Yep, get a used EAR 834p, mod it, upgrade the tubes. Stunning. Sweet, life-like and beautiful. That's what I use, and I never even think about changing it.
As an alternative, if you like a slightly more detailed and neutral sound, grab a Sonic Frontiers Phono One on those rare occasions when they show up used, and upgrade the tubes. Might go for as low as $1000.
I have personally been disappointed in the solid state phono stages under $1000 that I've heard, but I've only heard the inexpensive ones (e.g. the $300 Graham, not be the better models). They don't sound bad at all, just, for me, they lack the life of tubes.
If I wanted a really inexpensive phono stage, I'd try the Bellini - sells for what, $250 new? One tube. MM only though, not MC.