At age 13, my parents let me buy a $29 acoustic guitar at Musicland in the mall. And although I am grateful for that, it probably explains why I quickly learned to like electric guitars. Try playing Whipping Post on a $29 acoustic. Anyway, a friend of mine bought himself a new Fender Stratocaster and a Marshall 50, and sold (gave?) me his old Japansese-made Decca (identical to the one in this photo, until I decided to paint it "refrigerator white"). Trust me here; not exactly a collector-grade instrument. Shortly afterwards, my parents moved us from Tallahassee to Melbourne, where, thanks to my Dad's new Public Relations job at the local college, I was given a portable, podium-mounted PA amp/microphone combination that was destined for the landfill. Luckily, the thing not only still worked, sorta, it also had a 1/4" mono input jack, suitable for plugging my little Decca guitar into. WOOHOO! I wish I could relate to you just how much I enjoyed cranking that thing to 11, its vacuum tubes screaming for mercy as I jammed with my brother Jerry to 8-track cassette tapes of Deep Purple, Queen, Blue Oyster Cult and Thin Lizzy in our shared bedroom.
As time went on, I was able to buy much nicer toys. Guitars, amps, effect pedals, you know; real stuff. But I will always remember three important musical truisms about cheap gear:
1) If you want to really appreciate a good quality musical instrument, you should first spend 10 or more years playing on junk. If you can learn to overcome the absolute awfulness of a cheap guitar with sheer will and determination, fearlessly fighting rusty strings, loose connections and buzzing frets, yet still wanting to keep playing, then you'll know you've found a creative outlet that will probably last a lifetime. And as a bonus, when you can finally buy that new Les Paul Custom someday, you will appreciate its glossy sunburst finish in a way that no Wall Street executive weekend warrior guitarist can.
2) They say that "tone is in the fingers" and to a large extent that is probably true. Even so, when you finally get some good equipment, you will probably sound better than you did before, and it'll be easier.
3) No matter how much I will ever spend on future gear, somehow nothing will ever sound as awesome as that little electric guitar through that hideous, overdriven portable PA with the blown speaker, as I jammed at midnight with my big brother.