The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today

13th Feb 2012 | 18:37

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Dean ML XM

How to buy your first proper electric guitar? For most fledgling guitarists, price is the bottom line. Or maybe you are a gigging musician looking for the best bang for your buck?

Back in July 2009 we solicited your opinions in a quest to find the ultimate entry-level electric, and the resulting bloody battle saw Epiphone's ES-335 Dot come out on top of 20 other instruments to be crowned the best guitar under £300.

Fast-forward to 2012 and we're paying more for petrol, clothes, food and guitars too. To reflect inflation and the wallet-troubling effects of the global economic nosedive, our ceiling price went up to £400 street.

After receiving hundreds of nominations we compiled a shortlist of the 20 most popular suggestions, then opened the voting in what proved to be a hard-fought poll. Thousands of votes later, we have a winner. Across the following pages we present a countdown of the 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today, as voted for by you. First up, it's something for the metalheads...

Dean's ML model is most commonly associated with the late, great Dimebag Darrell, and while more ostentatious variations are available, the ML XM is a stripped down heavy rock machine that can currently be found on UK shores for considerably less than 200 notes.

BUY Dean ML XM currently available from:
UK/Europe: Gear4Music
USA: American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Peavey HP Single Cut SC-2

This instrument from the Meridian, Mississippi company clearly owes more than a little inspiration to a certain brand beginning with G. However, a basswood body, ceramic humbuckers and a deep cutaway scoop suggest that the HP Single Cut has plenty of contemporary attitude of its own to offer aspiring rockers.

Two pickups not enough for you? Read the HP Single Cut SC-3 review.

BUY Peavey HP Single Cut SC-2 currently available from:
USA: Full Compass

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Hofner Colorama

Hofner may be best known for Paul McCartney's 500/1 Violin Bass, but the German company has a proud history when it comes to six-strings too.

Echoing the double-cutaway design that first arrived in the UK in 1961, today's Colorama is a smart, leftfield choice for those who want to stand out from the rest of pack.

Read the Hofner Colorama review.

BUY Hofner Colorama currently available from:
UK/Europe: Thomann

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Washburn Idol Series WIN STD

Washburn's Idol Series has given birth to some interesting guitars over the years, from budget signature models to luxury US-made singlecuts.

The WIN STD is a little more derivative but a keenly-priced option for the fledgling LP-fan that's also available in gold.

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Jackson PDX Demmelition King V

Machine Head fans the world over dream of having thousands of dollars worth of kick-ass gear like their hero, Phil Demmel.

Back in the real world, if you haven't got over a grand to drop on the high-end version, just under £400 will get you this ferocious little number. Perhaps this is one for players who have already decided that their heart lies with metal rather than absolute beginners...

Read the Jackson PDX Demmelition King V review.

BUY Jackson PDX Demmelition King V currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Danelectro Wild Thing

And so to the other side of the spectrum. With lines that are straight out of a 1960s surf video and no shortage of twang, this is an instrument best suited to indie kids, garage and psych-rock nuts. We love it.

Read the Danelectro Wild Thing review and see it in action on video.

BUY Danelectro Wild Thing currently available from:
UK/Europe: Thomann

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Italia Rimini

Another retro six-string, the Italia Rimini is a lot of guitar for the money, especially considering that the average street price is currently less than £400.

There's no escaping the Rickenbacker influence, and fans of 1960s jangle will be right at home. There's even a matching bass version.

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
ESP LTD Viper-330

This offset take on the classic Gibson SG outline seems aimed squarely at fans of Tony Iommi-style none-more-black riffing.

However, the combination of all-mahogany construction and brash ceramic pickups means that there's plenty of attitude for modern punk rockers too.

Read the ESP LTD Viper-330 review.

BUY ESP LTD Viper-330 currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Schecter Omen Extreme-6

Schecter's Omen models go all the way up to eight strings, but this example is more traditionally strung.

Quilted maple adds a rare slice of luxury on a guitar that can be picked up for less than £300, but hot, overwound ceramic humbuckers mean that there's plenty of bite on tap too. Not just a show pony.

BUY Schecter Omen Extreme-6 currently available from:
UK/Europe: Thomann

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Epiphone ES-339

Although at least one member of the MusicRadar team reckons that the Gibson ES-335 outline is as close as can be to guitar perfection, for some players, it's just too big to handle.

Enter the ES-339 then, an immensely popular Gibson model that now finds its way into the Epiphone catalogue too. Incredibly versatile and a smart choice for the long haul.

BUY Epiphone ES-339 currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Gretsch Electromatic G5435T Pro Jet

For our money, the Gretsch Duo Jet is the absolute coolest electric guitar design known to woman or man.

In an ideal world, we'd all have George Harrison signature models, but the reality is that the Electromatic series is where its at when it comes to incredible value for money. Also, the helpful folks on the Gretsch Talk and Gretsch Pages forums will show you how to get even more out of your Electromatic with just a handful of low-cost modifications.

Read the Gretsch Electromatic G5435T Pro Jet review. There's also a double-cutaway version.

BUY Gretsch Electromatic G5435T Pro Jet currently available from:
UK/Europe: Thomann
USA: Sweetwater | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Vintage V100

For Les Paul lovers on a budget who aren't precious about having the 'right' name on their headstock, the Vintage V100 series offers impressive value for money and Wilkinson hardware and electronics.

Recent production runs have included V100s with artificially-aged finishes and cheeky affordable homages to famous artists' expensive signature axes.

BUY Vintage V100 currently available from:
UK/Europe: Thomann| Gear4Music

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Ibanez RG350MZ

The 1980s may be a distant memory, but there's still something jaw-dropping about an Ibanez in desert yellow.

Fans of Vai, Gilbert et al will instantly be at home on this shred machine, and it's certainly a cheaper option than the RG3250MZ.

BUY Ibanez RG350MZ currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann| Sounds Great Music| Gear4Music

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus

The idea of getting a new, 'proper' Fender with more than just rudimentary appointments for less than 350 pound notes (or the equivalent amount) is something that previous generations of budding guitar heroes could only dream of.

Thanks to Chinese production, Fender's Modern Player guitars bring pimped-out designs to the affordable end of the market. So far, the versatile Telecaster Plus seems to be the people's favourite.

BUY Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | Full Compass | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Yamaha Pacifica 112V

Once a game-changer, the Yamaha Pacifica remains a must-try budget instrument and the choice of countless aspiring players across the globe.

The 112V can currently be picked up for just over £200 in the UK, which is impossible to argue with.

Read the Yamaha Pacifica 112V review

BUY Yamaha Pacifica 112V currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster

As most guitarists what the their first 'proper' electric guitar was and, more often than not, they'll say a Squier Stratocaster.

There's plenty of choice when it comes to Squier Strats, but this is the cream of the current crop. You'll also have plenty of change from £300 and a genuine piece of rock 'n' roll history in your hands.

Read the Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster review.

BUY Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Soundslive| Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | Full Compass | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Epiphone ES-335 Dot

When we ran this poll back in 2009, the Epiphone ES-335 Dot was a worthy winner.

A few years on, fourth place is an entirely respectable finish for a guitar that offers supreme versatility and a timeless aesthetic. Despite inflation, it's still available for less than £300 and for the money there really aren't many better guitars to start your playing career off with than this.

Read the Epiphone ES-335 Dot review.

BUY Epiphone ES-335 Dot currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster

Perhaps it's reflective of the shifting sands of fashion, but Leo Fender's less svelte, less curvaceous and historically more workmanlike solidbody has pipped the Stratocaster to a podium place in our 2012 poll.

The latest version of the Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster still features a pine body just like Leo's 1949 prototype but now has Alnico V single-coils. A serious guitar straight out of the box and a wonderful platform for modifications.

Read the Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster review.

BUY Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Sounds Great Music | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | Full Compass | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Epiphone Les Paul Standard

Second best or fastest loser? Either way, anyone who attends a lot of gigs will be able to vouch for the fact that a hell of a lot of guitarists on the pub circuit rely on Epiphone Les Pauls night after sweaty night.

If the basic model is a little run of the mill for your tastes - though it shouldn't be, it's great! - you can get Epiphone Les Pauls in a variety of flavours, whether it's the Floyd Rose-toting PRO/FX model or the hybrid Les Paul Ultra-II. The Joe Bonamassa Goldtop is another good one.

BUY Epiphone Les Paul Standard currently available from:
UK/Europe: Andertons Music Co. | Thomann | Gear4Music
USA: Sweetwater | American Musical

The 20 best budget electric guitars in the world today
Hagstrom Swede

Ladies and gentlemen, with 14.8 percent of the vote, we have a winner. And we have to be honest, it wasn't the result we were expecting. However, there's no denying that you voted for a very cool guitar indeed with over four decades of heritage, and bags of charm...

Although its looks are Les Paul-inspired, the Swede has some interesting quirks, not least a three-way tone filter toggle that gives access to hi-mid cut and hi-cut sounds. And it's been voted the best budget electric guitar in the world today by MusicRadar users.

For variations on a theme, check out the vibrato-sporting Swede Tremar and a whole range of other Swedes.

BUY Hagstrom Swede currently available from:
UK/Europe: Thomann | Gear4Music

TopView classic version