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.
Fender Vintera 50s Stratocaster
Fender’s much-talked about Vintera series for 2019 offers tremendous value for the quality it delivers. So it’s no surprise that the ’50s Stratocaster is only one of three Vintera guitars that have made this list. But first, let’s take a look at why this S-type is a serious contender when it comes to the best guitars under $1,000.
The ’50s Stratocaster is one of our favourite Strats at the moment simply because it just oozes old-school cool. From its three vintage-style 50s Strat single-coil pickups to its period-correct Soft V neck profile to its vintage-leaning frets and tremolo system, this guitar looks, sounds and feels the part.
Where tone is concerned, the ’50s Stratocaster delivers a tremendously forward lead tone in the neck. Switching over to bridge, however, will give you brighter and twangier tones. Combine these with a six-point vintage-leaning tremolo and you have a rock ’n’ roll-ready axe that’ll only set you back $900.
Retails for $899.99/£729.
Sterling 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. Look elsewhere though, if high-octane riffs are not your thing.
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 whether 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.
Retails for $699.99/£696.
Fender Vintera 50s Telecaster
If you can’t be dissuaded to try anything other than a Telecaster, then your best bet for a T-style under $1,000 is the Fender Vintera 50s Telecaster. Arguably the best instrument in the Vintera line-up, this guitar is a no-nonsense, vintage-leaning Tele with a superb neck.
Honing in on our favourite feature, the U-shaped maple neck – with 7.25-inch-radius fretboard – feels big, but not uncomfortably so. The shape is particularly suited to those who play with their thumbs over the top. The neck is also well-lacquered, so there’s no “stickiness”, and it blends gorgeously into the headstock.
Plugging the 50s Tele in, you’ll find the pickups deliver nothing short of pristine clarity. The constantly criticised Telecaster neck pickup excels here, delivering excellent articulation and decay. This guitar is not all chime, though. Stomping on a Tube Screamer will show you it’s equally adept at raunch. We’ll concede that the three-saddle bridge isn’t great for intonation, but for day-to-day usage, it’ll be just fine.
Retails for $899.99/£749. Read our full review here.
Jackson X Series Marty Friedman MF-1
The Marty Friedman MF-1 is an axe that’s effortlessly cool. With its sleek monochrome palette and razor-sharp single-cut body, it’s difficult to take a bad photo of the MF-1. It comes as no surprise then that aesthetics were a major concern for Marty Friedman when he was developing the MF-1 with Jackson.
Why? “Think about it: you take hundreds, if not thousands of pictures with it every year, so you want it to be something that looks good on your particular body and playing posture,” he told us in an interview. And we can’t argue. But it just so happens that the MF-1 is not just a looker – It plays brilliantly too.
The guitar’s body is made from nato, which provides similar tonal qualities to mahogany. It has a slimmer body than an LP and its lower horn is significantly carved for superb upper-fret access. In terms of tone, the passive EMGs may not appease the gain hounds, but it plays very well with effects and excels at a wide range of hard rock styles. The MF-1 also has a surprisingly versatile clean tone, with a dynamic response that’s not too far off from that of a Strat neck pup.
Retails for £519. Read our full review here.
Reverend 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.
Three proprietary P-90s – 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.
Retails for $999/£799.
Fender 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.
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.
Retails for $1,199.99/£928.
Sterling By Music Man St. Vincent HH
St. Vincent’s signature model has seen multiple iterations, most of which have been nothing short of spectacular. This variant is a made-in-Indonesia Sterling version of the Music Man St. Vincent HH, and at just about a third of the cost of its cousin, it’s a great option for the intermediate guitarist.
If you’re ready to look past comfort picks, this St. Vincent HH provides many opportunities for sonic exploration. Its pair of Sterling by Music Man humbuckers, for example, provide a great balance between power and clarity. If you, like Annie Clark, tend to dial up the fuzz, you’ll quickly realise the guitar’s treble response prevents turning your sound into inarticulate mush.
There are plenty of other thoughtful design aspects on this St. Vincent HH that make it an instant winner. Its satin sheen-finished neck has an extremely comfortable, soft-shouldered profile. It’s got a dual-action truss rod and locking tuners, which you don’t commonly see at this price point. It’s even got three-cornered control knobs which make for easy manipulation in sweaty conditions.
Retails for $649.99/£799. Read our full review here.
Yamaha 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.
In typical Japanese fashion, the Revstar RS502T embraces both tradition and innovation. Gibson fans will notice it bears a 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 feature 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.
Retails for $649.99/£542.
PRS S2 Standard 24 Satin
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 instead of 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.
Retails for $999/£999.
Chapman Guitars V2 ML2 Modern Standard
Rob Chapman knows a thing or two about making quality instruments – and effects, too – so it did not surprise us that the V2 ML2 was well-received when it was unveiled. This axe is built for the guitarist who’s looking for a fuss-free single-cut design and doesn’t want to break the bank for it.
Where tonewoods are concerned, the V2 ML2 features a gloss-finished mahogany body with flame maple veneer. It also has a satin-finished C-shaped maple set neck with an ebony fretboard. What’s notable about the body design is the tummy contour, beveled body outline and carved lower horn. All three of these features are aimed at one significant characteristic: enhanced playability.
That carries on to the guitar’s tone as well. With its push-pull tone control you’ll have access to split-coil sounds, immediately increasing the V2 ML2’s tonal palette. In our review, we switched to the bridge pickup, put it through a Suhr Badger patch with a bit of compression and managed to dial in some Tele-style twang.
So while Chapman isn’t reinventing the wheel with this design, the V2 ML2 is a single-cut with unrivalled playability and versatility at this price point.
Retails for $499/£499. Read our full review here.
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 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.
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.
Retails for $699/£515.
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.
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.
Retails for $699.99/£619.