The holidays are upon us and I've already taken time today to respond to the parents of two students wondering about buying and electric guitar for their respective son and daughter. So, I thought a post on shopping for electric guitars was in order. Getting an electric guitar for Christmas, Hanukkah, birthday or just because you are loved, is incredibly exciting! It's like your rock and roll dreams are greeting you and ushering in a new era fraught with the possibility of utter coolness! I'm focussing on guitars that are under $500.
My number one guitar on the list is the Fender Stratocaster ($411.70 at Musicians Friend) made in Mexico. In my mind, this guitar is nearly impossible to beat. Frankly if you blindfolded me and asked me to tell the difference between the made in Mexico model (MIM) and the good old made in the USA guitar, I confess I don't think I can tell the difference. Granted there are people who are possibly more discerning and will know the difference but from my perspective this one is awesome.
If that one is out of your budget then the next thing I would consider is the Fender Squire Affinity line. Of note you can get the Affinity in a package deal with a 10 or 15 watt practice amp for about $250. I saw this one available at Guitar Center, Music and Arts, and I'm sure you will find it locally at Ye Olde Music in Hanahan and Shem Creek Music in Mt Pleasant. If you can buy from a local store, please support them!
Ok, then if you are considering the super cheapie line, the first thing is please don't buy your guitar at Walmart, Target, or any such store that does not really specialize in musical instruments. The other thing is that if you order this online and have any problems then you will have the headache of dealing with that. I don't order for the most part order instruments online (shoot, I just remembered that I actually, against the wishes of my son's cello teacher bought his cello online. hmm... it ended up being fine but I'm still of the mindset that it's better to actually buy it in person at a local store). I have had a fair number of students through the years buy things online that were just not that good and there can be a wide variance of quality at these lower price points. At the Guitar Center value page you will find the Dean Vendetta, and the Yamaha Gig Maker.
A few other lower end brands that I like include Jay Turser (I actually own a cheap Jay Turser strat, I replaced the pickups and the tuners but this is a pretty decent guitar, I play and teach on it all the time), and Cort (Shem Creek carries Cort, they actually have some really nice guitars!)
One last item. Your electric guitar is only as good as the amp it's going through. My $99 Jay Turser sounds fantastic in my Laney tube amp. My Gibson Les Paul sounds like trash in my $75 practice amp. So, if possible budget it out with at least half your cost going to the amp. I'm not that knowledgeable about amps but I will throw out there that I am partial to the line 6 modeling amps. I personally have a 75 watt jam amp and I've had a number of students buy the lower end practice amps.
Happy Shopping and rock on!