I’ve bought and played a lot of guitars, and a question I wondered about when I first got into playing guitar was how much should I spend on a guitar, and how much does a good guitar cost? Here’s what I found.
As a general rule, a good guitar costs $350 or more. A guitar cheaper than $350 generally performs poorly when played loudly and when you play the lowest and highest notes. Overall, a guitar cheaper than $350 sounds OK but has noticeable sound imperfections.
The more expensive the guitar the higher quality the finishings, better construction and better the sound quality. But, many people wonder whether buying a good guitar is worth it, and whether you should buy an expensive or cheap guitar.
In this article, I will explain the sound differences for the guitars are the different price points, cheap, mid-range, and expensive so you can get a really good idea about what guitar is right for you.
Different Priced Guitars and How They Differ
What can be considered a good guitar can be up to personal preference but there are general differences between guitars in the different price ranges. Here’s a table that shows how guitars differ based on their price:
|Price range||Quality||Distinguishing characteristics|
|$150 to $200||Cheap guitars – low end||Sounds OK. Generally has a twangy/metallic sound. Extreme ends of the range don’t produce a good tone.|
|$350 to $1,000||Mid range – good guitar||Sounds mostly perfect. Minor sound imperfections at the extreme ends of the tonal range.|
|$1000 to $7,000||High end – very good||Extremely good and clear sound, the best sound you can get from a guitar.|
|$7,000 +||Extremely high end – collectors items||Collectors items such as a guitar owned by Jimmi Hendrix. Or guitars that are finished with expensive materials like gold, silver, or gemstones.|
Analysis done in this study showed that the most sold guitar brands in the USA are:
- PRS Guitars
Fender is the clear winner, which Gibson is a clear second. The rest of the most popular guitar brands – Ibanez, Epiphone, and PRS Guitars are quite similar in popularity and are quite close in terms of the 4th, 5th, and the 6th most popular guitar.
I put together tables for the top 3 most popular guitar brands that shows what price their guitars are for both acoustic and electric guitars:
Fender Guitars Price Range
|Price range||Fender Acoustic Guitars||Fender Electric Guitars|
|$300 to $500||24||6|
|$750 to $1000||9||23|
|$1000 to $1250||9||26|
|$1250 to $1500||0||20|
|$1500 to $2000||2||33|
|$2000 to $2500||2||27|
|$2500 to $3000||2||4|
With Fender guitars you can see that most of their acoustic guitars are in the $500 price range. Whereas, most of their electric guitars and in the range of $1000 to $2000.
Gibson Guitars Price Range
|Price range||Gibson Acoustic Guitars||Gibson Electric Guitars|
|$300 to $500||0||0|
|$750 to $1000||0||0|
|$1000 to $1250||0||3|
|$1250 to $1500||0||1|
|$1500 to $2000||3||3|
|$2000 to $2500||5||2|
|$2500 to $3000||4||7|
Gibson acoustic guitars are more expensive than Fender guitars and are about $1000 and up. Gibson electric guitars are $1000 and up.
Ibanez Guitars Price Range
|Price range||Ibanez Acoustic Guitars||Ibanez Electric Guitars|
|$300 to $500||1||0|
|$750 to $1000||0||0|
|$1000 to $1250||1||0|
|$1250 to $1500||0||9|
|$1500 to $2000||2||27|
|$2000 to $2500||0||10|
|$2500 to $3000||0||15|
Ibanez acoustic guitars range in price from under $300 to $2000. On the other hand, Ibanez electric guitars start at $1250 and go all the way up to over $3000.
For a good guitar on the lower end at around the $350 price range, Fender has the best selection. Whereas, the other most popular guitar brands – Gibson and Ibanez – have fewer options at the $350 price range. Gibson guitars in particular start at $1500 and up from there.
Is Buying a Good Guitar Worth It?
As a beginner you won’t have the experience to notice a difference between a low end guitar and a midrange or expensive guitar. Therefore, it makes more sense to dip your toe in the water and start off with a low end guitar.
Once you develop some experience you will appreciate a mid range guitar or an expensive guitar. A low end guitar – one that costs around $150 sounds perfectly fine. And I found mine was really enjoyable to play and had a great sound.
Overall, buying a good guitar is worth it. As a beginner though, it’s best to get a cheap guitar as you won’t really notice the difference, and may not have decided you like playing guitar. But, the sound quality and look of a good guitar makes it worth it if you already play it quite often.
The first guitar I got, I got for free from a friend because it had a very bent neck, which made the strings really far away from the fretboard, and was very difficult to play. On top of that because I was learning and I hadn’t developed any calluses it was even more difficult.
Later on, I upgraded to the cheapest steel string guitar, which I bought from my local guitar store for $150. Interestingly, I found when I played for some friends on my new guitar that has low action, they thought I was way better at playing.
The big difference between a guitar over and under $350
The first guitar I got was a second hand steel string that had a particularly high action. The action is the distance between the strings and fret board. Needless, to say it was very difficult to learn on.
I noticed a huge difference between my old guitar with a low action and my new acoustic steel string guitar that I paid $150 for. I love playing guitar so much more and I would practice Metallica songs for hours and hours.
The best way I can describe it is that a cheap guitar sounds like an audio speaker that it turned up too loud. As you play loudly the sound peaks out, and you get a noticeable twangy sound.
And after that I wanted to get into classical and flamenco style so I bought a mid range classical guitar for $350. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I bought it.
There was a huge difference in sound between my $150 guitar and my $350. The $350 guitar was much softer sounding, more resonant, and just sounded way better.
Avoid guitars with a high action. The action is the distance between the strings and the fretboard.
When a guitar has a high action you have to press harder on the strings, and it’s much more difficult to play. Whereas, a guitar with a low action – where the strings are very close to the fretboard – you barely need to press at all.
Classical guitars (nylon strings) and steel string guitars
The other main consideration is that some people prefer a classical guitar to a steel string guitar. After playing my steel string for about 6 months I realised I prefer a classical guitar. Since I’m quite tall, over 6 feet, my fingers are quite long.
I found that since a classical guitar neck is wider, and there was more space in between the frets, I found it easier to play than a steel string. But, even people with long and skinny fingers OR short and thick fingers can play both a steel string and a classical guitar easily.
For example, Andres Segovia, one of the most famous classical guitarists, had short, thick fingers.
How Much Does the Average Guitar Cost
Brand new and second hand guitars are general broken down in 3 broad categories:
- Cheap guitars/low end – $150 to $200
- Mid range guitars – $500 to $700
- Expensive guitars – Anything over $1000
The highest quality guitars you can buy are from brands like Fender, Martin, and Ibanez. Their acoustic, electric, and electric bass guitars cost around $4,000 brand new. These are considered the best guitars on the market.
Over $7,000 you don’t get better sound quality
But, any guitar that is more expensive than over about $7,000 you are paying more for the finishings, or for some reasons such as it is a collectors item. Guitars owned by famous guitarists like Jimmi Hendrix can sell for $100,000 or more.
Many people wonder whether a guitar comes with a case. I recently looked at the top guitar brands, and summarized what I’ve found as I’ve looked around a tonne of guitar stores. I summarize it in this article about whether guitars come with a case.[LINK]
“The sound quality of a guitar doesn’t get better if you may more than $7,000
There is a significant sound difference between a $150 guitar and a $4,000 guitar. And there is also a significant sound quality difference between a $150 guitar and a $500. The major difference is the sound of a more expensive guitar has a noticeably fuller, clearer sound.
You do reach a point of diminishing returns, and there is not a direct relationship between price and sound quality. For example, if a guitar is twice as expensive it won’t sound twice as good. So, if you buy a $1000 guitar it won’t sound twice as good as a $500 guitar.
Do Cheap Guitars Sound Worse?
I often wondered how a cheap guitar and an expensive guitar sound side by side. I did some research and looked at a bunch of examples and here’s what I found.
Generally, cheap guitars sound worse than more expensive guitars. Cheap guitars do not sound as good at the extreme ends of the note range. Such as, the first, second and third frets of the top/low E string. Cheap guitars also tend to produce a characteristic twang when played loudly.
As a beginner you won’t generally notice it too much unless you compare two guitars side by side. And cheap guitars generally sound quite good, and are easy to play.
Here is a video that shows two guitars side by side: a $150 guitar and $5,000 guitar. Listen to see if you hear the difference.
I’ve played a lot of guitars and have a well developed ‘ear’. This is something that you naturally develop after listening to a lot of music, and different guitars. So, I could personally tell the difference between the two guitars in the video.
However, as an absolute beginner you may not be able to tell much of a difference between a cheap guitar and an expensive guitar.
Should I Buy Cheap or Expensive Guitar?
So, now that you’re aware of the major difference between expensive and cheap guitars and I am too, you still kind of wonder whether you should buy one over the other. Here’s the main reasons you should buy an expensive guitar over a cheap guitar.
As a beginner you should buy a cheap guitar. However, as you gain some experience and if you find you want to continue learning guitar, then getting an expensive guitar can be worth it. A cheap guitar still sounds perfectly fine. But, expensive guitars sound and look better.
You could also consider getting a mid range guitar rather than an expensive guitar. A mid range guitar costs around $350 to $900 and generally has a much better sound than a $150 guitar.
There are also some additional reasons why it can make sense to get a cheap guitar. I covered the 3 main reasons in this article about whether cheap guitars sound bad.
Well there you have it, feel free to leave a comment with any questions you have, or any thoughts or experiences.