Expensive vs Cheap guitar? What makes it better?

August 2019 is the first KVR Guitar Month so here's a new forum for discussion of all things guitar!
70 posts since 19 Mar, 2016

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 9:43 am

Hey, I noticed there are really expensive guitars, like ESP standards that retail 2000$ 3000$, then they have a brand called ESP LTD that retails 500$ to 1000$, then even cheaper ones that start 100$

Right now I have a 100$ guitar, I realize it goes out of tune a lot and I have fret buzz on it, maybe open strings and 12th strings arn't fully in tune. but I replaced the pickups with good pickups and am learning on it.

Would playing on one of these 2000$ guitars be a world of difference? What about "sound" does my 100$ guitar with the same pickups produce vastly inferior sound to the 2000$ guitar?

I'm trying to understand why these are so expensive, it can't just all be for looks and feel, it must sound better too.

In the reviews I seen quotes like these
"WOW, amazing guitar, very modern sound! 1000x better then my (500$) guitar, plays like a rocket out of box, if you never tried it before your missing out"

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addled muppet weed
86220 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 10:34 am

at a certain point, it becomes about a bit of "ooh look at me" really.
the more expensive guitars are often hand made, by a team of not so many.
every component is hand picked and tested, in the case of prs, the final inspection used to be (might still be) by paul himself, and he would sign it.

then, a lesser price, will be still hand made, bigger team in a factory somewhere, final stage is inspection by someone trained by who ever...

then, the 100 or so guitars, put together in massive factories on a conveyor belt, rarely finished by hand (that would take them up a level) and are often, not always, cheaper woods, components and such.

however, not all of that is always true.
eg, my fave guitar, is my cheap ass sg epiphone copy, i love how it plays, it feels lovely in my hands.
ive tried the just over a grand gibson version of the same guitar, didnt feel so silky smooth :shrug:

youre better off learning on a cheap one to start, you may not enjoy guitar, and if its going to be ignored after a few weeks, why spend money?
then, after youve battled to learn on a bad neck, with high action, you know a few chords...
you go and try a few a little bit dearer...

and so on, earning them as rewards for keeping at it.
dont buy the most expesive one in the shop before you can even play a track ;)

206 posts since 8 Sep, 2005 from Seattle

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 10:55 am

Just a note here, some of the issues you’re discussing with your current cheap guitar may be easy to correct with adjustments and proper setup procedures. Even the most expensive guitar will have tuning and intonation issues if not setup and used correctly.

I can’t speak to what difference these thousands of dollars can make in a guitar - I don’t have an expensive one. What I can say is many people have made music I love with unremarkable guitars. For myself, I’ll never drop thousands on a guitar until I’m good enough a player to know exactly why I’m getting what I’m getting.
Last edited by mjudge55 on Sun Jul 04, 2021 10:55 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Boss Lovin' DR
9222 posts since 15 Mar, 2002 from the grimness of yorkshire

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 10:55 am

As above, it's diminishing returns the more expensive you get.

At the lower end, paying a bit more (and sticking to reliable manufacturers) does pay a dividend - e.g. something like a Yamaha Pacifica, whilst still relatively cheap, has a reputation as good, no-nonsense, reliable guitar with a decent tone. In very cheap instruments it's a bit of a lottery as to how good the quality control is, and also the standard of things like pickups, tuners etc. Paying just a bit more is usually worth it. I've got a little Squier Mustang which was only about £110, and I love playing it over some of the more fancy ones.

4567 posts since 21 Sep, 2005

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 12:55 pm

Last edited by codec_spurt on Wed Oct 13, 2021 3:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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4329 posts since 15 Nov, 2006 from Hell

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 2:28 pm

I have three guitars. Let's call them A, B and C. A was three times the price of B, and B is a mid tier guitar (so think €500 vs €1500), while C was at entry level pricing (so €200).

The C guitar was bought used and not in great condition, and I had plenty of work done on it: I replaced the nut, refretted it with stainless steel, straightened out the neck, put locking tuners in, replaced all electronics and swapped pickups too, because the ones it had were muddy and anemic. It plays great now, but it took a lot of effort (and money!) to get it where I wanted it to be, and it still has issues.

The B I got new, and it was unplayable out of the box. I did a set up, put some nut sauce where it needs to go, and also had to file the nut to stop tuning issues from happening. It plays great now, and it took way less effort to get it going than C guitar, although I'm still planning further work (stainless steel refret, treble bleed, stuff like that).

The A guitar was my first. We literally spent five minutes in the store and walked out with that guitar because a salesman recommended it. I spent ten years playing just this guitar. It never even crossed my mind to change anything with it, because it was perfect out of the box. It never had any issues and is still going strong, fifteen years later, and all I ever done to it was standard setup stuff and things like getting harder whammy bar springs because I wanted to go up a string gauge, and routine maintenance like fret replacements. The nut was filed so precisely and perfectly out of the box that I literally never had to touch it, ever. And it has all the good stuff - graphite nut, locking tuners, high fret access, great pickups, coil spkits, etc.

Make of that what you will.
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6819 posts since 31 Aug, 2013 from Down the Withywindle

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 4:25 pm

Less likely to have to deal with shitty tuners, nut cut, crappy electronics/pups. More likely to make me want to play it more. My most expensive of my electrics are in the €1200 range, and they're both on a different level than Artcores or cheaper. I tried to find 'best bang' guitars, problem was, I didn't feel like playing them and they got tucked under beds or in some cobwebby corner. My hands can tell when there's a quality guitar in them, much like a Ranger of the North can a blade. :)
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
Upton Sinclair.

704 posts since 9 Aug, 2018

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 8:45 pm

There’s some degree of luck involved with any guitar, really. So, your best bet is always to play the specific individual instrument in question, at a store, or at the current owner’s house, etc.

That said, on average, keeping in mind the diminishing returns mentioned upthread, spending more will get you more guitar. And therefore, less work to be done, and ironically enough, money to be spent, to make it sound good and play well.

Some people clearly see guitars as “projects”. I don’t. Many players don’t. It’s fine of course if you do - legit, and I have a lot of respect for those skllls, that knowledge, that dedication. It’s just not for me.

With that in mind, I’ve only bought “midrange” and up guitars .. without ever spending literally thousands on a single one. All of them have played great straight away, no fixes required, and I’ve liked the sound of every one.

The sweet spot (minimum amount to get “something decent”) probably varies a bit from country to country, I imagine. Around here, $500-600 should do it (that’s AUD). So maybe $375-450 in USD? Assuming that translates over there. For example, that could get me a new Ibanez RG421G. Looks fine. Would prefer to play before buying, but it’s likely a guitar I could grab and play, without worrying too much about anything.

6182 posts since 20 Jan, 2008

Post Sun Jul 04, 2021 8:52 pm

I dunno.

I'll say this, cheap guitars (for the most part) have come along way. The playability and responsiveness can also go a longer way in musical development because you can "feel it more" Epi's and cheaper Gibson's always fall short with me. The neck profile, setup and the shape, the woods and the pups. Though I do agree that price isn't always a direct reflection of quality. My CiC fender telecaster has amazing fit tuning stability and finish. The tone is atrocious. My MIM fender tele has better pups but the workmanship is failing. I can say similar things about my indonesian Jackson Dinky and MIM Charvel Pro Mod.

It starts with the wood. Basswood is selectively warm like mahogany but lacks the attack. Basswood is more "thuddy/muddy" Then there is the overall wiring not just the pups. Then there is the workmanship. All guitars are built to a price point. All guitar manufacturers try to structure guitar sales based on price points. It's rarely equal. Yes one pays a lot for status with little actual benefit added on.

Can a cheap guitar be fun? Yes, many a guitarist has "stayed true" to the identity locked into the guitar. Bruce Springsteen made millions and didn't upgrade his guitars to more expensive ones.
Bruce Springsteen wrote:I strapped on my new guitar, a 1950s mutt with a Telecaster body and an Esquire neck, I’d purchased at Phil Petillo’s guitar shop for one hundred and eighty five dollars. With its wood body worn in like the piece of the cross that it was, it became the guitar that I’d play for the next 40 years. It was the best deal of my life.
As a collector buying guitars is almost never about need. It's mostly want. That being said want can go a long way.

Eric Clapton’s first guitar was a German-made Hoyer. A Spanish-style acoustic, it had steel strings and cost about 2 pounds (Great Britain). His grandparents purchased it for him. Eric put it aside for a time as it was difficult to play.

Eric Clapton's first electric guitar was a double cutaway Kaye which was a clone of a Gibson ES335. Eric, with financial assistance from his grandparents, purchased it for 100 pounds in 1962.

As soon as he could earn enough money he went on to a 1963 Telecaster because that's what his hero Muddy Waters played.

Playability matters, inspiration matters.

I play jazz, classic rock, hair band rock and some blues. But mostly jazz.
I've got a 17 inch deep body jazz box.
A 16 inch standard jazz box.
A 14 inch jazz box (in need of repair)
And a shallow chambered (not semi-hollow) double cut away jazz guitar.
While I could play most rock and blues on them I choose only to play jazz. Each has it's own unique character and while any could be used for most jazz some bring out the best in certain standards. While I'm not above playing jazz on a telecaster it just doesn't cut it with a "hairband" solid body.

None are especially expensive. All are of good build quality and playable. They make for great eye candy/wall art and present a curio that engages visitors. When you have an expensive guitar you are generally expected to play at a level that justifies it's purpose. I'd love a hand crafted luthier built jazz guitar.
Like a Victor Baker
Or a Benedetto
Or a Daniel Slaman

These things are leagues beyond the best that Gibson or Heritage ever put out. And cost outrageous amounts of money. Could I ever afford one... Not unless I won the lottery. Instead I'm left with making the most of what I have. And that starts with my brain and my hands.
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5752 posts since 22 Jan, 2005 from Sweden

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 5:44 am

If to describe it I'd say that choice of wood for a more expensive guitar create a more firm and rich tone. But depending on type of music/sound you go for might not make a difference that you notice anyway - depending on experience.

I had Korea Gibsons(Epi) that I pimped up with everything even Gibson pickups. But tone does not compare in fullness to LP Standard I have. Just playing acoustically and bluesy tone I would certainly notice - but heavily trash distorted much less so.

I have Squire Tele and American Tele - same thing.

But still - budget brands may give you an individual that plays real nice - but that is luck. They would be more uneven in manufacturing in general. But pimping it with better pickups and such can really make a difference electrically - and real fun to do.

For acoustic guitars there are so many more parameters that makes a big difference - always play around in stores to find one that "speaks" to you. I have a $700 Recording King RP1 that I love both in tone and playability(put a KKsound Pure mini glued inside guitar under saddle). My experice told me that most built in eletronic mike systems unless Taylor sucks. I found a great sounding Yamaha but they put this simple piezo in there and electronics that just add weight( about 0.5 kg) to it.

6182 posts since 20 Jan, 2008

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 7:01 am

With jazz boxes the better ones have the back, soundboard and the bracing "Tuned" rather than simply carved to fit.

This is the failing of Gibson's / Epi's of the last 40 plus years. They make the top sides and backs too thick for the notes to resonate. Gibson states they do it for stability/integrity. The "Formed" guitars lack the harmonic overtones and warmth. What you get is a dull waxy compressed tone. Even the Joe Pass suffers from it. Maple sides and back with spruce top won't save the dullness.

On the other hand dedicated contemporary hand built buy luthier jazz boxes can sound far superior to those dating from the 1930's onward.
Synapse Audio Dune 3 I'm in love

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addled muppet weed
86220 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 7:06 am

do not forget "the law of ding"
the more you spend on a guitar, the more likely you are to ding it off the corner of your desk/drop a box of hammers on it/fall over when drunk...

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Boss Lovin' DR
9222 posts since 15 Mar, 2002 from the grimness of yorkshire

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 7:38 am

I think as well the style of music has a bearing.

If you're doing softer stuff then the flaws such as will be more evident and matter more. If you're doing such as punk/indie stuff and are an effects monkey and often thrashing 7 shades of shit out of a guitar (err guilty..), then good basic functionality is what you need, and indeed the aesthetic is on a more utilitarian approach - if you turn up at a squat gig with your £2000 guitar they'll probably think you're an undercover copper. :o

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addled muppet weed
86220 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 8:10 am

other thread mentioned green day, im thinking those jazz boxes look a bit flimsy :hihi:

6819 posts since 31 Aug, 2013 from Down the Withywindle

Post Mon Jul 05, 2021 8:21 am

My #1 electric, @€1,199 is a MiC Stanford. Hardly paying for the brand name on that one. The other over a grand is my Gretsch MiC 12 string electric. Some is the name, but I've tried 2 store name cheapie 12 string electrics, and this one is, again, in a different league. Even stringing the thing is easier. My other 2 electrics are both well under a grand.
My acoustics are another story. Yep, there are diminishing returns the higher you go, but there's a sweetspot, which is different for everyone. Mine is around €2000.
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
Upton Sinclair.

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