Life-long musicians will likely find this post embarrassing. But I started playing music at a later stage in life, and after a childhood history of not persevering with hobbies, I wasn’t going to spend a lot of money on gear. I took things cautiously and started with cheap musical instruments. Here are the ones I used/currently use.
I have a cheap bass, a cheap acoustic guitar, and a couple of cheap electric guitars. Half of them were purchased second hand and they are from unknown brands, made by mass manufacturers and later marketed under different low-end brands worldwide. So I will not list them here, as I was unable to find them in any online store. What you will find here are links to the cheap gear that I use that can be purchased online. Some of the links are affiliate links, which means that if you order through them I get a small commission (note: I only recommend what I use and like or a trusted alternative!).
Here is the gear:
Short-scale electric guitar, The Mitchell MM100 – as my fingers are quite short, playing short-scale instruments has been very helpful for me. A musician friend once said that I should graduate to full-size guitars, but it wasn’t convincing. Males and females, and different people in general have different hand size and shapes. I can play the best guitar in the world, but if I can’t reach with my fingers across the fretboard, it will not sound better than my cheap, short-scale guitar. Yes, I could spend years practicing and playing full-size guitars, but what will keep me more motivated, finger pain, or being able to play my favorite songs?
If you get this guitar, I recommend changing the strings. It comes with low-end thin strings, switch to those I recommend below and you will feel a great difference.
Acoustic travel guitar, Companera – a small guitar that I bought while traveling. It makes a surprisingly good sound when amplified and is a pretty element that raises a lot of interest when brought to open mics. I performed with it a couple of times, the one I have has a rounded body at the back which makes it odd sometimes when played, although other people who played it didn’t feel the same. The manufacturing company is based in Italy and sells in various locations in Europe, and also works with two online resellers. Here is the link to the guitar on the company website.
Guitar strings – I don’t change guitar strings as often as I recommended, but when I do, the difference is noticable. Especially as I buy cheap musical instruments, they normally arrive with the cheapest strings possible. Cheap strings are normally thin strings, and especially in short-scale instruments there are benefits to using thicker strings. Here are 3 affordable string sets for guitar that I highly recommend:
- For my short-scale electric guitar, I use GHS Strings GB-DGG David Gilmour Signature Series, Nickel-Plated Electric Guitar Strings (.010 1/2-.050). These are thicker strings, so they fit great on the smaller guitars. They are harder to bend which is good in this case because bending on a short-scale guitar is way too easy and often done unintentionally, making you play off-pitch. These strings make my cheap guitar sound like a high-end make, if you have a short-scale guitar, you will love them.
- For my regular electric guitar, I use a lighter version of the strings above, GHS Strings GB-DGF David Gilmour Signature Series, Nickel-Plated Electric Guitar Strings (.010-.048).
- For acoustic guitar, I use D’Addario EJ11 80/20 Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings, Light, 12-53
- For bass, I use Ernie Ball Slinky Nickel Wound Bass Guitar Strings. The same logic above applies, go with thicker strings if you have a short-scale instrument.
Guitar and bass picks
Picks – I still don’t have a clear preference for a pick brand. If you make an expensive purchase at an instrument store, many times the seller will drop a few picks as a bonus. Picks get lost often so you better have quite a lot of them. You can buy a cheap bulk set of picks that comes with picks of all sizes, experiment with them, and if you find one you really like, buy it again. On the right is a set of 16 picks of varied thickness you can try, And if you are playing with friends and you are using and losing many picks, for about $16 you can get 300 picks, click the image on the left.
Midi Keyboard controller, midiplus AKM320 – after a few years of recording I realized I needed a midi keyboard. This keyboard helps me with two main tasks:
- Composing basslines
- Creating a piano track that of the exact vocal melody that I can follow along when recording vocals
I didn’t need anything fancy, and definitely not a large, high-end keyboard to play elaborate music on. This small, cheap midi keyboard did the trick.
Guitar cables – it’s always good to have a few of them at home. Cables go bad occasionally. As we often rehearse/hold playing sessions at home, I keep a few spare cheap cables handy, last time I ordered these and so far they’ve been working well.
Headphone Amp – NUX GP-1 Guitar Plug Headphone Amp with Classic British Distortion Effect – this one is on the lower end of the price spectrum, but it does a fine job. You can get both a clean/distorted sound by controlling the gain knob, the sound is good (and largely depends on the headphones you plug in). You can also connect external media via an aux cable (phone/computer) to play along a song or an interactive tab, or even to play a metronome. A headphones amp is highly recommended if you are playing electric, as it will allow you to play without disturbing anyone, whenever you want. You can even take it to the garden or park to play outside without an amp! And if you are into using cheap musical instruments, this is much cheaper than any amplifier.
Cheap amplifier – I have a small bass amp that I use at home to amplify both bass and electric. To my needs, it works fine. The amp I use is Ibanez mini bass amp IBZ10B, I got it second-hand. I couldn’t find it on Amazon so I guess this can be a good alternative SUNYIN Protable 10W Bass Amplifier.
A distortion pedal – having a distortion/overdrive pedal is a must if you want to produce a rock sound. All the other pedals can wait. The one I have is Fatal Tube, I got it secondhand and couldn’t find a link to it on Amazon. Here it is, and here is an alternative that looks decent from Amazon (haven’t tried it).
Earplugs – I always wear earplugs in a room with acoustic drums. I tried a few types of earplugs, including musician earplugs, and classic foam ones. The musician’s earplugs were extremely uncomfortable (I didn’t get custom-made ones as that is quite pricy); the foam earplugs blocked too much of the sound and didn’t let different frequencies through. Swimmer earplugs are the winners – they are comfortable, and they don’t distort the sound. Here is a link to highly rated and decently priced earplugs on Amazon.
Aerodrums – they only get a 3.7 score on Amazon, but I’ve seen them at work and they are quite fabulous, especially if you don’t have the space for an electronic drum kit or want a 100% quiet drumming setup. One of my drummers used to play it and was super passionate about it, i wrote about acoustic drums alternatives in my book, and might upload a post about it too.
Atomic Habits – this book has been helpful in helping me keep the habit of playing music, a highly recommended read that will likely influence all the areas of your life.
How To Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician – this extensive book by Ari Herstand will give you everything you need to know once you are ready to share your music and “make it” as a musician.
Music Theory for the Bass Player: A Comprehensive and Hands-on Guide to Playing with More Confidence and Freedom – this paperback has been helpful as I was starting out with the bass. It had good exercises that inspired me to come up with cool basslines for my songs.
I will keep updating here with other decent but cheap musical instruments and good books I come across.