I’ve been playing for decades, and have never paid more than $300 for a guitar or an amp. Why? Aren’t some higher priced guitars and amps better? Yes, they probably are. But there’s a point of diminishing returns with damn near everything, including guitars and amps.

My main guitar for the last 20 years has been a 1986 Japanese Stratocaster for which I paid $300 including the (now incredibly battered) hardshell case. My other guitars are an early 2000s Godin SD, for which I paid $200 including the hardcase, an early 2000s OLP Wolfgang for which I paid $100, and an ’80s Peavey Patriot (the T-15 with a slightly different body shape) for which I paid $75.

Sure, I could have paid more, but why? I just had the Strat set up, and it plays and sounds like a dream. The Godin is a beautifully built Canadian/American guitar that’s perfect for blues and rock. The Peavey is a Telecaster on steroids — ideal for country and surf. And the OLP is a great humbucking rocker built to the same specs as the Musicman originals that cost four or five times as much.

In recent decades, the price of reasonably good guitars and amps has fallen drastically. When I was a kid, cheap guitars were exactly that: cheap, usually hard to play, sounded like shit. Now, there are tons of good cheap guitars, Squiers, the better Epiphones, Ibanezes,  Peaveys, Yamahas. If you know what you’re doing, you can get a pretty good guitar (check craigslist) for $100 to $150, and you can find the guitars anyone in their right minds would want, Fender Stratocasters or Telecasters (if you play country), for under $300 on craigslist. (These are mostly made-in-Mexico guitars and the quality varies — some are great, as good as anything made in the USA, others are simply awful.)

You can pay far more, but why? Once you’ve passed a Strat or Tele, you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Buy a Gibson, yeah they’re good, but you’re almost certainly paying two-thirds of the price for the brand name. Same with other pricey electric guitars.

As for amps, again don’t pay more than $300 for one. My main amp is a Peavey Classic 30, an all-tube 30-watt amp that might be the best blues amp you can buy. I paid $250 for it used. My other main amp is a Peavey Bandit (solid state and 65 watts) that sounds almost as good, for which I paid $80.  (The other solid state amp I’ve owned and would recommend is the Fender Stage 100.)

And, yes, you don’t need to pay more than that. About 15 years ago, when I was already in my 50s, I was using a Marshall half-stack (JCM 800 or 900 head [for which I’d paid $200 20 years ago]; I forget which), and had to lift by myself  the cabinet’s 4X12 100 or so pounds into the back of my pickup whose gate didn’t work.

The last time I dd that, I said to myself, “Self, why in hell are you doing this?” I sold the amp immediately after.

Guitars and amps are so good nowadays that you can buy cheap and get something better than “gigable” for almost nothing. If you know what you’re doing. Check craigslist, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, find a friend who does.

It’s incredibly easy to get going on guitar. I wouldn’t recommend it — the world needs more guitar players like it needs more people — but if that’s what you want to do, don’t waste money.

(If you just want to play, and get there fast, learn the easiest instruments, learn sax or bass, or drums — harder than sax or bass, but not that hard — not guitar.)



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