Best Electric Guitar Under 1000 Bucks - 6 Things to Look for BEFORE Buying
So you've got a little cash to blow on a shiny new guitar.
You could be an intermediate player looking to step up, an experienced player looking to add to their collection, or a beginner who has the dough and wants to start on a guitar they'll never advance out of. Whatever your situation, we're going to take a look at what goes into the anatomy of these more expensive guitars and discuss why these upgrades make a difference.
So, what's the best electric guitar to buy? Stay with me. I'm going to help you find the best electric guitar under $1000 (or maybe $1100) for you.
Oh, and for the purposes of this page, we're talking about solid body electric guitars. I'll be covering hollow and semi-hollow body electrics elsewhere on the site soon.
Let's start by talking about the body of the guitar. I know some people think the type of wood used on a solid body electric guitar doesn't make a difference. The theory is that the vibration goes from the strings to the pickups and that's it. The resonance, sustain and other properties of the wood are irrelevant to the string-pickup transaction.
I don't agree with this.
I'll fully admit that the wood used makes less difference than on hollow body, or semi-hollow body guitars that rely on resonance chambers to contribute to their sound. But if it really didn't matter on a solid wood body, if it's only the interaction between pickup and strings, then why even use wood at all? Why not just use plastic?
Because it does matter.
From the way the pickups are seated, to the way the wood gives, or doesn't, in reaction to the string being plucked or strummed – it all contributes to the sound. Wood expands and contracts, it breathes, it gives life to the sound. And different woods contribute to the sound in different ways.
I have a pretty thorough discussion of tonewoods here. There are two missing from that list for this discussion. (I discuss fretboard woods over on that page, too – just below the body woods.)
One, is alder, which is used mostly on electric guitars (the linked article discusses acoustics). Alder has a nice bright tone with good sustain. Its tones are not as warm and round as those you get from mahogany, which may, or may not, be an issue, depending on what kind of sound you're looking for.
The second wood missing from the list is swamp ash, which is harder than mahogany, giving it great resonance and a bright tone. Swamp ash can have a gorgeous grain pattern that shows up real pretty under certain stains.
In higher-end electric guitars like the ones we're talking about, you should expect higher quality woods to be used in their construction.
By itself, I wouldn't let the type of wood dictate my purchasing choice on a solid body guitar, but if it's a close call, I'll take a mahogany body over basswood any day. (No offense to people who like basswood, I know there's some that's good quality, it's just not my preference.)
Don't ignore the type of wood you're getting because it's a solid body. Pay attention – be informed. It matters.
This is entirely up to you. You can get some really cool electric guitars in this price range. Solid bodies have so many different models and possibilities for shape - it really comes down to personal style and preference.
Are you wanting something that looks awesome on-stage for solos, or is it strictly comfort and fit that's important to you? Maybe a beautiful candy-apple finish is your thing, or a body type with a lot of angles.
Maybe you're looking for an American-made electric guitar, or you need one that's good for small hands – or maybe large ones. If you're looking for a Gibson Les Paul under 1000, you might have to come up with a little more scratch, but there's a sweet Epiphone version available. And Fender Stratocasters have always been able to deliver great quality for a reasonable budget.
That's one of the great things about solid bodies, since the shape doesn't alter the sound, you have tons of choices.
It's completely okay if you're living out a fantasy by emulating your favorite guitarist. That's part of the fun, isn't it? I mean, a Flying V might not be the most versatile guitar under the sun, but life is too short not to enjoy your guitar.
Go crazy – get a style you love. Indulge yourself.
Guitar Neck Construction
In this price range you shouldn't be seeing bolt-on necks. Not that they're entirely bad, but they're not the top quality used in the construction of higher end guitars.
The set necks and through-necks you will see on better guitars, by their nature, go a long way to increasing sustain and resonance.
They'll be less likely to warp. Many have adjustable truss rods to help keep them aligned properly over the life of the guitar. You'll see maple and Pau Ferro wood frequently. Both are excellent for neck strength, weight and stability.
You'll also find that manufacturers take a little extra care in getting just the right neck angle on their upper end guitars, because they know you are the players that will notice.
This is one of the most significant improvements you'll find in higher end guitars. Pickups are so significantly responsible for the way an electric guitar sounds that any improvements here make a big difference.
Budget guitars come with generic pickups that, if it's a decent instrument, will get the job done, but not much more. With higher end guitars, you should expect a lot more in this department. Name brands like, Seymour-Duncan, DiMarzio, EMG, Lace Sensor and, of course, Fender and Gibson, should be standard.
What does this mean in a higher end guitar?
It means that for single coil pickups, like those in strats, you should have less hum and a clearer and brighter sound. Some have gotten the hum of the single coil down to almost nothing. Higher end single coil pickups can also bring more volume, one of the things that the generic type of this pickup rarely excels at.
Some upper end single coil pickups can fatten the sound without losing their crispness and clarity. Again, making up for one of the standard trade-offs of single coil. Some will be able to pull off more grit than the generics. And some will be able to do a number of these things.
High-end humbuckers can be expected to handle, or create, larger distortion loads while also increasing the crispness of the top end. They can handle greater volume and should definitely not get muddy in the middle range. A lot of these will excel in metal and rock, but not be limited to these genres. You can even get a vintage sound patterned after an old Gibson.
All-in-all, when you're looking for the best electric guitar in the under $1000 category, you should expect excellence from the pickups. They'll be designed to make up for the deficiencies of the pickups' original design, as well as offer some new features that improve and expand the sound profile of the guitar.
Every pickup might not do everything I've listed above, but they'll definitely deliver far more range than the generics on beginner guitars. You'll be able to find more complex blends and fine tune your tone by dialing in different combinations to get your perfect sound.
Great pickups are one of the best features on higher quality guitar.
Electric guitars in this price range will generally have the best bridges and locking string systems. You'll see a lot more Tune-o-matic bridges as well as Floyd Rose tremolos. These models are excellent for keeping the guitar in tune even under heavy playing and intensive whammy use (in the case of Floyd Rose). It's not that the guitar will never go out of tune, but once set up, these and other high-end bridges minimize the number of adjustments needed.
Imagine being able to play however long and hard you want and not having to stop to re-tune. This is a wonderful advantage you find in these guitars.
Of course, the standard warning about Floyd Rose bridge must be stated. They're excellent, but they're also complex. It might take a little time to learn how to really dial it in properly. Even changing a string has a lot of fine tuning adjustments to get things just right. So be ready to learn something new if you haven’t used one of these before. And if you're a beginner, it might be good to have an experienced player around that can help you learn the Floyd Rose system. Or you might want to consult your local guitar shop for some instruction. You can check out some YouTube videos as well.
Another feature that's becoming popular that couples with bridges, is the 'string through' body, where the strings actually run all the way through the body of the guitar. It's quite a nice system that produces a cleaner look and greater sustain. I wouldn't hesitate to get another string through guitar. It's not a make-or-break feature for me. Both systems work perfectly well.
You'll have upgraded tuners on the finer guitars as well.
It might not seem like much, but great tuning keys are one of those luxuries that once you've had them, you never want to go back.
One of the best features, of course, are locking tuners that really help lock the guitar in tune. They clamp onto the string and hold it tight. You're not messing around with lots of string wrapped around the peg that can loosen and slip. These tuners do a great job and really reduce the need to re-tune.
The other thing to consider about finer tuners is a higher gear ratio. The higher the ratio, the more turns of the gear it takes to make a single turn of the key.
What this does is it gives you greater control over the fine tuning of the string.
With a high ratio you're never stuck with the string being a little flat, or a little sharp, you can hit the note spot on every time. This sort of precision is rarely available in budget models.
Taken individually, it might not seem like any one of these improvements is a big deal. A little bit here, a little bit there. But bring them together in a single electric guitar and you've got one sweet instrument. It's a guitar that will have great action and resonance. It'll look awesome and feel good in your hands. And it will stay in tune and be a joy to play. You can't ask much more of an electric guitar. If you can afford one of these wonderful six-strings, you'll be the envy of everyone on the block.
Love it. Play it. Show it off. You've got a new guitar!