If you enjoyed our previous post on Eight Great Electrics for Under $800, here are seven more good reasons to smile. Each of these guitars has a street or retail price below $800 and delivers professional quality for players on a budget.
All of these guitars were evaluated on the basis of build quality and setup, and all were given thorough shakeouts—multiple times, in fact—to see how they stacked up for playability and tone.
We came away impressed. And you will too.
Bohemian Guitars Boho Motor Oil
Okay—you want to break out of your same-old same-old? Well, have I got the oil can guitar for you! Full disclosure: This is not a solidbody guitar like we promised on the cover. It isn’t your typical hollowbody either, though. You’ve probably seen the crazy vibey instruments from Bohemian Guitars and wondered, “Does that thing even play? If it does, what does it sound like?” Well, it actually plays just fine once you get used to the fact that it doesn’t sit on your lap quite like a normal guitar. The neck is comfortable and the action was easy to chord and bend on. There is also a very real “fun factor” that is inescapable when you’re playing a guitar that has a damn oil can for a body!
That body is actually reinforced with basswood for both tone and stability. The maple neck runs the length of the body, and there is a removable panel on the back for accessing the electronics and hardware, but you could also stick a mic in there if things haven’t gotten oily enough for you.
I plugged the Boho into a Kendrick combo and started riffing. It produces a full, slightly dark tone that was great for grungy chording and spooky slide lines. Pairing it with a Fulltone Full Drive pedal proved that the Motor Oil could be a ballsy rock machine as well. I got my best results by running the Full Drive bright and with lots of gain, which made bridge-pickup power chords bark with authority and kept the neck pickup clear and sing-y. Because there are no split-coil options, I tended to dial in clean tones on the bright side as well.
So who would want this thing, anyway? Honestly, lots of players. It might not be someone’s choice for their first or only guitar, but anyone who wants to add some vibe and whimsy to their collection (and let’s be honest… we could all use a little whimsy) would love a Boho. One look at their website and the great demo video by Grant Reynolds will show you that this guitar is well suited for gut-bucket blues, barroom boogie, and a whole bunch of other styles. Plus, it has a built-in stand! Just set it on the ground and walk away. Pretty damn cool. —Matt Blackett
Boho Motor Oil
RETAIL PRICE $299
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
FRETBOARD Rosewood 25 1/2" scale
TUNERS 3+3 w/removable keys
BODY Recycled hollow metal w/basswood frame and removable back panel
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style
PICKUPS Two humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS .009-.042
WEIGHT 6.2 lbs
KUDOS Guaranteed eye-catcher. Easy playability. Built-in stand.
CONCERNS Slightly dark sounding.
Godin Session LTD
This bolt-neck beaut looks slick with its Desert Blue finish and pearloid pickguard, and it comes outfitted with everything needed to make it a good choice for working players who want maximum performance for their money. The satin-finished maple neck feels as comfy as worn-in Levis, and the fretwork is super clean with even crowns and non-spikey tips—even the nut has been shaped to remove sharp corners. The 12” radius maple fretboard, which sports highly visible black dots on the top and sides, is perfect for bluesy bending, while still providing a fluid surface for speedy picking. Godin’s fully adjustable trem bridge is adjusted to float for soulful pitch bends, and its buttery action helps it return to pitch very reliably. The Tru-Loc feature is cool too, as it allows you to easily adjust the range of swing on the bar (using the included hex wrench) so that it sits exactly where you want it
To make this model suitable for a wide variety of styles, Godin has designed the Session LTD around the popular hum/sing/sing pickup configuration, using two of its own GS-1s in the pickguard and a Duncan SH-11 that sits in a chrome-plated bezel in the bridge slot. Along with a 5-way switch and knurled Volume and Tone knobs (the latter with a push-pull function for splitting the coils of the humbucker), this setup gives you a wealth of tonal options. Run through two different combos (a Kendrick 4210 and a Dr. Z Z-Lux), and driving a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 pedal for high-gain sounds, the Session LTD proved its ability to range from sparkling clean to massively overdriven, with settings aplenty for jazz, blues, country, fusion, hard rock, etc. The GS-1s are quite robust sounding—the neck unit being particularly cool for throaty blues soloing—and they dish out righteous rhythm textures in combination with the ’bucker in coil-split mode.
Add it all up and the Session LTD is perfect for players who have to cover a variety of styles, and at $749, it’s certainly one of the best deals around in a North American-made guitar. —Art Thompson
STREET PRICE $749
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK Maple, bolt on
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale, 12" radius
TUNERS Godin die-cast
BODY Canadian basswood
BRIDGE Godin Tru-Loc Trem
PICKUPS Two Godin GS-1 single-coils, Seymour Duncan SH-11 humbucker
CONTROLS Volume, Tone (w/push-pull coil split for humbucker), 5-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS 010-.046
WEIGHT 8.14 lbs
KUDOS A fine guitar with a wide range of tones.
Ibanez Steve Vai JEM Jr.
Modeled after the popular Steve Vai Signature JEM, the JEM Jr. is a way more affordable model that doesn’t really cut corners on functionality or artistry. Aesthetically, the JEM Jr. features the iconic tree-of-life inlay, the lion claw rout that sits behind the whammy, and the instantly recognizable monkey-grip handle. Before you even plug in to the reversed jack input, it’s already a cool-looking guitar that effectively captures the same vibe of the much pricier JEMs.
The Wizard III maple neck on the JEM Jr. is slim, fast, and plays like butter—encouraging a totally relaxing and comfortable playing experience, and providing hours of fun without a hint of fatigue. The standard double-locking tremolo bridge stays in tune, even with extreme dives. Overall, the Quantum single-coil and humbucker pickups sounded fine, although I generally preferred the humbuckers to the single-coil, which sounded a bit too thin for my taste. I would most likely want to try swapping out the factory units for a set of DiMarzio Evolution pickups to cop the tone of the JEM 7V if I wanted to get serious about my Vai obsession. It wouldn’t be a necessary expense, however, as the Jr. is still capable of awesome sounds. Bottom line: The JEM Jr. looks good, plays fast, and is by far the most affordable guitar in the Vai Signature series. It really is an exceptional value for the working-class JEM fan. —Joyce Kuo
Steve Vai JEM Jr.
STREET PRICE $499
NUT WIDTH 1.693"
NECK Maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale with tree-of-life inlay
FRETS 24 jumbo
BRIDGE Standard DL Double-Locking Tremolo
PICKUPS Two Quantum humbuckers (bridge and neck), one Quantum single-coil (middle)
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 5-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Ibanez, .009-.042
WEIGHT 8.5 lbs
KUDOS Looks cool. Thin and fast neck. Big trem range. Great value.
CONCERNS Single-coil pickup sounds a bit thin.
With a Dali-esque “melted sideways” take on the Tele body and a raptor-like beak on its headstock, the Riptide lends an edge of contemporary shred attitude to the traditional picker’s plank, and wraps it all in some nifty retro-modern styling with a metallic blue finish and white pearloid pickguard. High-performance elements continue in the fairly thin profile on the five-bolt maple neck, the extremely deep cutaway, and the contoured heel, the latter two combining for an easy reach right up to the 22nd jumbo fret. The two Peavey T-style pickups have alnico magnets and readings in the ballpark for medium-hot-leaning vintage single-coils, and are routed through the traditional control setup. Access to trussrod adjustment is conveniently at the headstock, which carries two roller string trees to aid the steep drop off from nut to the tuners. The bridge is a standard chromed steel Tele dish with three chromed saddles on an unspecified alloy, with through-body stringing.
Despite having a thinner profile than I’d select for myself, the Riptide’s neck sat easily in the hand. The guitar played well right out of the box, and after just a little tuning instability early on it settled down fine once I’d played it for a while. Fret dress was good, everything functioned just fine, and overall the guitar displayed admirable quality for its price range. Tested through a Tone King Imperial Mk II and a custom JTM45/plexi-style rig, the Riptide’s bridge pickup presented a good blend of twang and growl, with archetypal spanky and scooped tones in the middle position. Both translated well to overdriven rock and pop riffs with an Analogman Prince of Tone OD engaged, with some meaty snarl from the bridge pickup in particular. The neck position was warm and round, with decent snap to it, and worked well for bluesier riffs both semi-clean and with the overdrive pedal. All in all, this Peavey delivered very respectable tones that would be recognizable to any Tele fan, and proved a good-value player and performer in its bracket, making it a must-check on the shortlist of any player who digs the Tele simplicity and versatility but wants those fundamentals with some stylistic shake-ups. —Dave Hunter
STREET PRICE $399
NUT WIDTH 1 5/8"
NECK Canadian hard rock maple, 25.5" scale
FRETS 22 jumbo
TUNERS Diecast Mini Grovers
BRIDGE Peavey T-style bridge, through-body stringing
PICKUPS Two Peavey single-coil T-style pickups
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Peavey, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.65 lbs
KUDOS Solid build quality, subtly alternative looks, respectable Tele-inspired tones.
Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster
As my first “real” guitar was a 1966 Fender Jaguar, I’ve always had a soft spot for that body style and that part of Fender’s line, which also included the Jazzmaster. (I also love the fact that fewer people have played jazz on a Jazzmaster than have played bass through a Bassman.) One of the greatest proponents of the Jazzmaster is Dinosaur Jr. frontman and purveyor of heavy-ass loudness J Mascis. This Squier signature model looks totally cool with its vintage white finish and gold anodized pickguard. It feels very comfy, thanks to the contoured body and the sturdy, substantial neck. It’s very similar to the Jazzmasters of yore, but the Adjusto-Matic bridge puts a more modern spin on things.
Plugged in, the Jazzmaster just instantly has its own thing going. The single-coil pickups have a great personality that isn’t Stratty but isn’t exactly P-90-ish either. The tones have vibe and depth with a nice clang, and they’re a blast to play either clean or dirty. With the cool whammy system, this guitar excels at surfy textures when you pour on the reverb, but I loved what it could do for blues, pop, and all but the heaviest rock parts.
All of the above tones were achieved in the Jazzmaster’s “Lead” mode. Kicking the cute little slider switch over gets you into “Rhythm” mode, which is, by design, a darker sound with rolled off treble on the neck pickup only. Level and further treble rolloff are governed by the awesome roller-style thumbwheels. This allows you to have a drastically different tone available at the flick of a switch, but I found this sound to be overly dark, and I would probably only kick it in for wooly-mammoth-style fuzz sounds.
That small quibble aside, this guitar simply reeks of vibe and inspiration. Play a couple of riffs on it and you will definitely see why so many iconic—and iconoclastic—players have done great work on a Jazzmaster. So cool! —Matt Blackett
J Mascis Jazzmaster
RETAIL PRICE $399
NUT WIDTH 1.675"
FRETBOARD Rosewood 25 1/2" scale with 9 1/2" radius
TUNERS Vintage style
BRIDGE Adjusto-Matic with vintage-style floating tremolo
PICKUPS Two Jazzmaster single-coils
CONTROLS Lead Volume, Tone, 3-way toggle, RhythmVolume, Tone
FACTORY STRINGS Fender, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.5 lbs
KUDOS Classic design. Great tones. Instant personality.
CONCERNS Rhythm circuit might sound too dark for some players.
Sterling JP60 John Petrucci Signature Series
With a high-quality chameleon finish, the glittering mystic green Sterling JP60 is a show stopper on looks alone. The sleek paint appears to change colors at different angles, creating a visually mesmerizing effect under stage lights.
Although it was designed as a cost-effective alternative for John Petrucci fans on a budget, this guitar shares many of the same attributes as its more affluent brothers, and spares no expense on functionality and playability.
Right out of the box, the guitar was set up fantastically well, and it was ready to plug in and play with accurate intonation in all positions of the neck. The action is unbelievably low without the slightest hint of fret buzz, making it instantly fun and easy to play. The maple neck is slim and smooth, inspiring fast lead lines, sweep-picking excursions, and clean legato playing. The custom-contoured body also includes a super cozy forearm scoop. Like the other Petrucci guitars in the signature series, the JP60 features the JP shield inlay on a rosewood fretboard, high-quality locking tuners, and a floating tremolo bridge that was remarkably stable, and could withstand massive pitch shifts in either direction without going horribly out of tune.
The pickups are quite versatile. At the bridge position, the JP60 can deliver squealing pinch harmonics and bright lead tones that sing, sustain, and cut through a mix. The neck pickup offers plenty of power and meaty crunch. Combined with distortion, the guitar is as fierce as it is glittery, and I was pleased to find that the clean tones were clear and full—not at all thin or overly twangy. Of course, the DiMarzio John Petrucci pickups are always an optional add-on, but the factory Sterling pickups definitely pack plenty of sonic value. —Joyce Kuo
JP60 John Petrucci Signature Series
STREET PRICE $649
NECK Maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale
TUNERS SBMM Locking
BRIDGE SBMM Trem
PICKUPS Two SBMM humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Regular Slinky, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.27 lbs
KUDOS Well-built. Gorgeous finish. Excellent comfort and playability. Wide range of tonal possibilities.
Washburn PX-Solar V160CK
A new addition to Washburn’s Parallaxe-based Ola Englund Signature Series, the PX-Solar V160CK is broadly inspired by the Flying V, although it shrinks the classic body dimensions and adds comfort with a steep forearm bevel, while making things seamlessly integral across the back with a sculpted and virtually invisible heel at the neck joint. The Duncan Solar humbuckers feed through master Volume and Tone controls with push-pull coil splitting on the latter, and a 3-way switch. I like the recessed Strat-style jack hidden on the back of the lower point in theory, but it leaves the plug rubbing against your lower thigh when the guitar’s strapped on (you won’t play this thing sitting down, and shouldn’t try), and makes it hard to tuck under the strap for safety, too. Otherwise, the feature maintains the sleek lines, as do the matte-black finish, black-chrome hardware, and ebony ’board with lone “Ola Englund” inlay at the 12th fret. Through-body stringing via a Tune-o-matic and Mini Grover tuners up past the black graphite Buzz Feiten Tuning System nut complete the feature set. No surprise finding a super-slim neck here, and playability was excellent right up to the 24th jumbo fret.
Tested through a custom JTM45/plexi-style amp with a Z.Vex Box of Rock and an EarthQuaker Devices Musket Fuzz to ramp up the fun factor, the PX-Solar V160CK exuded precisely the slash-and-burn rhetoric you’d expect from a guitar of this styling. Through the amp set just to the edge of natural breakup, the bridge pickup had a nasal, midrangey squawk that was begging me to crank the gain or step on a drive pedal. Once I had succumbed, this position elicited sledgehammer crunch with a tactile dimension that worked great for classic rock at lower gain levels, with easy thrash and metal lead tones when set to scorch. The neck pickup delivered chewy, rich tones that worked better than the bridge clean, inspiring sweet slow-burn ballad leads and easy blues-rock, while going all thick and menacing through fuzz or distortion. Popping up the tone knob introduced a spanky, percussive split-coil tone that was thinner than a good traditional single-coil, but useful nonetheless. The PX-Solar V160CK is a rock machine through and through, and it does its job with pride. —Dave Hunter
STREET PRICE $649
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16”
NECK Maple, 25.5” scale
FRETS 24 super jumbo
TUNERS Mini Grover
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic with through-body stringing
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan Solar HB114N & HB114B humbuckers
CONTROLS Master Volume and Tone controls, push-pull coil splitting, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL-120, .009-.042
WEIGHT 7.2 lbs
KUDOS Looks and tones that are equally eviscerating in a well-constructed and fluidly thought-out rock machine.
CONCERNS Recessed rear jack maintains styling but might be awkward for some playing positions.