A Guitarist’s Guide to Purchasing the First Live Rig

You’ve been playing for a year and you’ve finally got pretty decent at playing guitar. Since then, you’ve become friends with a drummer and bass player and another guitar player at school. You’re ready to take this thing to the next level. A GIG! Time to upgrade your $100 First Act electric guitar that doesn’t stay in tune and little Gorilla amp and get a gig worthy killer guitar rig. I’ll show you how to do it on a budget.

First of all, what kind of music to you play? Certain guitars are optimal for certain types of music. Rock and Metal music sounds better with a solid bodied electric guitar while Blues and country can sound great on a hollow bodied electric guitar. But really, it’s the WAY you play your instrument that makes it sound good.

Let’s assume you’re playing modern rock or metal. There’s always the trusty Fender Stratocaster made famous by Eric Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix and they are still used as much today in every type of music from Country to Heavy Metal and everything in between. A top of the line, new USA Fender Stratocaster will run a street value of almost $1000 US dollars. If that price is a bit too steep for you a good compromise is the Mexican made Fender Stratocaster which runs a street value of about $380 US dollars. I’ve owned both. The Mexican ones have a lower grade alder wood body and lower grade hardware as compared to the USA models. The tremolo bridge on the Mexican ones do not stay in tune as well either. As far as I’m concerned, the Mexican ones in terms of sound and feel are equal to the USA standard stratocaster and I’ve owned both.

If you are the type to do dive bomb notes or siren sounds with your tremolo (whammy bar) you may wish to consider purchasing a solid body guitar with a locking tremolo bridge. The difference between a locking tremolo bridge and a non-locking is this. If you do decent dive bombing on a non-locking tremolo, the guitar will likely go out of tune a bit. On a guitar with a locking tremolo, you can dive bomb and have the strings so loose that they are literally flapping and hanging and then slowly bring the trem arm up and the guitar will likely still be in tune. The way to tell the difference is that a locking tremolo will have a string lock at the top of the neck above the nut (close to the tuning keys) and the bridge itself will have a small fine tuning knob for each string. When the string lock is engaged, the instrument will go out of tune occasionally but only a very little bit and you can adjust the tuning with the fine tuners. A guitar with a locking trem will usually have 24 frets and give you 3 octaves as opposed to a strat or similar that only has 21 and 2 octaves. The 24th fret will come in handy on some lead parts.

As far as the amp and effects go, let me make this clear. You do NOT need a massive stack for a guitar amp that stands about as tall or taller than YOU. It’s overkill. If your other guitarist has something like that, don’t feel bad. HE is the one who has to lug 2 big speaker cabinets with 4 12″ speakers in each along with a 100 watt head. Effect processors have come down in price over the years but you can still pay some big money for some of them. If you’re on a budget, I recommend an amp that has effect built IN. Two companies that make some great ones are Line6 and Behringer. Both companies use speaker and tube emulation circuitry and what that does is accurately emulate the sound of a vintage Marshall or Fender amp. Tube or solid state. Now if money is no object, you’re welcome to spend $2000 US dollars on a 100 watt tube Marshall combo amp that rocks the house. You are also welcome to spend about $260 street value for a Behringer GMX212 that will give you a host of every effect under the sun and 120 watts of power soaring through 2 – 12 inch speakers that will hold up very well against any 100 watt Marshall stack. Line6 also makes some great amps that are very similar but slightly more money. Try both of them and see what you think.

One of the most important things to remember is to TRY BEFORE YOU BUY. If you can get a much better price from an on line or catalog company go for it but look for the product at your local music store to try one out first. And as far as guitars go, it’s best to hold it and play it a bit before you buy it. You can take 2 identical guitars and they will sound alike but they may feel totally different. Mail ordering or on line ordering a guitar is not recommended.

So now your set. Load up your new gear and show it off to the guys at practice and rock on!

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