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View Diary: Buying an American-made guitar (286 comments)

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  •  Cheap guitars are better than they ever were. (20+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately, if you want American-made, you have to pay a premium. But there are awesome Asian guitars in the the $300-$600 range, much better than you could have gotten 35 years ago, when I started playing.

    •  True that (21+ / 0-)

      Chinese made instruments are remarkably better than even cheap American made instruments of a couple of decades back.  

      Most guitar playing is in the player, not the instrument. I've heard great players tear it up on cheapie Chinese Squiers. I've heard shit players still sound  like shit on gems from the custom shop.

      I play both American and non-American Fender telecasters. I must admit my Japanese made 1991 Tele is my best instrument, and I have a pre-CBS 1961 made in Fullerton.

      I  am all for buying American. But for less than $1000 you are probably better off in terms of value buying foreign made.

      PS- get your kid a Fender. It's making him play Gibsons that's the problem.... Just kidding!  But you can pry me Telecaster from my cold dead hands and you couldn't pay me enough to switch to a Les Paul. I cannot play that instrument.  It is so personal....

      •  I love my Fender MexiStrat... (10+ / 0-)

        ...but that Gibson will never be pried from my son's hands.

        My two previous guitars were a Squier Strat and an Epiphone SG. Both made in China. The Squier literally had parts falling off of it after six months. The Epiphone SG was decent but it was incredibly difficult to play and my left wrist would cramp up because of the way the neck was (I honestly don't know what was up with the neck).

        The MexiStrat is really nice, the frets could be a little smoother on the bottom of the neck, but it is so much easier to play. My wrist does not cramp up anymore.

        "Republicans only care about the rich" - My late Father (-8.25, -7.85)

        by Mark E Andersen on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:28:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'd venture a guess (4+ / 0-)

          that the neck on the SG may have been too small for you.  Most of the SG have very flat, thin necks, and they don't work well for a lot of players.

          Undecided voters are the biggest idiots on the planet. - Brian Griffin

          by Philpm on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:38:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I can play my son's Gibson SG... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            blueyedace2, Philpm, Aunt Pat, jds1978

            ...without issue...that Epiphone though just killed my wrist.

            "Republicans only care about the rich" - My late Father (-8.25, -7.85)

            by Mark E Andersen on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:44:08 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Sounds like they need adjustment (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Yankee Texan, KenBee

              spend the bucks to have the repairman or luthier do the adjustments.  Do you have the Allen wrenches for the strat?  The neck trussrod adjustment wrenches for the Gibson and clones?

              Check out for tons of info.

              "It's too LATE to stop now!" - John Lee Hooker

              by Rolfyboy6 on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:04:16 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  A truss rod adjustment (5+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                KenBee, am, 3rdOption, Da Rock, Philpm

                can make a world of difference in a stringed instrument, but needs to be done by someone who knows what he's doing.

                I'm more a banjo player than guitarist (one of those rare birds, a liberal bluegrass musician), but both my Gibson and my Chinese-made Recording King had identical neck-bow issues that needed tightening of the truss rod to fix.

                Import instruments don't get the TLC that higher-end domestic instruments do, but over the years any instrument can develop issues, wherever they made.

                I will say that the fretwork on my domestic instruments is much better than that of the imports.

                Orwell was an optimist.

                by Yankee Texan on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 10:53:41 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  liberal bluegrass players..uh oh... (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  am, 3rdOption, Philpm

                  it is weird tho isn't it, the bluegrass players I know out here in so cali are a mixed lot, but basically many working man dust bowl conservatives...yet the old time musicians, I know lots, they run dem center to very left of the dial sometimes, no repubs except for one lonely Romney voter that hangs out sometimes...but that's calif maybe..

                  Darryl House is a member here and plays in a bg band iirc..but not only california, but northern california, so....

                  This machine kills Fascists.

                  by KenBee on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 11:21:40 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I think it's worse (9+ / 0-)

                    in Texas. Here, it's really hard to find fellow progressives among bluegrassers, and some of them are ver-ry hard right. . . I wonder how many of them know that Ralph Stanley endorsed Obama in '08 and campaigned against Eric Cantor last year.

                    I don't want to impose Sharia law, I want to impose Poetic Justice.

                    by Yankee Texan on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 12:48:41 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  Still lots of conservative bluegrassers (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    are still around, but the music is changing rapidly. Really a lot of young folks in their 20's are taking up bluegrass, folk music and old-time music these days.

                    One of my favorite young bands is Crooked Still. These kids all came out of the Berkley School of Music and other Boston colleges, and they're as hot as a 2 dollar pistol.

                    An older bluegrass fan made the mistake of saying Boston wasn't a really a bluegrass town to their lead singer, a tiny girl named Aoife O'Donovan. I got to listen to her school the old guy up on the facts, and he left with his ears all afire. It was a perfect ending to a grand concert.

                    California, New York and Boston have always been bluegrass hotbeds. The notion that the music is only Southern has never been true.

                    And those kids are playing at a musical level that is far higher than at any time of the 50 years I've been playing.

                    Right many are called, and damn few are chosen.

                    by Idaho07 on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:51:32 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

          •  Absolutely correct. Which is why his son (0+ / 0-)

            finds it to be a "fast" guitar. Young kid, small hands.

            Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

            by bigtimecynic on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:35:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Hey! You need to add Paul Reed Smith (3+ / 0-)

          to your list.  Their higher end guitars are US-made, but their more affordable student edition (SE) line is foreign. Great guitars.

          Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

          by bigtimecynic on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:40:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I love my Mexistrat (0+ / 0-)

          The Squier, though, pretty much stinks, I bought one for my daughter (figuring if she didn't use it I'd have something I could keep in Open G for slide).  Now, I suspect if I dropped 3 bills to have it set up by someone who really knows what they're doing, it would be decent. But at that point I might as well buy a used Mexistrat which generally need little or no tweaking.

          Want a progressive global warming novel, not a right wing rant? Go to and check out New World Orders

          by eparrot on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 06:01:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Fender Japan made great axes. (12+ / 0-)

        I had a reissue 1969 Tele Thinline that I am still sorry to have sold-any guitar player knows that feeling.

        I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

        by SherwoodB on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:29:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ah ha! (7+ / 0-)

          My baby is a Japanese Thinline reissue, so I know exactly w what you mean. My best guitar, period.

          I'm just teasing about Gobsons. They always had better craftsmanship than Fender. Always.

          I just find their designs less playable.

          Note the totally different playing positions in the diary pictures. Wearing a Fender low like that changes your technique substantially from wearing an SG on your belly.

        •  There are nice Korean guitars as well. (8+ / 0-)

          While I play more high end guitars I picked up a Korean made Hamer Sunburst Arch Top model a few years ago (actually a goldtop) which is a very nice guitar for $350. Eventually I changed out the Duncan designed pickups but I compared some of the workmanship to Gibson Les Pauls at the time and the binding on this guitar was better put down than some of those that cost 6 times that much!

          Actually, Gibson has had a lot of inconsistencies over the years even on higher end models. I have a beautiful 1958 VOS Reissue which despite being one that sounded really great has a couple small issues (like a little overspray on the binding on the neck) that I chose to overlook because I liked it so much despite flaws that I shouldn't see in a guitar at that price.

          Still, overall my experience is there are lots of good starter guitars out there, but it's true that they usually come from overseas. The fact is, if someone has stuck with it for a year or so with a cheap guitar you probably will need to spend at least $350 - $500 minimum new or used for the next step up. But then you have a wealth of decent choices. Labor costs make it hard to do in America, even with CNC machines and a lot of mechanical stuff. There is always going to be a fair amount of hand work done on a guitar.

        •  Japanese Strats are revered -- in Japan (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          KenBee, JohnB47, 3rdOption, ubertar

          I suppose every country has a certain home team feeling about their own products.  I popped into a guitar store during a trip to Japan a few years ago.  Just like we have "USA made" as a big selling point for American guitars -- the guitar store in Japan had big "Made in Japan!" banners -- in English -- by their Japanese Strats.

        •  I think the original Squires were Japanese (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          made weren't they?

          Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

          by bigtimecynic on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:36:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, they were. (0+ / 0-)

            The first ones were the Bullets, which were originally made in the US, as a student model. Those were Fender Bullets. Then they moved production to Japan, with the Squier label. That's ier, not ire. IIRC, they were a string company up until then.

            The early Squires are very good instruments-- a lot of people consider them better than Fenders from the same time period (mid 80s). I have a SQ series Squier Bullet with a fantastic neck, and an E series Squier strat that's better than any strat I've played.

            "While" is a perfectly good word. "Whilst" just sounds pretentious, unless you speak British english.

            by ubertar on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 02:05:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Da Rock's Rule of Thumb (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Never sell any instrument .... you will always regret it someday.

          I can name many ..... sniff.

          Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. Frank Zappa

          by Da Rock on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 07:22:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, the Japanese Fenders are very well made. (8+ / 0-)

        You don't seem many of them in the US anymore, most are for the Japanese market.

        The Fender factory in Japan originally made Fender knock-offs back in the 70's. Eventually the knockoffs were better than the originals, and Fender went ahead and bought the Japanese factory.

      •  At one point... (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Philpm, SherwoodB, palantir, Keith930, KenBee

        I had both a Mexi-Tele and an Epiphone SG. Different tools for different jobs. Had to quit playing a few years back due to rheumatoid arthritis.

        No one knows what it's like, To be the bad man, To be the sad man, behind blue eyes....

        by blueyedace2 on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:34:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I know what that's like too Ace... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greenbird, SherwoodB, suzq

          brother, my I still play but dam!

          I know a great fingerpicking anything fella that lost all his left fingers, woodworking, ugh... and after a year of moping started to play in house with us jammers until he was good enough to play in public again...on steel guitar and dobro....he sounded great and still does, steel gripped by the last joints on his little finger. He still had all; the perfect finger picking abilities in his right hand, so bam!
            The human have converted to photos..a different kind of music that.

          This machine kills Fascists.

          by KenBee on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 11:30:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Case in point is Danelectro (6+ / 0-)

        Originally based in New Jersey, Danelectro produced Guitar amps for famous brands such as Fender, Gibson et al and then, at the urging of their partners Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, went into the budget guitar business producing Silvertone for Sears and their own brands for others.

        Never the best, but always unique, cheap and available, and the first guitar of many greats.

        Fast forward 50+ years and the brand went first to Korea, realizing some improvements, and then China, eventually redesigning some parts to improve them, with many players saying they are better than ever. And notably, they produce some of the unique and specialized parts in China with original or better quality.

        It really depends on the company objectives; do they go wherever just to make things as cheap as possible, or to make good things for a lower price producing value? Often the first, but doesn't have to be that way.

        Another case is Pearl Drums. A very few specialized and expensive items are still made in Japan, while most of the production is in Taiwan and China, organized around instrument type but with excellent quality produced  everywhere.

        Fine, handmade instruments can be made whoever people have the will to do so and will never be as cheap as mass production.

        But for getting to a certain price point, labor will certainly factor at some point

        However, to say this or that country is good or bad is a bit ridiculous; plenty of crappy stuff is made in the USA and elsewhere. Same for the good.

        When Danelectro produced cheap instruments in New Jersey they were never handmade custom Les Pauls, and sill aren't. But they manage to sell out production to a nice fan base who swear by the design for what it is, a funky hollow body electric with a unique pick-up design and series wiring.

        400ppm : what about my daughter's future?

        by koNko on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:14:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Danelectro's Montgomery Ward brand (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Philpm, Rolfyboy6, KenBee, koNko, 3rdOption

          It was Airline. I occasionally spot them in used instrument stores.

          •  Making them rarer, I think (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Just curious, but is the price more than a Silvertone? Logically, based on collectable value, might be.

            In fact, one problem now is some instrument value is so high as a collectable that they are treated more as investment or status symbol than a musical instrument and but out of reach of most players.

            And then there was the flood in Nashville that wiped-out 100 million worth of fine instruments in storage, making the remainder that much more rare.

            400ppm : what about my daughter's future?

            by koNko on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 03:38:53 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I just checked eBay (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              3rdOption, koNko

              Went to and searched for "airline guitar", and they're running from $500 to $2,500.

              If you're a collector, you might want to check out this one:
              VERY unusual instrument

              However, the majority of the instruments that turn up in the search are Korean-made copies made by a company called Eastwood. I never would have thought when I was looking at these things in the Montgomery Ward catalog that these guitars would ever be considered valuable enough to copy.

      •  Japanese Teles always seem to play well (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Philpm, SherwoodB

        It's my favorite control instrument to try out an amp if I don't have one of my own handy. Pickups sometimes lack punch but that's easily fixed.

      •  I disagree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        My first guitar (16 years ago) was an Ibanez Rx 40. It was inexpensive but played well enough for me and made a great learner's guitar. Since then I have owned an Aria Pro II semi-hollow body archtop, an Epiphone Les Paul w/ goldflake finish, and a Fender Telecaster.

        I currently own  a Danelectro LP copy (gift), a Rogue Acoustic (cheap), a Rogue mandolin (cheap), an Ibanez Artcore Semi-hollowbody (used), a Fender DG-8 acoustic (used),  an Alvarez strat copy (used), an Epiphone Explorer (used), and an Epiphone Les Paul Custom (used).

        The reality is that new guitars made overseas and mass produced (the kind you buy from Guitar Center of Sam Ash) feel cheap. light, and have a strange plasticity to them.

        Older foreign guitars, even just 4 or 5 years old, have a much more solid feel. As a result, I only buy used guitars now - even those built in Japan, Mexico, or China - if they have a higher quality feel to them and the price is right.

        I'm not currently in the market for an American-made guitar, but if one came along that was used and in decent shape/price, I would definitely buy it.

    •  Exactly, stegro. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      stegro, blueyedace2, Philpm, jabney

      Ibanez in particular makes great guitars on the low end, especially their hollow body models.

      I have owned a bunch of high end jazz boxes and now own an Ibanez AG95D. Though it can't really match the quality of the best of the best (at least one off the high end axes was a turkey), it is AMAZINGLY good and if something happens to it I can get another one without going into hock.

      I'm not paranoid, I'm just well informed--SherwoodB

      by SherwoodB on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:25:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is very true (6+ / 0-)

      I have only owned one American-made guitar, and I've been through several.  I currently own an Epiphone Dot (Chinese), a Washburn mini-jumbo acoustic (also Chinese), and an Epiphone Thunderbird bass (Indonesian).  I've also had in the past a Schecter (first guitar, I believe made in Japan), an Epiphone ET-290 (early 70's Japanese model), a Mexi-Strat, a Squier Affinity Tele (Chinese), an SX Vintage Series Tele (Chinese), and a Peavey Patriot Bass (my only American made one).  Out of all of these, the worst build quality was the Schecter, and even it wasn't horrible, it just had terrible pickups, as did an Epiphone SG I had for a short time.  Honestly, the ones I have now are damn good quality for the ridiculously small amount of money I've spent on them.  I'd love to have a Carvin, Gibson, or some of the nicer custom built acoustics like a Bourgeois or a Huss and Dalton, but those are going to have to wait until I'm a lot better than I am now.

      Undecided voters are the biggest idiots on the planet. - Brian Griffin

      by Philpm on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 07:37:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You can't get far on 37 dollars and a Jap guitar (4+ / 0-)

      Cause he gets up in the morning, And he goes to work at nine, And he comes back home at five-thirty, Gets the same train every time.

      by Keith930 on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 08:21:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I bought my daughter a Washburn acoustic (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, itsjim, suzq

      made in China (in the $300 range probably 10 years ago or so) and it sounds great and is easy to play. I like it almost as much as my Martin D-16.

      No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

      by badger on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:25:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You have to know what to look for (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      My first banjo, bought back in 1979 or so, was a piece of junk that was better suited to its original purpose of serving as a decoration on someone's wall. (I've heard these called "banjo shaped objects")

      I've since learned things to watch out for when buying an inexpensive instrument, like lumpy varnish, cheap tuners or globs of glue. And nothing beats sitting down with an instrument and playing it to see how it responds to you (which is why I don't buy instruments online).

      But if you keep your eyes open and do your due diligence, you might be able to get a decent instrument at a good price.

      Steal a trillion, too big to fail. Steal a thousand, go to jail.

      by Omir the Storyteller on Sun Jul 07, 2013 at 09:51:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I am in the market for an intermediate acoustic (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      guitar, and all reviews I read are fairly unanimous that in the $200-$300 range, Yamaha acoustics (700 series) are the best you can buy. You have to go double price that to find a competitor's guitar that matches the tonal and build quality of the Yamaha. They are made in Yamaha's factory in Indonesia.

      This may be a rare exception where I buy Asian over American only because American-made acoustic guitars are VERY expensive, and as a beginner acoustic player (although I play electric) I can't justify laying out that kind of cash in case I don't stick with it. Maybe in a few years I'll buy a Martin, but not now.

      Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

      by bigtimecynic on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:34:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Check out Seagulls... (4+ / 0-)

        Canadian made, I bought mine about 15 years ago for about $250.  Great guitar, not sure if they still sell for that price...

        In order not to believe in evolution you must either be ignorant, stupid or insane-- Richard Dawkins

        by sandav on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 05:53:36 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Heard great things about Seagull, but they are (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          3rdOption, sandav

          about twice the price of a comparable Yamaha. Still Canadian made.  I may bite the bullet and go for the Seagull yet. In this price range it is really the best alternative to the Yamaha, but like I said, 50% - 100% more in price. MY guess is they probably hold their resale value better since they are less common. Thanks for the suggestion.

          Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

          by bigtimecynic on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 06:07:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My one impression is that Seagull is a great... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            bigtimecynic, sandav

   Or at least was.

            I bought one of their acoustics, when I wasn't planning on buying a guitar. It was new, in a local shop, and I tried it, just fooling around. It had a deep rich resonance which I was not expecting from a $350 guitar. I bought it on the spot.

            Fast forward, and I began to notice that the intonation was not great. The E string, when fretted, was way sharp. About a year later, I decided to contact the factory and ask about how to fix it.

            The guy at the factory told me it was out of warranty, but told me to ship it to them anyway. They shaved the bridge to adjust the intonation (fixed it), and when I got it, the guy at the factory called me to scold me about how I had been taking care of it.

            It turns out, leaving your acoustic in its case is not optimum. You leave it out, on a stand, in front of a stereo speaker (best) or television speaker (ok), but not in direct sunlight or near a heater vent. The vibrations from the music causes the guitar to sit there and vibrate, and apparently, that causes the wood to settle and "cure" and helps the guitar develop more character in its resonance as it ages, faster than if you left it in its case and this only happened while you played it.

            Anyway, a very nice guitar for a great price, and superlative customer relations.

        •  I second the Seagull... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sandav, 3rdOption

          I had one that I sold a few years ago when I realized that I could no longer play due to RSI.  It was quite easy to play and had a pretty good tone.  Laminate back and sides, solid top.

          It was not as nice as an acoustic that I had before, a Larrivee, which was just a beautiful instrument with beautiful tone and a wonderful neck which was incredibly easy to play.  Of course that was a $2K guitar 30 years ago, but I liked it better than the Martins I tried.  And now it is the only guitar played in space!

          I was thinking about getting another instrument a few years ago and tried the Yamahas in your price range and the action just felt heavy compared to the Seagull -- save your pennies and get the nicer guitar.

      •  Art and Lutherie (0+ / 0-)

        Canadian made, not US but man, these are sweet guitars.  Someone gave me one to play at a jam camp and I didn't even get my Martin out of the case.  Reminded me of the DM -OO15 made by Martin, but with a bigger bass range and such a  smooth action. Lovely tones,  I want one...not that I need a another guitar, but at $350.00, it would be a pity not to have one.  The cherry maple finish is gorgeous.

        Energy is neither created nor destroyed; it only changes form.

        by SME in Seattle on Mon Jul 08, 2013 at 08:08:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  well paid (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3rdOption, jds1978

      This is where the author lost me.  On on hand we want cheap things.  On the other hand we want everyone to be well paid. To some extent this can happen by increasing efficiency, but really well paid means more expensive.  So if we want well paid Americans workers, we have to pay the premium

      I did one gig in manufacturing.  There was no way to compete on price.  Workers were paid extremely well, the only higher paying jobs in the area were oil bit manufacturing, and were given profit sharing and benefits. Managers lamented the days when the work was less skilled and they could just choose 40 people from those waiting outside.  In any case the firm survived by making better products and not competing of price, which was impossible.  Of course prices had to be reduced, so we bought machinery that allowed one person to do the work of four.

    •  I rebuilt my MexiStrat (0+ / 0-)

      Lots of people believe in spending the money once and buying the right guitar out of the gate, instead of buying the wrong guitar and then the right guitar. That's a perfectly fair way to look at things and probably applies to a lot of people who start with cheap instruments.

      I'm a little different, because what I want doesn't exist and I want to have something unique. So I started with a MexiStrat, but most of the parts are gone. New pickups (handwound in California by a great guy named Bryan Gunsher), new electronics, new hardware... everything but wood and frets.

      I guess at the end of the day there's something I like more than American made, and that's made by ME.

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