If you’re actively looking for a guitar in the 500 dollar range, it’s probably safe to assume you’ve been playing for a while now, maybe a year or more, and perhaps you may describe yourself as an intermediate player. A mid-tier guitar has a lot more in common with a high-end guitar than it does with a starter kit one, so finding one can still be a significant long-term investment for you. In this article, which is a follow up to my guide for beginners, I will show you some of the best electric guitars at this price range, and discuss why I think that they belong there.
Table of Contents
What’s The Best Guitar Under $500?
I want to clarify here that even though these guitars will be under 500 USD, they will all have comparable, but competitive, prices.
I want to keep an even playing field, and I’ve hand-selected some of the best mid-range guitars at this pricing point. All of the options will have similarities (like with build-quality) yet, they will all be different in their own ways. Maybe one will have better pickups than another, or perhaps you don’t like Floyd Rose style tremolo systems and would prefer something else.
I’ve kept this in mind, and I’ve got your back. With that said, here are seven of the best electric guitars under 500 dollars that you can skim over real quick. Afterward, I will go into depth about each of them and make comments about their pros and cons.
- Ibanez RG421AHM RG Series
- Schecter Omen Extreme-FR
- Squier by Fender 303000503 Classic Vibe 50’s Stratocaster
- ESP LTD EC-256
- Dean ZERO AODII (Angel of Death II) Dave Mustaine Signature
- Jackson Dinky JS32
- Yamaha Pacifica PAC212FVM
These are also a good variety of brands and shapes on these electric guitars that can suit the tastes of different people. Other than specs, the overall aesthetic of the guitar is what really draws people in, initially.
Ibanez RG421AHM RG Series
If you’ve seen some of my other articles, you’ve probably noticed that I am a fan of Ibanez guitars. I’ve owned quite a few of them over the years, so I have a pretty good eye when it comes to this particular brand.
The Ibanez RG series is actually quite vast, and I chose this one for a few reasons. Obviously, it is a shredder guitar for under 500 dollars, but I carefully looked at the specs too.
The RG421AHM first caught my eye because of its hardtail bridge. I owned an RG350 back in the day, and the Edge III tremolo on it was not worth having. It didn’t stay in tune when using the whammy bar, and I’ve never liked restringing these types of tremolo systems.
However, with Edges, I do like that you don’t have to snip the end of the string off, like a Floyd Rose.
I feel that not having these kinds of tremolo systems is doing this guitar a favor, and it allows intermediate players to avoid some frustration. I gave this guitar props for having a hardtail bridge, and it’s possible that another guitar would have taken its spot on this list.
As for the pickups, I think that they sound decent for being stocks. Ibanez has gone through many different types of stock pickups, and the ones in this guitar are called Quantums.
I also love the maple fretboard on this guitar. It plays nice and fast, and it suits the paint job of this particular guitar, which also is unique for not only Ibanez guitars under 500 bucks but most instruments in this price range, in general.
Overall, this is a beautiful guitar that I’m sure will serve you well for a long time, which is something that my Ibanez guitars have done for me.
Schecter Omen Extreme-FR
The Omen series is probably like the RG line for Schecter. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it might be their most popular model, with 7 and 8 stringers on the market. If anything it’d be neck and neck with their C-series.
The Omen Extreme is sort of a more elegant version of their regular Omen guitars. And as a Schecter guitar for under 500, the first thing you’d probably notice about this guitar is its gorgeous quilt paint job; however, underneath it is a mahogany and maple body. The standard Omen is usually made from basswood and maple.
The typical Schecter Omen guitar is also string-through, and this one has a Floyd-Rose Special tremolo. Now, I know that I’ve harped on these types of bridges in the last section and I don’t like them overall, I can still recognize quality equipment that will last.
I’ve seen the Floyd-Rose Special in guitars that are more expensive than this one, and I know from first-hand experience that they do not feel cheap and are definitely better than the old licensed Floyds. From what I’ve read, the Floyd Rose Specials are simply made in South Korea whereas the originals are manufactured in Germany, under its parent company, Schaller.
If you’re a fan of these kinds of bridges, you will like this guitar for sure. On top of what we’ve already covered, the pickups in this one are responsive and punchy. It’s considered a metal guitar and has a fast neck, but honestly, you’d be able to get away with anything by playing this electric guitar for under 500.
Squier by Fender Classic Vibes 50
Squier guitars have a reputation for being cheap, crappy guitars, but that’s because they’re used for starter kits, but people have failed to take a look at the Squire models in the mid-range which are actually good, like the Classic Vibes 50 over here at Amazon.
It’s almost as if people just want to skip straight to the Fender Stratocasters, where even the non-American models cost over 500 dollars. Little did they know that there are Fender Squire guitars for under 500 that are comparable to the cheaper “real” Fender Stratocasters on the market.
If you compare the Classic Vibes 50, to this 600 dollar Fender Strat, you’ll find a lot of similarities between the two. Obviously, there’s going to be a difference in build quality – they’re about 200 bucks apart, but this is what they have in common:
- C-Shaped Neck/Maple Fingerboard
- 3 Vintage Fender Single-Coil Pickups
- Vintage Synchronized Tremolo Bridge
- Alder Body
That’s a lot of similarities if you ask me! The Strat may be built more carefully, but the wood and hardware between these two are the same. Overall, you may just be paying for the name when comes to purchasing a Stratocaster over a Squire and missing out on a great guitar for a lower price.
ESP LTD EC-256
This wouldn’t be a real comprehensive comparison guide if we didn’t have at least one guitar with a Les Paul body on here. It’s an iconic shape, and the ESP LTD EC-256 delivers. Why pay a grand or two for a Gibson Les Paul, when you can get these ESP guitars under 500 dollars or less?
I mean, you can go with an Epiphone, but I personally prefer ESP/LTD because they have a modern take on a classic body style. I’m also a fan of a lot of ESP’s other guitar models, like the M-series as well as the George Lynch and Kirk Hammet signatures.
I’ve always liked the look of gold hardware on black paint, and that’s what got my attention first. I think it’s one of the best color schemes, but that’s just my personal preference!
However, one of the best features of this guitar is that it has a set-neck, also known as neck-through-body construction. This contrasts with a bolt-on neck which you can find in most guitars on the market. The main benefit I see with a set-neck versus a bolt-on is that the former offers more sustain.
It also has a floating bridge, also known as a Tune-O-Matic, which suits this guitar very well. I think that Floyd’s on Les Pauls look kind of cool, but this stays true to classicism. On the other hand, like its big brother, the Eclipse, this guitar has a thinner neck than a traditional Les Paul, and it is quite comfortable.
Lastly, as for pickups, these are ESP stock LH-150s, and they sound pretty good for what they are. Don’t let the casing on them fool you; they might look like oldies, but these pickups can produce a thick modern metal sound if you needed to.
Overall, this guitar is an excellent take on a legendary guitar model. Good luck finding great Gibson guitars for under 500 dollars – if you’re a Les Paul fan on a budget, this one is for you.
Dean ZERO AODII (Angel of Death II) – Dave Mustaine Signature
Dean Guitars is most notable for being the guitar-of-choice for the late Dimebag Darrel, but they have endorsed many others such as Michael Angelo Batio, Vinnie Moore, Michael Schenker, Eric Peterson, and the list goes on…
The Dean that I am recommending is a signature model by Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, called the Zero AOD II (Angel of Death II). It’s not too often that I can suggest a signature model in this price range or lower because a lot of them suck compared to their true signature guitar that’s in the $1000 or higher club.
This guitar didn’t make the cut because I’m a huge fan of Dave’s. I am, but this one is actually a solid guitar for under 500, and yet, it isn’t shameful to the higher-tiered signature models. In fact, it’s probably one of the best guitars for metal under 500 bucks.
The Explorer body is neat, and probably right up there as one of the most iconic guitar shapes in rock and metal, but the graphic on this guitar’s body sets it apart from others and makes it less generic. It’s actually quite awesome and doesn’t seem lame like some out there. But that’s just my point of view, once again.
Like the ESP LTD EC-256 that we just talked about, this guitar is also made of mahogany, has a set-neck, and has a Tune-O-Matic bridge design. The pickups are stock, but these DMT Design pickups by Dean are a step-up from your ordinary stock pickups. They seem to have a higher output than what you’d typically expect from a mid-range guitar.
This is definitely something I would have gotten for my 2nd guitar back when I was in high school. Back then, I had a Jackson V, so this Dean isn’t too far off at all! If you’re a metal fan, or you’re interested in a signature guitar for under 500 dollars that isn’t a completely dumbed down version of a more expensive model, you shouldn’t have buyer’s remorse with Dave’s here.
Jackson Dinky JS32
Speaking of Jackson, which was briefly mentioned in the previous section, their Dinky line is one of my favorites when it comes to guitars in this price range, and it just wouldn’t feel like a comprehensive list without bringing them up.
For those who are unfamiliar, Dinkies are Jackson’s most produced superstrat guitars, and it’s named after its smaller body construction, in contrast to its big brother, the Jackson Soloist. A Jackson Dinky guitar also has a bolt-on neck, whereas Soloists are neck-through-body.
The bridges and pickup configurations can vary too, but typically a Jackson Dinky will at least have one humbucker pickup and 24 frets. Nonetheless, this Jackson JS32 has a lot of features that you’d expect on a superstrat such as two humbucking pickups, a locking tremolo, and the full 24 frets. There are variations with fixed-bridges, and although this one has a maple fretboard, there are others with rosewood, if you prefer that.
The pickups are stock Jackson ones, and the tremolo system is licensed by Floyd Rose with a Jackson logo on it. It’s not nearly the caliber as a high-end Jackson Soloist, but for the money, it’s hard to complain. In fact, I think this is an excellent entry-to-mid level guitar.
Compared to the other electric guitars on this list, it is the most affordable one, but I think it holds its own, and it’s perfect for beginners and intermediate players alike.
On the other hand, If you are looking for a Jackson that is slightly more expensive, there are some Soloists that are just over the $500 price point that you might be interested in that have better electronics and hardware, overall.
Yamaha Pacifica PAC212VFM
I think Yamaha is one of the most underrated guitar brands ever. Seriously, I don’t think they are talked about enough at all.
When people think of the Pacifica, I think they automatically assume “low-end beginner guitar”. Yes, there are Pacificas out there for dirt cheap; however, there are a bunch of other guitar models out there that have the same thing, like Dinkies and Stratocasters, to name a couple of them. We know that not all Dinkies and Strats are low-end guitars, and the same goes for Yamaha’s Pacificas.
This Pacifica model that we’re talking about right now is a mid-ranged one, and I think it looks absolutely stunning. It looks more expensive than it is, and it feels that way, too.
As you’d expect, it’s very similar to a Fender Stratocaster; looks aside, it has some alnico single-coil pickups in the middle and neck positions, a vintage-style synchronized tremolo, and 22 frets. This guitar also has a humbucking pickup in the bridge, which is something that some, but not all, Stratocasters have. I believe it’s much more common for Stratocasters to have three-single coils, even to this day.
The body is made from alder, and it uses a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard, which is some pretty typical stuff that I’ve had good experiences with on different guitars. Regarding the neck, it seems that these guitars play a little bit faster than your ordinary Strat, especially the ones under $500.
If you’re a fan of Stratocasters, but want something sleeker without straying too far away from the core design, you can’t go wrong with this Pacifica. The flamed and quilted-top options are just gorgeous!
Summary & Conclusion
If you’re looking for a mid-range electric guitar for under 500 dollars, you won’t regret any of these, as they are all fantastic choices for anyone looking for an upgrade from their first guitar, or those who just want to start with some nicer. They all have comparable construction, a selection of floating and Floyd style bridges, and they all have stock pickups, which all sound decent and wouldn’t require an immediate swap.
Luckily, pickups are one of the easier things to upgrade if you ever felt like it, and there’s plenty to choose from. Pickup selection doesn’t need to be stressful either; there’s out a lot out there, but by looking at my guide, you can narrow it down to one that is best for you.
Regardless of which of these best electric guitars for under 500 that you select, I certainly hope that this article has been helpful in allowing you to make a decision. It’s not always an easy task when it comes to picking up a brand new guitar, no matter what the price tag is on it.