Building a Guitar Rig For $1500 or less? Sound Impossible? Today we show you just how far budget gear has come, as we build a Rock Rig for $1500!
Building A Guitar Rig With $1500: Rock/Blues
We have officially launched our weekly series about Gigging On A Budget, and we thought we would start with something rather simple: Rock. Now, the term “Rock” is a pretty broad category when you dive in, and there are a million different subgenres. But Rock music has a few elements when it comes to guitar, that you absolutely have to have. Today we are going to break those elements down.
But it is also safe to say that all of the things that encompass “Rock” music, came from the Blues. If we go back in history, the progression seems so natural. Blues was always going to be the basis for something heavier, and most Classic Rock bands had some Blues elements in them. Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and even Aerosmith owe a lot to the Blues musicians that came before them.
Out of all of the Gigging On A Budget challenges, this is going to be the hardest. The key to building a guitar rig that covers both Rock and Blues is going to be versatility. We are building a guitar rig that will be able to do it all, and that is no small feat. But we are going to look at the best choices for people on a budget, and see just how “much” guitar we can get with $1500.
Let’s see what we can come up with, and see if we can stay under budget!
TOTAL SO FAR: $0
Building A Guitar Rig With $1500: The Guitars
This is going to be a tough choice for sure. When building a guitar rig for playing live, you need different guitars for different sounds. This is easy if you’re a pro and you make a lot of money! You can have several guitars on tour with you. But we are on a budget, so we have to pick ONE GUITAR that covers a lot of ground. Luckily, I have a few options that I think are great.
For playing Blues and Rock music, you need a guitar that can do single coil and humbucker tones pretty well. Luckily we have reviewed some really great budget guitars over the last two years. so I have a good idea of what would make a great guitar for gigging. Not to mention I have been playing live for over 20 years! Versatility is the key here!
While there are some decent beginner guitars out there, that come in much cheaper than the ones I chose, they just aren’t as reliable. Building a guitar rig on a budget isn’t just about picking the cheapest options. You need something with great tone, that won’t fall apart on you!
#1 Squier Classic Vibe 70’s: $420
The Squier Classic Vibe Series has been around for a while now, and most guitarists will agree that it is one of the best bargains that you can find. I picked this particular model because it has an HSS configuration. This means you get both the single coil sweetness for cleans, and a humbucker for the dirtier sounds. These are really outstanding quality, for any price point.
One of my favorite guitars for Blues is my Schecter NJ Traditional, and it is because of the HSS versatility. Unfortunately, that guitar is going to be out of our range price-wise. But the idea remains the same, since you get the best of both words with an HSS Strat. Is it an “authentic” Fender? Well, no.
But the thing about picking gear for building a guitar rig is this: The audience doesn’t care what the name on your headstock says. They only care about how good you play and sound as a band. If you want to buy gear to impress other guitarists, you’re gonna go broke quick. Dialing in a great tone, and being a tight band is what matters at the end of the day.
So the HSS Strat is my first choice by a longshot. But if you are more interested in using humbuckers when building your guitar rig, we reviewed a guitar this year that was outstanding! Not just “for the price” either, this is a truly great guitar through and through. So if humbuckers are what you’re after, then maybe consider the…
#2 Yamaha Revstar RSE20
When we reviewed the Yamaha Revstar Series, we could not believe how amazing these guitars are, even on the cheaper end of the lineup. The “Elements” series are the most affordable of the whole line, but don’t let the price fool you. While these don’t have the versatility of an HSS Strat, the Yamaha could make building a guitar rig a LOT easier.
Usually, something like the Yamaha would have really cheap pickups in it. But Yamaha made some nice Alnico V humbuckers that absolutely sing with midrange tones. These sound amazing clean, and even better with some dirt on them. But the main takeaway, is these pickups cut through the mix on any setting.
But the big secret that Yamaha installed on these guitars is the built in high-pass filter. This is great for boosting your solos, or even leaving on all the time! You can get a lot of tones out of these guitars. The filter will boost the bass and accentuate some of the treble frequencies on both pickups. This can be a great “secret weapon” when playing live.
Something else to consider when building a guitar rig is reliability, and Yamaha is known for being virtually indestructible when it comes to construction. They also have some slight upgrades that make life easier, like a well-made nut, fixed TOM bridge, and solid tuners. The chambered body would be great for long gigs, and it is hard to find a better dual humbucker guitar in this price range. But, there is also…
#3 Literally Most Epiphone Guitars
When I started gigging at 17, building a guitar rig was a much harder conquest. But I had a trusty Les Paul Studio made by Epiphone that saw at least 5 States and lots of venues. I really enjoyed playing that guitar, and even when I was more at a “Pro” status I used an Epiphone as a backup guitar. I have had plenty of Epiphone guitars over the years, and they were all great.
Over the years, the quality of Epiphone has only gone up, and the company has a sort of cult following. There are guitarists everywhere that mod these guitars, and make them as close to their Gibson counterparts as possible. But the real appeal is that out of the box, most Epiphone guitars are really great.
Again, the audience doesn’t care about what the headstock says. They care about your playing and talent. But even so, most Epiphone guitars come with great features, even in the $500 range. You usually get a TUSQ nut, and coil split features. All of this adds to the versatility and reliability when building a guitar rig on a budget.
Total So Far: $400-$500
Building A Guitar Rig: Setup
This can be free, if you have the knowledge. Personally, I think that knowing how to setup your guitar is part of being a guitarist. At the very least, you should know how to do simple tasks. Things that you should know that will help you keep your guitar in pristine shape include:
- Adjusting the action
- Truss Rod adjustments
- Fret Polishing
All of these things not only make your guitar easier to play, but they are imperative when it comes to playing gigs and recording. Try playing a guitar that has bad intonation. It will sound like you are always out of tune! A good setup can make a $400 guitar play like a $1000 guitar. The difference is absolutely night and day.
There’s a million videos on YouTube that will walk you through the process, no matter what kind of guitar you play. You usually only need a few common house tools, and the tools that your guitar came with. There’s no excuse not to learn the basics!
So in my opinion, if you plan on playing gigs, you need to know how to setup your guitar. If you don’t know, then having a setup done a few times a year is going to cost you $25-$60 a pop! So I think it might be a good idea to learn your guitar’s setup, and be able to adjust it on the fly. Knowing how to fix your guitar is just as important as building a guitar rig.
Building A Guitar Rig On A Budget: The Amp
Choosing an amp is just as important as the guitar when you are building a guitar rig. Doing this on a budget is easy these days, since so many amps can be had for a bargain price these days. But depending on what kind of Blues and Rock music you’re going to be playing, versatility is still a factor. What we are looking for is a few amps that do clean tones AND dirty tones really well.
I wanted to have some variety here, and the amp portion of this challenge was probably the hardest to choose. There are some great tube/valve amps that fit the bill, but there are also some great digital options. There is definitely a difference between the two, and you’ll have to decide for yourself which type of amp suits you the best.
Something to keep in mind: Tube amp wattage is much louder than solid state/digital. So a 30 watt tube amp is actually quite loud for building a guitar rig for gigging. While a 30 watt digital amp is not going to be loud enough to hear over a drummer.
I think the first option is not going to be a surprise at all for most readers. But I also found some really great amps that I would use for building a guitar rig for myself. The amp is by far the hardest thing to choose, because it is such an important part of having a good tone. The amp, and speakers are more important than the guitar to me, in most cases. Your amp is where a LOT of your tone is going to come from.
#1 The BOSS Katana MKII 100: $400
I told you this wouldn’t be a surprise! We absolutely love the BOSS Katana, and when it came to building a guitar rig for myself, it was the perfect choice. I use it myself every day, and I absolutely love the amount of control you have using Tone Studio, especially with the new V2 update! The BOSS Katana can be the your entire rig if you want!
But the Katana is also great for building a guitar rig on a budget because it takes pedals so well, and has an FX loop. Every one of my favorite pedals that I have tried with the Katana works great. I have used fuzz and distortion straight into the input and really enjoyed the tones you get with the clean channel. But delay and reverb through the FX loop also works well. So if pedals are your thing, the Katana is a perfect platform.
But then again, if you buy the optional footswitch you can use the Katana alone for your whole rig! the built in effects are nothing to scoff at, and most of the effects are just models of BOSS pedals that you would buy anyway! The foot switch should probably come with the amp, but I know that BOSS does this to keep the costs down. With the foot switch, the Katana can do EVERYTHING.
Honestly, the list could end right here for many guitarists. You don’t need a pedalboard, or any other peripherals to use the Katana as you whole guitar rig. But, the Katana is not for everyone. Some people struggle to get the tone they want out of the Katana, and that’s fair.
Finally, you can also use it just as a power amp, like an FRFR speaker. This means you could use a modeling unit like the HX Stomp and have any tone you want. The possibilities are endless with the Katana in my opinion, and I have several Blues and Rock patches programmed on my unit. The Katana really sounds well beyond its budget price. But there are more simple options out there…
#2 Fender Pro Junior IV: $550
This and the regular Blues Jr V are going to be the only tube amp options on this list, because tube amps can get pricey real fast. The Fender Blues Jr has been around for a long time, and while 15 watts doesn’t sound like much…I dare you to turn this little guy up all the way. This little thing is loud, and would be a great choice when building a guitar rig for Blues and Rock. This special edition is a bare bones version of the original Blues Jr.
It can take some pedals through the front, but the key to this amp is simplicity. It only has two knobs! This is a great amp for the type of guitarist that really only needs to plug up and turn on. What I mean by that, is you can crank this little guy up… and control your distortion and volume from your guitar’s volume knob. Since this is only one channel, you need to get creative with your guitar’s controls to make this really work for you.
For an extra $100, you can get the official Fender Blues Jr, and it gives you more control over your EQ and gain. But that’s going to leave little room in our budget for pedals. That being said, some people only need one channel and a volume knob! It worked for tons of Blues Rock guitarists in the 60’s and I have done it myself over the years! To be honest, it feels almost liberating.
The regular Fender Blues Jr is still a great choice if you need more tonal options. At $750, it may not leave much room for pedals, but that isn’t really what the “essence” of the Blues Jr is all about. This is an amp that you plug into directly, and manipulate with your guitar. Plenty of guitarists gig with these without pedals and effects because the tone is so good.
#3 Fender Champion 100: $330
This is one that I have actually used myself for a while! When I was building a rig for a Blues band that I played with on the weekends, I needed something that wasn’t “metal” on a budget. I played this amp in the store for about 20 minutes and I walked out with it that day! The classic Fender clean channel is really the star here, and it can get LOUD.
It takes pedals pretty well, and I used a BOSS Blues Driver with mine to get some saturated lead tones. That being said, it does have some simple built in effects that are pretty great! I dismissed the effects at first, but it was a surprise when I started messing with them. But at only $330, you have a lot of room in the budget to buy some fun pedals!
The Fender Champion 100 comes with a simple two-button foot switch to control the two channels, and I used this a lot on stage. The dirty channel works with low to medium gain, which is perfect for Blues and Rock. You can get a really great crunch tone with this amp, and both channels are super LOUD. I don’t think I ever turned this one up past 5 on stage.
The Fender Champion 100 is the perfect choice when building a guitar rig if you are looking for a “Blank Canvas” kind of amp. You can shape this amp to do just about anything you want, and it has the famous Fender clean tone with oodles of headroom. BB King famously used solid state amps similar to this one, and they work fabulous for that kind of sound.
Total So Far: $800-$1000
Accessories: Backup Your Backup!
I would put away $100 for cables and a clip-on tuner, because these are things that you absolutely are going to need. I would also make sure to have a backup for every cable you own, because if something is going to go wrong with your rig, it will be on stage! I talk about being prepared in my “Band” advice articles. Clip on tuners and store brand cables are cheap enough these days to have multiples, so there is no excuse to not have them!
There are expensive cables out there that claim to sound better, and I am not sure that they are worth it. We did the homework, and after testing a ton of cables, we found that the cheap ones work just as well as the expensive ones. The sound quality might matter when we get to recording, but for live use? I don’t think it matters anywhere near as much.
So if you only need one cable for your rig, buy TWO. If you need two, buy THREE. Having backup options is an important part of building a guitar rig, and you should always have your backup on stage with you. But these are so cheap, that you should have no problem having a few! Everything below is stuff I use every day. Musician’s Gear is not a name brand, but they get the job done!
Add $100 Worth To Your Total
Building A Guitar Rig: Pedals
Pedals for Rock and Blues are going to be pretty simple, and I only have two pedals that I absolutely need when building a guitar rig. This might change depending on the person, but so far the amps that we have chosen already have some great effects. Adding more, can sometimes be a detriment. I personally think that Blues and Rock music is more about what you play, than effects pedals. There’s a kind of purity that makes these genres so appealing.
That being said, I absolute need two pedals to pull off this rig effectively. When it comes to budget brands that are really great, BOSS has taken the first prize for years. Other pedal companies like the Amazon Basics are also a pretty good buy. So what are the two pedals that I think are absolutely necessary when it comes to building a guitar rig?
#1 BOSS Blues Driver: $120
The BOSS Blues Driver is a simple, no-nonsense overdrive that I have almost always used when building a guitar rig, no matter what the genre. This can take a Fender clean tone, and turn it into a warm, syrupy overdrive that is perfect for singing solo tones. It really does live up to its namesake. Lots of artists over the years have had this pedal, and it is featured on too many recordings to count.
That being said, I like to dial mine in with everything right in the middle, with maybe the tone knob turned up slightly higher than “noon”. This gives you not only a boost in volume for solos, but it adds some sweet overdrive for your lead tones. If you turn down the tone knob on your guitar, you can get a really round, creamy warm sound.
But it can do other things as well, like it can also be an “always on” pedal that “colors” your tone. This works really well with tube amps like the Fender we mentioned above, because then you can control everything from your guitar’s volume knob. You can dial it in to where it is wide open, or restrain it however you please. BOSS really knocked it out of the park with this pedal, and it remains unchanged over the decades.
#2 Wah Wah: $80-$180
There are so many Wah pedals out there these days, that it can be a little overwhelming. There are a lot of artist models that flooded the industry, and not to discredit them, but they are all very similar in approach. Just about any of those that you like the sound of, would get the job done.
But I picked the VOX VB7A because it was one of the originals. This version is just an updated version of the ones made 50 years ago, and the sound that you get with a VOX is legendary. The original VOX Wah became popular in the 60’s as word got around, and it remains one of the best in my opinion. Not to mention the black and chrome chassis just looks classy as hell.
Don’t let the $120 price tag fool you! The VOX VB7A sounds absolutely amazing, and has that full sweep that I personally love when it comes to a Wah tone. You can get some smooth sounding “vowel” sounds out of the VOX, and it has been a staple of my rig for years. Pair this with the BOSS Blues Driver, and you have an unmistakable Blues tone that people will cheer for.
END TOTAL: $1200-$1500
Gigging On A Budget: Wrapping Up
Well, we managed to build a guitar rig for playing in a band with only $1500! This was a lot harder than i originally imagined when I came up with the idea. Budget gear is everywhere, but most of it is for playing at home. There are tons of beginner setups that can cost as little as a few hundred bucks, but those are meant to get you started.
Playing on stage with a band is a totally different ball game. If you are on a budget, you can’t skimp on quality. You NEED these products to hold up when you are playing live with a band. Gigging on a budget can be done, but you have to be smart with your purchases, and really weight the pros and cons. Some budget gear works great for the stage, and some probably wouldn’t last two gigs.
Playing in a band is super fun, and you don’t have to be rich to get started. We have proven today that you only need a few things to really get started on your journey. The most important part of gigging on a budget, is your playing. They say “tone is in the fingers” and I think that is mostly true. All of the expensive gear in the world won’t make you a better player.
So if you are ready to get out there and play some gigs, I think we have shown today that you don’t have to be a millionaire to get started. With $1500 or less, you can easily have a good rig that will get you started. getting started is the hardest part, and you upgrade as you go. So if you have always thought that gigging is just too expensive, we beg to differ!
Is building a guitar rig to gig with expensive?
It can be, but there are plenty of budget options out there that can get the job done! The most important part of building a guitar rig, is your playing ability! gear can only get you so far.
What is the most important part of building a guitar rig?
Personally, I think the amplifier is always going to be the most vital part of building a guitar rig to use live. You can plug a cheap guitar up to a great amp, and it will sound awesome. The same cannot be said for the reverse!
How much money does building a guitar rig cost?
This is really up to you, but I think at least $1500 is needed to get a rig that you can play shows with. You need reliable gear to play shows, and reliable gear costs money.
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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