While punk rock is already fairly minimalist, let’s take a stab at building a high quality punk rock rig capable of being used live, all for under $500. While punk isn’t the most diverse musical style on the planet, plenty of musicians may still dispute what punk is or isn’t. Some fans will point to the raw, assaulting sounds of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, or The Ramones. Others will choose the bass heavy and straightforward work of Green Day, more controversially, younger players may clamor for the pop-punk stylings of Blink-182 and Sum 41. At the end of the day, one thing these bands all have in common is high volume, and fast playing.
Whether you’re tearing through Black Flag covers, or writing a rock opera to rival American Idiot, you’re going to want an amp that can provide distortion, minimal effects, and a guitar that can take a beating. So while we bargain hunt on our $500 budget, we’ll be looking for volume, gain, tuning stability, and a fast neck.
Picking the Guitar
Another classic punk rock debate, should we go P90 or humbucker here? The Clash, arguably the best punk band of all time, achieved their classic sound through a Gibson Les Paul Jr, directly into a cranked Vox AC30. Humbuckers would give a less noisy, more full bodied distorted tone, and were the basis of The Sex Pistols, Green Day, and Black Flag’s tone. There are a couple of great products that fit right into our budget here, the Slick SL59 from GuitarFetish.com, the Squier Bullet Mustang HH, and the Epiphone Les Paul Special I P90. But the great online reviews, my own experience, and the looks keep drawing me back to one clear cut favorite: Epiphone’s Les Paul Special I P90.
As someone who grew up a diehard Clash fan, Les Pauls with P90’s just scream punk to me. They are versatile, loud, and just look great. Plus I think people will be pleasantly surprised at how well this guitar plays and sounds all for only $149.99. Having got my hands on one myself, the P90’s pack plenty of bite and output, especially when overdriven or distorted, to get you that classic punk growl. With good tuning stability for a guitar of this quality, and a more beginner friendly 24.75” scale length, this is a guitar you can trust on stage, even when money is a limiting factor.
Picking the Amp
Unlike some of the other genres of music or playing styles we may cover, punk does not typically require a ton effects, tonal options, or gear. In a lot of ways, this makes this one of the easiest guitar rigs to put together on a budget. However, one piece of gear really surprised me in how great it was for a number of uses, even outside of punk rock territory.
Coming in at a measly $139.00 is the best, cheap amp I’ve ever played, the Orange Amplifiers Crush 20 combo amp, check out my review of it here. Featuring two channels, clean and dirty, you can get that famous Orange crunch tone for a fraction of the price of even the cheapest tube amp. For punk rock, you generally need everything from crunch to distortion, and this amp provides it thanks to a 3 band EQ, and dedicated “dirty” and “gain” controls. Throw in a cheap, Orange footswitch, the FS-1 for around $35.99, and you can easily switch back and forth between the two channels while playing live. This 20 Watt amp may not be able to fill up a large venue, but for open mic nights, bars, or small clubs, it can get the job done and is small enough to be mic’d up into a PA system if need be.
There’s Still Room for Pedals
Now that we still have around $150 or so left to spend, many people will clamor for an upgraded guitar or amp. But I really don’t think that’s the best way to spend your money as you really won’t get anything that much better on a budget without sacrificing the footswitch or further pedals. So while we can’t outfit a whole pedalboard with a power supply and a half dozen effects, let’s buy a daisy chain and see what we can add! An average daisy chain will set you back around $20 max, like this Pig Hog Power Kit from Amazon and can power up to 10 effects. So with clean and dirty sounds covered by our amp and footswitch, let’s try to add a boost for the occasional punk, pentatonic solo and a chorus pedal just to thicken things up.
A chorus pedal I swear by and use on my own board is the Ammoon Nano Series Analog Chorus pedal. It costs about $30, takes up no space on your board, and easily competes with $50 or more chorus pedals. It’s a real hidden gem of the guitar pedal world and more people should have this to add lush chords or fuller lead tones to their rig.
The last pedal, the boost, is a great way to take things up a notch for a solo, breakdown, or big guitar riff in the middle of a noisy punk show. Our budget choice here? The Mooer Pure Boost, an excellent and compact boost with gain, volume, treble, and bass controls to help you dial in the perfect lead tone for when the time comes to show your chops. This pedal retails for around $64.99, keeping us just under budget.
Putting it All Together
We spent a total of $403.98 by my calculations and we actually quite a nice little rig, especially for a beginner into punk music. While of course there are better rigs out there featuring nicer guitars, louder amps, or more pedals, this is in my opinion the best you can do with $500 and access to a Guitar Center and Amazon account. I’ve tried out each piece of gear myself, and have to say I was surprisingly impressed by how it nicely it all sounded when put together. For $500 this is one of the best punk rigs I think you could put together, and just the guitar and amp combo is a good starting point for beginners to jump off from and modify themselves. Think you can do better? Let us know in the comments what you would have gone with on this budget.