If you're just getting started with DIY, investing in a good set of tools is the best thing you can do to set your self up for success. I know it's a cliche, but especially when it comes to electronics good tools literally pay for themselves. You are more likely to stick with the hobby if your tools are pleasure to use rather than a hindrance. And well built gear sounds better, lasts longer, and affords you peace of mind when you're recording.
The tools below are the ones we use every day at the DIYRE shop. They're not the most expensive tools on the market, but we've been happy with them for years and we wholeheartedly recommend them to you. If your purchase them from Amazon via our links, some of the proceeds come back to us, which is nice.
When it comes to your soldering tools, I highly advise against buying a cheap pencil iron at the hardware store and "making it work." I ruined my first guitar pedal with a pencil iron from Hope Depot. I figured I was just hopeless at soldering until I borrowed my friend's Weller soldering station. Voila! The difference was night and day and the next pedal came out just fine. $40 might be more than you planned on spending for a soldering iron, but you only have to buy it once. Buy a cheapo pencil iron and I guarantee you will buy twice.
Good, old-fashioned leaded solder is perfectly safe and superior to the newer lead-free solder in every way. It flows better, it makes better joints, it's easier to re-work, and the fumes do not actually contain lead. In fact, the fumes from the flux required for working with lead-free solder are more dangerous! This Kester 60/40 is the standard for electronics work.
Dirt and oxidation are the enemies of good solder joints. Dipping your tip in a wire "sponge" like this one between every solder joint is the best way to make sure your joints are impeccably clean. I find this far easier and more effective than the standard wet sponge that comes with the soldering station.
Somebody once said that carrying a notebook is "the difference between being able to write and not being able to write." That is how I feel about the PanaVise. Sure, I soldered without one for years and successfully completed many projects. But I can't imagine going back to working without one. Optional, but highly recommended. I wouldn't bother with those $5 "helping hands" with the built-in magnifier--they tend to fall apart and can't support the weight of your typical audio circuit board.
When you mess up (and you will mess up), this "solder sucker" is your undo button. You can reheat the problem joint, suck out the molten solder, and start over.
You don't need one to get started with DIY, but doing a few simple measurements with a multi-meter before plugging in your finished project can prevent exploding parts and save you money. Most of our project guides include specific instructions for verifying your build with a cheap multi-meter like this one. Highly recommended.