The 80s was an exciting time to be a guitarist. Everyone was trying to outdo each other with better riffs, faster licks, and soaring solos. This was hair metal at its best. It was akin to gunslingers in the Wild West trying to show everyone who was the better shot.
In the midst of it all was the superstrat. The chosen musical weapon of 80s metal guitarists.
Although the genre isn’t as popular anymore, the superstrat remains a favorite amongst guitarists.
So, if you’re looking for one and you’re on a tight budget, this is the list for you. We’ve rounded up 5 of the best super strat guitars under $500 in the market today.
Let’s dive in!
A superstrat is technically any Stratocaster-shaped guitar with upgraded features. Think of it as a Stratocaster on steroids.
Superstrats came into existence out of a need for guitarists to have more out of their Fender Stratocasters. They exist to cater to a different type of musical style that Fender’s original guitar can’t. More bite in their sound, more flexibility, more features, more, just more.
A superstrat typically has these features:
- Humbuckers to provide a thicker, grittier sound – Something a single coil pickup just couldn’t do at the time superstrats came out.
- Fast neck for blazing through a thousand notes per minute. The flatter profile allowed better finger travel and control. This led to better accuracy and volume of notes picked and fingered.
- Tremolo bar. Whether it’s a standard or a double locking tremolo bar is fair game. As long as you have something to grab on to and make your guitar growl or squeal.
- A more aggressive appearance thanks to the wide scoops for better fretboard access. Guitar makers also went out of their way to make their guitars look sharper than the Fender Stratocaster. Whether this was to avoid a possible lawsuit or to better represent the “harder” sound is up for debate.
- Over-the-top paint job (optional but highly desired).
Seriously, all you really need are the top three: humbuckers, a fast neck, and a tremolo bar and you have a superstrat. What seals the deal is the presence of all the other upgrades to the classic Stratocaster form that makes it deserving of the word “super” in its name.
Guitarists like Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple/Rainbow) and Dave Murray (Iron Maiden) were one of the first guys to have their Stratocasters modified to fit their heavier sound.
But it wasn’t until Eddie Van Halen showed up with his Frankenstrat that the gates were blown wide apart. It didn’t take long for guitar makers like Grover Jackson to produce superstrats for the buying market.
Steve Vai, Vito Bratta, Nuno Bettencourt, and a whole slew of other guitarists became brand ambassadors for superstrats. Their near god-like status made every aspiring guitarist want to emulate their playing style and own a superstrat.
Jackson, Charvel, Washburn, Lyon, Yamaha, and a lot of other guitar makers started making superstrats en masse.
Superstrats have endured a lot of challenges throughout the years but it has proven that they’re here to stay.
5 Best Superstrat Guitars Under $500
|Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature||Body: Meranti
Pickup: Ibanez Quantum Pickups HSH
|Ibanez RG450DX||Body: Meranti
Pickup: Ibanez Quantum Pickups HSH
|Yamaha Pacifica 112V||Body: Alder
Pickup: Yamaha Alnico V HSS
|Kramer Pacer Classic||Body: Alder
Pickup: Alnico V Classic Exposed Coil HH
|Jackson JS32 Dinky||Body: Poplar
Pickup: Jackson High Output HH
1. Best Overall – Ibanez JEMJR Steve Vai Signature
“Designed by a guitar God for future guitar Gods.”
- Wizard III neck with rosewood fingerboard.
- Quantum pickups (guitar is equipped with 2 humbuckers and a single coil).
- Floyd Rose licensed double locking tremolo.
- Aggressive body styling with deep scoops for ease of access.
- Steve Vai’s iconic monkey grip, Jem’s signature tree of life fretboard inlay and the lion claw scoop that allowed outrageous whammy bar tricks.
The Ibanez JEMJR is a beautiful guitar. It has all of the features you would expect to find in a superstrat. Which is not surprising since this is based on Steve Vai’s Jem series.
One would argue that it was really Steve Vai who made the perfect prototype for what a superstrat is supposed to look like, sound like, and play like through the Jem series.
Ibanez was able to make this possible by incorporating more cost-efficient parts as opposed to what you’d find on the flagship Jem models.
So instead of a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo, you’ll find in its place an Ibanez licensed replacement. Instead of DiMarzio pickups, you’ll find Quantum pickups. You get the picture now?
Don’t get me wrong though, despite its significantly low price tag, this is a guitar worth owning, keeping, and playing.
- You get a taste of Steve Vai’s signature guitar at a lower budget
- At a glance, it looks exactly like the pricier Jem models.
- Double-locking tremolo is very effective at this price range and keeps the guitar in tune.
- Tremolo isn’t as smooth as the more expensive Jem models
- Creaky tremolo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when doing wild whammy tricks like divebombs and pull-ups.
- Quantum pickups don’t hold the sustain long enough to appreciate the decay. Can be remedied by upgrading the pickups to DiMarzios.
The Ibanez JEMRJ is easily the best super strat under $500. Hardcore Steve Vai fans will definitely love this guitar. And not necessarily just for playing. This guitar is a work of art by itself. What you basically have is a more affordable Jem in your hands that you can play or put on display.
2. Runner-up/Alternative to the JEMJR – Ibanez RG450DX
“This is basically the Jem without the monkey grip and tree of life inlay”
- 3 piece maple Wizard III neck
- Floyd Rose licensed Ibanez double-locking tremolo
- Quantum pickups (2 humbuckers and 1 single coil)
This is a more affordable and conservative guitar from Ibanez. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less a superstrat as the Jem.
This is still a great guitar that anyone would fully appreciate playing with.
So, what can you expect from the Ibanez RG450DX?
First, there’s the awesome Wizard III neck. This is easily one of the fastest necks available in the Ibanez catalog. This alone makes it stand heads and shoulders above the competition in that price range.
Next, you have the licensed Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo which can take a lot of abuse.
Lastly, the RG450DX comes fully equipped with twin Quantum humbuckers and a single-coil pickup. The 5-way pickup selector and master tone knob allow you to explore a world of tonal possibilities.
This is a guitar you can equally play heavy metal onstage with or sitting down as you play jazz in an intimate setting.
- Has a more versatile look. Isn’t as flashy as the JEMJR but plays just as well.
- Has one of the fastest necks out of all of the superstrats under $500 in the market today.
- Has 24 frets allowing for more note choices
- Has the same tremolo problems as the Ibanez JEMJR.
- Fretboard isn’t rosewood which makes it weird for some guitar players.
All in all, this is a solid guitar that you can take along and play with. A worthy runner-up to the JEMJR if I might say so myself.
3. Best Super Strat for Beginners – Yamaha Pacifica 112V
“The gateway guitar to a lifelong addiction to superstrats.”
- Classic humbucker/single coil pickup combination reminiscent of original hot-rodded Fender Stratocasters.
- 5-way switch and push/pull master tone knob gives beginners access to a wide array of tone possibilities.
I have to admit, I have a pretty biased view when it comes to the Yamaha Pacifica 112V. Having started out on a Pacifica in my youth, this instantly brings memories flooding in. It’s basically still the same guitar that I learned to play fast licks with.
What makes the Yamaha Pacifica 112V a good guitar to start out with?
You get a respectable sound coming from the Yamaha Alnico humbucker and single-coil pickups. You can also go from clean to gritty without the need to purchase aftermarket pickups.
And then there’s the sleek C-shaped maple neck that is perfect for playing chords. It’s also great for blazing through with a hundred or so well-placed notes on the rosewood fretboard.
- Solid beginner’s guitar to start your musical journey.
- Cleaner output from pickups lends itself well to musical versatility.
- Push/pull tone controls can split the humbucker into a single coil pickup for a cleaner sound.
- Tremolo bar can only go down.
- Questionable electronics on stock guitars. Can be remedied by aftermarket luthiers.
- Feels a bit too light which could affect its ability to sustain notes. Weight doesn’t feel as solid and doesn’t inspire confidence onstage.
Although I can now afford more expensive guitars, I will always have a Yamaha Pacifica in my collection. It’s the best guitar to teach my students how to play the instrument. And somehow, I always find new and interesting things to play with when I pick it up.
4. Great for those Vintage Vibes – Kramer Pacer Classic
“Transports you back to the 80s like a of hair metal time machine in your hands”
- Double Alnico humbuckers guarantee a bright sound that’s perfect for 80s metal type of music.
- Locking Floyd Rose licensed tremolo gives you the same amount of versatility 80s guitarists had without going out of tune.
- Flat 12-inch radius neck is great for playing fast up and down the fretboard.
- Smaller body for comfortable playing on and offstage.
- Extremely attractive vintage looks.
- Very affordable vintage-style guitar for antique guitar hunters.
Kramer ruled the guitar world in the 80s. And then everything changed in the 90s. Kramer essentially had to close up shop because its out-of-the-world guitar designs had no place during the grunge era.
Now, thanks to Gibson, Kramer is making a resurgence and a new generation of guitarists are discovering just how great this company’s guitars are.
The best entry model for aspiring shredders is the Kramer Pacer Classic. If it’s good enough for the likes of Eddie Van Halen, it’s good enough for everyone else.
The Kramer Pacer Classic was intended for guitarists looking for a vintage instrument to play with. Despite its vintage looks, the Kramer Pacer Classic is fully equipped with updated hardware.
In effect, it becomes a guitar worthy of the title “the best of both worlds.” You get something old without sacrificing its playability.
- If you want to play hard rock, look no further than the Kramer Pacer Classic.
- Stays in tune no matter how hard you pull on that tremolo bar.
- Has the best sustain in this lot.
- No single coil pickup in the mix.
- Sound is a bit too bright which doesn’t make it an ideal guitar for cleaner types of music.
- Only has 22 frets which is a bit disappointing
Vintage guitars definitely cost a lot of money. The Kramer Pacer Classic gives you the opportunity to own a classic instrument without burning a hole in your pocket. This is basically the same guitar great guitarists of the 80s cut their teeth on.
5. Best Super Strat for Metal – Jackson JS32 Dinky
“The embodiment of metal in superstrat form”
- Floyd Rose licensed Jackson double-locking tremolo allows you to make brutal divebombs and epic squeals.
- Compound radius neck with amaranth fretboard feels great and is perfect for playing efficiently across its entire length.
- Custom-built high-output ceramic-magnet humbuckers come as a stock feature.
Despite the 90s era’s avoidance of guitars that were part of the hair metal movement, Jackson managed to keep going. They did this by catering to a select market: heavy metal musicians.
This loyalty to the genre rewarded the company with players swearing by the brand. As the grunge era slowly died down, Jackson came back full force with bands like Korn, Lamb of God, and Slipknot.
It also helped that metal guitar heroes like Randy Rhoads, Dave Mustaine, and Scott Ian fiercely stood behind the brand since the 80s.
Throughout Jackson’s history, the Dinky has been an ever-present body style thanks to its superstrat genes. It is currently the most recognizable Jackson guitar shape thanks to over 15 variants carrying the Dinky name.
The Dinky gets its name from its smaller body as opposed to a standard Stratocaster. What it lacks in size though, it more than makes up for in tonal capabilities, hardware, and playability.
- Extreme cutaways allow for easier access higher up on the fretboard.
- Has a double-locking Floyd Rose licensed tremolo. This tremolo performs better than most others within the price range.
- Graphite reinforced, compound radius, maple neck with an amaranth fretboard feels great for all types of playing. This neck is built for playing fast and lasting the test of time.
- Has some quality control issues. Make sure you inspect the instrument before finalizing the purchase.
- Pickups aren’t suited for anything else other than hard rock and metal. This puts the guitar’s versatility in question.
- Not the best guitar for beginners who are still exploring their musical landscape.
In my opinion, the Jackson Dinky Arch Top JS32 is the best-looking guitar in this selection. It has a well-executed look that’s perfect for any musical setting.
Final Verdict on Best Super Strat Under $500
Hands down, the Ibanez JEMJR wins. It sounds great, looks great, and plays great. It has everything you would need from a superstrat and then some.
This guitar is priced just a hair under $500 which makes it even more amazing if you put into consideration everything that comes with it.
Having humbuckers, a double-locking tremolo bar, and a fast neck will almost instantly bring any guitar over the $500 price point. Jackson managed to put all these features in and still stay within the budget.
Including the artistic features Steve Vai is known for (tree of life, lion claw, and monkey grip) is definitely a big bonus for those who find the flagship models out of reach. These are the features that truly define the JEMJR from other Ibanez models.
In conclusion, the Ibanez JEMJR is the best superstrat under $500 that you can buy in the market today.
On a side note: if the JEMJR’s body styling and the over-the-top tree of life inlay are too much “Steve Vai” for you, you could always go for the Ibanez RG450DX which works just as well, if not better, than the JEMJR.
Another worthy guitar to choose over the JEMJR and RG450DX is the Jackson JS32 Dinky. I was tempted to say get the Yamaha Pacifica but it just can’t hold up against the JEMJR in terms of sound and performance.
That’s it for now. Keep on rocking!
Recommended: Don’t need a super strat? Looking for regular guitars instead? Check out this ultimate roundup of the Best Electric Guitars for the Money!
Are Super Strat Guitars Good?
Yes. Superstrats are highly versatile instruments that you can use for any musical situation. They’re equipped with a 5-way switch that allows you to easily change pickup settings from humbuckers to single coils or a combination of both.
This makes it equally applicable to heavy metal music as it is to blues, hard rock, and even pop music.
What is the Difference Between a Strat and a Superstrat?
A superstrat is essentially a hot-rodded version of a Fender Stratocaster. Where Stratocasters use single-coil pickups, superstrats have a combination of humbuckers and single coils. This opens up the tonal possibilities the instrument can deliver.
Superstrats also have a more angular appearance, have faster necks, deeper scoops, and a tremolo bar that you can perform divebombs with.
Who Invented Super Strats?
This is a highly debated topic as most people would say it was Eddie Van Halen who brought this movement about. In truth, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth, and Dave Murray had already modified their Fender Stratocasters earlier than EVH.
What many people don’t actually know is that Michael Hampton of Parliament-Funkadelic also had a superstrat before EVH had one.
Is Superstrat Good for Metal?
Yes. Superstrats were actually made to cater to heavy metal music guitarists looking for highly versatile musical instruments. The single-coil pickups on a traditional Fender Strat just couldn’t deliver the grit needed for the more aggressive tone heavy metal needed.
Don’t be fooled though, superstrats are also good for playing blues, hard rock, and pop music on certain occasions.