Are you an intermediate guitarist looking for your first non-beginner axe?
Or are you a pro looking for a reliable workhorse guitar?
Either way, you’ll find a guitar that suits you in this price range.
Here are what we think are the best electric guitars under $1,000 out there:
- Fender Player Stratocaster
- Fender Deluxe Nashville Telecaster
- Epiphone Les Paul Tribute Plus
- Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute
- Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2 24 HT HH
- PRS SE Custom 24
- ESP LTD EC-1000 QM or ESP LTD EC-1000
- Schecter Hellraiser C-1
- Ibanez Iron Label S Series SIX6FDFM
- EVH 5150 Series Standard
Should you Spend Close to $1,000 on a Guitar?
The short answer to this question is, “yes, if you can afford it.”
In my opinion, the most critical factor to consider here is the stage you’re at on your journey as a guitarist.
At this point, you’ve probably spent a year or two honing your skills on a cheaper guitar.
Now you’re more of an intermediate player than a beginner. And you’re able to appreciate how your sound improves with the quality of your instrument. This is especially true for fingerstyle playing.
You also have a much better idea of how to match a high-quality guitar with the right gear to optimize its tone.
Improving your sound will further boost your motivation to continue practicing.
The Benefits of Spending Around $1,000 On Your First Guitar
I always say that beginners should start playing with a cheap guitar.
After all, If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can even get a very decent sound out of an old, used guitar.
That way, you don’t risk too much money until you know for sure that you can commit to learning to play.
However, starting with a more expensive guitar also has clear advantages:
- The better the quality of your guitar, the more comfortable it’ll be to play it and to progress on it as a beginner.
- The better sound quality will boost your motivation to practice, even if your ear isn’t very sharp yet.
A Guitar For A Lifetime
But perhaps the most important advantage of buying a guitar for close to $1,000 is that you’ll be able to keep it for life.
You can always upgrade the pickups or otherwise tweak any of the guitars we’ll review in this article. This will allow you to enjoy playing them even if you become a professional guitar player.
After all, many pros use guitars in this price range as their backup axe. They take them to club gigs when they worry their more expensive guitars could get damaged or stolen.
Buying Three Guitars Instead of One
Of course, this is not for everyone.
But let’s say you’ve reached a point where you’re sure that playing the guitar is something you want to do long term.
Then you should consider buying three guitars instead of one.
In particular, owning the Strat/Tele/Les Paul trifecta can take your playing to a whole new level. And this applies to both the stage and the studio.
Here’s a video that explains this in detail:
Best Guitars Under $1,000 — My Picks
Since 2018, the Player Stratocaster has been Fender’s default entry-level Strat.
That year, the Player replaced the Standard Series Stratocaster.
Like its predecessor, the Player is made in Mexico. But it features several significant improvements.
Perhaps the Player’s most important upgrade is its pickups, featuring Alnico magnets.
In the words of Justin Norvell, Senior Vice President of Fender Products,
“The Standard models had slightly hot and dark ceramic bar magnet pickups that we felt didn’t bring out all the nuance, personality, and clarity that a Fender is known for, but they did perform well with higher gain sounds,” explains Norvell.
Therefore, we knew we wanted to step up to a more complex alnico pickup while also retaining some hotness and output, so we went with alnico Vs on most guitars, and a few have IIs. We went through several months of shooting out pickups and probably a dozen sets until we were happy.”
Also, while the old Standard Series Stratocaster had a 6-point bridge, the Player has a 2-point tremolo — like what you’d find on an expensive, real-deal American Strat.
Besides the classic S-S-S arrangement, the Player Strat comes in H-S-S and H-S-H variations. At least one of them will strike your fancy regardless of your favorite musical genre.
Oh, and if metal is your thing, the H-S-S version is available with a Floyd Rose tremolo system.
Last but not least, you can get any of the Player models with a flamed maple top added to the alder body.
- You’ll get the iconic Fender American Stratocaster sound for a fraction of the price. There’s not much of a difference between the two guitars, and you can always upgrade later.
- Other cool features include:
- Dedicated tone control for the bridge pickup allows fine-tuning your sound in pickup positions one and two.
- The Player Strat is a versatile instrument. But it’s probably not the best fit for thrash and similar extreme-metal styles.
Here’s a demo of the Fender Player Series Stratocaster:
• • •
Like the Fender Player Series, the Deluxe Nashville Tele is made in Mexico. But many think it’s a worthy rival of the real-deal American Professional Telecaster.
The guitar’s name suggests it’s intended for those following the steps of a James Burton or Brad Paisley. But this little gem is also a great fit rock, blues, and jazz.
The key feature that sets this Tele apart is its three-pickup configuration:
- A pair of Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele single-coils in the bridge and neck.
- A Vintage Noiseless Strat pickup in the middle position.
Couple this with five-way switching, and you have a guitar that can deliver a wide variety of tones.
Bottom line: buying the Deluxe Nashville Tele is almost like buying both a Strat and a Tele in one guitar.
- Other cool features include
- Six-saddle string-through-body bridge with block saddles, which boosts sustain and keeps intonation under control
- Locking short-post tuning machines for extra tuning stability.
- Includes deluxe gig bag
- The Nashville Deluxe Tele boasts impressive versatility. But it might be a bit of a stretch to use it for extreme-metal genres.
Here’s a demo of the Fender Deluxe Nashville Tele:
• • •
One of this is guitars is Epiphone’s most expensive Les Paul. The other is Gibson’s cheapest.
Both guitars will give you the characteristic chunky-when-dirty, smooth-when-clean Les Paul tone.
The Tribute Plus is pretty much a regular Epiphone Les Paul Standard, with two Gibson USA humbucking pickups.
The guitar’s push-pull tone controls wire the pickups in series or parallel.
When in parallel, the pickups produce bright tones that are unusual for a Les Paul. But they’re still respectful of the guitar’s essential character.
It’s a much more sensible solution than using a splitter to turn the humbuckers into single coils. Why would you want to force a Les Paul to sound like a Strat anyway?
The Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute is more expensive than Epiphone’s counterpart. For the extra cash, you get official membership in the legendary Gibson club with an American-made guitar.
Gibson designed the Les Paul Specials as student models. They’re reliable, yet bare-bones instruments that do away with unnecessary decor.
But the guitar boasts Modern Classic 490R and 490T humbucking pickups. These produce an edgier, more contemporary tone profile than the classic P-90 humbuckers.
Both guitars have mahogany bodies with maple caps and rosewood fretboards.
Watch the following video for a detailed rundown of the pros and cons of one guitar compared to the other:
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If there were a “Telecaster on Steroids” award, it would go to the Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2 24 HT HH.
Fender owns Charvel. So it’s no surprise they pulled off a tremendous 21st-century version of an epic classic.
The guitar body’s curves are deeper than the classic Tele, making it more ergonomic.
It also features a scalloped lower back bout and cut heel. This helps access the upper fringes of the guitar’s 24-jumbo-fret, caramelized maple fingerboard.
But what sets the Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2 apart is its wide tonal range. This is due to its Fluence Open Core Classic pickups.
A two-way mini toggle switches the guitar’s pickups to “modern” and “vintage” voices.
Here’s how the manufacturer describes these voices:
- When the mini toggle is down (“modern PAF”):
- The bridge pickup “delivers quintessential hot-rodded humbucking tone without all the baggage.”
- The neck pickup “delivers a Fluence-exclusive tone with clear and airy chime. Unbelievable high end, highly vocal midrange, and tight lows.”
- When the mini toggle is up (“vintage PAF”):
- The bridge pickup delivers “ideal vintage PAF humbucking tone calibrated for perfect output.”
- The neck pickup delivers “an ideal-but-elusive vintage PAF tone with just the right dynamics and output.”
A push/pull tone control splits the humbuckers into single coils.
Add a three-way blade pickup switch, and the tonal combinations are infinite.
Overwhelmed? Pull up the tone control. Put the switchblade in position 2. Now you’re back to the classic Tele configuration — outer single coils in the bridge and neck.
- The guitar takes the versatility of the original Tele to a whole new level.
- Other cool features include:
- Charvel® HT6 string-through-body hardtail bridge with brass saddles, intended to boost sustain and intonation.
- Reverse licensed Fender® Telecaster® headstock.
- Looks-wise, here are your options:
- Satin Black finish with black pickguard and black hardware.
- Snow White finish with parchment pickguard and chrome hardware.
- If you’re a less-is-more kind of musician, the guitar might have too many bells and whistles for your taste.
• • •
The PRS SE Custom 24 is quite similar to its more expensive, elder sibling — the legendary PRS Custom 24.
The “SE” in PRS’s SE line stands for “Student Edition.” It’s made in South Korea, whereas the original Custom 24 is made in the USA.
It features the same mahogany body as the Custom 24. The key difference in body construction boils down to the maple top.
The Custom 24 features a one-piece flamed maple top. The SE Custom has a thick maple top covered with a flamed maple veneer.
This detail means the SE Custom 24 saves you a ton of money without sacrificing tonal quality.
Both guitars feature 24-fret rosewood fretboards with gorgeous bird inlays. The SE Custom has a maple neck, whereas the Custom 24 has a mahogany neck.
Two 85/15 “S” pickups coupled with a 3-way blade pickup selector boost the SE Custom’s tonal versatility. Also, a push/pull tone control allows you to turn both humbucking pickups into single coils.
The SE Custom comes with a custom-designed, floating PRS bridge. But you can also get it with a double-locking, Floyd Rose 1000 Series Tremolo.
- This is an incredibly high-quality, beautiful, and versatile guitar. It’s almost like buying a genuine, American-made PRS Custom-24 for a third of the price.
- Other cool features include:
- Available in a wide variety of gorgeous finishes. My favorites are Charcoal Burst, Fire Red Burst, and Sapphire.
- Some customers think that the guitar’s tone is a bit too bright when in single-coil mode.
Check out how the SE Custom 24 sounds in the following video:
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It’s fair to say that the guitars reviewed so far are suitable for metal. But they’re primarily rock/blues/jazz instruments.
Well, the ESP LTD EC-1000 QM is primarily a metal guitar. But it’s also fair to say it’s suitable for rock/blues/jazz.
This difference mainly boils down to the guitar’s pickups. The ESP LTD EC-1000 QM features EMG 60 and EMG 81 humbucking pickups.
The EC-1000 QM is made in South Korea. Its look and feel balance a classic Les-Paul vibe with a 21-st century post-modern edginess.
The guitar has a mahogany body and a quilted maple top with a colorful, psychedelic finish.
The super sharp cutaway also contributes to the aesthetic effect. It also lets you reach down to the 24th of its extra-jumbo frets with ease.
The ESP LTD EC-1000 QM boasts a Tonepros locking TOM bridge/tailpiece. There’s also the option of getting it with a Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo.
The ESP LTD EC-1000 is basically the same guitar. But it features two passive Seymour Duncan pickups with push-pull coil-splits. (At the time of writing, this guitar was available for $999 on Sweetwater. It might be more than $1,000 at the time you’re reading this. You can double-check the guitar’s price here).
- The guitar strikes a great balance between vintage looks and modern technology and sound.
- It’s a versatile instrument, but perhaps better suited for rock and metal than for blues, jazz, or pop.
Here’s a demo of the ESP LTD EC-1000 QM:
Here’s a demo of the ESP LTD EC-1000:
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There are some similarities between the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 and the ESP LTD EC-1000:
Both guitars are manufactured in South Korea.
Both are versatile guitars. But both were designed with the metal guitarist in mind.
Both guitars have a mahogany body with a quilted maple top.
Both guitars have 24 frets.
Like the ESP LTD EC-1000 QM, the Schecter Hellraiser C-1 packs two active EMG pickups.
However, the Hellraiser’s EMG’s are different from the EC-1000’s: an EMG 81TW at the bridge with an EMG 89 at the neck.
The EMG 81TW dual-mode design combines an EMG 81 humbucker and a separate single-coil pickup in the same housing.
This is different from having a pair of coils with one turning on and off. The master tone push/pull control transforms the bridge humbucker into a single-coil.
The EMG 89 humbucker at the neck uses Alnico V magnets. And it has separate preamps and coils, which allows you to split it into two single coils.
A three-way switchblade also adds to the guitar’s vast tonal range.
A TonePros TOM bridge with through-body construction boosts the guitar’s resonance and sustain.
You can also get the Hellraiser C-1 with a Floyd Rose tremolo system. (Be aware that at the time of writing, this feature takes the guitar price to $999 on Sweetwater. By the time you read this article, it might have surpassed the $1,000-mark.)
- It’s one of the very best guitars for metal shredders of all kinds.
- Despite its versatility, the guitar is more suitable for rock and metal than for blues, jazz, or pop.
Here’s the Hellraiser C-1’s magic on a cover of Alter Bridge’s “Isolation”:
• • •
Ibanez launched the RGA42HPT in 2020. It’s made in Indonesia, and the latest addition to its legendary RGA series.
The guitar has a sculpted Nyatoh body bolted to a roasted maple neck.
Its 24-fret jatoba fingerboard features offset dot position markers. The luminescent side dots are a blessing on stage when the lighting is scarce.
It features two direct-mounted, gold-hardware DiMarzio Fusion Edge humbucking pickups. They’re manufactured only for Ibanez guitars.
Last but not least, the RGA42HPT sports a double-locking tremolo bridge.
This is an axe made with the metal shredder in mind. However, its coil-split toggle and 5-position switchblade increase the guitar’s tonal range.
- The guitar is as suitable for rock as any of the legendary RGA Series. But sound- and looks-wise it’s also perfect for blues, jazz, and even pop, if you ask me.
- It’s available only in Laser Blue Mate with golden pickups, tremolo and locking nut. I personally love this color combination, but it might not be for everyone.
Check out a demo and detailed rundown of the guitar’s features in the following video:
• • •
What a better way to leave your newbie days behind than adopting the legendary Van Halen brown sound?
With the EVH 5150 Series Standard, you can do just that for less than $1,000.
The guitar is a re-edition of the striped 5150 series guitar. It’s made in Mexico.
The guitar’s famous predecessor had only a bridge humbucker. And just like the guitar God’s original axe, a single volume control.
The 5150 Standard breaks with that minimalistic configuration in two important ways.
First, it features two custom designed, direct-mounted EVH Wolfgang Alnico 2 humbuckers, instead of one.
According to the manufacturer, the bridge humbucker,
“delivers the perfect amount of punch and articulation with sweet sustain and thick chunky rhythms in a perfectly balanced EQ curve.”
And the neck humbucker,
“serves up no-nonsense, balls to the wall overdrive and endless sustain without skimping on articulate cleans when the volume is rolled down.”
The guitar is also equipped with a high-friction tone knob. This is in addition to the low-friction volume knob, designed to emulate Eddie’s majestic volume swellings.
A three-way toggle engages the bridge humbucker in position one for brown-sound riffing. Position two engages both pickups, while position three puts the spotlight on the neck humbucker for Eruption-like soloing.
The quartersawn, 22-jumbo-fret maple neck features a modified “C” profile. It’s less wide and more rounded at the nut than towards the heel. This is intended for more comfortable riffing and chording at the nut, and easier bending near the heel.
The guitar sports a “dive-bomb” certified EVH-branded top-mount Floyd Rose tremolo system. And a d-tuner allows you to easily switch back and forth from drop-D to standard tuning.
- A guitar that pretty much delivers Eddie’s legendary Brown Sound at a reasonable price.
- Other cool features include:
- Truss rod adjustment wheel placed at the heel of the neck. This allows easy neck relief tweaks without tearing your guitar apart.
- The guitar comes in three beautiful, non-striped finishes. Many people think striped looks great on Eddie, but not on everyone.
- The guitar has a basswood body. Some people think this is a low-quality wood. (But in my opinion, if it’s good for Eddie, it’s good for anyone!)
Here’s a full demo of the 5150 Standard by the great Cameron Cooper:
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My Personal Favorite
All the guitars reviewed in this article are high-quality instruments.
They all deliver excellent value for money.
I guess the final choice depends on personal preference more than anything else.
If your budget allows, perhaps you should consider buying more than one of these excellent guitars.
However, if you can’t allow yourself to spend more than $1,000, then you’ll have to boil it down to one.
And if I had to recommend one guitar out of the ten, that’d be the PRS SE Custom 24.
I have tried this guitar many times. And I can’t find a noticeable difference in sound compared to the real-deal PRS Custom 24… which costs almost five times as much!
It’s a super versatile instrument, suitable for almost any music style. And its aesthetics are equally adaptable. Its darker finishes, like the Charcoal Burst, will look great on stage whether you play in a metal, hard rock, blues, jazz, or pop band.
In other words, if you asked me what’s the best intermediate electric guitar out there, I’d say it’s the PRS SE Custom 24.
Actually, let me rephrase that. This gem of a guitar is a great candidate for the best electric guitar for the money in the market today. Period.
What To Do Next
Don’t have close to $1,000 to spend on a guitar? Check out our article on the best beginner electric guitar packages. If you want to start polishing your tone beyond the basic settings of your amp, read our guide to the must-have guitar pedals. Perhaps you want to consider complementing your new electric with an acoustic that doesn’t break the bank. And if metal is definitely your thing, you might benefit from reading our ESP guitars review article.