Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Buying a New Guitar, Part Three

You have decided to buy a new factory-made guitar. The price ranges start at less than $200 and can easily top several thousand dollars. There are a couple of dozen manufacturers and numerous dealers in retail centers and on the Internet. Everything you have just read regarding used guitars applies here as well. Because a guitar is new doesn't mean that you can assume that there are no problems, in fact, often the opposite is true. A new factory-made guitar leaves its place of origin and is shipped to a dealer. Often the conditions in those two environments are quite different and this can have quite an adverse effect on a new instrument just discovering that it must shoulder string tension and learning how all of it's parts fit together. Necks can bow, tops can sag and frets can lift in a new instrument and in fact these are quite common problems. A responsible dealer will guard against those factors and assure you of a good experience, but in the last analysis, you should take that responsibility upon yourself.

It is common for new guitars to make better sound after it has been played for several months but don't count too heavily on this. If the instrument doesn't speak to you with allure at the dealers, don't buy it. This is one of the primary reasons for looking at used guitars first……you know how they are going to turn out.

One can observe a lot of chatter on Internet chat rooms regarding recommendations on "the best guitar for under $(insert price)" These are often useful conversations and equally often quite misleading as people usually recommend the guitar that they have in their possession. It is in our human nature to support the choice that we may have recently made. When these recommendations are passed along to us by anonymous, faceless contributors on the web, the results can be worse than wrong. I'm sure that there are better brands out there, but to listen to web advice and order a new guitar from a discount dealer based on that advice is sheer folly. The person who will do that is only interested in acquisition not in finding a good musical partner. I'll repeat what I've said earlier…………"Only buy the guitar that satisfies your ears and your fingers; brands and prices mean next to nothing" If one were to line up 10 identical guitars from the same maker, some will be poor, some will be outstanding and the rest average. Do not buy guitars sight unseen unless there is a return provision based on your approval.

There are hundreds of thousands of Classical and Flamenco guitars made each year by factories around the world. These factories are typically based in Asia, Spain or Latin America. Often the instruments are properly made and finished and look very good to the eye. Where this process falls down is in the lack of attention to fitting the best in design with optimum materials. Factories count on efficiency of operations, minimizing hand labor and keeping materiel costs (wood) to a minimum. These are extremely important factors in the lifeblood of a for-profit company. They are also the enemy of exceptional quality.

I find that some owners of factory guitars are not aware that their instruments are made of laminated woods…. not that there is anything wrong with that from a structural standpoint. Laminated woods are in use in my own guitars especially in the sides. But when laminations are used in the top or back, be aware that there is normally a severe penalty to be paid in terms of sonority. Lamination helps a factory minimize costs and warranty returns. This is because laminated wood is stronger and more stable, capable of handling a variety of environmental conditions in its lifetime. Usually the lamination consists of a thin exterior veneer, inexpensive filler and perhaps a third wood or fiberboard veneer for the interior. The result can look very good, but be aware that you are looking at the guitar equivalent of a Formica countertop.

The factory guitar, when selected properly, can provide a good instrument at reasonable cost and I am not attempting to minimize the importance of that fact. However, I would not recommend spending more $2000 on a new factory guitar as there are terrific bargains at that price for excellent used guitars and entry level handbuilt guitars from luthiers.

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