric Guitars: The New Affordable
Published on 02 December 2021
Our latest Epiphone shipment arrived recently and, as is now becoming the norm for the brand, the contents have really impressed us. Epiphone have always been a great choice for the up-and-coming guitarist and for the player on a budget, but these new models - and in fact all Epiphone for the past two or three years - have gone above and beyond in terms of what they promise. We can’t think of a situation or context that would find them lacking, and that got us thinking.
Affordable guitars today are a million miles away from comparatively priced instruments from yesteryear. Whilst there are still very much wide distinctions in price, quality, finishing and features, those gaps are nothing like as far apart as they once were. The rise in quality craftsmanship from China, Indonesia and South Korea has meant that there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ new electric guitar any more. Not only that, the £300-600 affordable price point is bristling with guitars that can easily stand in for professional use. The ‘New Affordable’, as we’re calling them, are excellent budget electric guitars from the lower end of many famous manufacturers’ catalogues, or top models from supposedly budget brands like Squier.
This blog today aims to highlight some of these guitars, with perhaps a little bit of an emphasis on Epiphone, given that they were the motivating factor in our whole idea! We’ll try to cover a selection of styles, since the New Affordable tag can be applied to retro semi-acoustics as easily as it can to Floyd Rose-equipped rock machines. Here are our favourites!
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Epiphone’s take on the Les Paul has always been a win for those seeking those immortal singlecut looks and thick sounds at a most affordable cost. Things got even better recently when Epiphone relaunched their whole range to align more closely with Gibson’s offerings. Thus, the Les Paul Standard is now available in both 50s and 60s iterations, with their own finishes and features.
Both styles sport excellent ProBucker pickups for PAF-like tones, and each has its own neck profile. We’ve chosen the beefier 50s variant for inclusion here - shown in Vintage Sunburst - but the slimmer 60s neck is just as nice, as are the choice of finishes. These are serious guitars, with Grover tuners, a great feel and all of the fat mahogany Les Paul tone you can handle!
G&L Tribute Comanche
G&L are one of the most quietly innovative brands on the market. You can tell just from looking at the ‘z-coil’ pickups on this Tribute Series Comanche model that there are some interesting things happening here! Indeed, those pickups are hum-cancelling, and the Z design allows them to get more bite from the higher strings and more low end from the bottom strings, bringing a more expressive sound to your fingertips. Add to this G&L’s patented Passive Treble and Bass (PTB) controls and you have a larger degree of onboard tone manipulation than most S-types can offer.
Not only that, there’s locking tuners, a fantastic Leo Fender-designed tremolo unit and a lovely slice of dramatic-looking burl poplar on top of the body, just underneath the gorgeous Aqua Burst finish!
The potential player for this Comanche is probably pretty obvious given its shape, but we’d recommend all guitarists looking for versatility and value for money to plug one of these in.
Squier Classic Vibe Thinline Tele
Anyone who gets snobby about Squier guitars these days is crazy. Plug in any of their vintage-inspired Classic Vibe instruments and you’ll be treated to a great feel and some disarmingly authentic tones, not to mention handsome looks, particularly in the case of this 60s Thinline Telecaster model!
Squier have sensibly gone for a ‘half-vintage’ spec here, so there are vintage style narrow-tall frets but they are on a more modern 9.5” radius fingerboard. The semi-hollow Tele vibe is something we never tire of, and it’s a useful tonal ‘shade’ to add to your palette if all of your axes are fully solid. Classic Vibe indeed!
Epiphone Inspired by Gibson 335
We’re staying with the f-holes for our next choice, and, as mentioned, heading back to Epiphone for another of their newer models. When the range was updated, many brows were furrowed regarding the fate of the ‘Dot 335’ model, since it has a long history as a greatly loved best-seller. Even bona fide rock stars like Josh Homme have extolled the virtues of the Dot, so there was a real sense of trepidation in the air regarding Epiphone’s new ‘Three Thirty five’.
The concerns were fair but unfounded. The Epiphone Inspired by 335 is a very potent animal indeed. Ultra-playable and full of that old ‘Kalamazoo’ charm, the Epi 335 is everything you need a semi to be: warm, expressive, comfortable and confident. We mean it when we say this is a step up from the old Dot model, particularly in the neck shape and the great-sounding alnico pickups. For players who want rich heritage tones for any classic guitar genres, this is an affordable instant-classic.
EVH Wolfgang Standard
The late, great Eddie Van Halen was famous for many things, and one of those things - in industry circles at least - was his fastidious attention to detail. All of the stories about him leaving amps feeding back for entire weeks and then checking on the speakers are absolutely true, and he applied this attitude to everything created and sold by his EVH company. This means that you can bet your ass the Great Man paid a lot of attention to the Wolfgang series, even (probably particularly) the most affordable Wolfgang Standard models.
It shows. The fit and finish of these are beyond what many would expect in such an eminently affordable guitar. The specs scream no-nonsense rock, too: a baked maple neck, huge frets and a compound radius fingerboard (it flattens out the higher you get for increased shredability), along with the deliberately non-’rock’ body shape mean that you can fit this guitar into a wealth of genres whilst still getting the modern performance spec you need for elaborate gymnastics.
Also, it’s worth pointing out, even at this modest price point, that the pickups were selected, exhaustively tested and signed off by the man who created arguably the best rock tone ever known. What other guitar model but the Wolfgang can boast that?
PRS SE Standard
Another man who is known for his exacting eye for detail is Paul Reed Smith. His USA-made creations are the stuff of legend, but these Far Eastern PRS SE models consistently deliver tremendous bang for their buck, too. In particular, we’d like to highlight the SE Standard 24, which earns its name by dropping the figured maple top, (such as the Custom 24 would have) in favour of a ‘standard’ mahogany body. What remains is everything else: the great sounding 85/15 S pickups (based on Paul's own favourite pickups), the coil tapping, the 24 fret neck (which has fingerboard binding) and even the famous Bird inlays!
There’s pretty much no style of music that this guitar can’t capture, from the jangliest of pop to the chunkiest of rock. Even without the trademark figured maple top, these SE Standard 24’s have the brand’s inherent good looks, not to mention playability. Considering the asking price for this model in particular, we think this is one of the best buys on the market. You can have three colour choices, and today we’ve opted for the Vintage Cherry.
So Many More!
We wanted to include the Gretsch Streamliners, the LTD EC 256 range, the Fender Player Series and many, many more examples of high-class guitar making at highly affordable prices, but we’ve run out of room! Honourable mentions also go to Ibanez and Yamaha, who have always treated this area of the market with the respect it deserves, and to Schecter, who pile on the features for the given asking price.
The point is, there is a huge amount of choice in the New Affordable market, and quality has never been higher either! We all aspire to certain instruments, but while we are getting on our way towards them, these are great budget electric guitars we can use to make our art, and they’ve never been better.