Just starting out on your electric guitar journey? Not even sure if guitar is the right instrument for you? If you’ve not yet bought a guitar, amp, lead, strap, plectrums and the array of other items that go with it, you may be wise to consider a guitar combo package – which will give you everything you need to start playing right out of the box.
These packages usually offer great value and convenience, and are perfect for budding guitarists on a budget. To help make your purchase easier, we’ve reviewed the most popular packages on the market, and put together a guide that will give you everything you need to know about combo packages.
In the chart below we have gathered together some of the best electric guitar starter packages available, as well as their ratings and links to in-depth reviews. There’s a lot of choice out there, so spend some time finding the right one for you. And make sure to check out our helpful guide on purchasing a combo pack just below the chart.
Tips, Tricks, Guidelines Etc
If you’re interested in a combo package, chances are you are a complete beginner after some convenience and value. As well as this article, it’s well worth checking out our huge guide to the best electric guitars for beginners, which covers everything you need to know and more about buying an electric guitar for the first time.
For now, let’s take a look at what you are likely to find in a combo pack, the pros and cons, and everything you should be aware of.
The big star of these combo packs is the guitar, which represents the most substantial chunk of money, and therefore should be the part of the pack that shines the brightest. As you will soon see, the amp and accessories are more of a bonus. So if you treat the price of the pack as if you were only getting a guitar, you will usually find great value.
On that note, combo packs can range in price from an incredibly low $99, up to around $350. The guitar you will find – depending on the price of the pack – would therefore cost anywhere in the region of between $60 and $250 on its own (even if you can’t buy it on its own in some cases).
You won’t find many premium features on these guitars, but you will get something that’s playable, looks decent (awesome in some cases), and will make a sound.
Most of the guitars in the lower end packs will be made from basswood or a generic hardwood, which shouldn’t really be a problem – at this stage you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference in tonewoods, especially through a basic amp. The more expensive packs may offer you alder or mahogany as a body wood.
You’ll also usually find a bolt-on neck, made of maple or mahogany, with either a rosewood or maple fretboard, and around 22 frets.
Pickups and controls will also very basic. Most guitars in this price range will feature either two humbuckers, three single-coil pickups, or – on the cheapest models like the Rise by Sawtooth pack at $99 – a single humbucker.
Controls will usually be limited to master tone and master volume, with a three or five-way pickup selector switch (if you have more than one pickup!). So there’s not a great deal of versatility to be found, but they are usually good enough to offer a clear sound, and a solid platform on which to learn your first chords.
After the guitar, the amplifier is the second most important part of these packages. And – like the guitar – it will be very basic.
It will usually be no more than 10 watts (occasionally 5 watts), which is enough for bedroom practicing and maybe jamming with another guitarist with a similar size amp, but they won’t allow you to gig. But if you’re buying a beginners combo pack, it’s unlikely you’ll be ready to gig for quite some time, so this shouldn’t be a problem.
Even the most basic of amp should offer two channels: one for clean playing, the other for distortion. And when I say distortion, I really mean ‘crunch’ or ‘overdrive’ – you won’t find a thick, full sounding distortion, but for learning your first rock riffs this crunch is all you really need.
The amp should also give you some tone control, such as a treble, middle, and bass knob, as well as individual gain controls. But this is about all you’ll find – even if you stretch your package budget to around $300 you won’t find an amp with any built-in effects like delay, reverb, or chorus.
Finally a good amp should also give you a headphone jack, which is essential for beginners – let’s face it, not everyone will want to hear you practicing your first tunes over and over again! An auxiliary jack is also a useful feature, so you can plug in a drum machine or music player to jam along to your favorite tracks.
The final part of a combo pack is the range of accessories that come with it. While every pack is different, all will offer a lead, a strap and plectrums, which are must-have accessories. You are also likely to find a gig bag or a guitar stand, and a sometimes a tuner, which may be digital (the best kind) or a pitch pipe (old school, and not as accurate).
Often you will find extras such as spare strings, or a free digital lesson or tutorial DVD. However – while very helpful – these shouldn’t be a deciding factor, when websites like YouTube offer seemingly endless streams of free tuition. But as a bonus to an already value pack they are great.
WORTH THE CASH?
When you look at a package that offers a guitar, amp, strap, lead, and everything else you need for under $200, you may immediately think ‘bargain’. But take a step back and consider all the options available to you.
Firstly, view the accessories as a convenient bonus, because they cost the manufacturers almost nothing to add in and will be very basic – sometimes to the point of being so flimsy that you’ll need to replace them after a few practice sessions. Look at the guitar and amp as the main aspects of these packs.
You should also look at your aspirations. If you want to eventually play in a band, or go onto record an album, or just want to become a great player, the budget guitar in a starter pack like this may not suffice. Even if the guitar and amp together show a good saving (which they usually do), try to look ahead – you may outgrow them sooner than you think.
But thankfully some packs are targeted at beginners with big aspirations. For example Epiphone’s Slash AFD Les Paul package offers a guitar that would please even experienced players, along with a solid 15 watt amp that would handle jamming sessions with ease – not to mention all the cool Slash-branded equipment that comes with it! However this pack retails at around $300, so you have to up your budget if you want more.
More often than not, electric guitar combo packages offer great convenience and very good value. While you must spend within your budget, seriously consider the higher priced packs as they offer you a lot more power, tone and quality for not that much more cash.
Also consider buying your guitar and amp separately if your aspirations are bigger than just a bit of practice – sometimes these work out just as good value for money as a pack, as you won’t outgrow them as quickly.
Our guide to the best electric guitars under $300 will show you some of the best affordable guitars on the market today. And make sure to check out our in-depth beginners guide to buying an electric guitar, for everything you need to know.