25 smokin' electric guitars under £500

2nd Feb 2011 | 12:25

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Höfner Club Solid £419
Mahogany body with flame maple top; set maple neck; rosewood fingerboard; 22 medium frets; 25.5" scale; 2 x Höfner mini humbuckers; 2 x volume, tone, three-way pickup selector; chrome hardware; Honey Burst, Black Cherry or Black finish

UPDATE: We've added two new vintage-vibe electrics - a Höfner Club Solid and a LTD Phoenix 200 - both splicing old-school charm with a generous dollop of modern playability, build quality and an affordable price tag.See them both on the first two slides of this gallery or, if it's your first time here, keep on scrolling for a selection of guitars to suit every player’s taste - all under £500…

We’ve seen kick-ass electrics under £200, the very finest under £300 (plus a cool 17 more) and badass models under £400, so - for those not quite ready to make the jump to £1000 - here’s the last in our series of ‘affordable’ axes: 22 smokin’ electric guitars under £500.

Hand-picked from the pages of Total Guitar, there’s a shape and style to suit every type of guitarist. As you’d expect from forking out the extra £100, the upgrades in materials, pickups and finishes are noticeable and, in our opinion, well worth it. You can even afford a PRS! First up: Höfner Club Solid...

The new Höfner Club Solid is based on the hollowbody Club model John Lennon played in the early days of The Beatles. While Lennon’s guitar would have been super-lightweight, the new Solid version utilises the classic Les Paul style construction of a mahogany body topped with maple, resulting in a much heavier guitar.

If you’ll allow us to get a bit superficial, we have to say that the Höfner Club Solid is a beautiful looking guitar. The inlayed headstock, trapeze tailpiece and those stunning vintage Höfner stripe fingerboard inlays made us gasp when we took the Club out of its box.

Plugging into an amp had the same effect. The bridge mini-humbucker sparkles on clean and shimmers with some overdrive. The neck ’bucker has a clarity that only found its match in the Super Swede’s neck P90. The little Club also showcases an impressive level of sustain that makes blues noodling a joy.

Verdict

The Höfner Club Solid is a cracking piece of eye candy, bursting with tone. If we have one complaint, it’s aimed at the generic slim neck profile. We reckon the Club would be a stone killer if it had a chubbier neck, but some of you may well disagree. Anyway, as it stands, this is one Club we’d definitely be interested in joining - especially given just how affordable the membership fee is.

Pros: Great pickups, serious eye candy.
Cons: We’d like a meatier neck.

Next: LTD Phoenix 200

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
LTD Phoenix 200 £499
Basswood body; maple thru-neck; ebony fingerboard; 22 extra jumbo frets; 25.5" scale; 2 x ESP humbuckers; volume, tone and three-way pickup selector switch; chrome hardware; black finish

You don’t get any prizes for guessing where ESP got the inspiration from for its new LTD Phoenix 200 model. For those of you still scratching your head, the Phoenix 200 pays close tribute to a ‘60s classic, the Gibson Firebird.

Knowing ESP, however, the Phoenix will turn out to be a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Underneath the gloss black exterior lurks a thoroughly modern rock guitar. The maple neck extends through to the base of the body and has a pair of basswood wings glued to it.

Basswood is the timber of choice for anyone looking for a lightweight body that produces excellent tonal qualities and sustain, and this Phoenix pumps out sustain by the bucketload.

The sizzling clarity of the bridge humbucker makes it the pick of the litter in light of the neck unit’s slight muddiness when overdriven. That said, you’ll find useable tones in all three positions on the selector switch.

Verdict

There are quite a few Firebird-inspired models available at the moment; the Epiphone and Tokai models immediately spring to mind. While it also echoes the original, LTD’s guitar isn’t a straight clone. It comes over like a hot rod version of the ‘60s model, those pickups being happiest when they have plenty of gain to feed on. This Phoenix might ruffle the feathers of the vintage freaks but rock and metalheads will love it.

Pros: Cool looks, modern rock tones.
Cons: Muddy neck ’bucker.

Next: Italia Maranello Speedster1

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Italia Maranello Speedster1 £449
Solid korina body; set maple neck; rosewood fingerboard with 'accelerating' inlays; 22 frets; 24.75" scale; Wilkinson vintage-voiced humbucker; volume control; die-cast hardware; blue, yellow, red, black or cream finish

Small boys of the ‘60s either wanted to be Jimi Hendrix or Stirling Moss. Now we can be both (sort of) thanks to the Maranello Speedster1, which indulges dual schoolboy fantasies with its racing stripe and go-faster fret inlays, combined with a spec that’s been cut back to meet weight regulations. Nice concept.

Like a Mercedes that’s been parked in Moss Side, the Italia Speedster1 has been stripped of parts. But you won’t mind when you’re ripping out solos.

The snub-nosed doublecut is as functional as it is attractive, the maple neck is a good all-rounder, while the Wilkinson bridge humbucker combines with hefty helpings of korina (a sibling of mahogany) for a punchy, characterful tone that has a bit more mid-range brightness than your average Gibson derivative.

Good thing we like it, because the lack of tonal options is frustrating for £449. It will take a good amp with a proper EQ to get you a lush rhythm tone.

Verdict

The Speedster1 is not perfect. It’s quite expensive for its class and doesn’t offer as many features as its rivals. You might even say it looks a bit daft. But still, there’s something about this guitar’s cracking korina-fuelled humbucker roar that marks it out among a sea of faceless mid-price sloggers. When you play this guitar, you’ll remember it. And when you gig it, people will remember you.

Pros: Memorable korina-powered tone.
Cons: Price, lack of sonic options.

Buy: Italia Maranello Speedster 1 is currently available from PMT Online.

Next: Jackson Mark Morton Dominion D2

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Jackson Mark Morton Dominion D2 £429
Solid nato body; bolt-on maple neck; rosewood fingerboard; 22 frets; 24.75" scale; 2 x Duncan-designed HB-101 pickups; 2 x volume, 2 x tone, 3-way pickup selector; chrome hardware; transparent or black finish

We’ve criticised the Dominion’s £1169 price tag before and it seems someone was listening. The D2 claws back cash with more modest timbers and pickups, no coil taps, a bolted neck and a non-chambered, non-maple-topped body.

Whoa, fellas! We didn’t ask you to cut off all the sexy stuff! OK, so the spec has taken a battering, but the D2 was our favourite from the moment we struck our first riff.

While perhaps a little boring on the shelf, the body is brilliantly functional and not so overtly ‘metal’ that it will polarise the audience, and the chunky, expressive neck is testament to Morton’s penchant for bluesy riffs and rhythm work alongside the shred.

Tone-wise, the sonic weight of those Duncan humbuckers is the trump card; their punch and presence is simply unparalleled in this test and they justify the outlay of every extra penny.

Verdict

It is the most expensive, and looks a little minimalist next to its older brother, but we feel the D2 is a worthy winner. From the thrilling physical feel to the powerful raw tone, this just feels like a more heavyweight instrument than its rivals. Its sense of class suggests you won’t be rushing to trade it in, and its universal appeal means anyone could take it off the shelf and fall in love.

Pros: Classy tone and versatile feel.
Cons: Not up to Dominion’s spec.

Buy: Jackson Mark Morton Dominion D2 is currenly available from Thomann and Soundslive.

Next: Reverend Jetstream 390

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Reverend Jetstream 390 £449
Korina body; bolt-on maple neck; rosewood fingerboard; 22 frets; 25.5" scale; 3 x reverend P90s; 2 x volume, tone, bass contour, 5-way pickup selector; chrome hardware; metallic blue finish

The Jetstream 390 is part of the Bolt-On Series. Harping back to the body shape of a Jazzmaster, this offset beauty has been cut from korina this time around - think mahogany but lighter.

If you’re expecting a chunky vintage neck, you might be surprised at the more modern profile of the Jetstream. It’s comfortable to play and the cutaway leaves the top end wide open. Other noteworthy features are the Reverend Pin-Lock tuners and a bass contour pot for rolling off low frequencies.

Onto those soapbars then. Plug in and select the neck pickup, and you get a booming low end that could become overpowering, but reaching for that bass contour cures the excessive rumble. Reverend claims that the “in between” positions will give you Strat-alike tones. Position two is good enough, but select position four, give it some welly and it quacks like Count Duckula after a vindaloo!

The bridge position opens up with that characteristic soapbar bite - and you’re reminded exactly why P90s are so revered among guitarists.

Verdict

Reverend has come up with some interesting features that culminate in a vintage-style guitar with modern playability. The versatility of the tones makes it a perfect choice for those who want something a little different from the usual singlecoil/humbucker guitar.

Pros: Those soapbars pack a punch.
Cons: Neck P90 is a bit much.

Next: Blade Delta Standard

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Blade Delta Standard £429
Solid alder body; bolt-on rock maple neck; rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays; 25.5" scale; 2 x singlecoils; volume, tone, 3-way selector, VSC; chrome hardware; two-tone sunburst, black, white, red or blue/green finish

All Tele addicts are chronic technophobes. So when we clock the extra dials on Blade’s Delta Standard, it’s only natural that we’re gonna screw up our faces like a grandparent who’s just been handed an iPod.

Founded by Gary Levinson, Blade’s mission statement to create “advanced concepts” sounds a bit pretentious until you get the results on your lap. The Delta is built on a traditional base - “the alder body highlights the smoother sounds of the late ‘60s,” agrees the website, “while true singlecoils deliver the punch and bite you’d expect” - but innovation points are scored with a selector boosting highs, lows or mids.

“The onboard Variable Spectrum Control expands sounds to a veritable rainbow of tonal versatility,” reckons the Blade brigade, “from basic blues to raunchy rock.”

If all the contenders are this good, we’ve got a problem. The Delta not only feels fantastic (with a weighty slab of alder meeting a chunky maple neck) but offers a twang-tastic clean voice that even beats a Fender when it comes to bisecting a rhythm section. Better still, the VSC proves to be more than a science project, fattening your tone for rhythm or lead, and bringing innovation to the fusty Tele format.

Verdict

In fact, the only reason this axe isn’t popping the champagne is a slight lack of balls under heavier distortion and a bridge that hurts when you rest your palm on it.

Pros: Tele vibe, imaginative flourishes.
Cons: Not the best distorted tone.

Buy: Blade Delta Standard is currently available from Thomann.

Next: Fender Standard Telecaster

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Fender Standard Telecaster £469
Solid alder body; bolt-on maple neck; maple fingerboard with dot inlays; 25.5" scale; 2 x Hot Standard Tele singlecoils; master volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector; chrome hardware; black, blue, red, brown sunburst, white or wine finish

Like sex and the wheel, Leo Fender’s greatest invention remains largely unchanged over half a century later. One unrefined slab of wood. 21 frets. Two pickups. No vibrato. Any questions?

How do you facelift the original ‘50s Tele for a new generation without alienating the purists? Fender reckons its walked the tightrope with this Standard model, whose Mexico origins mean it’s cheaper than the USA equivalent: “The Standard Tele incorporates the best of old and new, offering hotter singlecoils, shielded body cavities, medium jumbo frets, cast and sealed machineheads and a six-saddle strings-throughbody bridge.”

Other ‘new’ features (tinted neck, parchment pickguard) are more cosmetic.

The neck singlecoil punches out warm rhythm with rare class, the bite of the bridge is still nasal after all these years and the classic ‘in-between’ setting (every Tele fan’s favourite) gives that glorious, idiosyncratic quack that props up some of rock’s best moments.

Verdict

It might seem crushingly predictable to award gold star to Fender, but it’s a decision based on performance, not preconceptions. This guitar just feels right, with that chunky body and bolted neck offering a no nonsense platform that means your fingers do the talking. Throw in a competitive price and it’s all over.

Pros: Feel, tone and kudos.
Cons: Sub £500? No complaints.

Buy: Fender Standard Telecaster is currently available from Andertons Music Co., Thomann, Soundslive, PMT Online and GuitarGuitar.

Next: Ampeg AMG100

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Ampeg AMG100 £489
Solid lightweight mahogany body; bolt-on maple neck; rosewood fingerboard; 24 frets; 24.75" scale; dual-blade humbucker (transferable); master volume, master tone, 3-way tone circuit selector; nickel hardware; vintage cherry, blonde or black finish

Ampeg’s transparent Dan Armstrong ADA6 might have been a legend since 1969, but rocking it topless makes your beer belly look like an arse on a photocopier. Spare your blushes with this opaque version.

The ADA6 was famous for its Plexiglass body, and although ditching it for a wafer-thin mahogany disc has cost the AMG100 some ‘look-at-that’ points, this model retains the symmetrical doublecut and option of transplanting the dualblade humbucker for a singlecoil (sold separately).

It’s enough to “distinguish the AMG100 from all other guitars”, apparently.

The AMG100 is much lighter than the ADA6, and while the balance isn’t perfect, you won’t find better access. We’re starting to understand why everyone from Dave Grohl to Keith Richards are fans - it makes everything feel effortless.

Plug in and you get mixed results. The AMG100 has an unforgettable nasal attack, and when you pump the distortion, the ragged roar is truly unique. However, flicking the tone selector doesn’t make much difference. Clearly, you need to swap in the optional singlecoil for real versatility - who’s gonna bother doing that mid-set?

Verdict

In a market where most guitars are ‘50s retreads, this quirky, one-of-a-kind axe is a very worthy contender.

Pros: Cool looks, great access, tone.
Cons: Not very versatile.

Buy: Ampeg AMG100 is currently available from PMT Online.

Next: LTD EC-256 AVB

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
LTD EC-256 AVB £449
Solid mahogany body; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard with block inlays; 22 frets; 24.75" scale; 2 x ESP LH-150 humbuckers (with coil tap); 2 x volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector; nickel hardware; aged vintage black or aged honeyburst finish

Hello, is that LTD? Yeah, well there’s something up with the EC-256 you’ve sent us - it looks like it’s gone 12 rounds with Zakk Wylde. Meant to look like that, you say? Aged finish, you say? Right. Sorry.

LTD hasn’t bothered with marketing blurb for the EC- 256, and we don’t blame them because there’s not a lot to gush about on paper. Dig beneath the aged finish and this is a traditional electric that verges on the unimaginative, with the deep mahogany body and set neck paired with twin humbuckers and a tune-o-matic bridge in the tried-and-tested configuration you’ve seen a thousand times before.

And yet… there’s a whiff of promise about this axe that stops us writing it off.

It’s not groundbreaking, but the EC-256 has been done so well that we don’t care. Aside from the minor criticism that the XJ fretwire is slightly bulky beneath the fingers, this guitar is an undiluted joy, weighing in at a fraction of the bulk of a Les Paul, with a thin U-shaped neck profile that means your fingers are as mobile as you are.

There is a coil tap, but you’d be crazy to demasculinate the organic bark of those ESPs.

Verdict

This guitar has everything you need: a creamy, sustain-heavy neck roar; a gutsy ‘middle’ setting that can bring the funk or the rock; and a knife-through-butter bridge tone that will slice your bassist in half. Not as clever or as charming as many, but we fell for the LTD hard.

Pros: Monster tone, stellar playability.
Cons: Concept, bulky fretwire.

Buy: LTD EC-256 AVB is currently available from Thomann, PMT Online and GuitarGuitar.

Next: Fret-King Eclat 2

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Fret-King Eclat 2 £499
Solid mahogany body; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays; 2 x Fret King P90s; 24.75" scale; nickel-plated hardware; volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector; cherry red or yellow mahogany finish

Trevor Wilkinson started out as the go-to guy for luthiers who wanted his hardware and pickup fairy dust. Now he’s the brains and hands behind Fret-King, and the reason we expect fireworks from the Eclat 2.

The Fret-King ethos is “working vintage guitars” that “don’t pay homage to nostalgic and outmoded design criteria”. Here, Wilko flags up the “classic set neck construction”, “two-piece centre-jointed mahogany body” and twin custom P90s - the sum of which he reckons will make this “deliver instantly useable tone in bucketloads”.

We’ll be the judge of that, Trev.

We knew he could do the nuts and bolts, and Trev is no slouch with the wood bits either. As you’d hope for £499, the Eclat 2 is bullet-proof and playable, with its chunky body and neck exuding old-school vibes but benefiting from modern build techniques.

Verdict

The wrist chamfer is comfortable, fret access is stellar, and it’s OK that the neck isn’t the fastest because no shredder would consider a P90 axe. True to the textbook, those P90 units have the rasp and muscle to hold a sweaty club in the palm of your hand, but that’s not to say it has limited tonality; back off the gain and this model cleans up, with the mahogany offering warmth and workable sustain.

Pros: Great old-school vibe and tone.
Cons: You can get more at £500.

Next: PRS SE Soapbar

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
PRS SE Soapbar £499
Solid mahogany body; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard with moon inlays; 25" scale; 2 x PRS soapbars; master volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector; chrome hardware; vintage cherry or tobacco sunburst finish

Think ‘PRS’ and you’ll doubtless think of bird-shaped fret inlays, humbuckers and wallet-melting prices - all notable by their absence on the SE Soapbar. Can the world’s poshest luthier really get down and dirty?

Paul Reed Smith doesn’t need a marketing campaign to shift the Soapbar; it’s been flying off the shelves since 2003 thanks to a reputation for streamlined genius. You’ll find not an ounce of fat on this spec sheet, with the singlecut mahogany body meeting a wide-fat mahogany neck, and twin soapbars governed by master volume and tone dials.

It’s positively arrogant in its simplicity.

Most of the axes on test let you tamper with the pickups. The SE doesn’t need to: the bite and bark of these P90s is the sound we set out to find, with gutsy distorted riffs punching through as they should and the inherent warmth of the mahogany meaning you don’t need a bassist to sound huge.

It’s easy to forget that SE is an ‘entry-level’ range when rocking the Soapbar.

Verdict

PRS can’t help but make its cheap guitars play like their expensive ones, with this model managing to be both light and satisfying, with a neck that fits your palm snugly and works with the 25-inch scale to make shifting chord shapes, arpeggios and more ambitious techniques roll off your fingers. Best of all, the ‘street price’ slices the £499 RRP, leaving you no excuses not to get this killer axe into your gigbag.

Pros: It’s a class act across the board.
Cons: Can’t think of anything.

Buy: PRS SE Soapbar is currently available from PMT Online.

Next: Jackson DXMG Dinky

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Jackson DXMG Dinky £429
Solid basswood body; bolt-on rock maple neck; rosewood fingerboard with shark fin inlays; 25.5" scale; 2 x EMG-HZ humbuckers; master volume, master tone; black die-cast hardware; black or gun metal grey finish

Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t want to be described as ‘having a Dinky’. Relax, big man. We’re talking about Jackson’s legendary doublecut beast, complete with wobbletastic JT580 vibrato.

Despite belonging to Jackson’s MG Series, this Dinky has a well-endowed spec. Sure, you’d probably prefer the alder bodies and active EMGs that appear further up the scale, but back in the real world the bullet-proof combination of basswood body, bolt-on maple neck and passive HZ humbuckers makes this a tantalising choice for skint metallers.

Jackson is the shred daddy: we’re expecting fireworks.

The Dinky is based on the Jackson Soloist, meaning it looks a bit ‘Def Leppard’ but is highly ergonomic, locking to your body like an obsessed groupie. Physically, it’s a blast, with the compound radius of the fretboard putting grease under your solos beyond the octave, and the vibrato able to take kinetic bends on the chin and deliver subtle flutters during sustained notes.

Passive EMGs are inevitable at this price point, and while it’s hardly a revelation that they don’t match their active brothers, we didn’t have to twiddle too many amp dials to unlock some ball-breaking sounds, from a thick ’n’ fat rhythm chug to a razor-blade bridge tone that conveys every nuance of your legato runs.

Verdict

You’d be churlish to criticise the DXMG at the price, but there’s better to be had.

Pros: Responsive vibrato, fast player.
Cons: It may look ‘a bit ‘80s’.

Buy: Jackson DXMG Dinky is currently available from Andertons Music Co., Thomann, Soundslive and PMT Online.

Next: LTD MH-250

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
LTD MH-250 £499
Solid agathis body with quilted maple top; maple neck; rosewood fingerboard with octave inlay; 2 x ESP LH-301 (with coil tap) pickups; 25.5" scale; black nickel hardware; master volume, master tone, 3-way pickup selector; blue or black finish

Soon you’ll be a metal god and free ESPs will be delivered to your hotel suite with silk bows tied around the necks. Until then, you could do worse than consider the entry-level options from LTD.

Unless you actually are Kirk Hammett, and routinely find £499 down the back of your sofa, you’ll want justifcation for the MH-250’s price. You might find the hinges of your wallet loosen up after a perusal of the with an agathis body and quilted maple top carved into a tasty doublecut, a luxurious maple thru neck, and ESP’s coil-tappable ’buckers and vibrato.

We had our socks blown off by the budget LTD MH-103QM, and while we’ve raised the bar to reflect the price hike, this model still impresses. The thru neck plays fast and loose, its profile excelling at everything from position-shifting shred to emotive blues box solos.

Just wait until you seize the whammy; you’ll coax out a level of soul you never knew you had.

Verdict

If you’ve still got psychological hang-ups about playing LTD, they should evaporate when you crank those ESP humbuckers. Surprisingly smooth and distinguished when clean, they’re as mental as we hoped under gain, delivering a brick-wall Hetfield-style rhythm crunch and a white-hot lead tone that will even slice through that crap PA at the Dog & Bollock.

Pros: tone, thru neck, playability.
Cons: It’s the priciest contender.

Buy: LTD MH-250 is currently available from PMT Online.

Next: LAG Arkane A200ST

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
LAG Arkane A200ST £425
Solid basswood body, maple top; bolt-on maple neck; rosewood fingerboard, acrylic pearl inlays; 25.5" scale; EMG-HZ SA (N), TB1 (B) and S3 (M) pickups; volume, tone (with coil tap), 5-way pickup selector; black hardware; black shadow, royal blue shadow or honey shadow finish

Under Michel Chavarria, LAG has spent 25 years hand-crafting boutique axes for French aristocrats. Now it’s taking its elitist build principles to the masses with a cut-price line of Chinese electrics.

You can’t expect the same trimmings as the bourgeoisie, but there’s evidence LAG have fought to stop too many corners being cut on the A200ST.

Essentially, this is a frill-free version of the A3000 played by Cradle Of Filth’s Charles Hedger, offering a slim slice of basswood and maple, sweetening the deal with a ‘superstrat’ cluster of EMG-HZ pickups and qualifying here thanks to a licensed Floyd Rose.

At a price point where most luthiers go through the motions, this model drips imagination, from the off-the-wall headstock to the deliciously contoured body. The neck is an effortless player too, and while we’re less inclined to shred on this classy beast, the vibrato deals with anything you throw at it.

Verdict

With its three pickups, a five-position selector and a coil-tap hiding beneath the tone pot, it’s fair to say the A200ST is the most versatile in the group. Far more than a tool of moronic metal, the LAG is capable of fat-bottomed rock, hot buttered funk, smooth jazz chords and the jagged nosebleed filth the metal brigade crave.

Pros: classy vibe, versatile tone.
Cons: too classy for metallers?

Next: Epiphone Prophecy Les Paul EX

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Epiphone Prophecy Les Paul EX £469
Solid mahogany body with quilted maple top; set mahogany neck; ebony fingerboard with 'blade' inlays; 24.75" scale; EMG 85 (neck), EMG 81 (bridge) pickups; volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector; black hardware; midnight ebony finish

Epiphone has a dilemma: how do you give the Les Paul a face-lift without buggering up its major selling points? The boys reckon the new Prophecy EX is the answer, touting it as “tradition meets innovation”.

It’s an LP, but not as we know it. Epiphone clearly wants a slice of the shred pie, furnishing this axe with 24 frets (two more than standard), a SpeedTaper neck with go-faster D-profile, aggressive blade inlays and EMG active humbuckers.

That’s the ‘innovation’ part; the ‘tradition’ comes from a bound mahogany body, sumptuous maple top and set mahogany neck. And no, you won’t find this model in a Gibson format.

Like all LPs, the Prophecy is absurdly heavy; not ideal for shredders, but the weight is offset by a neck that plays noticeably faster than standard. The best news is that a familiar 24.75-inch scale means the expressive bends that are integral to LP performance are still at your fingertips.

Purists will froth, but if you’re open-minded, you’ll have fun.

Verdict

Those same purists will argue that LPs have to feature PAFs (or their equivalent), and it’s true these EMGs cost you some of the buttery character of a standard LP when you play clean. Here’s the flip side: crank the Prophecy and the thickest, darkest, most aggressive tone in the group spills forth, cementing the impression that this axe will delight players who worship Zakk Wylde, but bemuse those whose tastes are more textbook.

Pros: fast feel, mental tone.
Cons: the purists won’t be happy.

Buy: Epiphone Prophecy Les Paul EX is currenly available from Andertons Music Co., Thomann, PMT Online and GuitarGuitar.

Next: Hagstrom Super Swede

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Hagstrom Super Swede £419
Mahogany body with carved maple top; set mahogany neck with pearl block inlays; resonator fretboard; 2 x Hagstrom Custom '58 humbuckers; 25.5" scale; chrome hardware; 2 x volume, 2 x tone, 3-way pickup selector, coil tap switch; black or vintage sunburst finish

Founded in 1958, Hagstrom fell victim to the Japanese copy boom of the ‘80s, but came back from the dead last year with a new line of electrics based on the old classics.

Traditional looks conceal some tantalising features here. There’s the H-Expander trussrod, whose distribution of tension supposedly makes the neck play like shit off a shovel. Then there’s the resinator fretboard, a homogenous wood composite that Hagstrom reckons gives the “benefits of premium ebony with greater consistency and speed”.

The block stop tailpiece purports to boost sustain, while a coil tap can split the ’58 humbuckers.

Despite its LP vibe, the Super Swede is neither as heavy nor as big in any direction. We’d question Hagstrom’s claims this is the world’s fastest neck, but it’s no slouch, has a low action that works well with single-note runs, and copes well when you push beyond Jimmy Page tempo.

Hats off to Hagstrom for including a coil tap, but the Super Swede is most convincing when you let the ’buckers do their ‘thick and fat’ thing.

Verdict

The tone mirrors the looks, with real organic warmth when you play the blues at the neck, a creamy roar when you flip to the bridge and huge sustain across the board. LP traditionalists might even prefer it to the Epiphone.

Pros: Vintage looks, classic tone.
Cons: Some extravagant claims.

Buy: Hagstrom Super Swede currently available from Thomann.

Next: PRS SE Singlecut

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
PRS SE Singlecut £499
Solid mahogany body with maple top; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard with moon inlays; 25" scale; 2 x PRS humbuckers; volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector; chrome hardware; grey black, blue matteo, tobacco sunburst or black finish

Unless you actually are Carlos Santana, the closest you’ll get to a ‘real’ PRS is licking the guitar shop window. Stop doing that and consider the entry-level SE range, whose staggering ratio of price to performance is the stuff of legend.

PRS is synonymous with luxury, and most of it filters down to the SE range. We’ve got a classic combination of mahogany body and maple top, complemented by PRS humbuckers and a set mahogany neck with a rosewood board that’s furnished with ‘moon’ inlays.

There are longer spec sheetsout there, but PRS has always been about performance, not bells and whistles.

The Singlecut had one hand on the gold within minutes. Physically, this guitar is a tonic to the bloaters that dominate the singlecut market: it’s slim and ergonomic, balances perfectly and puts you utterly in control.

That impression is consolidated by the gorgeous neck, which offers a wide carve that fills the palm to perfection, alongside a unique 25-inch scale that makes for expressive bends and vibrato.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a singlecut that can deliver soul when clean but go suitably mental under heavy gain, you can’t go far wrong with the PRS Singlecut. Riffing on the neck ’bucker is a winner for creamy blues solos, but flipping to the bridge under distortion unlocks a thrillingly angry tone that brings spit and sawdust to your lead work.

Pros: quality, playability, rounded tone.
Cons: it’s price is at the very top of its bracket.

Buy: PRS SE Singlecut is currently available from Thomann and PMT Online.

Next: Cort VX-4X

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Cort VX-4X £449
Solid mahogany body; 3-piece maple set neck; rosewood fingerboard with custom biohazard inlays; 24.75" scale; 2 x EMG-HZ H4 humbuckers; volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector; black nickel hardware; tuners, tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar; white pearl or black metallic finish

The name might not be as hallowed as Ibanez and co, but with 47 years in the trade and a growing army of fans, we’re not expecting the new offering from Cort to roll over and have its tummy tickled.

“The VX-4X is very metal,” pointed out the bloke who picked up the phone at HC Distribution, and faced with the Explorer-but-scarier mahogany prongs and biohazard fret inlays, we were inclined to agree. “It’s aimed at the same market as the EVL Series,” continued our man, “but these have passive HZ units, instead of active EMGs.”

Cort has always made a tidy metal guitar, and it hasn’t come unstuck with the VX-4X. The shape looks like the sort of thing James Hetfield might have played in the ‘80s and proved just as manageable as the comparable Xiphos. The C-profile maple neck is solid rather than spectacular, letting you pull off metal’s trademark techniques but never prompting you to ask where it’s been all your life.

Verdict

The tone of these HZ humbuckers is full, rich and authoritative, but we couldn’t help but pine for the ragged mentalism of the Vindicator. It just took the edge off what was otherwise a bulletproof showing.

Pros: Playable neck, solid sounds.
Cons: Passive EMGs.

Next: Gretsch Electromatic Corvette

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Gretsch Electromatic Corvette £499
Solid mahogany body; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard; 22 frets; 24.6" scale; 2 x Mega-Tron humbuckers; 2 x volume, master tone and 3-way pickup selector; licensed Bigsby vibrato; burgundy finish

Gretsch Guitars will always be best known for its big fat semi-acoustic guitars like the 6120 and the White Falcon played by legends like Eddie Cochran and Brian Setzer. The company also produced a range of solidbody guitars with names like the Princess, Bikini, Astro-Jet and the Corvette.

Our Corvette comes courtesy of the Electromatic range instigated to bring some big bucks retro cool to folk on a budget. Considering its price, the spec is high with a solid mahogany body, glued-in neck, good quality Mega-Tron pickups and a licensed Bigsby vibrato.

If everyone you know is playing an SG, the Corvette offers a similar spec with a touch of individuality. Tuning can wander a bit thanks to the glued-in neck, but that unobtrusive neck joint does provide superb access to the upper frets.

Plugged in clean the Corvette jangles like any good ‘60s axe should. It also loves light overdrive and old-school fuzz, but it did squeal a bit when we pushed the distortion too high. We can’t imagine many shredders picking this guitar up anyway, so that’s fine.

Verdict

You get a lot of ‘60s vibe for the money here. And with prices as low as £429 online, it’s even more desirable. If you’re looking for a class axe with a style all of its own you should take a look at the Electromatic Corvette.

Pros: stylish looks, vintage tones.
Cons: tuning stability.

Buy: Gretsch Electromatic Corvette is currently available from Thomann.

Next: Dean Cadillac 1980

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Dean Cadillac 1980 £499
Mahogany body; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard; 24.75" scale; 2 x Dean Humbuckers; 2 x volume, 2 x tone, 3-way pickup selector; gold hardware; black finish

Regular TG readers will know how much we love the wonderful guitars of Dean. While Dimebag Darrell’s Razorback and Razorback V guitars rock our world, our favourite Dean of all time is the Cadillac.

Famous Cadillac players include Steve Stevens and Glen Drover of Megadeth. This Cadillac 1980 is the midpriced model, and we’ve found it online selling as low as £399.

We were lucky enough to have a US-made Dean Cadillac in the office to compare the mid-priced 1980 model to. Maybe that’s an unfair comparison - the 1980 is a quarter of the price of the American guitar, after all - but hey, that’s life.

As it happened, the cheaper Cadillac needn’t have worried. For your 500 sheets you get quality hardware, 22 fat frets, gold hardware and a decent pair of gold covered humbuckers. This guitar is so affordable that we’d even consider splashing out on a pair of Bare Knuckle pickups.

Verdict

While we would prefer the US Caddy if we had the cash, the Cadillac 1980 is no booby prize. This guitar plays and sounds great. We’re natural born posers too, so we really dug the fact that strapping on this killer looking guitar made us feel like instant rock stars. Yep, the Caddy 1980 from Dean is the whole package.

Pros: awesome looks, killer playability.
Cons: nothing to see here!

Buy: Dean Cadillac 1980 is currently available from Thomann and PMT Online.

Next: Hamer XT SATQ

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Hamer XT SATQ £499
Mahogany body with arched maple cap; set mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard; 24" scale; 2 x Duncan-designed humbuckers; 2 x volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector; Tune-o-matic bridge, stop tailpiece; natural, honeyburst, trans black or tobacco sunburst finish

Don’t get all shirty about the price. Instead, take a look at the headstock, remind yourself that this is a Hamer and count your lucky stars you’re able to get within sniffing distance of this legendary brand.

Hamer reckons the SATQ could cause you a headache, albeit a nice one. “You’ll have trouble deciding if you prefer the great looks or incredible sound!” spouts the website. True, this instrument is a triumph of form and function, combining eye candy like the quilted top and abalone inlays with serious artillery like the twin Duncan humbuckers.

The build is luxurious and impeccably tidy, from the bound fingerboard to the natural maple cap, while the physical performance evokes a lost collector’s item, letting you slide through a volley of vibrato-eavy blues licks like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Verdict

It’s always good to see Duncan humbuckers, and in the SATQ’s case it’s even better to hear them. Buttery at the neck and purposeful at the bridge, these units should delight older players who are still fuming that they couldn’t afford a Les Paul, but they might not be mental enough for younger and harder players to make the financial stretch. You know who you are, so act accordingly.

Pros: all-round class and kudos.
Cons: it doesn’t like Slipknot riffs.

Next: BC Rich Assassin FX6

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
BC Rich Assassin FX6 £495
Nato body, maple veneer; maple thru neck; ebony fingerboard; 25.5" scale; 2 x Rockfield Mafia humbuckers; volume, tone, 3-way pickup selector, coil tap switches, reverse phase; chrome hardware; dragon's blood, trans black or trans blue finish

BC Rich: purveyor of the finest pointy bits, scary headstocks and model names that make the competition quake in their boots. We love the Ironbird, Warlock, Bich and Warbeast. But can BC Rich do tasteful? Let’s find out.

This isn’t your typical BC Rich. It’s all a bit, well, pretty, isn’t it? Fear not, hairy brethren. Beneath that glossy exterior lurks a slavering metal monster that has every right to wear the BC Rich logo on its headstock.

You know that expression ‘less is more’? Well, BC Rich doesn’t. Understatement just isn’t its bag, but we can’t help feeling that the company went a bit too far with the Assassin FX6. The overblown cosmetics of this six-string Christmas tree left us feeling a little queasy. And that’s a shame because we think the Assassin is a great guitar in just about every other department.

The chunky neck with its full compliment of 24 jumbo frets is a shredder’s dream while the Mafia humbuckers are as fat as Tony Soprano. The range of tones available is staggering: each pickup has a coil tap (to transform it to a singlecoil) and there’s a reverse phase switch that produces a nasal tone, which sounds better than that description suggests.

Verdict

Cosmetics aside, the only other thing we don’t like is the tiny headstock. This is a BC Rich - it should have a big, daft headstock! Ditch the tinsel and fatten up the head and this Assassin would blow our heads off. Are you listening, BC Rich?

Pros: great playability, tonal options.
Cons: bit of a tart’s handbag.

Next: Washburn WI200 PRO-E

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Washburn WI200 PRO-E £499
Agathis body; bolt-on maple neck; rosewood fingerboard; 24.75" scale; EMG85 (neck) and EMG81 (bridge) active humbuckers; 2 x volume, 2 x tone and 3-way pickup selector; Grover machineheads, Tune-o-matic bridge, stop tailpiece, Buzz Feiten tuning system; black finish

According to Washburn, its 200 PRO Series was ‘designed around the single premise to create a truly professional series of guitars offering the best value for money in today’s electric guitar market’. Hey, we’ll be the judge of that, Washburn dudes.

The 200 PRO Series Idol model is available fitted with Seymour Duncan ’59 and Custom humbuckers (neck and bridge respectively) at £379 or EMG85 (neck) and EMG81 (bridge) active humbuckers at £449. The one we’ve got has the EMG pickups.

The Idol’s doublecutaway thin body and twin humbucker line-up give it the feel of a modern take on a Gibson SG. There are a load of Idol models available including the aged WI64 Vintage guitar (£449), but our WI200 is designed to offer the maximum firepower for the least amount of money.

That’s why it features a bolt-on neck and Agathis body, instead of the set neck and mahogany body of some of the other Idol models.

Verdict

It’s main selling point is the EMG pickups. EMGs cost £90 each, so the £449 retail price of the WI200 PRO-E starts to look like a steal. Well, we’ve been digging and found this guitar selling online at £359, so it’s got to be the cheapest EMG-equipped guitar out there. Call us greedy but a set neck would’ve sweetened the deal. Still, we can’t complain.

Pros: looks cool, great pickups.
Cons: we’d prefer a set neck.

Buy: Washburn WI200 PRO-E is currently available from PMT Online.

Next: Spear Tomcat Golden Tiger

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Spear Tomcat Golden Tiger £429
Mahogany body; maple glued-in neck; rosewood fingerboard; 24.75" scale; Seymour Duncan SH-4 Jeff Beck (bridge) and SH-2 Jazz (neck) pickups; volume, tone, pickup selector switch; Sperzel locking machineheads; amber, translucent blue or tobacco sunburst finish

Spear is a relative newcomer to the guitar scene in the UK, and it deals in high-spec, quality guitars that sell at affordable prices. We’ve previously been impressed with Spear’s Gladius SP, so let’s see how the new Tomcat Golden Tiger stacks up.

The Tomcat Golden Tiger looks like the bastard child of a Gibson Les Paul and a Fernandes Ravelle. Specification is high with a mahogany body, maple top and a striking flame maple veneer. You also get a pair of Seymour Duncan humbuckers. So we know it’s got all the right bits, but is this tiger a roaring success? Sorry…

Yep, this is a killer guitar. The chunky neck and 22 fat, well-finished frets make the Golden Tiger feel like a guitar at twice the price. String bending above the 12th fret is a joy and tuning stability is rock solid. We can’t fault the pickup selection either; there’s a rocking Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck at the bridge and a Jazz in the neck position.

We even like the slightly bonkers pussy footing fingerboard inlays including the cat-shaped inlay at the 12th fret, although we would agree that they’re an acquired taste.

Verdict

The Tomcat Golden Tiger is a no-brainer contender because it offers more playability and features than we’d ever expect for £429.

Pros: value for money, killer spec.
Cons: feline inlays not for you?

Next: Dean Razorback DB

25 smokin' electric guitars under £500
Dean Razorback DB £495
Basswood body; bolt-on maple neck; rosewood fingerboard; 24.75" scale; 2 x Dean humbuckers; 2 x volume, master tone and 3-way pickup selector; Grover machineheads, Tune-o-matic bridge; metallic red, metallic white and classic black finish

We wish we could afford a US-made Razorback, but we’re talking two grand plus. Even the Chinese made Razorback with its set-neck, Floyd Rose vibrato and Seymour Duncan Dimebucker humbucker will rid you of £995. Hmm, what we need is a Razorback that looks the part but only costs 500 quid.

Funny we should say that…

The DB has the iconic spiky body and huge Dimebag-designed headstock. It’s only when you look closer that you see why this guitar is so keenly priced: instead of the mahogany body you get basswood; the neck is a bolt-on; you get a fixed bridge in place of the Floyd Rose locking vibrato; and there’s no Seymour Duncan Dimebucker in the bridge position.

Verdict

In use, it’s Dime’s signature pickup we miss most. The DB’s humbuckers are poky enough but they just don’t have the balls we expect from one of Dime’s metal machines. Here’s an idea: we’ve spotted the Razorback DB online at £314. Get a Seymour Duncan Dimebucker (approx £80), have it fitted and you’ll have a killer metal guitar that plays great at a bargain price.

Pros: lethal looks, the neck profile.
Cons: we miss the Dime pickup.

Buy: Dean Razorback DB is currently available from Thomann and PMT Online.


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