Being a musician is an expensive trade. For the price of many guitarist’s rigs you can buy a pretty decent car.
However, most of us did not start off with custom guitars and 30” pedalboards with boutique pedals running into Matchless’s and Divided by 13’s. We have all had smaller rigs and worked our way up to larger setups that help us express what we have learned to play.
Over the past 15+ years of serving in the church, I have learned a lot about budgeting and started pretty small myself. In this blog I’m going to offer some advice to help show you that you do not need much to sound great on Sunday.
How I Started.
I don’t talk about this much because it’s a tad embarrassing, but it really does show we all start somewhere. When I started playing guitar, I was more concerned with how many notes I could play in one measure than taste.
My first worship rig was along the lines of a Gibson SG with EMG’s, a OD808, Vintage Rat (still use this), Korg Pitch Black tuner, SKB pedalboard, a vintage Ibanez DL-10 I borrowed from my friend’s dad (pretty cool actually), and some onboard effects with my Behringer modeling amp head (ran direct to FOH). I later “upgraded” to a vintage Randall 100w tube combo amp that weighed 100lbs that I found at Guitar Center.
Don’t feel like you have to buy expensive gear to serve well in church.
I have played with musicians that had the most expensive gear you could find at the time and their tone was rather immature. There is definitely truth to the fact that certain gear can make you sound better. However, having nice gear will cannot guarantee you to sound experienced.
Average gear can sound great.
Don’t get caught up in the boutique brand names you see popping up on Instagram. Some of my favorite pedals are made by Boss. I dropped playing my boutique amps I had for years to play a pair of “average” Fender Deluxe Reverbs because I liked the way they sounded more.
Learn the gear market.
Reverb is a little bit more expensive since it’s a very popular website where they charge fees and sellers in turn have higher price points. Forums and Craigslist are usually where I have found the best deals.
As you upgrade, learn how to sell gear. Over the years, I have bought and sold countless items. I’ve never really been in a financial spot to collect a lot of gear, so if I wanted to upgrade, I sold gear to make room. Take great photos and make your gear look like the best item on the site.
If I had $2000 to spend on a rig.
The easiest solution from what I’ve found is to invest in a guitar that places decently, swap out the pickups, and buy a great modeling system like the Fractal AX8 ($1000). That’s all easily under $2000 or even $1500 if you find good deals, and you get tons of great sounding effects to experiment with. I play an AX8 now and love it.
Other cool options could be:
I have a vintage JC-60 I got for $350 that I love. You could even find a JC-120 for $500-600 and run stereo. Fender Deluxe Reverbs are not hard to find for $500-600 and will sound fantastic. I don’t know if this is as much a thing anymore, but people used to buy Peavey Classic 30’s and swap the speakers a lot. A lot of people play AC-15’s, and they work, but I find them to be a bit brittle sometimes. That can also easily be adjusted with a speaker swap though.
Note: It’s nice to eventually get to a stereo rig if your church has the space available, but by no means is it necessary. I have run mono live many times.
I think Duo Sonics are super cool and are only $500. If I wasn’t 6’4” I would probably play one (they are a shorter scale length).
American Strats can be had for $750 or so if you find a deal. I bought a really great Japanese Tele for around $750 back in the day because I found a deal on a forum.
Pickups are a great upgrade for a budget guitar and make the world of difference in tone (if the originals are not great). Everyone says put Lollar’s in your guitar, but you don’t have to spend that much. I have put Lace Sensors in my Strat, which are incredibly affordable. Do your research and see if you want a certain brand before buying. Don’t just give into hype.
A tuner, couple of overdrives, a delay with tap tempo, and maybe a reverb is all you really need.
Most of each of those pedals you can get for under $150 each.
Get a ST-300 tuner ($130), a couple overdrives like an OD808/OD820 and a Timmy ($200), a DD-7, and TC Electronics Hall of Fame ($90) and you have a very solid setup for under $500.
Of course I have to end this all with a reminder to put time into learning your instrument. If you practice enough you can absolutely sound professional with $2k worth of gear. If you do not invest first and foremost into learning songs, growing in your technique and expanding your knowledge, you will not sound good even with $10k worth of gear.
Have any questions? What affordable gear have you liked? What was your first rig? Let us know in the comments below.
You may also be interested in these posts!
- Why I Bought a Modeling Rig: And Why I Didn’t Go Kemper
- Guitar Tone Master Class
- The Best Bass Guitars for Worship with David Curran
- Talking Creativity and Gear with Brian Carl from Passion
- Guitar Rig Rundown: Pedals & Gear