Regardless of how many albums you sell or how much money you make, sometimes the perfect instrument for your needs is an off-the-shelf, inexpensive model. In fact, many modern-day touring musicians use guitars you could walk out of Guitar Center with or find online for pennies on the dollar.
From a masked metal icon to a new American R&B idol, you can easily find guitarists and bassists using affordable guitars, proving you don’t need to spend thousands to sound great.
For the purpose of this list, we look at ten popular musicians (three are technically in the same band) not named Jack White (whose affinity for lower-priced guitars is a thing of legend) who all regularly use or used electric guitars that retail for under $1000.
Gary Clark Jr: 2007 Epiphone Casino
Despite his rise to 21st century guitar hero status, one of Gary Clark Jr’s main guitars is still a 2007 Chinese-made Epiphone Casino. In a recent rig rundown for Premier Guitar (check it out above), Clark Jr’s guitar tech indicated it was important to him to play a guitar that his fans could afford. According to the same video, everything is pretty much still stock, off the shelf on the guitar, including the pickups, displaying that expensive gear doesn’t necessarily equate to great tone.
Fat Mike (NOFX): Danelectro DC Bass
While punk musicians aren’t exactly known for using expensive gear, Fat Mike of NOFX takes it to a new level with his sub-$500 bass guitar. Armed with his Danelectro DC Bass, Fat Mike has been a staple of the American new wave punk scene for decades with just a meager off the shelf bass guitar. But to be fair, when you’re playing packed punk clubs all over the world, maybe having a bass that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to replace is for the best…
Melanie Faye: Epiphone Genesis
Melanie Faye has quickly blossomed as one of the up and coming stars of modern electric guitar playing. Mixing her R&B and pop influences with the technical skill normally associated with rock guitarists, she has built up a huge social media following.
Recently, she was chosen by Fender to be one of the faces of their new Player Series, but before her Fender and D’Angelico sponsorships, she rocked out with a simple Epiphone Genesis. A quirky, solid-body HH style guitar, it’s nothing that will break the bank, but it clearly can provide both the inspiration and playability it took for Faye to develop into a world class player.
Beck: Silvertone 1448
Beck has always been a very individualistic musician, from his genre-bending music to his anti-folk background. So, it should come as no surprise that he uses an electric guitar nearly as unique as himself. Beck has been seen playing a Silvertone 1448 throughout the past few decades, a one pickup, entry level guitar available in the Sears catalogs of the 60s and 70s.
Interestingly enough, ever since Beck produced the last Cage the Elephant record, we’ve seen their lead guitarist, Brad Shultz, also pick up one of these inexpensive six strings.
Brandon Schwartzel, Elvis Kuehn, & Zac Carper (FIDLAR): Fender Mustang PJ Bass, Reverend Eastsider T, & Costco Spider Web Strat
FIDLAR, a California based quartet, have stirred up quite a bit of a frenzy since the release of their latest album in early 2019. Despite becoming one of the latest additions to Fender’s sponsorship family, the band has spent the last several years using super accessible gear. Leave it to the punks to once again do so much with so little…
Bassist Brandon Schwartzel plays a stock Fender Mustang PJ bass (about $550) with a few cosmetic details he added. Front man Zac Carper uses a Costco spider web guitar body, called a RG-80-SW, with a Strat replacement neck slapped on. While lead guitarist Elvis has since moved on to Fender American Jazzmasters and Teles, he spent quite a bit of their last tour using a sub-$1000 Reverend Tele copy called the Eastsider T.
Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest): MIM Fender Telecaster
Will Toledo is the front man, guitarist, and songwriter behind the awesome indie rock band Car Seat Headrest, named after his preference for recording demos in the privacy of his parked car. Throughout their recording and performance history, Toledo has used a humble Mexican-made Fender Telecaster.
While Toledo has recently put down the guitar for live performances to focus on being more of a front man, this basic Telecaster can be heard all over hit singles like Fill in the Blank and Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.
Jared James Nichols: Epiphone Old Glory Signature Model
While his more affordable Epiphone “Old Glory” signature model is based on a more expensive Gibson Les Paul Custom he customized, Jared James Nichols does still use the Epiphone model live on tour. He even admits in an interview with PMTV that some people are thrown off by him using an Epiphone, what many may think of as a lesser quality guitar brand.
This marks the third Epiphone user on this list of very accomplished musicians, maybe it’s time to re-think how the price tag relates to guitar quality?
Jim Root (Stone Sour & Slipknot): Modified Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster
Last but certainly not least we come to one of the faces of modern metal music, Jim Root. Root has developed some really high quality, and high-priced signature models with Fender that pair metal features such as active humbuckers with classic Fender designs. However, the inspiration for many of these pricey signature models came from his modification of an off the shelf Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster, which retails for around $500, give or take.
By replacing the bridge humbucker with an active EMG humbucker, while still retaining the neck Jazzmaster pickup, Root created one of his main stage guitars (he uses if for songs tuned down half a step) out of an incredibly affordable, MIM Fender.
Maybe you don’t need a new guitar after all?
We know, we know. We get it. For many guitar and bass players, there is always the urge to go out and get a new piece of gear. We dream of the guitar, amp, or pedalboard that will take our tone to that next level and inspire countless songs or riffs. The sad reality is that many of us cannot afford those vintage Les Paul’s or boutique creations our heroes play, but maybe you don’t even need them!
All these musicians have achieved wide commercial and critical success across pop, rock, metal, blues, and R&B using instruments some of you may already own. While you may still dream of that custom shop creation you want to own, don’t forget to plug in and practice with the guitar you have until that dream tone becomes a reality.
Some “vintage” guitars from Fender and Gibson were “cheap” student models and used by various musicians on numerous recordings we all still love to this day. The fact that they are overpriced now is irrelevant.
A lot of import guitars today are better made than some of these early model American manufactured ones. Will they be worth thousands in the future? What will the guitar hero’s of 2030 be playing, not $10,000 1990’s Squiers? LOL.
The most important factor is not the instrument, it is the player, always has been.
I have a 1977 Music Man Stingray I paid $220 for in the early 80’s, would it be considered a “cheap” bass now?
I play a Yamaha EG112. You can find them new for about $200 or so, and they come with an amp and gig bag. It’s THAT cheap. I always wanted a Fender, but they have always been very expensive, so I was planning on building my own with parts from Warmoth. But then I kinda though about it a bit and decided to simply upgrade my Yamaha. Bought good hardware, good electronics, converted it from an HSS to an SSS, put some Fender pickups in it, and it’s now even better than a Fender because it has high end hardware, a nice, slim neck, and the whole thing is much cheaper than a new Fender.
Best thing a beginner can do is buy a cheap, solid built guitar. I am obviously biased towards Yamaha here. If guitar is not for you, it wasn’t a big investment. But if you do like guitar, you can upgrade your guitar and make it be exactly what you want it to be.
Definitely agree! I started playing electric in the early ’60s, so no surprise that both of my first Fenders were a Tele and a Strat from the early ’60s! Now those guitars would be ‘way out of range, but no matter, because for stock solid body “value” guitars, I’ve been completely won over by G&L. However, now I’ve also gotten into hollow bodies, an Epiphone Casino and an Epiphone Custom Riviera P-93. Because these are not through-the-roof expensive guitars, I’ve been comfortable putting Tusq nuts, top-notch high-ratio tuners, and upgraded P-90 pickups into them. They HONK! I will probably play these beauties for the rest of my life, without any regrets that they aren’t 4-5 times as expensive nearly-identical models, which I’d be afraid to modify to suit my tastes, for fear of destroying their resale value. I’m not willing to settle for less: I’m proud of my babies. They sing for me.
One of Kenny Vaughn’s go to guitars is a 1984 Japan Squier Strat. $300 guitar.
I was sure Jack Pearson would be on the list, being famous for using Squire and Bullet stratocasters, instead of Fender branded guitars. In recent years Jack acquired some more expensive guitars, but still plays his Squires all the time. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever heard, check-out his videos, or with Allman Brothers!
I recently picked up an Epiphone EJ-200. And yes its laced up with StringJoys. But the guitar has been a pleasant surprise. I can’t imagine getting more for the same amount of money. It doesn’t have the playability that a Gibson would have but I think there is a lot of room for improvement by simply doing a good set up on it. The string height is a little high for my taste. But I think there’s plenty of room to fix that. I haven’t put it down in weeks.
I had always told my friends and colleagues that Epiphone was, in my opinion, the way to go for great guitar value and tone. This article pretty much validates my long-standing views and should solidify Epiphone as the premier shop for guitarists of all sorts.
Here are some reasons why I love Epiphone guitars:
– 1. They look, feel and play just like the comparable gibson model and you can always swap out pickups for tonal variety.
– 2. Ever since Gibson took up the practice of chambering the bodies of their Les Paul models (last I checked they still are), it actually killed a lot of the qualities that make the guitar sound the way it does. With the body chambered, it does lessen the weight and back strain you endure, but it also takes away the vast majority of sustain you would normally get from an intact resonating mahogany body. Epiphone does not chamber their bodies so you get that original Les Paul sound that is so sought after.
– 3. The price/value is very good for pretty much every model they offer. When you buy Epiphone you know you’re not only getting a quality product but one that you can feel happy knowing you weren’t fleeced by name recognition.
– 4. The hardware and knob placement is pretty much ideal except for the pickup switch, but some people actually like where it is for easy swapping. When I play brands like Ibanez and others, the knobs tend to be in spots where I inadvertently end up turning my volume down and that can be problematic in a live setting. Some people might not have that issue but I play mainly with my hand near the bridge so this might not apply to all players.
Here’s some things that I feel could use improvement when it comes to Epiphone guitars:
– 1. Neck speed and playability are not as optimal as other core brands. You can set up your guitar as best you can but the action will still never be like a PRS. That’s just life. Most people, like me, are into Epiphone for the tone and not playability so as long as you know this going in and are prepared to work your fingers a lil harder, your efforts won’t go unrewarded.
– 2. The “tunomatic” bridges tend to eat my strings. Once again, it could be my playstyle but when using certain picking and strumming techniques I sometimes dig in to the strings with my palm near the bridge and after a while the strings will break right on the points. I have sanded them down and it’s helped a little. Maybe it’s the string gauge cuz I play 13s so again this might not be a common problem.
– 3. They’re just really heavy guitars and chances are you’ll end up replacing some hardware after a few years of frequent use. I’ve done a lot of hardware swaps for friends and the main culprits tend to be the pickup switch and the jack. Plus, the wire harnesses for the pickups are ridiculously short.
In my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons and i’ll always be an Epiphone guy unless i’m looking for something very specific or unique.
I have bought expensive guitars etc.
But once I really wanted to know MY guitar I made a few changes. I quit buying factory made guitars and just bought the cheapest I could find. As an example a telecaster “style” guitar. 150.00 brand new. Take out all the components remove the strings.
Replace with pickups and pots of my choosing, set up the neck how I play, set the action where I want it, set the tonation to perfection and make sure I’m using a good quality set of Stringjoy strings.
End result is a guitar that sounds like nothing you can buy “off the shelf” and this puts a big smile on your face.
Learn your craft and be your own tech. You’ll learn so much more about your guitar!
I actually prefer used or guitars under 1k, my most recent acquisition is a used Warmouth Telecaster with a solid Koa body Fender specked heavily flamed maple neck & board 7.25 radius with vintage style pups. What and inspiration this guitar has been to me and for under $750 dollars this dog got a bone.
I completely agree. I have a 78 SG Standard that if bought at today’s prices would cost about $2500….but the guitar I’m playing and loving is a Harley Benton DC Custom cherry from Thomann in Germany. With a case, the guitar, customs charges and shipping charges it cost me $272. I plan to do some mods as I’ve never owned a guitar that was just what I wanted stock but this guitar already plays as good as some guitars you would pay over $1000 for. I’ve played some nice Epiphone Les Paul guitars and would rather have the HB. I took the bridge down until it bottomed out without any buzzing frets. I then took it back up to a height I prefer but still with extremely low action. My Gibson guitars won’t go this low without some issues and that includes the 78 SG that was pleked at Glaser Instruments a few years ago. What I’ve basically said in a lengthy manner is that the inexpensive guitars for sale today are built to a much higher standard than what you could buy in the 70s, 80s and maybe the 90s. When I started playing in 1973 there were no low priced guitars available that would play well without a luthier’s work, something most young musicians can’t afford. You can buy a guitar today for $100 that is acceptable for a beginner’s guitar and maybe even professional players. A few mods and for less than $500 you can have an excellent instrument.
Last paragraph sums it all up to the “T”…