Are you looking for the best intermediate electric guitars to add to your collection?
You've come to the right place!
In this insider guide, you will learn the following:
- Are intermediate electric guitars different from beginner electric guitars?
- How much do intermediate electric guitars usually cost?
- What are the best intermediate electric guitars?
And much more!
PRS Paul Reed Smith SE Standard 24 Electric Guitar
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Fender Player Stratocaster Electric Guitar
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Jackson JS Series Dinky JS32
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Epiphone Les Paul Custom Classic Pro – Limited Edition
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Fender Player Telecaster Electric Guitar
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My Overall #1 Rated Pick
Looking for intermediate electric guitars is one of my favorite things to do – here we start getting into some real high-quality instruments, and they’re still affordable for nearly all budgets.
During my search to bring you this list of the 5 best electric guitars for intermediate players, I came across one clear winner, and it wasn’t even close!
Ladies and gents, I give you the PRS 24 SE Standard.
Well, this isn’t just my favorite intermediate electric guitar, it’s one of my favorites of any guitar on the market. It’s seriously that good.
First and foremost, it’s a PRS. It says it right there on the headstock, you feel it when you pick it up, you hear it when you play.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Epiphones, my Epi SG is my daily player, but at the end of the day, no matter how hard it wants to be one, it’s not a Gibson – the quality isn’t as good, and the headstock still says Epiphone (the same can said for Fender’s still excellent Squier line).
The PRS SE is built to Paul Reed Smith’s exacting standard under license in Indonesia (this is how they keep the cost down vs. their US-made instruments).
But don’t let the country of manufacture sway you, though.
The quality control is second to none for a foreign-made instrument, and it still bears all the hallmarks of a real PRS – I especially love that it gets the ‘Birds in Flight’ fretboard inlay (older versions of the SE models didn’t all get this!).
This is the first PRS to come in under $500, and the beauty of this price point is that it isn’t out of reach as a first guitar, but the quality and playability could also mean it’s the last guitar you’ll ever need to buy, too.
Add to all of this the beautiful finishes available (can we just stop and talk about that translucent blue?!), the high-quality split-coil pickups (HFS bridge pickup, Vintage neck pickup), and to top it all off, it’s fully bound on both body and fretboard!
Whether you’re no longer considering yourself a beginner and you’re looking for an upgrade, perhaps you’re switching over from acoustic guitar, or you used to play guitar in the past and you’re looking to pick it back up, moving to an intermediate level guitar can help to accelerate your progression.
Today we’re going to look at my top 5 favorite intermediate level electric guitars.
Below is a quick list of what I consider to be the top five best intermediate electric guitars on the market today.
Top 5 Best Intermediate Electric Guitars
In a hurry? Check out my top 5 picks below! Keep reading to learn more about these electric guitars.
Are Intermediate Guitars Different From Beginner Electric Guitars?
Yes. That’s the blunt answer, now, bear with me as I explain the key differences between axes designed for beginner guitarists, and those built with intermediate players in mind.
While all-electric guitars are fundamentally the same (steel strings, electromagnetic pickups, etc.), the choice of materials, quality of components, the manufacturing process and quality control, style, as well as the finish and design all combine to determine the overall playability.
Choice Of Materials
Beginner guitars are usually built to a price, not a standard. What this means is, you’ll find materials like basswood being used for the body.
Truthfully, basswood isn’t a bad guitar building material. It has a nice punchy sound, similar to alder, but it will never have the sustain and tone of a guitar made with a premium wood like alder or mahogany.
Take the PRS and the Epiphone from this list, for example. Both feature solid mahogany bodies, and both are absolute joys to play.
Then, take the Telecaster and the Stratocaster from this list, and compare them with their Squier cousins.
The Fender Player Series instruments included in this list are built with solid alder, whereas, the Squiers are made from basswood.
The choice of wood is also partially driven by the country of manufacture, too.
As I mentioned, basswood is similar to alder in sound profile, and because it’s widely available across Asia, getting large quantities to Asian factories is straight forward, and helps to drive down manufacturing costs even further.
When intermediate guitars use more exotic materials, they often have to be imported to the factories, which is another factor in the increased cost vs. a beginner instrument.
When you hit the top end of the intermediate level guitar selection, bordering into advanced/pro, you’ll start seeing features like maple tops. Maple is one of the finest guitar building woods out there.
Due to its enormous weight, maple isn’t commonly used for the complete construction, but even adding a laminate top adds a super nice bite to the tones, and as it often features beautiful figuring, it adds huge aesthetics, too.
Read More >> What Are The Top Acoustic Guitars For Kids?
Quality Of Components
One of the biggest differentiators between a beginner instrument and an intermediate guitar is the quality of the components used. Here we’re talking about pickups, wiring, selector switches, pots, tuners, bridges, guitar strings, and nuts.
Beginner guitars tend to use the cheapest available electronics.
This makes them adequate for those just getting started, but if you’re looking to play live performances or record your own music, you absolutely need an upgrade.
Upgraded electronics will reduce unwanted noise, or hum, you won’t get crackle from your cable jack or when operating the pickup selector, your pots will have a smooth progression from 0-10 rather than being 0 or 100%, and the list goes on.
Improved machine heads and tuners will keep your instrument in tune for much longer, and a properly seated bridge will do wonders for your instrument’s intonation, too.
Some intermediate level guitars even feature locking tuners (much more common on metal style guitars), which keep your ax pitch perfect even after generous amounts of whammy bar action.
Cheaper guitars often have poorly plated metal components that end up pitting and rubbing off.
This is especially true on turning heads. Upgraded components on intermediate guitars use solid materials.
Pickups are probably the single biggest differentiator.
An intermediate guitar will almost certainly have better pickups than 99.99% of beginner guitars, and this opens up a whole world of possibilities.
Upgraded pickups provide superior tone, they allow harmonics to shine through, and they help chords to sound even as they more accurately pick up the vibration of each string.
Intermediate level guitars often feature advanced spilled coil pickups, again adding another level of versatility to the guitar.
Split coils are humbuckers that can switch off one half of the pickup to become a single coil.
They are often activated by pulling out the pot, and they can completely change the sound, so much so that it can be like having 2 guitars in one!
If you only have the budget for one guitar, and you can’t decide between a Strat or a Les Paul, a guitar with split coils (like the PRS SE 24) might be the one for you.
As part of the improved fit and finish of an intermediate level guitar, you’ll also find things like real mother of pearl or abalone fret markers, rather than stickers or faux products.
Including authentic materials like these is usually a signal that the instrument was built to last.
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If you can remember when you were looking for your first guitar, you can probably recall that 90% of the guitars in the beginner market are Stratocaster style.
There’s a very good reason for that, too. The Fender Stratocaster is without a doubt one of the most important guitars ever made, and if imitation is the highest form of flattery, Fender should be very pleased with themselves.
This style is wonderfully balanced, light in weight, and leaves a ton of room for customization.
Stratocasters are wonderful guitars for learning the basics.
They are jacks of all trades that can handle everything from blues and jazz through to rock and metal, but once you get to the intermediate level of playing, you might find that you want to specialize in a specific style of play.
That’s where the increased variety of guitars you’ll find in the intermediate lineup handy. A guitar should be as much an expression of your style as the music you’re playing. Of course, the shape, material, and component selection play a massive role in the sound, but image is pretty important. Can you imagine BB King playing the blues on a Jackson or a Gibson Explorer!?
Intermediate electric guitars offer something for every genre. Like jazz? Grab a Fender Telecaster or Gretsch Streamliner. Blues?
The Epiphone ES-335 Semi-Hollow Body will get the job done like no other!
Hard rock fans can’t go wrong with a solid body Epiphone SG or Les Paul (if you’ve got the budget, the lower end Gibson versions are also a viable option).
Metalheads often find themselves reaching for guitars like the ESP LTD EC, Jackson Dinky models, and pretty much anything from Ibanez.
Read More >> How Do You Choose The Perfect Acoustic Guitar?
Manufacturing Process And Quality Control
Another reason for the jump in price from beginner to intermediate level guitars is an improvement in the manufacturing process, as well as tighter quality control.
The cheapest guitars rarely, if ever, get a proper set up from the factory, leaving the end-user with a guitar that has sharp frets, too high an action, and is out of tune, etc.
Not only that, but without proper quality control, you’ll find that more guitars with some glaringly obvious defects slip through the net and make their way to the store.
When you make the step up to an intermediate level guitar more care and attention is given at the factory.
There is more hands-on, human interaction with the instrument to double-check the automation work and make any necessary corrections, and some will even get a set up from a trained guitar tech.
It’s worth noting, that while Epiphone, for example, makes the majority of their guitars in China, they receive an inspection and setup at the US Gibson plant before making their way to a store.
I will end this section with a disclaimer that not all cheaply made guitars are of poor quality.
There are some excellent instruments to be had at bargain prices, and every so often the stars align and ‘cheap’ guitars attain legendary status.
A great example is the Japanese made Squier Stratocasters of the early 1980s.
They were intended to be cheap, beginner guitars, but because of the Japanese obsession with quality control, they turned out, in many cases, to be better instruments than their US-made Fender cousins.
Even when they’re built on the same assembly line, intermediate guitars have a larger QC sample size, ie more guitars are selected for a random in-depth inspection.
This goes a long way to improving the overall consistency of quality.
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How Much Do Intermediate Electric Guitars Usually Cost?
When I think of an intermediate electric guitar, in my mind I’m expecting to pay between $350 at the low end, to a maximum of $1000.
It’s a broad price range for sure, but trust me on this, you’ll find great guitars at both ends of this spectrum.
Of course, there are exceptions, some cost a little less than that, some a little more.
So, what separates a $350 instrument from a $1000 one? Let’s start by investigating a couple of examples to check the differences and why they rack up the cost so much.
I’m going to start with one of the most popular designs around, Les Paul.
Les Paul guitars are available as one of the cheapest beginner instruments going and can reach tens of thousands of dollars at the top end, but within that $350 to $1000 range, lie some wonderful intermediate examples.
Starting at $399 the Epiphone Les Paul Special has many of the features that define this style.
It has a mahogany body, it’s equipped with P90 pickups, it has individual pickup tone and volume controls, and above all else, a proper set neck.
For me, a Les Paul needs at a minimum to have a set neck to be considered an intermediate guitar – bolt-on necks are fine, but an LP needs a set glued neck and I refuse to debate this!
Now, moving up to the $1000 price range, you can pick up a genuine Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute.
This ax also features a mahogany body, individual volume and tone controls for each of the P90 pickups, and of course, it has a set neck.
So why the difference in price? Well, first of all, the Gibson is made in the USA. Domestic labor costs are higher, and it’s generally accepted that the standard of craftsmanship is higher.
The Gibson instrument, while it uses similar components, the parts are of a higher quality.
Both, however, are perfectly serviceable guitars.
Both sound good, both will help an intermediate guitar player develop into a great guitar player, and both will last many years if properly looked after.
Visually, the two are almost identical, save for the headstock shape and the name upon it, so if you’ve got Gibson taste, but Epiphone money, you won’t be disappointed.
It’s a similar story with Fender, and any other manufacturer for that matter. There are multiple variants of the same guitar, many of which are borderline identical, save for pickups and the country of manufacture.
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My Reviews Of The Best Intermediate Electric Guitars
PRS, or Paul Reed Smith, isn’t quite as much of a household name as Epiphone, Gibson, or Fender, but that hasn’t stopped some of the all-time greats from becoming lifelong fans. Carlos Santana, anybody?
The PRS SE Standard 24 lets intermediate guitarists get their hands on an instrument that has been designed with the highest level players in mind.
The quality of this guitar is peerless at this price point, and it rivals that of many guitars costing 4 or 5 times its price.
If you’re looking for a guitar made with top-quality tonewoods, one that is wonderful to look at, and stands out from the crowd, buy the SE Standard 24!
- Professional Quality Guitar For An Intermediate Price
- Split Coil Pickups
- Perfect Action Right Out Of The Box
- Limited Color Choices
- Bottom Heavy Weight Distribution
If someone asked you to picture an electric guitar, there’s a 99% chance that the silhouette of a Fender Stratocaster comes to mind.
Fender’s ‘Player Series’ brings legendary Fender Quality, style, and sound to intermediate players at a great price.
They are available in the usual array of Fender colors (including those gorgeous sunburst finishes), as well as a more contemporary range.
This ax features a three single-coil pickup configuration with a 5-way selector switch, as is typical on the classic Strat design.
It has an alder body, maple neck, and maple fretboard, for a wonderfully punchy sound and great playability.
Stratocasters like this are so incredibly versatile, and can handle everything from blues to massive divebombs thanks to the tremolo arm.
- Great For Any Style Of Music
- Hugely Modifiable Platform
- Comfortable Neck
- Knobs Feel Cheap For The Price Point
- Doesn’t Hold Value Too Well
The Dinky range, including the JS32, have all the trappings of a real metal guitar.
This ax features a graphite-reinforced one-piece maple neck to keep things straight when you set it up with crazy drop tuning, it’s got high output ceramic humbucker pickups, 24 jumbo frets, and it’s even got a
Floyd Rose bridge (made by Jackson under license).
All of this for just $300! If you’re a metal shredder, you cannot go wrong with this guitar.
- Huge Range Of Colors
- Awesome Tuning Stability
- Premium Feeling Arch Top
- Tuners Can Feel Rough
- Action Is A Little Too High Out Of The Box
There’s a Les Paul for pretty much every player level and budget, and this just so happens to be my favorite in the intermediate category.
Yes, it’s technically possible to get a Gibson Les Paul for not a lot more money but to get an equivalent Gibson to match the fit and finish of this Epi, you’ll be looking at $2000 plus.
I’m in love with this white version, but it’s also available in classic Ebony, too.
The Custom Classic Pro Les Paul features a fully bound body, neck, and headstock.
This particular model is a limited edition, so you aren’t going to see too many around.
It boasts ProBucker open-coil humbucker pickups, which can split to single coils for a dramatic change in sound.
The fingerboard is genuine rosewood, which is getting harder to come by, and the body and neck are solid mahogany. Tuning stability is helped with the fantastic Epiphone deluxe tuners.
- Excellent 1960s SlimTaper D Profile Neck
- Sustain For Days
- Tune-O-Matic Bridge Ensures Proper Intonation
- Very Heavy
- Has The Unpopular ‘Old Style’ (pre 2020) Epiphone Headstock
It simply wouldn’t be fair to include a Stratocaster in a list like this and leave out the Telecaster.
So, here we have it, the last axe on my list of the best intermediate guitars, the Fender Telecaster Player Series.
It comes out of the same Mexican factory as the Strat, and the quality is just as good.
So, why choose the Tele?
Well, if you’re into Jazz, there’s probably no better guitar, truth be told. The body is solid alder, and the neck solid maple.
It has a hardtail bridge (no tremolo arm), which provides insane amounts of sustain, incredibly precise intonation, and gives the guitar that classic Telecaster twang.
It features 2 of the fantastic single coil player series pickups, and a smooth, fast playing C shaped neck.
- Wonderfully Balanced Instrument
- Timeless Single Cutaway Style
- Single Coil Hum Can Be Loud
- String Through Body Can Be Difficult For Replacing Strings Quickly
My Top Pick: PRS Paul Reed Smith SE Standard 24 Electric Guitar
PRS don’t have the heritage of the other big manufacturers, but they’ve made big waves in their relatively short existence.
Since Paul Reed Smith began crafting guitars in 1985, he has become famous for extremely high end, expensive guitars, which is what makes the SE Standard 24 so special.
It allows mere mortals an opportunity to own a genuine PRS without having to take out a second mortgage.
You’re getting a house designed and wound pickups, which is not the norm at this level, and Paul designs some of the best pickups in the business.
The sound absolutely incredible, the combination of the vintage bass at the neck and HFS treble at the bridge offers amazing versatility, from punchy lows to shining highs.
When it comes down to attention to detail, there are few manufacturers that do it like PRS.
This is the lowest costing model they’ve ever made, yet the fit and finish is flawless.
The volume and tone knobs and mounted perfectly straight, there’s little if any sideways play in the blade-style pickup selector switch and the tuning heads turn smoothly with the perfect amount of resistance.
My personal favorite color is the translucent blue, but it’s also available in a wonderful tobacco sunburst and a classic vintage cherry.
All three colors really pop, and the zebra exposed humbuckers look amazing against all of the available backdrops.
PRS could have saved money on the SE line by using a bolt-on neck, but instead, they’ve continued their commitment to quality and fitted these guitars with a proper glued and set neck.
Both the body and the neck have a lovely antiqued binding, which is another rare feature in the $500 price range.
Combine all of these features, and you’ve got a guitar that sounds amazing through a pedalboard, but also sounds amazing played clean and directly into an amp.
In fact, combined with a vintage tube amp, I don’t know if I could name a nicer sounding guitar that I’ve played!
Final Thoughts On The Best Intermediate Electric Guitars
In short, guitar manufacturers choose foreign factories because modern automation has allowed them to make more guitars in less time, with relatively consistent quality, and minimum manpower and the manpower in the countries in which they build comes cheap.
Manpower is an interesting paradox in the guitar world. Typically the more money a guitar costs, the more manual the manufacturing process is.
This brings in more opportunity for construction errors and faults. So, why are they more costly?
Master luthiers don’t come cheap, and what hand made (or at least partially hand made) guitars lack inconsistency, they more than make up for in personality, feel, and most importantly, soul.
I think of guitars as living things, the best instruments come alive over time, revealing their real personality over a number of years.
The cheapest guitars are all so cookie cutter that they’re unlikely to improve with age.
When you upgrade to intermediate level instruments, guitars who have had hands laid on them by skilled craftsmen, you’re getting something that will learn over time to tell its own story.
It sounds cheesy, but I really believe it!
I also like to think that buying a guitar is so much more than just purchasing an instrument. It’s really an investment in yourself, and buying the right guitar will make sure you keep on picking it up.
A great guitar will be there for you on your darkest days and at the best of times, and buying an intermediate guitar means you’re willing to spend a little bit more in the beginning to ensure years of faithful service.
The guitars I’ve talked over in this piece are all wonderful instruments in their own ways.
They represent pretty much the entire spectrum of musical styles within the world of electric guitars.
There are obviously some omissions from the list, but whatever your preferred genre is, one of the above guitars will get the job done right.
I hope this has been useful for any of you looking to upgrade your guitar. What do you think of the list? If there’s anything you think I may have missed drop a comment in the box below!