Regardless of how many albums you sell or how much money you make, sometimes the perfect instrument for your needs is an off-the-shelf, inexpensive model. In fact, many modern-day touring musicians use guitars you could walk out of Guitar Center with or find online for pennies on the dollar.
From a masked metal icon to a new American R&B idol, you can easily find guitarists and bassists using affordable guitars, proving you don’t need to spend thousands to sound great.
For the purpose of this list, we look at ten popular musicians (three are technically in the same band) not named Jack White (whose affinity for lower-priced guitars is a thing of legend) who all regularly use or used electric guitars that retail for under $1000.
Gary Clark Jr: 2007 Epiphone Casino
Despite his rise to 21st century guitar hero status, one of Gary Clark Jr’s main guitars is still a 2007 Chinese-made Epiphone Casino. In a recent rig rundown for Premier Guitar (check it out above), Clark Jr’s guitar tech indicated it was important to him to play a guitar that his fans could afford. According to the same video, everything is pretty much still stock, off the shelf on the guitar, including the pickups, displaying that expensive gear doesn’t necessarily equate to great tone.
Fat Mike (NOFX): Danelectro DC Bass
While punk musicians aren’t exactly known for using expensive gear, Fat Mike of NOFX takes it to a new level with his sub-$500 bass guitar. Armed with his Danelectro DC Bass, Fat Mike has been a staple of the American new wave punk scene for decades with just a meager off the shelf bass guitar. But to be fair, when you’re playing packed punk clubs all over the world, maybe having a bass that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to replace is for the best…
Melanie Faye: Epiphone Genesis
Melanie Faye has quickly blossomed as one of the up and coming stars of modern electric guitar playing. Mixing her R&B and pop influences with the technical skill normally associated with rock guitarists, she has built up a huge social media following.
Recently, she was chosen by Fender to be one of the faces of their new Player Series, but before her Fender and D’Angelico sponsorships, she rocked out with a simple Epiphone Genesis. A quirky, solid-body HH style guitar, it’s nothing that will break the bank, but it clearly can provide both the inspiration and playability it took for Faye to develop into a world class player.
Beck: Silvertone 1448
Beck has always been a very individualistic musician, from his genre-bending music to his anti-folk background. So, it should come as no surprise that he uses an electric guitar nearly as unique as himself. Beck has been seen playing a Silvertone 1448 throughout the past few decades, a one pickup, entry level guitar available in the Sears catalogs of the 60s and 70s.
Interestingly enough, ever since Beck produced the last Cage the Elephant record, we’ve seen their lead guitarist, Brad Shultz, also pick up one of these inexpensive six strings.
Brandon Schwartzel, Elvis Kuehn, & Zac Carper (FIDLAR): Fender Mustang PJ Bass, Reverend Eastsider T, & Costco Spider Web Strat
FIDLAR, a California based quartet, have stirred up quite a bit of a frenzy since the release of their latest album in early 2019. Despite becoming one of the latest additions to Fender’s sponsorship family, the band has spent the last several years using super accessible gear. Leave it to the punks to once again do so much with so little…
Bassist Brandon Schwartzel plays a stock Fender Mustang PJ bass (about $550) with a few cosmetic details he added. Front man Zac Carper uses a Costco spider web guitar body, called a RG-80-SW, with a Strat replacement neck slapped on. While lead guitarist Elvis has since moved on to Fender American Jazzmasters and Teles, he spent quite a bit of their last tour using a sub-$1000 Reverend Tele copy called the Eastsider T.
Will Toledo (Car Seat Headrest): MIM Fender Telecaster
Will Toledo is the front man, guitarist, and songwriter behind the awesome indie rock band Car Seat Headrest, named after his preference for recording demos in the privacy of his parked car. Throughout their recording and performance history, Toledo has used a humble Mexican-made Fender Telecaster.
While Toledo has recently put down the guitar for live performances to focus on being more of a front man, this basic Telecaster can be heard all over hit singles like Fill in the Blank and Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.
Jared James Nichols: Epiphone Old Glory Signature Model
While his more affordable Epiphone “Old Glory” signature model is based on a more expensive Gibson Les Paul Custom he customized, Jared James Nichols does still use the Epiphone model live on tour. He even admits in an interview with PMTV that some people are thrown off by him using an Epiphone, what many may think of as a lesser quality guitar brand.
This marks the third Epiphone user on this list of very accomplished musicians, maybe it’s time to re-think how the price tag relates to guitar quality?
Jim Root (Stone Sour & Slipknot): Modified Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster
Last but certainly not least we come to one of the faces of modern metal music, Jim Root. Root has developed some really high quality, and high-priced signature models with Fender that pair metal features such as active humbuckers with classic Fender designs. However, the inspiration for many of these pricey signature models came from his modification of an off the shelf Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster, which retails for around $500, give or take.
By replacing the bridge humbucker with an active EMG humbucker, while still retaining the neck Jazzmaster pickup, Root created one of his main stage guitars (he uses if for songs tuned down half a step) out of an incredibly affordable, MIM Fender.
Maybe you don’t need a new guitar after all?
We know, we know. We get it. For many guitar and bass players, there is always the urge to go out and get a new piece of gear. We dream of the guitar, amp, or pedalboard that will take our tone to that next level and inspire countless songs or riffs. The sad reality is that many of us cannot afford those vintage Les Paul’s or boutique creations our heroes play, but maybe you don’t even need them!
All these musicians have achieved wide commercial and critical success across pop, rock, metal, blues, and R&B using instruments some of you may already own. While you may still dream of that custom shop creation you want to own, don’t forget to plug in and practice with the guitar you have until that dream tone becomes a reality.