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Best cheap electric guitars for 2014

My definition of cheap concerning an electric guitar is under $300, and that's in US dollars. When you go over $300, there's not much left to spend on other things (like amps and effects among other things) if you are on a tight budget.

Before starting this, two things:

First, Fender brands pretty much own the sub-$300 price point, namely with their Squier and Jackson brands. Why? Largest selection. There are a ridiculous amount of sub-$300 guitars if you stick to those two.

Second, I don't know what's going to happen later in 2014. Every guitar I list here should continue to have an under-$300 price, but the prices may go up slightly in the later half of this year.

Okay, on to the guitars.

Jackson JS32 Kelly
Jackson JS32 Kelly

I've seen this guitar listed as low as $249. Obviously, this is meant to be a "metal" guitar as this is Jackson's take on an Explorer shape. However, as far as metal axes go, this is one of the best budget 24-fret neck guitars. It has the look and style of what a metal guitar should be, keeps it basic with no vibrato system and should stay in tune well.

Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster Custom
Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster Custom

This guitar has a ridiculous amount of good hardware for under $300. Separate volume/tone controls for each pickup and a 3-way toggle on top, much like an SG. The knobs are the "witch hat" Fender amp style, and I know from experience that those have a good, solid feel to them.

What's not said about this guitar anywhere is for that all intents and purposes, this is a Squier version of a Pawn Shop Telecaster. The from-the-factory mods done to this guitar are pretty much exactly what guys with Telecasters would have done back in the day in the 1970s.

On top of all that, the guitar just looks cool. This is one of the very few cheap axes that impresses both musicians and non-musicians at the same time.

Squier Deluxe Stratocaster
Squier Deluxe Stratocaster

"Gee, I wish Squier made something that was exactly like an American Standard Stratocaster..."

The Squier Deluxe Stratocaster is very, very close to an American Standard. In fact, if it were any closer it would be an American Standard, spec-wise.

You never see Squier Deluxe Strats in guitar stores because the moment they're in stock, they sell out quickly. Why? Because it has nearly every appointment that an American Standard Stratocaster does. Players that know what the Deluxe has purposely seek these out because they know it's really close to American Standard specs.

This guitar should be $400. But it's under $300.

Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar
Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster
Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar
Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster

No, these two guitars are not the same. Not at all. The Jag is a short 24-inch scale with skinny pickups controlled by on/off toggle switches on the bottom. The Jazz is a standard 25.5-inch scale with large pickups controlled by a 3-way toggle on the bottom.

Whichever you decide to go with, Squier brought back two of the coolest electric guitars ever made at an under-$300 price point - which never happened before Squier did it.

Jazzes and Jags are love-'em-or-hate-'em guitars. I love 'em. Some hate 'em, and that's fine because it takes a certain kind of player to appreciate one. The point is that Squier makes them and they can be bought real cheap, and that's great.

Epiphone Nighthawk Custom Reissue
Epiphone Nighthawk Custom Reissue

This is a guitar where a lot of players get turned off by the oddball pickup styling. Technically, this guitar is an HSH configuration. Slanted full humbucker in the rear, single-coil in the middle, mini-humbucker in the front. And yes the rear humbucker has coil tap via a push/pull knob.

Epiphone has tried, several times, to get people to like this guitar. They've bounced around with price points, and at the moment it's under $300, although you may find it for slightly high at $335-ish or so. Still, that's cheap.

If you want a Gibson style guitar is that not a Les Paul nor an SG and has features neither of them have, the Nighthawk is a good buy.

The Nighthawk is, once again, being phased out. It was originally released in '93, then retired. It was brought back in its current form as a reissue, and now it's about to be retired again. If you want one, get it now because the value of it will most likely go up sharply the moment it isn't available in major retailers anymore.

Epiphone Les Paul 100
Epiphone Les Paul 100

The LP-100 is your basic Les Paul guitar that's not missing anything. It has a full control set, which means separate volume/tone controls for each pickup and a 3-way toggle on top. It also has a pick guard. If you're thinking, "Yeah, so?", there are many Les Paul guitars that don't include the guard - even on Gibson models. The LP-100 does have it as every Les Paul should whether you elect to use it or not.

I specifically recommend getting this guitar in black (which Epiphone calls ebony) as shown above, because the sunburst versions of the LP-100 aren't that good and tend to make the guitar appear a bit toy-like. Being there is no body binding and cheaper dot inlays instead of trapezoid, the solid black color just works much better whether seen up close or from a distance.

The best part about the LP-100 is that it fits almost any music style. Rock, metal, country, blues, jazz, etc.

Squier Affinity Telecaster
Squier Affinity Telecaster

While this isn't the lowest-priced electric, it is the lowest-priced on this list (under $200!)

Last year, Squier did something small that really made a difference with this guitar, looks-wise. The headstock logo was changed. Instead of the plain black Squier logo, that was changed to a gold logo with black outline. You wouldn't think this makes much of a difference, but believe me, it does. Looks a lot nicer.

The Affinity Tele has been a good player for a few years now. I have played one personally. The neck feels amazing on it, the pickups are "spanky" and good and the construction overall is solid.

What will probably amaze you about Affinity Teles more than anything else is how good the tuners are. You simply don't expect smooth tuners on a guitar that sells for under 200 bucks, but this Tele has 'em. A standard thing most guys who buy cheap guitars do is junk the tuners first for a better set. Not necessary on the Affinity Tele.

As for the rest of the guitar, it's typical Telecaster simplicity. The only main drawback is that it's a top-loader. No string-through-body here, and that matters to some people. However, given the price it sells for, one really can't complain about that.

In case you're wondering, yes, maple fretboard versions are available, but they don't come in the cooler body colors like Lake Placid Blue or Gun Metal Grey. The Brown Sunburst one linked above is my personal favorite because yeah, the thing just looks good and works with the rosewood board well.

You really can't go wrong with a Squier Affinity Telecaster. Looks good, plays good, sounds good, it's stupidly easy to set up and play, and anyone can play it whether you just started playing last week or have been playing for 20 years or more.

Oh, and the best part: Cheap. Dirt cheap.

2014 is a good year to go cheap with the guitar and put your money towards other stuff instead

A lot of players concentrate way too much on the guitar itself and forget that you need an amp and some effects too. With the cash you save on the guitar, you can then buy a better amp.

Let's say for the moment you decided to get the Affinity Telecaster noted above. What would be the best amp for that? Fender Mustang II V2. Why? It's almost the same price as the guitar (slightly higher) and has a bunch of cool effects in it like reverb, delay, amp modeling, pitch shifting and so on. It also has USB for computer connectivity.

The Affinity Tele + Mustang II amp is a damned fine combo. Arguably, is the most bang-for-your-buck combo that exists which has the most usable stuff that's fun to use. The only way to go cheaper would be to get the Mustang I amp instead - but bear in mind that's practice-amp-only territory. The Mustang II has enough grunt for band practice and small gigs while the Mustang I doesn't.

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