Why are Guitars so Expensive?

I must overhear this comment, or have been asked it many, many times now, for well over 20 years. I’m a little unsure as to what they are really asking, but feel it must be either something to do with why pay £1000 or £2000 for a guitar when you can buy an imported copy for only £100/200/300? – Or are they saying, guitars are expensive and other instruments are not? – I’m therefore going to make comments regarding these two issues.

Guitars are expensive and other instruments are not – In my opinion, this is one big myth!!! – Lets look at this assumption and compare the costs of some other musical instruments :-

As with any musical instrument, the market place commences with student, starter grade instruments, heavily mass produced and generally built to a price – This then leads into the intermediate category were improvements to build quality and components will produce a better playing and sounding instrument – Then we come into the more serious and professional end of the market, were quality and performance are the key ingredients, and cost cutting is not on the agenda – I’m making comparisons on the following instruments, purely and simply from a price perspective, of how much is required to be spent to buy the instrument – I’m not making judgement as to the different levels of craftsmanship and materials involved in making the different instrument – wow !!! that can be a novel in its own rights.

The starting price for a student flute will be around £200, with a silver plated model complete with solid head, body and foot joint costing in excess of £3000 – Finally the top of the range Muramatsu solid silver flute (with approved hallmark) costing in excess of £6000 – Spending £2500 to £6000 is often required to buy an instrument serious enough for a concert grade musician playing solo, ensemble or orchestral work – Even the cost of upgrading a good intermediate flute so that it now has a hand made solid head joint would cost in the region of £800.

Similarly £3000 would only buy you an entry level Bassoon, a more serious example costing around £12,000, but don’t think that is the upper limit – In excess of £20,000 will be required for a premium grade example – A student grade saxophone would start at £400 with £2000+ required to buy the finest example from Yamaha or Selmer – And remember that as many saxophonist are required to play alto and tenor, then you can double your capital outlay.

Buying an oboe will cost £1000 for an entry level/student model, with £2000-£3000 buying you a more serious example – A Yamaha grand piano starts in the region of £5000, with top of the range models from the likes of Steinway costing similar prices to a Porsche or Ferrari.

Even a drummer would spend in the region of £1000, just for a basic set of Zildjian cymbals, comprising hi-hats, ride, 2/3 crash and a splash cymbal – Whilst a seasoned professional drummer would easily have a complete drum kit package in excess of £3500, with a large rock kit costing 2 or 3 times that figure

A child learning to play violin, by the time they have progressed to grade 8 or music college, would be spending in the region of £1000 to £2000 – A concert grade violinist can quite easily spend £10,000 – £20,000 and above for a good violin and even in excess of £4000 for a good bow – Finally violins can quite easily be seen for sale costing over £100,000 and we are not even talking the cost of a Strad.

So we guitarist don’t do bad when we’ve spent £1000-£3000 on a premium grade guitar from the likes of PRS, Tom Anderson or Custom Shop models from Fender or Gibson – Also when you realise that this guitar will appreciate in price over the years, and if cared for, will provide you a life times worth of fun – I’m not saying that we can all afford £1000 or £3000 and that we should all spend that type of money on a guitar – I’m sure that the large majority of customers, will be saving for many weeks to buy this grade of instrument.

WHY SPEND £1000, OR MORE ON A GUITAR, WHEN A COPY IS AVAILABLE FROM £100 – £300

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this – Those who are already converted, will know were I’m coming from, whilst those who won’t understand, or don’t want to understand, will probably always stick with their £300 copy – Plus there will be many crossover discussions and view points in other articles, later on, within this web site

Have a quick look at the guitars on display in a store – At a quick glance a £100 Strat copy looks the same shape, colour and spec as a £2500 Custom Shop Strat – So what is the difference???? – Let’s first have a quick look at a similar scenario – Go into any hardware store and look at a drill – They all resemble the same shape and look like they would do the same job – So why does any self respecting joiner not use a Black and Decker ?? – This is the equivalent of a Squier – Now look at the screwdrivers – Again the self respecting joiner will not be seen buying the ’10 screwdriver package’ that is probably made of monkey metal for £10 – It still looks like a Stanley screwdriver, but it will not do the job, and will not last more than a few minutes other than to screw on a cable to a 13 amp mains plug

Any customer thinking of upgrading from a £300 copy, to spending £1000 or £2000 and is unsure as to what the difference is just from looking at the guitar, and is confused as to what does the extra money buy you – Simply plug it in, play it, listen to it – What you hear, feel and touch is your answer – Play it for 20 minutes or so, then go back to your cheaper copy and see if that will deliver the same kind of performance.

The tone you hear, is delivered from using quality woods, pickups designed for optimum performance and hardware that is not cheap monkey metal – There are many other factors involved, all of which help to deliver a superior product, but wood, pickups and hardware are just three of the key ingredients.

The playability is delivered simply by build quality, craftsmanship and attention to detail, all to ensure that a superior product is built without compromise – All budget guitars however, are built to a compromise, and the objective is to deliver the best product at that price – That price therefore determines the quality of components and any time, (if any) spent on setting up the guitar – This is not the case for a premium grade instrument – I sometimes hear comments like Gary Moore (or whichever guitarist they choose) could play a budget copy and still sound good – Well I know for a fact he could play a budget copy better than I could play his Gibson, but that is down to his immense talent, not the instrument – Plus I know which he would still rather play – The budget copy might well offer outstanding value, for around the £200 mark, but will not deliver the performance required in comparison to his Gibson

The same applies to Tiger Woods – He could putt better at the British Open with a crazy golf putter from the local park, better than I could with his putter – Again which do you see him use – Finally I am sure that Schumacher could drive around Silverstone quicker in a Skoda than I could in his Ferrari – However which do you think he would rather use.

The point is that their talent will still allow them to do a better than average job, with poor tools – However they still need the best products to deliver the optimum performance required.

I could spend hours, typing out why a £300 guitar is vastly inferior to a premium grade instrument, and as time allows, I might well add further updates – For now, I’ll conclude that you do get what you pay for – The £300 copy is only a budget instrument and a stepping stone to a superior model!!!!!