Best First Electric Guitar Under $500 – Fender, Ibanez, Strat, Tele?

What is the best electric guitar for a beginner? It depends on a couple of things – style of music and budget being two big considerations. Most folks understandably don’t want to spend a fortune on their first guitar as they may not stick with it, or might want something else down the line. That being said, you owe it to yourself to get something built well enough that you can really play it – playing music should be fun. You don’t want to struggle with an instrument that won’t stay in tune or has a poorly made neck that gives you grief. It’s a simple fact that if it doesn’t play well you’re not going to want to practice. Get something you love so you’ll stick with it.

image of four electric guitars

The resulting contenders: Squier, Ibanez, Fender, Squier…

We asked Mass St Music staff Matthew, Alek, Ted and Anne what their recommendations were for a best first electric guitar. Each came up with something different, though these guitars have some things in common. They’re not only great first guitars, but they won’t break the bank, and can even grow along with the player – something you’ll still pick up and play years after your first lesson. Here’s what they had to say:

Matthew K: Squier Classic Vibe Tele Custom, 3 Tone Burst – $379.99

“This tele is just a timeless guitar, and affordable. It’s pretty versatile too – it can cover rock, blues, jazz. It’s really a great place to start. It’s the kind of electric that if you get it, ten years later you’ll look back on it as a respectable choice, and even if you branch out into other genres, you’ll still enjoy playing it.

Matthew at Mass St Music with the Squier CV Tele Custom electric guitar

Matthew says the Squier CV Tele Custom is ‘really comfortable and extremely easy to play.”

“In terms of playability, this Tele feels really comfortable and is extremely easy to play, which is perfect for a beginner. Squier really stepped it up with the Classic Vibe series – in fact the new Fender Modern Player line is made at the same place in China as the CV series – they’re built really well. The frets are seated well, which is hard to come by on an instrument in this price range. Playability is the #1 reason why players would feel the need for a new guitar after just a few months, or even stop playing if they had just started – it’s not an issue on this Squier at all. The frets are consistent and super level. The neck is great quality and it’ll last – that makes a big difference. The finish on this is just so classic too – you’ll never get sick of it.”

Alek N.: Ibanez 321MH, Blackberry Sunburst – $299.95

“This 321 has a great neck on it, for beginners or pros. It’s Ibanez’s Wizard II neck, with a very thin profile – it’s super easy to play. I love the design of this too. I like that it doesn’t have a trem, for a beginner that really simplifies things. And it’s great for a lot of styles, but if you’re into rock or metal this is definitely the one. The thin neck is great for shredding, it plays super smoothly. It also has medium jumbo frets, which are a great size for beginners too – you know they’re there, but they’re not in the way.

Alek N of Mass St Music holding the Ibanez RG321MH electric guitar

Alek says the Infinity humbuckers in this Ibanez RG321MH are something you’d find on a more expensive guitar.

“It has Infinity humbucking pickups which are really hot and something you’d find in a more expensive guitar – plus this has 5 way switching, so it’s really versatile. The quality, fit and finish are just great and there’s not a lot that can go wrong on this – the strings are through the body and there’s no trem…. It looks really sweet. I love how the grain of the wood shows through the finish – sharper than a solid color guitar. Great price too.”

Ted K.: Fender Standard Strat, Various colors available – $499

“There are a million reasons why I think this is hands down the most versatile of electric guitars and a great choice for someone starting out. You can play rock, you can play country, you can play metal, you can play blues, you can play Himalayan Pan Pipes – no, no you can’t, but you can play just about anything else.

“The three pickup combination plus the volume and tone controls give you an almost infinite palette of tonal colors to choose from, from bright and twangy to thick and meaty. It’s just the most versatile guitar around. Also effects pedals go great with this if you want to get more ‘out there’ with your sound.

Ted at Mass St Music holding a Fender Standard Strat electric guitar in Candy Apple Red finish

Ted says this Fender Standard Strat offers “an almost infinite palette of tonal colors to choose from.”

“Another thing I love about this guitar is that it’s infinitely customizable – It’s really well constructed, with great tone woods so with more experience you might swap out your pickups for a different sound or a different pickguard for a different look, which I think is really cool. Fender makes a lot of replacement pickguards and knobs for all different styles and colors.

“A lot of parents try to get the cheapest guitar because they think their kid won’t stick with it, but you have to get something good that won’t hurt their fingers when they play or they’ll be doomed from the get-go. With this Standard Strat, I think you actually save money in the long run – it’ll always be a workhorse no matter how proficient you become over the years – you’re always going to want a Strat.”

Anne T.: Squier Classic Vibe Strat, Burst – $379.99

“I love this guitar – the three single coil pickup configuration and 5-way switching really give you a lot of versatility for many styles of music, and it’s a classic finish. Easy to play for a beginner but also you’ll discover all it can do as you get better at playing. A Strat is always my go-to for a first electric because of that, and this Squier Classic Vibe is just built well. Squier’s really changed for the better over the past few years and done some really cool instruments instead of just being Fender’s ‘lower end line’. The Classic Vibe series really shines on these, essentially, recreations of classics.

Anne at Mass St holding a Squier CV 60s Strat with Burst finish

Anne’s says the Squier Classic Vibe 60s Strat gives you “a lot of versatility for many styles of music.”

“This Strat has nice detailing with good frets, a 3-ply pickguard and great finish. No matter what kind of music you’re into you can do it with a Strat – rock, blues, country, surf, etc. This is a guitar that can fill a lot of needs as your skill grows. And as Ted pointed out, you can pretty easily switch out parts later – though I think the tortoise style pickguard would be hard to beat with the burst finish on this – it’s pretty slick. The price here is a lot less than a Mexican made Fender Strat and you could easily pick up a practice amp with that and have some cash leftover for a strap or gig bag.”

Though our staff each chose different guitars, they all agreed that the starting point should be thinking about the kind of music you want to play, then going from there. The Squier CV Tele Custom, Ibanez RG321MH, Fender Standard Strat and Squier CV  Strat are all great choices and constructed well so you’ll actually enjoy practicing. No matter what guitar you get, make sure it has a proper set up (setting the action/intonation and checking several points) – something we offer for free with every new guitar purchase at Mass St. Music.

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