Welcome to T3's guide to the best electric guitars for beginners. If you're stuck at home and you're sick of streaming, or if you just want to get the kids off the games console, learning guitar is a fun and rewarding thing to do – and thanks to YouTube and online services such as Fender Play, you can learn with your laptop or get tutorials on your tablet. But if you don't already have a guitar, choosing your first one can be tricky. That's why we've put together this guide to the best electric guitars for beginners.
We've focused on the most affordable end of the market here: if you've got a spare couple of grand and want to buy a Gibson Les Paul, you will of course end up with a beautiful guitar. But while you're just starting out, it might be wise to keep the spending down until you're certain that you or the person you're buying for is going to continue playing.
Low cost inevitably means cut corners: cheaper wood and less exciting electronics, hardware that's fine rather than fantastic, a less prestigious logo on the headstock. But the guitars here still do the job they set out to do, and many of them do it with a surprising amount of style. Think of it like buying a car: SEATs and Audis are cars from the same company, but they're aimed at different parts of the market and do what they do in slightly different ways. As we'll discover, there are some excellent guitars out there, and some of them are absolute bargains.
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The best electric guitar for beginners: Our top pick
The best electric guitar for beginners right now is the Squier Bullet Stratocaster. This is a smart way to get Strat looks for a bargain price tag. There's plenty of choice when it comes to configurations, and it's nice and comfortable to play.
Coming in a close second is the Epiphone SG Special Vintage Editing. The design won't be for everyone, but we think it looks super-cool, and it's very affordable too. Read on for the rest of our picks.
Electric guitars for beginners: What to look for
When trying to find the best electric guitar for beginners, its not just the price point that's important. You'll also want something that's easy to play and forgiving on your fingers.
When you're starting out, comfort is crucial – so have a think about where and how you're going to play, not just what you want to play. Some guitars are awfully heavy and will get uncomfortable very quickly on small people's shoulders; some guitars can be uncomfortable for women to play while seated (if you're busty, it's a good idea to do some research, read reviews and ideally try different guitar shapes in a shop before buying); and some odd-shaped guitars are almost impossible to play unless you're standing up.
There are two key things to think about for first guitars, especially for younger and/or smaller players: the guitar neck size and the neck radius. The bigger the fretboard radius the flatter it'll be, and that usually means thinner too. For players with short arms, a 3/4-scale guitar has a shorter neck so it's easier to reach everything.
You'll notice that we haven't included guitar legends like Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker or Gretsch in our list. That's not because they aren't great guitars; it's because they're expensive. There are Fenders and Gibsons here, but they're under the Squier and Epiphone brands – in both cases they're sub-brands designed to make more affordable versions of the iconic originals.
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If you're a Fender fan but don't have hundreds of pounds lying around, the Bullet range comes from the same firm's Squier division and gives you Strat looks and sounds for a much smaller amount of money. The Bullet Strat comes in a range of configurations including the classic 3 single-coil and a two single coil, one humbucker HSS, and there are lots of fun colours to choose from. The neck is a comfortable C shape and it's fun to play. You'll often find the Bullets bundled with amps in beginner-friendly bundles, but we're not big fans of the amps: we think you'd be better buying your amp separately or using a virtual one on your computer.
Inevitably, you get what you pay for. The Bullet uses basswood rather than the alder of slightly pricier Squiers, the fit and finish isn't Fender level and the pickups and pots are adequate rather than amazing. But the Bullets are excellent value for beginners.
We can sell this one to you with a single chant: AN-GUS! AN-GUS! AN-GUS! AC-DC's Angus Young made the SG into the quintessential hard rock guitar, and it's more affordable than ever thanks to the Special Vintage Edition. The cherry one is hard to find right now, but there are some really nice wooden finishes including a cool cherry sunburst and a walnut that looks much nicer in real life than it does in photos.
The SG boasts a 60s-inspired D-shaped neck, a Tune-o-Matic bridge and premium machine heads to keep it in tune. The pickups are twin humbuckers for that famous SG cut-through: it's a guitar that's at its best when everything is turned up to eleven.
The SG VE is ridiculously cheap for a proper SG, but despite the cost-cutting it's still a very credible first guitar for rock players: stick it through a warm-sounding amp, give it a bit of distortion and you'll be pogoing around in a school uniform in no time.
If you're looking for a budget but decent short-scale guitar, this should be your very first stop. Designed specifically for younger players and players with smaller hands, the ST-Junior is an incredibly cheap Stratocaster-style guitar with three single coil pickups and a 490mm scale.
It's important to be realistic, of course: a guitar that costs about the same as ten sets of guitar strings is not going to rival Jimi Hendrix's Strat any time soon. The pickups aren't brilliant and it's surprisingly heavy for such a small guitar. We'd also recommend thicker strings for better tuning and stability; some buyers say the intonation is a bit off and benefits greatly from a setup. But it's cheaper than cheap, and that means it's particularly good for a first guitar: if the player doesn't stick at it you haven't spent loads on the guitar, and if they do it's more than good enough for them to pick up the basics before moving onto something a bit more expensive.
Even by Epiphone standards, the Les Paul SL is incredibly cheap: it's currently widely available for even less than the Special Vintage Edition, Epiphone's budget range. The SL was designed specifically for beginners: the neck is slimmer than usual, and the poplar body means it's light to play standing up.
It's an odd-looking thing, and that's a compliment: it takes the shape of a Les Paul Studio and gives it a 50s twist with an unusual scratch plate and some interesting colours as well as the usual sunburst. We particularly like the turquoise and sunset yellow: their white scratch plates make them look like ice-creams or milkshakes.
Sound-wise there's the traditional three-way selector switch, but the pickups here are single coils rather than the humbuckers you'll find in the Les Paul Studio. That means it's got a different sonic personality: to our ears it's better played clean or with a bit of crunch than with screaming distortion.
If you're into metal and hard rock, the terribly named Dinky is tons of fun and a really interesting alternative to a Squier Strat or one of the millions of Strat clones out there (and if you want something really metal, there's a Flying V version). The Jackson's twin high-output ceramic humbuckers pack a serious punch that's particularly entertaining with wicked distortion, and it's a great-looking guitar. It's also a fast guitar thanks to its graphite-reinforced maple neck, a 12" amaranth fingerboard and 24 jumbo frets. If you're not familiar with amaranth, it's a very dense wood sometimes known as purpleheart that's harder than maple.
That flat neck is really good for chord work, although while Jackson reassures you that "it can still handle bends during lead playing" we think it's better suited to riffing and rhythm playing. Because flatter necks are usually thinner, they're often well suited to players with smaller hands.
Ibanez are well loved in the rock and metal communities, and the GIO Series offers a range of genuinely great budget guitars that take the basic Strat template and make it a little more pointy. There are lots to choose from including a really fun twin-humbucker in black and red that looks like Satan's own Strat, but the GRX40 is a little more practical and comes in some distinctly Fender-ish metallic pastels as well as the standard black.
Once again we're in 12" neck territory, so players with smaller hands may find the Ibanez more comfortable than a similarly priced Squier, and the maple neck is fast and really well suited to riffs and power chords; in HSS configuration there's a good mix of Strat-like single coil sounds and a meaty humbucker for the fun stuff.
Just because a guitar is cheap doesn't mean it has to look or sound cheap. Ibanez's hollow-bodied AS53s are genuinely beautiful and sound great, and there are some really interesting finishes including an aged-looking grey. It's clearly inspired by Gibson's legendary ESes, the choice of many decades of jazz guitarists, but its twin-humbucker setup means it's quite happy with other, more aggressive styles too. There's no tremolo, though: if you're looking for a hollow body with a Bigsby-style tailpiece, try the J&D SA 70 – which is only slightly more expensive – or an Epiphone. The upside is that the Ibanez stays solidly in tune.
Hollow bodies require different characteristics than solid ones, and the wood here is sapele. It's a very strong and light hardwood that's often found in acoustic guitars too; it's similar to mahogany but tends to produce stronger treble, so it's a useful wood for playing lead and chiming chords.
We love Squier Strats, but they can be a little big for smaller players. Wouldn't it be great if we could shrink them down? That's what the Mini does, taking the familiar Strat template but remaking it in 3/4 size. We like the pink one best but there's a really good-looking red as well as a sober black.
The Mini is essentially a Squier Bullet hit with a shrink ray, so there's the familiar 9.5"-radius C-shape neck, three single coil pickups and a five-way selector. The neck is maple, the scale length is 22.75" rather than the usual 25.5", it's strung with light .009 to 0.42 strings and the action is set nice and low. All that's missing is a tremolo, and that's a good thing in this context: the hardtail bridge means it should stay in tune better and for longer.
Vox is almost as famous for its weird guitars as for its legendary AC-30 amp: its Teardrop was the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones' guitar of choice through the mid-sixties, and the Phantom played a starring role in the video for Joy Division's iconic Love Will Tear Us Apart. The SDC-1 Mini comes from the same wonderfully weird stable and made us laugh out loud when we first saw it: it's a tiny travel guitar with an 18 and 3/4" scale that makes even the smallest player look like a giant.
It's a lovely little thing, ideal for young players or for players of any size who need a guitar they can stick in a suitcase (it's just 2.1kg). There's just one mini humbucker with a volume pot and a tone pot so don't expect to get a whole world of sounds from it, but with a nice amp it makes a perfectly nice racket.
We had to check the price several times on this one: the ResoKing is cheap by any standards, but it's particularly so for a resonator guitar. Bluegrass, blues and Beck fans will know about resonators already: they make that instantly recognisable metallic sound for fingerpicking and slide, and they're very loud even when you don't plug them into anything.
The greatest strength of the ResoKing is also its greatest weakness: because it makes such a distinctive sound it's not as flexible as, say, a Strat: you don't see many resonators in funk or black metal. Their relatively harsh tone means they can be tricky to record, too, although that's not going to be a major consideration for beginners. If you're considering the ResoKing because you want to play slide, blues or bluegrass then we think you'll love it; if you're looking for more of an all-rounder, something more conventional may be a better buy.