How do I Choose an electric guitar for a beginner?
Choosing your first electric guitar can be confusing and challenging. For these recommendations I applied some basic criteria. These guitars should be simple, meaning no fancy electronics or wood grains, and readily available at music stores. Even if you eventually choose to purchase your first electric guitar online, it will be helpful to play these different guitars at a music store.
If you’re an adult this post covers the best acoustic guitars for you.
Even if it isn’t the exact same model recommended, it’ll help you get the feel of the guitar. So, here are the 12 best electric guitars for beginners.
What is important in choosing a beginner guitar?
Choosing your guitar is a very personal process, but for a beginner it will be a good idea to keep the following in mind:
- Is this guitar comfortable to play? If it’s not comfortable to hold, or the neck is too wide, or too thin, you’re less likely to enjoy the process, and much less likely to stick with learning the electric guitar.
- What style of guitar do you want to play? This isn’t as important as the point above, but if you’re planning to learn to play blues guitar, a guitar geared towards shredding probably isn’t going to give you the best experience. This isn’t to say it’s a deal breaker, just something to keep in mind when making your choice.
- What is your goal in learning to play? If you’re planning on only playing for fun, you’ll probably be satisfied with a much simpler guitar than someone who ultimately plans to be a professional musician. In the first case, you might play your new guitar for a couple of hours each week, whereas I’ve known aspiring professionals who practice for a couple of hours every day.
- Do you dig the looks of the guitar? When it comes to electric guitars, the way the guitar looks can be as important as anything else. If you find a guitar that feels, and sounds great, but you think it’s just plain ugly, you may not gonna enjoy playing it as much as a guitar that you really dig the looks of, but only sounds okay. Trust your judgement.
- What level are you at? If this is your first guitar period, a simpler guitar is probably a better choice. If you’ve played acoustic guitar, or another instrument before, you may outgrow a simpler guitar faster.
Having said all that, here are some recommendations:
What is the best overall guitar for a beginner?
The best overall guitar for a beginner is one that he enjoys playing. Part of that is aesthetic, a lot of that is feel, but you also have to take into consideration the style of music being played. The perfect guitar for a shredder is going to be different than the perfect guitar for a blues player. Here are three guitars that are probably the best overall guitars for a beginner.
A Squire Stratocaster is a popular guitar for beginners. The Stratocaster is an iconic shape, and is utilized in many different styles of music, from blues to jazz, to rock. In my opinion, it’s the best overall guitar for a beginner because it’s versatile, has three pickups so you can experiment with sounds, and is ergonomic and very comfortable to play. A good model would be the Classic Vibe ’60s Stratocaster.
It sports the classic Stratrocaster look, and sound, and is the higher end guitar Squier makes, meaning you’re getting a better quality guitar overall. The neck is comfortable to play chords on, making it a good choice for a beginning blues or rock player. However, a beginning shredder may become frustrated by the neck’s width and difficulty accessing higher frets. Also, this guitar usually comes with a single coil pickup in the neck position, so if you plan on playing more distorted tones, like metal, this might not be the guitar for you to begin playing with, simply because it may not be able to produce the heavy metal sound you’re looking for.
|Great for most styles of playing|
Popular sound and design
|Not well suited to heavier sounds|
Not Well suited to shredding
Epiphone Les Paul
An Epiphone Les Paul is a good choice for a beginner if you don’t like the Stratocaster shape or sound. Its shape is as iconic as the Strat’s, although I don’t find it as ergonomic or as comfortable to play. Having said that, I know people who swear they’d choose a Les Paul over a Stratocaster any day of the week. Les Paul’s are also used in many different styles of music, and are a good all around guitar. For a beginner, I’d look at getting a Les Paul Studio.
The Les Paul Studio is a simpler, less expensive version Les Paul that was designed to be used by musicians in a studio. The idea was it would be a less expensive guitar because it wouldn’t have fancy wood or binding, but still sound and feel like a Les Paul guitar because it would have the same pickups and hardware. The Les Paul Studio sports two volume, and two tone controls, and a fixed bridge. It also sports 2 Humbucking pickups, as opposed to the Stratocaster’s usual three single coil pickups. This gives the Les Paul a “fatter” tone, that cuts through distortion better. Like the Stratocaster, shredders might find the neck a bit frustrating, but anyone interested in playing blues or rock guitar should definitely consider this guitar.
|Classic look and feel|
Less weight than a Les Paul Classic
|“Stripped Down” looks|
High priced for a beginner guitar
The Epiphone SG is the guitar I would buy if I was a teenager learning to play the guitar again. It’s got an iconic look, and sound, and is popular with blues and rock players. For a beginner, I’d look at an Epiphone SG Standard.
The SG is a fun guitar to play, and often comes up on guitarists lists of favorite guitars. The biggest negative I’ve found for this guitar is neck dive. This link addresses neck dive in more detail, but it is a problem where the guitar’s headstock slips towards the ground when you’re not holding the guitar up. Also, some people might find the look of the guitar dated. I’ve never bought an SG simply because there are modern interpretations of the SG from other manufacturers that more fit my style. But if you’re just starting out, the Epiphone SG is worth considering.
|Classic looks and sound|
More ergonomic than a Les Paul
Pretty close to a Les Paul
Lowest cost option is still pricey
Best Budget Guitar – Under $200
At this price point, you’re not going to get fancy features or finishes, but you will get a playable guitar you can learn on. These are simpler models, and use less expensive electronics and woods, but are definitely worth considering if you’re just starting out. If you’re not sure that playing electric guitar is for you, then buying on of these guitars means you’d be making a very low cost investment to find out.
Squier Bullet Strat HT
The Squier Bullet Strat HT is a lower cost version of the Classic Vibe ’60s Stratocaster recommended above. It’s available with the standard 3 single coil pickups, or 2 single coils with a humbucker in the bridge position. This means that if you don’t like the single coil bridge pickup sound, you’ve got an option. It’s a classic, versatile style guitar with a hardtail bridge instead of a tremolo, meaning you should have an easier time keeping this guitar in tune.
Available in HSS
|Not available in Left Handed models|
Epiphone Les Paul Special
The Epiphone Les Paul Special II is a “stripped down” Les Paul guitar. It has 1 volume and 1 tone control, instead of a standard Les Paul’s 2 volume and 2 tone controls, and a bolt on neck, instead of the Les Paul’s traditional set neck design. It’s a popular choice for a beginner guitar, and well worth consideration.
|Stripped Down Controls|
No Left Handed Models
Getting harder to find
Jackson Dinky JS11
The Jackson Dinky JS11 falls into the “Super Strat” category. Like the Epiphone, it’s got dual humbuckers, but it also sports a tremolo like the Stratocaster. This guitar has is geared more towards shredding and features all black hardware. It’s part of Jackson Guitars JS series of beginner/budget guitars. Jackson is a brand popular with metal and rock guitarists, so if that’s your style, this guitar is definitely one to check out.
|Inexpensive guitar for a beginner shredder|
Graphite reinforced “Speed” neck
|Aggressive, modern look may not appeal to everyone|
Not as well suited to all styles of music
Best Budget Guitar – Under $300
Yamaha Pacifica 112V often comes up in recommendations. The 112V is a more advanced model of guitar, that includes coil tapping, which lets you turn the bridge pickup from a humbucker to a single coil. It might be a bit advanced for some beginners, but this guitar is definitely worth checking out.
|Simple, good looking guitar||Coil tapping not for everyone|
Jackson Dinky Arch Top
The Jackson JS Series Dinky Arch Top JS32 DKA is an affordable guitar, featuring a compound radius neck, a Floyd Rose tremolo and 2 high-output humbucking pickups. This is a budget shred guitar, perfect for the beginning shredder. It’s got a really great neck, but might not be suitable for beginners who don’t want or need a Floyd Rose tremolo. It’s definitely a guitar I’d recommend a beginner to at least play once, just to see how it feels.
Floyd Rose Tremolo
|Looks not to everyone’s taste|
Floyd Rose Tremolo
Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster
The Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster offers better tuners, and a vintage-style tremolo bridge. It’s also available with a humbucking pickup in the bridge position, and comes with a thicker pickguard. If you’re really into the Stratocaster, this is definitely worth considering if you’re thinking about spending a bit more money. Having said that, I’m not sure that the upgrades from the Bullet Strat make that much of a difference.
|Better tuners than the Bullet Strat|
Left Handed Models Available
|Tremolo can cause tuning difficulties|
Alternative #1: Harley Benton
If you’re really on a budget, or you’re just feeling adventurous, then you may want to consider the Harley Benton line of guitars from Thomann Music. Thomann is a German based music retailer with a wide range of electric and acoustic guitars. Because they are based in Germany, prices fluctuate due to exchange rates, and shipping can be expensive for the same reason. Thomann has an excellent return policy, and you can ship back a guitar you’ve purchased if you decide it’s not the guitar for you. Having said that, each of these three guitars comes in at well under $200.00 each. You can also purchase multiple guitars and only be charged for shipping once. I purchased 3 Harley Benton guitars(plus accessories) from Thomann for under $350.00, including shipping.
Great Return Policy
|Can’t try before you buy|
Shipping can be expensive
May need a setup
Lower priced guitars may have rough Fret Ends
Harley Benton ST
The Harley Benton ST-20MN CA Standard Series is a great Stratocaster style guitar that’s priced well under $100. It comes equipped with 3 single coil pickups, a tremolo and 22 frets. It’s a perfect beginner’s guitar, but may come with some slightly rough fret ends. This is because, at the low price point, they don’t spend as much time on the details of the guitar. Having said that, this guitar is very playable, and an excellent value.
Harley Benton SC
The Harley Benton SC-500 BK Vintage Series comes in at well under $200.00, and is equipped with 2 humbuckers, 2 volume, and 2 tone controls and a set neck. It’s a Les Paul style guitar, so it’s perfect for a beginner who really likes the Les Paul look and sound, but isn’t ready to invest $400.00 or $500.00 dollars yet.
Harley Benton DC
The Harley Benton DC-580 CH Vintage Series is an SG style guitar with a set neck, 2 volume and tone controls, and a Tune-o-matic bridge, all for well under $200.00. A beginner who is interested in an SG should definitely take a look at this guitar.
Alternative #2: An Acoustic Guitar
An electric guitar may not be the best first guitar for a beginner. You need an amplifier, cables, etc. and if you’re not sure you’re going to stick with the guitar, it might be a better idea to purchase an acoustic guitar, and play it for a few months before buying an electric guitar.
JT currently resides in Southern California and has been playing the guitar since he was 13. He enjoys baking French pastries, drinking loose-leaf tea, and running Slackware Linux.