The cost of a guitar - Acoustic
We continue our discussion about the major factors that affect the cost of a guitar. What are the driving costs between a $200 model and a $2000 model. For the last two blogs we focused on electric guitars. Now we switch to acoustic guitars.
The first place we start is the foundation of the guitar, the wood. The quality of wood is just as important for an acoustic as an electric. In fact, the quality and characteristic of the wood is more important as it plays a major role for the tone. For a solid body electric, the pickups do the bulk of the work, but for an acoustic it’s about the wood. We will also see more of a variety of woods being used for acoustic guitars.
This Taylor 914 Features premiums woods: Solid Sitka Spruce Top, Indian Rosewood back and sides, and West African Ebony Fretboard (MAPS $5799.99)
For acoustic guitars we will see a large variety of woods being used for the body construction. One of these reasons is that the majority of acoustic guitars are not painted or have a transparent finish, thus allowing the beauty of natural wood grain to create the visual appeal. (Let’s be honest, we don’t play guitars because they are ugly, so the visual aspect can’t be ignored.) The other main reason is the different tones that different woods produce for a guitar.
For the top of the bodies you’ll find different species of Spruce to be the most common top wood. Even the cheapest models of guitar will feature spruce on the top, yet the higher end models will have a higher grade of spruce. The top wood is the most crucial for your tone. Woods like cedar, mahogany, and Koa are also fairly common. Each of these woods enhance different frequencies for a guitar. The back and sides of the body are varied, commonly finding rosewood, mahogany, maple, Koa, walnut, and more. A guitar with rosewood back and sides will cost hundreds more than a cheaper wood such as okoume or nato. Fretboard woods are the same as electric guitar, typically rosewood, (or cheaper wannabes) and ebony.
Solid vs. laminated wood for the body construction is a major factor. For the most budget guitars you’ll find the body made completely out of laminated wood. Your mid-tier guitars will have a solid top with laminated back and sides. Again, many consider the top of the body having the greatest impact for tone. For the top tier of guitars they will feature a solid wood top with solid back and sides. For example a guitar that has a solid Sitka Spruce top with solid Indian Rosewood back and sides will cost significantly more than your standard laminated spruce top and mahogany back and sides.
When looking for that top tier guitar, make sure the specs read solid top, solid back, and solid sides. Very rarely will specs advertise that a guitar has laminated body. Hint: if the specs don’t clearly state “solid” that’s their way of saying laminate. Look for rosewood on the back and sides of the body and ebony fretboard to be on the top models. Understand that the different wood combinations and quality of the wood all factor in the looks and tone of your guitar and ultimately affect the price.
The quality of electronics plays a major role too. For an acoustic guitar the components that make up the electronics are typically a preamp, the pickup or microphone, and input jack. Cheaper models have self manufactured electronics. You'll find higher end models have the finest pickup system from Fishman and L.R. Baggs. Be carful though, some makers using brand name electronics but offer bare minimum components. Many manufacturers will use an electronic system with the Fishman brand name that still offers cheaper components under the hood. The nicer electronic systems will offer multiple EQ controls, multiple pickups such as a mic and under saddle element (allowing you to blend the two), and quality input jack. You'll also find models will have a preamp with digital boards integrated in the system. Models like the Yamaha Trans-acoustic have Built-in Reverb and Chorus as well as a built in speaker mounted in the guitar. But, acoustic players like things simple. High quality acoustics will have simple or no electronics, allowing the acoustic guitar to produce a pure natural tone without the electronic elements getting in the way.
The Fishman Matrix Infinity Pickup System will cost you over $300 plus installation. You'll find this pickup factory installed on Martin Guitar models and many others.
If you look hard enough you’ll find the same pickup system on a $1000 guitar as on a $5000 guitar. Taylor guitars use the same ES-2 system for guitars ranging from their 200 series to 600 series. You’ll find the same L.R. Bagg VTC on a Gibson Hummingbird that is also found in the sub-$1000 Alvarez models. Many traditional Martin guitars will abstain from a pickup system keeping the tone traditional and purely acoustic but still fetching a $3000+ price tag.
So, quality of electronics will effect the cost of a guitar, but I find this mostly impacts the sub-$1000 guitars. A $1000 guitar loaded with a Fishman pickup system will feature a major upgrade than a $300 guitar loaded with a cheaper Fishman system. Yet, you’ll find the same Fishman system loaded in the $5000 guitar as the $1000 guitar. But, a finely crafted acoustic guitar just needs a good system without flash to simple produce a true authentic tone of the guitar.
Hardware and Tuners
There is not as much hardware on an acoustic guitar as an electric. But it is still a crucial factor. You will not find a locking tuners are many acoustic guitars. Mostly you’ll find more cosmetic differences such as Ivory or wood tuner heads in stead of plastic and of course a better tuner design and make. Nicer models will feature bone saddles and nuts or the nicer Graph Tech products compared to plastic materials are cheaper models. Nicer models will have other find details, such as wood binding and purfling, wood bridge pins, inlays, and other cosmetic upgrades. Cheaper models will use plastic parts are skip on these details.
Again, depending on the make and model you'll find these difference and other traditional models rely on the prestige and reputation to sell the guitar, those focusing on the manufacturing process.
Design and Manufacturing
A lot of cost difference come from factors that are not easily seen. Bracing is a huge contributor that effects the quality, durability, and tone of a guitar. Bracing that has a poor design and that lacks quality will be apparent in tone and structure of the guitar. If you’ve every seen your bridge pull up on your guitar and notice the top wood is not flat you know the difference between a high quality instrument and a low quality. But a guitar that has been properly braced will not only be structurally sound but have enhanced tone and projection.
Many Taylor models feature a sloped body for a more comfortable armrest. A addition that is appealing and practical.
Manufacture process is important do. How the wood is treated and condition before being used is a costly process and plays a huge part in the end product. Wood that has been properly aged and treated will provide a more stably and player friendly guitar than wood without. Of course guitars that have a greater attention to detail from hands on labor will shine than guitars design simply to be mass produced.
Labor and Process:
Yamaha uses A.R.E (Acoustic Resonance Enhancement) when producing their mid-tier and higher end models. Through precise control of temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure, the molecular properties of wood can be manipulated into a more acoustically ideal condition
As we have learned, labor is always going to be the main factor that drives up the cost for guitar. Whether it’s an electric guitar or acoustic guitar the results are the same. USA labor will be significantly more expensive than offshore factories. As discussed in the past, offshore factories are not necessarily inferior. Brands such as Gibson, PRS, and Fender put a great deal amount of effort and procedure to make sure their quality control is top tier for their import models. That includes providing state of the art factories and proper manufacturing techniques. Not to mention non-USA companies such as, Yamaha, Ibanez, and Takamine have shown their guitars are just as good, if not better, than USA brands. A lot of times, the USA made guitars are allowed to go through a more detailed process to ensure the prestige of the name.
As we see, their are many different factors that affect the cost of acoustic guitars. There are more than what we mentioned but we've covered the highlights. As a consumer, it's important to be educated to make sure we are getting a guitar that's worthy of the price tag. Whether you are paying for the name and prestige, exotic wood combinations, electronics, are combination of all, it's important to know what you are truly paying for when you make that next purchase. Hopefully, you'll be looking for these details the next time you pickup a guitar at your favorite music store.
Thanks for reading.