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Gibson guitars are notorious for being expensive, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. I love Gibsons, but I am convinced not all of them are worth the price after owning a bunch. Sometimes I wish I had cheaper Gibson Guitars to choose from instead of going for the typically expensive Les Paul. It was hard, but I prepared a cheap Gibson Guitars guide so you can have those options.
Bottom Line Up Front: A cheap Gibson is rare and doesn’t fit the standard criteria of a cheap guitar. Considering how expensive mainline models are, the most affordable Gibson sells for around $500 up to 1000$ even if used. Out of all the Cheap Gibsons, the one that could very well fit any player level is the Les Paul Tribute P-90. It’s the only one that doesn’t need any tweaks to play at a high level.
All cheap Gibsons are solid, easy-to-play rock instruments, yet they won’t have the same tone and be reliable as a $2000 Les Paul. If you need something similar to that, consider changing the electronics and perhaps hardware of all the guitars on the list to get an instrument fit for any stage. You might end up with a guitar that fits you more than any mainline Les Paul.
I avoided Epiphone or any other sub-branches in my quest to find the best cheap Gibson guitars. My goal was to bring affordable US-made guitars to the table.
Top Picks at a Glance
- Les Paul Faded 2017 T – Best Modern Budget Les Paul
This guitar is a modern build that looks like a vintage Gibson. It covers all the requirements for a Gibson Les Paul and will satisfy you with a fast playing neck and warm tone.
- Gibson SG Fusion – Best Affordable Rock Guitar
The guitar doesn’t use the same part of an SG standard yet. It is the closest you can get to one for the price. It has the freedom and wild, aggressive tone SGs are known for.
- Gibson M2 S-Series – Most Versatile Cheap Gibson
This guitar is feature-packed and will be of great use for rock, blues, and everything in between. The playability is excellent, and the tone is good.
- Les Paul Special Tribute P-90 – Best Overall
The most expensive guitar on the list is the ultimate under 1000$ rock guitar. It compromises slightly on the hardware but has the true vintage Gibson tone.
Why Are Gibson Guitars so Expensive?
Buyin’ an original Gibson now it’s harder than ever. Not only the vintage models are going up in price, but the new instruments aren’t cheap either. I still regret selling my old 60s Gibson in the early 2000s; even though I wouldn’t say I liked playing it, It would be worth a fortune now.
Other reasons contribute to the price besides the brand’s obvious name and legacy. The main one is that the production is mainly in the United States. The PLEK machine used to test new guitars and part of the labor still done by hand contribute to the higher cost.
The Tonewoods and materials are the next most significant reason Gibsons are so expensive. Many models also use specific vintage pickups that today are hard to replicate.
A little-known fact about Vintage Gibsons you may not know is that all old Les Paul models have the frets in the wrong place. Even the $100k 59′ gold top will never properly intonate as the fabric accidentally used the inaccurate measurements. It’s not that big of an issue as the difference is minimal, yet you won’t ever play a B note all over the fretboard and have it exactly intonated. This goes to show that even though the guitars are phenomenal sounding, the high price doesn’t always justify all other aspects.
My opinion is that guitar players are partially responsible for the high price. We have been selling vintage Gibsons for crazy sums in the used market, so the company caught up and raised the price for all reissues. This is why I recommend an original Gibson only to players that are certain they need it or are after a specific tone and look.
What Makes a Good Cheap Gibson Guitar?
All cheap guitars come with a compromise. What’s important is finding an instrument that does well in the main areas. Even though I now own relatively expensive guitars, I still occasionally play some of my cheaper well-made ones as I don’t feel much difference unless I’m playing an important show or recording in a studio.
On a cheap Gibson, check intonation and tuning stability before anything else. Many people complain of the G string being out of tune on Gibson guitars and sometimes the intonation being off. That is unfortunately true even for expensive vintage guitars, and the only way to fix it is to have a great setup continuously.
Either way, you could fix both issues with a new bridge and nut. It’s worth it if the guitar feels under your hands and you are left with some spare money for the replacement parts. I did just that on my 1st Epiphone, and the result is excellent. It was either spend 2000$ on a Les Paul Standard or 400$ for a new set of pickups, a bridge, and tuners.
I’m confident that If the guitar didn’t have the Epiphone logo, it would be hard to tell it from a Gibson. On this end, did you know the Slash uses a modded Epiphone and not a Gibson, as everyone thinks?
The main reason anyone would buy a Gibson is to get the brand’s range of rock tones. A cheap Gibson will not have the best pickups, yet if you like what you listen to, make sure there is no excess in Bummy low-end or noise. Les Pauls are famous for having too much bass at times.
When I plug mine into a Marshall in the studio, I roll the bass off completely as even the slightest knob adjustment is too much. You can make a cheap Gibson sound great with better pickups, but it will be expensive if you don’t already own spare ones.
The downside to Cheap Gibsons is that they are most likely used. Even the modern S series of affordable instruments is discontinued. You will be lucky to find a new one in a shop.
Les Paul Faded 2017 T
The Faded T model is a guitar that surprises everyone at first sight. There is nothing special about the design, yet it looks almost like a pure mainline Gibson. The company cut some costs by keeping the Finish simple and no bracing, but that makes the guitar look even more interesting.
The Tonewoods are good and fit the general Les Paul necessities; Mahogany body, Maple, and Rosewood neck. Playability is guaranteed from the short neck length, and the only weakness is slight tuning issues when put under pressure. Best of all, it’s light, and you can play it for hours without getting tired. Don’t make the mistake of correlating weight to quality. Many players think a heavy Les Paul is always better. That’s not the case, and it is not related to the built quality at all.
I’m not too fond of the bridge as it’s the most basic version you can put on a Gibson. Considering the intonation and tuning issues of Les Pauls, a better bridge would be helpful.
Gibson compromised on the tone to make the guitar look and play well. The pickups are good, but they don’t sound like a Gibson in all positions. The tone is sweet and can go bright and aggressive, yet It’s not as balanced and could limit your playing on stage.
This might not be a great choice if you are after that one guitar to pug straight into the amp and play it on stage. If you change the pickups and bridge, it could turn into a much more reliable instrument.
Les Paul Faded 2017 T Pros
- It’s light and easy to play
- The Finish is great
- Pickups are good
- Great built quality
Les Paul Faded 2017 T Cons
- It might have slight tuning issues
- Great price to quality ratio
Gibson SG Fusion – Best For Rock
The SG is the most sold Gibson model for many reasons. It is light, effortless to play, and has an unbeatable rock snarky tone. The SG fusion is an excellent attempt to imitate it at less than half the original price.
I love SGs as I think they are the easiest guitars to play on stage. With a Les Paul, I feel the guitar’s weight; with an SG, I just play and even forget I have a strap on my shoulder. The neck on this guitar is easier to play out of all the ones listed. All frets are easy to access, and bending is effortless.
The tone is crisp and wild when distorted but lacks some sweet mid-range original SGs have. For the price, it’s the best SG sound you will find. The next best one is on a great Epiphone SG.
A thing to note is that this is probably the only SG model with a Maple neck, and the Fretboard is designed to go up the body right next to the bridge pickups. It’s perhaps more a Melody Maker than an SG in the making. If it weren’t for the not-so-good Finish and overall build quality, I would say this is my favorite on the list.
As much as I like the tone style, I can’t look away from the poor Finish and the loose feel of the body. If you pick it up and play, it’s a good guitar, but if you compare it to an original SG, you can immediately tell that something is off.
Gibson SG Fusion Pros
- It has the typical SG rock tone
- Very easy to play
- It comes with a nice gig bag
Gibson SG Fusion Cons
- The Finish and built quality are not the best
- Tuning stability is not the best.
- Hard to find new
Gibson M2 S-Series – Most Versatile Cheap Gibson
Part of the affordable S-Series, this guitar is the cheapest US-made Gibson Les Paul. It uses basic hardware yet has a good tone and neck with a classic Gibson look. If you’re a
Out of the now discontinued S-series, this guitar is the one that impressed me the most. The reason is not that it’s similar to a Gibson, but that overall is a very solid guitar. It can play almost anything and is reliable for the stage. If you were looking for a quality Epiphone, consider the M2 first. It’s just as good as an intermediate Epiphone, but it has the Gibson logo and is made in the US.
I expected it to feel more like something else, but it felt just like one of my Les Paul Standards when playing it. If I were to buy it, I would first change the pickups and tuners. The standard pickups sound good, but they don’t sound like vintage Les Paul should.
Gibson M2 S-Series Pros
- Very versatile guitar
- Easy to play neck
- Good pickups
Gibson M2 S-Series Cons
- Slight tunning issues
- Hard to find new
Les Paul Special Tribute P-90
This is the best guitar on the list and barely counts as cheap or affordable. For another brand, a 1000$ guitar would not be considered low-end. Unfortunately, that’s the minimum for what you can get a new cheap Gibson guitar to play on stage.
It’s my favorite instrument out of the four for a good reason. On the other, you would have to change some parts eventually. On this one, you don’t need to make any tweaks and will ultimately spend less. This is also a guitar you can still find new in shops.
It’s surprisingly similar to Les Paul’s models of double its price, and you could easily confuse it with one if you’re not experienced. Gibson has compromised slightly on the hardware, but not as much to cause Issues. The neck is excellent, and the guitar has no apparent tuning issues.
My opinion is that they made it this affordable by focusing it only on one specific thing, getting vintage rock tones. The tone is spectacular and can go from Fat and heavy to crisp clean like a vintage Gibson.
There is no weak side to this guitar other than its price and that P-90s are almost an acquired taste. They are fantastic for vintage tones but not as good if you’re after a modern sound or want to play a bit of everything.
Les Paul Special Tribute P-90 Pros
- Vintage Gibson P-90 Tone
- Very Versatile Guitar
- Excellent built quality
- Easy to play
Les Paul Special Tribute P-90 Cons
- It’s not very affordable.
Cheap Gibson vs. Epiphone
The natural question is, why not go with an Epiphone if the price is similar? There are many reasons, yet personal taste beats them all. I’m an advocate of never putting the brand name before the guitar. Experience taught me that even 3000$ guitars might not be great and that not all vintage instruments are better.
I would recommend going for a cheap Gibson if you plan on modding the guitar. The guitar’s body and overall quality might be better than the average Epiphone. If you plan on keeping the guitar intact, there is no general proof that Cheap Gibsons are better than Epiphones.
Epiphone has a significant advantage in this debate as it offers many more affordable options. For under 400$, there are many good Epiphones models. If you’re a
As a guitar nerd, I understand the feeling of saying, “I own a Gibson.” Sometimes that’s even worth the extra money.
Cheap Gibson Guitars Alternatives
The Melody Maker E1 is the most basic cheap Gibson-inspired guitar. This is an excellent choice if you are after a good first guitar. Compared to what most guitarists started with, you would do a
There is nothing special about it other than it plays surprisingly well, considering the price. It’s not very versatile or big sounding but offers a smooth short-scale neck that even children find comfortable.
For under 200$, it will be worth playing it for some years until you can afford or need a better guitar.
For around the same price as a used low-end Gibson, you can buy a brand new Epiphone Les Paul Special. It looks like a premium Gibson and plays almost like one. Always give Epiphones a chance before spending a fortune on a Gibson. If Slash plays one, so can you.
What sets this guitar apart from most of this price range is the P-90 pickups. It’s rare to find good P-90s on a budget guitar, yet Epiphone did it by saving on the design and hardware. The neck is very comfortable, and the guitar stays in tune moderately well.
It’s not a guitar that will go up in value in time, but it compares well to any low-end Gibson. The best thing about it is that it’s easy to find a new one.
The Junior is not exactly a cheap guitar, yet I included it to demonstrate what you can get if you save up some more. If I would tour the world, a Junior would always be with me, along with a fine Strat and a Les Paul.
Aimed initially at guitar students, it became a rock icon in the hands of icons. This single pickup guitar is a much more versatile instrument than it looks. No serious guitarist will say that a Junior is limited. Its simplicity makes it perfect for rock and blues.
I especially like how well it cleans up by tweaking the volume and tone control. Even pros use Junior’s at times as no other guitar can imitate them.
There’s also the cheap Epiphone Junior version if you’re on a budget.
Final Thoughts On Best Cheap Gibson Guitars
Preparing a Cheap Gibson Guitars Guide was not impossible after all. Finding new ones in shops might be the biggest issue. Affordable Gibsons never sold very well and generally got discontinued.
Whenever you come across a good used cheap Gibson, the first thing to do is put it under some stress. You found a good deal if the guitar feels well and doesn’t go out of tune more than the standard Gibson. Don’t get overly obsessed with the brand, though, as you could find better lesser-known modern guitars for the same price.
The two guitars that stand out, the Les Paul Tribute P-90 and Gibson MS 2 S-Series, are fine instruments. I specifically choose the first as one that doesn’t need any tweaks and just rocks, while the other is for players new to Les Pauls and don’t want to spend as much. Who knows, perhaps your cheap Gibson might be worth a fortune 40 years from now.