10 Best Electric Guitars Under $1000 in 2016
Top Guitars Under $1000
If you plan to spend $1000 you want the best electric guitar you can get your hands on. It might surprise you to know there are some classic guitars out there with features that bring their price tags into your budget range. If you are willing to do some research, there are gems to be found.
Think you can't land an American-made Gibson or Fender for under a grand? Read on!
Hopefully I can make your life a little easier with this short list of some of the best options out there for under a thousand bucks. You'll see some names and designs you recognize, presented in a new way by some very clever gear makers. You might also see a few surprises thrown in.
If you stick to your budget you can grab a great guitar from one of the top names in the industry. These are quality instruments that are good enough for the stage or studio, and will stay with you for decades. As you'll see, there is a reason these are some of the most popular guitars in the world!
Remember, even the guys in your favorite bands who have those high-profile gear endorsement deals didn't start out playing expensive guitars. Just like you and me, they made do with the best guitars they could find for the money. A thousand dollars is more than enough to hook you up with a great sounding instrument.
Here are ten electric guitars you should be able to grab new for under $1,000.
Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded
The Gibson Les Paul Studio is one of my all-time favorite guitars. However, I really didn’t like some of the changes Gibson made to this iconic instrument over the past few years. Both cosmetically and sonically I felt like they had taken the Studio back a few steps.
For 2016, Gibson has reintroduced some of the things I most loved about the Les Paul Studio. It’s a real Les Paul, American made and with all the great things you’d come to expect from Gibson, but without all the ornate cosmetics of a Les Paul Standard. The classic Studio is back, in the form of the 2016 Studio T!
Still, a new Les Paul Studio comes is a guitar around the $1500 mark. That’s a little steep for some players, and it doesn’t fit into our budget for this review.
Enter the 2016 Gibson Les Paul Studio T Faded. The faded designation, as you probably guessed, refers to the paint job. These guitars featured a lighter satin finish, not the hi-gloss lacquer you’ll find on the basic Studio. That’s one big reason this guitar is so affordable.
There are a few more differences from the basic Studio T. I think the most notable is the pickups. The Studios I’ve owned in the past featured Gibson’s 490R/498T pickups set, and this combination is back on the 2016 Studio T. But the faded versions feature Bustbucker Pro pickups, a subtle difference, but one that may matter to some players.
Other features include traditional tuners, a rounded ’59 neck profile, and Tektoid nut.
- Pros: The Gibsons Les Paul Studio Faded T is the best guitar under $800 let alone $1000. It’s an amazing deal on a great instrument. With the demise of the LPJ last year, it’s nice to see Gibson once again offering a super-affordable, American-made Les Paul with classic features. One that doesn’t have the name Epiphone on the headstock!
- Cons: I’m not totally sold on the worn finishes. The Satin Fireburst looks fantastic, and the Worn Cherry pretty darn good. Satin Black is okay. Worn Brown, meh. This is purely an aesthetic issue, and maybe you’ll love them.
- Note: Also check out the Gibson Les Paul CM T. This is an interesting single-pickup guitar with a worn finish for around $700.
Learn More About the Gibson Les Paul Studio Faded T
Fender American Special Stratocaster
The Fender American Standard Stratocaster is a classic guitar that needs to be mentioned in any discussion of top-of-the-line instruments, but a new one will push you over the thousand-dollar budget. There are plenty of copies out there, and sure you can go the Made-in-Mexico Standard Strat route for around $500, but why not grab a real American-made Strat?
The American Special Stratocaster is definitely one of the best electric guitars under $1000 you're going to find. Fender cuts a few corners to make sure you stay under budget, but you're still left with an amazing USA-made guitar.
Because of its wide range of pickup combinations, many players consider the Fender Stratocaster the best all-around guitar out there. The American Special version is no different. With Fender Custom Shop Texas Special pickups and the special Grease Bucket tone circuit this thing just oozes Strat mojo. And the vintage-style headstock is just plain cool!
It's tough to find a better value than the Fender American Special Stratocaster. These guitars are real American-made Fenders for very affordable prices, and they sound great. They give the USA-made Fender Standard Stratocaster a run for its money.
- Pros: This thing will sound good enough to make your forget some of the downgraded hardware. You can always upgrade later.
- Cons: If your definition of an American Strat is the American Standard then, no, this is not a "real" American Stratocaster. Do you care? You shouldn't.
- Note: Fender features both SSS and HSS Stratocasters in this lineup, as well as Telecasters, Jazzmasters and Jaguars. The Fender American Special Series is worth a look for guitar players who want an quality American-made Fender for a reasonable price.
Guitar World Looks at the Fender American Special Series
ESP LTD EC-1000T/CTM
The ESP LTD EC-1000 is one of the best alternatives to the Gibson Les Paul, but ESP does a great job of adding some features to their guitars that Gibson might never dare. In this case, it’s a pair of active EMG pickups: a EMG 81in the bridge and EMG 60 in the neck. This is a legendary pickup combination, and paired with the already awesome tonal characteristics of the EC-1000 will bring out some great sounds.
Check out the EC-1000 line in general, but if you have $1,000 to spend you may want to consider this badboy. It's something like a Les Paul, but with that signature ESP custom vibe to it. Very cool.
With its modern take on a classic design the ESP LTD EC-1000 gives guitar players in all genres a solid option when it comes to single-cutaway, dual humbuckers electric guitars.
It has the sound for any style of music, but for hard rock and metal players it may be the ultimate weapon.
- Pros: The ESP Eclipse is an incredible guitar, and this LTD rendition is a great version for under a grand. Metal and hard rock guitarists in particular may gravitate to the EC-1000, but it has a classic look that will work in any genre.
- Cons: Because it's sandwiched somewhere between a Les Paul and something more modern, guitar players who are sticklers for tradition might not dig the EC-1000.
- Note: The ESP LTD EC-1000 is available in several models with various pickups and finishes. If you don't like EMGs, there are versions with Duncan and DiMarzio pickups as well.
Hear the ESP LTD EC-1000T/CTM
Ibanez guitars are an incredible value in general, but the RG tends to get all the attention. Ibanez is known for making great metal guitars, especially for the shred crowd. The S series continues this tradition. With a slimmer and sleeker body style than the RG, Ibanez S guitars are pretty awesome in their own right
The Ibanez S770 is an awesome addition to the S lineup. It's a gorgeous guitar and a top choice for under $1000. The poplar burl top is super classy, making this a unique instrument and making you the envy of your guitar-playing buddies.
With Ibanez pickups and hardware you’ll get the great sound and performance you expect from Ibanez, but the beautiful burl top beneath a clear finish puts this thing over the top. An amazing guitar at an amazing price.
- Pros: This guitar is just gorgeous. And it's an Ibanez, so you know it will be put together with precision.
- Cons: Definitely geared for the shredder. If that's you great. If not, maybe look elsewhere.
- Note: The Ibanez S Series is an incredible group of guitars, but you also shouldn't overlook the RG Series. There are several Ibanez RG models that will keep you under your $1000 budget.
Not sure how to choose between an RG and S? This article can help:
Fender American Special Telecaster
Some players love the Fender Stratocaster, but for others it’s all about the Telecaster. Fender has you covered either way with the American Special Series.
The Fender American Special Telecaster follows the same smart construction philosophy as the Strat: Quality components where they count, slight downgrades where possible, and an overall package that sounds and looks great without crossing the line on your $1000 budget.
This guitar combines modern components like a pair of Texas Special pickups and Fender’s Grease Bucket tone circuit along with classic Tele staples like a vintage 3-saddle bridge and an Alder body with maple neck and fingerboard.
It's big step up from the Fender MIM Standard Telecaster, and a great way to land a quality American-made Tele for an affordable price.
- Pros: This is a pretty awesome Telecaster for the money. Fender has a few different models under a grand, but in my opinion this is the best you are going to do. I like the Texas Special pickups, and they’ll make this guitar sound just a bit nastier than that typical Tele tone.
- Cons: Pretty much the same as the Strat. The bottom line is this is an affordable Telecaster with some impressive features. It's not an American Standard, but a darned good guitar.
Schecter Hellraiser C-1
Schecter guitars may be the best values in the music world. They are well made, and feature appointments not often found on guitars under a thousand dollars. The C-1 is a beautiful body shape, and Schecter puts out some great options featuring this design.
The Hellraiser is a guitar that looks as good as it sounds, even with pretty finishes and bindings. The mahogany body with maple top allows for deep resonance and clarity, and the maple/walnut neck is rock solid.
Schecter guitars are always high-quality gear. The Hellraiser C-1 brings that Schecter reputation to rock-solid instrument made for rock and metal. It looks like a much more expensive guitar, and it sounds even better than it looks.
Add in a TonePros tune-o-matic bridge, string-thru body design, and locking tuners and this thing is built like a tank. The active EMG 81/89 pickup set completes the tonal package.
- Pros: Schecters are always great guitars, and solid to the core. The EMGs are icing on the cake.
- Cons: The vibe of this guitar may be a little intense for some genres, though it can no doubt do the job.
- Note: The Hellraiser is available in several different models and each differs slightly from the description above. There is even a version with a Floyd Rose tremolo that will still come in under your $1000 budget.
Check out the Schecter Hellraiser Series
PRS SE Custom 24
The PRS SE lineup gives fans of PRS guitars a way to own some of their classic designs without the classic price tags. The SE Custom is one of their top offerings, and very affordable. In fact, it made the top of my list for best guitars under $750.
Like the PRS Custom, the SE version features a mahogany body, and a mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard. The PRS version features a thick maple top, where the PRS SE has a veneer. For 2015 the PRS SE Customs is available as a 30th anniversary special edition, with a huge array of color choices. Nice!
- Pros: Great build quality and design in an affordable guitar. The PRS SE Custom 24 is a solid alternative to the PRS Custom 24 for players on a budget.
- Cons: The main competition for the PRS SE lineup is Epiphone, guitars that typically cost a few hundred bucks less.
- Note: The PRS SE Custom is also available in a Floyd Rose model.
More on the PRS SE Custom 24
Jackson SL2 Pro Soloist
The Jackson Soloist is a classic, and one of my favorite guitars of all time. Born in the ‘80s, it is perhaps the ultimate Super Strat. From classic rock to extreme metal, the Jackson Soloist has made its mark.
You can drop a lot of cash on a Jackson Soloist if you feel like it, but to make this list a guitar needs to be one of the top choices under $1000. The Jackson SL2 Pro Soloist fits that description.
The SL2 Soloist features a 3-piece, though-body maple neck with an alder body, a compound-radius, 24-fret ebony fingerboard and Floyd Rose tremolo system. This creates the fast, solid frame Soloists are known for.
Where much of the rock and metal world is swaying toward active pickups, this guitars features passive Seymour Duncans, a JB at the bridge and SH-1 at the neck. These pickups give the guitar a powerful but classic sound with plenty of character.
Aesthetically, the colors are basic, but there is pretty white binding on the neck and headstock, and very cool alumiloid pirana inlays take the place of the Jackson sharkfins.
- Pros: If you want a guitar with a legendary reputation and a classic sound for anything from hard rock to extreme metal, you don’t need to look any further than the Soloist SL2 Pro.
- Cons: A few more color options would have been nice. Otherwise, it’s tough to find fault with this guitar.
- Note: There are a lot of affordable, quality guitars in the Jackson Pro Series, in styles such as the Rhoads, King V and Dinky. Check them all out before making a decision.
Hear the Jackson SL2 Pro Soloist
Charvel San Dimas and So Cal
I love single-cutaway guitars made in the Les Paul-mold. In fact, I love all guitars, from acoustics to pointy-shaped metal machines. But, when I am really honest with myself, I have to admit that the guitars I love most are Stratocasters. I know I am not alone!
Fender Strats are awesome, but if you want a truly hot-rodded, tricked-out, Strat-style guitar take a hard look at Charvel. This is the company that took hard rock and metal by storm in the ‘80s, only to fade out when grunge became popular, and guitar solos became passé.
All good things come around again, and it seems Charvel is getting stronger year after year. With awesome appointments like Seymour Duncan pickups, Floyd Rose Original tremolos and fast, one-piece quartersawn maple necks the glory days of shred are back again.
- Pros: Quality appointments and build make the San Dimas and So Cal among the best electric guitar values under $1000. They are built for precision, and if you want a hot-rodded Strat-style guitar this is the way to go.
- Cons: These guitars definitely have an ‘80s hard-rock vibe. To me that’s a good thing, and it’s nice to see these styles returning, but it may turn some players off.
- Note: There are several styles of San Dimas and So Cal in the Charvel lineup, so make sure you check them all out before making a decision.
Hear the Charvel Pro Mod San Dimas Style 1 HH
The Washburn Parallexe PXL20 is a unique take on the single-cutaway, dual humbucker design. It features the prerequisite mahogany body and neck with an ebony fingerboard, and it has a pair of active EMG 81/85 humbuckers. After that, it veers a bit off the beaten path.
This guitar is built for speed and precision, with a thinner body and custom carved back, a fast neck and full-contact bridge. It also features the Buzz Feiten Tuning System for laser precision and accuracy for notes up and down the fingerboard.
Where the ESP LTD EC-1000 is a departure from the standard single-cut design, the Washburn PXL20E ventures even further afield. If you are into metal in particular this may be the guitar for you.
- Pro: Tuned up and jacked up for extreme shred, this guitar delivers where it promises. The Washburn PXL20E is a bit of a dark horse in this review, but well worth checking out.
- Cons: It’s an acquired taste for many guitarists. If you don’t need hot pickups and a fast neck, you’re probably better off with something more traditional.
- Note: There are several models in the Washburn Parallaxe linup worth checking out, including some awesome double-cutaway Super Strats.
Check Out the Washburn Parallexe PXL20
Gibson Les Paul LPJ
It's tough to beat the Gibson Les Paul, but if you are a guitar player on a budget even the stripped-down Studio version is more that you might want to spend. With all the good stuff of a Les Paul but none of the frilly bits, this guitar has been a favorite for decades. However, a new one will push you over your $1,000 budget.
Back in 2013 Gibson introduced the Les Paul LPJ, calling it the "easiest road yet to a real Les Paul". Like the Standard Les Paul it had a mahogany body with a carved maple top.
Gibson cut some costs by skipping the binding, and employing some rough but very classy looking finishing techniques, accented nicely by the rosewood fingerboard. The pickups were a pair of Gibson Modern Classics, and the layout was exactly what you'd expect from a real Les Paul. And, a real Les Paul for under $700 was simply staggering.
Gibson reintroduced the guitar in 2014 with some slight changes, but they removed it from their lineup for 2015. So why am I telling you about this guitar now? Consider the Gibson Les Paul LPJ as like an "honorable mention" on my list of best electric guitars under $1000.
These were nice guitars, and they got a lot of great reviews. I'm sorry to see them gone, but if you can hunt one down you'll have landed a real Gibson Les Paul for a very affordable price.
- Update for 2016: Gibson has redeemed themselves with the Les Paul Studio Faded T! It's a tad pricier than the LPJ was, but I think a much better guitar. Nice! Now let's see how long this one sticks around!
Gibson Les Paul Junior
Aside from a special-edition release, it looks like the Les Paul Junior is excluded from the Gibson lineup for 2016. Thus, I've moved it down to the bottom of the list. I have a feeling it will be back, and for a while you ought be be able to find a 2015 model for a great price.
The Les Paul Junior is kind of a Les Paul, but it’s kind of not. But Gibson calls it a Les Paul so that ought to be good enough for us. The Junior has its fans, that’s for sure, though true Les Paul purists may shake their head a little.
It all comes down to the pickup, and your style. Don’t expect that deep, thick humbucker tone out of the Les Paul Junior, even though it has a mahogany body and neck like a Les Paul Standard. The pickup is a P-90 Dogear Alnico Slug, and according to Gibson it is designed for brighter tone and a more percussive attack.
That’s not the only upgrade the Les Paul Junior saw for 2015. A thicker rosewood fingerboard, wider neck and a more secure output jack are just a few more of the improvements.
Of course this only means anything to you if you are into the Les Paul Junior vibe.
- Pros: This is a very cool guitar, and it’s a very affordable way to get a real Gibson. The P-90 pickups give it a unique sound you can’t really replicate with any other guitar.
- Cons: The Les Paul Junior is somewhat of a one-trick pony. If you are into that trick it may be your main guitar. If not, it’s just an interesting part of your guitar collection.
- Note: Also check out the Les Paul Special Double Cutaway. It’s a little more versatile with a pair of P-90 pickups, but it will also push you slightly over budget.
Choosing Your New Guitar
I think I've gone beyond 10 guitars! Some of the suggestions above might seem unusual, but if you want to find the best electric guitar under $1000 you might need to take the road less traveled.
There are some excellent deals out there if you take the time to search them out. The important thing is that you choose a guitar with a sound and look you like, no matter what it says on the headstock.
Back in the before time, when you wanted to buy a new guitar the first thing you did to begin your quest was get in your car and drive down to the music store.
Today, it’s wise to do your research beforehand. Take advantage of the internet for discovering what guitars are out there, how much they cost and what people are saying about them.
Read the reviews at places like Amazon.com and guitar sites. You can’t base your decisions on reviews alone since everyone has different tastes, but they can often let you know if there are inherent quality issues with a certain type of guitar.
Personally, I don't think you can go wrong with any of the instruments in this review. I wouldn't recommend them if I didn't think they were the best out there, and great values.
Good luck finding your new guitar!
Your Opinion: Which is the Best Electric Guitar Under $1000?
Which guitar is the top choice of the lot?
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