When looking at Beginner Guitars, there are a ton of options out there. So many, if fact, it can be a little overwhelming to anyone just getting started. Today we take a look at one of my top picks for the best beginner guitars, and surprise…it’s an Epiphone!.
Beginner Guitars: What Is A Beginner Guitar?
Technically, ANY guitar can be counted in the “Beginner Guitars” category. You could buy an expensive Les Paul or Stratocaster, for instance. That expensive guitar would be just fine to start learning how to play, and it will probably be a great quality guitar that would last you for years. However…
Most people don’t want to spend thousands of dollars right out the gate. Especially if you’re not entirely sure if you will be sticking to playing the guitar. More often than not, I have seen people buy their gear and try it out…only to hang it up and never use it again. Which is a little sad, but I understand that guitar is not for everyone. Guitar is a rewarding hobby, but it is also tough at the beginning.
The consensus for beginner guitars is that you should spend a small amount of money, and try to get the most bang for your buck. This is why we created the guides that we have here, to help you choose a beginner setup. You can get a perfectly good guitar and amp for a modest price. Beginner guitars don’t have to be expensive or fancy!
The climate for beginner guitars has also changed in recent years due to the way they are produced. The quality is more consistent than ever before. When I first started playing guitar in the 90’s, beginner guitars were hit or miss. They were either potential firewood, or a great instrument to learn on. Thanks to modern technology, almost all of the beginner guitars that come from East Asia are about the same these days.
One of those beginner guitars that I had when I was young, was The Epiphone Les Paul Special 2. It was a fantastic guitar, and I think I paid maybe $200 for it. I used it for quite a while before I finally upgraded to a nicer model, because it suited all of my needs at the time. But that was 25 years ago. What about nowadays?
Epiphone still makes this same model, and I got my hands on one to try out. Is it as good as I remember?
Epiphone Les Paul Special 2: Features And Specs
We absolutely adore Epiphone here at Electrikjam. Epiphone not only makes great beginner guitars, but they have higher end models that have professional specs and features. The higher end guitars that Epiphone makes are usually fantastic quality and to me, they play like much more expensive instruments. The new “Inspired By Gibson“ lineup is a testament to Epiphone’s quality and attention to detail.
But these high end Epiphone guitars sit in the $500-$900 price bracket, and that can be a bit of a stretch for a beginner, especially a teenager. The Epiphone Les Paul Special Series is much more affordable than that. The one I have right now can be bought brand new for $150-$200. That’s a pretty big difference in price, so what’s the catch?
The Epiphone Les Paul Special 2 is a very stripped down version of the higher end Epiphone Les Paul models. It has extremely “bare bones” features and specs. But in my opinion, this guitar has got it where it counts. Let’s take a look at the features, and compare the differences between this model and the more expensive ones. The Les Paul Special 2 features:
- Poplar Body
- Mahogany Neck
- 60’s Slim Taper D Profile Neck
- Rosewood Fretboard
- 22 Medium Frets
- 24.75” Scale Length
- 3 Way pickup Selector
- Bolt On Construction
- 700T/650R Open-Coil Humbuckers
- Stop Bar Tailpiece
Let’s first talk about the difference between this guitar, and an Epiphone Les Paul Standard. The Epiphone Les Paul Special 2 cuts a few corners compared to it’s more expensive brothers. The Special 2 model has only two knobs for your tone/volume control. These act as a master control for both pickups, where the more expensive models have a dedicated volume/tone for each pickup; four in total.
The three way switch position is also different. usually, the three way switch is located on the upper bout of a Les Paul, and it has held this design feature for over 60 years. The Epiphone Les Paul Special 2 has the switch between the volume/tone controls. Personally, I like this feature on the Special 2, as the switch is more “out of the way” when you are playing.
The Les Paul Special 2 also lacks the famous cream binding that you find on the models that are Standard and above. This is purely an aesthetic choice, but it also cuts the cost of labor, as it is one less step in the construction of the guitar. The famous Les Paul pickguard is also missing from the Special 2. Most beginner guitars have stripped down features like this, and the cost-cutting is reflected in your consumer price.
The other big difference is the body of the Les Paul Special 2. Most Les Paul guitars are made completely out of Mahogany, with a carved Maple top. The Special 2 skips the Maple top completely, and the body is made out of Poplar wood. You’ll also notice that the Special 2 does not have a fancy carve to the body, the top is completely flat. For reference, her is a picture of a Les Paul Standard model:
If you check out Epiphone’s official website, you will see that there is a wide array of models, and there is a model at just about any price point you can imagine. The features of the Standard series are mostly cosmetic upgrades like binding, vintage tuners, inlays, knobs, and finishes. The pickups in the Standard series are also a “step up” from the Les Paul Special 2, as well as the metal/chrome hardware and tuners.
So as you see, there are quite a few differences between the Standard Les Paul, and the Special 2 model. But just because the Special 2 is stripped down and simple, doesn’t mean it’s not a great beginner guitar. In fact, there are tons of reasons why I picked the Special 2 as one of my favorite beginner guitars. Let’s take a look at why the Special 2 is a great choice for players just starting out.
Epiphone Les Paul Special 2: Standout Features
Looking at this from a beginner’s standpoint, the Les Paul Special 2 is a simple, no frills guitar. This is a great example of “function over fashion”. The Special 2 isn’t winning any beauty pageants with it’s laid back design. But don’t let your eyes deceive you, this thing plays amazingly. Which is exactly what counts, when it comes to beginner guitars.
The scale length is probably the best feature when it comes to what makes the Special 2 a great choice for beginners. Most Les Paul models (Even the Expensive Gibson ones) have a short scale length of 24.75”. Combine that with the narrow frets on the Special 2, and you have a huge advantage as a beginner. The neck is small, fast, and easy to play. No matter what size your hands are, or what skill level you are, this neck is a joy to play.
The neck has a flat 14” radius as well. This will help out beginners when they start learning how to put together riffs and chords. But more importantly, I find a nice, flat neck to be easier to practice scales and solos. It may be a small feature, but bends are easier to achieve with a flat radius.
I think simplicity is key when it comes to beginner guitars, and this is another reason the Les Paul Special 2 is a great instrument. The control layout is super easy to understand and utilize. You only have one volume and tone knob, and there are no coil tap features. This super basic design is easy for a beginner to grasp, and actually use. I believe in recent years, the art of using your volume and tone knobs has been lost in modern guitar, especially when it comes to Rock and Metal. The knobs are there for a good reason, use them!
The Poplar body is much lighter than your traditional Les Paul as well. Les Paul guitars are notorious for being heavy, because of the Mahogany wood that is used to construct them. My last Gibson Les Paul weighed almost 9 lbs. If you are standing up and playing, weight like that can start to irritate your shoulder unless you have a wide strap. The Les Paul Special 2 is lightweight whether you are sitting it in your lap, or standing up with a strap.
The pickups in beginner guitars are famous for being pretty cheap quality, and lacking character. The Les Paul Special 2 has a set of Epiphone humbuckers loaded in it. The neck is the 650R model, and the bridge is the 700T. These are based on Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop models like the famous 490T. Are they any good?
I think these are extremely versatile pickups for an affordable guitar. Remember earlier when I said you should learn how to utilize the volume and tone knobs? Well, that’s where these pickups really shine. I was surprised at the way they react to distortion, and you can go from full chug to AC/DC-like crunch tones by using the volume knob. Likewise, the tone knob is also functional, and sounds great on the neck pickup for creamy lead tones.
The Les Paul Special 2 ships with the pickups set pretty low in the cavity of the guitar. I found that you get a much clearer tone by raising them up a bit. I’ve said before that a lot of people replace stock pickups before they actually attempt to adjust them, and I stand by that notion. After a little adjustment, these Epiphone pickups cleaned up nicely, and can do anything from crystal cleans, to all out Metal. Pretty impressive for a sub-$200 guitar!
The hardware leaves a bit to desire, as the stop bar tail piece is just basic pot metal, and it does not lock to the body. It functions fine, and I was able to intonate the guitar properly. The tuners are also generic 14:1 gear ratio. The tuners get the job done, but lack the subtle fine tuning that you get with a set of branded tuners. The nut is plastic, and if I was to change anything about the Les Paul Special 2, it would be the cheap plastic nut. Luckily, it is cut properly and holds tune just fine.
Overall, when it comes to beginner guitars, you could do MUCH worse!
Beginner Guitars: Wrapping Up
For older players like myself, beginner guitars have long had a bad reputation. The beginner guitars we had available 20-something years ago were built much cheaper, and were very unreliable. I’m happy to see that scion companies like Epiphone and Squire are making great instruments for an affordable price.
It’s never been easier to get started when it comes to playing guitar. There lower echelon of tons of inexpensive gear available functions well, and sounds great. Years ago, it would be hard to get started playing guitar for under $500. But these days there are tons of options to get you going on your journey.
I also think that guitars like the Les Paul Special 2 work well for experienced players on a budget. I’ve been playing guitar longer than I haven’t (I’m OLD), and if my budget only allowed me to choose from beginner guitars… I think I would be pretty content with the Les Paul Special 2. In fact, this very same guitar served me well for years as a teen. The only thing I would change would be the plastic nut, and that’s a $10 fix.
So if you have always wanted to get serious about playing, and you have a limited budget…there has never been a better time to start playing! The stigma behind budget guitars is slowly going away, and you even see less expensive models being used by pros and Instagram guitarists these days.
I truly believe we are in the golden age of guitar gear. Today is the perfect day to start playing!
*Special Thanks to my loving girlfriend for loaning me the les Paul Special 2
Are beginner guitars worth it?
Most beginner guitars these days are relatively good quality instruments that will get you started on your journey. Don’t let an affordable price fool you.
Are beginner guitars expensive?
Not at all! Most beginner guitars sit in the $150-$400 range, based on features.
Is it harder to learn on an inexpensive guitar?
Most beginner guitars, and affordable guitars play pretty well these days. You don’t have to blow your wallet on a starter guitar.
Are Epiphone guitars any good?
Epiphone has almost completely rebranded themselves over the past few years as not only for beginners, but pros alike. Epiphone guitars have tons of features, both historic and modern.