I’m talking about on the down-low, under the radar, sneaking around…
For the last year, I’ve been on a quest to get the best sounding guitar and amp for the least amount of money. It’s easy to drop $1,500 to $3,000 on a quality Fender or Gibson and another $1,000+ on a reasonable sized amp for bedroom/studio playing, but let’s be honest… Your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend/significant other may not be super pumped that you’re willing to drop $4,000 on a guitar and rig (before you start on pedals) when the car you’re driving might only be worth $6k. A big part of me agrees with them. You should be able to acquire a quality instrument and functional amp that plays well, sounds good, and doesn’t leave your credit card a smoking pile of plastic.
For me, this quest has been a bit frustrating mostly because of YouTube.
I enjoy watching channels like Andertons, Rob Chapman, Crimson Guitars, YourGuitarSage, Norman’s Rare Guitars, etc. The issue with watching these channels is these people tend to play with high quality gear through high quality amps using high quality microphones to record everything. This makes their setup sound really good. I’ll even argue, maybe too good in some cases. Yes, when you mic an amp, you’re getting the best sound that amp can make, but rarely is that the sound that amp is going to make in your house which can lead to frustration and an unsettling feeling that the guys on YouTube know some secret that you don’t. Or worse, you feel like you need to drop $2,000 on an 2 x 12 handwired combo amp to sound the same which you know will get you put in the dog house.
There has to be a better way to sound good, find your tone, and not kill your bank account in the process.
I’m still on this journey and I’m not an expert. I think I’ve arrived a pretty good place as far as the guitar goes. The amp situation is still in flux, but each iteration of my rig is getting better. What my goal for this series of blog posts is to share what I’ve learned and discovered, what is important vs. what can be ignored, and ultimately, how much can you expect to spend to sound good and find joy with your playing. If you’re willing to experiment and do a bit of the work yourself, you can save a bunch of cash while still finding great tone and playability (and hopefully keep your relationship intact).
- The essential components to a great sound and tone
- Upgrading your axe vs. build your own
- What matters for playability (neck, strings, quality electronics)
- Considerations for bedroom play vs. gigging and how this affects price
- Why practice amps suck
- Why big amps aren’t the right answer either
- Stay flexible and don’t get locked in
The Rest of the Story
- Overdrive in a bedroom settings, pedals are your friend
- Flexible pedals vs. one-hit wonders
- Instrument and speaker cables
- Accessories you might find useful