Squier to Fender, Epiphone to Gibson we discuss best beginner guitars and the ones you should consider when upgrading
When most of us begin our musical journey, we start out with a cheaper, sometimes even hand-me-down version of the guitar we’ve seen our musical idols play – and there’s absolutely no shame in that whatsoever.
Starting out with a cheaper, budget-friendly guitar is a rite of passage for all musicians as it helps us to learn what we’re really capable of and eventually appreciate a good quality guitar or amplifier when we do get our hands on one. When we do upgrade, we find out how they can completely change our sound or at the very least improve it.
Unfortunately, we can’t always afford to go out and buy our dream guitar straight away, especially if we want to be able to afford food the next week! Fortunately, there are a variety of budget guitars and amplifiers out there designed for the guitar or bass enthusiast who is taking their first musical steps, and for those who are ready to upgrade, there’s plenty to choose from!
So, in this blog we’re going to look at the best budget-friendly guitars and amps as well as the ultimate upgrade options.
The Rock Guitarist
If you’re a fan of the Gibson Les Paul, but can’t stretch to the price tag just yet, the Epiphone Les Paul Special II G10 Guitar and Amp Pack is a great option. In the box, you get a fantastic Epiphone Les Paul Special II complete with a great set of Alnico 650R and 700T humbuckers built in, which will suit most musical styles, especially those who like rock or metal. You also get an awesome 10-watt portable guitar amplifier combo which is perfect for small gigs or jamming with your mates. There’s a headphone output in the amp for silent practice at home and you can choose between clean or drive channels depending on your musical preferences.
If that’s not impressive enough considering the small price tag, you get medium picks, strap, guitar cable, not to mention a chromatic tuner. It’s everything you need to get your musical career started. If you’re looking for Guitar Packs, we have an extensive range for beginners and more experienced guitarists too.
As far as the ultimate upgrade goes, you can’t go wrong with a Gibson Les Paul. And if you’re going ultimate, you might as well aim high. For that reason, we’ve gone for the Gibson Custom Historic ’59. This model features a mahogany body and a pair of Custombucker pickups that resurrect the hallowed tones that made this model the “Standard” for all other Les Pauls to follow.
The Blues Guitarist
Whether you’re a fan of Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan or you just like the look of a Fender Stratocaster (we don’t blame you) there’s plenty of options out there for you. If you’re a beginner you could, of course, start with the very budget-friendly Squier Bullet Stratocaster.
The Squier Bullet Stratocaster with maple neck, Indian laurel fingerboard and a trio of single coil pickups with selector switch – that are ideal for finding your sound. Pair one of these beauties with our G-10 amp and accessory pack and you’re good to go.
When it comes to upgrading to the next level, you should consider the Fender American Original Stratocaster. This guitar has been designed with performers in mind and features superior build quality with myriad different sound options without costing a great deal more.
When the time comes to start gigging, this is the guitar you’ll want to upgrade to. When it comes to upgrading your amplifier, the likes of the Fender Bassbreaker amplifiers are an excellent choice. With the Fender Bassbreaker 45 combo, you have the 12AX7 pre-amp valves and EL84 power-amp valves to thank for the full-toned gain as well as glass like clean tones.
If you’ve discovered all valve amps, you’ll understand the why players love them so much as the warmth is addictive. The Bassbreaker series features boost and EQ controls to drive your amp and can be manipulated via footswitch. Perfect to add to your plethora of pedals that you have undoubtedly started to collect.
The Shredder / Metalhead
Whether you’re a fan of the shred masters like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani or you just want something that is easy to play, has a whole host of different tonal capabilities and looks awesome whilst you’re busting out Killswitch Engage style riffs, the Ibanez range of guitars will likely be for you.
The Ibanez GRG140-WH for example, is reminiscent of Vai’s Jem Junior model without all the little intricacies but just as beautiful to play. It features a deep double-cutaway body shape and 24 jumbo-fret rosewood fingerboard which is perfect for those who want to be able to speed along the fretboard and exploit the double octave range. It’s equipped with two single coil pickups and a humbucker allowing you to change up your tone to your needs – ideal for those who are experimenting with guitar for the first time. In terms of amplifiers, you want a reliable, high gain option with a selection of effects such as reverb and delay.
For beginners and pros who want a smaller gigging amp, the Blackstar ID:Core Stereo 100 Digital Guitar Combo Amplifier is a great choice owing to its awesome power, portability and huge amount of versatility. Built-in modelling technology allows you to generate a wide range of tones that sound amazing, giving you that great valve tone with added solid-state reliability – meaning you don’t have to change valves! You have 6 Voices to shape your tone when you’re finding the right sound for you and the onboard reverb, delay and modulation effects are great too. If this particular guitar isn’t for you, take a look at our full range of beginner electric guitars.
If you’re still keen on throwing yourself into the guitar virtuoso world then jump on the Ibanez Limited Edition RG657PB Prestige Made in Japan model (pictured) could be the guitar for you. The RG657PB features a powerful combination of DiMarzio pickups making it the ultimate upgrade for the discerning guitarist. You also get a hardshell case to keep it safe when you’re transporting it to and from gigs/practice. The Edge tremolo bridge allows you to dive bomb to your hearts content and locking nuts will keep your tuning at all times.
By this time, you’ve probably refined your musical tastes and want a more powerful amp to keep up with your drummer and cart to gigs so the Marshall CODE series of amps will be a great choice. The Marshall CODE50 50-Watt 1×12 Guitar Amplifier Combo is perfect for the guitarist who wants a great deal of versatility and the extra power to cut through at a gig or live situation. You have 14 preamp models, 4 power amp models, and 8 speaker cab models to scroll through giving you the option to emulate the same amps as your musical heroes as well as 24 pro quality FX to choose from – 5 of which you can run at the same time! A great amp for the professional guitarists and those in the making.
The Jazz / Country Player
Whether you’re into your jazz, have a penchant for country or like the sounds of southern infused rock like Kings of Leon for example, you’ll likely want a hollowbody guitar. The Epiphone Dot is a great starting point for those who want lush, thick sound with that unmistakable hollowbody tone from a beginner guitar. The Dot ES-335 Style’s ’57 Classic pick-ups have alnico magnets to provide gorgeous cleans and dirty growls when you need it and the guitar itself is a delight to play, lasting a lifetime when looked after.
When looking at a great beginner amp, the Orange Crush 20-Watt Guitar Combo Amplifier is always a great choice owing to the fact you have a gorgeous clean sound and dirty growl thanks to Orange’s signature overdrive tones. This is a modestly priced practice amp that sound amazing and can offer you a variety of different tones to suit your styles whilst being easily portable for those jam sessions or days in the practice room.
The next logical step on your hollow body journey has to be a Gibson Memphis ES-335. These quintessential models are world renowned for their playability and tone thanks to the hollow body construction utilising 3-ply plain grade Maple / Poplar / Maple for the body, back and sides as well as ’57 Classic humbucking pickups modelled on PAF (Patent Applied For) pickups. You also get a hardshell case to keep it safe, so you can hand it down to your grandkids one day – believe us when we say you’ll keep this forever because this absolute workhorse sounds (and looks) amazing!
For that awesome valve-like sound and classic dirty driven rock tone, you can’t go wrong with a BOSS Nextone Guitar Combo Amp. You may be scratching your chin with regard to the valve reference, but don’t be fooled by this solid-state combo. BOSS apply their tonal alchemy to the Nextone series, enabling you to pull a vast selection of tones from its intricately designed circuitry.
The Bass Guitarist
Don’t worry Bass players, we haven’t forgotten about you! A great beginner bass guitar can take many forms. Squier makes fantastic beginner bass guitars perfect for both learners and intermediates, or even professional players who want a reliable, solid and great sounding bass guitar for recording with. The Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass Guitar, pictured here in Natural with maple fretboard is a great option that not only sounds amazing thanks to Fender-designed single-coil jazz bass pickups in neck and bridge positions but looks and feels amazing owing to the soft maple body and maple neck, which is super comfortable to play. Although it says Jazz in the name, this is definitely suited to a wide variety of musical styles. If you’re on a tighter budget, the awesome Epiphone EB-0 SG Bass Guitar offers a more “rock” look and a single Sidewinder humbucking pickup for classic 60s tone that sounds amazing with a bit of distortion added in.
When looking for a great amplifier to practice with, or a great beginner amplifier the Blackstar Fly 3 Bass Compact Bass Guitar Amplifier is a great option when you’re learning to navigate the 4 (or 5) strings. This is a very small and compact amp with a lot of power, with a gain channel MP3/line in connection for jamming along to your favourite tracks as well as a headphone socket for silent practice at home or on the move.
In addition, if you want to be able to jam with your friends straight away, and benefit from an amp that will last a lifetime of rehearsals, you should consider an Orange Crush Bass 25 Bass Combo Amplifier. These things are practice room ready without costing a fortune and provide 25 watts of power, easily enough to stand up to a drummer. The onboard chromatic tuner is extremely handy and the parametric 3-band equaliser along with a frequency dial helps you get the best low ends or dirty grunge sounds.
When it comes to the time of upgrading your bass guitar, there are a myriad of options out there to choose from, but many of which are designed for a variety of different musical styles. The awesome Fender Precision or “P” bass is a great example owing to the fact it’s pretty much an industry standard bass guitar. The Fender American Elite Precision MN Bass Guitar in particular is a world-class touring and recording bass from the geniuses over at Fender. The Ash body is a fantastic resonant body ensuring those low-end riffs can be heard, and the 2 powerful yet quiet 4th generation N4 Noiseless pickups in PJ configuration offer gorgeous tonality – ideal for those who want a versatile bass that works well with any bass amplifier. The super-slim modern “C” profile is carved into a “D” profile towards the neck heel, which is a new appointment for 2016 and a very comfortable improvement on an already stellar bass design.
When you need a gigging amplifier that will stand the test of time and look completely comfortable on stage at Leeds and Reading (you’ll get there, we believe in you!) a great option is the Fender Rumble Stage 800 Bass Amp Combo. You have 800-Watts of power at your disposal making it an impressive bass combo amp ready for all types of gigs. You also have a great deal of control over your sound thanks to a built-in arsenal of amp and cabinet models along with 40+ effects to choose from. A selection of connectivity options allows you to setup with ease on stage and in the studio for improved flexibility – you can even connect via USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for the ultimate in portability.
Check out a full range of guitars and amps at the Dawsons website and find the best set up for you, whether you’re looking for beginner guitars or the best in touring quality guitars and amps.
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.