Parent article: Best Cheap Electric Guitars
Once you get past the early stages of playing guitar you come into the intermediate stage where you're honing in on your own style and becoming more creative. Along with this new level creativity, you're likely due for an instrument upgrade that will move you away from your beginner guitar.
If you're an electric guitar player - or if you've been learning on an acoustic guitar and you're looking to upgrade - an intermediate electric guitar is the next step.
But what exactly is that?
There are no de facto intermediate electric guitars, but there are guitars that fall in a mid-level price point that can help you as you expand your creativity.
Here's how I would classify them:
- Given to a particular musical genre or playing style
- More longevity than beginner instruments
- Usually marked by a greater commitment to playing/learning guitar
- Usually marked by reputable brands
- Nicer pickups, often from third-party manufacturers
- Usually between $500 and $1000 retail
These are the markers we'll use to highlight some of the best intermediate electric guitars available.
Our First-Hand Experience.
Keep in mind that we make recommendations based on first-hand experience. We do not recommend guitars or gear that we haven't used ourselves or have at least spoken with somebody who has. This means we limit our recommendations to what we can verify.
If you have questions about our review process (and you don't just want to take our word for it) hit the comments section below and we'll help out.
Finding a Mid-Range Electric Guitar
To find these guitars, we simply look at the "roster" of guitars that we have familiarity with and then choose what fits our criteria. We use brand recognition, reliability, community consensus, and our own experience to make these picks.
Each selection is meant to help you find some options and point you in the right direction. However, it's certainly still possible that you could find other guitars - not on this list - that would be well-suited to your needs.
Use this guide as just that - a guide. It'll help get you started, but should be framed by your own context and experience.
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7 Best Electric Guitars for Intermediate Players
For those wanting a quicker answer, here are the guitars we're recommending, up front. Use the compare buttons to take a quick look at the details and to get a feel for current pricing.
PRS SE Mark Holcomb Signature
Ibanez Iron Label Series
PRS Se Custom 24 "Floyd"
Epiphone Les Paul Custom
Fender Player Telecaster SS
Epiphone Les Paul Standard '50s
Fender Player HH Telecaster
1. PRS SE Mark Holcomb Signature
Mark Holcomb's signature SE comes with Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega humbuckers, getting you a branded third-party pickup arrangement. It's also designed specifically to Holcomb's specifications for his work with Periphery, giving you a good context of genre and playing style.
This is a good option for speedsters or those are into more progressive rock styles that also want a versatile guitar.
Falling under $1000 keeps it within our established price range as well.
Why is it a good fit for intermediate players?
Here are a few bullet points that help make this electric guitar a good fit for mid-level players:
- Enough chops to be a pro-level guitar
- Doesn't break the $1000 price point
- Branded Seymour Duncan pickups (no replacements needed)
- Versatile, but still made for a specific style
Who is the ideal buyer?
Someone who favors lead guitar styles and fits firmly into the rock metal camp would be well-served by the Mark Holcomb SE. We also like it for more percussive playing styles, perhaps for those using a lot of distortion.
At $950+ it's a commitment guitar, sitting at what we'd consider a mid to high-level price point. In other words, don't buy if you aren't sure, and don't buy if you aren't firmly in the intermediate skill camp. Given the quality you get in return, we'd say the asking retail is fair.
As I've already alluded to, the SE Mark Holcomb is percussive, but also fast and friendly to soloing on the higher register. It has a "searing" quality on those higher notes and produces a lot of sustain with really loud pinch harmonics.
Checkout the demo below by Guitar Interactive for a few minutes of shredding and power chords on the Holcomb.
IDEAL FOR: Speedsters and versatile playing styles, perhaps with a lean towards progressive rock.
Heavy, dark, percussive
2. Iron Label Series
The Iron Label series by Ibanez encompasses several guitars, though most of them fall around $800, giving us a comfy price point and a few different guitar versions to work with.
The RGIB21 is the model we linked to and it's one of the more common of the series, yet ships with EMG pickups and a fast-playing nitro baritone neck. This makes it an ideal option for those that play in lower tunings or focus on faster playing styles, yet it doesn't really have a default genre.
It's certainly a heavier rock or metal instrument, but with a variety of appeal to a wide range of musicians.
What makes it a good fit?
Again, we'll summarize some of the reasons we like it for intermediate electric guitar players:
- The cozy price point
- Fast playing neck with larger frets
- EMG pickups
Who is the ideal buyer?
Someone who likes the sound of active pickups (the EMG pickups in this model are active), and prefers the smoothness they deliver, will love the tone of the Iron Label series. It's also generally a popular rock and metal guitar, as we alluded to earlier.
We'd be tempted to say this is a good option for speedsters, but the baritone neck and lower tuning appeal make it a good rhythm fit as well.
It's all over the place.
At $800 it's one of our favorite recommendations, based on value alone. We'd like to see more models with the Edge Zero locking tremolo system, but that's not a deal breaker.
IDEAL FOR: Lower tunings, rock, and metal
3. PRS SE Custom 24 Floyd
The PRS SE Custom 24 "Floyd" is exactly what it sounds like.
It's the SE Custom 24 with a Floyd Rose locking tremolo installed. This type of tremolo locks at two positions, allowing you to fine-tune the strings from the bridge itself.
Obviously the non-Floyd SE Custom is a great option as well, but we like the added flexibility of the Floyd Rose system, especially if you're on the lead side of the guitar playing spectrum.
If not, the tuning stability is better, and the SE Custom 24 can handle a wide range of styles.
The only downside might be the price. At $1000 flat it'll cost you the top of our price range, but for those wanting the flexibility offered by this guitar and the PRS tone, the price tag is well worth it.
What makes it work for intermediate electric guitar players?
To summarize our rationale:
- The Floyd Rose bridge
- PRS tone and reputation
- Versatile style accommodation
Who is the ideal buyer?
This guitar has a wide range of application and contexts, but we like it for the intermediate player that maybe isn't quite sure what style of music they want to move into. The SE Custom 24 - Floyd or otherwise - will give them plenty of flexibility and longevity as they power forward.
It's one of the priciest on this list, but still well worth the investment, especially if you want the Floyd Rose system. If not, drop some cost off by going with the non-Floyd SE Custom 24.
IDEAL FOR: Versatility, lead, and those who aren't sure what kind of music they want to get into.
4. Fender Player HH Telecaster
I've seen some versions of Fender's player Telecaster come with the traditional "lipstick" pickup at the neck position, though most have the dual humbucker setup that you see in the above image.
It's a heavier Telecaster sound and a bit more versatile, sacrificing some of the Tele "quack" in favor of less noise and more warmth.
The humbucker is just called "Player Series Alnico" which is code for stock, so that's a bit of a disappointment.
But at a lower $780 price point, you can easily afford to upgrade the pickups for a nicer set.
Read more: Best Fender Stratocasters
What makes it a good fit for an intermediate player?
The Telecaster is a versatile guitar, especially with the humbuckers added in. You can go a lot of different directions with it and migrate into a variety of playing styles. Adding the potential for a pickup upgrade gives you even more breathing room.
The Ideal Telecaster Player Series Owner
If you're looking for a versatile guitar that you can improve on - over time - this version of the Telecaster is one of our favorite recommendations.
It's also a great fit if you're into country music.
At $780 the Player Telecaster is still decently cheap, though you take a hit with stock pickups.
IDEAL FOR: Country music fans and/or those who don't mind a pickup upgrade
- Epiphone Les Paul Custom
- Fender Player Telecaster SS
- Epiphone Les Paul Standard '50s
- PRS SE Custom 24
Read more: Best Epiphone Les Pauls
Features to Watch for
In this section, I'll highlight some of the features that are good to keep an eye on, if and when you go shopping for an intermediate electric guitar.
Feature #1: Pickups
As you've seen, most of the guitars we recommend have a branded pickup installed from a third party company. Those companies should be one of the following:
- Seymour Duncan
The alternative is a stock pickup, which marks a significant downgrade in quality. Now that doesn't mean we never recommend a guitar with stock pickups (we do in this article), but it does mean you're better off with something from a company that specializes in pickup building.
Feature #2: Brand
Brand loyalty can certainly play a part in a guitar purchase once you hit the intermediate stages, but just make sure that brand is a higher-end option. Stay away from brands like Squier, or the low-end Jackson guitars that are marketed to beginners.
Instead, target the following:
- Epiphone (mid to upper series)
- ESP LTD (mid to upper series)
- Ibanez (mid to upper series)
As an intermediate guitar player, these are the brands you should try to stick to as they make the best guitars in our allotted price range.
Feature #3: Tone and sound quality
This is harder to measure when you're just reading about guitars, and actually requires you to go out and play a few or at least listen to some YouTube demos. We always recommend doing this, partly because we do it ourselves before writing a post like this one.
Take note of tone and sound quality, even if it's just from a personal preference standpoint.
Do you like how it sounds?
Does it sound rich and full to you?
How about clean and distorted? Do you like the tone it's putting out with those settings engaged?
This is a simple way to vet a guitar's tone and it's worth your time, especially if you're going to commit to the instrument long-term.
Feature #4: Price
Obviously price is going to play a role in this process. We've clearly marked out a price range for you, but that doesn't mean you can't go above or below it if you find something that works for your situation.
Just know that there's an expected or "conventional" price range for someone looking to get an intermediate electric guitar.
Again, this is going to be between $500 and $1000, likely closer to the $1000 mark in most cases.
Places We Recommend Buying Guitars
In terms of buying electric guitars, we've had a great experience with Sweetwater over the years, which is why we partner with them (per the guitar table earlier). They tend to keep really tight relationships with builders and manufacturers, selling only the best and including - of course - all the brands we've mentioned here.
For buying new, they're our top recommendation.
If you want to buy used, we'd advise going with Reverb. They have a ton of used inventory and are quickly becoming one of our favorite places to troll around for deals.
Reverb works through third-party sellers which are mostly small guitar shops. It's a great way to keep those shops relevant in the online space and get a lot of awesome used deals in front of you.
Should I just upgrade my old guitar?
If you have a guitar from your beginner days, would it be better just to upgrade?
All of that depends on what you consider a "beginner" guitar.
Should it hail from one of the brands mentioned earlier, then I'd recommend something like a pickup upgrade and perhaps swapping out the bridge hardware for something nicer.
It all just depends on the quality of the guitar and how attached you are to it.
If it's an old Squier or some other cheap guitar that you don't really care for, I'd recommend going with something new and starting fresh.
How long do these guitars last?
Most of the guitars in this price range should have the potential to be with you for life.
They're professional grade at this point, giving you enough quality to warrant keeping them around for as long as humanly possible. Again, you might upgrade pickups or swap out a few parts - especially if electronics go bad.
But these guitars last decades and should be bought with that view in mind.
Do you have additional questions about intermediate electric guitars?
We try to cover as much as possible, but your situation is unique with its own questions. If there's something more we can help with or another question we can answer, don't hesitate to get in touch via the comments section below and we'll chat.
See you there.