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The difference between cheep and expensive

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(@joemccall86)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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Hello

I did some research before purchasing my first acoustic guitar. The two main things I learned is to go by what sounds best to me, even if it's cheaper, and look for a solid top (lasts longer?). I found myself playing some really expensive guitars ($900+) and some cheaper ones, and not hearing a huge difference. I found a guitar by Mitchell on display, played it, and loved it. It was dreadnought shaped, but the sales associate informed me that the exact same model in a concert-style shape was on sale in a box kit (yea yea, i know, :-)). I played that one and didn't hear a difference either, even though they were completely different shapes. I bought that one and I've been happily playing the daylights out of it.

Long story short, how is an expensive acoustic guitar more or less better than a cheaper one? Aside from built-in tuners and pickups. Are buzzing sounds/unintentional muting easier to avoid on these guitars?

Thanks,
Joe


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(@dogbite)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 6353
 

the day I finally went to the guitar store to buy my acoustic I put five or six guitars in the little room provided.
all by myself with the unwanted noise shut out I examined and played each guitar. the price ranges at first differed; from 500 to 1,200 dollars. the first thing I noticed was that the less expensive guitars had rougher fret ends and were just a bit uncomfortable to play. the more expensive ones had no issues like that at all.
I ended up with a 1200 dollar Martin mainly because the guitar fit my hands so well. the bonus then for me was an excellent build in every way and a tguitar, which is five or six years older, getting better and better sounding.
so I have to say, in some cases, more expensive is better.
and the sound to my ears is much better than a 300 and even 500 dollar guitar.

I do have an old beater cheapo acoustic that has tons of character. it is so stty that it is perfect for some tunes.

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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

Three factors affect the price of a guitar, and two of those affect the sound.

First is materials. Certain species of wood have superior tone characteristics (as a general rule - you can still get a lousy piece of wood). Because better wood is in higher demand, you'll pay more for something like Englemann spruce than you will for Western Red Cedar. Other materials are prized for appearance, like Hawaiian Koa - they may not be superior in sound, but they sure look good... and if what goes in costs more, the guitar that comes out costs more. Fancy decorations like Abolone inlays are labor intensive and cost $, as well as stuff like gold plating on the tuners.

Second is workmanship. Second-tier materials can still make a very playable guitar if the parts are handled right, and top-notch materials can make a bad one if no care is taken. With the wide spread of CNC equipment in guitar manufacturing, there's less of a difference than there used to be, and more consistent output. But when you get into the high range ($2-3,000+), construction adjustments are made for the specific pieces of wood used in the instrument, and you'll get better results. But those adjustments cost money in machine downtime and skilled luthier labor, so the price goes up.

Third is marketing. This has absolutely no effect on sound... only on your wallet. I'd even break that down a bit further - there is marketing that affects the resale price, and marketing that only rips off the first sucker in line.

Some brands have done a great job of building "brand equity" over the years, and you pay for that. A Martin will cost more than a Sigma, a Fender more than a Squier, and a Gibson more than an Epiphone, even though each of these pairs have the same ownership, and are sometimes built in the same facilties. But if you compare the extreme low end of the "good" name with the extreme high end of the "budget" name, I've seen cases where the "good" name uses comparatively inferior materials. You'll pay more and get less - but name brands are often collectible, so you should recover some of the difference when you part with it... in some cases, you'll get most of it, all of it, or even make a profit.

The second marketing factor is how things are phrased. "Solid spruce top" is seen as a good thing, but there are a lot of different kinds of spruce - about 35 species. About 5 of them are really good for instruments; the others aren't neccesarily bad, but they aren't what you're paying for - generic "spruce" is often priced just a step below the top species. The 2x4s in my walls are spruce too... that doesn't make them good for guitar building.

As far as solid vs. laminate goes, solid tops don't really last longer. But the tone will change over time as the wood ages - and that isn't true of laminate tops, because the inside layers of wood are basically sealed in place. In most cases, solid wood tone changes for the better, while laminate tops (and synthetics like carbon fiber) are stable for the long haul. If a solid top sounds the same as a laminate, chances are good it'll sound even better in 25 years. If a laminate top sounds almost as good as solid, it's never going to catch up.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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 Nuno
(@nuno)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Hi Joe, welcome to GN! :)

I agree with Dogbite (and with NoteBoat, too). I mean, I also played several guitars when I bought my acoustic, probably from 400 to 2000+ euros. The cheapest ones looking for a good sound and the more expensives just for comparing the sound with the rest. And there are differences in sound and also in materials and finish. I finally bought the best guitar in my opinion. I like its tone, how its feels and how it smells. I'm pretty sure there were better guitars in the store but I prefered that guitar.

And just a comment, there is a difference in the tone between the dreadnought and the concert models. I need more than a year to learn to appreciate the differences between the neck and bridge pickups in electrics!


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(@jimjam66)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 72
 

I'm told (by my wife, who should know!) that we tend to decide what we want with our hearts and then justify the decision with our heads. I got an Ovation Adamas because I'd wanted one ever since I could remember, but if you asked me close my eyes and tell you whether it was the Adamas or the Balladeer (way cheaper Ovation) being played, I probably wouldn't be able to ...

... I do agree (with my heart?) with the other posters - if you go into a quiet room and play five or six guitars, most times it's the most expensive that impresses. But not always, as Joe points out! If you're happy with what you're playing, Joe, that's all that counts.

Oh - and No, the Adamas doesn't seem to have any magical anti-buzzing/anti-muting properties - curses!!

Cheers,

DD


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(@causnorign)
Honorable Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 559
 

Buy the guitar that you like the best. Be aware however that if you get one that has a laminated top as many cheap ones do it will never sound any better than the day you buy it, solid wood will improve with age. I won't mention any names but I have one all solid wood acoustic, and one solid top with laminated sides that cost several hundred dollars less and tio me it sounds better. Did I mention that I'm tone deaf?


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(@joemccall86)
New Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 4
Topic starter  

It sounds like I'll have to save up my pennies for a while for my next acoustic :-D. I guess fine quality comes at a price. As a beginner I'll stick with my Mitchell, at least until I become better (and my fingers stop hurting so much after playing). Thank you for all the quick replies.

-Joe


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(@nicktorres)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 5468
 

Right, a laminate will never sound any better, then again it won't sound any worse.

At this stage of the game I ignore guitar prices and just buy the one I have to have. I don't run into that many boutique guitars but it seems the ones I gravitate to are in the $2000 range.


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(@ak_guitar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 48
 

I'm told (by my wife, who should know!) that we tend to decide what we want with our hearts and then justify the decision with our heads. I got an Ovation Adamas because I'd wanted one ever since I could remember, but if you asked me close my eyes and tell you whether it was the Adamas or the Balladeer (way cheaper Ovation) being played, I probably wouldn't be able to ...

I did the same thing. I always wanted a Guild twelve string (and the ability to play it). Didn't play any others ('cause stores around here don't seem to stock many twelvers), and haven't played any others since. But I love this guitar. And it's been worth every sore fingertip learning to play it.

Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. Psalm 33:2-4


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(@nicktorres)
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Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 5468
 

I knew if I hit the search key I'd find it....

It is true you can find gems in every price range. What you get with more expensive guitars is more attention to detail, usually better woods and materials, and better hardware.

For instance higher end gives you:

solid top back and sides instead of laminate
AAA or AAAA quality wood instead of A or AA in solid tops
Bone or Tusq or Micarta nut and saddle instead of plastic
Ebony instead of dyed no name wood fretboard
better pickups if so equipped like Fishman, PUTW, Baggs, Highlander instead of no-name

It's pretty easy to quantify the difference. But you don't have to go to far up the high end scale to get those. Also better materials doesn't mean that it will sound better to you.

Once you go beyond that it gets harder to quantify what makes the monetary difference.

What do you get with an expensive guitar?

A feeling.
A thrill.
A longing to play that one guitar.
A sense of oneness and peace.

Now with that said I had a Fender DG-22s that was solid top, laminate back and sides that I still regret selling. I loved that guitar and it was only $350 new. So you can find a wonderful guitar for cheap. Buying an expensive guitar is like having someone search through all the guitars to find the one that speaks to you, or at least they narrow down your search.

What is the difference between comparably priced Martins and Gibsons?

Well what is the difference between the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish @$236,000 and the Lamborghini Muricelago @$282,000?

Both will carry the groceries home, assuming you don't have too many bags.

You've got to play them, or drive them to know which one speaks to you.


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(@dogbite)
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(@rahul)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 2764
 

I would prefer a Mercedes Maybach 62 for carrying the groceries and going to the mall.

Apart from the jokes, I think the advice given by Nick is the best. With expensive gear, you may not get a proportionate higher value as you move up along the prices. But, you have to pay much more for that extra bit of quality even if it comes in small details.

You won't say that a Martin D-45 will be sounding better than D-28 (not even talking about D-100). The former is way more expensive. Both are used as recording standards in the industry. Players at that level simply choose what they like and what really appeals to them.

And most importantly, great music can only come from great playing. Better gear may help, but better gear won't make you a better player unless you have done your required practice.

In a nutshell, try to go with the best guitar you can afford i.e. you like the tone and the playability and it also fits in your budget.

Good Luck.


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(@rmorash)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 108
 

Maybe my wife should read these answers because she certainly isn't listening to me. She has expressed an interest in playing guitar to which I say great; let's go down to the local music shop and see what we can find for $300-$500.00. She says "Why can't we go to Walmart and get one for under $100.00 to see if I would want to continue to play?". I say "you buy a guitar like that you won't be playing for very long"...... and so it goes. I'm thinking about just going to the music store myself but don't know to buy a standard dreadnought shape or a parlour (was looking at Seagulls). As well I'm leery of buying something like that without her having a feel for it.


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(@stellabloo)
Estimable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 189
 

OK so my 1st guitar was $80 off ebay... it works in that it has 6 strings and will sorta stay in tune for a few hours.. but the high action was killing my fingertips. And I already have calluses on my hands, so don't consider myself that terribly tender.
So anyway I was ready after 5 months of dedicated playing and realizing I was never going to advance to the next level because of the skill required to get a clean sound out of my no-name guitar, to go to a real music store and buy my next instrument.
The guy gave me sound advice. I want a guitar I can take out into the street (literally), to the playground, the campground, on weekend trips out of town, etc. So he sold me a $400 Takamine G-series dreadnought and I love it, out of the half dozen I played. I really enjoy the boost in performance and am at least close to nailing that F-ing F chord.
Here's the advice I got: the difference between $350 and $600 is not that significant. For my NEXT guitar, which I see myself getting after 2-4 years of having this one as my constant companion, anything over $800 is going to give me a thrill I can really feel.
Bottom line: do I regret spending $80 on a learner guitar? No, not really cuz it taught me how to really finger the notes as opposed to just strumming the chord shapes, it functions as a "guest" guitar and now my 15 yr old has expressed some interest in learning a couple of chords on the thing.
Do I ever regret spending money on musical instruments or sheet music ... no I have spent a fucking fortune on disposable diapers and meaningful but useless Christmas presents for family members ... in other words, whatever you do musically is GOOD ... actually I think the next instrument might be a dulcimer, to start the girls on a stringed instrument they start at $80 too

What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it's really all about?

~ why yes, I am available on youtube ~
http://www.youtube.com/stellabloo


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(@slejhamer)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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Even with the free T-shirt, THIS GUITAR is expensive.

"Everybody got to elevate from the norm."


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