Not all cheap guitars are worthy of your money, some of them are just a waste. So, if you want to get the best electric guitars under $200 or $300, you need to try them one by one. Even if it’s a recommendation from your music teacher or any professional guitarist you know, I still urge you to try them out.
Before you set your course to every brick and mortar store near you, you might want to consider some of the recommendations. At least, when you go to the store, you have some prospects already. On top of the professional recommendations you get from the people around you, I will give you 10 of my best picks.
But, you shouldn’t be worried if none of the recommendations fit your preference or your budget. I will include a buying guide on how to get the best guitar even with a scarce budget. That would be towards the end of the article, but now, indulge yourself in the sensation that you’re owning one of the best.
Top 10 Best Electric Guitars Under $300 in 2021 (Reviews)
You don’t need to spend too much if you are dying to get the classic Strat feel, look and tone. Fender is generous enough to offer all the good things from its high-end model on the more affordable Squier Affinity Stratocaster. It’s a lightweight electric guitar featuring an Agathis body, classic C-shaped maple neck, and laurel fretboard.
To achieve the classic Strat tone, you’ll find three single-coil Alnico pickups, plus the five-way pickup blade to give you an array of classic Strat responses. The comfortable neck helps you play a wide variety of music styles for versatility. Lastly, the Synchronized tremolo provides you the classic playability and whammy-bar effects.
- Nice guitar, fairly finished with no flaws
- It plays nicely and sounds great
- The five-way pickup selector switch helps get different sounds
- Frets were a bit sharp and need sanding
- Intonation and the string height need adjustments
A high-performance machine that is offered at an unbelievably low price, Ibanez RG421 is my best electric guitar. Under $300, it’s very rare to get such a well-crafted guitar made of mahogany body for excellent resonance and Jatoba fretboard for rich mids and crisp highs. The Wizard III maple neck offers maximum comfort and supports fast play.
The bridge of the guitar is fixed and not a tremolo, plus it has quantum (H) bridge and neck pickup and cosmo black hardware. These pickups provide great bass response for high-speed staccato riffing. Overall, it’s surprisingly good for its price.
- Solid construction and has great sustain
- Fast neck with nice pickups, good for shredding
- Affordable guitar, yet playable
- It’s heavier like most electric guitars here
- Fixed bridge, not as versatile as the tremolo bridge
- Odd knob positions
Finally, the competition gets very interesting as Yamaha offers an affordable rival to the Squier Bullet. Its very own Yamaha Pacifica Series PAC112V has great playability, dashing looks and of course, tonal versatility. It’s a solid-body made of alder connected to a bolt-on maple neck and 13.75-inch fretboard radius.
The PAC112V features a C-shaped neck that supports fast play and easy access to the upper frets. It comes with an upgraded triple pickup system – two single-coils on the neck and middle and a humbucker at the bridge. The H-S-S pickup configuration gives more punch, plus the 5-way position switch with coil tap gives boundless capability to this guitar.
- Extremely versatile with the H-S-S pickup system
- Solid hardware and solid electronics
- Good feel, very fun to play
- Though it has a tremolo bar, it still isn’t the best
- Single-coil pickups produce lots of buzz
- Sound output is a bit thin
Given the money, many of you may buy the original Les Paul. However, since money is always a challenge, especially for beginners, the Epiphone Les Paul Special II is a great alternative. It’s a super-low electric guitar with all the essential features and elements to get the classic Les Paul tone.
It’s made of mahogany body with bolt-on mahogany neck and a 22-fret rosewood fretboard. To achieve the sound you always wanted, this guitar has 700T/650R open-coil humbucking pickups that provide longer sustain and authentic Les Paul tone. The LockTone Tune-o-Matic bridge and Stopbar tailpiece also add to the sustain, at the same time, ease of changing the strings.
- Offers the great Les Paul sound
- Solid construction, making it easy to play
- Well-constructed and the humbuckers provide better intonation
- Only three-way switch positioning
- Fret edges need to be smoothen
- Slim profile, not a choice for people with big hands
There are still guitarists who drool over the playability of the late ’60s Telecaster. However, perhaps your cravings will finally be satisfied through the Squier Affinity Series Telecaster. It features a maple neck with C-shaped profile so you can experience what it feels like to play a Telecaster of the 60s.
Aside from the playability, Squier also sees to it that this Tele model will have the same tonal characteristics as the classics. You’ll find hot single-coil pickup on the bridge to get a Tele bite. Likewise, you’ll find a warm-sounding chrome-covered single-coil pickup at the neck for the sweet and clear sound output.
- Fixed bridge is good for beginners
- Got a very powerful bridge pickup
- You are assured of a Tele twang
- Neck pickup is weak, in contrast to the bridge pickup
- Made of Agathis, a cheaper alternative to alder
- Fret edges are not smooth, need sanding
The real SG costs a fortune, but the Epiphone SG VE isn’t. Even though Epiphone is known for cheaper electric guitars, this guitar is packed with features and the best under $300. This electric guitar is made of mahogany body and neck, with slim-taper ‘D’ neck profile and 24.75-inch scale length.
It features two open-coil humbuckers that can deliver warm and punchy sound output with thick and rich mids. The Tune-o-Matic bridge and Stopbar tailpiece help you get better sustain and spot-on intonation. Lastly, the vintage vibe and the fully-carved SG body give that devilish looks you can hardly resist.
- Two humbuckers to get punchy, yet warm sounds
- ‘D’-shaped neck profile great for solo and rhythm
- Holds a note longer than expensive counterparts
- Not a wise choice if you are a professional guitarist
- There are a few minor quality issues with other models
- Needs a professional to set up the action
Next to the striking green Dean, we’ll go to a cooler Silver color of Gretsch G2210 Streamliner Junior Jet Club. It’s made of basswood body with an arched maple top, giving a new tonal option to the Gretsch Electromatic line of electric guitars. It has a bolt-on neck, anchored Adjustomatic bridge and Stopbar tailpiece to give you Gretsch playability.
What I like about this the dual-coil pickups that give vibrant sustain and wonderful tones – the only guitar on the list to have such pickups. Actually, this guitar is a two-chambered body that offers the resonance needed to achieve “That Great Gretsch Sound.” With these and the fine details of the G5425, I still can’t help but name another electric guitar under $300 as best.
- You can get a resonant guitar when it’s unplugged
- Lightweight and very comfortable to play
- Looks like a premium guitar with all the retro detailing
- Some users aren’t satisfied with the sustain of this guitar
Dean Custom Zone
I don’t like bright things, but I bet a lot of modern guitars have to spice up the stage with striking guitars. So, I decided to include the fluorescent-green Dean Custom Zone. This guitar is made of mahogany and the neck is a bolt-on maple along with the fretboard.
The color and the design scream Rock & Roll and indeed the lightweight body and neck accommodate fast action so you can play like a rock icon. The two humbuckers onboard, plus the three-way selector switch give you a myriad of sonic characteristics you’ve never had before. The tremolo bridge coupled with the good Grover tuning machines keeps the guitar in perfect tuning.
- Grover tuners are great to keep the guitar in tune
- Neck is built well and accommodates fast play
- Dean-designed humbuckers deliver punchy tones
- Needs proper set up because of the fret buzzes out of the box
- Bright and neon colors won’t please everyone
Oscar Schmidt OE20G-A-U
From the silver Gretsch, let’s go to the gold top Oscar Schmidt OE20G-A-U. Just a side note, these guitars are arranged in no particular order, but I find it amusing how the gold guitar came after the silver Gretsch. Anyway, the gold guitar is a solid-body made of mahogany body, maple neck, and an engineered gorgeous-looking fretboard and bridge.
The classic single-cutaway styling is perfect to help you access the upper frets of this electric guitar. It features dual humbuckers that make this guitar an ultimate Rock & Roll machine. The Tune-o-Matic bridge with Stopbar tailpiece, like the previous guitars, provide better sustain and spot-on intonation to the OE20G-A-U.
- A beginner-friendly guitar that has great sound
- Action is light and easy to play out of the box
- Well-made and has a beautiful finish
- Some issues with the tuning instability
- Some dents and scratches on the finish
- Volume and tone knobs don’t respond well
Jackson JS Series King V JS32
Last, but not the least is the Jackson JS Series King V JS32, which is perfect for those who want to project some badass image and performance. Jackson guitars are usually found in the metal and rock scenes. So, if you are an aspiring rocker or shredder, you’ll surely gravitate to the King V JS32.
It’s a solid-body guitar made of a poplar body, maple neck, and Amaranth fretboard. It’s equipped with two high-output humbucking pickups and vibrato tailpiece to help you achieve punchy tones with plenty of sustain. You don’t see lots of controls aside from the two dome-style master volume and master tone controls, plus the three-way pickup selector switch.
- A good beginner guitar for its price
- The metal look will inspire you to play
- One-piece maple neck with a smooth finish
- Need adjustment on the neck, perhaps get a pro to do it
- Floyd Rose isn’t the best choice for some
I don’t just give any recommendation without basis. And, my basis is the buying guide that I made myself to simplify my hunt for the best electric guitars under $300. The following are my considerations, it’s up to you to follow this or make your own criteria.
Check the Tonewoods
Your guitar is almost entirely made of wood. “Almost entirely” because now you can find fiber, plastic and other processed alternatives that also mimic the behavior of the wood. Since all products on the list are made of wood, I’ll explain a few of them:
- Alder – a strong wood that helps you achieve a clear and full-bodied sound
- Mahogany – a fairly dense wood that is very common on guitars as it delivers stronger mids and warmer overall sound.
- Maple – a dense hardwood produces bright and focused tone. And as a neck tonewood, it provides a lively and bright tone.
- Poplar – a soft hardwood that offers well-balanced sonic output
- Basswood – light softwood, but also gives a well-balanced sound
- Rosewood – a dense hardwood that is very common for fretboards, but it makes the guitar heavier
Examine the Neck
Although the neck won’t have any great impact on the sounds, it affects the playability. You should get a straight neck without any curves or bends. If the guitar has a bow or back bow, you won’t be able to play your guitar well.
When examining the neck, you’ll come across the term neck relief and the truss rod. If you don’t know anything about these, please consult a professional guitarist.
Since you’re eyeing for an electric guitar, you should know that it comes with a few more things – pickups, tone and volume controls and pickup switch. With the electronics onboard, you can get tonal versatility, allowing you to access different sounds inaccessible by its acoustic counterpart. Therefore, make sure that everything electronics on your guitar is working properly, as you are mainly relying on them unless you only want to get clean tones.
I think this list is diverse not only in terms of the brand but also in terms of aesthetics. So, if you want the most striking or the most professional-looking guitar you can find it right here. However, if you will ask me what’s my bet from all 10 best electric guitars under $300, I will choose the Squier Affinity Stratocaster.
Most guitarists want to hold and play a Strat and the cheapest way to get that classic feel and sound is through the Squier Standard Stratocaster. It’s lightweight, nicely built and equipped with features to help you play like a pro. With just the Alnico pickups and the five-way switch combination, I can feel it’ll give you more reason to play this Strat.
Squier also provides you the playability of the high-end models by giving this Strat a C-shaped neck profile and smooth laurel fretboard. At this price point, I didn’t think I can find a guitar that gives the best bang for the buck. But, if you just keep looking and stick to your preferences and criteria, you’ll ultimately find the one for you.