Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs

22nd Mar 2010 | 15:10

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs (£159-£319)
From L-R: Squier 'Stop Dreaming, Start Playing' Pack, Encore SpongeBob Pack, Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart and Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack

Before you set off down the perilous road to rock stardom, make sure you’re packed for the journey. Of course, you’ll need a musical vision, an iron will, a high tolerance to liquor and a relaxed attitude to personal hygiene. But for your more tangible requirements - electric guitar, amp, strap, pick, lead, tuner - there’s the starter pack.

The concept of a catch-all bundle might not seem too rock ’n’ roll: it doesn’t exactly match the outlaw cool of stealing your first Les Paul. But screw that, ’cos there’s nothing more rock than getting home, plugging in, priming your chops, forming a band and getting your first gig.

We’ve lined up four big-name packs: first, there’s the Yamaha pack (£239), pairing the popular Pacifica 012 model with an amp we’ve frankly never heard of. Then there’s the Ibanez Jumpstart pack (£225), including the GRX70DX electric and GTA-10 combo, followed by Squier’s ‘Stop Dreaming, Start Playing’ set (£319) with its Affinity Strat and Fender G-DEC Junior amp.

Finally, we’ve thrown a bone to cartoon fans with the Encore SpongeBob SquarePants pack (£159), which includes a traditional doublecut electric, 10-watt amp and trimmings a-go-go. Well, he is Liam Gallagher’s favourite cartoon character…

First up: Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack price and spec

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack

Spec

Price: £239

Body: Agathis

Neck: Maple, bolt-on

Pickups: 2x singlecoil, 1x humbucker

Scale: 25 1/2”

Amp: GA-15 (with clean/drive channels)

Accessories: Gigbag, strap, strings, tuner, picks, tuition DVD

Finish: Red [pictured], Black

Left-handers: No

Next: Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack review

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack review
Yamaha Pacifica 012

Review

Since 1993, the Pacifica has been the archetypal first guitar, used for countless clunky renditions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and offered here in its cheapest-yet 012 form.

Yamaha amps aren’t as revered, but the GA-15 compensates for lack of pedigree with 15 watts and twin channels, suggesting it might stretch to proper jams if you haven’t got Dave Grohl on drums.

The 012 is exceptional - for the price. The flat neck and versatile pickup layout means it copes with all styles, it’s plenty good enough to learn on, and combining the middle single and bridge ’bucker unlocks a sweet Strat-like quack that breaks into Hendrix-style fuzz when you pump the gain.

Point the pickup selector elsewhere, though, and the tone is a little flat, and with the amp’s features on the minimalist side, there’s no way to tart it up. As a result, while it’s possible to play pretty loud (and flip easily between the clean/filth channels), you’ll need to plug away at the instructional DVD for a few weeks before you get this partnership sounding good.

Next:Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack verdict

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Yamaha Pacifica 012 Starter Pack verdict
Yamaha GA-15 amp

Verdict

There’s no doubting the value of this pack, but compared to the souped-up Pacifica V, the 012 feels like a stopgap. That’s fair enough; nobody said this was a guitar for life. You buy this pack, pay your dues, find out what styles you’re into - then throw a few hundred quid at a mid-price electric and 100-watt amp that cater for them.

Until then, this is a watertight introduction to the untold pleasures of axedom.

Pros: Good value and performance.
Cons: You might outgrow it fast.

Next: Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart price and spec

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart price and spec

Spec

Price: £225

Body: Solid maple

Neck: Poplar, bolt-on

Pickups: 2x humbucker, 1x singlecoil

Scale: 25 1/2”

Amp: GTA10 10-watt combo

Accessories: Tuner, gigbag, strap, picks

Finish: Black [pictured], Blue, Red

Left-handers: No

Next: Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart review

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart review
Ibanez GRX70DX

Review

Maybe it’s a bad omen that you can’t buy the GRX70DX as a standalone guitar. But before you conclude this ‘pack-only’ axe must be rougher than week-old driftwood, consider Ibanez’s reputation for pound-stretching, its underrated way with an amp, and its promise this pack will get us “out of the audience and on the stage.”

With an Ibanez headstock logo and razorblade inlays, the GRX70DX is the looker of the bunch. Peripheral features like tuners and control dials are flimsy, but the foundations feel more substantial and less obviously aimed at beginners, offering a chunky maple body and a poplar neck with palm-filling dimensions.

You’ll never play Wembley with 10-watts, but the GTA10 has decent sonic character, with the chronic lack of features not standing in the way of a ringing clean tone and a woolly 70s crunch. Strangely, for Ibanez, the amp doesn’t really ‘do’ a cut-glass shred tone, but the guitar’s speedy feel still implies this is the one for would-be Satrianis.

Next:Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart verdict

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Ibanez GRX70DX Jumpstart verdict
Ibanez GTA10 amp

Verdict

While you’d hesitate to call them an ‘investment’, you won’t be itching to offload the GRX70DX or GTA10, and that’s a success when you’ve only shelled out £225. This is a starter pack par excellence: the guitar and amp are highly playable, don’t commit you to any style - and are cool-looking enough to make you want to pick ’em up.

It might not be the gear of your dreams, but it’ll keep your fingers warm while you’re saving for that JEM.

Pros: Looks, solid feel, nice amp tone.
Cons: Low wattage, trimmings.

Next:Squier ‘Stop Dreaming, Start Playing’ Pack price and spec

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Squier 'Stop Dreaming, Start Playing' Pack price and spec

Spec

Price: £319

Body: Solid agathis

Neck: Maple, bolt-on

Pickups: 2x singlecoil, 1x humbucker

Scale: 25 1/2”

Amp: G-DEC Junior (with amp models, FX, drum/bass loops)

Accessories: Strap, gigbag, lead, pick, sampler

Finish: Black [pictured], Red, Blue

Left-handers: No

Next: Squier ‘Stop Dreaming, Start Playing’ Pack review

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Squier 'Stop Dreaming, Start Playing' Pack review
Squier Affinity Strat HSS

Review

Squier’s 1982 launch sparked the entry-level revolution, and the original budget range still leads the pack with the ‘Stop Dreaming, Start Playing’ bundle. Sure, it’s more expensive. But the combination of an Affinity Strat HSS and a feature-rich Fender G-DEC Junior makes it clear this pack isn’t just about scraping by with poverty-spec gear, it’s about twiddling knobs and having fun.

We don’t know what’s better: the Affinity axe, which just feels so solid, playable and professional, and genuinely sounds like a Strat; or the G-DEC Junior, which not only has 15 effects (from spring reverb to flange) and 16 brilliant amp sound presets (from a British sparkle to a fat Fender Bassman thud), but even primes your technique for your first band by letting you solo along to a choice of 15 rhythm loops.

In any key! With optional basslines! At 15-watt volume!

The only conceivable criticism here is that the Affinity is incredibly twangy - even with the humbucker selected - but that’s a mere drop of criticism in an ocean of love.

Next: Squier ‘Stop Dreaming, Start Playing’ Pack verdict

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Squier 'Stop Dreaming, Start Playing' Pack verdict
Fender G-DEC Junior amp

Verdict

The Squier pack leaves us buzzing. If you haven’t got the chops yet, you’ll still get a good sound out of that cracking guitar and ultra-tweakable amp. And with the loops proving so addictive, it won’t be long before you’re a pretty tasty player. Sure, some will say £319 is too much to spend on a guitar/amp you’ll outgrow.

We’d counter that you’ll hang onto both for a very long time, if only to practise jamming in key. The clear winner.

Pros: Brilliant guitar. Brilliant amp.
Cons: £319 is not to be sniffed at.

Next: Encore SpongeBob Pack price and spec

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Encore SpongeBob Pack price and spec

Spec

Price: £159

Body: Wutong

Neck: Maple, bolt-on

Pickups: 3x singlecoil pickups

Scale: 25 1/2”

Amp: BB Blaster 10-watt combo

Accessories: Strap, lead, pick, strings, gigbag, DVD

Finish: SpongeBob graphics [pictured]

Left-handers: No

Next: Encore SpongeBob Pack review

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Encore SpongeBob Pack review
Encore SpongeBob guitar

Review

Pre-schoolers, stoned students and superfan Liam Gallagher might be the obvious demographic for this new pack, but dig beneath the goofy graphics and you’ll find a grown-up doublecut based on the E6, and a BB Blaster with two channels.

Respect to Encore for pricing it at a pocket-money £159, but would you seriously choose this over the Squier? Encore has always been a safe pair of hands with an entry-level guitar, and this doublecut is one of the better Strat-o-likes out there, albeit with cheap timbers, a neck that might be too chunky for young players and less pickup versatility than some of the ‘mixand- match’ contenders.

Run it through the amp and you’ll get a decent clean voice, twist the gain for a useful fat-bottomed 70s roar, but go too loud or filthy and the 10-watt Blaster starts coughing and spluttering like Slash after a heavy night on the Marlboros.

Nice axe, and we suspect that running it through a better amp would make it sing, but that’d be breaking the starter pack rules, innit?

Next: Encore SpongeBob Pack verdict

Round-up: 4 beginner guitar and amp starter packs
Encore SpongeBob Pack verdict
Encore BB Blaster amp

Verdict

Decent guitar. Mediocre amp. This pack is impressive out of context, but suffers from being tested right after the Squier pack with its world-beating G-DEC amp. Thanks to the cartoon graphics, this isn’t a long-term option for anyone planning to ‘make a go of it’ on the adult club circuit, but it’ll doubtless catch the eye of younger rockers and give them a passion for life.

And it’s very hard to knock that for £159.

Pros: Exceptional value, strong guitar.
Cons
: Amp for the bedroom only.


Liked this? Now read: The best electric guitars under £300 and Guitar basics video: how to use your amp

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