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