When it comes to guitars, the proof is in the pudding: if it looks great, feels great, and sounds great, then you have a fantastic guitar in your hands.
And a matching price tag to boot.
But, hold on—there’s another thing going that explains why guitars charge how much they charge. In a nutshell, these are the full force of material quality, brand, and origin, plus the added factor of supply and demand driving the price much higher than the average guitars in the global market these days.
Before we start, here’s an interesting exchange between two guitarists discussing the price increase this year:
So why are guitars expensive? It’s the intermingling elements of material quality, brand, origin, and supply-and-demand variable driving the guitar price up.
Let’s look at each element in detail.
The Material Influence
If you walk into a shoe store and spot two pairs of nice boots, one made from genuine leather and the other from faux leather, which one do you think will cost more?
Between a custom-made solid wood work table and a laminated wood work table, which one do you think will cost more?
And which items do you think will last longer?
Needless to say, the ones made with premium materials win.
When it comes to just about any item, the quality of materials is typically the biggest price determinant (other than the brand, but we will get to that later).
The difference between a $200 guitar and a $2000 guitar usually lies with the materials with which they were made. That and other variables, such as (again) who manufactured the instrument and to some extent, the method used to make them.
● The Wood
Some acoustic guitars, for instance, can be very expensive because they are hand-made with the highest quality woods and materials.
Woods that are harder to source due to proximity from the manufacturing location naturally costs more. The same thing is true for woods that belong to protected species or are scarce. The exotic rosewood and rare ebony woods are expensive and can be difficult to import due to stricter restrictions.
Some woods are prized for the gorgeous appearance they impart on the finished instrument. A quilted maple top guitar, for example, is a solid 10/10 in the looks department compared with, let’s say, a mahogany top guitar.
These exquisite woods usually go to constructing premium guitars, whereas the more common, lower-grade woods are used to make lower-end models. And that’s how the wood used for building the guitar influences the price.
● The Hardware
Choice hardware can bump up the price of guitars considerably. To keep the guitar price down, some manufacturers make their own tuners, controls, and other hardware rather than buy these parts from other companies.
You would know when tuners and bridge are made from cheap materials—they are wonky and hard to control. High-quality tuners turn smoothly and hold string tension steadily. Select bridge materials, likewise, securely grips the strings to the guitar body while allowing for their natural movement. Superior quality bridge saddle adjusts easily, transmits sound to the soundboard efficiently, and is smooth and durable.
● The Electronics
You can easily gauge the quality of the guitar with the way it sounds. Excellent electronics produce excellent sound—and it all boils down to the pickup, the guitar’s sound center.
A pickup is composed of magnetic pole pieces wound with super-thin copper wire. They are often coated with lacquer or wax to protect against corrosion and moisture.
The way the wire is coiled around the magnetic bars, as well as the number of times it is wound, decides the way the guitar will sound. Too little and the sound is weak, too much and the sound becomes muffled. With just the right amount of winding and gaps within it, the sound is clear and crisp.
Good quality pickups with proper wiring and protective coating, combined with excellent volume and tone controls, produce a seamless tone with no buzz, popping, or crackling.
Many expensive guitars have these high-end hardware and electronics parts sourced from fabricators that specialize in the design and production of these parts.
The Brand and Origin
We know about the brand and origin factor all too well.
We have ideas why iPhones generally cost more than Android phones, why a bottle of good French wine will set you back a few more dollars than an equally good bottle of wine from Spain, or why the luxurious Egyptian cotton is more expensive than Pima.
When it comes to guitars, you know you would be paying extra for branding and origin.
Brands that have been around for a very long time know the business, market, and industry to the core. These established brands are the major league players and have set the standard for best and icon-status guitars: Gibson (let’s include its entry-level brand brother Epiphone since guitars under this brand are created with the same aspects of Gibson guitars), Fender, Gretsch, Martin, Squier, and many others. Yes, that means a lot of these pieces of art come with a sizeable cost!
Let’s not forget how location can significantly influence the guitar cost. Mass-produced Fender guitars in Mexico and the Far East are generally cheaper than those manufactured in the United States. Guitars made in these big factories are made with less skill and time (because, machines!), and materials like wood and hardware are readily available in those parts of the world.
We’re not saying that guitars from those factories are inferior quality-wise; we’re merely pointing out why they’re more inexpensive than their North American counterparts! So, don’t get discouraged—many great guitars are born in those factories!
The Rule of Supply and Demand
This is another thing we are all very familiar with—remember the hoarding or panic buying issue during the height of the pandemic in the US?
But even before COVID-19 became a thing, people were already known to stockpile salt to use on their driveways before the winter season comes, or gasoline, water, and other essentials before the hurricane season swing by. And this behavior often results in a seasonal price hike of said items. Remember how people fight for the few remaining supplies of whatever item is in high demand in a specific circumstance, even willing to pay extra to stake a claim?
Truth be told, the rule of supply and demand is among the biggest contributing factor as to why guitar prices increased. The recent rise in guitar demand in the US market following the upsurge of Americans learning guitar in times of pandemic resulted in the guitar price increase.
With guitars selling like hotcakes, business is booming; companies will sell the guitars at a higher price. As long as there are customers willing to pay the price, companies will continue to sell their guitars at that price.
And that’s inflation for you.
The thing about inflation is that they never go back down; it’s irreversible. In fact, it just continues to soar. Pandemic-influenced inflation is the reason why guitar giants like Gibson, Taylor, and Martin have augmented the price of their goods and amplified their sales in recent years.
Guess we will all just have to get used to this.
Coping with Guitar Price Increase: Final Thoughts
You’re a guitar newbie and you are eyeing a pro-level Fender or a Gibson Les Paul, and we understand why. But the thing is that these brands may set you back a few hundred to thousands of dollars and might not even be good guitars to start with.
What we’re saying here is, consider picking up cheaper guitar brands—there are plenty that sells for only $100 or even lower—to learn the basics. You can even buy a really good second-hand guitar as your starter instrument before you move on to higher-end brands or models as your skill level goes up!
While expensive guitars might be better (because of high-quality parts and all the other things we just discussed earlier), remember that there are always great, inexpensive guitars tapping into the specific market—the newbies—and are ready to offer you low-cost alternatives and a wonderful playing experience.