We've all been there: it's time for a new guitar and you definitely need the most bang for your buck. What you want is a Les Paul but you're short about $1500. Epiphone isn't your cup of tea and you'd like something a little more unique anyway. What other worthwhile options are out there waiting for you?
Ibanez Artist AR-420
Here's one I have plenty of experience with, being the proud owner of a 1978 Artist AR-500. Originally released in the later 1970s as part of Ibanez's attempt to make original designs, the Artist hung around for a few years then disappeared in the 1980s. A brief comeback in 2000 brought modern recognition to the double-cutaway guitar. After another short lull, Ibanez re-re-released the Artist in 2012 to the beloved 1970s specs. This is a standout beauty for sure and a guitar worth more than it's price of $649.
- Mahogany body topped with a flame maple top, giving you the same tonewoods as a classic Les Paul
- Great vintage pickups with two classic Super 58's in the neck and bridge positions; series, parallel and coil-tapped settings for each pickup. Gives you the tones of a Les Paul plus many more
- Set neck design gives you way more sustain than a bolt on neck ever will
- Abalone binding and block inlays are absolutely stunning
PRS SE 245
A few years ago, if you'd have told most guitar players they could get a PRS guitar for under $1000, they'd call you crazy. While the SE series are not made in the U.S. but Korea, they are still under the watchful gaze of Paul Reed Smith himself and worth every penny of their price. More and more guitarists are joining the ranks of SE users and it's easy to see why. The 245 series are a steal at $649.
The 245 gets its name from its 24.5" scale length. Shorter than the common PRS guitar by 1/2" and just slightly shorter than a Les Paul, it nevertheless feels at home to most Les Paul lovers.
- Mahogany body topped with maple to ensure the familiar growl and heft of a Les Paul style guitar
- Birds In Flight inlays typical on higher end PRS guitars
- Set neck to increase sustain
- Contoured back makes playing comfortable in a sitting or standing position
Schecter Hellraiser Solo-6
Schecter Guitars have been around for a longer period of time than many realize. Getting their start as a custom shop in 1976, Schecter is definitely a guitar manufacturer to be taken seriously. While Jackson and Ibanez ruled the extreme genre for decades, Schecter is coming close to taking the top spot, and with just cause: they make a great guitar at a reasonable price.
The Solo-6 series is Schecter's take on the Les Paul style guitar. It's slightly askew body makes it different enough to be unique and yet familiar at the same time. Different models have different pickup options and there is a guitar in just about every price range for you, starting at $499. The Hellraiser Solo-6 is $749.
- Mahogany body with quilted maple top makes for a stunning guitar
- EMG Active 81 and 89 pickups, with coil-tapping, give you incredibly clean, extreme and professional tone found on guitars twice its price
- Set neck with "Ultra Access" allows for added sustain plus ease of playability in upper frets. String-thru design gives an additional boost in sustain
- Abalone binding and unique gothic cross inlays add to a guitar that already stands out
ESP LTD EC-1000 Floyd
While ESP has a wide range of single cutaway style guitars (known as their Eclipse line) across a wide price range, the EC-1000 Floyd is unique and worth a look since it sports a Floyd Rose tremolo. The cheapest Floyd Rose equipped Les Paul that Gibson currently has available is part of their Shred series and costs $1499. Their more popular line, the Custom Axcess, starts at $3799.
At just $949, the LTD EC-1000 Floyd is definitely worth a look when considering the different features it comes loaded with.
- Mahogany body with flame maple arched top ensures the warmth and low end stays intact while making it comfortable to play
- EMG 60 and 81 Active pickups are clean, mean and everything in between
- Set neck for sustain and an ultra thin neck for easier playability add to the appeal for lead guitarists
- Abalone binding and inlays make an already beautiful guitar even more gorgeous
Gretsch Electromatic Pro Jet Bigsby
For decades, Grestch was another manufacturer that was mostly know for high end guitars. After rising to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s, their popularity fell and they became something of a non-factor until the 1990s. After Fender bought the company in the early 2000s, many lower priced guitars became available due to production mostly moving to Asia.
The Jet series is incredibly popular these days. Similar enough to easily transition to it from a Les Paul but different enough to make it stand out, these are guitars everyone should check out. Options include a single cutaway (as shown), double cutaway and with or without the traditional floating Bigsby style tremolo. Bare bones versions start just under $300, with the Bigsby equipped versions coming in at $595.
- Chambered basswood body gives some weight relief and slightly dark/mid-range boosted tone, with an arched maple top
- Unique pickups- Gretsch's own Black Top Filter'Tron's- are humbucking style pickups with a more open, detailed and bright sound akin to a single coil.
- Bigsby tailpiece allows vibrato usage unlike any other tremolo bridge on the planet
- Electronics standard on most Gretsch guitars gives you more versatility: neck volume, bridge volume, master tone, master volume
As you can see, there certainly is hope for the cash-strapped single cutaway lover out there. While you may be swapping location build from the U.S. to an Asian country on the above models, you're most definitely getting more options for the price.
Are you the proud owner of one of the guitars above? Let us know what you think below!
© 2013 Robert Allen Johnson
Ray N on March 09, 2014:
Tried all the guitars mentioned and have just bought the Ibanez 420VLS. At this price the quality of materials and finish is outstanding; furthermore setup out of the box was faultless - string height and intonation were spot on (a rare event these days). Only reservation is a dry feel to the fingerboard but a spot of lemon oil has settles that!
Robert Allen Johnson (author) from Fort Wayne, IN on August 17, 2013:
That's true. Only had room for one and I suppose I'm more partial to the 420 due to my history with the '78 AR-500. Thanks for the insight!
Original Sinner on August 17, 2013:
How about the ART300? Even though you profiled an Ibanez guitar in the article, the ART 300 I feel is closer to a Les Paul with more of an 'updated' offering. Contoured back, slimmer body, less weight, active pickups, smooth ergonomic bridge.
Robert Allen Johnson (author) from Fort Wayne, IN on August 05, 2013:
The PRS definitely is a great one. They also make a handful of "made in the USA" guitars that are just above $1000 and even better!
johnnycook from United Kingdom on August 05, 2013:
More useful and detailed info from you, thanks. Particularly as someone who has picked up the guitar again after a gap of some years and remembering my own Columbus LP copy with not much affection. Interested to hear of the affordable PRS.
Robert Allen Johnson (author) from Fort Wayne, IN on August 03, 2013:
Yes, all are guitars I've had experience with through the years. Any others you can think of that I left off? Much appreciated!
Ceres Schwarz on August 03, 2013:
Good hub on the cheap alternatives to Les Paul. The guitars featured here all look very nice as can be seen in the images. This will be useful and helpful for people that are planning to buy a guitar and are looking for cheaper alternatives to Les Paul.