Hot Little Numbers

Like Ford and Honda drivers who pine over Ferraris and Maseratis, any guitarist worthy of his or her G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) marvels at mega-buck vintage models, unique custom-shop creations, and other high-ticket beauties. But, for most, these dream instruments will stay parked in the realm of reverie. In the world of players with limited discretionary funds, the real action is in the budget arena. Online forums constantly debate the value, playability, workmanship, and tones of affordable models from numerous makers, and there’s an almost Crusades-like fervor in discovering new guitars that deliver maximum delight for minimum dollars. And, as many a forum member has learned, bashing the fave $300 guitar of a posse of acolytes can unleash a tsunami of online flames. You just don’t mess with someone’s beloved “big value” guitar.
Publish date:
Updated on

So to provide a meaty summary of what’s currently available for street prices of under $500, the GP staff sent out roundup invitations to 50 guitar manufacturers. The 35 makers represented here are the full account of those who wished to participate. Of those who declined, two companies were in the process of redesigning their lines (Malden and Xaviere), several makers didn’t have current models that met the price point (Carvin, Ernie Ball, Framus, Hagstrom, and others), Rondo opted to showcase just one of their many lines (Agile), and the others did not respond to repeated requests.

To continue the 2007 roundup policy of bringing in diverse viewpoints to inform GP’s final ratings, every editor was tasked with evaluating every guitar (with the exception of Jude Gold, who was on tour with BX3). Each guitar was tested through a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar Special and a Budda Limited Edition Tenth Anniversary Twinmaster. Cables used include a Core One Bullet Cable, an Accusound Silver Studio Pro, and models by Mogami and Planet Waves. To further promote comprehensive and varied assessments, we invited two members of the GP online forum to review the guitars (see the sidebar, “Peer Review Duo” below).

We’re also trying out a new way of imparting information by breaking critical elements into categories and giving each category a numerical rating (averaged from the total ratings culled from all the individual staff editors). This tactic is obviously inspired by the savvy “circle” ratings utilized by Consumer Reports, and we hope it makes it easier for readers to assess a vast quantity of qualitative data. The numbers should be translated as follows: 1 = poor, 2 = below average, 3 = average, 4 = very good, and 5 = excellent. In addition, every editor offers his own personal “tasting notes” for each model (although most redundant comments were deleted from the chart).

The staff has expended a lot of effort and brainpower to ensure these big product roundups deliver the data readers need to make better-informed purchase decisions. Please help GP continue to improve its review processes by visiting our forums at, and letting us know what you liked, and didn’t like, about this under-$500 guitar roundup.

Please download the "Hot Little Numbers Guide" in the attachments column to the right.