Which is the best electric guitar for a beginner?

I generally recommend to new players and to parents that they choose a used example of a popular standard model of professional quality that will retain its resale value. Not only will the instrument generally be easier to play and sound better, it will be either a life-long investment, or if the student loses interest, the investment can be recouped 100% in the secondary market.

A US-made Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster or Gibson Les Paul will always hold its value well, provided it is well kept. Some models may even appreciate in price over time.

The “best” guitar, assuming that we are speaking of instruments that meet a sufficient quality standard, is ultimately the one that inspires you to play more often and improve your playing.

My first electric guitar was a hand-me-down/loaner from my father, an early 1980s Japanese made Epiphone Emperor F full-size hollowbody jazz guitar, which I never gave back to him. Not that he needed it—he had plenty of other guitars. When I eventually went to purchase a guitar for myself, I had thought I wanted a Fender Telecaster, and was looking at a brand new American Standard Telecaster for about $500 USD (circa 1990), when I decided instead to purchase a brand new 1990 Rickenbacker 330 for about $900 USD, making up part of the difference in price by convincing my mother to allow me to trade in the Bundy student-grade clarinet that my sister simply didn’t play, because I felt the tone was more generally versatile than the very distinctive Telecaster. 26 years later, that Rickenbacker is still my main electric guitar.

At the point I picked up guitar, I’d been a musician for about 15 years, even though I was only about 20 when I started on guitar, and coming from a musical family, I had no qualms about purchasing a professional-level instrument. My father had been hounding me ever since I was a child to take up guitar, so he was naturally thrilled when I finally did, so much so that he offered to buy me a Paul Reed Smith Artist model. This was back in the days when Paul Reed Smith guitars (not PRS Guitars) were handmade in a small shop, instead of factory made on CNC machines. Not to knock the new ones—to the contrary, they are drool-worthy. In fact, if you can find a used PRS for a decent price, go with that, and you might never want for another guitar.

I very stupidly refused this, because even though the early Paul Reed Smith guitars practically play themselves, they feel so good in your hands, I felt embarrassed by the idea of my father purchasing a $1500-2000 guitar for me when I could barely even play, yet, but had I said yes, that guitar would be worth anywhere from $10K to 50K, today (and I probably would have long since sold it for the money). Instead, I “borrowed” the Epiphone from him, and got him to buy me an amp for $600, an Ampeg VH-140C 2×12 140W stereo combo with chorus and reverb. I gigged that amp with my band for years, until I ended up switching to bass in my band. I still have that amp, too, though it needs a repair.

Over the years, I’ve bought and sold a lot of gear. Stay in the used market, if possible. Eventually you may find, once you achieve a measure of proficiency, that there is some particular model you cannot find used, and then you might consider purchasing new, but always remember that wood generally gets better with age, and in the modern era, the quality of wood that used to be commonly available just simply isn’t. If I had bought a 26 year old Rickenbacker in 1990, that would have a been a 1964 model.

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