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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Those are my thoughts, but what do you think? Share your picks for great beginner guitars in the comments.
By Alec PlowmanUltimate-Guitar.com (C) 2014