If you are like me (and you are here right now so, you probably are… at least a little) you sometimes are kept up at night by the many important questions in life. Question like: what is the best cheap electric guitar, or what guitar is a good electric guitar for beginners? Maybe sometimes you even spoil yourself and ask what if I had a 1000 dollars (I don’t) to spend on a guitar.
I spoiled myself like that the other day because I like to torture myself. I also spoiled my sleep since there is such an insane number of guitars under a $1000. I had to spend the whole night looking at instruments, watching videos on videos, reading stories on histories, and looking at specs before I could come up with a list. By the time I was done the night had turned into several nights and the histories and specs I had been reading online had turned into music shops and friends with guitar collections. Now that I have the list I know it was worth it. Why? Because I can fantasize about owning all of them, instead of having to “borrow” from places, and cry quietly as I fall asleep with the terrifying question “What is the best electric guitar under 1000?” floating in the dark corner of my room. If these are just under 1000, what type of perfection waits up above?
Welcome to guitar limbo. You have, unwittingly, stumbled into a world where you will read about instruments you want, but can only have one of (for now). A place where after learning about these guitars you will inevitably end up learning about guitars that inspired these, and want those too. Welcome to the place of eternal desire for more, the place that all musicians and some collectors share.
Top 10 Best Electric Guitars Under 1000
There are things that never change. There are things that are imitated beyond recognition of the original. And then there are Tributes, pieces of art created to emulate, inspire and remind of the original, without losing their intrinsic value. The Gibson 2016 Les Paul Studio 50’s Tribute is one such. It is a love letter written specifically to the original, iconic, Les Paul Gold Top of the 50s, The guitar that Jimmy Page used to record the Led Zeppelin albums we so much love and listen to. Do not be dazed, and don’t let the fact it is a tribute confuse you, this guitar is every bit as good as the original: insane tuning stability even under heavy bending, incredible sustain, two humbuckers providing clean and heavy sound make this guitar a contender for the best electric guitar under 1000. It is the golden angel your eyes and ears will give a whole lotta love to and your Significant Other will be a whole lotta jealous of.
Decadence is what I refer to this instrument as. Not because it is called hell raiser, though it does raise some hell. I call it decadence because when you hold it for the first time and play it for the first time you get two thoughts on a loop “I sound like an earthquake… I love it”. The EMG 81TW bridge pickup and the EMG 89R neck pickup make the guitar sound like the roar of rolling thunder over the armies of hell. The mahogany solid body is in the thin version of the classic C shape; all 24 Jumbo frets are easily accessible on the rosewood fretboard. The Set Neck results in a simplified access to those pesky frets while providing a steadier sound. Finally, the look of the guitar, whether you go with my preferred cherry red or the fully bound white, the guitar looks fierce and is bound to attract more looks than many others. Finally, the incredible Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo the cherry on that earn this youngster the seat of one of the best guitars available in this price range.
There is nothing more classic than a guitar designed for jazz players in the late 1950s, The jazzmaster series has a long history of special places in the hands of hearts of players such as Jessica Dobson (The Shins), Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) and Elvis Costello (Elvis Costello) and the current successor Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster Special holds a special place in this list (and the guitar world). This fender begs for you to bend the notes in your hand, with sound that can be both fat, dirty and soothing thanks to the Special Design Hot Jazzmaster pickups at the bridge and neck. The Solid alder body with its polyester finish and chrome hardware looks like it came from the imagination of some jazzed out beatnik, while the sound could be leaking from the soul of a guitar player that just sold his at the crossroads. Either way, this guitar deserves to be known as one of the best guitars money can buy.
A lot of people think that subtlety implies something to hide, but in the case if the ESP LTD EC Series EC-1000, it means class. This guitar is like the tall dark stranger you meet on the street that you will always remain curious about. It feels like it is part of your imagination, something between a lie and wishful thinking, but real. This tangible representation of class is a result of a vintage design with a black, Mahogany body with gold hardware and an ebony fretboard. It has a Set, Throughput neck, meaning stability and warmth in your tone and two EMG 60/81 humbuckers that sound like the raspy voice you hear in your head when you think Tom Waits. All of this means that this guitar might feel like an understatement, but it is not to be underestimated. Once seen, it is bound to stay in the back of your mind forever, a guitar that you’ll subsequently measure every guitar against.
PRS Guitars or Paul Reed Smith Guitars is a company that started with one man (guess his name) who made guitars by hand when in college. The love he had for these guitars was evident to all who bought them, including Carlos Santana. 40 years later this man created the SE Custom 24, for people like me (read: not famous) and possibly you (famous already? Famous someday?). PRS SE Custom 24 has the love overflowing both through its sound and its shape. Whether you get it Flat Black, Trampas Gray or some other crazy colour, this guitar will feel like it was made to be in your hand. Two SE 81/15 S Humbuckers with a range of sounds and tones like nothing else you’ve played (for real), a Mahogany body topped with Maple that not only looks, but sounds dreamy, a rosewood fretboard and a neck shaped so that even in your sleep you could play this guitar. Which you will, because you will dream about this guitar, a lot.
No more dropping names. The Jackson SLATHXMGQ3-6 Soloist is not about other people. This guitar is named soloist because it doesn’t care about anyone else. It was designed to demand attention, all of it, when it is playing. Which is why it is named soloist. This sonic monster has looks to match the vocals. A solid, double cutaway shaped body, made out of basswood and maple extends into a through set, maple neck reinforced with graphite with a rosewood fretboard. Black or red, with the two EMG 85 and 81 humbuckers you will feel like you are about to grow bat wings and fly around the hall or room you are playing in. The sound is hypnotic, gruff, heavy and lovely, just like the metal-head in you deserves. But why trust me? See the demo for yourself.
Let’s talk Rock’n’Roll or, to be more precise, its physical incarnation: the S770PB. Let me elaborate. Every rock’n’rolla like you and me knows that to be successful, you need to be three things. Lightweight, flexible and loud. But to be outstanding in the field of rolling and rocking you also need to be badass. The weapon we’re looking at right now is all these things times 10. It looks like the most unique piece you’ve seen in your life – the skinny body is mahogany with poplar burl top, and looks naked as they come. The wizard III neck gives you the handful you wish you’d never let go off, while the HSH pickup will give you all the flexibility in sound you ever needed. A true badass knows how to go from 0 to a 100 in 0.5 seconds and this guitar will do it more than right, as long as you can keep up with it. So take your shirt off, prepare your best riffs and solos and get ready to keep rolling all night, because this guitar won’t let you stop.
Imagine James Bond. He is playing a guitar. The guitar is solid black, just like his tuxedo. You ask what the guitar is, a man with a strange mustache next to you explains: It was first made in 1954. It has a solid, mahogany body and the SlipTaper D profile shaped mahogany neck. You take a closer look and see sweat glistening on Mr. Bond’s forehead. He still looks top as he blazes through a warm sounding riff all through the pearloid black inlaid fretboard. Suddenly you see the man with the strange mustache yawn. You see Mr. Bond’s hand move and change a knob. Suddenly a heavy metal sound breaks out. The man keeps going, louder: thanks to the two Probucker pickups and a coil splitting function the guitar can switch around between Humbucker and Single coil. As he finishes this sentence Mr. Bond launches into a soul splitting solo. You hear a pop and see the moustache man’s mind literally blow. You look at Mr. Bond and see him wink at you. Suddenly you realize: this is one of the best guitars you’ve laid your eyes on.
The first fender stratocaster came out in 1954. Since then the production techniques for it have changed. The materials have changed. The electronics have changed as well. Even the fan base has grown and changed, but the old fans remain there, faithful as always. Reason is, stratocaster was a revolution in the electric guitar world. It is the iconic fusion of style and function, character and finesse. The fender stratocaster standard remains true to the original in many ways, but there have been changes. The shape has been changed to a C from a D. The three single coil pickups remain, but they are better, evolving with time. The controls remain similar, but better. Maple body, more lightweight now then the original. The thing is, this guitar has a status. It was the best guitar when it came out. It still remains one of the best musical instruments out there. It has its own place in the history of music. So get the instrument at your own peril – it carries more history and more responsibility than you can imagine. So make sure your fingers can keep this sensational story alive.
The Pacifica series is the result of a test conducted in California by two musicians/engineers. The musical explosion that resulted in the Pacifica has since traveled the world many times over. The PAC611HFM LAB is the progeny of this accident. It is the superhero that came as a result of a monstrosity that took over the world. This guitar, with a double cutaway, solid alder body and a California tanned, sunny coloring sounds like a ray of sunshine much needed in this world of badasses, rock stars and metal kings. First released in 2010, it has since then inspired a feeling of ease and carelessness you can only feel while riding a wave (at least I think that’s what the feeling would sound like. Not that I know the feeling). This is achieved thanks to the Trembucker pickup installed on it by the geniuses who decided that some test subjects should be set free upon the world.
Despite my overly imaginative descriptions of these guitars, do not expect them to be the most intensely amazing things you’ll ever touch. Even the best electric guitars for under 1000 dollars are not much more than mid range in the guitar world. They are good, really good, but they are not the best item you’ll ever see on the market. This does not mean you should not be drooling over them, as showcased by me. This is the time you will be spending money on an instrument with a story and ambition. Each one of these guitars is distinctive in its nature. Each one deserves a good look and admiration.
What are YOU looking for?
Once you have surpassed the beginner level of an electric guitar, or the introduction to a cheapish guitar, and allow yourself the luxury of a more expensive guitar it becomes clear how much specifics matter. It is not even the case of specifics making the perfect guitar – there is probably no such thing. The specifics define the sound and feel of the guitar and to you, and me, and every person who has ever held played a guitar, including Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix or Keith Richards or Eric Clapton, the perfect feeling is unique.
Now is the time to acquaint yourself with the details of what makes an electric guitar the way it is. The types of pickups used, the type of material used for the body, the type of neck fastening, etc. I have talked about these details before but I will not do so here because 1. Not enough space and 2. There is a romance in this exploration and study when done on your own. It gives you the chance to appreciate the instrument for what it is. Because every guitar has a reason to look, sound and exist the way it does. A lot of thought goes into every guitar and thus each one has a story that comes with it. A legend of sorts. Be it the story of how or why it was created, the brand name that it carries, or the many associations fans, musicians and people have with it. The moment you buy it, you commit to the guitar as much as it commits to you. Buying a good guitar is like buying a house: it will not be cheap, it will have a story and a legacy and it will result in either misery or happiness. Make sure the house is comfortable, sturdy and most of all, feels like home.
Don’t Get too Stressed
All these things you need to know and consider before buying a guitar might stress you out. Don’t do that. A healthy amount of caution is the only thing I ask for here, not a paranoid flipping in between choices. The world of music, especially electric guitars, is intrinsically playful. Yes, sometimes it can be gloomy, dark or sad, but in the end all of music is play. So don’t get hung up on tiny little details that don’t really matter too much. Choose the instrument that seems fun, seems like something you’d enjoy. Don’t worry about the fact that its bridge is a little different from what you wanted. That doesn’t matter. What is important is that you have fun during the process of choosing your instrument. So go ahead captain, choose whatever you want!
A thank you to…
Before I leave you to your decisions I would like to bring to your attention something that should never be forgotten. It is also going to be very hard to forget since every time you see something related, you might get a tear in your eye.
I would like to say thank you to the first guitar I owned, and so should you. Because that guitar inspired you to travel down this road, to travel where you are right now. It was your first axe on the long, winding way of being a sonic warrior. It was your first companion, the one you learned to speak with. It was the one you used to play in your first band with, the one you used to practice in the middle of the night with. The one that took more abuse than any instrument should. The one you gave up on and came back to so many times, the one that always stuck around. It might not have been the best guitar you have ever owned, or will ever own, but it was your first, and it is the most important.
Give it a couple of years, because you will get nostalgic every time you see it, or a sister guitar. Maybe it is already happening. And while this might seem sentimental, these memories will also serve the purpose of helping you choose. Because your first guitar helped you define your sound and style. Is that what you want to stay true to?
Anyway, enough sentiments, back to picking the best electric guitar under 1000 dollars. This is just as important right now. Good luck, and I hope I helped.