Table of Contents
If this is your first time on our site, you haven’t read some of our in-depth reviews. When it comes to electrics we have done our research. Whether you are researching what is the best electric guitars for beginners, or those under $500 or under $1,000, we have a specific article for you.
However, I often get asked, “what is the best value you can get” And that is an excellent question. But considering the thousands of guitars on the market, it is really hard to create a cohesive article that reviews all of them
(And if I did write it, I sincerely doubt anyone would want to read it)
However, I do believe that I can put together a list of electric guitars that are stage-worthy and pocket-friendly.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can easily find the perfect instrument . On this site alone we pull in guitars from stores like Amazon, Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend.
I don’t care if you live in the boondocks. You can still get the guitar of your dreams.
Finally, all of the guitars that I review are going to actually be available to purchase online.
I love it when you get some nostalgic reviewer who discusses how wonderful this guitar is that hasn’t been made for 20+ years and you have to try to buy it from a museum.
None of that.
You’ll Have To Spend Enough Money
The key problem is that when most people ask this question, they are trying to spend as little as possible.
A $100 guitar is going to sound like a $100. At best, it might sound like a $200.
And it costs a lot to upgrade those parts. Buying a piece of junk and then upgrading the parts is simply not the most economical way to go. Plus, one day you will have to face the fact that your instrument which sounds horrible and has all of these upgrades still has little resale value.
Furthermore, a lot of people try to use this logic to justify horrible instrument purchases. They look at these no-name guitars and say “well, it’s a good one for the money.”
Just because something looks like a guitar does not mean should be considered one. And adding pickups and upgrades to your fake does not really make your crap more valuable. It just makes for parts that will end up on eBay.
But you don’t need to spend $1,000 (or $10,000) for an excellent-sounding guitar. There are a lot of these high-end guitars on the market that derive their price from their branding and artistic/collector value more than anything else. And they may not sound all that great on stage. (They will, however, make all of your friends quite jealous.
So for this review, I’m going to touch on 5 guitars that have incredible sound. For the artist who doesn’t mind putting his money where his sound is, I think these will be real “pleasers”.
And for the student that is making a wish list to budget monthly savings for, any of these top rated instruments will up your game to a level well worth a lot of mornings on a paper route. (Do kids still run paper routes?)
A Guide To A 2017 Selection Of Choices That Provide Incredible Value!
1. Fender American Stratocaster
In my book, Fender IS the electric guitar. I haven’t been that impressed with their acoustic offerings, but I am consistently amazed at the quality of sound their electric equipment offers — and the affordability of their machines.
Fender Stratocaster first appeared somewhere in the late ’50s. Ever since then, amongst all other brands, it has ruled the guitar world as the absolute champion of refined sound and immortal style. The list of great artists who used and still use a Stratocaster is too long to even attempt and list. This instrument comes in many different types and flavors, each catered for a different purpose. The one we are going to take a look today is somewhat different from your standard Stratocaster – but in a good way.
First and foremost, this Stratocaster is made in the USA. There is a whole discussion whether there is any real difference between the Mexico made Strats, and the US made ones. Some will tell that the difference is too subtle to notice, while others will insist that these two are not even comparable. We won’t go into this, but we will say that the US made ones are held to a much higher scrutiny and are built by a bunch of very experienced luthiers. That’s all we need to know, and yes we will always choose the US-made Strat over anything else. We digress.
Fender American Deluxe comes with a solid mahogany body that features their trademark nitro finish with a standard white pickguard. The neck is a is also mahogany and features a compound radius fingerboard with medium jumbo frets. What this combination tells us is that string bending on this baby is a truly satisfying experience. This model comes with Fender’s Tremolo bridge that we all grew to love. A set of locking tuners is there to keep everything in tune, no matter how crazy you go with the whammy bar. The guitar weighs around 7 pounds in total, which is pretty much an average for this model.
The pickups department is where this sweetie stands out from the pack. Instead of three single coils like we are used to seeing on a standard Fender Stratocaster, this one comes with two single coils and one humbucker. In all essence, it’s a nice change of pace. There is some hum on the neck and middle pickup, but much less than you would otherwise expect thanks to their noiseless design. Finally, the instrument comes with a very nice hard case that will keep it protected from the elements and any incidents you might experience along the way.
The best way to describe the sound of this Strat compared to a standard one would be to say that it has a lot juicier mid range and low end. That humbucker at the bridge definitely takes care of that. However, if you were to compare this one with a Fender Black Top Strat, you would get much of that fatter sound. But unlike it’s the case with the Black Top, you would still retain a good portion of that signature Strat tone. It’s a hybrid thing, that takes some getting used to. Personally, we like this combination.
At the end of the day, you just can’t go wrong with a Stratocaster. Fender American Deluxe is a special type of animal and one that has a lot of its own character. It a more versatile Stratocaster that can be used for a broader range of music. As such, it’s one of the best instruments in its class.
2. Yamaha Pacifica
When someone mentions Yamaha, chances are that guitars are not the first thing that comes to mind. They are mostly known for their great range of drums, keyboards, and even bass guitars. However, electric guitars are not an area where Yamaha is really dominating the market.
That definitely doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to offer in this regard. On the contrary. Today we are going to take a look at what is best described as a hidden gem of the market. A mid-range Yamaha Pacifica, something we always wanted to see.
Ever since it first appeared around ’89, Yamaha’s Pacifica series of guitars had a huge task at hand. The purpose of this model was to fight with huge names like Fender and Gibson for the lower end part of the market. Not only was it successful at doing that job, but Yamaha managed to keep this dominance going until today. In order to achieve this, Yamaha had to go above and beyond in terms of quality and features they chose to install in this guitar. Much to our satisfaction.
Yamaha Pacifica 611HFM is a true piece of art when you look at it. The instrument’s solid Alder body features a very nice root beer finish that shows the immaculate texture of the wood beneath. This Yamaha is definitely one of the prettier ones on the market. Moving forward you will see a maple neck with a nice rosewood fingerboard that comes with a subtle finish of its own.
This doesn’t make her sticky or slow to play. On the contrary, it gives the vintage profiled neck a dose of smoothness. There are choices of bridges you can go for. One is a standard hardtail design, while there is also a Wilkinson Tremolo bridge available.
Hardware definitely deserves some praise as well. A set of Grover locking tuners is something that you don’t often see in this price range. Their function and reliability are pretty well known, so you can expect no issues even with the Wilkinson Tremolo bridge. Graph Tech String Saver saddles reduce the risk of string breakage significantly, while their nut also adds to the guitar’s ability to hold intonation.
The pickups you get in this set up are specially chosen Seymor Duncan models. You get a very vintage sounding SP90-1 at the neck, and a Custom 5 Trembucker on the bridge. This combination has a strong Fender Blacktop Stratocaster HSH vibe, and we will go so far and say that the sound is similar to a good extent.
As we mentioned before, the combination of those very carefully chosen pickups gives Yamaha Pacifica 611HFM a lot of potential for the price. The tone properties are definitely catered towards the blues and hard rock crowd, which is something many people find to be a flaw. On the contrary, we think it’s a huge plus. There are many affordable axes that will give you the metal sound you need, but not that many balanced blues type guitars. When you plug the Yamaha 611 HFM into a decent tube amp, crank the overdrive just to a point where it starts to fuzz, you will be graced by one of the best bluesy tones in this price range.
When all is said and done, this Yamaha is a true performer that will give you both a great tone and style for not a lot of money. That thing we said about this model being a hidden gem is definitely true. Bang for the buck, there is probably not a better option you could find at the moment.
3. PRS SE Series
Paul Reed Smith is probably the most trusted brand by top bands across the world. If there’s a musician you love, they probably use a Paul Reed Smith guitar.
The list of PRS-toting musicians is pretty insane.
When PRS first rolled out the SE series, they took a lot of flack for it. I mean, why would the “Mercedes” of the music industry stoop to create a mass-production guitar? What were they compromising in the process?
It turns out, they didn’t compromise at all. The end result is a full-bodied mahogany with maple overlay that looks really, really sharp. It definitely turns heads every time you pull it out of the gig bag. It also has an easy-to-play low action and flexible sound that makes it a favorite for use in production studios around the world. Some of the top artists are using this exact model as their backup second, — which shows how much even the most discerning ear appreciates the SE’s sound.
I don’t like the humbuckers as well as the two guitars I ranked above it. They are quite hot and deliver a very nice jazz and southern rock tone when played together. However, when played separately the neck humbucker is a more tremulous sound and the bridge pickup is heavier on the bass. Overall, artists generally feel the heavier bass emphasis offers a darker tone, and those who are looking for an option that can deliver the best crunch for the money may have a new favorite guitar.
And, should you decide to upgrade to some Seymour Duncans down the road, your instrument set up will only increase in value (and the old pickups resell for about $50 online).
However, all of this versatility comes with a price: you are going to have to spend some time getting this guitar set up for your style.
At least you can rest assured that no matter what your style, the SE series will rock it!
4. The Schecter Damien
It is difficult not to fall madly in love with the Schecter Damien. The brand is really going above and beyond with the model. Unlike most of the guitars on this list who use a lot of second-grade materials, the Damien uses nothing but top-notch parts and is an absolute steal for the money.
Starting with the tuners, you get the Rotomatic tuners which give you precise control and make adjustments for this baby, super easy. The fretboard is rosewood which seems to work really smoothly for fingering, thanks to the natural oil surface of the rosewood. While the neck is a little thicker than the Gibson or PRS above, it still fingers nicely.
The EMG humbuckers are what really set this bad boy apart. As you already know, the EMG’s are the go-to for heavy rock and heavy metal, and this baby shines with an extremely well-balanced darker tone and an impressive sustain.
It doesn’t take but a touch of overdrive and a touch of saturation from your overdrive pedal and you are delivering incredible metal tones.
However, the bridge humbucker is better balanced, and you can almost get a classic rock tone out of this machine if you just play with the bottom bridge.
Not an ideal choice for the classic rock artist, but if you want to do the occasional cover, it will do.
The one downside is that some of the models come with a base wood body instead of mahogany. The sound quality difference isn’t huge, but it is something to be aware of as you shop.
If you want a guitar that plays metal and has bats on the fretboard (available on some models), you won’t find a better machine for the price.
5. The ESP LTD
The ESP LTD is an excellent guitar. Mahogany body. Quilted Maple top. Rosewood fingerboard. If there is a wood that can deliver an incredible sound, it is used on this machine.
The construction of this instrument is flawless. You know how you can tell the difference between a made in Mexico Fender and an American one? Yeah. None of that.
The EC-1000 sounds like it is worth 4x the price. You see folks shelling out thousands on a top of the line Gibson, and for the life of me, I can’t tell a difference in the sound.
Now, with most of these, they will come with an EMG setup. However, if you hunt around, you can find them with Seymour Duncan pickups. The EMG 81/60 sounds better to me than the 81/85 used on the Schecter Damien. It is just a little more balanced and versatile so that you can get the crunchiness of a metal guitar, or tone it back for an almost classic sound.
If you are looking for a more classic sound, hunt around for one of these with Seymour Duncans (they come on the “amber sunburst” model. They’ll have that warmer sound you’re looking for.
Here’s to hoping this guide will inspire you to not be afraid of big prices, but that a stage-worthy, performance-level electric guitar that you can be proud to own is within reasonable reach.