Does It Matter Where It's Made?

stiv

Country Gent
Sep 12, 2014
2,564
Firenze, Italy
How it's made, with what material and parts, with what experience and tools, how fast, all of that matters. Can it be done anywhere? Probably.
To me, the problem of today with guitars is the same as any other manufactured object in the world:
Maximize profits vs. Elite production that only a few could afford.
In between, very few choices.
 

Humpblock

Electromatic
Jan 28, 2020
72
Australia
I used to only buy USA made guitars, I thought nothing could beat them then after a 20yr break getting back into it I can’t find much wrong with Chinese or Indonesian guitars. If you’re not paying much it’ll be crap but pay a decent amount and you should be ok. If I was making money and needed a reliable instrument I would look at higher end but for the garage with the dog as the audience I’m happy. I was staff photographer for a few magazines for a long time and it always amazed me how the amateur guys had better gear than the pros. Like guitars, a camera is only as good as the person holding it.
 

Stefan87

Country Gent
May 20, 2019
3,099
Brisbane, Australia
IMO where its made is second to who makes it, im sure you could ship steven stern to the china factory and he would still make a killer guitar.

as long as the price reflects build quality i am happy, my cheap chinese affinity tele is one of the best playing guitars i have and i love it to the point where it won't go anywhere.

And as for proline vs electro and streamliner etc, yes they are worth the extra money to me hands down.
 

Vlad the Inhaler

Electromatic
Jun 28, 2022
47
hell
it depends on how lucky you get i guess, guitars are a crapshoot some great, some suck;

my g5622t is amazing and MIC and is 95% the guitar my doublecut MIJ falcon is - sometimes I even prefer playing the g5622t; my MIK rat rod is also very well made>

three different countries of origin yet the guitars are all well made and all needed no mods at all to play perfectly even with bigsby abuse;

again all are hand picked very good examples of each model>

with modern cnc tech and skilled labour i reckon more guitars are made well than made crap;

it all comes down to if QC is taken seriously…
 

Edison

Electromatic
Mar 27, 2022
25
Ottawa, Illinois
Good gear always invites play, though some of my concerns about 'where it's made' have had less to do with the standard of materials used, and more to do with working conditions and standard of living. I have enough ethical issues with corporations who offshore their labor for windfall profit margins, so given the option I'll gladly spend a little more on a product if I know there's some equity toward the labor end. Living in a 1st world country should ideally foster that privilege and use of discretion. Understanding that living standards are still relative from country to country.

Playing predominantly Gretsch and Epiphone guitars, it's been useful to learn what I can about where they're made and what goes into them.
I'd still like to know more about Epiphone's Qingdao factory in China, solely dedicated to producing Epiphone instruments since 2004. It seems that focus has contributed to consistent quality control, with respectable industry standards, actually well-crafted guitars. And for demonstrably low retail prices, certainly compared to their Gibson counterpart, typically about 5x more.

Epiphone has also been smart in offering higher tier product to match whatever their parent company Gibson produces. Whatever your opinion on signature series, it's nice seeing Frampton's Phenix, Zak Wylde's Les Paul, BB King's 'Lucile', or any number of Bonamassa guitars produced by Epiphone, more affordably for those who can't justify throwing down $5k on a Gibson version. My Epiphone ES-335 Pro, ES-175 Premium, and ES-295 sound and play incredibly well for my needs and desires. Full size CTS pots and Gibson pickups. I simply wouldn't own the Gibson version of those. Also all of my Les Pauls are Epiphones, though more specifically; older Korean-made. Again, prior to 2004 Epiphones' guitars came out of various Korean and even Japanese factories. There's where some real gems can be mined. Certainly anything from Korea's Peerless factory, which includes a lot of Gretsch Electromatics while they were restructuring and reinventing. Epiphone hollow and semi hollow-bodies from the Peerless factory; Casinos, Rivieras, Sorrentos, Sheratons, etc .. rival anything Gibson produces, but for way less money spent.

Regarding Gretsch; of all the models I own and play, none are Streamliners, so I don't feel qualified to comment specifically on their quality. I can feel the difference between the pro series (Japanese) and the Electromatics (Korean), but both are clearly high quality builds.

I've been curious about Eastman guitars, based in China, but using all around higher standards more comparable to USA Gibson, or Japan's Terada and Gakki factories. The results are allegedly great guitars, complete with nitro finishes, high-quality craftsmanship and top tier parts, for much less than one might expect.
 

Craig Encinitas

Gretschie
May 3, 2021
349
Encinitas, Ca
Legitimate question:

How many of you, after purchasing and playing the top-tier model of any guitar, exclaimed:

“I should’ve bought the cheaper model!”

Putting two and two together, I see so many guitars up for sale on Reverb that are lower-end models but modded to try and get it more like expensive one…Only to be sold because… What do you know… It’s not the more expensive one even after the modifications! 🤯

99% of the time, we buy the cheaper guitar and then the pricey one, and not vice versa (right?).
I’m guilty as charged. Modded my MiM Strat with TV Jones Starwood pickups and I still don’t like how it plays. However, it’s a hobby and was worth trying.

I really enjoy the Performer Strat and wouldn’t know what to change on it. Also had a 5410 briefly, but ended up with a 6120.

I’m not really sure why these type of videos are made, because there’s no actual answer. Everyone’s musical ability and financial budget is different. But it’s fun to discuss.

🤘🏻 🎸

Well, the original question was, does it matter where it’s made? Yes.
 
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AZBrahma

Synchromatic
Dec 18, 2020
629
Arizona
Luthier is a pretty loose term. The guys who started in a little shop in Cali in the mid 70s, and are still independently at it today, are some of the most respected electric guitar luthiers on Earth and make faultless instruments that transcend the sum of their parts. Same with the people they spawned all over the globe, most notably in Japan and Europe. I don't think anyone would have a problem calling them luthiers. A guy who has a single function or two on an assembly line, no matter how talented at his task, is not necessarily a luthier. In fact he almost certainly is not one at all, even in the loosest sense of the term. He is a worker and only vested in the brand and quality in the sense that it provides him a job.

That's the difference in quality (either real or perceived). A luthier, combined with just 2 or maybe 3 other people, make the guitar. There is tangible pride in the result, and that often translates to pride and bonding in the owner. An assembly line guitar may be of flawless quality, but might still feel a little like a clinical child of automation rather than a labor of pride (my Revstar is like this). For many players, they couldn't care less - they are still getting a good guitar and making music. I envy them, because my wallet bears the brunt of my snobbery. It's just like beef or tequila....once you taste the really good stuff, it's hard to go back to the average stuff.

IMO all the stuff that sits in the middle....basically high volume production line USA stuff that costs a lot more than imports but doesn't rise to the quality level of small-team low-production instruments...well, they make no sense at all to someone like me. I honestly don't know why they exist outside of nostalgia. The rise of the imports has largely made them irrelevant IMO.
 

Edison

Electromatic
Mar 27, 2022
25
Ottawa, Illinois
Legitimate question:

How many of you, after purchasing and playing the top-tier model of any guitar, exclaimed:

“I should’ve bought the cheaper model!”

Putting two and two together, I see so many guitars up for sale on Reverb that are lower-end models, that are modified to try to get it to the more expensive one… Only to be sold because… What do you know… It’s not the more expensive one even after the modifications! 🤯

99% of the time, we buy the cheaper guitar and then the expansive one, and not vice versa (right?).
I’m guilty as charged. Modded my MiM Strat with TV Jones Starwood pickups and I still don’t like how it plays. But, it’s a hobby and was worth trying. But totally enjoy the Performer Strat and wouldn’t know what to change on it. Also had a 5410 briefly, but ended up with a 6120.

I’m not really sure why these type of videos are made, because there’s no actual answer. Everyone’s musical ability and financial budget is different. But it’s fun to discuss.

🤘🏻 🎸

Well, the original question was, does it matter where it’s made? Yes.


I just went through that when buying an SG. As much as I am a proponent of Epiphones, I chose to spend the extra $ for a Gibson SG Special in the same Faded Pelham Blue. Partly because I preferred the spacing of the pickups on the Gibson version.

No regrets, even though I would have save about $700.
 

radd

Friend of Fred
Dec 27, 2017
5,985
Santa Cruz
Over the years, like many here, I have bought guitars built in a few different countries. This includes the US, Mexico, China, Korea, Indonesia and Japan.

Just one man’s experience, if I was to rank the consistent quality in those guitars it would be.

Top to bottom

Japan: Ibanez, Takamine, Gretsch
US: Fender, Taylor, Ovation, Martin, Gibson
Korea: Gretsch, Epiphone
Mexico: Fender
Indonesia: Gretsch
China: Gretsch, Eastman

Note: If it was not for Gibson the US might be ranked number 1
 

AZBrahma

Synchromatic
Dec 18, 2020
629
Arizona
Over the years, like many here, I have bought guitars built in a few different countries. This includes the US, Mexico, China, Korea, Indonesia and Japan.

Just one man’s experience, if I was to rank the consistent quality in those guitars it would be.

Top to bottom

Japan: Ibanez, Takamine, Gretsch
US: Fender, Taylor, Ovation, Martin, Gibson
Korea: Gretsch, Epiphone
Mexico: Fender
Indonesia: Gretsch
China: Gretsch, Eastman

Note: If it was not for Gibson the US might be ranked number 1

Everyone has different experiences but I can understand this list. When talking about large companies and excluding the smaller shops I'd have to give a nod to a few others.

Indonesia: Yamaha. Been building guitars there for a very long time and consistently maintains enviable quality. PRS too, but much more recently.

Korea: Schecter and ESP/LTD. These guys basically created the 'killer import guitar for cheap' category 25 years ago and made the entire industry scramble to catch up, which was good for everyone. IMO they are still at the top of the heap, although they are generally not my style and are fighting to stay there.

I do wish I had a better experience with my Chinese Gretsch, but it was quite bad. My Terada Gretsch more than makes up for it.
 

radd

Friend of Fred
Dec 27, 2017
5,985
Santa Cruz
Everyone has different experiences but I can understand this list. When talking about large companies and excluding the smaller shops I'd have to give a nod to a few others.

Indonesia: Yamaha. Been building guitars there for a very long time and consistently maintains enviable quality. PRS too, but much more recently.

Korea: Schecter and ESP/LTD. These guys basically created the 'killer import guitar for cheap' category 25 years ago and made the entire industry scramble to catch up, which was good for everyone. IMO they are still at the top of the heap, although they are generally not my style and are fighting to stay there.

I do wish I had a better experience with my Chinese Gretsch, but it was quite bad. My Terada Gretsch more than makes up for it.

No question that my list is just that, only my experiences and my subjective view of quality.

I can say the very best quality guitars were my Japenease Gretschs and Martin acoustics and my very worst were a couple of Chinese Gretschs I had to send back and a Chinese Eastman.
 

stiv

Country Gent
Sep 12, 2014
2,564
Firenze, Italy
Over the years, like many here, I have bought guitars built in a few different countries. This includes the US, Mexico, China, Korea, Indonesia and Japan.

Just one man’s experience, if I was to rank the consistent quality in those guitars it would be.

Top to bottom

Japan: Ibanez, Takamine, Gretsch
US: Fender, Taylor, Ovation, Martin, Gibson
Korea: Gretsch, Epiphone
Mexico: Fender
Indonesia: Gretsch
China: Gretsch, Eastman

Note: If it was not for Gibson the US might be ranked number 1
I think you may add Rickenbacker on top of the US list.
And maybe (but I don't know if it's still on) Fender to the Indonesia family. Am I wrong or there has been Squiers made in India?
 

wabash slim

I Bleed Orange
Feb 10, 2010
18,323
lafayette in
There was (and still is) a mentality that "Made in the USA" was all that counted. During the '50s, that usually meant top quality goods compared to the rest of the world. Of course, you have to consider that most of our competition on the world market had been either bombed into the Stone Ages, or had put so much into the war effort that it took them years to recover.
 

swivel

Country Gent
May 13, 2018
2,260
PNW
Materials matter. Cheap wood, not properly dried, multi piece construction from blemished wood instead of 2 or 3 pieces of quality wood. Brittle finishes that chip readily and in large chips. Screws with threads that are ugly, lack proper depth of thread etc.
All these things matter.
Where it is built doesn't matter as much as the materials used and that the expectation of quality is addressed with the maker.

An iPhone is a prime example of setting the expectation of high quality from a country that makes a lot of low quality stuff also.
 

afire

Friend of Fred
Feb 12, 2009
5,731
Where the action is!
Skills and craftmanship have never known borders.
True. I think it's fair to say that Eastman has proved that pretty high quality upscale guitars can be made in China. The brand is a little diluted, IMO, compared to when they started out focusing on hand-carved archtops. But they still make them. And they cost a pretty penny. $4.599 for an AR910CE. Could you get the same thing made in the USA for that price? Probably not, but $4,599 is likely not that much cheaper. Cheap labor can only save you so much money. For Eastman to make it's top-of-the line guitars, they've got to be spending time and money developing the skills, tooling, experience, etc. to put out a great high-end product.

Gretsch could ship Stern and the Custom Shop tooling and machinery to China, hire and train new craftsmen and probably put out a product comparable to what they're making in California at at least a somewhat lower price.

I think part of the decision about what level of product is made where probably has a lot to do with existing capacity to manufacture at the desired level. Japan has factories that can mass produce very high quality guitars. Korea has factories specializing in pretty nice guitars. And China seems to have unlimited capacity to make good enough guitars. But I'm sure guitars could be built to any level in any country if there was a reason to do it.

That said, I think part of it is also that customers are comfortable with the existing hierarchy and paying a price that feels appropriate to the country of origin. Gretsch could set up operations to build Proline-level guitars in China, but would buyers be willing to pay anywhere near Proline-level prices for a Chines guitar? I suspect many would not.

And that's one reason Gretsch would never ship the Custom Shop to China to save money. They'd still be expensive guitars. I would wager that Gretsch would have less luck selling $4,500 Custom Shop Penguins made in China than they currently have selling $6,500 Custom Shop Penguins made in the USA.
 


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