You’re comfortable with the fundamentals and are ready to hop onto the next stage. And by that, we mean spring for a new guitar that doesn’t scream “I’m a beginner.”
In this list of electric guitars for intermediate players, we’ve focused on three qualities: instruments that are geared towards a certain style of playing, have high-quality components, and are more responsive and nuanced. And everything’s below $1,000.
1. Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special
This made-in-Mexico Classic Player Jaguar Special is for those who’re looking for bright jangle, a shorter scale length or eccentric good looks in their instrument—or all three at once. It’s not an easy guitar to master, hence we’d consider it an ‘intermediate’ guitar. But once you do, it’s able to deliver sparkling cleans and robust clipped tones that are great for indie, rock, pop and left-of-field genres.
- Very bright tones, which can be dialed down if need be
- Classic Jaguar rhythm/lead circuits and switching system
- Adjust-o-matic bridge to ensure tuning stability
- Retails for about $800
The Jaguar Special, like all of Fender’s other Classic Player models, are vintage-inspired, but with a few modern enhancements. In this case, the tonewoods, ‘loose’ string feel of a short scale length, complex circuitry and unusual switching system from OG Jags remain.
There are two circuits, rhythm and lead. The former activates only the neck single-coil, and yields a much darker tone; the latter lets you engage both pickups via a pair of on/off switches. Each circuit has a separate pair of volume and tone controls that you can think of as presets. It allows you to jump from soft chords to loud leads at the flick of a switch. And a third switch—usually called the “strangle”—cuts the mid frequencies for even more jangle, perfect for strumming chords.
On to the modern touches. The two single-coils are way hotter and offer more mids than vintage ones, while an Adjust-o-matic bridge means you’ll never suffer from the instability of the ‘screw’ barrels on most other Jags and Jazzmasters. That said, there are those who enjoy the imperfections that the original bridge brings. And lastly, the fretboard radius has been updated to a flatter 9.5 inches.
2. Gibson SG Faded
It may set you back about $600 less than the SG Standard, yet the Gibson SG Faded is still a faithful rendition of the iconic guitar, tone-wise, at least. All the bark and bite of your favorite Angus Young riffs will come to life on this six-string—just don’t expect it to do as well in any department outside the rock world.
- Straightforward, muscular SG tone
- Beautiful satin-y Worn Bourbon finish that shows off the grain
- PAF-inspired pickups: Gibson 490R and 490T
- Retails for under $1,000
Okay, it isn’t red, doesn’t have pickup covers, swaps a mahogany neck for a maple one, and has dot inlays. But besides those, the SG Faded is an SG through and through. Lightweight, comfortable to play and built for tearing into distorted chords while galloping on stage, the made-in-America guitar looks ready to rock ’n’ roll. And we’ll salute it for that.
The Gibson 490R/T Alnico 2 humbucker set here is modeled after original PAF models, but offers more midrange than those classic units. Although one of the highlights of these humbuckers is their four-conductor wiring that enables them to be easily coil-split, the SG Faded doesn’t come stock with that feature, strangely enough.
A SlimTaper set neck, 12-inch fretboard radius, 24.75-inch scale and Tune-o-matic bridge ensure the SG Faded retains its core ‘Gibson-ness.’ The guitar remains a solid beast of an instrument that’s better suited for ‘fire and forget’ players who don’t want to tinker too much with their tone—because it’s already there.
3. D’Angelico Premier SS
It may look like a jazz box, but the D’Angelico Premier SS can do so much more. The single-cutaway semi-hollow archtop is a wallet-friendly, Asia-made instrument that excels in clean, chime-y tones. So if you’re an intermediate player hankering after a vintage-looking unit who isn’t a ‘chugga-chugga’ type of metalhead, give the Premier SS a spin.
- Art Deco-inspired aesthetics, with the choice of adding the brand’s ‘Stairstep’ tailpiece
- Two Duncan Designed humbuckers that yield a full-bodied, chiming tone
- Slim “C”-shaped neck and set-through neck joint for modern playability
- Retails for under $800
D’Angelico really went for it in the 2018 model of the Premier SS. Gone are that guitar’s weakest link: the stock D’Angelico pickups. In their place are Duncan Designed HB-102 (neck) and HB-101 (bridge), both with Alnico V magnets and patterned after Seymour Duncan’s popular JB and ’59 humbuckers, respectively.
In the Premier SS, the pickups take you from mellow, full-bodied chimes when played clean to slightly gritty when overdriven. It’s a luscious-sounding instrument, but thanks to a full center block, can handle a fair amount of distortion—rock, blues, country and, of course, jazz are perhaps the best applications for this archtop.
And while the guitar is visually striking, its construction is pretty solid, too. It has a laminated maple back, top and sides, a “C”-shaped maple neck, ovangkol fretboard, and a moderate ten-inch fingerboard radius and 25-inch scale length.
The one thing to note, however, is the circuitry. You may want to upgrade the pots as the stock ones aren’t nuanced enough and leave a lot to be desired. Besides that, you can’t argue with $800 for a beautiful, well-made archtop with quality pickups, can you?
4. PRS S2 Standard 24 Satin
It’s almost double the price of the SE Standard 24, but is it worth it? Well, if you’d rather shell out a little more for a made-in-America instrument—as opposed to the Korea-made SE—then you shouldn’t look past the cheapest of the lot, the S2 Standard 24 Satin. Everything else about the guitar is classic PRS: comfortable, modern and suitable for every genre out there.
- Built in PRS’ Maryland factory
- Sleek, satin finish in three sober colors
- One of the more versatile guitars in the market today
- PRS’ own 85/15 “S” humbuckers that are high-output, articulate and fat
- Retails for under $1,000
Okay, so the S2 Standard 24 Satin doesn’t look like a high-end machine. It doesn’t have a glossy finish, has dot inlays rather than PRS’ signature birds, and there isn’t any fancy flamed maple top. None of these make it a bad guitar. It’s a solidly constructed all-mahogany (except for a rosewood fretboard) beast that produces the clarity, articulation and ‘high-definition-ness’ for which PRS is famed.
While the guitar itself is built in the brand’s Maryland factory, many individual components still come out of South Korea. Like the 85/15 “S” humbuckers, which are affordable versions of the 85/15 in PRS Core instruments. Lush while clean and thick when clipped, the pickups have also been coil-split to take you into glassier, single-coil territory.
Unlike most of the SE models, the S2 Standard 24 has a Pattern Regular neck. It’s fatter but not as wide, and most players will find it to be a happy middle between Fender and Gibson necks. The guitar’s ten-inch fretboard radius also falls in-between both those brands.
The S2 Standard 24 also boasts a few high-end touches, such as PRS’ S2 locking tuners and a molded tremolo vibrato bridge and tailpiece, for instance.
5. ESP LTD EC-1000
Don’t get this guitar if you aren’t into metal or hard rock. The ESP LTD EC-1000 is a high-output, aggressive riffing and soloing monster that comes in a familiar single-cutaway shape. Quality after-market components also make the $900 price tag more palatable—it isn’t exactly ‘cheap,’ but this is an instrument that you’ll want to keep for years.
- Mahogany body and three-piece mahogany neck—it’s built like a tank
- Two EMG active humbuckers: 60 at the neck and 81 at the bridge
- Sophisticated good looks with double-bound body, bound neck, and ESP’s flag inlays
- Retails for under $900
Lift the EC-1000 up and you’ll feel how robust—and heavy—it is. A solid mahogany body with a slightly carved top and three-piece set-through mahogany neck are responsible for the guitar’s heft, but this isn’t your friendly neighborhood Les Paul.
Two EMG active humbuckers make sure of that. You’ll find the common EMG 81 at the bridge, but an EMG 60 (not the 85!) at the neck. The 60 has ceramic magnets, which yield singing highs and thick mids that are great for clear, articulate solos. Together, the pickups provide slightly more versatility than the 81/85 configuration.
Other specs on the EC-1000 also lean towards the heavier genres. It has ESP’s slim “U”-shaped neck, a very flat fretboard radius, 24 extra jumbo frets, locking tuners, and a TonePros locking Tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece.
And last but certainly not least, you’ll be drooling all over the guitar’s classy good looks. It’s available in a bunch of finishes and flamed maple tops, and a few come in all-gold or black hardware for a touch of luxe.
6. Epiphone Casino Coupe
You’ll know the Epiphone Casino best as “John Lennon’s guitar,” but here’s a smaller version, modeled after the Gibson ES-339: the Casino Coupe. And just like with the big boy, you’ll get all that sweet, fully hollow goodness without breaking the bank.
- Compact, ES-339-sized version of the OG Casino
- Great for less gain-intensive genres
- ’60s SlimTaper set mahogany neck for playability and comfort
- Retails for under $500
The first thing you’d notice about the Coupe is its smaller body. It sits more comfortably on your lap and generates less feedback than its larger sibling—but without dramatically affecting the tone that made the Casino such an icon in rock ’n’ roll.
Compared to, say, an Epiphone Dot, the Coupe offers a ‘woodier,’ more acoustic timbre. “Sparkly,” “bell-like” and “jangly” are often associated with the guitar and its stock pair of P-90s, and cranking the gain up elicits more a sizzle than a roar. Be careful with the distortion, though—without a center block like those you’ll find on semi-hollows, the Coupe is still fairly susceptible to feedback.
7. Epiphone Sheraton-II PRO
If the Casino is too feedback-y and acoustic-y for you, sling on the Epiphone Sheraton-II PRO. The handsome semi-hollow has a center block to dampen feedback and increase sustain, making the guitar more capable of handling higher gain. It’s a rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz, pop and indie rock instrument, clocking in at a fraction of the price of its closest sibling, the Gibson ES-335.
- Gorgeous aesthetics: mother-of-pearl/abalone ‘block and triangle’ fretboard inlays, tortoiseshell pickguard, gold hardware, bindings everywhere, and an ornate headstock ‘vine’ inlay
- Round, warm and fat semi-hollow tone
- Two vintage PAF-voiced ProBuckers that are coil-split
- Retails for under $700
Made in Indonesia, the Sheraton-II PRO is a sophisticated guitar that can still rock out. It may be renowned for its rounded cleans, but take it to the edge of breakup (and beyond) and it’ll sound just as sweet. While it isn’t as versatile as other solid-bodies out there, this archtop can be coaxed and tamed just by fiddling with the knobs and tweaking your pick attack.
The Sheraton-II PRO owes much of its fat, round and ‘woolly’ tone to its two ProBuckers. They’re designed to mimic Gibson’s original PAF humbuckers, and share the same metals and magnets. Both pickups are also coil-split for even more versatility, so transforming both humbuckers to single-coils is as easy as pulling the two volume knobs.
Epiphone paid as much attention to this semi-hollow’s build as its feature set. It’s absolutely gorgeous, for one, is solidly constructed and has above-average tonewoods: laminated maple body and top, along with a five-piece maple-and-walnut neck. Not the most exotic materials around, but then again, this is a sub-$700 axe.
8. Ibanez RGEW521FM
The Ibanez RGEW521FM represents exactly what we mean by a “value-for-money guitar.” It sports all the features of a premium model—such as after-market pickups—and is designed for one distinct use, in this case modern rock and metal. Oh, and it’s also super affordable for mere mortals like us.
- Very thin Wizard III roasted maple neck
- Stunning good looks: a flamed maple top, bound Macassar ebony fretboard and bound body
- DiMarzio Tone Zone and Air Norton humbuckers
- Very flat 15.75-inch fretboard radius with 24 jumbo frets
- Retails for under $700
The standout feature of the RGEW521FM is its pickups. You get two DiMarzio humbuckers—an Air Norton at the neck and Tone Zone at the bridge—that are built for crunchy rhythm and hot-as-hell leads. The pickups are wired up to five positions, which include the neck unit in a parallel configuration.
Everything else about the axe also screams “rock” and “metal.” Its Wizard III neck is really thin, its 15.75-inch-radius fretboard is super flat, and its mahogany body fattens up your tone and enhances sustain.
The cosmetic features on the RGEW521FM also tip towards the high-end. It has a gorgeous flamed maple top—only one, natural finish, though—a blazing red back, and a bound body and neck. Wherever your tastes lie, you can’t deny that for 700 bucks, this Ibanez kills it.
9. Fender Classic Series ’72 Telecaster
“Hot-rodded” doesn’t even begin to describe the Fender Classic Series ’72 Telecaster. Combining the looks of a Tele and Strat with the robustness of a Les Paul, the guitar is built for gutsy rock and players who crave brawnier, more straightforward sounds.
- More ballsy rock than country twang
- Modern Wide Range humbuckers that mimic the legendary pups from the ’70s
- Strat-style oversized headstock and string-through bridge
- Les Paul-style tone and volume controls
- Retails for under $800
Besides its hybridized looks, the first thing you’ll notice about this Tele is its pickup configuration. Yep, those are humbuckers: Fender’s modern reissue of the highly rated Wide Range pups from the ’70s.
While not as articulate as the originals, they’re what gives this guitar its fat, full tone—yet still bearing that unmistakable Fender brightness and shimmer—that are ideal for anything from classic rock to indie to punk. Add to that the LP-style circuitry, and the ’72 Tele will have you chugging out distorted open chords in no time.
Other specs on this rock ’n’ roll machine are fairly standard for a Fender instrument. It has an alder body, “C”-shaped maple neck, a 25.5-inch scale length, and 21 medium jumbo frets. However, a flat, 12-inch fretboard radius keep things comfy enough for players used to Gibsons.
10. Fender Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster
Not to be confused with the Classic Series models, the Fender Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster is, in our opinion, the better instrument. It’s designed by Fender Custom Shop masterbuilder Dennis Galuszka, and has fancier pickups and a bevy of modern appointments that make it far comfier for today’s player.
- Easy to nail that beautiful, sparkling Fender tone
- Three American Vintage Strat single-coils
- Modern specs with classic aesthetics
- Retails for under $800
The Classic Player ’50s Strat and the Classic Series ’50s Strat may look identical, yet they’re completely different beasts. Both are made in Mexico, but the former feels like a better built guitar—it isn’t as rough around the edges, construction-wise. And where the Classic Series is devoted to vintage specs, this axe takes plenty of liberty in that regard.
Yes, both have “V”-shaped maple necks that have been ‘softened’ into a more rounded cross-section. But the Classic Player has a modern 9.5-inch fretboard radius rather than the period-correct 7.25 inches. It’s a matter of taste, but a 9.5-inch spec is far more versatile—you can bend notes without fear, for instance.
And then we come to the pickups. The three single-coils on the Classic Player are from Fender’s American Vintage line, having been reverse-engineered from an original 1963 Strat. They have Alnico V magnets, staggered hand-beveled pole pieces, and the middle pickup has been reverse-wound to cancel hum when it’s activated in tandem with the other pups.
Oh, and did we mention both the Classic Player and Classic Series Strats cost exactly the same?