I have to say I find some of the modern japanese amps out there rather pleasing and very capable performers.
I bought my son a Denon PMA 255 the other week to sort out his system in his bedroom and must admit to being quite astounded by its performance.
Likewise I've owned a number of Rotel amps in the past and never once thought they were anything but good.
The problem with the Brit and American sourced amps is trying to find them cheap in the first place.
Given $1500 I'd try sort out the front end first and buy the best possible for around the $1000 mark, then move on to the amp and see what can be obtained for the remaining $500, which I'm sure should see you good in that respect. Hold on to your Polks for the moment and think about a change in the future if you really need too. A good TT and amp may breathe new life in them.
Presuming you're States side a quick visit to http://www.needledoctor.com
can give you a good idea of what to expect in the way of TT's at around the $1000 figure. To mind :
Project - Xperience (very well reviewed here in the UK recently)
Music Hall MMF 5.1 (rather attractive looking and from a good background)
The Funk turntable with an RB250 - Now discontinued, but if they are available in stock, just not to be overlooked. Real quality sound from a man who knows what he is doing.
Personally I'd give any of the Technics a miss. But that's me.
Like said steer clear of a tuner/amp as there are some good sources for radio listening without having to break the bank. I'm quite an avid listener of the radio, but prefer a nice 'in the background' source.