October 2018 Martin Header Leaderboard (HLB)

Acoustic Guitar

Getting Good Tone on a Budget

October 2018 Martin Header Leaderboard (HLB)

Great Guitar Tone on a BudgetThere is a lot of cool guitar gear on the market these days. It’s never ending, and in my mind that’s a good thing as it gives us so many options to choose from. The problem is though that gear can get expensive and all those fancy pedalboard photos online can make some of us feel as though we have to be rich to play guitar. The fact of the matter is that it is possible to make great music without having to spend loads of cash. I want to help you save some money, so here are a few ideas.

  1. Keep it simple. I put this point first because a lot of us can get caught in the trap of comparing our setups to those of some professional touring musicians and we start thinking we need more than we do. Most of us who aren’t touring can get by just fine without midi controllers, large bypass loopers, stereo amps, or an army of guitars. It’s important to think about what you really need and focus on investing in that gear first (you can always grow your collection over time as you have the means to do so). A great place to start would be to get one good guitar, one good amp, and a modest pedalboard (consisting of a tuner, 2 stages of overdrive, a delay with tap tempo, a reverb, and a power supply). With that sort of setup it would be very easy to cover any worship song and most of the sounds in them. Keeping things simple will save you A LOT of money. If you have the means and desire to have a bigger setup go for it, but please don’t feel pressure to do so if it’s outside of your budget. 
  2. Buy used. This is arguably the most practical tip for saving money. Much like cars, guitar gear loses value the moment it’s purchased. If you want to stretch your dollar I suggest buying used. In most cases you should be able to get items in great or excellent condition for 60-70% of the original cost, and in some cases you can get a real steal of a deal (especially if you’re willing to barter a bit). There are some really great buy and sell websites out there that make finding used gear quite simple. A secondary benefit to buying used is that when you decide you want to sell an item you won’t be losing much money, if any, because if you take care of your gear you’ll likely be able to get nearly the same amount as you paid when you bought it used in the first place. I do suggest doing your homework when buying or selling used. Figure out what reasonable prices are and be patient to make sure you can get the best bang for your buck! 
  3. Learn to do your own guitar setups. A good setup job helps your guitar stay in tune, play well, and generally just brings the best out of you and your instrument. A decent standard setup in my area costs around $60/guitar. It’s not a lot of money, but learning to do my own setups has helped me keep that money for myself. My first setup took me just over an hour and a one-time cost of about $20-$30 in tools (automotive feeler gages and a precision scale with 64ths on it). Now my setups are free and take a lot less time. In most cases your guitar will just need a slight neck adjustment as the seasons change and maybe some intonation adjustments on occasion (some guys like to do it every string change, others leave the intonation for months). I would like to emphasize that finding a good guitar tech is super important and I highly recommend using one for any job that is beyond your comfort level or abilities. Look for an upcoming article where I will walk you through how to do a basic guitar setup, or do some of your own research as there are lots of resources available. 
  4. Make your own patch cables. This is a super easy way to save some money and if you’re any good you won’t have to compromise on quality. Solderless cable kits and pre-made cables are nice but you pay quite the premium for convenience. If you are strapped for cash or just the kind of person who loves a good DIY, why not try making your own cables? With even a basic soldering iron you should be able to make cables with high end components for a fraction of the cost of buying a ready made option, plus you’ll be gaining a valuable skill. Stay tuned for an upcoming how-to article on soldering where I’ll walk you through the process. 
  5. Consider using a modeler instead of the traditional amp & pedalboard setup. Digital modeling has come a long way in the past few years and it’s now possible to buy quality sounds that compete with real deal amps and pedals. If you are willing to buck with tradition it may be possible for you to save money by seeking an all-in-one unit that offers high quality amp tones as well as effects. Do your research and math, not all modelers are inexpensive solutions and some of the old generation devices leave much to be desired in the tone department. Line 6, Kemper, Fractal Audio, and Atomic Amps seem to be the companies that are really developing the high end modeling market and are all producing great sounding gear these days. 
  6. Buy strings in bulk. This is another easy one. Fresh strings do wonders for great guitar tone, so I suggest changing them regularly (how often depends on your situation). It is often possible to grab a deal by buying a 3-pack or 10-pack of strings. Sure it’s more upfront cost but over the course of your string changes it’s an easy way to save money on something that’s a necessity for playing guitar.

I hope this article helped you see that there are some great ways to get some good gear for less, and I’m sure many of you will have even more ideas. Please feel free to comment below to share your ideas for our other readers! Remember, it’s not near as important what gear you play as it is how and why you play. Use what resources you have to bring your best and serve well.



  1. Flip

    December 8, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    My new advice for aspiring electric players is to go with the Line 6 Helix LT. For $1000 you have an amp, cabinet, every effect you could possibly need, and the ability to set up snapshots for each section of a song you don’t have to “tap dance.” If the player gives up after a few months they can sell on reverb and recoup most of their cost. When I started out I got frustrated because I was buying budget effects that didn’t sound great and still ended up costing more than the Helix LT.

    • Daniel


      December 8, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks for the input Flip! That’s definitely a solid option, as I pointed out in point #5. The helix sounds great and offers incredible value for sure. My only caution would be that some new players may find it a bit overwhelming if they are not used to dialing in amps and pedals, but there are tons of resources available to help with that as well.

  2. Raymond Stevens

    November 13, 2018 at 6:32 am

    What is a “precision scale”?

    • Daniel Mutter

      Daniel Mutter

      November 13, 2018 at 4:27 pm

      Same as a ruler…you just need a really acuurate one with fine measurements on it.

  3. Kelsey Austin

    November 24, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    I absolutely agree with Flip about the Line 6 Helix LT. Several years ago when I joined the genre, the best option available was the Line 6 POD HD500X. It has been an invaluable tool, and you can create some amazing tones with a bit of work. The Helix LT is next on my wish list. It has excellent reviews and its the best bang for your buck. It also maintains its value quite well.

    Multi FX boards are great for church stages. You can run direct to the PA and not worry about a loud amp feeding back into the mics up front. You could go for a tube amp, but you are probably going to need to place it somewhere off stage. Tube amps ARE LOUD!

    If you combine a Line 6 Helix LT with a decent guitar and In Ear Monitors, you will be well equipped for any Worship Team.

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