I have written a few articles before that try to outline the best rig for metal, punk, or live shows below a certain budget. While it is a good exercise in bargain hunting, it always feels pretty useless because each player needs something different no matter what the budget is. So instead I thought I’d provide some guidelines for shopping on a budget that will help inform where/when to save or spend money. Plus, I’ll throw in a few of my favorite budget friendly pieces of gear!
Finding A Guitar
When you’re looking for a cheap guitar there a few major things you need to consider.
- Does it stay in tune?
- Is it comfortable to play?
- Does it inspire you?
I think players often prioritize the wrong features, especially on budget friendly guitars. New players either just get the cheapest guitar they can find, or they just find something (like a Strat or LP) that their idols used. Furthermore, the brand name shouldn’t matter that much. Don’t spend more to get a Fender that may be marginally better than a high end Squier just because it’s a Fender.
Prioritize function and comfort over anything else. If you can find a $300 guitar that feels great and stays in tune, that’s perfectly fine for live or even studio use if it inspires you! Especially if you can’t spend a lot of money on gear, make sure you get something versatile too. Realistically you need a guitar that can get you a lot of sounds and do what 2-3 guitars can do.
One of my favorite guitars that fits this bill is the G&L ASAT Bluesboy. It’s not necessarily a huge brand name like the Fender Telecaster that inspired it. However, it’s engineered to be a phenomenal guitar and the neck humbucker adds great versatility. All of this comes on one of the most versatile guitar models of all time, the Telecaster. It’s about $450 new, and can be even cheaper used, and is incredibly reliable. I highly recommend buying a guitar here!
Filling Out A Pedalboard
Pedal boards are often a tricky thing to make recommendations for. The biggest issue for budget minded players is that just getting a board and power supply can set you back hundreds of dollars, and those are things you really need to have for live gigs. Take a quick look on Reverb, you’ll find many great options up and down the price range, but choosing can be difficult.
Once again, go with the function over form here. Modeling amps are affordable, but are often unreliable for live use. Unless it comes with multiple foot switches (which makes less affordable) how are you gonna bend over mid-song to turn on or off the chorus? Stick to the basics here. Get pedals and effects you need, things like a boost if you’re a lead guitar player, or an overdrive so you can have clean and dirty sounds live.
I would spend the least amount of money on pedals, instead recommending you stick to trusted and affordable essentials like the Boss DS-1 or Ammoon Nano Chorus. You can build your board up over time, accumulating pedals and upgrades as you can afford it, but for now, get a reliable power supply and stick to the basics.
Invest In A Loud, Reliable Amp
I recently wrote about this for Ultimate-Guitar.com, but you really should spend more money on your amp than your guitar. I go into more detail in that article so definitely give it a read! But essentially, you need a few things out of the amp that are non-negotiable. It has to be at least 15 watts, and really should be more like 25+ watts if you are playing anything bigger than a dive bar.
Some players may be tempted to think they need a tube amp to get professional sound. Personally, I do prefer tube amps and I think there are some moderately priced ones that will do a great job. Options like the Vox AC15 might tempt those with bigger wallets, but I’d recommend the Orange Micro Terror 20 watt head paired with some affordable cabinets like the PPC112 60-watt option from Orange. For just over $300-400 depending if you buy new or used, you get quite a large amount of volume and a name-brand, dependable amp head.
Balancing The Budget
If you read this and felt like it’s hard to put together a solid rig for under $1000, you’re not wrong. It’s gotten a bit easier with options like the Boss Katana modeling amps but you still have to pony up for an expensive foot controller. A lot of this stuff just isn’t one size fits all and you really need to take the time to try out and research gear before you buy. I try to make a huge portion of my reviews affordable gear so that players can find answers to their questions here at Guitars For Idiots. Ultimately, all the gear I recommended here really is reliable and high quality enough to get you playing your best on stage. Think there are other guitars or amps that can get you to the next level? Let me know in the comments!
2 thoughts on “Building A Live Rig On A Budget: Some Thoughts/Opinions”
I thought the orange micro terror recommendation was interesting. My prejudice is that this is only for dirty sounds. Is it possible to get decent clean tones out of it?
Personally I think some of the clean tones are pretty good, they just aren’t going to give you that clean “chime” many players want. But pairing that amp with a single coil guitar gives you some cool tones!