If you're looking for an electric, acoustic-electric, or bass guitar that turns heads and makes you smile every time you see it, then you're looking for something fancy. If you're on a tight budget, however, fancy can be hard to come by. Thankfully, if you know where to look, the market has many fancy, cheap models out there just waiting for you to notice them.
Hold On: How Cheap Is Cheap?
Cheap is a relative term, certainly. In the guitar market, any fancy, quality guitar under $400 or even below $500 is considered cheap. High-end fancy guitars usually start at around $1,500 (or higher). The following guitars represent some of the cheapest fancy guitars on the market.
Michael Kelly 1953 Blue Jean Wash
The Michael Kelly 1953 is one of the most gorgeous electric guitars on the market, and it happens to be one of the most affordable at about $400. It is not made by a knock-off discount manufacturer but by one of the most respected custom boutique guitar makers in the world: Michael Kelly. Besides its irresistible blue jean wash finish and vintage Telecaster style, the 1953 has the following jaw-dropping features that make it hard to believe the guitar is so affordable:
- Boutique custom pickup mod called the Quad Mod that allows a fourth pickup combo option that uses the neck and bridge pickup in a creative way
- Single-coil Rockfield pickups designed especially for the 1953 model
- All-alder body
- Flame maple top
- Die cast turning keys
- Chrome hardware
The following video from a NAMM convention shows off some of the 1953's specs, including its unique Blue Jean Wash color.
Ibanez Artcore Semi-Hollow
Semi-hollow electric guitars combine the elegant fanciness of artisan-carved semi-hollow acoustic guitar styles with electric rock and roll. Ibanez offers a gorgeous, almost custom-looking semi-hollow Artcore model with a budget price at about $300. The following video will give you great visuals of this guitar's very fancy, beautiful design and sound.
This second video of the Ibanez shows its other color, flat transparent red. (It will also make you smile because the fantastic guitar reviewer steals the show with his superb accent and winning personality.)
Schecter C-6 Plus Ocean Blue Burst
Schecter's gorgeous ocean blue burst C-6 Plus is not only an amazing looking instrument that will wow anyone who sees you shredding, it is made by one of the premier custom shops in the world: Schecter Guitar Research. They are famous for making the custom models that The Who and Dire Straits started using in the '70s, and they are a renowned company. The guitar, which only costs about $320-a shockingly low price for an original Schecter design-has amazing features, including:
- Quilted maple top
- The famous Schecter Diamond Plus pickups
- Great woods: basswood body and rosewood fingerboard
- Tune-O-Matic bridge with the String Thru Body design
This second video of the C-6 gives you a better look at the Ocean Blue Burst.
Michael Kelly Element 5Q Aged Cherryburst
This chic, retro-flavored five-string Michael Kelly Element 5Q bass, with its beautiful aged cherryburst, is one of this boutique shop's low-frequency treasures. Considering it's a custom-styled Michael Kelly five-string bass with some incredible mods added to it that you'd only expect from a multi-thousand dollar custom bass, it is a steal at about $470.
Features include these phenomenal mods:
- MK Element bass pickups by Rockfield with an over-wound classic pickup performance blended with a newly developed Element Active Circuit
- Stacked tone pot with separate bass and treble controls
- Blend knob that allows you to sweep from one pickup to the other or mix the two pickups at varying degrees
- Bypass switch that allows you to flip from active to a vintage passive tone
You can also get the 4Q, a slightly cheaper 4-string version that has the same color and design. The following video demonstrates the gorgeous look and sound of the 5Q.
Danelectro '59M NOS+
Danelectro has been creating stylish, affordable, and great sounding electric guitars since 1947. Originally distributed only through department stores, today Danelectros are synonymous with cool, chic, retro, and rock and roll. The Beatles-esque Dano '59M NOS+ is a throwback to the guitar that started it all for Danelectro, and it only costs about $400.
Gretsch G2655 Streamliner in Flagstaff Sunset Red
The G2655 Streamliner Center-Block Jr. with Double Cutaway by Gretsch Guitars is a sparkling gem in Gretsch's renowned line-up of guitars. Besides its stunning color, Flagstaff Sunset (presumably named after the shade of sunset in the beautiful mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona), it has the following fancy features:
- The Gretsch-exclusive BroadTron humbucking pickup, which has powerful lows, well-defined mids and sparkling highs
- An innovative lightweight spruce center block that runs through the length of the guitar and helps the guitar avoid unwanted feedback. This means this guitar is designed to perform at extremely high levels of gain without squealing and shattering everyone's eardrums.
- Gretsch V stoptail tailpiece, which has a very unusual look that most guitars do not have (thus making this one especially fancy) in which the tailpiece is shaped like an arrow
- Beautiful wood-carved "f" shapes that reveal a semi-hollow body
- Classic double cutaway body
- Vintage-styled black knobs
- Two-ply white and black body binding that adds an elegant accent around the edges that highlights the guitar's shape
You might think a guitar this fancy would cost a couple thousand at least. In truth, it's only about $450, which is an incredible steal considering the quality and fancy features that Gretsch has put into the Streamliner. And players love it. Recording artist Carly Gibson talks in detail about why she loves the model in the following video.
And this video gives you a nice up-close look at the guitar's features and sound quality.
Michael Kelly Forte Exotic JE
Michael Kelly's Forte Exotic JE has one of the most innovative, eye-catching acoustic-electric designs on the market, and it is made by one of the premier boutique shops in the world. This makes it hard to believe it only costs about $300. Features include:
- Integrated Fishman electronics, which has onboard volume and tone controls mounted inside the soundboard
- Michael Kelly's patented Port Technology, which uses an offset soundhole approach and a new bracing design inside the guitar that enhances the sound and allows easy access for plugging in without needing a hole cut into the wood of the guitar for an input jack
Dean Dimebag Razorback
If you want something a little more metal but still just as eye-catching with its concept and design, the Dean Dimebag Razorback, which looks like a lightning bolt caught in mid-air, sends just the right visual message. It costs about $300, and its features incude the following:
- The legendary Dimebag Darrell guitar tone
- Pearl razor inlay
- Maple neck and rosewood fingerboard
- Dimebag traction knobs
- Humbucker pickups with powerful tone
Some Final Tips for Finding Cheap, Fancy Guitars
It takes a little more digging to find something cheap and fancy, but these tips will help you in your search.
Don't Discount the Famous High-End Brands
It's easy to write off the classic brands such as Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, Schecter, Michael Kelly as being too expensive. But it's to keep the following in mind:
- These builders often have discounts on expensive models
- They provide a wide range of prices for models that are fancier than their low-end affiliate brands (i.e. Squier, Epiphone)
Make sure to search the official websites of these manufacturers because they sometimes list deals that can't be found anywhere else.
Use the Search Filter
It can be a little overwhelming knowing which brands have good deals and when. One way to scour for deals on fancy guitars is the following:
- Go to big sites like Guitar Center or Sweetwater.
- Click on their guitar section.
- Filter search to show the lowest prices first.
- Then methodically check each page of guitars to see if any fancy models are being sold at cheap prices.
Try a Slightly Tarnished, Used Version of Fancy
If you don't mind a hand-me-down, you can search the vast marketplace of used guitars at Reverb. It has a wide range of prices and models and a wealth of information about the vintage end of fancy guitars. You might be surprised by how easy it is to find high-end fancy guitars at low-end prices.
Time to Get Fancy
It's just plain fun to own a fancy guitar. It feels good to look good, and when you get a quality guitar or bass for a cheap price, it feels even better. It's true, sometimes you just have to be at the right place at the right time to find a diamond-in-the-rough fancy guitar. But as you become familiar with companies like the ones listed above, you'll be getting fancy in no time.