I have been a ham going on 50 years and spent a good amount of that time as a broadcast engineer as well, and have accumulated a vast array of test equipment and tools. While it's certainly nice to have everything I need to troubleshoot anything I run across, here are the ABSOLUTE essentials for any radio amateur. They are all easily affordable, and there is no excuse for any ham not to have them. 1) A 50 ohm dummy load. These used to be "almost" required by law, but even without that incentive, they're required by common sense. Beg, borrow, buy, or build, but get one. 2) An RF field strength meter. These are incredibly simple to build....all you need is a piece of wire, a diode and a milliammeter. It doesn't have to be accurate; it just has to exist. No excuse not to know if your transmitter is putting something out or not. 3) A digital multimeter. You can get one for less than $10 which is every bit as accurate as a $300 Fluke....you just can't run over it with a HumVee as many times. 4) A soldering iron and soldering paraphernalia. 5) An ARRL Handbook (any year). (Or an RSGB Handbook, if you're of that English Persuasion). 6) An ARRL Antenna book (any year). (Same as above) 7) An RF signal generator of some sort. This can be a grid dip oscillator, an "officiall" signal generator, or any number of home brew boxes for the purpose. That is all.