As far as iconic guitars go, few are more iconic than the Fender Strat. A guitar that has been played by the likes of David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and countless other legendary guitarists.
But a Fender Strat can easily set you back a few thousand dollars. Fortunately, there are countless affordable, high-quality Strat style guitars that still play and sound great.
Top 3 - Cheap Strat-style Guitars
Here are a few of the best cheap Stratocaster style guitars to give you the best value for your money.
Best Affordable Stratocaster Style Guitars
Table of Contents
- Best Affordable Stratocaster Style Guitars
- Upgrading a Cheap Stratocaster Style Guitar
- Is Upgrading a Cheap Guitar Worth It?
- Which Cheap Strat is the Best?
- Cheap Strat Clone vs. Branded Strat-Style Guitar
1. Squier Bullet Strat
The Squier Bullet Strat is the cheapest full-size Strat made by Squier. That doesn’t mean it is cheaply made, though.
Squier has come a long way from being a cheap brand, to being a brand of excellently made guitars at an affordable price. And the Bullet Strat is the best example of that price and quality.
This guitar feels and plays like you would expect a Strat to. The sound is also very clearly Strat, with that signature twang.
Of course, it isn’t exactly the same. It isn’t quite as lively and dynamic, and I found the tone to be a little thin, especially on the neck pickup. Playing with distortion also doesn’t have that same grit to it.
But the tone is still more than decent considering the price. The pickups are also very clear sounding, and I didn’t notice any significant noise. The classic 3 x single coil pickup configuration (SSS) is the most popular with these guitars, but I tested the HSS variant, which has a humbucker at the bridge.
The rest of the hardware is also surprisingly good. From the bridge, to the controls, to the tuners which are often the issue on cheaper guitars. Everything just felt solid.
The guitar is also nice and light, thanks to the basswood body. This will make it very comfortable for even kids to play.
The neck is also super comfortable with its C shape. There is enough grip for chords, and it is smooth enough for easy movement up and down the neck.
This is one of, if not the best Strats for beginners at this price point. It is comfortable to play, and the slight lack of tonal intensity isn’t going to be an issue for most players.
2. Yamaha Pacifica
Yamaha guitars get dismissed quite often as cheap and bad. But they do actually make quite good guitars, especially budget ones like the Pacifica PAC012DLX.
This is a great Strat-style guitar, and I think a real contender alongside the Bullet Strat. The two guitars are not just similar in price, but also similar in feel and sound.
The Pacifica does, however, have an HSS pickup configuration, as opposed to the Bullet’s three single coils (you can get the Bullet Strat in its HSS variant as well). The Pacifica’s agathis body also makes it slightly heavier, but still light enough for beginners.
I tested this unit in the Old Violin Sunburst finish, which was spectacularly well done! I honestly didn’t expect this level of attention to detail on a budget guitar like this.
One thing I also noticed was the curve at the top of the body where your arm rests. Where a Strat has a more of a contour, the Pacifica almost has a complete angle.
This did feel a bit unnatural at first. After a few minutes I did get used to it, and it was just as comfortable as a regular Strat.
As for sound, the Pacifica sounds really good. Both the clean and distorted tones sounded nice and clear. Having both single coils and a humbucker also give it a bit more versatility.
It isn’t as bright as a Strat, with there being a bit more warmth to the tone. I personally liked the overall tone of this guitar slightly better than the Squier Bullet.
The pickups also have a bit of a fuzziness to them, mostly on the neck and middle pickups. This is surely going to turn some off from the guitar, but if you want to get a more grungy sound, it will do just nicely. But on the plus side, the neck pickup doesn’t sound thin unlike the Bullet Strat.
3. Squier Affinity
The Squier Affinity is one of the best budget Strats around. It plays and sounds like a Fender Strat, but at a fraction of the price (and weight!). It’s one of the lightest affordable electric guitars at around 7 lbs, thanks to the poplar body.
The build quality of the Affinity is great. Everything feels solid, and the hardware doesn’t feel cheap. Even the plastic pickguard and knobs feel good and quality.
My only real issue with the hardware is that the tuners don’t turn quite as smoothly. But this isn’t too big of a deal.
Since this guitar is more expensive than the Bullet Strat, you’re bound to see some significant differences. The most notable one is the presence of a Maple neck and fretboard (instead of an Indian Laurel fretboard on the Bullet).
Although the difference in subtle, but I personally found the pickups on the Affinity to be a bit more lively, powerful and modern-sounding compared to the classic tones of the Bullet.
As for overall sound, this is a Strat through and through. It has that twang and brightness you expect from a Strat. Both the clean and the dirty tones are a joy to listen to. The cleans are snappy and bright, while the dirty sound has some nice grit to it.
And while I feel like the tone isn’t as rich as a Fender Strat’s, it is still incredibly vibrant. Every note and chord also rings out wonderfully and is crystal clear.
The neck pickup is a bit noisy when playing with higher levels of gain. Notes can bleed into each other and overlap a bit, especially when playing chords. Backing off on the gain a bit does clean it up, but it is something to be careful of.
The humbucker at the bridge is certainly the star when it comes to distorted tones here. Of course, the hum canceling is great, but it also just adds this nice growl when you are playing more aggressively.
The Affinity is a versatile and fantastic guitar for both beginners and intermediates.
4. Ibanez Gio GRX70QA
This list would be incomplete without including one of the best selling guitars in the world, the Ibanez GRX70QA. Playing one, it is easy to see why it is so popular.
You are getting about three or four times the value for your money with this guitar. It is just unbelievable how this guitar is so cheap, yet plays and sounds so great.
The build quality is just top notch. Every part of the guitar feels quality, from the wood used for the body, neck, and fretboard, to the hardware. Even the plastic nut doesn’t feel cheap.
That quality is reflected in the sound. A sound that is nothing short of killer.
The thick and crunchy neck pickup allows for some serious riffage, while the creamy bridge pickup will make your solos and melodies sounding silky smooth.
But this isn’t just for metalheads. The GRX70QA is extremely versatile. Rolling down the gain will give you some great rock and blues tones. And switching to clean, you can go from spanky and bright, to thumpy and warm.
This is all thanks to the HSH pickup configuration and the 5-way pickup selector. This gives you the choice of either humbuckers or single coils, at either the bridge, middle, or neck, whenever you need it.
The only thing I don’t really like about this guitar is the finish. It is a bit too ‘80s hair metal for my taste.
But other than that, the GRX70QA is an absolutely incredible guitar, and frankly, a bit underpriced in my opinion.
5. Squier Classic Vibe ‘70s
If a more vintage Strat sound is what you are looking for, then look no further than the Squier Classic Vibe ‘70s. This is a vintage-style Strat, through and through. It even has the big vintage headstock.
Build quality is also excellent. Nothing feels cheap or like Squier cut any corners, except the bottom of the frets. While not really a problem, they did feel a tad sharper to me than they should.
Since this is designed to have a more vintage sound, the Vibe ‘70s isn’t as bright as a modern Strat. Its sound is a bit darker, but there is still more than enough of that Strat chime.
You also aren’t losing out on any of the Strat twang. The Vibe ‘70s is as twangy as a Strat should be.
There is a fairly noticeable output difference between the humbucker and the single coils. The humbucker is quite a bit louder. This makes switching between the pickups a bit jarring.
I found the best thing to do was to keep the volume rolled back a bit while playing on the humbucker. That way I could just turn the volume up when I switched to one of the single coils, keeping the volume as level as possible.
The guitar does tend to go out of tune fairly easily. This is especially a problem once you start playing a bit more aggressively. You will likely have to adjust the tuning frequently, and it can get annoying if you need to do it between each song.
6. Jackson Dinky Arch Top
Jackson is known for making some serious guitars. Even their budget guitars like the Dinky Arch Top JS22 DKA is no slouch. This is the guitar for the young and aspiring shredder.
Just by looking at it, you can tell this guitar means business. Its all black finish, 24 frets, and classic sharp Jackson headstock really show what this guitar is all about.
The look of the guitar isn’t hiding poor build quality either. The Dinky is extremely well made, and I didn’t notice any real issues. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, there were slight blemishes here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary for a guitar of this price.
The sound is a bit of a different story. Depending on how you look at it, the tone is going to be either great, or a bit of a mixed bag.
There isn’t much to the clean tone of the Dinky. I actually find it to be a bit dull. It is quite dark and not very vibrant. But add some distortion and you have got a totally different experience.
The pickups have some serious attitude when the gain is turned up. They scream and growl quite nicely. The dinky doesn’t have the chunkiest sound for a guitar of this type, but it has more than enough for a guitar of this price.
The Jackson Dinky isn’t extremely versatile, unfortunately. It is pretty much only suited for metal, possibly hard rock.
However, as far as beginner metal guitars go, the Dinky is truly a hard one to beat.
Upgrading a Cheap Stratocaster Style Guitar
One of the biggest issues with cheap guitars is that they aren’t made with the highest quality woods or hardware. This is done to keep costs down.
But this also means that they can be quite lacking in certain aspects. Either the tonewood isn’t the best, or some of the hardware can be cheap and not work or sound as great.
While replacing the neck or body can be hard and expensive, replacing the hardware isn’t. This can help improve the sound and quality of your guitar, allowing you to enjoy it for longer.
Replacing the pickups of your guitar is perhaps the easiest way to make it sound better.
You can either buy full sets or individual pickups. It will just depend on whether you want to change the sound of all your pickups or just one.
The best option for Strats, especially Squier ones, is to buy Fender pickups. The Deluxe Drive and Tex-Mex are both great, affordable, and easy to install.
DiMarzio is also a great brand with great pickups like the DP117 single coil and the DP100 if your Strat has a humbucker. And if you want humbuckers but your guitar can only fit single coils, you can get single coil sized humbuckers like the DiMarzio HS-4.
Tuning machines, or tuners, are also often an issue on cheaper guitars. Cheaper tuners can be a bit harder to tune, and they won’t keep your strings in tune as well.
Squier guitars especially suffer from this issue. But replacing the tuning machines on your guitar is super easy, and good locking tuners are fairly affordable.
Fender has locking tuners specifically for Strats. And Grover also makes some high-quality locking tuners like the 136G6.
Is Upgrading a Cheap Guitar Worth It?
If you are still just learning to play guitar, then you won’t really get a lot of value from upgrading your guitar. You also don’t want to spend the extra money in case you decide guitar isn’t really your thing.
But if you have been playing for a few years, and you want to make sure you are going to keep enjoying your guitar, then an upgrade is well worth it.
An upgrade is going to be much cheaper than buying a brand new guitar. With the right hardware, and if you have taken care of your guitar, it can basically become like new with a few upgrades.
Just be careful not to spend more on upgrades than you did on the guitar. You will quickly reach a point where your tone is being held back by the woods your guitar is made from. This will then just lead to a bit of a sunk-cost fallacy.
Which Cheap Strat is the Best?
This is going to be a matter of opinion. Depending on your preference, one guitar is going to be better than another for you.
But as far as good, cheap Strats go, the Squier Affinity is certainly one of the best. It gets really close to sounding like a Fender Strat and plays almost as well.
And for a budget Strat clone, the Yamaha Pacifica and the Ibanez GRX70QA are both very strong contenders. The Pacifica is a bit closer to a Strat in terms of sound, while the GRX70QA has more versatility tonally.
While cheap Strats won’t ever be the real deal, they are still exceptionally good guitars. They are great for beginners, especially those looking for that Strat sound.
But they can be equally good for more experienced guitarists who want to expand their arsenal, without having to pay the premium for a Fender.
Cheap Strat Clone vs. Branded Strat-Style Guitar
Extremely cheap Stratocaster clones costing around $100 (or even less!) might seem very lucrative on sites like Amazon and eBay, but I'd strongly advise you to stay away from them.
Sure, there are some popular unbranded options like this Donner guitar, and you can see them compared side-by-side with Squier models on videos without as much harsh criticism as you'd expect.
But at the end of the day, there's only one reason why they're unbranded. They're cheaply made Chinese clones of actual Strats. The build quality and reliability are just not comparable to even a budget Squier Strat.
If you're on a very tight budget and don't want to settle for Squier (although I don't know why, I've seen many up and coming bands using Squier Bullet Strats even for lengthy live performances), I'd personally recommend going for a Strat-style guitar from a known brand, like Yamaha, Ibanez, Jackson etc.
I'm extremely fond of the Yamaha Pacifica, in particular. It's an extremely versatile guitar that's very well made, offering a tremendous deal of bang for the buck.