Guitars on Trial (Looking at the Difference)

For my last blog post we talked about what drives the price for guitars. From: country of origin, to woods, to other parts, there is a lot that factors into the cost of a guitar. Today we compare some examples.

Trial 1:

For Trail 1 we have two different PRS models: The SE Custom 24 and a Core Custom 24. The SE cost $849.99 and the Core model will cost over $5,320. That's quite a bit a different cost wise. Between these two there is an obvious difference and more subtle differences. I think just by looks most people would choose Guitar #2 with good reason. The Core model has a 10-Top Maple which visually makes a big impact and adds to the wow factor. The SE looks good but it offers a thin maple veneer instead of a thicker maple cap. We know the Core model has all American PRS parts compared to the import parts for the SE. I've played many SE models and I know they are great guitars. But comparing these two pictures makes the SE look like a toy. Is it a $4000+ difference? That's not for me to decide.


Trial 2: 

For Trial number two we have two different Jackson models. One is their JS22 Archtop Jackson Dinky and the other is the USA Select DK1 Dinky.  The JS22 is make in Indonesia and MAPS at $199.99 and the DK1 will cost you $3400. What's the difference?  For these models there's not a gorgeous Maple top to separate the two, they are both But as we glance closer at the models we can see that the USA made DK1 has EMG pickups and a Floyd Rose tremolo, compared to import made tremolo and humbuckers. A set of EMG's and a true Floyd Rose trem will cost close to $500...sad those parts are worth more than the whole cost of the JS22. But where's the extra $3000 difference? In addition to the USA labor cost, the DK1 has some manufacture upgrades. One significant difference is the quarter sawn maple neck,(Google it) which many consider an upgrade. You'll also find an ebony fretboard compared to the ?Amaranth? fretboard of the JS model.



Trail 3:

For trial number 3 we take a look at some amazing Fender guitars: Fender American Ultra Luxe Stratocaster and Fender Player Series Stratocaster Plus Top. The American Ultra has upgraded components such as: Fender Noiseless Pickups, Locking Tuners, Compound radius maple neck, ash body, and stainless steel frets. The Player's Series has standard Fender MIM parts. Just by looking at the two I think the American Ultra looks a nicer, and its the small details. While the Maple Plus Top is visually appealing the aged parts on the Ultra make it look a little classier. You'll notice the plastic parts have an aged look compared to the white plastic on the Players. The aged tint on the neck and painted headstock add to the appeal too. However, are we really going to pay an extra $2000 for between the two? 


Trail 4

Epiphone and Gibson. In the last decade these two companies guitars have been closely compared. Some will say that the quality of Epiphone guitars have drastically improved while Gibson has come down a little. As a guitarist who's first guitar was a 2000 Epiphone Les Paul Standard I can 100% say will full confidence the Epiphone Les Paul Standard of today is light year's ahead of what they were making the turn of the century. Epiphone has definitely improved their line of guitars. In the picture below we see Gibson and Epiphone models: 50's Les Paul Standard. One of the biggest improvements from my early 00's Epiphone is the electronics. The Standards of today feature Probuckers, CTS pots, and upgraded wiring components. At $699.99 vs the $3000 Gibson equal there is a substantial argument to be made on which guitar provides the best value. 


 Trial 5

For our last example we take a look at one guitar. The Jackson Pro Series Modern DK Dinky.  I've seen a shift take place in the last 5 years or so. It wasn't too long ago that $1000 would safely buy you an U.S.A. made instrument, and for some players that's very important. U.S.A. made use to mean the instrument was superior in every way, but I think more musicians are shedding off that old stereotype. The quality of import guitars has greatly improved. Case in point of the before mentioned Epiphone Les Paul Standard. Now days you can buy an import guitar and still be proud of the quality and looks.

Of course cost have skyrocketed and many of those U.S.A instruments are well above the $1000 threshold and its difficult for many musicians to pay that hefty price tag. But I've noticed many import makers aren't shying away from the $$$$ price tag making a premium import model. The example below is a Jackson Pro Series DK Modern that retails for $1749.99. This model is made in Indonesia. As we have seen, one of the major factors that drives the cost of a guitar is it's Country of Origin, USA made instruments typically sale for thousands above it's foreign made counterpart. Many brands such as Jackson, Ibanez, and LTD are focusing on premium parts, trusting the manufacturing process at their offshore factories. I think this is a great option for the consumer. This same guitar made in the USA would be double the price. But this option gives you a guitar with premium parts locked and loaded, still professionally made. Of course it's possible to buy a budget guitar and add these hardware upgrades, but in the end I don't think it benefits the end user if we are talking about overall value. Most players would have to pay a tech to have these components installed and that doesn't always mean you made your cheap guitar more valuable. It just means you have nice parts and USA labor on a cheap guitar. 

The Pro Series DK Modern features, Fishman Fluence Pickups, an Evertune Bridge and Gotoh locking tuners. All hardware components that you would find on premium guitars. An Evertune brigde alone will cost $300 and so will the Fishman pickups. 


Final Thoughts

As we see, there is a lot of factors that drive the price of guitars. For this article we have focused on comparing those visually aspects. The higher priced guitars have high quality components and feature premium wood, hardware, and upgrades. But if you are like me, I'm not sure I can justify thousands of dollars of difference between most of these models. I agree there is a substantial measurable difference but you just don't find an extra $2000 laying around on the street. What we can't factor in on this article is the difference not seen on a spec sheet. The difference is felt once you place the guitar in your hand. As you strum your first chord, or run you hand up and down the neck you can tell the difference between a $$$$ difference and it's budget friendly counterpart.

Many times higher end guitars are allowed to be made with more attention to detail.  For budget models the goal is to make a guitar that is great, but with a limit amount of time and with strict parameters. For a USA made instrument there are many processes and upgrades we don't see on paper that this guitar goes through. Plus, there is still a great deal of hands on labor associated with a guitar. That $$$$ price buys you not just the parts and wood and pieces of a guitar, but the care, time and craft as well as upgraded processes. It's not like the import factories can't achieve the same level of craftsmanship as a USA factory, we see a premium example in the Jackson DK Modern and other models. But Gibson USA, Fender USA, and PRS USA all allow a certain level of time and care and quality control that you won't find on you Squire, Player Series Fender, Epiphones, or SE PRS models. That level of quality you won't find on print. You just have to do what we should have done at the beginning, pick up the guitar and play it. You just have to feel the quality and make your judgment based on that experience. 

Thanks for reading.

Chad Daniels