There's something that feels really good about getting a good deal. I see so many people rocking Dr. Z's with brand new guitars, pedals everything... I'm not knocking this at all, I think it's important that everyone should be able to own any set up they desire. However I don't believe people who have less money need to comprimise or downgrade their gear as much as they think.
I find it sad seeing people spending $800-$1,000 on a ****************ty soilid state marshall amp that sounds like distorting laptop speakers. It's unfortunate when someone drops $600 - $900 on a mexican fender without even getting it set up. When I walk into guitar big box stores I am pretty shocked on how so many expensive guitars feel and play like ****************. People simply don't know what's good and what isn't, and what is actually out there.
A few weeks of planning and searching you can relatively easily (depending on your area and luck) find a KILLER complete setup for under $1,000. A setup that will go toe-to-toe with any premium rig.
I have personally never paid over $600 on a guitar. The newest guitar I own is an early 90's Japanese Fender Telecaster. The oldest is a 1967 harmony hollow body. Every guitar I own plays and sounds just as good if not better than one you'd drop 2-3 grand on new. It's a matter of prefference I suppose but all my rigs sound tits.
Fenders: Look for Made-in-Japan models of the 80's and 90's. Though these are going up in value, they can be found fairly cheap in comparison to American made models if you do the research. They often go as low as mexican or Indenisian models, but the Japanese made one's are just as good of quality as an American made fender (if not better than many current American-made fenders)
Gibsons: Odd-ball models, avoid les pauls, SG's, firebirds etc.. and look for the strange one-off's or models of the 70's-80's. They still look, sound and play amazing, but command far less money. You can get a similar feel and sound of a set neck of a same-era SG with a gibsons l-6 at a fraction of the cost.
Vintage Law suit guitars: Ibanez, Tokai, Greco, Fernandes, Burny, Mann, Takamine, Matumoku, Aria, Westone, Electra. There are loads of brands that made copies of popular guitar models so well they were sued. Most of these guitars are vintage, so they were more than not made by people with wood that is increasingly hard to find. I have an ibanez copy the same as my Fender Telecaster. I picked it up for $45. The difference in quality between the two is nearly indestinguishable. In-fact the copy has a nicer neck!
Old Cheapy guitars: These are commanding a lot more money today because they often offer an interesting tone. Sad fact is that many B-grade guitars (harmony for example) are still significantly better-made than many A-grade guitars made today. This may take more research but they aren't terribly hard to come by at a good price.
Less Popular High End Brands: Guilds are a perfect example of this, and old guild electric won't demand a high price but you will end up with something just as good as a gibson of the same time perdiod. Yamaha is also an excellenct guitar company especially during the 60's-80's. Some look a little crazy but the quality is there.
$200-$400 can easily get you an all-tube beast of an amp. Cab's are a bit trickier to find on the cheap, but amazing amp heads can be found with some regular craigslist or kijiji browsing.
Canadian Amps: Traynors and Garnets are some of the best sounding amps you can buy. A big reason some of these amps may have gottn a bad name was due to there crappy stock speakers. But a bigger reason they did was because they simply weren't "cool" like fenders and marshalls were at the time. Many people popped the "traynor" logo plate off the front of the amp because having a Canadian amp in the 70's wasn't particularily stylish.
A traynor bassmaster YBA-1, YGA-1 and several other 60's-70's model traynors sound absolutely incredible. They are all basically modeled after classic amp designs. Easier to find in Canada, but often come up for sale in the US. I've purchased several Bassmasters at no more than $200-$300. Old Garnets can be had at a similar cost if you do the online classified search in nearby cities.
Often when you buy an amp this old you will have to sink $100 in new tubes or minor repairs, but it is all well worth it. The build quality of these old amps is on par with fenders and marshalls, the traynors in particular are solid as a rock and are easy to fix.
Joyo's, DIY kits, certain BOSS pedals, clones, Danelectro pedals, digitech, DOD, EHX even some Berhingers are good value. Cheapy companies make a high volume of cheap pedals, some of these models shine and are amazing value. With minimal research you can usually find good chaep equivilants of the pedals you are after. Be sure to buy used, you can pick up danelectro pedals for $15 a piece..... You can't even buy a meal for that cheap these days. Awesome Value.
Biggest thing is to constantly be looking for stuff, go to pawn shops, keep your eyes open and you can have an amazing rig for an amazing price. It's not uncommon to find a crazy deal out there. Some people sell things not knowing what they have. You'd puke if I told you some of the deals I've happened upon.
anyone got anything to add please add it. Hope this helps some poor struggling musicians like myself, If you plan on playing music for a living, be prepared to be poor. If you need back up gear, always look for cheap alternatives and try to stay clear of the high class rich man blues gear out there (unless it's something you really want then by all means).