Cheap vs. expensive guitars: four common misconceptions

Guitar Tricks Forum > Newsletter Articles > Cheap vs. expensive guitars: four common misconceptions

michellejohnston1963

Registered User

Joined: 05/31/15

Posts: 17

Love this article, I am a beginner, my son had a Alvarez acoustic I bought for him on his 14th birthday, he is now 22 he plays his electric Les Paul Epiphone or Jackson most times, so I decided I had always wanted to learn, that Alvarez was just sitting in the case, it is awesome, he says it sounds great still. I think back then I paid less than 250 dollars, so, for me, I do not mind it, I really did not have to spend any extra money! But, for my birthday in February, I am looking to pick up an electric acoustic, have been to a couple shops, playing to make up my mind. Something to look forward to!

#41

Love this article, I am a beginner, my son had a Alvarez acoustic I bought for him on his 14th birthday, he is now 22 he plays his electric Les Paul Epiphone or Jackson most times, so I decided I had always wanted to learn, that Alvarez was just sitting in the case, it is awesome, he says it sounds great still. I think back then I paid less than 250 dollars, so, for me, I do not mind it, I really did not have to spend any extra money! But, for my birthday in February, I am looking to pick up an electric acoustic, have been to a couple shops, playing to make up my mind. Something to look forward to!

john of MT

Full Access

Joined: 10/08/09

Posts: 1290

A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness,
but after that he begins to bunch them.
- H. L. Mencken

So it can be with guitars. :) Up until three or four years ago my 'good' guitar was one I bought 45 years ago for 30 bucks. On the other hand, it wasn't getting any playing time. ;)

My point about cheap vs. expensive is that a beginner is quite likely not going to have the experience to judge the sound quality of a guitar or know if it plays well/easily. Major brands, which generally command higher prices, can be trusted more than others to provide a good guitar, IMO. I believe this trust especially comes into play for instruments bought online without hearing or playing the guitar. This is not the best way to buy a guitar but I've read that well over half the guitars in the U.S. are so purchased.

FYI, before my 30 dollar guitar I started with a gosh-awful, hard-to-play axe that cost twice as much. So...y'all are right...sometimes cheaper is the better choice. :D
"It takes a lot of devotion and work, or maybe I should say play, because if you love it, that's what it amounts to. I haven't found any shortcuts, and I've been looking for a long time."
-- Chet Atkins

#42

A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness,
but after that he begins to bunch them.
- H. L. Mencken

So it can be with guitars. :) Up until three or four years ago my 'good' guitar was one I bought 45 years ago for 30 bucks. On the other hand, it wasn't getting any playing time. ;)

My point about cheap vs. expensive is that a beginner is quite likely not going to have the experience to judge the sound quality of a guitar or know if it plays well/easily. Major brands, which generally command higher prices, can be trusted more than others to provide a good guitar, IMO. I believe this trust especially comes into play for instruments bought online without hearing or playing the guitar. This is not the best way to buy a guitar but I've read that well over half the guitars in the U.S. are so purchased.

FYI, before my 30 dollar guitar I started with a gosh-awful, hard-to-play axe that cost twice as much. So...y'all are right...sometimes cheaper is the better choice. :D
"It takes a lot of devotion and work, or maybe I should say play, because if you love it, that's what it amounts to. I haven't found any shortcuts, and I've been looking for a long time."
-- Chet Atkins

john of MT

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Joined: 10/08/09

Posts: 1290

The vampire thread that won't die...

I usually argue for 'expensive' or band-name guitars. I believe there's a better chance of getting a quality guitar with good sound and playability. This is particularly important when buying by mail/shopping online which is a huge and growing portion of U.S. guitar sales. I know we all preach, 'try before you buy' but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants and it lives in an area with little availability (...see my hand raised? :D )

Personally, I'm not confident that; 1) I can hear the difference between brands or between guitars of the same brand and model and 2) I'm not confident I can detect subtle playability differences. That's why I have trusted to 'big brands'. I'm not a total fool...I realize that the same shortfalls I have for identifying a quality guitar could argue for a cheap guitar. But I went the other way and my stable of three, actively played expensive guitars is probably all I'm going to have for the long term.

But in support of the 'cheap' guitar side of the argument is this from Reverb.com; "In praise of cheap instruments" https://reverb.com/blog/in-praise-cheap-of-instruments-3-pros-discuss-their-appeal?_aid=newsletter&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=9f05aaa7ea-rn151121_contentgen&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5889ed6702-9f05aaa7ea-55421629&mc_cid=9f05aaa7ea&mc_eid=d9d2364688 .

Note; however, the first 'cheap' instrument discussed in the article is a Martin with a street price of nearly $1800 (which exceeds what I paid for my used 'expensive' Martin). 'Cheap' is relative...what you or I consider expensive may not be so considered by someone else. Sounds and playability are relative too...something the musicians in the article have the skill and experience to discern.
"It takes a lot of devotion and work, or maybe I should say play, because if you love it, that's what it amounts to. I haven't found any shortcuts, and I've been looking for a long time."
-- Chet Atkins

#43

The vampire thread that won't die...

I usually argue for 'expensive' or band-name guitars. I believe there's a better chance of getting a quality guitar with good sound and playability. This is particularly important when buying by mail/shopping online which is a huge and growing portion of U.S. guitar sales. I know we all preach, 'try before you buy' but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants and it lives in an area with little availability (...see my hand raised? :D )

Personally, I'm not confident that; 1) I can hear the difference between brands or between guitars of the same brand and model and 2) I'm not confident I can detect subtle playability differences. That's why I have trusted to 'big brands'. I'm not a total fool...I realize that the same shortfalls I have for identifying a quality guitar could argue for a cheap guitar. But I went the other way and my stable of three, actively played expensive guitars is probably all I'm going to have for the long term.

But in support of the 'cheap' guitar side of the argument is this from Reverb.com; "In praise of cheap instruments" https://reverb.com/blog/in-praise-cheap-of-instruments-3-pros-discuss-their-appeal?_aid=newsletter&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=9f05aaa7ea-rn151121_contentgen&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5889ed6702-9f05aaa7ea-55421629&mc_cid=9f05aaa7ea&mc_eid=d9d2364688 .

Note; however, the first 'cheap' instrument discussed in the article is a Martin with a street price of nearly $1800 (which exceeds what I paid for my used 'expensive' Martin). 'Cheap' is relative...what you or I consider expensive may not be so considered by someone else. Sounds and playability are relative too...something the musicians in the article have the skill and experience to discern.
"It takes a lot of devotion and work, or maybe I should say play, because if you love it, that's what it amounts to. I haven't found any shortcuts, and I've been looking for a long time."
-- Chet Atkins

JeremyRodriguez

Registered User

Joined: 11/23/13

Posts: 76

Nice article. On tuning, the worst thing is the Floyd Rose, especially if you get the cheaper version like what comes on the MH-350 FR (can't remember the exact name).

#44

Nice article. On tuning, the worst thing is the Floyd Rose, especially if you get the cheaper version like what comes on the MH-350 FR (can't remember the exact name).

bossfullyrigged

Registered User

Joined: 04/07/17

Posts: 1

i know so many folks who start out enthusiastic about learning to play guitar that end up quitting & all of them with the exception of a couple owned very inexpensive guitars. Ok I'm a late bloomer, started at 58. Yeah its one of the hardest things I've ever taken on & learning at my age with no musical background, it's a bitch. It would be easy to quit but I spent some money on my guitar thinking no way will I give up on what I've invested & so far it's working. It keeps me from throwing in the towel. While you guys talk about sound, looks, how good or bad the thing is built there is the aspect, you get out of something what you put into it. I know, not everyone can afford the tactic I used in my purchase but it deserves consideration. Ok, I own a Zager & a rainsong. Like the Zsger, love my rainsong. Keep up the good work everyone. Its there to be had, the music that is. Be well

#45

i know so many folks who start out enthusiastic about learning to play guitar that end up quitting & all of them with the exception of a couple owned very inexpensive guitars. Ok I'm a late bloomer, started at 58. Yeah its one of the hardest things I've ever taken on & learning at my age with no musical background, it's a bitch. It would be easy to quit but I spent some money on my guitar thinking no way will I give up on what I've invested & so far it's working. It keeps me from throwing in the towel. While you guys talk about sound, looks, how good or bad the thing is built there is the aspect, you get out of something what you put into it. I know, not everyone can afford the tactic I used in my purchase but it deserves consideration. Ok, I own a Zager & a rainsong. Like the Zsger, love my rainsong. Keep up the good work everyone. Its there to be had, the music that is. Be well

manXcat

Full Access

Joined: 02/17/18

Posts: 1288

Well done wildwoman1313! A 6 year old thread with recent replies. Laughed at the comment "Vampire thread that won't die".

Excellent thread starter post. Dented a few egos since I'll bet. Such is truth.

One of the best retorts I've heard to date to the guitar status snob came from a guy in his You Tube vid where he was playing a Squier Affinity Tele unpretentiously with a deal of demonstrated competence most here would envy just enjoying himself and sharing it with us.

In response to an intended deprecatory comment, he ever so politely and honestly replied, "I don't care about vintage this or vintage that or the whole game about guitars..I just play whether it was made on the Moon or cost $10 makes no difference, as long as it has six strings and is in tune I can make anything sound pretty good to my ear.", and finished by thanking the deprecator for his comment.

Style.

Because rather than the cost+margin of yore, so many things today are priced on demand gouge resistance point driven by a variety of things usually more to do with label status and marketing cool than outright quality, it's a chlallenge for the average guitarist let alone beginner to determine if a guitar's price point can be performance validated.

Unless one is a methaphorical zillionaire, in which case do indulge and let the starving children of the world look on, IMV I think there's a median suited to specific purpose both in price and component quality, especially pertinent to the amateur playing for their own personal enjoyment at home.

I couldn't afford or justify to myself an American built Fender Strat or Tele right now. More importantly, I don't need, or yet, lust after one. I'm not disparaging the brand or quality of their high end instruments. Just being honest with and true to myself.

And I kinda' like tinkering with my guitars too, which is part of the learning curve.

For instance as a second guitar, I bought a Yamaha PAC311H instead of a PAC611H not on price alone, although the PAC611 is still in the very (and my) affordable bracket, but because of the preferred aesthetic, design features, tone (of the 611, more on this in a moment) knowing that would meet my skill level and needs now yet offered upgradeability on a budget in the short to medium term future.

Hardware wise, they both have Alder bodies, the 311's painted in Vintage White which I favoured over the Quilted/Flamed Maple laminate surface of the 611. Neck profile, rosewood fingerboard, string width, frets and nut width are identical on both. I preferred the 311's plain silky satin neck both for functionality and aesthetics over the 611's varnished. They both have a Graphtech nut and Grover locking tuners, Graphtech headstock string guides and the same trussrod adjustment protocols.

The significant performance influencing differences are the 611's bridge has Graphtech stringsaver saddles over the conventional chromed steel of the 311, but importantly and here's the name brand price kicker, Seymour Duncan PUPs (P90 & TB-14 Trembucker) vs the 311's Korean G&Bs ' equivalents. Electronics under the bonnet otherwise are identical.

The 311's G&B P90 as fitted is actually is pretty darned impressive, a very close match for the SD P90 albeit with the G&B's treble when playing above the 12th fret marginally diminished. But you'd have to have Superman's ears so as to notice it in the mix.

The G&B humbucker OTOH is a bad match with the G&B neck P90, and compared with the SD TB-14 it is, ...underwhelming would be understatement. No problem.

Plan A was always out with the soldering iron, drop USD$79 on a SD TB-14 Trembucker for the bridge to give the 311H pretty much identical tones to the 611 getting the aesthetic and feel I wanted along with a couple of hundred dollars left in my pocket into the bargain, which although it wasn't the primary objective is a nice pickup for further GAS. Change left after buying the TB-14 for it paid for my Joyo pedalboard (quality Pedaltrain 2 Classic clone) and NUX Loop Core (Boss RC-3 clone) digital looper. If the 611 had been available in Vintage White, I probably would have just bought it instead, but the 311 serves the learning curve and I find the learning in upgrading through modifying very enjoyable. Not sure if I'll switch out the saddles for Graphtech yet. I'll see how it sounds first.

Anyway, just wanted to relate my experience in how I think a balance of spend, tone, aesthetic finish, feel, build quality and performance can all be achieved without needing to break the bank, whilst having a lot of fun doing so into the bargain. When it comes to my playing justifying something in the same vein but notably tone and quality improved over my PAC112V, not sure if I'll mod it with Grover tuners & Graphtech nut or just keep it as is as a beater and upgrade with a 612V. Probably the latter. I'll cross that tone and style bridge when I come to it.

Ain't it all fun!

#46

Well done wildwoman1313! A 6 year old thread with recent replies. Laughed at the comment "Vampire thread that won't die".

Excellent thread starter post. Dented a few egos since I'll bet. Such is truth.

One of the best retorts I've heard to date to the guitar status snob came from a guy in his You Tube vid where he was playing a Squier Affinity Tele unpretentiously with a deal of demonstrated competence most here would envy just enjoying himself and sharing it with us.

In response to an intended deprecatory comment, he ever so politely and honestly replied, "I don't care about vintage this or vintage that or the whole game about guitars..I just play whether it was made on the Moon or cost $10 makes no difference, as long as it has six strings and is in tune I can make anything sound pretty good to my ear.", and finished by thanking the deprecator for his comment.

Style.

Because rather than the cost+margin of yore, so many things today are priced on demand gouge resistance point driven by a variety of things usually more to do with label status and marketing cool than outright quality, it's a chlallenge for the average guitarist let alone beginner to determine if a guitar's price point can be performance validated.

Unless one is a methaphorical zillionaire, in which case do indulge and let the starving children of the world look on, IMV I think there's a median suited to specific purpose both in price and component quality, especially pertinent to the amateur playing for their own personal enjoyment at home.

I couldn't afford or justify to myself an American built Fender Strat or Tele right now. More importantly, I don't need, or yet, lust after one. I'm not disparaging the brand or quality of their high end instruments. Just being honest with and true to myself.

And I kinda' like tinkering with my guitars too, which is part of the learning curve.

For instance as a second guitar, I bought a Yamaha PAC311H instead of a PAC611H not on price alone, although the PAC611 is still in the very (and my) affordable bracket, but because of the preferred aesthetic, design features, tone (of the 611, more on this in a moment) knowing that would meet my skill level and needs now yet offered upgradeability on a budget in the short to medium term future.

Hardware wise, they both have Alder bodies, the 311's painted in Vintage White which I favoured over the Quilted/Flamed Maple laminate surface of the 611. Neck profile, rosewood fingerboard, string width, frets and nut width are identical on both. I preferred the 311's plain silky satin neck both for functionality and aesthetics over the 611's varnished. They both have a Graphtech nut and Grover locking tuners, Graphtech headstock string guides and the same trussrod adjustment protocols.

The significant performance influencing differences are the 611's bridge has Graphtech stringsaver saddles over the conventional chromed steel of the 311, but importantly and here's the name brand price kicker, Seymour Duncan PUPs (P90 & TB-14 Trembucker) vs the 311's Korean G&Bs ' equivalents. Electronics under the bonnet otherwise are identical.

The 311's G&B P90 as fitted is actually is pretty darned impressive, a very close match for the SD P90 albeit with the G&B's treble when playing above the 12th fret marginally diminished. But you'd have to have Superman's ears so as to notice it in the mix.

The G&B humbucker OTOH is a bad match with the G&B neck P90, and compared with the SD TB-14 it is, ...underwhelming would be understatement. No problem.

Plan A was always out with the soldering iron, drop USD$79 on a SD TB-14 Trembucker for the bridge to give the 311H pretty much identical tones to the 611 getting the aesthetic and feel I wanted along with a couple of hundred dollars left in my pocket into the bargain, which although it wasn't the primary objective is a nice pickup for further GAS. Change left after buying the TB-14 for it paid for my Joyo pedalboard (quality Pedaltrain 2 Classic clone) and NUX Loop Core (Boss RC-3 clone) digital looper. If the 611 had been available in Vintage White, I probably would have just bought it instead, but the 311 serves the learning curve and I find the learning in upgrading through modifying very enjoyable. Not sure if I'll switch out the saddles for Graphtech yet. I'll see how it sounds first.

Anyway, just wanted to relate my experience in how I think a balance of spend, tone, aesthetic finish, feel, build quality and performance can all be achieved without needing to break the bank, whilst having a lot of fun doing so into the bargain. When it comes to my playing justifying something in the same vein but notably tone and quality improved over my PAC112V, not sure if I'll mod it with Grover tuners & Graphtech nut or just keep it as is as a beater and upgrade with a 612V. Probably the latter. I'll cross that tone and style bridge when I come to it.

Ain't it all fun!