You know what? I went looking for an SG and ended up with an Ibanez SZ. It's got an awesome HH setup with coil tapping - so I can get a lot of SG / LP sounds out of it, plus some great Strat-ish tones. What I can't get is Telecaster twang, but my brother's Squire Tele doesn't get that right either.
I don't want to sound be Johnny One-Note, but I have to keep spreading the Ibanez word. I looked at a lot of guitars, both before and after making my buy, and the Ibanezes are always among the best quality in a given price range.
How did I (a novice) judge the quality? Simple. First, I looked at the guitar. The binding was perfect. The finish was flawless. Then I felt the guitar - the frets were smooth all along the fretboard, no sharp edges. Pick up a Squier Affinity Strat and run your hand down the fretboard for a counter-example. The switches and pots were smooth and sturdy. There was no obtrusive lump at the heel of the neck. Then, I played it. It sounded great, it felt great, and it fit me - that's all I needed to know.
As far as amps go, I LOVE my Valvetronix 30 Watt. I thought I wanted a G-DEC or a 30 Watt Spider II. I didn't really understand the whole tube mystique and thought it was mostly crusty old timers refusing to give up what they grew up with. One side-by-side between Spider and Vox cleared that up for me in a hurry.
I got one great piece of advice from my all-knowing little brother while I was shopping for a guitar, and I'm passing it on to you: You'll know the right guitar when you pick it up. There is no substitute for going out and touching guitars.
I hope whatever you pick brings you as much joy as my rig has brought to me.