So 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 the best electric guitars under $1,000, we’ve focused on three qualities: instruments that are geared towards a certain style of playing, have high-quality or after-market components, and are more responsive and nuanced.
1Sterling by Music Man JP160
If you’re done learning the scales and are looking for a Super Strat to start shredding, the Sterling by Music Man JP160 might just be your best bet. Designed in collaboration with guitar god John Petrucci himself, this axe will fulfil your need for speed. But look elsewhere if high-octane riffs are not your thing.
- Fast roasted hard maple neck
- Forearm contour makes for hours of comfortable shredding
- Floyd Rose-style double-locking tremolo
- Retails for about $700
Like the Jim Root Telecaster, the JP160 is built for heavier styles. But that’s about all they have in common. Where the Tele embraces an uncomplicated design, the JP160 opts for all the bells and whistles that a super-shredder like Petrucci needs.
The most notable design feature on the guitar is the forearm scoop on the mahogany body. We don’t need to tell you that shredding takes hours upon hours of practice – this ergonomic design will make that slightly more bearable. The fast roasted hard maple neck and 16-inch-radius rosewood fingerboard are also geared for blistering fretwork.
For electronics, the JP160 features a pair of hot humbuckers that sound great clean or distorted. A volume and tone knob and a three-way pup selector govern the guitar’s sound, so dialling in your desired setting won’t take very long. There’s also an active boost, attached to the volume control, that offers an additional 12 dB of gain.
No shred guitar is complete without a reliable whammy bar, and the JP160 is no exception. It employs a Lo Pro Double Locking Tremolo, which is a low-profile push/pull Floyd Rose-style system that accommodates your whammy abuse well. The guitar is available in Pearl White and Black Metallic, so it certainly looks ready to rock, too.
2Reverend Jetstream 390
If you’re considering a rock ’n’ roll offset guitar that isn’t a Fender, the Reverend Jetstream 390 is for you. Besides its drop-dead gorgeous retro style, the South Korea-made instrument sounds and feels fantastic. It’s great for anything from blues to surf rock, and is a solid upgrade from a beginner guitar.
- Single-bound korina body in a unique offset shape
- Three Reverend P-90s voiced for raw, ‘open’ tones
- Roasted maple neck in a comfortable medium oval shape
- High-quality hardware and electronics
- Retails for just under $1,000
The Jetstream 390 is built for the bold guitarist. It’s loud aesthetics aside, this guitar excels at gutsy styles like grunge, indie rock and alt-country. Of course, it can hold its own in more common genres like electric blues and rock ’n’ roll. This versatility comes courtesy of its feature set and specs.
Three proprietary P-90s – they’re all alnico V pickups – are the primary elements that deliver the guitar’s brawny tone. The bridge model is slightly overwound, making it thicker and hotter than a vintage-spec’ed P-90. And the neck and middle units offer more clarity and ‘open-ness’ than your average P-90. A five-way selector switch gives you a wide palette of options, too.
The Wilkinson WVS50 IIK tremolo system featured on the guitar is a great tool to learn how to use the bar. It’s a sensitive, smooth trem that’s designed to work with the pin-lock tuners and boneite nut to keep your guitar in tune while you whammy away.
Other highlights on the Jetstream 390 include: an exceedingly comfortable roasted maple neck with a 12-inch-radius maple/blackwood fretboard (depending on the finish), a solid korina body, and Reverend’s iconic Bass Contour knob. Even details such as the string tree and output jack have been carefully adjusted and improved upon. Not bad at all for a guitar under $1,000.
3Fender Jim Root Telecaster
This signature guitar is made in collaboration with Slipknot and ex-Stone Sour guitarist Jim Root, and it isn’t at all like your average Tele. Fender has managed to turn a twangy rock/country guitar into a devilish axe that revels in molten metal.
- High-output EMG humbuckers with great sustain
- Minimal controls mean less twiddling, more rocking
- 12-inch-radius fingerboard makes it ideal for shredding
- Retails for a little over $1,000
We know: this clocks in at about $1,200. But the Jim Root Telecaster represents a big step up from, say, a Squier. The extra $200 gets you superb pickups, solid hardware and an all-round unique axe. Consider this the black sheep of the Tele family. It’s built for heavy tones, droning sustains and even some shredding, as Slipknot’s #4 will tell you.
The stars of this MIM Tele are its two active EMG humbuckers: a 60 at the neck and 81 at the bridge. These are tight, high-output pickups that shine when fed into a high-gain amp or through drive pedals. That said, the pickups are still capable of pristine, articulate cleans. And with only a single volume control and three-way selector, the guitar is as simple as they come.
Other metal-leaning specs on this axe include a mahogany body, maple neck and a 12-inch-radius ebony fingerboard. A string-through-body hardtail bridge, Fender deluxe locking tuners and that killer monochrome aesthetic round out the other notable appointments that make this guitar well worth its price tag.
4Yamaha Revstar RS502T
Inspired by British and Japanese café racer motorcycles of the 60s, the Yamaha Revstar RS502T is certainly a looker. But its high-quality appointments and exceptional playability make it an ideal electric guitar under $1,000.
- Stunning vintage design: mahogany body with maple top
- In-house P-90s provide great harmonics
- Floating tailpiece delivers impressive sustain
- Push/pull Dry switch for added tonal range
- Lists for under $700
In typical Japanese fashion, the Revstar RS502T embraces both tradition and innovation. Gibson fans will notice it bears resemblance to Les Paul Doublecuts, with its mahogany body and maple top, 22-fret rosewood fingerboard, 24.75-inch scale length and P-90 pickups. But of course, Yamaha has put its own touch on these elements.
The P-90s, for example, are designed by Yamaha Guitar Design, and features alnico V magnets, German silver baseplates and plain enamel wires. They provide a clear vintage tone, but with more bite than you would expect from a regular single-coil.
Another cool feature on the RS502T is the Dry switch, which can be engaged by pulling the master tone knob. This filters out the low frequencies, giving your tone added clarity and midrange punch. The other controls on the body include a master volume knob and a three-way pup switch.
Elsewhere, the RS502T features a Tune-o-Matic-style bridge and a spring-loaded floating aluminium tailpiece that work in tandem with the pickups to provide great sustain.
Japanese designers rarely reinvent the wheel. They just make it better. Which is exactly what Yamaha has done with the Revstar RS502T.
5Fender 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. But once you do, it’s able to deliver sparkling cleans and raucous clipped tones that are great for indie, rock, pop and left-of-field genres.
- Very bright tones, which can be dialled 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 Classic Player models, are vintage-inspired but come 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 vintage-spec’ed 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. So switching circuits allows you to jump from soft chords to loud leads, while two sets of circuit-specific volume and tone controls act almost as ‘presets’. And a third switch – usually called the “strangle” – cuts the middle frequencies for even more jangle, perfect for strumming chords.
On to the modern touches. The two single-coils are far 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.
6Gibson 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
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. We’ll salute it for that.
The Gibson 490R/T alnico II 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 the 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.
7PRS 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 PRS – as opposed to the Korea-made SE – then you shouldn’t look past the cheapest model, 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
We’ll admit that 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 flame maple top. None of these make it a bad guitar. It’s still 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 come out of South Korea. Like the 85/15 “S” humbuckers, which are affordable versions of the 85/15 set found 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 10-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 moulded tremolo vibrato bridge and tailpiece, for instance.
8Epiphone 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 centre 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 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 solidbodies 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 tone to its two ProBuckers. They’re designed to mimic Gibson’s original PAF humbuckers, and even 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 on 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.
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. And at well under $1,000, it’s 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 tremendously 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 flame 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 is well worth your coin.
10Fender 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 sports 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 rather different instruments. 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 9.5-inch fretboard radius instead of 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 of fretting out, for instance.
And then we come to the pickups. The three single-coils on the Classic Player are from Fender’s American Vintage line, reverse-engineered from an original 1963 Strat. They have alnico V magnets, staggered hand-bevelled pole pieces, and the middle pickup is reverse-wound to cancel hum when it’s activated in tandem with the other pups.
And, here’s the kicker: both the Classic Player and Classic Series Strats cost exactly the same.