Best "upgradeable" inexpensive guitar

JoeGags

Member
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285
This is a noobie question, and I apologize in advance if the wording is clunky.

What inexpensive guitar ($200 or so either way) would you buy with the purpose of swapping out the pickups? Stuff like straight neck, decent fretwork, ect. but sounds bad because of the pickups. Or put another way, is there a cheap guitar that, if you changed the pickups, would be something you consider worth more than the sum of its parts? Thanks a lot - any suggestions grately welcomed
 

Jayyj

Silver Supporting Member
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8,000
The difficulty is many cheap guitars are excellent platforms for modding but the reason they're cheaper is often because the manufacturer went with cheaper parts to keep the cost down, so by the time you've upgraded everything you end up with an expensive guitar after all, in which case you might as well just buy a more expensive one to begin with.

For me, the compelling reasons to get into the upgrade thing are because you already have a cheap guitar you love and would like to tweak it a bit to deal with a few little niggles, because you can only afford a cheap guitar now but might have a little more money you can put into it further down the line, or because you enjoy the process of choosing the parts for yourself and ending up with something unique and tailor made.

Buying a cheap guitar and immediately upgrading it only really makes sense is if the third one fits you - buying a cheap guitar and upgrading it so you have something more than the sum of its parts seems wishful thinking unless you make very careful choices to suit you.

$200 or so is in danger territory for poor fretwork and even funny shaped necks that are hard to adjust to a satisfactory position, so it's not just the components that are cheap. That said, I've played Squier Affinitys with lovely necks that punched well above their weight with a crown and polish.
 

poppunk

Member
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774
$200 or so is in danger territory for poor fretwork and even funny shaped necks that are hard to adjust to a satisfactory position, so it's not just the components that are cheap. That said, I've played Squier Affinitys with lovely necks that punched well above their weight with a crown and polish.
If you can go play them at a store and find one that has good fretwork, it can be good. But if you're blindly ordering it online, it's a gamble.

I've done full fret levels on guitars in this range, and so many of them are total nightmares. A couple of them were so out of whack with low frets the amount of material I had to take off most the other frets was insane. Normally you'd replace frets in that situation, but there were more than a couple; and who is refretting a $200 guitar?

My daughter's main guitar is in this cheapo range, she just had to have it because of the color and shape. Well it was a real pain to level, and the neck has no more relief travel in it, it just barely gets where it needs to be.

If OP is a "newbie" to guitars and is trying to figure out how to price optimize, they should consider saving/spending more money than this if they're serious. You can get by on a $200 guitar, but if you stick with it the likelihood of it limiting your ability to improve starts to kick with it over a long period of time. Unless you get lucky or have some work done to it, which just drives up the price when you could have spent more on something better anyway.
 

Jayyj

Silver Supporting Member
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8,000
If you can go play them at a store and find one that has good fretwork, it can be good. But if you're blindly ordering it online, it's a gamble.

I've done full fret levels on guitars in this range, and so many of them are total nightmares. A couple of them were so out of whack with low frets the amount of material I had to take off most the other frets was insane. Normally you'd replace frets in that situation, but there were more than a couple; and who is refretting a $200 guitar?

My daughter's main guitar is in this cheapo range, she just had to have it because of the color and shape. Well it was a real pain to level, and the neck has no more relief travel in it, it just barely gets where it needs to be.
Yeah, that's the problem, they're not consistently good - the other thing I find is the trussrods don't always adjust the neck very evenly so even with good fret work it's a pain dialling them in. The odd one is brilliant though!
 
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783
Tons of ‘em. Without knowing what you’re looking for (bolt-on vs set neck, humbuckers be single coil, term vs hard tail vs stop bar vs wrap tail, single cutaway vs double, etc.), it’s difficult to make a specific recommendation.

So I’ll just give you some brand names.

Yamaha
Ibanez
ESP Ltd
Squier
Epiphone
Aria
Harley Benton
Michael Kelly
Agile
Dillion

Loads of others as well. Try before you buy if possible. If that’s not an option, then Yamaha imo has very consistent quality control at all price ranges. There’s a good reason they’re first on the list. I don’t think they make any lemons.

Search the used market for an even better score. Once you have something in mind type it into google search, add the word “forum”, as opposed to “review”. That will give you better real-world buzz from regular users, rather than a paid reviewer or someone on YouTube who may receive freebies in exchange for positive press.

Also be prepared to change out more than just the pickups. Pots, caps, wiring, tuners, nut, bridge, etc., may also need upgrading depending on what you end up with.
 

BrokenRomeo

Silver Supporting Member
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2,227
I’ve had good luck with guitars in the $250-300 price range when on sale at MF, from Mitchell, Squier and Epiphone...most didn’t even need new pickups.
 

Bob T.

Member
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2,737
I picked up a new Squier Bullet HT HSS strat a few months ago as a way for me to start learning more about modifying guitars from set up, pickup swaps, etc. For that purpose, I think it is great! I probably got a bit lucky with mine because it played pretty well out of the box. After I set it up the way I like it (action just a tad higher than others like it with small strings), it sure is a real fun strat to play!

And.... it's FREAKING SHELL PINK! :banana
 

gulliver

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
9,865
Sometimes you can find '80s MIJ guitars with an off-name (Vantage is one I've owned); but made in a respectable factory. Shoot for Strat types rather than Les Paul types. A Les Paul copy with a glued on neck will probably demand a good price. LP w/ bolt on neck is worthless.
 

JoeGags

Member
Messages
285
Thanks a lot for all the replies so far - Here's more to the story. I am actually asking on behalf of my son. He is 14 years old and started playing this past july. He started on my old Harmony strat copy from 1987 or so. I never took to it, and that guitar sat idle for over 30 years - he saw it in the spare room, strung it up, and asked to take lessons. He really took to it. Bought him an Epi Les Paul (Pro III maybe?) for Christmas. He likes it a lot, and is saving up for his next guitar. He is into metal, pretty heavy, lots of distortion. I Figured I'd ask this question to see if it is a viable option.
 

Benz2112

Memba?
Gold Supporting Member
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5,227
Cheap imports are a ton better than they were just 20 years ago. There is a decent chance you can pick something up cheap that is a fun and playable guitar. Now, whether or not it would thus be a good platform for modding is kind of a different story. It comes down to whether the juice is worth the squeeze. Like I said, you can probably find something fun and playable, but being worthwhile to put money into is something else. If I had the choice between a $200 guitar with $300 worth of mods, or a $500 guitar, I'd take the $500 guitar every time.
 

doc

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,080
Get a vintage made in USA Peavey Predator for about $150. Deck the trem and replace tuners. Cut out the pickguard for a humbucker in bridge, replace pickups with EMGs and put the battery behind the trem block. Instant metal madness.
 

Artjr

Silver Supporting Member
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2,674
I found a mid 90s Hamer Slammer Series MIK for $125 install some Gravlin PAFs .I’d put it up against any PRS SE out there
 

doc

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7,080
What about just upgrading the Epiphone he already has?
 

shupe13

Member
Messages
1,131
Imho:

The Stratocaster, the Ibanez RG and most Epiphone guitars. I base my opinion on availability of parts/manufacturers and expense.
 

JoeGags

Member
Messages
285
What about just upgrading the Epiphone he already has?
Like anyone here - he wants more guitars!

That is of course a good option, but he would like something different to play around with. He likes what he has, but he is really becoming interested in exploring different tones, body styles, and the like. The other day he said he would also like to take blues focused lessons to expand his skill set
 

JmpOne

Member
Messages
524
I'd be looking at a used Squier or Mexican Strat. There's a huge number of pickups, online wiring schemes, trems, locking tuners etc readily available. Also anything that fits is relatively easily moved to another more upmarket Strat at a later point.

That said Yamaha, Fernandes, Tokai, Vintage are all makes where I've come across decent instruments at modest prices. If you're in the UK add Gordon Smith, for more Gibson styled guitars.
 




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