The Best Electric Guitar under $1000 – Buyers’ Guide & Reviews
The electric guitar is one of the best instruments to learn because of its depth of expression. But there’s many hundreds of different models available. In this guide, I will talk about how to find the best electric guitar under 1000 dollars.
What to Expect in Electric Guitars Under $1000
Electric guitars have a daunting array of characteristics. If you want to help narrow down the options, then start off by thinking about the kind of music you want to learn.
If there’s a certain guitarist who inspires you, then look up what guitar they use. That is your starting point. For example, I wanted to learn songs by Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, so I looked up his guitars. I found a good choice and then swapped out the pickups to match his, so I could get close to his sound.
A budget of $1000 is a good cutoff because it covers the midrange segment of the market. That range also includes some of the premium instruments with top-shelf materials.
Sound and Electronics
Acoustic guitars get most of their unique tone from the wood that makes up their frame. For electric guitars, it’s the electronic components that do the bulk of the work.
The most important of these is the set of pickups. Pickups are the rectangular parts located right under the strings. Electric guitars usually have two or three pickups. Pickups use magnets to detect the movement of the strings, and translate those movements into an electric signal. The circuitry and design of the pickups plays a huge role in the character of the sound. Some guitars have two different pickups so that one can work best for soloing and the other for rhythm play.
Wood choice matters as well, especially for semi-hollow electric guitars. Once you approach $1000, you will see high-end woods in many models. Better wood matters for sustain as well as tone.
There is also a huge variation between different models of pickup. The difference between active and passive pickups plays a major role in this. In short, active pickups are more powerful, more detailed, and tend to be more common on premium models. But, they need their own power source in the form of batteries and they tend to cost more as well.
You should know that you can buy pickups separately from guitars. That is how professionals customize their instruments. They have a guitar they like and upgrade the pickups later. You don’t need to worry about that as a beginner. It is worth knowing that you don’t have to stick with the first pickups that come with a guitar.
The brand of an electric guitar tells you a lot about what kind of sound you can expect from it. For example, some brands produce guitars for metal music, while others stick to blues. Brands build these reputations through experience and endorsements with musicians.
If you look up a brand, it is usually pretty easy to tell if they have a specialty. For example, if their endorsements from musicians all come from one genre, then that is a useful sign. Not all brands are tied to a genre. The two biggest electric guitar brands, Gibson and Fender, are popular across genres.
You can find good deals on instruments that will work well with the music you want to play. You need to learn about smaller brands and their specialties first.
Electric guitars have a lot of little touches that make them play or feel different from each other. For example, the body shape of the guitar can affect how you hold it and how comfortable it feels. Some guitars have a full 24 frets and others have a few less. With 22 frets, the guitar tone is warmer because the pickup is farther from the bridge. A 24-fret design has a few extra notes to play and a brighter sound.
There are different kinds of tuners that work differently. Some guitars allow you to add a whammy or tremolo bar to the bridge and others do not. These features are not make or break on their own. They can help you make a final decision after you have narrowed everything down to a shortlist.
You should think about whether any of these extras appeal to you. It’s entirely possible that you don’t care about any of them. Some are so specialized that you will probably never use them. But if you want extra-large frets or a seventh string, then go for it.
The Best Electric Guitars Under $1000
Fender American Special Stratocaster
Fender is one of the classic brands of electric guitar. The American Special is a midrange example of their iconic Strat body and pickup set. What sets Fender apart is their use of single-coil pickups. These are the first type of pickup invented. They are known for a pure, soaring tone that is perfect for blues and the high end of the spectrum. The American Special has three single-coil Texas Special pickups. These give a thick, warm sound perfect for blues guitar or anything that uses a touch of gain.
You can choose between different combinations of those for different applications. It has a tone knob, a tremolo arm, 22 frets, and a selection of sunburst dual-color designs. Fender guitars are known for their versatility across many genres. The single-coil sound is a favorite among fans of classic rock and other midcentury music. The American Special suits budget-minded buyers who want the Fender sound.
- Great sound at a reasonable price
- Classic design, popular with many famous guitar players
- Plenty of options for shaping tone with multiple pickups and a tone control
- Comes with a tremolo arm
- Lacks full 24 frets, so some solos are harder to play
Epiphone Les Paul Standard
Epiphone is another of the original giants in the electric guitar industry. Epiphone, like Fender, has some truly classic guitar lines, including the Les Paul. There are many variations on the Les Paul. The Standard Plus-Top has all the character and edge of the original. The price is quite competitive, cheaper than many other middle-market offerings.
It uses two humbucker pickups designed and built in-house. The bridge is Tune-o-Matic, a design which has been part of Epiphone’s ensemble for decades. The goal is to maximize sustain and purity of tone. It comes in a selection of sunburst color options. The elegant, narrow-waisted body shape is evocative of an acoustic build. The Epiphone lettering and Les Paul signature on the headstock add a ton of character.
- The warm, classic tone is ideal for rock, among other things
- Epiphone delivers excellent build quality and design for the price
- Comes with strings at the right action level and weight
- Knobs are made with a less-durable resin and are at risk of breaking
Fender American Special Telecaster
The Telecaster is one of the oldest designs in the world of electric guitars. It predates even the Stratocaster. The body design is actually reminiscent of the Epiphone Les Paul profile. The Telecaster uses single-coil pickups and a tremolo bridge like the Strat. In contrast, it has one pickup arranged next to the bridge and another at the neck, both Texas Special Teles.
It uses the same tone knob as the American Special Strat. The sound that the Tele produces is unique because it has a unique single-coil. The high tones and midrange really sing, especially with a little distortion. In terms of color options, the Tele has both solid and sunburst styles available.
Both the Special Telecaster and Stratocaster show off classic Fender designs. They sit at the same price point with the same quality level. It comes down to the pickup arrangement and body shape that you prefer. Their sound profiles are not the same. However, the emphasis on single-coil pickups means there is a lot of overlap in what you can play with each one.
- Beautiful design that retains a classic personality
- Very little work needed out of the box
- Versatile and appealing tone
- Does not come with a tremolo arm
ESP LTD EC-1000
ESP is a lesser-known guitar brand compared to Epiphone or Fender but they make excellent instruments at competitive prices. ESP are based in Japan and are primarily known for producing guitars best suited to metal and other heavier genres.
Several things stand out about their LTD EC-1000. The first is that it is made with koa wood. That is a Hawaiian wood that combines a bright infusion in the sound with a beautiful grain pattern. The color schemes that ESP selected for the EC-1000 really bring out what the koa can do.
Next, the EC-1000 has a pair of heavy Seymour Duncan pickups. These are well-suited to thick, high-gain tones. They do well with mid and low distortion genres like blues and jazz as well. The EC-1000 has a body shape that is similar to a Les Paul with that characteristic narrow waist and neck cutout. It has a full 24 frets and pearl inlay on the fretboard.
- Excellent sound and depth for the price
- Attractive, unique design
- Premium pickups
- Bridge does not permit a tremolo arm
Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin II
The Kingpin II from Godin is unique on this list in that it is a semi-hollow body guitar. It has pickups and metal strings like an electric guitar. However, it also has a hollow body with a pair of S-shaped sound holes like an acoustic. That means when you strum it, you will hear acoustic and electric tones at the same time. There’s nothing quite like that effect. There are quite a few midcentury tones that are at their very best with a semi-hollow guitar.
The Kingpin II uses in-house single-coil pickups to complete the vintage build. The visual design is stunning. The Kingpin II uses a Les Paul shape with a compact, curvier shape and a set of three striking color options. These include natural wood grain, burgundy, and a bright cognac burst. There’s something special about playing a semi-hollow with a good tube amp.
No other type of instrument matches that combination of electric and acoustic sound. The high-end cherry wood body makes for a warm, resonant tone that matches well with the pickups.
- Outstanding build quality
- Light and well-balanced
- Thoughtful design
- Limited tone control
Best Electric Guitar Under 1000 Dollars
Every guitar on this list is a great option. They are all generalist instruments that will do well with nearly any genre. If I had to pick one winner that I would recommend to anyone, it would be the Epiphone Les Paul Standard. The combination of quality and price is really hard to beat without spending well over $1500. That makes the Epiphone Les Paul an ideal first or second electric guitar. It has high-end electronic internals with a great sound. It also boasts the heritage of one of America’s first electric guitar designs.
For anyone inclined more towards hard rock, metal, or jazz, the ESP EC-1000 might be a better fit. This is due to those Seymor Duncan humbuckers. It’s also a good entry point for what might be your next favorite guitar manufacturer in ESP. You really can’t go wrong with the Strat or Tele either. The semi-hollow Kingpin II is unique. It works best for someone who already has acoustic experience.