9 Best Intermediate Electric Guitars In 2020

There are several reasons why you’re in the market looking for an intermediate electric guitar.  The most common rationales are, you need an upgrade from your beginner electric guitar or you’re already a skilled player, but you need a quality-built guitar to customize and make modifications without getting wild with your budget. 

If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place.  We’ll go over how I grade the guitars that made the lineup and what to expect with the mid-range price points and mid-range quality.  Just you wait and see, there may be a few surprises in store! 

Snapshot: Top 9 Intermediate Electric Guitars

  1. ESP LTD EC-256FM Review
  2. Ibanez Steve Vai JEMJRSP Review
  3. Schecter Omen Extreme-7 Review
  4. Ibanez RG7421PB 7-String Review
  5. Fender Player Stratocaster HSS Plus Top Review
  6. Dean Michael Schenker Standard Review
  7. Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 Review
  8. PRS SE 245 Review
  9. Washburn Parallaxe M10FRQ Review

The Best Intermediate Electric Guitars

First of all, I judge intermediate guitars by two things: price and mid-range quality.  If it’s super exceptional in everything from build to hardware and sound and there’s not a single need for modifications, it’s likely out of your price range and we can gently toss it into the premium-grade bucket. 

We will be looking at $300 electric guitars right up to electric guitars under $1000.  It’s an extremely wide budget, but differing features will quickly determine where it lands in that price range. 

Many of these guitars are great as-is.  The pickups are uniquely voiced, the hardware is dependable, and the build quality should be excellent – no blemishes and scratches seen here.  But, player preference rules the roost, so no matter how great it seems on paper there may be some upgrades in order. 

You might be looking for a solid foundation put together to exacting standards, but you don’t mind crappy hardware as you’re looking to swap it out for your pet pups anyway or an upgraded bridge or precision tuners.  You want value in this type of buy as the costs can quickly sprint ahead when you’re swapping out gear. 

Second of all, there’s player skill to consider.  Brand new beginner players could invest in a quality guitar on the low end of this price range, but players with some time and playing skills on their resume will be able to quickly identify the features they need. 

Guitar longevity, strong necks, and a resonant body at a decent price point is the priority.  Excellent hardware is up there too, but if you have some preferences in mind, don’t be afraid to put ‘em in. 

1. ESP LTD EC-256FM Review

ESP LTD EC-256FM

It’s important to know that its popular ranking and support from the masses is what lands this guitar its prestigious spot in this lineup.  With an incredibly gorgeous Dark Brown SunBurst finish, it’s obvious it caught the eye of many. 

Body & Neck

There is some Les Paul flair in there done ESP style.  It has some noteworthy, premium features such as a Flamed Maple top, set-neck construction, and binding on the body, fingerboard, and headstock. 

The neck has a thin U shape with 22 XJ frets and almost a 14” fingerboard radius.  As expected for the single cutaway LP-style guitar, it has a 24.75” scale length.

Electronics & Hardware

As far as the TOM bridge and LTD tuners, they’re okay.  A molded nut with a width of 42 mm and D’Addario XL110 strings will work.  But, it’s the shiny hardware that catches the eye.  The two-tone humbuckers are ESP’s Designed LH-150N and 150B pickups.  The gold base plates match the 3-way switch, 2x Volume, and Master Tone knob.  The Tone pot is also wired for coil splitting. 

Sound

LH-150 humbuckers – these babes are naturally dark and haunting with some tight and responsive low-end booms.  But, with the tone pot, you can bring out the high-end and even give it some vintage sparkle by splitting the coils and making use of the lead pickup.  The tonal range with the coil-splitting allows you to find your way through blues, jazz, and multiple sub-genres of rock. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany/Flame Maple
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard Material: Roasted Jatoba
  • Pickups: ESP Designed LH-150 Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic w/Tailpiece

Gorgeous finish.  Premium build.  Great price.

Final Thoughts on the ESP LTD EC-256FM

It’s a beautiful guitar with quality construction under its belt from the set-neck, head-to-toe binding, and flamed maple top.  There could be room to make some hardware upgrades, but it’s completely up to you.  Priced nicely with brooding tone, there’s a lot of opportunity to tweak that sound. 

2. Ibanez Steve Vai JEMJRSP Review

Ibanez Steve Vai JEMJRSP

It’s not a JEM, it’s a JEM JR.  Not made in Japan, but it means a budget-friendly price tag.  If you’re attracted to this guitar, it’s either because you’re looking to make ridiculous dive bombs, or you’re enamored with the bright finish and somewhat odd appeal.  Here’s what to expect. 

Body & Neck

Super strat, metal appointments, and sharp edges.  The horns and headstock could possibly draw blood, but the Monkey Claw Grip and bright color seem to tone down its edge with a funky appeal.  The tonewoods are just okay with a Meranti body, Maple neck, and Jatoba fretboard. 

The neck has the Wizard III shape that’s fast to work, a fingerboard radius of 15.75”, and 24 jumbo frets that supports the fastest shredding and riffs.  Even though it’s a “Jr” guitar, it has nothing to do with size, so it still has a full 25.5” scale length.  You’ll see the elegant and stunning Tree of Life inlay that extends the entire length of the fretboard with the prominent leaves marking the frets – beautiful! 

Electronics & Hardware

Infinity pickups in the H-S-H configuration come with a 5-way switch blade that has traditional settings in positions 1, 3, and 5, but you can split the neck humbucker with the middle single-coil at position 2 and split the bridge humbucker with the middle single-coil at position 4.  Master Tone, Master Volume, and a Double-Locking Tremolo, obviously with a locking nut, complete the hardware specs. 

Sound

While the potential is there to really push those pickups to the limits, the 5-way blade in positions 2, 3, and 4 lose output when playing clean.  This could be expected when engaging single-coils, but if you saturate the tone and up the gain on your amp, you likely won’t hear that loss at all.  The humbuckers are definitely hotter, and they’re warm, thick and produce tight lows at the neck and beautiful highs at the bridge.  But, don’t be afraid to upgrade the pickups as the Infinity line is usually seen on low-end Ibanez guitars. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Meranti
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Jatoba
  • Pickups: Infinity Single-Coil/Infinity Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Double-Locking Tremolo

Beautiful inlays.  Monkey Grip.  Dive-bombing & Shredding Guitar!

Final Thoughts on the Ibanez Steve Vai JEMJRSP

It has Steve Vai features and proves that it doesn’t have to have an outrageous price tag to get quality where you need it.  If you’ve always wanted a JEM but couldn’t pull the trigger on a genuine signature model, turn to the JEM JR, it’ll satisfy your craving – maybe after you swap out the pickups. . . just a suggestion. 

3. Schecter Omen Extreme-7 Review

Schecter Omen Extreme-7

This is where luxury meets entry-level price points, and Schecter goes the extra mile to show how Indonesian-made guitars are coming up in the world.  The Omen Extreme-7 is a guitar for those with talent.  With 7 strings, it’s no beginner ax.

Body & Neck

The Black Cherry finish on the Quilted Maple arched top is staggering complete with its body Crème multi-ply binding on the body, neck, and fingerboard.  It has deep double cutaways on the Mahogany body and the bolt-on Maple neck has a rapid thin C neck that’s barely a millimeter thicker at the first fret (20 mm) than an Ibanez Wizard III – not bad for at all for a 7-string guitar!  Oh, and it has 24 X Jumbo frets. 

The fingerboard is made from Rosewood and features Abalone and Pearloid Vector inlays.  It has a long 26.5” scale length and flatter 16” fingerboard radius. 

Electronics & Hardware

A GraphTech XL Black Tusq nut is another premium feature and Schecter tuners don the 3+3 Schecter headstock.  To increase sustain and support tuning stability, the Omen Extreme-7 has a TOM bridge with string-thru-body system. 

Schecter Diamond Plus humbuckers come with two volume pots, a tone pot with coil splitting, and a 3-way toggle switch.  The Omen also comes with Ernie Ball Regular Slinky 7 #2621 (10-56s) strings.  If you tune that extra string to a low B, all the other strings are set up like your regular 6-string, and you’re set to go.

Sound

This guitar has all the makings of a metal monster – flat radius, speed neck, jumbo frets, and hot pickups.  Saturated tones vibrate with high output and while maintaining note clarity.  Played clean, you can hear character and tone, but it does have some oomph to it like it’s ready to be dialed up for overdriven tones any second.  The stock pickups are so-so, and it may call for an upgrade as you improve your skills, but if this is your first 7-string guitar and intermediate buy, they’ll do fine. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany/Quilted Maple
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Schecter Diamond Plus Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Tune-O-Matic

7 strings.  Premium touches.  Shredding beast. 

Final Thoughts on the Schecter Omen Extreme-7

If you’re not a whammy guy, you want some premium touches, and you’re looking for a guitar that’s something other than black, you’ve found it.  It’s an intermediate guitar that can be improved upon if you find the need to, but for the price, it’s a great buy for everyone looking for an upgrade from their entry-level, 6-string guitar. 

4. Ibanez RG7421PB 7-String Review

IBANEZ RG7421PB 7 string

This model looks like many other Ibanez metal shredders.  But, it stands out with its fantastic Sapphire Blue Flat finish and 2-tone body.  Hopefully its sound and hardware is as stunning as its aesthetics. 

Body & Neck

This guitar keeps costs to a minimum with a Meranti body and Jatoba fretboard, but it has a rocking look with its burled Poplar top and excellent finish job – it’s hypnotizing. 

The 3-piece Maple neck has the Wizard II-7 shape which is slim and slick with 19 mm thickness at the first fret and 21 mm at the 12th fret.  Even though the extra string gives you a bit of more of a playing challenge, the fingerboard radius is nice and flat with 15.75” making it a little easier to reach.  The nut width is a lot wider, catering for the extra string, and is 48 mm. 

Electronics & Hardware

A fixed bridge keeps things simple, so you’ll miss out on getting your whammy fix satisfied.  Good news – better sustain, easy string-changing, and less tuning issues.  Even though this isn’t what you would consider a high-end guitar for the brand, it does feature Quantum humbuckers that used to be on their Japanese-made models.  Now that pickups have come a long way from those days, they’re now on their low to mid-range models.  You have Master Volume and Master Tone controls and a 5-way switch blade with parallel circuitry on the neck pickup in position 2.  You can split the neck and bridge pickup at position 4. 

Sound

Playing distorted offers some crunch and grind that feels like you’ve been hit in the face.  The pickups are hot and responsive, and they have some good growl with long-lasting sustain. Played clean, especially in positions 2 and 4, you’ll have sweet and mellow tones with smooth note articulation. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Meranti/Burled Poplar
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Jatoba
  • Pickups: Quantum Humbuckers
  • Bridge: Fixed bridge

7-string.  Fast neck.  Badass finish!

Final Thoughts on the Ibanez RG7421PB

This is more of an upscale entry-level guitar, but the Burled Poplar top, Quantum pickups, extra string, and shredding specs justify its slightly higher cost.  Seemingly, its overall quality and tonal range matches its astonishing finish – awesome!

5. Fender Player Stratocaster HSS Plus Top Review

Fender Player Stratocaster HSS Plus Top

The Player Series is befitting of mid-range quality and skill level.  This model provides everything you want out of a Stratocaster with some tweaks that make it a sweeter deal.  

Body & Neck

The Aged Cherry Burst finish is gorgeous on this Plus Top model that indicates that it has a Flame Maple Top on an Alder body.  The body features a deep contour to meld itself comfortably to your frame.  The Maple neck has a Modern C shape with a 25.5” scale length and 9.5” fingerboard radius and 22 medium jumbo frets. 

Electronics & Hardware

A synthetic bone nut, 2-point Synchronized Tremolo with bent steel saddles bridge system, and standard tuners are adequate.  However, you may want to upgrade the tuners as aggressive use with that whammy bar may pose some inconsistent tuning issues. 

Here, the pickup configuration strays from the popular S-S-S with a humbucker at the bridge.  They’re the new Player Series pickups with an Alnico 2 at the bridge and Alnico 5 Strat Single-Coils at the neck and middle positions.  It’s great to see that Fender has 2x tone pots with one that incorporates the neck and middle pickups and another that allows for shaping the bridge humbucker. 

Sound

The 5-way switch blade combines the middle and inner-coil of the humbucker for some extra chimey, vintage sound.  The single-coils are mellow and bring some good balance to the overall tone.  The humbucker has medium output, but it offers some crisp high-end sound.  Together, the pickups are tonally-balanced and provide some bluesy spank with some rockin’ edge. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Alder/Flame Maple
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Pau Ferro
  • Pickups: Player Series Alnico 2 Humbucker/Player Series Alnico 5 Strat Single-Coils
  • Bridge: 2-point Synchronized Tremolo w/Bent Steel Saddles

High-quality.  Excellent tone.  Souped-up Strat.

Final Thoughts on the Fender Player Stratocaster HSS Plus Top

It’s a pimped-out Stratocaster with some vintage flair and good hardware.  As a quality intermediate guitar from a trusted brand, you won’t have to fork out hundreds of dollars on mods.  This is a guitar that’s more than good as-is. 

6. Dean Michael Schenker Standard Review

Dean Michael Schenker Standard

It’s not a genuine signature model, but at least you can afford this one.  The Michael Schenker Standard guitar has the right body shape with his two-tone black and white color scheme.  Does it have his “unmistakable midrange tone?”  I guess we’ll find out. 

Body & Neck

The Gibson Flying V was Schenker’s guitar of choice until Dean Guitars came out with his signature V model.  It has the look, the shape, and the right kinda headstock.  Keeping tonewoods on the low-end scale, it has a Basswood body, bolt-on Maple neck, and a Granadillo fingerboard. 

The neck shape is a C that is universally comfortable to wield for most players, and with 22 jumbo frets and a 12” fingerboard radius, making fast work of the neck will be easy.  A 43 mm nut width, 24.75” scale length, and pearl dot inlays are general run specs. 

Electronics & Hardware

Grover tuners provide confidence in tuning stability especially when there’s a TOM bridge and V tailpiece that supports sustain and intonation.  A PPS nut could be a point of a future mod, and D’Addario EXL 120 strings come with the guitar. 

DMT Design humbuckers are on board and each has their own volume pots while they share a tone pot and a 3-way toggle gets you access to either pickup or both at the same time. 

Sound

Unfortunately, these don’t come with any of the Dean Michael Schenker Lights Out pickups.  The humbuckers are DMT Design, and there’s some suspicion about them being import/aftermarket versions of the Lights Out humbuckers. . . either way, they sound incredible on this guitar.  All the frets are easily accessible uninhibited by the V body shape, and you bet you can solo out crystal clear leads with this guitar. 

You have very hard rock and metal sound that begs to be played fully saturated with high-gain.  It doesn’t lose clarity and there’s excellent sustain.  The neck pickup has fat tone and the bridge pickup is sharp and piercing without sounding shrill.  Paired with an excellent amp, you can definitely bring out the bright attack for punchy mids.  

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Basswood
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Granadillo
  • Pickups: DMT Design Dual Humbuckers
  • Bridge: TOM w/V Tailpiece

V guitar.  Roaring sound.  Value buy!

Final Thoughts on the Dean Michael Schenker Standard

Don’t underestimate this guitar due to the low price.  It’s a fantastic copy of the more expensive signature models, but it has the power and sound that belongs within the series.  With the two-tone color scheme, hot, hold-their-own humbuckers, and the iconic V shape – what’s not to love? 

7. Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 Review

Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335

The affordable Epiphone version of the original ES-335 is a welcome and embraced model to the market.  A guitar great for jazz, blues, rock ‘n roll, and country, it’s a guitar made for all. 

Body & Neck

You have everything vintage about the ES-335 body and look.  The finish color is a classic, it’s a semi-hollow with an archtop, and you can’t forget about those violin-inspired f-holes.  The Maple and Birch laminates form the guitar with 5-ply coverage on the top and back and 3-ply on the sides. 

Both the top and back of the body have binding, and the Mahogany neck has a 1960s SlimTaper D profile.  The Rosewood fingerboard has a radius of 12” and 22 medium jumbo frets with block inlays. 

Electronics & Hardware

Modern appointments do away with vintage problems on semi-hollow guitars.  This edition has Epiphone Alnico Classic Pro 4-wire humbuckers.  The 3-way pickup selector toggle is an all-metal switch, and each pickup has their own volume and tone controls.  The volume controls are wired for coil splitting for vintage single-coil sound. 

For the bridge, you have a LockTone TOM with a stopbar tailpiece, Wilkinson Vintage Classics 14:1 green tulip style tuners sit at the headstock, and all the hardware is solid nickel. 

Sound

The pickups are made with Alnico 5 magnets and with coil splitting as a new twist to the ES-335, the tonal palette is extremely versatile.  It may look like an OG 335, but it sounds better.  It has the traditional sound of Alnicos but with a modern tone and is slightly hotter.  The mids and highs are ever present, and the four wires will help you do some crazy things across the tonal range. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Laminate Maple/Laminate Birch
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: Epiphone Alnico Classic Pro 4-wire
  • Bridge: LockTone TOM w/Stopbar Tailpiece

Vintage aesthetic.  Coil-Splitting.  Modern sound. 

Final Thoughts on the Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335

It’s a gorgeous guitar body that’s every bit reminiscent of the original ES-335.  But, Epiphone has read the minds of contemporary players by equipping it with modern hardware to continue its legendary reputation.  There’s little need for mods here as the pickups are great, now with coil-splitting, and the body is exactly as it should be – a vintage copy.  An intermediate guitar for the collection?  Absolutely. 

8.  PRS SE 245 Review

PRS SE 245

It’s a slightly smaller, single-cutaway guitar that will feel right at home on your lap.  It’s a very attractive guitar because PRS knows how to pull of classy appeal. 

Body & Neck

This guitar is exquisite looking.  The Tobacco Sunburst has a classy and artistic glow that instantly gives it an upper-scale vibe.  The Mahogany body has a beveled Maple top with a Flame Maple veneer and a single cutaway.  The shorter scale length of 24.5” adds to its classical look but with a very contemporary presence. 

The Mahogany neck has a wide fat shape with 22 frets, and of course, the bird inlays are standard. 

Electronics & Hardware

All the hardware is nickel from the PRS Designed Tuners and the PRS Designed Stoptail Bridge. The pickups have a zebra color tone and are 245 “S” humbuckers.  There are 2x volume controls, 2x tone controls, and a 3-way toggle switch conveniently located on the upper bout. 

Sound

The 245 “S” humbuckers have mid-output and are what you would call tonally balanced pickups with clear differentiation between the treble and bass humbuckers.  They have thick lows, smooth mids, and serious oomph in the highs, however, the tonal range is somewhat limited.  While they can handle some good amount of gain, they sound best in the mid-range.  

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany/Maple w/Flame Maple Veneer
  • Neck Material: Mahogany
  • Fingerboard Material: Rosewood
  • Pickups: 245 “S” Humbuckers
  • Bridge: PRS Designed Stoptail

Stunning finish.  Excellent build quality.  PRS appointments. 

Final Thoughts on the PRS SE 245

It’s a straightforward guitar where the look and the finish are the main highlights.  Pickups can be swapped out if you want sound that’s thicker and hotter with a wider frequency range.  The quality is in the construction of the guitar where the foundation provides a strong platform for the best electric guitars. 

9. Washburn Parallaxe M10FRQ Review

Washburn Parallaxe M10FRQ

This is the high-end electric guitar the brand has to offer.  It’s a Parallaxe model with the appointments needed by hardcore metal shredders.  For the high price, you must determine if it’s intermediate quality or premium grade. 

Body & Neck

The Super Strat bodied guitar has a Mahogany body with a Quilt Transparent Blue with Matte finish that speaks to hard rock and metal heads that like to veer off the common Black finish path.  The Maple speed neck (also good for small hands) has a flatter Ebony fretboard with 24 frets and small dot inlays with a Parallaxe inlay marking the 12th fret. 

It’s a 25.5” scale length guitar with a 43 mm nut width and the entire instrument is extremely lightweight.  If you play for long-lasting sessions, you’ll appreciate this feature. 

Electronics & Hardware

Nothing but the best humbuckers are reserved for this guitar as is seen with the Seymour Duncan USA pickups.  They share Master Volume and Master Tone pots, and there’s a 3-way toggle switch that separates them.  Each control knob is a push/pull knob that activates series wiring when pushed in and parallel wiring when pulled out.  You can also split the coils for single-coil tones.  A Floyd Rose Double Locking Tremolo bridge comes with a locking nut and Grover Exclusive 18:1 tuners are additional proof that this guitar has fine hardware. 

Sound

Extremely versatile couldn’t be any truer of the tonal range.  The SH2 is the Jazz pickup at the neck and the Distortion Trembucker is at the bridge.  For ripping leads and aggressive rock and metal tones, hit the Distortion Trembucker and buckle in.  It’s super-hot with its huge ceramic magnet that delivers hard-hitting midrange uppercuts and can also spike out crunchy and gritty rhythm tones.  The Jazz pickup is a wise pairing with the Trembucker as it balances out the tone and scoops the mids for a vintage and bright sound that sings out with clarity. 

Spec Summary

  • Body Material: Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Maple
  • Fingerboard Material: Ebony
  • Pickups: Seymour Duncan USA Jazz SH-2/Distortion Trembucker TB-6
  • Bridge: Floyd Rose 1000 Double Locking Tremolo

Premium hardware.  Shredder’s dream specs.  Hardcore sound. 

Final Thoughts on the Washburn Parallaxe M10FRQ

Pure excellence.  It’s a premium grade guitar with a mid-range prince point.  The hardware couldn’t get any better as they’re the best of what the market can offer.  No mods needed. 

It’s easily a high-end guitar to be labeled intermediate, but it has the right price and is one of the most superior upgrades a not-so-green beginner can land.  Advanced players will recognize the quality in this guitar, so I’d be quick about getting one today.  

Everybody’s Favorite Intermediate Electric Guitars

Intermediate guitars are my favorite.  They provide quality where I want it and when hardware needs some swapping out, it can be done guilt-free.  But, there are some models that prove to be an excellent buy where you wouldn’t dream of making mods – they’re the gems you must move on with lightning speed before they sell out. 

It’s always kind of a gut-wrencher when you spend over a grand and find you’re not completely happy with something.  Save the cash and buy the mid-range way – it’s the best path to value, you can make future mods if necessary, and affordably add to your collection of axes.  So, which is your favorite intermediate guitar? 

Further Reading:

 

About Evie | Owner & Editor of MagicInstruments.com

For me, music really is a form of magic. It has the ability to transport you to another time and place with just a few soft notes, drifting on the wind. It can invoke joy, excitement, sadness and even fear. Music can strengthen communities and bridge cultural differences. Our lives are truly enriched by the music entwined within them and I look forward to helping make your musical journey a magical one.