Cheapest Possible Rig: Getting gig ready on a budget
The Rig: It’s every guitar players dream. There’s an unexplainable sensation that comes with owning your own rig, a sonic freedom, a musical independence, a place to call home? Possibly. Put simply, you can’t beat having one and owning one brings me joy literally everyday.
The only problem that comes with acquiring your very own rig is that for first time buyers, the price tag is usually a lot higher than they’re expecting it to be. The market has also become massively over saturated with endless versions of guitars, amps, and especially pedals. Meaning that it’s very easy to be stricken with option paralysis, or the fear of spending your hard earned cash on the wrong things.
Well fear not first time buyers! Your old pal Dan is here once again to separate the wheat from the chaff and straight talk you into taking the biggest and best leap of your young musical lives. I’m going to delve deep in to the heart of this saturated market and return with some solid, reliable picks for you young players out there so you can hopefully get one step closer to being gig ready. It’s not going to be easy, but its something I’ve just got to do. You ready? Lets do this.
Before we go any further, I have to make something clear re: the title of this article. The examples I’m going to be providing are what I think are the best guitars/amps/pedals for the money, and are within a budget that I deem to be affordable considering you’ll be getting an entire rig out of it. AND I’ve had experience with them first hand. They are by no means the literal cheapest things you can buy; they’re close, but not the cheapest. You can do it for less, but despite the title of this article I’m trying to get you a gigable rig, not just the cheapest I can find. Which means I’ve got to consider the reliability of the gear I’m recommending as well as price, and I would worry that the cheapest gear may not hold up in a live setting. I’m just trying to look out for you; I’ve got your best interests at heart. Aren’t I sweet?
Lets start with the fundamentals. If you don’t have a reliable guitar, then you couldn’t be further away from being gig ready, but finding one of those on a budget can sometimes be difficult. A lot of guitars at entry-level price points can be shipped with cheap parts and poor build quality, which can cause problems live. Technical issues, tuning stability, or simply just not feeling that nice to play, are all things we want to avoid when buying a gig ready guitar. The secret to that is simply just trying out as many guitars as you can, and having the patience to wait until the right guitar comes along. It’s also worth trying different versions of the same model of guitar as well. Guitars are like snowflakes, no two are the same, there’s always going to be one gem in every batch so be sure to try them all and not get obsessed with one just because its your favourite colour!
Ibanez Rg421 (£245)
Narrowly coming in as the cheapest of the three, the Ibanez RG series has a long history of delivering high quality guitars for a reasonable price, and the RG241 is no different. Its
simple construction of a mahogany body, bolt on maple neck, fixed bridge, and HH pickup configuration, has all the hallmarks of a gig worthy guitar. Its obviously got a genre specific aesthetic to it, but that doesn’t have to stop you going out there and playing whatever kind of music you like on it. And if I’m being honest, the RG neck profile is one of the most comfortable I’ve ever played, which is ideal for anyone who’s new to gigging. Comfort is king, worry about looking cool when you’ve got more confidence playing live!
Dan’s pick: Epiphone Dot (£281)
Yes, I’m still going to do a Dan’s pick within a list of picks that I exclusively chose. Purely because this is supposed to be about gear that can get you started in the gigging world, but the Epiphone dot is not just a starter guitar, I still use one to this day!
We’ve all heard of Epiphone, it’s Gibson’s entry-level brand providing classic Gibson style guitars at less eye watering price points. The Epiphone dot reigns supreme when it comes to imitating a more expensive guitar for literally a tenth of the price. It’s a no frills 335 that can sound great out of the box or worst case, is a set up and some small modifications away from being a staple in your gigging
arsenal. Coming with a laminated maple body, maple neck, and two classic alnico humbuckers, there isn’t much that you wouldn’t be able to do on this bad boy. The only thing to watch out for as a newbie to the gigging world is feedback. It’s a semi hollow guitar so if you get too close to your amp then you can very quickly go from BB king to screechy noise man and lose your audience. However, if you learn to control it, then you can add a new and very cool dimension to your live playing. I mean, who doesn’t wanna bend a note and hear it last forever as the crowd cheers you on? That’s right. No one.
Squier Vintage Modified Stratocaster (£299):
Another classic brand, Squier have been providing affordable Fender style guitars for decades, but the VM series has got be a contender for one of their best ranges to date. These guitars are a couple mods away from just being standard Strats. The pick-ups sound great, they feel nice, AND they come in a range of cool colours. Personal preference aside, the Squier VM series is the place to go for entry level gigging guitars. A Strat can do just about anything, they’re comfortable, and for £299 you just can’t go wrong.
You only need to consider two things when looking at a gigging amp: Does it sound good? And will it be loud enough to play over a drum kit. We’re living in age where at most gigs these days amps will get mic’d up, but you never can be too careful. With the amps, I’ve tried to pick a range of amps that come in at different prices points, and are also more genre specific. Lets have a look shall we?
Boss Katana 50W (£165):
I don’t tend to get flabbergasted much these days, but if there were anyone that was going to pull it off it would be BOSS. The BOSS Katana is a bedroom practice amp, and a gig ready amp all rolled into one, and it’s the cheapest on the list by a good way. It’s a fifty-watt solid-state amp, with modeling capabilities, and foot switchable controls. So potentially you could take just a guitar and this and not have any need for anything else! My only critique is that the tone of the amp lacks character, but for £165 pounds you cant be fussy. More importantly the amp is easily loud enough to
play over a drum kit, its compact, and it sounds decent. This is the budget gig amp that we’ve all been dreaming about. You arguably don’t need to look any further.
Orange Micro Terror (£89) (£200 w/cab)
This is also a massive bargain if you’re not bothered about having your amp in two bits. A fully functioning 20 watt tube amp head for £89 pounds just doesn’t come around that often, and when you add in an affordable cab for around £150 (see Peavey 1×12 cab as reference) then all of a sudden you’re gigging a more than substantial rock rig for only £35 pounds more than the Katana. However, I will say that the micro terror doesn’t really do clean sounds. That may not matter to some, but for a lot of players, myself included, you may have a hard time playing through one of these for an entire show. But if you’re looking to go out and gig rock music then I challenge you to go find another amp set up to rival it for under £500. Go on, I’ll wait…
Roland JC 22 (£329):
The most expensive of the three by a good way, I’ve thrown in this amp for all the Alt type guitarists out there like me, who are looking for classic amps on a budget. The Roland Jazz chorus has sort of a cult following, known for its pristine cleans, weird pseudo stereo functionality, and classic chorus sound, its managed to maintain a loyal following over the years and for good reason. Its one of the best clean amps I’ve ever heard, it takes pedals like a dream, and who doesn’t love stereo chorus?! I’ll admit that it’s a big jump in price compared to the other two, however it has a much more classic and identifiable sound. And I believe that it’s an amp that someone could invest in and continue to use from the early stages of their playing through to being a pro. It’s not for everyone, but what the Jazz Chorus offers can’t be found anywhere else. And this new compact version for £329 is a steal for any guitar player seeking a gigable, pedal friendly amp with a signature edge.
I don’t wanna go on record saying that you HAVE to have pedals in your rig to play live, I gigged for years without them. But pedals can offer a lot of versatility to your live sound, and who are we kidding? Pedals are awesome! So im gonna do a section on them whether you like it or not so make your peace with it.
I will say that I could have done this in a number of ways, but I’ve decided to approach this from two angles: The all in one multi-effect, and then a standalone pedal board on budget. There are millions of options to consider but to be honest, pedals is a can of worms that you have to be careful opening otherwise you risk getting lost in it forever. So here we go!
BOSS GT-100 (£319)
You know you’re on to a winner when you find out Johnny Marr packed in using his boutique pedal board live for one of these. The BOSS GT-100 provides hundreds of pedals at the fingertips of the user in an easy to use format. Imagine just having a room full of pedals but without any of the faff of having to rebuild the board when you wanted to change
something. You can also stack the pedals in ways that would be almost impossible to do with actual pedals, meaning you could create sounds that would be almost unique to you. I will admit I’m not one for overly detailed screens on things because I find them a bit disengaging, however it’s definitely more compact and functional than tons of pedals so its personal preference at that point.
What’s important is this thing sounds epic, and you’d struggle to build yourself an analogue board that would deliver the same level of tone for the same price. If you want functionality and ease, the BOSS GT-100 is for you.
Actual Pedal board (£360-370):
(Pedalboardplanner.com is an amazing place to design your own boards online and see what works and what doesn’t before you buy them. Highly recommend!)
I know that I just said you’d be hard pressed to build yourself a gigable pedal board for a similar price and quality to the BOSS GT-100, but someone once said we’d never make it to the moon and look how that turned out. I’ve actually surprised myself with how well a job I’ve done with this, its crazy to see how far the pedal market has come in terms of delivering quality pedals at a reasonable price that are also travel friendly for beginners. And this board is perfect for any first time pedal buyer.
Pedal board contents:
Pedaltrain Nano+ – £39
Voodoo labs power supply – £105 TC Electronic Poly tune mini -£54 Ibanez Tube screamer mini – £50 EHX Small Clone Chorus mini – £45 TC Electronic Flashback mini – £72 Patch cables – roughly £5-£10
We’ve already established that you don’t need pedals to play live, what I’ve done is design a board that I felt has certain types of pedals that would aid any guitar player, beginner or otherwise, in a live setting. These are: Tuner, Overdrive, modulation, and Delay. They are the pillars of any pedal board and the perfect place to start for beginners.
I’d breakdown each pedal and why I chose it, but if I’m being honest this exercise was purely to see whether I could build a pedal board of good quality pedals, for a price point that I felt wasn’t out of reach of anyone who is just getting started. The truth is there are tons of options for each of the pedals shown, and a lot of them would be perfect for playing live, you’ve just got to find out which ones sound right for you. The only thing I will say is don’t skimp out on your power supply. I know they’re super boring and not the most exciting thing to order but powering your pedals properly is everything. You don’t have decent power then there is no point having decent pedals.
Most expensive rig based on examples shown: £997
Cheapest rig based on examples shown: £776
By Dan Tredgold
5 Tips for beginner guitarists!
So you’ve just got your first guitar! Maybe you’re starting to imagine yourself playing along to your favourite songs and all the fun that goes along with it. Playing guitar can be a great way to relax, it can introduce you to new ways of socialising and for a lot of people becomes a real passion. So here are a few tips to help you on your way!
Play the songs you love
A great way to get yourself inspired and really enjoy what you’re doing from the get go is to learn songs that you’re familiar with. It gives you a great platform to start playing quickly, because you already know the songs your learning. You will be able to use this to reference your progress and it will reduce the time spent memorising new melody lines, giving you more time to focus on your technique and the fundamentals of playing guitar. It’s very rewarding and motivating to hear yourself improve and get closer to being able to play the music you admire. Always be on the look out for new music you would like to learn and make an effort to explore different genres. Having an eclectic ear for music not only gives you loads of stuff to practice, but will expand your musical knowledge.
Make the most of your practice
As cool as it would be, unfortunately there is no magical solution to learning the guitar. No matter how many websites claim to have the key to unlocking the fretboard it still takes practice, so it’s important that you make the most of it. Try getting yourself into the habit of practicing. Find a good time each day when you can sit down and really dedicate yourself to playing guitar. Do it in a quiet environment where you can concentrate on the task at hand and stay focused on what it is that you’re working on in that particular session. Playing the guitar relies a lot on muscle memory, so playing regularly will help you develop this quickly. Even if you have a hectic schedule, if you can only play for 10 minutes a day something is better than nothing!
Be patient with yourself
It is important that you don’t turn learning guitar into a chore though. It should be a fun process as well as a challenging one. Take your time with learning and don’t try to progress things too fast. Everybody learns at different rates so make sure you find the right balance for you between too difficult and challenging, try not to run before you can walk. You might find at times you get stuck with a particular technique or are having trouble with a section in a song. It can be incredibly frustrating after trying over and over again, sometimes you might feel stuck in a rut and those thoughts of ‘I’ll never be able to do this’ start creeping in. Don’t worry… it’s natural. When you find yourself feeling like this just step away for a bit. Move on to learning something else or take a break and come back to it later. Be patient with yourself and embrace the challenge!
Find ways to stay motivated
I think its common amongst not only beginners, but musicians in general to listen to other people play or the artists they like and feel as if they will never be able to play that well. Everyone starts somewhere though. Nobody just picked up a guitar and started shredding, they practiced and practiced and learnt the same way that everyone does. That’s one of the best things about playing the guitar, there is so much out there to learn. Nowadays there are so many resources that everyone has access to which can help them learn. On youtube alone there are thousands of guitar lessons and song tutorials to watch, backing tracks to jam along to and more. Check out blogs and articles, listen to as much music as you can, get your hands on anything that you can use to improve. The more resources and inspiration you have, the more motivated you will be. Discovering new ways to learn can help you choose what kind of guitarist you want to be, by jamming new genres and trying lots different exercises you will find your niche and how you want to focus your playing. If you’re having lessons, take these new ideas to your tutor and get some insight into the things that interest you.
Keep a record of your progress
With all these new found resources and exercises to practice, it makes good sense to keep a record of what you’ve been working on. Whether you have a notebook or you use the ‘notes’ on your phone; write down what you’ve been practicing, how it’s going, new ideas you have and anything thats going to be useful to you in the future. It will make practicing way easier if you know exactly where to pick up from, as well as more productive because you’ll be reminded of specific things to work on from session to session.This will also turn into a good record of your progress. Being able to see where you’ve come from will give you the motivation to get where you’re going. If your feeling really disciplined, setting yourself some realistic goals to aim for can spur you on even more!
Basically… Do everything you can to give yourself the best chance at succeeding. Really put some thought into what, how and why you’re practicing. If you’re working on things that are taking you in the musical direction you want to go, that are helping you progress quickly and most of all you’re having bucket loads of fun; the motivation will follow and so will the results!
Is there an Echo? A Brief History of Reverb
Reverb, Verb, Echo. For a lot of music listeners reverb is an effect that is often overlooked, or in some cases unacknowledged. It can sit so sweetly underneath a mix, or completely consume it and make your guitar/song sound like its being performed underwater. But let me make one thing perfectly clear: without reverb, there wouldn’t be music as we know it today. So lets dive right in to it shall we?
What is reverb? Reverb is basically a musical term for a captured space; it’s the sound of the room the instrument is being played in, having an impact on the sound of the instrument being recorded. For example, have you ever clapped in a cave and listened to the echo? What you’re listening to is reverb, it’s the sound of your clap being dispersed across the cave and bouncing off the walls and travelling back to you, cool right?
Back in the early 1920s, studio engineers began experimenting with recorded reverb by attempting to capture the space of the room on the recordings through microphone placement and recording in different rooms to achieve different desired reverb effects. This type of reverb is referred to as ‘Natural reverb’, because you’re literally capturing the natural space of the room.
It’s hard to believe that many record labels boycotted the use of reverb on recordings over something as silly as a jukebox, but they did.
With the invention of the jukebox sweeping the nation as the new way to listen to music in bars and diners across U.S in the 1930s, record labels were at the mercy of its primitive playback technology that was incapable of playing music with reverb on it without sounding terrible, so they stopped
using it. Which is why most recordings from the 1930s- 1940’s are often described as dry.
Fast-forward to the post war era and playback technology had finally caught up and evolved Pokémon style into futuristic Hi-Fi systems. A more advanced playback system capable of playing records with higher quality audio that wouldn’t suffer from the use of reverb. The solution brought by Hi-Fi allowed to producers to bring back the use of reverb on their recordings and pushed them to invent new and exciting ways to create reverb.
Needless to say, reverb is a confusing subject. I’ve been sat at my friend’s kitchen table all morning driving myself crazy trying to find a way to present the origins of reverb in a concise and informative manner, but if I actually attempt to do so you’ll be reading this article for the rest of your life. So what am I going to do? Well, this is a guitar tutoring website, and I’m a guitarist trying to provide helpful content for other guitarists, so I’m going to get back to talking about guitars as soon as I can so we can all walk away from this article happy and I can go and teach later. Sound good? Good.
Essentially all I skipped regarding reverb history is that engineers were looking for more control over the reverbs they were capturing without having to rerecord an entire song again in a different location, which is fair enough right? Thus we have the invention of artificial reverb, which is basically someone trying to synthesize the space of a room without actually having to record in it. One of the earliest forms of this technology was the EMT 140 plate reverb. Developed by Universal Audio’s Bill Putnam, the EMT 140 comprises of two metal plates in parallel creating a tunnel, which the audio is then played through one end and
recorded by a pickup at the other end. You could control the length of the reverb by pushing or pulling the plates further or closer together, mental!
Considering that in order to have actual plate reverb in your rig you need a giant plate reverb contraption that wouldn’t even fit in your car let alone on your pedal board. Therefore traditional plate reverb has almost exclusively been used on recordings since the late 1940s. Known for its bright sound and smooth decay, plate reverb has been heard on countless records over the years and is one of the cornerstones of artificial reverb.
Another variant of artificial reverb, spring reverb uses (you guessed it) a spring with a driver at one end and a pickup at the other to capture the vibrations created by the audio passing through it. The addition of multiple springs added another dimension to the reverb, as the vibrations from each spring would also effect the other adjacent springs separately to the drivers and audio passing through them, giving the reverb more depth and individual personality. The beauty of spring reverb was that it could be produced in ever shrinking packages, meaning they could be installed into guitar amplifiers from as early as the 1960s, which was a godsend for guitarists when you consider the size of the first “portable” spring reverbs that came with Hammond organs back in the late 1930s.
Known for its signature drippy sound and rackety decay, spring reverb is probably the most commonly used reverb amongst guitarists, arguably for its tone, but probably due to the fact that pretty much every amp ever made comes with spring reverb in it. It’s also because it’s a reverb that works so well with the guitar in general. The best reference for
what spring reverb sounds like is surf music, specifically Dick Dale’s Misirlou. If you’re unsure about what spring reverb sounds like, look no further than that song. It can also be seen on film soundtracks that take influence from the Spaghetti Western genre. Ennio Morricone’s work is the most famous (Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, etc) so start there.
With the birth of the digital age came massive developments in reverb. The once innovative concept of synthesizing space through plates and springs was cast aside for digital algorithms that use feedback delay circuits to create a series of echoes that can be customized to the nth degree.
Introduced in the 1970s with the EMT 250 rack unit, digital reverb became the staple reverb in every studio almost instantly due to its compact size and functionality. It allowed you to digitally recreate any space you could think of and have full control over the parameters of said space; giving the user a level of control that plate and spring reverbs can only dream about.
The crazy thing about digital reverb is that since is birth in the 70s it has developed further and further into a stratosphere we could never have imagined previously. With the invention of VSTs and high quality digital reverb pedals, the modern day musician can have access to pretty much any reverb they can think of AND have complete control over it. You can even get reverbs that are recreations of specific reverbs of famous rooms E.g. the Sistine Chapel! Now you try and tell me you don’t want to play the Eruption solo with some sweet Sistine Chapel verb on there, go on I’ll wait… yeah I didn’t think so.
I know that usually I do my picks one by one as I break down each subsection of the effect I’m talking about, but reverb is a bit of a tricky one when it comes to buying one type reverb pedals for two reasons; 1. More often than not reverb pedals these day