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Last Updated on January 19, 2024 by Justin Thomas

Displays Tyler Connaghan - guitar player and writer

Author: Tyler Connaghan

Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster.

Expertise: music industry, producing, acoustic & electric guitars, songwriting

Bachelor of Science in Music Industry Studies, Music Industry

displays Edward Bond and Gibson Guitar

Editor: Edward Bond

Edward has been playing the guitar since 2002. So Edward has over 20 years of experience as a guitarist, has authored 15 guitar books, has written for renowned music blogs, and spent a decade teaching music. He began merging his passion for writing and music in 2020 and has written for big guitar websites such as Guitar Head Publishing and KillerGuitarRigs.com.

Originally from Seattle, Edward moved to Norway in 2021 for a master’s in music. He’s studied at the Jazz Institute Berlin and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and currently resides in Trondheim. His education includes a European Jazz Master’s, a diploma in Film and Game Scoring from Sofia, and a Bachelor’s in Jazz from University of Oregon.

Edward has played in numerous bands and currently, Edward works on his own project Starship Infinity


Peruse for a minute online, and you’ll find an abundance of budget-friendly guitars. Unlike high-end guitars, hand-built with the highest-quality materials, most of these cheap instruments come from overseas manufacturing plants and are built using automated machinery. 

While going through these budget-friendly catalogs, one main question arises: are these cheap guitars worth it? 

For beginners, they are a great option. While many don’t come set up perfectly right out of the box, a few adjustments can leave you with a commendable guitar. 

As for the sound, tone, and playability, understanding these cheap guitars compared to more expensive ones requires more analysis. Come with us as we explore whether or not cheap guitars are worth the money!


Are Cheap Guitars any Good?

The guitar market is ultra-competitive these days, especially with the popularity of mass manufacturing. As such, many guitar companies strive to outdo their rivals and maximize their profits by producing and marketing lines of affordable guitars.

In turn, these same guitar companies streamline quality control procedures and reduce quality standards as part of the cost-saving strategy.

Consequently, they may dedicate less effort to refining product details and fine-tuning guitars with thorough testing. This means cheap guitars may exhibit certain flaws, impacting their sound and playability.

image of poorly made guitar to help ask,  are cheap guitars worth it?
Our editor asked for a poorly made guitar image. I found this. Comments below on how it makes you feel!

Of course, it’s also worth noting that “cheap” can mean many things to different people. Depending on your budget, you might consider a $200 guitar “cheap.” However, someone else might think a $400 guitar is cheap. 

For the sake of this article, we’ll be looking at guitars under $300

Most cheap guitars have a number of issues and drawbacks owing to lower quality control standards, such as intonation problems, high action, truss rod issues, and more. Nevertheless, their affordability can be pretty appealing, so dealing with these imperfections is a minor inconvenience for some. 

Overall, investing in a cheap guitar can be worthwhile if the combined cost of the guitar with a professional setup does not surpass the price of a superior guitar with higher-quality materials and a professional setup included.

5 Reasons to Buy a Cheap Guitar

Is a Cheap Guitar a Good Option for Beginners?

As a beginner player, there are many things to consider when getting your first guitar. 
From experience, you want a guitar that offers impeccable sound and playability.

You’ll face many challenges starting out, from learning the guitar’s anatomy to growing calluses that allow you to play barre chords comfortably. A guitar that facilitates a smooth transition through the initial awkward phase can ensure a better start on the right foot from day one. 

It’s much harder to rectify bad habits if you unknowingly establish them early on.

But as with anything, opting for a cheap guitar as a beginner has upsides and downsides. 

Advantages of Buying a Cheap Guitar as a Beginner

One of the main advantages of getting a cheap guitar is that you can save money

If you’re like most beginner players, you’re likely in a situation where budget considerations weigh more heavily than they might for an established musician. Pro players are likely earning money as musicians already, giving them the reason and wherewithal to spend more on a nice guitar. 

It’s also worth noting that many beginners abandon their guitar-learning journey pretty soon after picking it up. Whether it’s a lack of interest or motivation (and we hope it’s neither for you), the last thing you want is to have spent tons of money on an instrument that ultimately collects dust in the corner of your room.

Disadvantages of Buying a Cheap Guitar as a Beginner

Let’s look at some drawbacks of starting your journey with a cheap guitar. 

As a beginner, you want to understand what a guitar should sound like. Accuracy is critical here. Unfortunately, many low-end guitars exhibit sound issues. It can hinder your development if you’re consistently practicing on an instrument that’s out of tune or has intonation issues. The more you’re exposed to inaccuracy, the harder it can be down the line to adapt to the proper guitar sound. 

Secondly, most beginner players possess weaker muscles in their fingers and wrists. Developing the muscle memory of an advanced player takes time, so it can often feel challenging to try and press strings down without getting that nasty buzzing sound. This is especially true if your guitar has excessively high action, an issue cheap guitars often suffer from.

How bad are cheap guitars? I tested 4 affordable models

Higher action can help you develop those fingertip calluses a bit faster. However, it can also make the playing experience super uncomfortable and leave you feeling unmotivated to play. 

Even with all that said, cheap guitars can be a worthwhile investment for beginner players. However, to get the sound quality and playability to a point where it’s fun and motivating, I’d highly advise you to request a professional setup from your local music store at a reasonable price, as it can make all the difference.

While you could attempt to perform a setup at home, I wouldn’t recommend it as a beginner, as the last thing you want to do is damage your instrument and have to pay the price for costly repairs.

Are Cheap Guitars Hard to Play?

Cheap guitars can be harder to learn on than higher-end guitars, as they often have tone and playability issues. As I said before, high action is a pretty significant concern. 

When a guitar has high action, you have to play with more force when pressing down on the strings, and if you haven’t developed calluses or muscle strength, it can be very uncomfortable. 

Plus, nothing is quite as demoralizing as hearing tons of fret buzz when trying to practice. 

While you can certainly overcome this initial hurdle by entrusting your guitar to a professional for a full setup, learning on a cheap guitar can be a comparatively daunting task.

Do Cheap Guitars Sound Bad?

More often than not, cheap guitars sound worse than higher-end guitars, much of which comes down to how they’re manufactured. 

Construction and setup are two factors that heavily contribute to a guitar’s sound quality. 

For example, a cheap acoustic guitar might use a laminate wood top made by layering wood veneers. The cheaper version will lack tonal richness and resonance compared to a higher-end acoustic with a solid wood top like mahogany or spruce. 

$275,000 vs $100 Guitar!! Worth it??

Similarly, cheap guitars are more prone to being out of tune, much of which has to do with lower-quality hardware, such as sub-par tuners.

With all this said, I rarely like to say that guitars sound “bad,” especially when it comes to something as preferential as sound. I’ve played plenty of cheap guitars that I absolutely love the sound of. 

For example, one of the first guitars I ever bought was a used Danelectro. Most people would peg this guitar as “cheap” compared to other guitars. However, it has its unique sonic flavor, thanks to its single-coil lipstick pickups and Masonite body style, which almost feels like a material you’d find on a cheap kitchen floor.

Are Cheap Guitars Durable?

The durability of a cheap guitar depends on several factors, such as construction materials, build quality, and more. Some electric guitar brands and models may offer better durability at similar prices, which is where reading reviews can be helpful. 

With that said, most inexpensive guitars use lower-cost materials. Plus, with automated manufacturing, they also often need more attention to detail in their construction. 

As a result, you can end up with durability issues, such as fret wear or neck warping. Note that some budget-friendly guitars, such as those from the Squier lineup, are designed with decent craftsmanship and durable components.

Pros and Cons of Cheap Guitars

Pros of Cheap Guitars

  • Affordability: If you’re a beginner player on a tight budget, a cheap guitar can offer more accessibility. 
  • Less Commitment: If you decide that guitar isn’t for you later, you’ll be happy knowing you haven’t invested too much money into your instrument. 
  • Modification Experimentation: Using a cheap guitar as a platform to experiment with different setups and modifications, such as pickup swaps or tuner upgrades is much less scary.

Cons of Cheap Guitars

  • Lower Build Quality: Most cheap guitars use low-quality materials to keep costs down, which can mean issues with playability and durability later down the line. 
  • Lower Sound Quality: You likely won’t get the same nuanced or versatile tonal ranges on a cheap guitar that you’d get with a higher-end guitar with better pickups
  • Poor Playability: Many cheap guitars don’t come with professional setups right out of the box, meaning you might deal with playability issues like fret buzz, intonation problems, and high action, making the playing experience far less enjoyable. 
  • Lower Resale Value: Cheap guitars depreciate faster than their expensive counterparts, meaning their resale value won’t hold up over time. 

Who Should Buy A Cheap Guitar?

The first reason to buy a cheap guitar is if you’re on a budget. There’s nothing wrong with starting with the best guitar you can comfortably afford. 

If you’re a beginner, there’s no reason to wait a year or two to begin your musical journey simply because you have to scrimp and save for that $800 guitar some guitarist on Reddit said you MUST have.

I’d also go as far as saying this same principle should guide you throughout your entire musical career. Play the instruments within your budget that you genuinely enjoy

Peer pressure can be a regrettable element of the music community, and many of us think we need the latest and greatest gear to make music like the pros. 

The best guitar under $250 (are they any good?!)

The truth is that any great guitarist could make a cheap guitar sound incredible simply because they have the talent to do so. Anyone who says you NEED expensive equipment to sound good is objectively wrong. 

Now, even if you have the means to buy an expensive guitar as a beginner, I wouldn’t recommend spending a significant amount on your first guitar if you’re unsure about your commitment to playing. You might be among the many burgeoning players looking to dabble in music without investing much time and energy. 

There’s nothing wrong with that approach. Over time, your new hobby may become a passion, which might be the time to start looking at more expensive guitars.

Who Should Not Buy A Cheap Guitar?

While cheap guitars can be suitable for beginners, there are many players I wouldn’t recommend a cheap guitar for. 

For example, pro musicians or experienced players who need solid instruments for gigs or recording sessions might find that cheap guitars don’t meet their demands. This is because cheap guitars often lack the tonal quality, versatility, and durability needed to dial in the “best” tones day after day and night after night. 

I wouldn’t recommend cheap electric guitars to players locked into specific genres or styles. Jazz players, for example, might want a hollow-body archtop body shape. Typically, you won’t find these types of guitars for cheap.


Tips for Buying A Cheap Guitar

Consider Your Budget

Before you start perusing guitars, have a plan for your budget range and stick to it. 

It’s easy to fall into the pit of overspending when looking at many shiny options online. Luckily, many reputable guitar brands produce quality budget-friendly guitars, such as Squier (from Fender), Epiphone (from Gibson), and Yamaha.

Look for Used Guitars

You can get a much better bang for your buck with a used guitar. Head to your local music shop to see if you can find some secondhand options. If they don’t have what you like, check out online resale platforms, such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or OfferUp.

I’ve purchased so many musical instruments and gear over the years from these sites, and 99% of the time, it’s a great experience. However, trying the guitar in person before buying it is helpful. Be as thorough as possible with your inspection.

Test Play

Whether you’re buying a cheap guitar, new or used, being honest about how it feels and sounds is key. 

  • Is the action (string height) comfortable for you? 
  • Are you hearing issues like fret buzz or intonation problems? 
  • How does the guitar sound?

Pay attention to things like:

  • Sustain. 
  • Clarity. 
  • Overall tone. 

If it’s an electric guitar, play it with and without an amplifier. Test out all of the onboard controls.

5 Things to Check BEFORE Buying a Guitar!

Keep in mind that a proper setup can remedy specific issues, such as poor intonation, though a lousy tone or tuning instability may only find repair through upgrades.


My Favorite Cheap Guitars – Recommendations

Favorite Cheap Electric Guitars

Favorite Cheap Acoustic Guitars

*Consider all links in this post to be affiliate links. If you purchase, at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission. It helps us to keep the lights on, thanks! 🙂

Check out some of our favorite Epiphone acoustic guitars!


Conclusion

So, are cheap guitars worth it? 

With the proper setup, absolutely! Just make sure that the setup cost is reasonable compared to the price and that it feels easy to play when you test it out.

And, of course, in the end, if the guitar you choose keeps you inspired and motivated to play, then that’s all that matters! 


FAQ

Can You Make Cheap Guitar Sound Better?

While many cheap guitars have inferior sound quality thanks to their sub-par components, including cheap tonewoods, electronics, and hardware, you can get a much better sound out of even the most inexpensive guitars with a proper setup.

How Much Should A Beginner Spend On Guitar?

While your budget and desires will play into how much you should spend on a guitar as a beginner, I’d recommend anywhere between $100 and $300.

Why Are Some Guitars So Cheap?

Many guitars are super cheap because they are mass-manufactured with lower-quality materials. With reduced labor costs, basic components, and simplified construction methods, many companies can sell guitars for far less than most people would expect.

Is It Worth It for Intermediate Guitar Players to Buy Cheap Guitar?

If you’re an intermediate player looking to save some money or want to experiment with mods, a cheap guitar can be a great option. However, note that any cheap instrument will likely have quality and playability limitations, which might not make them optimal for live performances or studio sessions.

Do Cheap Guitars Hold Their Value?

Cheap guitars don’t hold their value nearly as well as their higher-end counterparts, as they often use low-end components that depreciate very quickly and are more prone to wear and tear. 

Tyler Connaghan

Tyler Connaghan is a guitarist, singer, producer, composer & engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Tyler has been playing the guitar since 2007. In between writing for guitar publications, he produces music for film and television. His favorite axe is his custom Pelham Blue Fender Stratocaster. You can connect with Tyler on LinkedIn or just email him.
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Justin Thomas

The thing about cheap guitars is that they can sometimes be good. The sad part is that they know that 99% of their buyers have little to no experience with guitars so they can sell them whatever they want.

When I first arrived in Bangkok I did not have my guitars with me. It was going to be a year or 2 until I could return to the UK and bring some to Thailand. A friend, blues master, found a Chinese slim-line Tele that played well and stayed in tune. He paid less than $200 for it.

I rushed to the shop and spent HOURS playing lemon after lemon until I found a very passable blonde Tele (well, it would be). That guitar, and the pig nose amp my friend gave me, kept me happy until I could be re-united with my Hamer and Kramer.

Eventually, it was just sat in a corner so I gave it to a friend’s 14 year old son to get him started on his guitar adventure with one condition. He could not sell it, it had to be given to a beginner and they had to be asked to pass it on too.

I hope that guitar has influenced more guitarists since as he gave it on when he upgraded to a CV Strat.

So sometimes cheap guitars aren’t that bad 🙂

Pranshu Nigam

Back when I started learning cheap guitars meant terrible quality control and lower-quality parts. But “newer” cheap guitars are a completely different story. Mass-production quality has gone up and there are so many brands now making insane value-for-money instruments (the ones listed in the recommendations are all fantastic beginner guitars).