Mega test: the best electric guitar for beginners

For all rockers and those who want to become one

11. 01. 2020, 07: 00 | from Brent Butterworth, Wirecutter

Content from our partner Wirecutter, A New York Times Company

There are many electric guitars for beginners: Wirecutter's Brent Butterworth has started looking for the best. Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

After we 13 inexpensive guitars 24 For hours Tested with a group of teachers, beginners, professional musicians and a guitar repairer, the Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat is in our opinion the best electric guitar for beginners. It is comfortable and relatively light. The Squier played beautifully from the start and even better once it was set up correctly. Together with pickups and controls, the Bullet Strat offers enough variation options so that beginners get a push towards their own sound – regardless of the music styles that interest them. The test was carried out by carried out in America. Products that are only available in Germany may therefore be missing. You are reading the German translation.

Update 11.1.2020: The top recommendation continues, we have updated the prices.

Our top recommendation: Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat

Squier by Fender Bullet Stratocaster HSS

  • Source: Amazon

    Bullet Stratocaster HSS

    The best combination of sound and comfort, ideal for beginners.

Although our participants rated many of the guitars tested positively, the Squier HSS Bullet Strat that best overall package of comfort, sound and added value. All testers felt that the construction and design was sufficient to make the Strat not only a solid guitar for beginners, but also a good back-up for more professional musicians.

Price : round 130 Euro ( at Amazon; status: 11.1.2020)

Top recommendation for an electric guitar for children: Epiphone Les Pauls Express

Epiphone Les Paul Express

  • Source: Amazon

    Epiphone Les Paul Express

    As a compact travel guitar very well suited for children, it also convinces with sound.

To our surprise, our younger guitar testers in particular drew the simplicity and comfort of the Epiphone Les Paul Express ahead of the more extravagant competitors. The short travel guitar is perfect for small hands. In addition, it sounds and plays surprisingly well considering the low price.

Apart from the total dominance of the Epiphone Les Paul Express in the mini guitar category, there was none clear best in guitars. Our favorites are the instruments with the best average values. Our testers found many of the guitars we tried very good. Perhaps you will find a musical instrument that you like even more in the lower section of the article, where we comment again on all the guitars that we have tested.

Price: round 120 Euro (at Amazon; status: 11.1.2020)

Why you can trust our test

Although I have focused on audio journalism most of my life, I have been 70 years as a musician. Over the years I have had many appearances with jazz, rock and folk groups in both New York and Los Angeles. Today I mainly play double bass and ukulelele in three jazz groups in Los Angeles and regularly in a few other bands. In addition, I also hold jam sessions more or less weekly at my home, where I accompany numerous guitarists of different levels. After talking about 25 Years of countless multi-listener comparisons of audio products, I think I have a pretty good idea of ​​how to make product tests fair.

Two guitar teachers served as the main testers for this guide:

  • Ken Rosser is a guitar teacher at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. In his career, he worked with jazz artists Billy Higgins, Bennie Wallace and Vinny Golia. He recently played with the Grandmothers, a group consisting of alumni of Frank Zappa's band Mothers of Invention.
  • Fred Sokolow is a well-known multi-instrumentalist and author of several textbooks for stringed instruments. He has performed on stage with countless rock, jazz and folk acts, is currently performing with his retro jazz group in LA and is more often in specialist workshops for stringed instruments.

Fred's wife Lynn Shipley Sokolow was our only adult beginner. She usually plays the double bass and banjo in the Americana quartet Sugar in the Gourd, but is currently learning to play the electric guitar. In order to correctly rate the shortscale / travel guitars, I also asked teenagers for advice who are also learning how to play properly: The 15 – year old Alana Wood, who has already helped us with our guide to acoustic guitars and ukuleles, and 13 – year old Charles Lesser.

I also consulted John Higgins from Wirecutter to express his opinion hö ren; he is from Los Angeles and session musician. He works more often for wirecutter, has a master's degree in music from the University of Southern California and more than 10 Years of experience in Teaching music at private schools.

Who Should Buy A Beginner Electric Guitar?

Although acoustic guitars have been a bit more popular lately, the electric guitar is still by far the most prominent instrument in rock music and a key component in many country , R&B, pop and jazz groups. If you want to play in a band, you probably need an electric guitar. If you want to play melodies and solos, electric guitars are generally better suited for quick fingering and can stand out better from other instruments in a music group.

Electric guitars speak also adults who played in their youth and want to take the instrument back in their hands. Fortunately, the highly efficient and affordable overseas manufacturing has created a new generation of inexpensive guitars that sound and play very much like more expensive models. Before 20 Years ago, only a few cheap guitars were really worth playing. We also discovered in our “Best E-Guitar Amp for Beginners” article that there are several very nice amplifiers for just under 100 euros, so that an adult for less than 300 euros can come back into play.

These are the full-size guitars that we tested. Front row: Yamaha Pacifica PAC 012, Indio 66 Classic and Squire by Fender HSS Bullet Strat; back row: Jackson JS 11 Dinky, Squire by Fender Affinity Series Jazzmaster, Ibanez GRGA 120 Gio, Indio Retro DLX Quilted Maple and Epiphone Les Paul SL. Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

This is how we found instruments for our test

Anyone who has recently looked at the guitar market knows that both the number of brands and the models offered by the largest Manufacturer has risen. With Squier (Fender) and Epiphone alone you will find about 20 different models under 200 Euro, whereby the different color options are not even counted. If you include newer brands (some of which only appear to be available on Amazon), you can get more than 50 different models land – far too many to test them all. As we learned from our ukulelele tests, it becomes difficult to pay as much attention to everyone if you have more than ten instruments to test.

I started with one old friend, Ken Korman, guitarist of the band The O-Pines from New Orleans and a real fan of both expensive and cheap guitars. He gave me some good tips about which models had come onto the market in recent years and which of them we should consider. A visit to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) exhibition in January in Los Angeles gave me further insight.

Smaller electric guitars are intended for children or travelers. The Epiphone Les Paul Express, Squier by Fender Mini Strat, Jackson Rhoads Minion, Jackson Dinky Minion, and Ibanez GRGM 21 Micro (from left to right). Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

Connections included Amazon, Sweetwater, Musician's Friend and other providers of online musical instruments to see what was currently available to buy. After seeing several promising models at 200 I decided to set this as our highest price limit. We don't mean that more expensive models are not worth the surcharge – just that the models recommended here are more than sufficient to get a beginner on the right track.

I visited six music stores in Los Angeles to try out as many guitars as possible (more than 60, including many variations of different models). I wanted to get an idea of ​​the price-performance ratio and assess the quality. I made a list of the most promising models and contacted the manufacturers to request samples. In some cases, manufacturers replaced my suggestions with models that they thought were more suitable for this article – of course with my consent.

In addition, we separately tested a group of smaller guitars with scale lengths (the distance from the saddle at the top on Neck to the bridge that carries the strings on the body) in the range of 22 inches – most electric guitars are 24, 75 to 25, 5 inches long. The models are more comfortable for children, among other things, because they are particularly suitable for small hands. The size is also well received by many adults because it makes traveling much easier.

The electric guitars we tested in standard size are the following: Epiphone Les Paul SL , Ibanez GRGA 120 Gio , Indio 66 Classic, Indio Retro DLX Quilted Maple, Jackson JS 11 Dinky , Squier by Fender Affinity Series Jazzmaster , Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat and Yamaha Pacifica PAC 012 .

The tested by us travel guitars are: Epiphone Les Paul Express , Ibanez GRGM 21 Micro , Jackson Dinky Minion JS1X , Jackson Rhoads Minion JS1X and Squier (Fender) Mini Strat.

Ken Ross on one of his favorite guitars in this test, the Yamaha Pacific PAC 012. Wirecutter / Brent Butterworth

So we tested

Since most electric guitars offer far more setting options than acoustic guitars, the setup of the electric guitar is also more important. There is not much to adjust on an acoustic guitar. We decided that John and I would test electric guitar right after unpacking it; with their normal strings and the factory setup to then commission a professional to use. Ernie Ball Regular Slinky strings in strengths of .0 10 to .046 – this has been one of the most popular string sets for electric guitars for decades. Our setup technician was called Avishay Shabat, who heads the Guitar Groomer repair shop in Woodland Hills (California), and also produces his own series under the Shabat Guitars brand.

Lynn Shipley Sokolow and Fred Sokolow play the Ibanez GRGA 120 Gio and the Fender HSS Bullet Strat. Wirecutter / Brent Butterworth

John and I excluded a couple of guitars from the start , because we think that every guitar should be playable at least to some extent without any adjustment. Avi Shabat agreed with us: “The more work you have to do with a new guitar, the more you have to pay for a decent setup.” For two reasons, we did not immediately stop using the short guitars: First, a guitar for children – which is likely to be bought at a low price and is supposed to be a gift – should be playable directly from the box without setup. Secondly, this was not absolutely necessary since everyone was brand new and pretty good and everyone was equipped with strings of about the same strength.

We tested the amplifiers at the same time as the guitars, so I let each tester have an amplifier of your choice. I gave our two teenage testers a choice: Fender Champion 20 or a Vox Pathfinder 10 given.

Alana and Charles try the Jackson Dinky Minion and the Jackson Dinky Rhoads. Wirecutter / Brent Butterworth

The testers received no instructions except that we were in the first Researched for beginners and secondly for experienced players. The latter may need one of them as a second (or third or fourth or fifth) guitar and as a platform for experimenting with modifications such as new pickups and other electronics.

In general, our participants liked it most guitars. Almost all of them seemed suitable for beginners and even for advanced users. Everyone had their personal favorites, but realized that players with different styles and tastes would probably draw a different conclusion.

The right setup

Considering that the setup of a brand new guitar could vary in quality (and only a few music stores bother to make a decent one Setup for cheap guitars), we strongly recommend that you have a new guitar set professionally. That will probably be about 50 Euro cost. It is also quite easy to learn yourself; there are many tutorials online. Already with 15 Years ago I managed to set up my first electric guitar under the guidance of my guitar teacher. We recommend every electric guitar player to at least learn how to adjust the distance between the strings and the fingerboard. If you develop further, you will want to adapt the guitar to your style and skills.

A professional is definitely necessary if the instrument has rather badly processed frets, which is a problem for many inexpensive guitars. A professional can round off the edges of the frets and rework the surface of the fret. These are tasks that could overwhelm an overzealous handyman and thus pose a risk to the guitar.

Luthier Avishay Shabbat of the Guitar Groomer workshop does a complete setup of the Fender HSS Bullet Strat. Wirecutter / Brent Butterworth

Detailed review: Squier by Fender HSS Bulllet Strat

As an active musician in Los Angeles, I regularly hear guitarists marvel at how good the latest Squier by Fender guitars are for the price. The Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat is no exception. Aside from a few minor complaints, it's simply a well-made version of a design that's been tried and tested for decades at a very affordable price. All of our test instruments played well, sounded excellent and generally felt like a significantly more expensive guitar.

“I'm not a big fan of Strats,” said Ken Rosser, “but this one and the Yamaha are my absolute Darlings, the fret work is nice and the pickups sound good as long as you don't combine them with the switch, which thins out the sound too much. ” Fred Sokolow agreed: “Apart from the hum (which we will discuss below), I really liked everything about it.”

The Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat is an incredibly good guitar at a very low price. Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

A nice detail with this Squier is the use of a humbucker pickup in the bridge -Position, which is the reason for the HSS designation (humbucker single single). The humbucker – consists of two single-coil pickups that are interconnected and out of phase to suffocate background noise. It is somewhat quieter than single-coil pickups. However, it does not achieve the characteristic, wiry sound of single-coil pickups. Most rock guitarists mostly use the bridge pickup because it produces a brighter, sharper sound than the neck pickup. The HSS Bullet Strat thus delivers a stable and hum-free sound in many situations.

”Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat – Sound sample of our pick for best beginner electric guitar” on YouTube

The Bullet Strat is also in a SSS version with three single-coil pickups instead of a humbucker and two single coils (HSS) available. This setup was and is preferred by legendary Strat players like Jimi Hendrix or John Mayer; it gives you a brighter sound on the bridge pickup at the expense of more noise.

The Bullet Strat unfortunately has no pocket for gigs with – since Strats have been over 60 years ago, there is a huge selection of bags and suitcases. We have tried this here , and it worked really well for the low price.

With the Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat you cannot go wrong as a beginner. Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

The guitar is also available with an amplifier and other accessories ; In this for example is a Fender Frontman 10 G contains amplifier, cable, belt, picks and a tuner. However, please note that Fender is a really fantastic, yet small amplifier with integrated effects, the Champion 20 , for just a little more offers. We really recommend spending a little more and being a champion 20 to buy. It delivers almost every sound to almost any guitarist that he can imagine without any extra effects pedals. Read more about the champion 20 in our test report on the Best electric guitar amplifier for beginners (English) .

Because the HSS Bullet Stratocaster is not available for left-handers, we recommend the qualitatively similar, slightly more expensive Affinity Series Stratocaster . This guitar differs from our favorite in that it uses slightly better parts and has a higher quality finish (based on our experience with the Affinity Series Jazzmaster); it has a single-coil pickup instead of a humbucker in the bridge position (it sounds louder and also brighter); she also has a tremolo.

Who still likes the Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat?

Also GuitarFella tested the Bullet Strat (English) and came along with some minor complaints to the following conclusion: “The Strat wanted to be the ultimate beginner guitar. If you consider the influence Squier has with it they were successful with the project. ” AudioRumble (English) says the HSS Bullet Strat “sets the standard for all other budget guitars.” When we last looked, the average user rating on Amazon was only 4.4 out of 5 stars (34 reviews) – the only specific complaints related only to transport damage.

Small weaknesses, no deal breakers

A frequent complaint from our participants at the Bullet Strat was that the single-coil middle and neck pickups were buzzing too much. That is in the nature of single-coil pickups. The nice thing about the HSS Bullet Strat is that you have a humbucker. If you set the 5-way switch to combine the bridge and middle pickup or middle and neck pickup, the buzzing will also disappear. Using a single-coil pickup in the neck position makes it difficult to get soft, jazz-like tones that can be obtained with a humbucker in the neck position. We think that only a few beginners are looking for this sound.

Another little annoyance for our test participants were the two tone controls of the Bullet Strat. One for the middle pickup and the other for the neck pickup; there is no controller for the bridge pickup. Although this structure is based on the original design of the Stratocaster from the year 1954 goes down, it still initially seems unintuitive and confusing.

Detailed test report: Epiphone Les Pauls Express

All other small format guitars were much more extravagant. So I was more than a little surprised by the favorites of our teenage testers Alana and Charles: the Epiphone Les Paul Express won the race. It turned out that for our younger participants comfort was more important than the design – and for them the Les Paul Express was as comfortable as an old sweatshirt.

Ideal for children and travelers: the Epiphone Les Pauls Express. Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

“I like it because it's so light and easy,” said Alana with a weight of only 2.3 kg. “With this guitar, it's easier for me to get my hand around my neck,” said Charles. Both found the rounded upper shoulder of the Les Paul more pleasant than the “horns” of the other models. The smooth surface on the back of the neck also made the Les Pauls easier to play. The adults agreed. “I'm really surprised – this is pretty good for a small guitar,” says Ken Rosser.

”Epiphone Les Paul Express – Sound sample of our kids / travel pick for beginner electric guitar” YouTube

The Les Paul Express has everything a beginner needs – no frills. The controls are simple, but you can still tease out a decent range of sounds. In contrast to some very cheap guitars, the string height and intonation are individually adjustable. The Les Paul humbuckers have a softer sound than the Squier by Fender Mini Strat single-coil pickups – and they sound even softer than those of the other children's guitars with humbuckers. In addition, the buzz is missing as with the pickups of the Mini Strat.

The only real disadvantage are the tuners, which feel very cheap and cannot be turned cleanly – nevertheless they do their job. In a bag for normal electric guitars, the Les Paul Express will probably fly around a lot, but Epiphone offers for the express guitars quite cheap gig bags .

Everything you need as a beginner in an electric guitar – no frills. Wirecutter / Kyle Fitzgerald

Unfortunately I could not find a professional review of the Les Paul Express. Most recently, the Les Paul had an average of only 3.8 out of 5 stars from 17 user ratings on Amazon. However, most of the complaints came from people whose models weren't properly set up at the factory. That did not apply to the guitar, which we chose as our test winner. For the other tested Epiphone and for many of the cheaper Epiphones that I played in stores, this was already the case.

Other electric guitars in the test

We have more than 40 guitars considered and the 13 tested the most promising models. With a few exceptions, the instruments were of good quality and we can recommend pretty much everyone. Certain models could be a better choice for beginners who are only interested in a particular style – especially in terms of metal, which is clearly the main market for brands like Ibanez and Jackson.

Epiphone Les Paul SL : With its thin, super light body, this very cheap guitar feels rather thin and as if it were out of balance. The single-coil pickups hum loudly, many of the notes whir, and the rather primitive bridge does not allow individualization of string height and intonation.

Ibanez GRGA 120 Gio : This guitar is beautifully made and plays well, but the variety of sounds is rather limited. “The guitar is intended for a child who wants to play metal and nothing else,” said Ken Rosser of the guitar.

Ibanez GRGM 21 Micro: Although our younger testers were not exactly enthusiastic about this metal-oriented “mini ax”, Fred Sokolow and Ken Rosser both appreciated the smooth string position and their powerful sound. The Ibanez Micro is a good choice for everyone who wants to concentrate on heavy rock.

Jackson JS 11 Dinky : The powerful pickups of this guitar give it a sound that literally jumps out of the speakers and is even suitable for jazz. But even after a professional setup, a few notes were still buzzing, which indicates a rather mediocre fret.

Jackson Dinky Minion JS1X : Fred Sokolow, Ken Rosser and I loved the fat, robust sound of the pickups on this mini-sized ax. The way she played was phenomenal. Like the Ibanez GRGM 21 Micro is the Jackson the perfect choice for beginners with metal in focus.

Jackson Rhoads Minion JS1X : Many of the testers loved the sound and string position of this small V-shaped guitar, but it is practically impossible to play while sitting. In addition, it does not stay in tune for very long.

Squier by Fender Affinity Series Jazzmaster : The participants loved the beautiful workmanship of the Affinity Jazzmaster, which slightly exceeds that of the Bullet Series. Their weight and the shifted balance prevented them from becoming one of our favorites.

Squier by Fender Mini Strat : Our teenage testers liked the light, clear sound of the Mini Strat – but the hum of the single coils can get annoying. In addition, the design was less comfortable than that of our favorite, the Epiphone Les Pauls Express.

The Yamaha Pacifica PAC 012 is our champion , the Squier by Fender HSS Bullet Strat, very similar. It also has a more flexible tone control that some Squier testers even preferred. Unfortunately, the guitar was out of stock at the time of this test, so it could not secure second place.

Outlook: These innovations are coming up in the world of electric guitars

Research for this review started immediately after the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in January 2018 in Anaheim, California. During our time there we have no noteworthy innovations in electric guitar under 200 Dollar noticed – new guitars can appear at any time. We will continue to keep our eyes open and get our hands on them as soon as possible.


The contribution “The best electric guitar for beginners” is the German translation of the article “ The Best Electric Guitar for Beginners “by . The test was carried out in the USA and first on the Wirecutter website on July 2 2018 published in English. The CHIP -Testcenter was not involved in the investigation. We removed products that were not available in Germany at the time of the translation. These are the electric guitars: Indio 66 Classic and the Indio Retro DLX Quilted Maple.

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