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People often ask, ‘How come this Stratocaster sells for $225 and this one sells for $2200?’ Or, ‘How come Epiphone’s Les Paul is so much cheaper than Gibson’s Les Paul?’

The short answer is differences in the quality of the components and materials, and differences in quality control. The quality of the wood used for the body and the neck can affect the price. Cheaper guitars use plywood bodies. More expensive guitars are made of solid wood pieces. Cheaper guitars also have cheaper paints, lacquers, and finishes. After all that, it’s just the difference between brand names.

The amount of quality control that goes into an instrument can have a big impact on the final price. Quality controls are an expensive pain in the neck for manufacturers. But added attention to detail has a marked effect on how the instrument feels and plays.

Cheaper guitars are produced with advanced automated manufacturing techniques. That allows manufacturers to produce a uniform product with a minimum of oversight. And that reduces costs.

Hardware and electronics are another difference between expensive and cheap guitars. There are different quality grades for tuners, bridges, pickups, pick guards, tremelo mechanisms and finishes.

Cheap guitars have gotten a lot better over the  years. Prices on budget guitars start at about $250 new, less if you get those same models used.  Competition between manufacturers and between retailers keeps prices on these guitars at just above cost.

Evaluating the quality of an electric guitar means looking at individual components. That is the body and neck, tuners, frets, pickups, electronics and hardware.

Then, when that is all said and done, the last consideration is the guitar’s playability. Your guitar’s playability has a lot to do with the set up, and with things that you can change your self, or have someone else change for you.

Many guitars, even expensive guitars, come from the factory with high frets. This creates scalloping and complicates tuning. If your guitar wont tune properly, this may be part of the problem.

Many players choose to start with an relatively inexpensive guitar, but one with a good neck and body. Later, they upgrade the pickups and hardware to create a custom guitar. This can be a good approach since it lets you choose what you want on your guitar, and it lets you space your investment out over time. You can play the guitar as is for a while before investing more money into it.

By the time you have made your upgrades, you have probably spent about as much as if you had bought a better guitar to begin with. This is true as long as your customizations don’t involve a lot of labor like refinishing or binding.

By getting the exact customizations that you wanted, one at a time, you take more time to decide what you want, and hopefully make better spending decisions.

Expensive Vs Cheap Guitars

Copyright 2001, 2012  by Greg Varhaug. All Rights Reserved.

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