As seen in:
Gibson USA
Gibson Les Paul, Studio Faded
Epiphone
Les Paul SPECIAL-II
Squier
Bullet
Best Choice Products
Full Size Beginner Starter Package
Schecter
Damien Special
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Good

Authentic Les Paul instrument that is physically true to the LP style.

The sound of a Les Paul at a budget price.

Extremely affordable Fender with good specs.

A complete package of learning tools for the beginner.

Aesthetically pleasing guitar with EMG pickups for a powerhouse sound.

Bad

Rare complaints about fret buzz and static sound.

"Light and bendy" strings not ideal for all styles (but they can be replaced).

Some incidents of crooked neck and other minor factory flaws.

Quality is somewhat sacrificed for price in this all-encompassing package.

Very rare complaints about fret quality.

Bottom Line

Powerful and easy to play/control. If you love the superior quality and style of a Les Paul, this is the one to get.

A budget-priced Les Paul from a Gibson subsidiary (Epiphone) that is strikingly similar to the original. You won't find a better guitar at this price.

A budget-priced model from Fender. More quality control issues with this model than the Epiphone.

An adequate starter pack for beginners, but not an instrument meant to last an entire musical career.

A high-quality, EMG-powered guitar at a mid-range price. Good value for the money.

How we decide
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Products received from manufacturers
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Models Considered
31
Hours Spent
2
Experts Interviewed
241
Consumers Consulted

Best Electric Guitars

Buying an electric guitar is like buying clothing. You want an instrument that fits your style, looks great in your hands, and makes you sound terrific. All of the guitars on our shortlist have scored highly with consumers. We give you the lowdown on each instrument so you can decide which product is best for you.

Products we Considered

Gibson USA
Gibson Les Paul, Studio Faded
Epiphone
Les Paul SPECIAL-II
Squier
Bullet
Best Choice Products
Full Size Beginner Starter Package
Schecter
Damien Special

Considerations

Neck and Body

The type of wood used to construct a guitar's body, neck, and fretboard can make a marked difference in its sound. Basswood and mahogany are two of the most popular (and resonant) tonewoods used in body construction, with mahogany being the more expensive choice. Maple, known for its brighter tone, is a commonly used in the neck, although the fretboard is often made of rosewood. Potential guitar buyers should take note of each product's neck width and depth. If you have smaller hands, you'll have an easier time with a narrow neck; if you have large hands, you'll want a guitar with a bulkier neck profile.

Pickups

An electric guitar's pickups drastically impact the instrument's sound. Single-coil pickups are the most basic type of pickup and consist of a single magnet wrapped in wire. Single-coil tones are sharp and cutting, bright and crisp. Famous guitarists like Eric Clapton use guitars with single coils. Humbucker pickups incorporate two single-coils into one. The powerful sound generated by a humbucker pickup is great for hard rock and heavy metal. Guitarists like Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page use humbucker pickups.

Features

A guitar is more than just its neck, body, and pickups. In this section, we address the quality of the other features you get with each model on our shortlist, including strings, bridges, machine heads, and other hardware. Some guitars come with a carrying case. One of the guitars on our shortlist is part of a beginner's starter pack. We tell you what to expect from these types of accessories, too.

Price

You could spend over $15,000 on a new electric guitar. You can also buy one for under $100. We focus on quality electric guitars that are affordable for the average citizen. All of the products on our shortlist, regardless of price, have received amazing ratings from consumers.

Considerations

Neck and Body

Epiphone LP Special II Les Paul Electric Guitar

The Epiphone LP Special II has a mahogany body. Unlike some of the other guitars on our shortlist, its neck is also made of mahogany (bolted on). The fretboard features dotted inlays and is made of traditional, unfinished rosewood -- a standard choice that yields a sound consistent with the aesthetic standards of a Les Paul. This decently priced guitar is available in the following beautiful finishes: Ebony, Heritage Cherry Sunburst, Vintage Sunburst, and Wine Red (with black hardware). The Heritage Cherry Sunburst and Vintage Sunburst finishes are available in a "southpaw" version for guitarists who play left-handed. If you want a Les Paul but you don't want to pay a fortune for it, this mahogany beauty is worth your consideration. Customers we spoke to had a hard time getting over the great deal they got: excellent craftsmanship, exquisite beauty, Les Paul sound -- all for an extremely low price.

Squier by Fender BulletStrat

The Squier by Fender BulletStrat features a solid basswood body with a glossy polyurethane finish. Its maple neck, with rosewood fingerboard and 21 frets, is 9.5 inches in diameter. Guitar necks are supposed to be straight, not warped; if a neck is warped, the player's comfort (along with the sound) may be sacrificed. We did encounter some complaints of crooked neck during our research of this product. One owner told us he fixed his crooked neck by adjusting the neck reinforcement bar. If you buy a guitar with a crooked neck, you can certainly fix it with the help of an expert (or Internet tutorials). However, this is a delicate process that must be executed carefully. This is a great Fender guitar, but overall, we noticed during our research that some of the controls for quality were not as stringent as they could have been. Crooked neck issues are a prime example of this.

Full Size Black Electric Guitar with Amp, Case and Accessories

The Full Size Black Electric Guitar package by Best Choice Products can be thought of as a "starter kit" for beginners. The guitar is not the only major piece included in this budget-priced package; you also get an amp, carrying case, and several other accessories. For this reason, the body and neck of the Best Choice Full Size are of average quality. One owner surmised that the guitar itself is only worth about $20. The body is made of non-specific hardwood. The neck is maple with a truss rod and rosewood fretboard (22 frets). For the money, the sound is passable for beginners and those who aren't looking to perform on stage.

Schecter Damien Special Electric Guitar

The gorgeous Schecter Damien Special Electric Guitar has a mahogany body, maple neck, and rosewood fretboard. The neck's grain is strong, stable, and effective at directing energy onto the body wood for a rich, vibrant sound. Even the grain on the back of the mahogany body is of the highest aesthetic quality. Artistically speaking, the Schecter's fretboard is unique among our top contenders, as it has a subtle inlay design that could either be smoke or flames. Because the inlay is almost as dark as the fretboard, it exudes an "elegant heavy metal look," according to one owner. A small handful of people have had trouble with one or two of the frets on the Schecter, but quality concerns are few and far between with this model.

Gibson Les Paul, Studio Faded

The Gibson Les Paul on our shortlist does not cost thousands of dollars like some Gibson Les Pauls do. It's a higher-priced guitar than any other here, but we've selected it for its top-notch quality and relative affordability. This stellar instrument features a mahogany back with a carved maple top and a set basswood neck with a baked maple fretboard. The neck is of an historic "neck heel" shape, which some musicians find "old fashioned" but many love. And because of its shape, it's not too fat for younger hands, according to users we surveyed.

Gibson pairs mahogany with maple on purpose to give its guitars a tonal depth and complexity that is "unmatched by any single-wood construction," according to the manufacturer. The guitar's ebony finish is covered with faded nitrocellulose for a well-worn look. The manufacturer calls the finish "satiny," but some owners have complained that it's not as smooth as advertised. Still, the neck and body receive high praise overall from owners.

If you want a Les Paul but you don't want to pay a fortune for it, Epiphone's beautiful mahogany LP Special II is worth your consideration.
Considerations

Pickups

If you long to make "true Les Paul" tones for a fraction of the cost, the Epiphone Les Paul is a fantastic choice. A pair of 700T/650R open-coil humbucker pickups give this guitar its rich, powerful sound. A heavy-duty, three-way pickup selector switch allows you to quickly alternate between humbuckers. Owners are quick to point out that the humbuckers and toggle switch, while phenomenal, are not the only way you can make this guitar sing. Paired with the right amp, strings, effects pedals, and other choices, the Epiphone Les Paul sits right up there with pricey Gibson Les Paul and other top-notch brands.

The Squier by Fender BulletStrat features three single-coil pickups (notated as S/S/S). A convenient positioning blade allows you to select five different pickup positions: bridge, bridge & middle, middle, middle & neck, and neck. If you choose the S/S/H model instead of the S/S/S model (the price difference is negligible), be aware that some customers have been dissatisfied with the humbucker pickup, saying it does not sound as "fat" or "loud" as previous Squier by Fender BulletStrats. For this reason, we endorse the S/S/S configuration over the S/S/H, and that is the model you see pictured above. Even the S/S/S/ pickups, however, are a bit weak compared to Squier Bulletstrats of yesteryear, although they still produce a good sound overall. The consensus among seasoned customers seems to be that Fender's manufacturing standards have lowered a bit over the years. To be fair, however, this is an extremely inexpensive guitar. If you want to get your hands on a Fender but you don't want to shell out major dollars for the brand, the Squier is still an excellent choice.

Full Size Black Electric Guitar with Amp, Case and Accessories

The Best Choice Full Size comes with three single-coil pickups of average to mediocre quality. You may need to adjust the bridge height to raise the pickups in order to get the cleanest sound possible. Some players told us that even with a raised bridge, it was hard for them to get a good sustain because the pick guard was so flimsy. Overall, customer impressions of this guitar's pickups were mixed. Some felt that the sound quality could be improved with minor repair work; others felt that the quality of the pickups could not be improved upon. As a beginner's learning tool, this package is definitely a good deal, but if you're looking for a guitar that will carry you from beginner to intermediate to advanced level, it might be more practical to invest in a higher-quality instrument from the get-go.

Schecter Damien Special Electric Guitar

The Schecter's pickups are different from those of any other model on our shortlist. This guitar features a dual-coil EMG 81 pickup in the bridge position and a dual-coil EMG 85 pickup in the neck position. EMG pickups have been called "revolutionary" because of their technology; ceramic magnets interact with close-aperture coils for magnificent sustain and "blistering" sound. If you're a player who likes to overdrive your amp, this type of pickup is the best choice for you. If you love power rock and revel in your own screaming sound, the EMG pickup is your best bet. Schecter owners love their guitar in large part because of these "active" pickups, which require a nine-volt battery to run.

The Gibson Les Paul sports the usual two-humbucker design with Burstbucker Pro pickups. Each pickup gives the player easy control of both volume and tone, along with a three-way selector switch that allows the player to achieve a wide range of sound variations. One owner described the sound as "rich and articulate" with enough character for both cranked-up metal and more mellow tones. Another stated that he prefers the "personality" of this model's pickups to the 490s used in so many other recent Gibson Les Paul guitars.

The Gibson Les Paul's Burstbucker Pro pickups yield a rich, vibrant tone that is both powerful and easy to control.
Ron
Expert Consultant
Ron
Musician, concert performer

Ron is a lifelong musician of incredible talent and skill. He plays piano, drums, harmonica, and guitar (electric, acoustic, and bass), as well as an array of other instruments. Ron has performed in a number of bands over the past three decades. In his spare time, you might find him researching equity investments.

Considerations

Features

Epiphone LP Special II Les Paul Electric Guitar

Epiphone's LP Special II has all the essential elements of an authentic Les Paul, but for a much smaller price! There's the gorgeous nickel LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge (similar to that found on the pricey Gibson Les Paul), a StopBar tailpiece of the same material for extra sustain and ease of string changing, 500L potentiometers for the Master Volume and Tone controls, not to mention the deluxe humbuckers discussed in our Pickups section. There's the limited lifetime warranty enjoyed by all Les Paul owners. And if you're a southpaw, never fear: you can purchase this model in either Heritage Cherry Sunburst or Vintage Sunburst and play it with your left hand. One slight drawback: the strings on this model have been called "light and bendy" by many owners. If you intend to play jazz or certain other genres, you might need a truss rod adjustment. Overall, this is not a big deal when you consider the excellent machine you get for such a small amount of money.

Squier by Fender BulletStrat

The Squier by Fender Bulletstrat supplies some nice features for its low price, including a bridge with synchronized tremolo for greater range, covered machine heads, nice-looking chrome hardware, and Fender Super 250L strings of nickel-plated steel. One owner had issues with misalignment of the factory-included strings. He was eventually able to figure out that the real problem was the nut, which had been installed several millimeters off center. Small problems like this can be easily fixed, but the string/nut problem this gentleman experienced could be another sign of an overall loosening of Fender's quality standards, at least with this particular model. If you choose to purchase the Squier Bulletstrat and discover that you need help, be sure to consult the Fender website -- it offers plenty of set-up pointers for beginners and aims to educate (and please) all customers.

Full Size Black Electric Guitar with Amp, Case and Accessories

You get more than just a guitar with this starter package, and for this reason, it's quite a popular choice with consumers. One of the highlights is the 10-Watt amp. It's true that a 10-Watt amp is not a concert amp, but most owners get a lot of mileage out of this surprisingly loud piece of equipment! The starter package also comes with a tremolo bar, headphone output, carrying case, strap, and extra strings. Surprisingly, it does not come with a tuner. Many of the owners we talked to bought this guitar for the sole purpose of playing Rocksmith, a PlayStation and XBox game that teaches you how to play guitar. If playing Rocksmith is your main goal, this package could be the perfect purchase for you. However, there are some flaws. Don't bank on the factory-included strings; many owners told us that their strings broke within an hour or so of use. The synthetic strap is also not the greatest; be prepared for it to stretch out quickly. As one owner said, "Buy at your own risk." The Best Value Full Size package sells for a great price, but you may end up putting more money into the product than you originally intended.

Schecter Damien Special Electric Guitar

The Schecter Damien is in a higher price bracket than the Epiphone and Squier, but you get some top-notch features for the money. The black chrome hardware is gorgeous. The flame inlay of black pearloid is stylish, unique, and striking against the crimson red exterior of this shiny guitar. Rotomatic tuners feature a 18:1 gear ratio for smooth tuning and backlash control. The Tune-O-Matic bridge comes with a very useful string-through feature. And, of course, the EMG active pickups are a revolutionary addition to this top-notch instrument. If you're looking for something different than the typical Les Paul and Fender Squier, you may be interested in the unique, EMG-powered Schecter Damien. We had a hard time finding owners who had anything bad to say about this jewel of a guitar, which sells for an astonishingly low price.

Gibson Les Paul, Studio Faded

This guitar features an easy-to-hold neck with a width of 1 11/16", a Graph Tech nut, Humbucker Pro pickups, and tuners of the manual variety.  Like other models on our shortlist, you get a Tune-o-Matic bridge to help ensure solid sustain and intonation. Unlike some other models on our list, this guitar comes with a soft gig bag that is quite nice. (However, some consumers opt to buy a hard carrying case anyway.)

Most owners rave about the clean sound quality and the fact that this guitar does not buzz. Much of this is attributed to the quality of the pickups. However, we did uncover a few instances during the course of our research in which static and other unpleasant secondary noise interefered with the sound quality.

Considering the low price on this guitar, the features it offers — and, let's face it, the fact that it's a Gibson Les Paul for under a grand — are remarkable, to say the least.

Epiphone's LP Special II has all the essential elements of an authentic Les Paul, but for a much smaller price!
Considerations

Price

Epiphone LP Special II Les Paul Electric Guitar

For a price of $129, the Epiphone LP Special II can't be beat. Many guitarists dream of owning a full-fledged Gibson Les Paul, but the price of one of these instruments is out of the realm of possibility for the average citizen. Thanks to Epiphone, you can get all of the essential Les Paul characteristics in a guitar for the cost of a car payment or electricity bill (depending on where you live, of course!) For most people, this is not just affordable, it's compelling. Epiphone is a brand to be trusted; the company has been around since the 1870s, and they know a lot about guitars. This particular guitar does not sound cheap, even though its price is exceedingly low. Said one customer, "I simply can't believe that this guitar at this price is this good!" The Epiphone company is able to offer Les Paul models because it is a semi-independent acquisition of Gibson. We think Gibson's acquisition of Epiphone is all the more reason to trust Epiphone and their LP Special II. If the specs and sound quality don't win you over, the fact that Epiphone is intricately tied to the original Les Paul maker should.

Squier by Fender BulletStrat

Fender is one of the best names in guitars, and for a price of $149, most owners are pleased with their purchase. One customer told us that the Squier BulletStrat is "exceptionally average, absolutely playable." Another said it was the "best guitar I've ever played!" We encountered no scathing reviews of this product in our research. The worst thing anyone had to say about it was "you get what you pay for." Exactly what does this mean? The Squier BulletStrat is not a stage-ready instrument. Many players have to re-tune it about every 30 minutes or so, making it a better practice guitar than gigging instrument. But it's lightweight, has a wonderful neck, and is exceptionally affordable. As we've mentioned before, the quality of this particular model may have slipped somewhat over the past several years. Nevertheless, it's a Fender -- an extremely affordable Fender -- and many die-hard guitarists are willing to put up with a few flaws in order to get a Fender in their hands.

Full Size Black Electric Guitar with Amp, Case and Accessories

The Full Size Black Electric Guitar package by Best Choice Products is a budget-priced, generic copy of the Fender Stratocaster. For $99, potential buyers should know that this product does not deliver the same copycat quality as the Epiphone LP or the Squier by Fender. Some owners are completely satisfied with their purchase, but others are disappointed at the extra time and money they had to put into fixing up this lower-end product. One owner spent $100 beyond the initial price on new pickups, string alignment, and other repairs. Then there is the amp. While most people are satisfied with this 10-Watt piece of equipment, a few reported a strange (not very loud) humming sound. Whether this is a good purchase for you depends on your needs and your willingness to tolerate minor product flaws in exchange for a low price. If owning a complete package -- guitar, amp, strap, case -- helps you get a better feel for whether the electric guitar is the right instrument for you, this inexpensive beginners' pack could be the perfect experimental purchase.

Schecter Damien Special Electric Guitar

The Schecter Damien has been described by owners as "beautiful," "intricate," and "delicate." A price of $899 makes this guitar a steal, especially when you consider that buying a pair of EMG pickups alone would cost you between $100 and $200. Customers rave about the little details that make this guitar stand out, such as the placement of the pickup switch (and the fact that it moves vertically as opposed to horizontally) and the subtle, "cool" look of the black pearloid inlay on the fretboard. It's not a Les Paul or a Squier, and it's not even a knock-off version of a Les Paul or a Squier. The Schecter is its own unique instrument, and when paired with two powerful EMG pickups, it's a blazer of a guitar that is sure to please rockers, heavy metalists, and everyone in between.

Gibson Les Paul, Studio Faded

At a cost of $799, the Gibson Les Paul LPJ is clearly a lower-tier Les Paul for those who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars on an authentic one. You don't get the legendary man's signature on your instrument, but you do get just about everything else you could want from a Les Paul when you buy this beauty. Indeed, it's a solid guitar from Gibson, one of the most highly regarded guitar manufacturers of all time.

We like the setup and the vintage look of this instrument. But the sound is even better. Gibson's tonewood combination of mahogany and carved maple ensure a classic Humbucker sound with just the right amount of bite. The rounded neck sits easily in the hand, even if you're a beginner.

If you love a Les Paul and you can afford to spend a bit more than the cost of the Epiphone, we recommend that you go for the gold and snatch this one up before the price climbs —as it's likely to do, considering what a sweet deal it really is.

If you love a Les Paul and you can afford to spend a bit more than the cost of the Epiphone, we recommend that you go for the gold and snatch up the Gibson Les Paul 2016 T before the price climbs — as it's likely to do, considering what a sweet deal it really is.

Best of the Best

Truth be told, you can get a high-class electric guitar without spending thousands of dollars. You can even get a Gibson Les Paul that satisfies you in every musical way possible, and that's why we've given the Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded 2016 T our "Best of the Best" award.

At a price of $799, this guitar costs more than any other on our shortlist. However, it's far from the most expensive electric guitar on the market. In fact, this is one of the least expensive Gibson Les Pauls you'll find. Do you love Les Paul and all his guitars stand for? Do you want a no-frills Les Paul made of top-notch materials that puts musical power and finesse in your hands? The owners we surveyed cannot say enough good things about this model. It's well worth your consideration.

The dual humbuckers on this guitar help deliver the authentic, screaming-yet-controlled sound of a Les Paul. Some of these characteristics might sound negative, but to die-hard fans, they're not. They're all part of the true Les Paul experience — something you can usually only get by shelling out the equivalent of a mortgage payment or two. 

To top it all off, this guitar comes with a gig bag where many of the elite guitars on our shortlist do not. It's plain to see that the quality is in the details! Gibson has anticipated your every musical need with this product. You simply cannot replicate the top-notch musical experience this guitar gives you with any other model, including the Squier by Fender (a good choice) and the Epiphone LP Special II (a great choice). If you've got $799 to spend and all of this sounds good to you, the Gibson Les Paul LPJ is, hands down, the very best electric guitar you will find today.

Best of the Best
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The quality is in the details! Gibson has anticipated your every musical need with the Studio Faded Gibson Les Paul.

Best Bang for your Buck

Do you want a Les Paul-style guitar from a reputable company for not a lot of money? The Epiphone LP Special II is by far the "Best Bang for Your Buck." The other lower-priced guitars on our shortlist have their strengths, but none of them are as perfectly well-rounded as Epiphone's LP Special II for $129.

For a small amount of money, you get a quality mahogany instrument in a number of beautiful finishes to suit your taste. If you're left-handed, no worries: the Heritage Cherry Sunburst and Vintage Sunburst versions of this guitar will work for you. Craftsmanship is superb, and it's no wonder -- the Epiphone company was actually acquired by Gibson as a subsidiary not too long ago. So when you buy an Epiphone, you're also buying a Gibson (in essence), and everyone knows that Gibson is where it's at in terms of top-notch guitars.

A pair of open-coil humbuckers give this guitar a rich tone that cuts through other musical noise with mighty power. Of course, if you want the absolute best sound from this guitar, you'll need to pair it with the right amp, strings, and other essentials. This guitar comes with strings, but some owners don't like their "light and bendy" quality. However, as any guitar player knows, changing your strings is inexpensive and easy to do.

Unlike some other budget-priced brands, Epiphone does not seem to have cut any corners in the manufacture of this guitar. If you want a quality Les Paul and don't mind going without the actual signature (it's unfortunately absent from the finish of this lower-priced model), the LP Special II is definitely the one to get. This guitar's close ties with quality manufacturing -- both from Epiphone and Gibson -- make it an irresistible product, and if you're a serious player, you should give it a serious look.
Best Bang for your Buck
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If you're a serious guitar player, you should give the Epiphone LP Special II a serious look.
The team that worked on this review
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Editor
  • Ann
    Ann
    Operations
  • Jimi
    Jimi
    Product Analyst
  • Kriti
    Kriti
    Data Scientist