EDIT: Whoa, stickied na pala ito! Cool. But I wanna remind people I wrote this in order to promote peace and harmony in GC, so please don't use it to "cite examples", fingerpoint, or mang-blind item (tinangal ko na rin yung joke re "catering"). In true community fashion, we'll crowdsource good ideas and keep this updated; I'm sure there are many people out there smarter than me who have something to share.
Read it, then live it! Peace!
-- SURVIVAL GUIDE TO GUITAR CENTRAL (based on real lessons learned) --
I thought it might help to summarize my personal Lessons Learned from years being part of this community and being personally involved in some, uhm, "trainwrecks" (not the amp, unfortunately). Some of these are mistakes I made and repeated. Some are mistakes many others keep repeating. I hope we all learn our lesson.
1. If we're talking about build setup, build quality, construction and craftsmanship, yes, one guitar can be better than another and it's possible to argue objectively on some empirical basis.
2. Money can buy you 'better' guitars in terms of quality of build, materials, component parts, craftsmanship, etc. (although better parts and materials does not necessarily ensure better tone). If you can't afford 'better' gear, tough luck, just deal with it. [Note: Money is also a function of time. If you're smart with your gear money and saved up for long enough, you can buy what you thought only the rich guys could buy. It takes discipline but it's possible.]. On the other hand, guitars sound like guitars. Improvements in guitar making/manufacturing technology, accessibility of that technology, and the law of diminishing returns ensures that decent quality guitars are more affordable and can take the issue of money off the table very quickly.
3. If we're talking about guitar design (LPs vs Teles vs Strats vs Superstrats) and tone, well, they're all just different, one is not necessarily better than the other. Tone is subjective because we have different tastes and we all hear and appreciate tone differently. Any kind of tone can have a potential application in music. Hence, arguing which tone is better/worse is pointless.
4. Tone is the output of a whole system of inter-related and interacting parts and other related factors (don't forget the amp and player!) and its very difficult to assess individual components (e.g., a type of wood for body or neck, a pickup) independently and without proper context. However, guitar engineering/building know-how is constantly improving to allow for target tones to be achieved using a combination of wood, pickups, electronics, and appropriate construction techniques, etc. It is still not a perfect science, though. Outside of the guitar and amp, there's also a lot of tonal variability afforded by the player's flesh tone, right and left hand technique, and know-how in tweaking combinations of gtr+amp+pedals to interact and produce a desired tone. Hence, if you played thru SRVs gear, you may not sound exactly like SRV because you lack the flesh tone, technique, or know-how to work his gear.
5. If you really have to, when comparing tone, it has to be on "all things being equal"-terms. It's not even fair to ask a crappy player to play his great $$$ gear vs. a great player using cheap gear. When comparing components, all the other factors in the whole system should remain constant (e.g., change pus but not the guitar, amp, or player).
6. Tone is neither JUST in the fingers, nor is it JUST in the wallet. Both technique and nice gear help create good tone. Great technique and experience/knowledge can help overcome poor gear, but decent gear is a minimum. On the other hand, better gear can inspire good players to greater heights of creativity and technical accomplishment. "Tone is in the fingers vs. Tone is in the wallet" arguments betray ignorance and insecurity.
7. Asking someone to make a recording of his guitar and posting it on the internet is not the best way of judging that piece of gear. If you're sincerely curious and interested in knowing the truth, try it yourself... in person... using your own hands and ears. If you can't or you won't because your pride or shyness is in the way, don't whine cuz you have no first-hand knowledge to make a judgment. (Caveat: Very soon, however, recording and network technology will make it possible for most anyone to do hi-fi recordings and shared in lossless format over youtube, soundlick, myspace, fb, etc. Actually the technology is here now but access is limited to those w/ resources.)
8. When someone gives a review of his gear and insists it's the best ever guitar EVER, he has the right to his opinion and no amount of arguing, recording, testing, or tone shootouts will actually settle the issue. On the other hand, a simple opinion or review does not necessarily diminish the value of other people's gear to which it may have been compared (Source: Bart). However...
9. When someone makes a personal attack, puts down, or insults a fellow member, or questions their credibility, simply for disagreeing or sharing a contrary opinion, that is not cool and likely against the rules. Proper warnings/sanctions should be given immediately and applied consistently.
10. Although probably not a crime to a person or the community, faulting other people for not owning, not being able to afford expensive gear, or not having access to top gear experts/sources is bad form. In comparing gear, it's also poor taste to use direct language such as "your ABC won't stand against my XYZ" or "my ABC kills your XYZ". On the other hand, smarter and mature forumites would know to ignore these kinds of silly subjective statements (see rule #7). It's better to just say "it didn't work out for me and my setup", "not suited for my application", or "not my taste". In comparing gear, context is everything.
11. Don't let your ego or someone else's get in the way of your enjoying guitar on your own terms, not on someone else's. If you need someone else's -- whether other forumite's or top builder/gear expert's -- validation to enjoy your gear, you'll never be content and happy. Remember that the primary aim of good gear and tone is to inspire YOU and make you play and sound good. The audience and any other person is just secondary.
12. After all is said and done, it's just guitar - is it really worth fighting over? If it is, examine your life, values and priorities.