What if you only had $600 to spend on a whole electric guitar rig? We asked ourselves that very question and picked our ideal $600 guitar rig from our existing gear.
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As you probably know, you can spend as much money on your guitar rig as you can possibly dream up. If you want to spend a hundred grand on a rig, you can get a ’59 Les Paul and call it a day—but you can still get a really good guitar rig, even if you only have a couple of hundred dollars to spend. You just have to decide what stuff you’re willing to compromise on and what areas you want to focus on and prioritize.
For our purposes today, we’re going to be drawing on stuff from my own collection already. I’ve certainly spent a lot more than $600 on gear thus far, but even out of all the gear that I have, if I had to limit it down to a very, very narrow selection I’ve got a few pieces I know would be on my list.
The first rule and caveat to keep in mind here is one that I would definitely recommend to any player that was looking to put together a rig for not that much money, which is wherever possible, try and buy used. A lot of guitar gear you can get a pretty great discount on it if you’re buying used, whether it’s on Craigslist, locally, on Reverb.com or at Guitar Center used. Sometimes, you can save as much as 50% or more, so it’s really, really worth hunting for deals, especially if you don’t have that much money to spend.
Now, obviously, with used gear, you don’t necessarily know where it’s coming from, so you do want to be able to check it out in person if at all possible and make sure that it’s the quality that you’re looking for and that there’s nothing severely wrong with it. But for our purposes today, we’re going to be ignoring all that and just assuming that what you can find things selling for right now online on the used sites is the price that can be had for these various pieces of gear that I’m going to select.
First Priority: A quality guitar
The first thing you’re going to want to look for is, of course, a guitar. Now, you could spend as few as $100 or $200 bucks on a guitar out of your $600, or you could spend more. It kind of depends on what your personal tastes are. A lot of people will tell you that a $200 guitar through a $500 amp is going to sound a lot better than a $500 through a $200 amp, and to a certain extent, that is true. There are some really great budget amps that you can find, but in general, you do need a quality amp and a quality guitar.
For me, I’m going to splurge a little bit. I’m going to spend about $350 of my $600 budget on my guitar because that’s the thing that I’m actually playing. It really informs my style and my experience in playing my instrument, so to me, it’s worth getting something that’s pretty high quality. For you, if you’re starting out and building out your first guitar rig, ideally, you want a guitar that’s decent quality and that can grow with you, that you can hang on to for a while, and even swap out parts as you improve and need to improve the quality of your instrument overall.
I just looked at Reverb.com, and there’s a lot of awesome options that you can find for used guitars right now. You’re probably going to have to get something imported if you’re trying to get something $350 or under, but there’s a lot of really great stuff from Squier these days, a lot of really great stuff from Epiphone, things that come in at a pretty affordable price—especially on the used market that are pretty quality guitars, again, so long as you can find one that’s pretty high quality.
For my purposes today, I’m going to pick my Epiphone 339. I’ve had it in videos quite a bit before. You’ve probably seen me playing it. You can find one of these not in the Pelham Blue but in I think there’s a black one for about $350 right now online. If I only had 600 bucks, $350 of it is definitely going to this guitar. It enables me to do a lot of different styles, I personally love P90s, and it leaves me a little bit of budget for some other fun stuff.
Next Up: The best budget tube amp we can find
Now that we have our guitar picked out, the next thing that we have to get is an amplifier of course. There’s a ton of different amp options. Again, going used will be a really big benefit for you. Things like Fender Champs are really awesome in the $200 price range, but for me, I’m actually going to go with my Vox AC4. These guys can be found for about 200 bucks on Guitar Center used, or on Reverb. It doesn’t have to be the limited cream and red paint job that I have, there are other AC4s that are really awesome as well.
These are imported also, but they really do a great classic Vox thing. If you like a really, really chimey tone out of your guitar, these amps a heck of a punch, and for me, if I’m getting that for 200 bucks, and I’m getting my guitar for 350, I’ve got a pretty great rig at only $550 that’s going to sound really good. It’s only going to do one thing—it’s going to give me the sound of P90s through a Vox—but I’ve got really great overdrive on that amp, kicking the drive up and taking the volume down. I can do really great cleans by doing the opposite, so I can get a lot of the way there, especially if I’m doing things that are more jazzy or don’t require a lot of drive or a lot of effects.
What about guitar pedals?
You might be asking, what are we going to do with rest of the $50 in our budget? Well, I debated about this a little bit. There’s a lot of different ways that we could go about it. Generally, for me, the answer is going to be some sort of effect pedal.
Now, I think in general, this is a pretty good way to go when you’re building out your rig at whatever budget you have: get a quality guitar that you really, really like playing and that suits your style well, get a quality amp if you’re able, and then just use whatever you’re left with in order to get pedals. It’ll be a lot easier to just accumulate more pedals as time goes on than it’s going to be to have to upgrade your amp all the time so make sure you have some decent quality in your guitar and amp. Then whatever you have left to play around with, you can have fun with on the pedal side.
At $50, there’s a lot of different options, a lot of different budget options. Some of them are really, really crummy, and some stuff is really good. Really, depending on your taste, you could do a lot of different stuff.
For me, I’m going to probably look for one pedal with that 50 bucks. I had a little bit of a debate about two different Electro-Harmonix pedals. One would be the Soul Food, which is kind of a Klon-style overdrive. If I wanted to use this amp and be able to have both dirty and clean sounds without having to go back to the amp and twist the nobs all the time, the Soul Food would be a really awesome option. I could just have the amp rigged up clean, set my drive tone through that, and then I have my two clean and drive tones available without me ever having to mess with the amp.
But for me, since I’m not really going to be gigging with the setup, I thought I would have a little bit more fun and go with fuzz. I’m going to go with this reissued Green Russian style Big Muff that I got very recently from Electro-Harmonix. These used go for a little bit more than $50, but we’ll cobble together some money out of the piggy bank I guess to bend our budget just slightly…
For me, I don’t mind going back to the amp to adjust from clean to dirty tones. I would just want something where I could make some pretty fuzzy blown-out riffs because that’s kind of more my style, and this is just an awesome pedal for all that sort of stuff.
My favorite part about this rig?
What I love about this rig is how flexible it is. Obviously, we don’t have any space effects or modulation or anything like that. I would definitely look at something like a reverb or a delay or even a chorus depending on your style next in line, but for now, in the meantime, for 600 bucks, we can do a lot of different stuff, everywhere from really clean stuff to really heavy stuff.
So let’s recap a little bit. If you’ve got any sort of budget that you’re trying to put together a guitar rig under, you can almost definitely do it. It’s all just a mix of prioritizing the right things and ensuring that you leave yourself a little bit of room to grow.
In general, my rules are always buy used if you’re able, especially if you’re on a budget. It’s going to save you a lot of money and be able to get more quality pieces of gear that you won’t have to replace quite as quickly. The other rule to me is really to focus on getting a quality guitar and amp. It doesn’t mean you have to spend $2,000 a piece on them, but I also wouldn’t get something for like 60 or 70 bucks. If you find anything at that price range, unless you find a killer deal on Craigslist or something, most likely you’re going to be spending another couple hundred bucks as soon as you’re able to replace it, and the less you can do that, the better.
The final rule is, at least for me, save pedals for until you have a quality guitar and an amp that you like. You can build your pedals in a much more modular fashion. You can grab one, if you don’t like it, sell it again, grab another, continue to build out your board, and continue experimenting. A lot of people like me that really love pedals have tons of them, and their board is always changing, and that may well happen to you too. As long as you’ve got a solid base of a good guitar and amp, you’re going to be able to build that pedal collection or whatever else you need over time.
Now I’m sure if you asked 100 guitarists this same question, everybody would have a different opinion. I would love to know what you would do if you only had $600 to spend on your rig as well. This works really well for my style, but if I was playing metal or something totally different than I typically play, I would really have to mess it around a little bit to get everything a lot more dialed in for what I’m using.
So share your dream $600 rig in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!