UG Picks: Best Beginner Guitars for Under $200

Here is an article on guitars that come in at a lower price point of $200 that are geared towards beginner players.

Ultimate Guitar

Last week, I wrote an article for Ultimate-Guitar about five of the best guitars that you can buy for under $500. This week, I'm sticking with a similar format, but I'm focusing on guitars that come in at a lower price point of $200 that are geared towards beginner players. 

So-called beginner guitars often get a bad rap. In the past, I've heard many a seasoned guitarist bemoan these instruments as cheap, horrible sounding knock-offs that are to be avoided at all costs. In my experience though, this bad reputation is largely down to the sheer variance in quality of instruments priced at the lower end of the market. There are hundreds, if not thousands of manufacturers making guitars for the beginner's market. Unfortunately, it's true that many of these companies are flooding the market with cheap knock-offs of well known guitar styles; instruments that look the business to an untrained eye, but are poorly built and play like sh-t. That said, there are companies out there that produce well crafted guitars aimed at novices that come in at a low price point. 

Below, you'll find a selection of five of those low cost guitars that are an ideal starting point for any beginner. As with my awesome guitars under $500 list, I'll stress now that this is by no-means definitive. Even if the beginner's market is a minefield when it comes to quality, there are still a number of great options out there for newbies and this list doesn't cover all of them. That said, the five instruments on here are a great starting point if you're looking for a first guitar and aren't sure what to go for.

If you are a first time buyer, I would encourage you to go and try guitars in a real life shop rather than purchasing online. While you'll probably end up spending a bit more money, you'll get a much better feel for the sort of guitar you like by actually playing them. Also, good local guitar stores are generally great for offering advice to beginners and they'll probably set the guitar up for you when you buy it, which will make a huge difference to your comfort when playing, as well as the sound of the instrument itself. 

So, without further ado, here are my five picks for great quality beginner guitars under $200 that won't break the bank.

Squier Affinity Strat

In last week's article, I sang the praises of Squier's awesome Classic Vibe '60s Strat, which is a great instrument for a beginner or seasoned pro. If you like the look of the Classic Vibe but aren't so keen on the $399 price tag, you could do a lot worse than pick up its cheaper brother, the Squier Affinity Strat

Coming in at around $180, the Affinity is a great version of a classic guitar for those on a budget. Rocking a maple neck and solid adler body, it is leagues above the myriad Strat copies on the market in terms of materials, and I've always found the examples I've picked up over the years to be incredibly playable. An excellent beginner's choice, I've known plenty of seasoned players to use Affinity Strats for gigging and recording, either as a back-up axe or as their main instrument. If there's one down side to this guitar, it's that the pick-ups aren't amazing (if you're paying less than $200, pick-ups seldom will be). But they're more than adequate for bedroom playing, and are easy enough to upgrade if you want to use it live.

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Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Epiphone has been making great budget versions of Les Paul guitars for years now, and the Special II is no exception. Generally selling for around $170, it's a budget guitar of choice for disciples of Slash or Jimmy Page.

The Special II is essentially a stripped down version of an Epiphone Les Paul, removing pick guards and additional volume knobs and utilizing a bolt on neck to keep manufacturing costs down. A no-frills instrument compared to some of its more expensive counterparts, the full mahogany body and excellent build quality means that the Special II still plays and feels like a proper Les Paul, which is more than can be said for a number of budget LP style guitars on the market. With Vintage and Cherry Sunburst finishes, it also looks the business, which is great for playing live.

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Yamaha Pacifica PAC012

Before you all get mad at me, I know I included this one in last week's list. But, it strikes me that if I'm doing a list of best budget guitars, I'd be remiss to not include the humble but mighty Pacifica.

It's not the prettiest instrument out there, but the Pacifica pretty much ticks all the beginner guitar boxes. It's well put together, made from good materials (the body is agathis, the neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard), ergonomically designed and easy to play. The HSS pick-up configuration makes for a versatile instrument (for the newbies reading this, H stands for Humbucker, S stands for single coil. You can read all about the difference here) and it will serve you well for gigging and recording as well as practicing.

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Sterling by MusicMan SUB Silo3

While real MusicMan guitars are awesome, they can be crazy expensive. Fortunately, the Sterling SUB Silo3 captures the essence of the real thing for a fraction of the price.

The Silo3 is a great beginner's guitar for a number of reasons. It's well built, with a solid maple neck that is easy to play and a contoured body that is comfortable for a new player. The thing that I really like about this guitar though is that it's a workhorse. The SSH configuration gives you great tonal options and the Silo3 is as good for cool, laid back blues as it is for balls out hard rock. As with the Squier Affinity Strat, upgrade the pick-ups on the Silo3 and you've got a budget guitar that can compete with many higher end models.

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Squier Affinity Telecaster

The second Squier Affinity model on the list, this Tele is another fine example of a budget guitar done right. If you're looking for a classic and classy looking axe that's good for blues, country or straight up rock, you could do a lot worse than picking up one of these.

Like the Affinity Strat, the build on this one is excellent. Once again rocking a solid maple neck and adler body, the Affinity Tele looks and feels like a quality instrument. The main reason for including this guitar though is playability. Well balanced, weighted, and generally set up with a nice, low action, the various Affinity Teles that I have played over the years have been a blast to jam on straight out of the box. That's a feature that makes the guitar excellent choice for a new player.

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Those are my thoughts, but what do you think? Share your picks for great beginner guitars in the comments.

By Alec (C) 2014

38 comments sorted by best / new / date

    If youre not against buying used, you can find a Mexican Fender strat or an Epiphone les paul standard for right near $200.
    Is there anywhere I could get a guitar for $6?
    Not sure if serious....but try your luck at a thrift store. Picked up a no name acoustic for $1, slapped a new nut and strings on it. Stays in tune and plays better than my epi acoustic.
    Great list, apart from the Epi, which is not really on the same level with the rest of the instruments here.
    Have you ever even played a Special II? I've owned one for eight years, plays nearly as well as my LTD M-1000. Granted, that's with Grovers and an SH-8 in the bridge, but construction-wise it more than holds its own against anything else on this list.
    I unfortunately had a negative experience with it,the things play-ability was horrendous.
    I've also owned a Special II. It was a piece of crap, and the worst part was the horrible construction. So, I guess that you were lucky.
    I feel you! When i first started plaing i had the squier strat and a Special II and the special was by far inferior :o its definitely a get what you pay for type of deal there
    Best guitar for $200: Saving up your money to get something better.
    If it's your first guitar you probably wouldn't want something for more than 200 bucks, in case your interest drops to 0.
    I disagree. Playing a crappy $200 guitar is going to discourage you because of it's crappy playability/sound. It's a false economy. You're better off getting something better for a bit more money to circumvent the risk of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I mean if you're not willing to spend much because you're worried that you're going to quit, then you're buying the guitar for the wrong reasons.
    Unless the kid's parents/guardians are gear snobs, they're completely unlikely to even give a shit about crappy sound or playability. My first guitar was an old Japanese jazz box, and it sounded like SHIT, but it was SO AWESOME because it was a guitar. I'd say your logic is DEAD-ON for a kid's second or third guitar. THAT one should be better.
    Phoenix V
    MyAbout 90% of new beginners will quit within the first 12 months regardless of guitar quality. Most beginners will hit up the parents for all or parg of the cash for their first rig . As such most parents will not fork out 1000 bucks for a guitar and amp on what likely will end up being a phase that ends up in the storage cupboard. Under 200 bucks sounds right. If the kid is still playing and has drive after 2 years then he is playing for the right reasons. After which its time for an upgrade.
    I see your logic if the budding guitar player is just a child, simply because kids don't really know any better. Kids generally don't have the life experience to recognise the responsibility and commitment being a guitarist (or any hobbyist for that matter) implies. Hence the parents spend no money on them because they're worried that they'll quit. But an adult is generally going to be more aware that being a guitarist (or any hobby for that matter) takes commitment and that expecting instant gratification will only set you up for failure. So in that sense, because adults have more life experience with hobbies in general, I think it's appropriate to suggest that an adult who has done their research and understands those implications (because let's face it an adult is far more likely to do their research than a child), to spend more money to get a better guitar to play on.
    I know that Ibanez GIO guitars get a lot of heat, but the GRG models without the floyd are comparable to all of above guitars. At least in my opinion.
    I'd go with the affinity tele over the affinity strat personally, most of Squier's telecasters are far more playable than their Stratocasters in my experience. Don't let that sway you too much if you want a strat though
    The quality control for instruments around $200 is all over the place. Make sure you try each guitar out before you buy it. There will be both great and awful examples of the models listed in this article. If you buy one of the guitars in this article without playing it first, you'll only get a good one out of sheer luck.
    I'd never (again) buy a new guitar for $200. $200 can buy you a $400-guitar used. And an already used guitar can be sold without much of a loss, if one should decide it's not for them.
    $200 is too less to get a decent guitar and $500 is a bit much for some. Can we have a list for $300? Actually never mind UG will probably just fill it with Squiers and Epiphones anyway -_-
    Well yeah, there's a reason for that, they're great choices for the money
    Way Cool JR.
    The only new guitar I would buy for under $200 new is a Kramer Baretta Special for $179. They need no mods from the factory and are killer players for beginners(even pros like the damn things). And they are worth modding/upgrading without just pissing your money away.
    Hence My Name
    Yamaha FG700S....wuut, you just said guitars, not acoustic guitars. Plus, acoustic guitars are less expensive, since electrics one would usually buy a lot of gadgets such as effects and the like. A $200 electric guitar with a $200.00 amp with a $115.00 effects unit is expensive.
    Dean MLX, at least it has a better neck than any of these Walmart-level guitars. If it's under $400, they all sound exactly as terrible as the other one.
    Just a slight bit more than $200, but can't go wrong with the Agile AL-2000 for that price range.
    someguy3399 Certainly not the best guitar, but I think the quality is decent and affordable. Although, I did have to adjust the action because it had fret buzz. I played the same model at another store and it had no problems with fret buzz. TEST THE GEAR BEFORE YOU BUY IT!
    Great list. I would add the Dean EVO XM. It's super cheap, very light and easy to play and I think I saw it for around $99!