Stratocasters are one of the most famous guitar models of all time, and many of them can be pretty expensive if you haven’t noticed already; however, there are still many affordable options available for strat-lovers who have a strict budget. This article will share some of the best Stratocasters at a variety of price ranges so that you can find the perfect one for you.
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Why Choose A Stratocaster?
The Stratocaster is a timeless guitar design that is comfortable to play and can be used for any type of music, but certain models will be more catered to some styles than others.
A lot of Stratocasters will come with all single-coil pickups for those who enjoy those classic sounds, but there are also a ton of them that are available with humbuckers if you want a thicker tone. Some will have maple fretboards, and others will have a rosewood substitute like Pau Ferro or Indian Laurel.
Additionally, a lot will come with synchronized tremolo systems, whereas some Strats will have fixed bridges. Not only that, basically all Stratocasters can come in a variety of colors that people love!
There is a Strat out there for everyone, and even though there will be just one picture for each of the suggestions in this article, you are encouraged to look further into the designs that interest you most.
Stratocasters are a diverse group of guitars, and the odds are, there is one that has the right color and hardware configuration that you’re looking for at the price point that you’re willing to spend at.
Squire Bullets are Fender’s most affordable guitars that they have to offer, and are a favorite amongst beginners.
Aside from its price, which is usually under $200, I think one of the reasons why I think these guitars are especially accessible for new players is because they typically come with fixed bridges on them. These bridges tend to be easier to work with and have more tuning stability for entry-level guitars. I have an entire guide about those if you want to read more about fixed bridges.
Learning to play the guitar shouldn’t be frustrating, and I think the basic features on Squire Bullets are good for that. Here are some of the options this cheap Stratocaster offers:
- Available in a handful of colors
- Poplar body & Maple neck
- Indian Laurel fingerboard with 21 frets
- HSS or SSS pickups
- Hardtail bridge
However, if you’re interested in having a Stratocaster with a whammy bar on it, you should go with one of the guitars that you’ll come across as you continue to read.
One of the most prominent Strat-copies of all time has been the Yamaha Pacifica; just about everyone has known someone who has started their guitar journey with one of these.
The Pacificas have been around for decades, and if someone didn’t have a Squire starting out, chances are, they had one of these if they wanted something that had the Strat-look and feel.
While the specifications are essentially what you’d expect from a beginner Stratocaster, there are some slight differences between this guitar and the Squire Bullet, which are basically competing at the same price range.
Some of these differences include:
- Alder body
- Rosewood fretboard with 22-frets
- Vintage-style synchronized tremolo
- It only comes with HSS (humbucker-single-single) pickup config
Even though this guitar doesn’t call itself a Stratocaster, it essentially is one in terms of appearance, features, functionality, and of course, sound. Therefore, if they’re around your budget, don’t sleep on Pacificas – I’d look into them and give them a fair shot.
Next up are the Squire Affinity models, which is a Stratocaster model that you can typically find for around $300.
As mentioned before, the Affinities are a beginner’s Strat that introduces a synchronized tremolo system design seen on most Stratocasters out there, which the Bullet didn’t have.
Whammy bars can be fun to play with, and if you’re looking for a beginner’s guitar with one, the Affinity is your best bet.
Alongside this difference, you also have different options available in the Affinity line, such as:
- SSS, HSS, and HH pickup configurations
- Indian Laurel or Maple fingerboards with 21-frets
- Flamed maple tops
To keep the costs low, these still use a poplar wood body, but overall, the build quality on these is an improvement over the Bullets, and that’s saying something because those are still reliable instruments for beginners.
Even though they’re the originals, Fender and Squire aren’t the only ones who can create Stratocasters that people love.
Ibanez is also one of the most popular guitar manufacturers in the world, and even though they’re mainly known for their superstrats, they’ve recently put out an actual Stratocaster copy that is affordable and sounds great.
The Ibanez AZES40 is a guitar that you can find for under $400 and has a lot in common with the Squire Affinities except that it has:
- 22 frets on a Jotoba fingerboard
- Ceramic pickups
- A slightly smaller scale length, at 25”
It’s clear that Ibanez wanted to put out something that could be a competitor in the entry-level Stratocaster niche, and I personally believe that they’ve succeeded here.
Not that it’s a surprise, they’ve made many excellent guitars at different price points, but primarily in terms of the shred guitar market.
Squire Classic Vibes are where you start getting into the mid-range guitars that are great for new and experienced players alike.
This series of guitars can be divided into three different categories:
- Squire Classic Vibe ‘50s
- Squire Classic Vibe ‘60s
- Squire Classic Vibe ‘70s.
Depending on which style you choose, this can make a difference in their features, mainly in the type of woods used on the fretboard and bodies and the colors available, including the pickguards.
As far as I know, the Classic Vibes ‘50s are currently only available with maple fingerboards, so if you like the look of a darker fretboard, you might prefer one of the Classic Vibe ‘60s or ‘70s instead, where you can find a guitar that has Indian Laurel.
In my opinion, though, they are all quite similar to one another – they all have alnico pickups with the 9.5” inch radius and C-shaped neck profile that are standard for all Fender Stratocasters. They are also priced nearly identically – these are some of the best Stratocasters for under $500; you just have to look around to find the right Classic Vibes style for you.
Are you looking for something a little bit different that breaks the mold from your typical Stratocaster? The Squire Contemporary Strat may be the right guitar for you.
Contemporary Stratocasters have been around for a long time, but this particular model is very new, and a lot of the features reflect that, such as:
- The unique SQR pickup configuration
- Roasted maple neck
- 12” radius
- Hardtail and synchronized bridge options
While you can get your usual Stratocaster tones out of this guitar, this instrument shares many similarities to superstrats, not only in terms of sound but also in the way it looks. Overall, at around $500, I believe this Strat is more than worth that price.
Some Contemporary Stratocasters come with Floyd Rose bridges and humbucking pickups, so if you’re looking for something like that, you can try to look for one of those models.
You can also consider checking out superstrats, which are made for high-performance like the Contemporary Special.
If you don’t want to pay for an American Stratocaster, the Fender Player series ones are as good as they get and some of the best Stratocasters you can get for the money.
These are authentic Fender Stratocasters for under $1000, and in my opinion, they’re pretty much as good as the highest-end Strats. Sure, they’re not made in the USA, but if you’re looking for an amazing instrument at a discount, these will get the job done.
Unlike the Squire Strats mentioned in this article, the Player Series by Fender has:
- An alder body
- 22-frets on maple or Pau Ferro fingerboards
- Vintage or Floyd Rose tremolo options
You can find these guitars in many colors and come in SSS and HSS pickup configurations. They sound fantastic right out the gate, but if you’re going to be making modifications, like finding pickups that are more suited for heavier music, this is a good guitar to do it on because it’s an instrument you can hold onto for a long time and be happy with it.
After these guitars, you start to see Fender Strats in the $1000+ range. So, if you have a little bit more leeway to spend in your budget but don’t want to shell out for something that might be only slightly better, the Player Strats are the next best thing to the American Performers in my opinion.
If you’ve wanted to get your hands on your very own Strat, look no further. Hopefully, you’ve found the best Stratocaster that suits your interests and fits your budget. An excellent guitar doesn’t need to be overly expensive, especially a well-known design like a Stratocaster, and that’s exactly what I wanted to showcase here, and to recap, here are the ones I’ve selected:
- Squire Bullet Stratocaster
- Yamaha Pacifica PAC112J
- Squire Affinity Stratocaster
- Ibanez AZES40
- Squire Classic Vibes 50’s 60’s or 70s Stratocasters
- Squire Contemporary Stratocasters
- Fender Player Series Stratocasters
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, the Strats here will make a fine first guitar or a new member of your family!
Similarly, if you’ve had your eye on a Les Paul, which is just as legendary as the Stratocaster, consider checking out my guide on the best budget Les Pauls. Here, you’ll find some more affordable guitars that use that iconic shape that anyone of any skill level can enjoy.
I also have an excellent guide to finding a telecaster for metal if you also love that classic design too but want something with more power. Be sure to check that one out too!