I find this is an fascinating thread, because I have just bought a new guitar. I used to always buy used, and do quite well, but over the past several years, the sleepers just seemed to have faded away. So, I took a chance on an all solid wood mahogany Recording King (Asian OM copy). You could probably find it cheaper in a big box music store. At Larsen's Music in Victoria, BC, I paid around 575 cdn with taxes. This price included a supplied fitted arch-top hardshell case. I think I did okay, in the end.
My main reason was to change to a smaller body (being shorter of limb, and female of form), and not have to spend the thousands I didn't have for a (fill in the blank). I'd been playing a Cort Earth 50 ply side solid top dreadnaught, which has a beautiful D-18ish sound, and scalloped frets (199 bucks, no kidding) but I can't finger pick on it anymore without shoulder pain. It is a killer for flat-picking though. I came close to selling it once, but I've learned my lesson and won't sell it in hopes of finding another jewel down the road.
I can now finger pick and slide on my new guitar, without pain, and this alone has definitely improved my playing, precision, and enjoyment. It took a little bit to get used to the different tonal spread, but it's proving to be quite a pleasant little sleeper.
My point, and I do have one, is that playing comfort can have a huge positive effect on the perception of sound and the satisfaction of playing one particular instrument over another. I believe that neck contour and width is also very important to pay attention to. Those of us who struggle with big body instruments would do well to investigate the smaller body instruments. I've found some real sleepers under 1000, if few of them are domestically built.
Both guitars were built in China, and I have a twinge of political angst now and then, but I would like to think that luthiers everywhere put the same love into their work, and hope that the new owner will love them as much if not more.
Cheerio my deario,