So, you want to buy an electric guitar. Excellent decision. But now the hard questions arise. What guitar should you get? What brand is best? How do you get high quality within a modest price range?
Well, if you’re looking to acquire an electric guitar for under $1,000, then this is the perfect article for you. We have tested out countless electric guitars, and will provide you with our recommended list for axes that we feel best are worthy of your consideration.
And below, to better help you make the right choice, we have created an interactive guide which should help you compare and contrast the best and most popular electric guitars on the market (many of which we will be discussing in-depth in this article).
Acoustic Guitar vs Electric Guitar
In my eyes, there are two main categories of guitars with dozens of sub-categories – Acoustic and Electric. Both have their own purposes to the player, and you will find that experienced players have several choices of each in their possession.
Acoustic guitars predate their electric counterparts by centuries. There are two main types used in mainstream music today – the classical guitar and the steel stringed acoustic. Classical guitars are used primarily in – you guessed it – classical music. Composers modified and adapted harpsichord music for the instrument during the Baroque era.
Flamenco players grew their strumming-hand nails out so they may strike the strings with more volume and dynamic range. Picks weren’t used often, but were made out of birds feathers when they were. The strings were made out of pig intestines, which have since been replaced by nylon.
Steel stringed acoustic guitars are – you guessed it – strung out of strings made of nickel, steel, copper, or other various metals. The most famous steel stringed manufacturer is arguably Martin Guitar and Co., the company of which still produces much of their inventory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Steel stringed acoustic guitars are growing in popularity due to the folk revival driven by bands such as The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show, among others.
Electric guitars, on the other hand, are the kings of rock and roll, blues, metal, punk, prog rock…the list goes on. There are literally endless possibilities as to what an electric guitar can sound like. This is due to the equally-endless amount of setup possibilities. Each electric guitar sounds different, and different again when played through various amplifiers, when connected to different effects settings, and again with different string materials, and let’s not forget the player themselves…you get the picture. It is an incredibly unique instrument with limitless possibilities. And there are so many to choose from.
What Makes Electric Guitars Unique
Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars rely on magnets wrapped in coils connected to an amplifier to generate sound, or pickups. Sitting around a campfire, one may prefer an acoustic due to the fact the audience can actually hear the music produced through the guitar’s sound hole.
As a hollow-bodied instrument, the top of the guitar vibrates along with the strings, generating sound in the acoustic/empty space inside. If you brought an electric guitar to a campfire without an amplifier/speaker (and a mile-long extension cord), you may receive funny looks. And without the amplifier, the electric guitar is essentially useless.
The idea behind playing an electric guitar is to amplify the sound of the guitar strings through the amplifier’s signal. There are two main types of sound for an electric. Much like your bedroom, it can be “clean” or “dirty.” The electric guitar can sound like a hacksaw-assault on the strings (the likes of Jack White, Buddy Guy) or sweet and musical (B.B. King, The Edge).
That all being said, it is generally more expensive to properly own an electric guitar over an acoustic. Between the guitar, amplifier necessary cables and optional effects (see below), be prepared to spend more than on an acoustic guitar.
But is it worth the extra cash? You bet. Is it still affordable to own an electric guitar on a $1,000 budget? Absolutely.
Accessorize Your Guitar
Unlike acoustic guitars, electric guitars are not ready to play out of the box without some required accessories. And as with any hobby, there are a few things that would be nice to have, while some things are fundamentally required for the guitar for function properly.
- Electric guitar amplifier
- 1/4” guitar cable
- Guitar picks
- Extra set of strings
You can expect to pay anywhere between $75 to $1500+ on an electric guitar amplifier. The types and brands and the sounds they produce are all preferences unique to the player. Nonetheless, be sure to purchase an amplifier that is purposed for electric guitars; acoustic guitar amplifiers will not pair well with an electric guitar signal.
The 1/4” guitar cable connects your guitar to the amplifier. I recommend a generous length of at least 15’. Even if your bedroom is cramped, chances are you’ll be thankful for the extra length at your next jam session at your friend’s place.
Guitar picks are always handy to have. Even as a finger-stylist, I use picks to play rhythm with other bandmates from time to time.
- Guitar strap (so you can stand and play)
- Effects pedals
- Hardshell case
A capo is a great way to change key signatures without much hassle. Essentially, a capo is a sixth-finger for your fretting hand (typically your non-dominant). There are many different types of capos out there. I would recommend a capo for musicians who feel they have a handle on playing without one, or a player who understands the basics of key signatures.
Guitar straps are a player’s best friend. How else can you expect to achieve a Pete Townsend-esque windmill power stance?
Effects pedals are an incredible invention. Your guitar connects to the pedal, which connects to the amplifier (in many situations). These pedals come in many shapes and sizes, their purpose different depending on the type. For instance, some players prefer different types of distortion pedals when paired with their amplifier’s clean signal. There are pedals that offer reverb replications, fuzz, wah-wah, delay – you name it, there is a pedal for it.
Lastly, I always recommend a hardshell case. Most guitars sell with a “gig-bag,” a soft-shell case that offers minimal protection against narrow doorways and accidental drops. Hardshell cases offer incredible protection with the added benefit of looking more professional.
Guitar vs Piano vs Saxophone
How does learning and playing guitar differ from other instruments? In my own experience, it is an entirely different beast.
For starters, many of us have tapped out a tune or two on a piano. It isn’t all that difficult to create simple melodies; simply press down on the key. One benefit a pianist has over a guitarist is 100% visibility of their hands and the entire instrument at all times. Octaves separated by repeating rows of black keys make it easier to find proper hand-placement.
The player makes sound only by pressing on the keys. Guitarists don’t have it that easy, as we are performing two mechanically-unique tasks on each hand. One hand frets while the other strums or picks. In short, it will take the non-player hours longer to pick out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the guitar than on a piano. The repeating scale on the piano simply makes pattern recognition easier for the novice player.
Let’s compare the guitar to a wind instrument, such as the saxophone. For starters, the saxophone requires fresh air through the mouthpiece. In terms of difficulty, it’s not hard to play notes on a saxophone. The keys do all the work: if you want to play a D, press the buttons and blow. It’s that easy. Making it sound good, however, takes practice. For those just starting out, however, it’s relatively easy “out of the box.”
Learning guitar is not that easy. Two hands quickly become a confusing mess of strained ligaments trying to find their way in the dark. Both have to work together, which requires many hours of work on a particular piece of practice material. And that’s just to play the notes. Getting it to sound good, well, that’s another beast altogether.
But don’t fret! Yes, pun intended. All of our favorite guitar heroes sounded like a banshee with a bullhorn at one point or another. Particularly on electric, where volume and feedback become yet another set of variables in the music-making endeavor. One must build up strength in their fingers, hands and shoulders.
You will be working muscles you didn’t know you had, building calluses on your fingertips, and working your thighs in a constant power-stance. The more time you invest in practicing, the more your ears (and those of your neighbors, family, friends and pets) will thank you. Music-making is one of the most creative and worthwhile endeavors humans can take part in.
Let’s Get Down to Business
I have enjoyed the opportunity to play, test and rank several electric guitars under $1000. This guide is purposed for the novice and master player alike.
While of course the sound, looks, and feel are tremendously important, here are a couple other things I feel are worth mentioning.
1) There are a lot of theories behind a body-style’s propensity toward a particular style of music. Some believe that hollow-bodied guitars lend themselves “better” to jazz and blues. Some say solid-bodied instruments are best for rock and roll, or metal. I am of the opinion that none of that matters.
Ultimately, a guitar that fits you well will serve you better than a less-true instrument “purposed” for the style you want to play in. Furthermore, more sounds can be created down the line with the thousands of effects available to the player.
2) What is the brand’s reputation among the guitar player community? Looking online, orstanding on any showroom floor, and the names Fender, Gibson and Epiphone will jump out at you first. All three brands are staples of the industry — and for good reason.
It is important to recognize the following, however: Epiphone is a subsidiary of Gibson, as Squire is to Fender. Epiphones and Squires are cheaper than their parent brands. But does cheaper mean you are purchasing a “lesser” guitar? Nothing could be further from the truth, especially when considering these brands. Other brands listed here are lesser-known, but also have excellent reputations with their own audiences. That could mean you!
Top Electric Guitars Under $1,000
Below, let’s take a quick look at our top picks for great electric guitars that can be had for under $1K. Let’s begin with the Epiphone Dot.
Epiphone Dot – $430
The Epiphone Dot is quite the versatile semi-hollow body guitar. Featuring two humbucker pickups, this guitar lends itself well to rhythm and lead playing alike without the loud “hum” of single-coil pickups and risk of feedback in close proximity to your amplifier.
As a semi-hollow body, this is a big guitar, but I don’t find it to be too heavy while standing when compared to most solid-bodies. The neck feels true in all positions of playing, and the setup beautifully. Featuring Gibson’s standard Tune-O-Matic bridge, further adjustments are a breeze. As someone who plays in alternate tunings, I appreciate this guitar’s ability to quickly tune and stay there for days at a time.
The stock pickups do not allow for further modification (such as single-coil potentiometers), but sound incredible on their own. The guitar feels like a dream in that it is surprisingly lightweight. As someone who prefers the feel of larger instruments, this fits the bill. I was able to play a blues lick followed by a heavy-metal chug on the amplifier I was using with ease. At this price, it is the best bargain in this list for a player of different genres. For a pickup and play great-sounding guitar for any genre, I highly recommend the Epiphone Dot. I consider it among the best electric guitars to buy in terms of reliability, sound and value.
Epiphone Casino – $600
Inspired by Gary Clark Jr’s “Blak and Blue” signature Casino, I decided to give the generic version a try. Overall, this guitar feels very similar to the Epiphone Dot. This instrument shares the same body style as that of the Dot, but weighs in a bit lighter as a true hollow body.
The finish work and setup are the same. These beauties come in red, cream and black. All are eye candy. The Casino features two shiny P90 single-coil pickups, once favored by a band by the name of The Beatles. Snappy and bright, this guitar makes for a great lead instrument. If you are looking to stick out during your next jam session, take this one home with you.
I find that it lacks in tonal variation without the aid of special effects pedals, however. Rhythm parts seem to sound all-too bright with this axe. I would recommend this guitar to the aspiring or accomplished blues/rock lead guitarist with an excellent effects locker. At a price point higher than that of the Dot, I would prefer more versatility in sound without the use of expensive effects pedals.
Fender American Special Telecaster – $1,000
At the top of today’s price list is the Fender Telecaster. The Telecaster is the most-sold electric guitar in the world – for good reason. Many of the Greats don one over their shoulder onstage. It’s an instantly-recognized staple of rock and roll, much like the Stratocaster. I appreciated the fingerboard on this guitar.
Featuring jumbo-frets, it’s easy to navigate the fretboard. However, I found the neck to be a little too thick. I have large hands, so that is saying a lot. Telecasters typically feature two single-coil pickups, and these in particular sound absolutely stellar.
The sustain on this instrument is unreal, as is with most Telecasters. I would recommend this American-made instrument to anyone with the proper budget who finds it comfortable to play. Even for a solid-body, this is a heavy instrument.
Gretsch G-2420 – $450
Gretsch guitars have their permanent place in country and blues music. I absolutely love the look of Gretsch with a gigantic Bigsby Tremelo or, in this case, an incredible vintage bridge. If you are holding a Gretsch onstage, you can’t hide. As far as aesthetics go, Gretsch guitars always leave me smitten. I am disappointed to report, however, that the one I played had major flaws.
One of the guitars would not make sound though the amplifier above a whisper. A quick shake of the 1/4” jack proved it was faulty wiring, which concerns me as to what other problems will eventually arise. Don’t let my experience fool you; Gretsch is an incredible company. My experiences with their lower-range instruments, however, has been less than stellar over the past couple of years. I find they are difficult to set up and can be a problem on the showroom floor for that very reason.
Their upper-range instruments – all of which are over $1,000 – are simply perfect in my eyes. For any player looking to purchase an instrument in this price-range and style, I would recommend any larger-sized Epiphone, such as the Dot or Casino.
Epiphone Les Paul 1960 Tribute Plus – $750
Ah, the allure of the Les Paul…Gibson’s flagship guitar has found itself in the Epiphone line of instruments. These guitars normally feature two humbucker pickups set into a solid mahogany block. More expensive models feature a AAA or above flamed-maple top, resulting in a jaw dropping shimmery dream.
While the Epiphone version does not include this, the finish work on the instrument is exceptional and tasteful. My favorite feature on this guitar is the included push-pull tone controls. What these knobs can do is astounding, lending the player all that both single coil and humbucker has to offer.
In short, this guitar can play anything. I was thoroughly impressed with the wide-range of sounds the different pickup configurations auditioned. However, I did not find the guitar at all comfortable to hold. The neck did not taper toward the body, making it rather difficult to shred in the upper register. Furthermore, it felt this guitar weighed more than the amplifier itself.
More expensive Gibson Les Pauls feature hollow “pockets” in the body to reduce mass, a feature the Epiphone version lacks. If the player finds it comfortable to play, this guitar is an absolutely killer deal. I would recommend the Tribute Plus above the cheaper Epiphone Les Paul models due to the push-pull feature and dynamic range it affords the player. There is a sound for every player in this axe.
ESP LTD EC-401FR – $800
Into heavy metal? This guitar is for you. Featuring two obligatory EMG humbuckers, this guitar is made for pinch harmonics during a wild ride down hard rock road. For other styles of music, I would recommend looking elsewhere. As a guitar player of nearly 15 years, I learned very quickly how important it is to be intimately familiar with Floyd Rose tailpieces.
They are finicky, to say the least, and it is for this reason that I do not recommend this instrument to the novice player. These tailpieces are made for drop-tuned playing. This combined with the EMGs do not make this a tonally expressive instrument. If a headbanger finds another guitar with the same slim-jim profile as the LTD and pairs it with a heavy distortion pedal, I would think that suitable for the genre, as well as cheaper.
This guitar almost brings us to the brink of our $1,000 budget. I would hope a guitar to afford the player more dynamic range at this price point; its simply a one-trick pony.
Squire Bullet Stratocaster – $150
Squire is to Fender what Epiphone is to Gibson. However, I find that Squire is not on an equal level to Epiphone based on my review. The Squire I played was setup very nicely with great action, neck feel and weight. Stratocasters are famous for their durability, playability and comfort due to their ergonomic shape.
However, I find this guitar lacks the tone of it’s lower range Fender counterparts. The pickups simply sound cheap. If a player is on a seriously tight budget and playing through an equally cheap amplifier while still learning to play, I would say this is a good choice. I would especially recommend this instrument to anyone with experience tinkering around with wiring and able to replace the pickups.
This means that this $150 guitar with another $150 invested in upgrades could play and sound almost like an American Standard at a price point of $1,400. The price point is geared toward holiday gift-giving to grandkids, not to blissful matrimony months after purchase as-is to those more musically experienced.
Fender American Special Strat HSS- $900
The Fender Strat is, in my opinion, the most versatile guitar on the planet. I cannot think of a famous guitarist that doesn’t carry at least one of these with them on their tour bus.
No matter which model in this price category you pick up, you will find it easy to play, comfortable no matter your body type, entirely ergonomic, and excellent sounding. It can scream you awake but lullaby you to sleep afterwards. Sweet and Sour. I chose the American Standard because I thoroughly enjoy the sound of the humbucker pickup at the tail of the guitar. Strats generally feature three single-coil pickups. In this case, the bottom coil was swapped out for a humbucker, hence the “HSS” in the model name. This gives the guitar the ability to show off the best of both worlds in the Stratocaster package.
The guitar itself looks classic and excellent. I found the finish on the black colored guitar to be a bit awkward-looking with the rosewood neck, but luckily there are dozens of different colors to be had. You cannot go wrong with a Stratocaster, especially with the American Special. This, in my eyes, is the best electric guitar for the price.
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