Why Are New Guitars So Expensive?

I was having a lazy Saturday trawling the internet and having a mooch around the Musicradar forums when someone posted this question online. A new Gibson Les Paul Stanard costs £2000+ list compared to the £1300 most people would have paid for one in the Noughties. Its an interesting issue as in Europe we are suddenly having to catch up to a reality that the American guitarists would have had to confront back in early 2009. Back then Fender issued a US retail price list with many prices up by at least 25-30%. At the time various blogs and forums lit up Stateside saying how on earth could they do that in a recession. Gibson shortly followed suit with price increases.

sTRAT

In the UK we’ve had it lucky until now, with most shops waiting to sell on their old stocks of guitars. Back in 2007 you could buy an American Standard Stratocaster in a solid colour for about £730.00 on the street. Nowadays it’d be £975.00 and probably just over a grand if it was a sunburst on Ash body model. Im looking at big dealers here with the ability to pass discounts onto the consumer. I imagine if you get it from where Aunt May rented you a Cello when you were 15 it’d be considerably more.

Its an interesting question. Imagine if your a global player like Fender or Gibson, you’d be able to buy your woodstocks/hardware etc based on an economies of scale model and pass that on to the consumer. However there are 3 other factors to consider.

1: Currency Markets – The Euro is in crisis but still way up against the £GBP as anyone whos retired to continental Europe on a British Pension will tell you, back in 2005 it was 68 pence to 1 Euro, now at the time of writing its 87 pence, but it was as high as 94 pence in 2009. A British retirees income in the Eurozone has virtually halved in the last 4 years. The Dollar too has risen which means importing a guitar from the US has gone up. Don’t mention the Yen…. its almost doubled in value in the last six years which means the once cheap grey import (but still constructionally superior) Fender J-Craft guitars (built for the Japanese domestic market) have become pretty much as expensive as a new American instrument in recent years. Back in 2005, you could get a used quality vintage reissue of a 62 Strat for about £275, aside from a 3 piece body instead of 2, they were pretty much the same quality of instrument and after import customs duty and delivery still have change from £500. Nowadays the same guitar costs £560+ according to Ishibashi guitars on Ebay, so delivery, VAT & duty will take that baby to well over £850.00 now.

2: Rising Prices – Oil is the big bastard here, so the cost of shipping around the world has increased considerably sine 2007. I don’t have any figures, but anyone who feels stung at the Petrol pumps will know what I mean.

3: Timber Sourcing – Again nothing official, but it does appear that the world is running out of wood. Theres a documentary coming out this year called Music Wood about the preservation of a forest of Spruce and the ongoing debate about the world running out of wood and the coming ecological crisis for guitarists. Gibsons Henry Juszkiewicz has been making noises in the press saying we are 10 years away from the wood running out. Gibson were raided in late 2010 by the FBI over unfounded accusations over purchases of illegal timber. CF Martin have been experimenting with using popular Gunstock laminate Stratabond as an alternative material to Mahogany for making necks (its warp resistant and far stronger and denser than mahogany). If you buy a £1500 Martin Guitar nowadays you simply will not get a Mahogany neck. Martin have been at the forefront of using alternative materials on acoustic guitars for a while now. Its likely that one of the big two electric makers will follow soon.

However!

In the middle of all this there is a theory that prices are actually being rigged by the guitar companies, US retailer Guitar Centre & the National Association of Music Merchants, there have been a couple of lawsuits filed in the US with such charges already.

This is an interesting theory because certain guitars are….well…. underpriced right now. In particular the Fender owned Charvel brand. A Charvel So Cal is basically a hotrodded to fuck Fender Stratocaster built in Japan, has Dimarzio Pickups, monster 6505 Dunlop Frets, a basic Floyd trem on an Alder body with a compound radius neck (the same kinda neck as the one on a £1200 American Deluxe Strat or Tele because Fender have decided to offer that tech on all new American Deluxe guitars as of 2010) it sells for £612.00 on the street in the UK. This is amazing bacause it has the same spec, pickups and hardware as the £1000+ US made Charvel So Cal, it even comes in an SKB case as opposed to the American guitars gigbag, the only difference is the country of origin and as you know I prefer Yuko’s standards of workmanship and fit and finish to Hank & Earl’s anyday.

Given my earlier comments on the Yen, I do not understand how Fender UK can price them so low. The Japanese made 62 reissue Telecaster, is also another steal at around the £685.00 mark. Given that pre recession they sold for £599.00, there doesn’t seem to be much of an increase there. If you wanted to import a Fender J Craft Richie Kotzen Telecaster now you’d barely get change from £1600, yet that guitar was about £980 pre recession and thats if you can find one. Could it simply be that technicalities and currencies aside, that we are paying simply the price the market will bear?

Ibanez introduced the RG Premier range this year a series of Prestige like guitars built in Korea instead of Japan. The J-Craft Prestige guitars have risen sharply with many models coming in at the £ 2 grand mark. So how come Fender can build a Charvel in Japan and price it lower than a Mexican made Strat?

Its not all doom and gloom for all of us. As anyone whos read the popular get rich word of mouth book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” knows, what we are seeing behind the scenes in this recession is the transference of income from the lower middle classes to the wealthy. Guitarist Magazine are sponsoring a Fender Custom Shop event in Bath in October, it’ll be a £65 a ticket canapes and wine affair with a talk by some Fender bigwigs and a chance to play some Custom Shop guitars including the relic (specially pre beaten up for the investment banker) Fenders ( sorry I don’t buy into all this pre aged relic stuff) but with an average price tag of £2.5K, talk of fiddling while Rome burns I wonder if Tony Blair will attend or does he (like his holidays) get his guitars for free?

SwapMeet!

With the recession firmly biting in the United Kingdom. The used market for guitar equipment has taken quite a pounding. If you’ve had a spare grand lying around recently, you’ve had your pic of some sweet secondhand private sale deals.

As commodities and fuel prices have risen. The price of new guitars however has leapt up to a point where I cannot see how some dealers will be able to continue.

A good example of this is Fenders new Mexican made Roadworn player series priced with an RRP of around a grand new (although most big dealers sell em for just shy of £800), but when a mid range instrument is selling for nearly £1K, you know the worlds in trouble.

Meanwhile as redundancy and casualisation looms and people try to control their household budgets, a plethora of high dollar guitars are hitting the used market at very very reasonable prices. So the near grand you’d spank on a brand new Mexican…ahem… “relic”… Fender would buy you a lot more used guitar for your money… Im talking American Deluxe Stratocasters, Yamaha SG1000′s, Gibson Les Paul Classics, PRS Standard 24′s etc etc. If you spend another £150 or so then your talking PRS McCartys ( A boxfresh Mk2 McCarty Std went for £1100 on Ebay recently) and even the odd Les Paul Standard as well.

Its a buyers market for sure. However thats not good. Most of us will want to upgrade and make changes to our equipment from time to time. So the idea that everything we own is devalued considerably is not great, especially if you have a larger collection of instruments.

A good alternative however is the Swap Meet. Lots of musicians are now advertising their equipment with not only a price, but the line “Will exchange for XXXXXXXXXXX” sometimes advertisers are even asking ” Will exchange for WHY – What Have You” as a way of seeing how far their unwanted item will take them.

I recently tried out this process. When I went to see Rush recently at Birmingham NEC. My brother started telling me he wanted to offload his rarely played Gibson Les Paul Standard and buy a PRS McCarty, he was thinking of swapping guitars rather than selling one and buying the other.

2002 McCarty

As I had bought a very nice used PRS McCarty some 4 months ago, I guess I was number one for his first refusal. As much as I liked my PRS, I was missing a Les Paul since I sold my LP Classic 1960 in 2007. Id bought the McCarty on a whim thinking it was a bargain, and much as I liked it. I was missing owning something with more low end prescence and grunt.

LP 2001

The following week we spent a day at his house trying out both guitars and seeing how we felt. My brother has a dislike for neck binding which means his Gibson Les Paul Studio is played far more than his Standard.

From my point of view, I knew the complete History of his LP Standard, my brother had bought it from new in 2001 it was the best of 4 we had tried that week and I knew he had played it minimally compared to his main guitars (a hideous flip flop teal LP Studio and his 62 Jap Strat-another guitar I’d once owned), so condition wise it was much cleaner than my already gigged and slightly dinged PRS McCarty. However my brother had fallen in love with the PRS’ playability and construction. He wanted it, more so than I to be honest.

For me the decision was harder. I loved both guitars, while I thought perhaps the Gibson had the edge on tone for hard rock, the PRS was far more articulate on cleaner tones and the coil taps actually worked. Something dawned on me…

As Gibsons Quality Control has always, and will always be….patchy (Charles Sharr Murrays recent column in Guitarist mag about his mates Gibson J 200′s faulty pickup system and Gibsons incompetent aftercare seems to bear this out). I suspect it’ll take me a while to find another Les Paul this well made. Meanwhile as PRS have the consistency of build other makers would kill for. I know that at some point I could always buy another used McCarty and not spend decades looking for one that was put together properly.

So as both instruments were of similar value we just swapped guitars. We put in a gentlemans agreement of 28 days that if one of us wanted to cancel the deal, they could do so without question. But in the end 1 month on both of us are happy.

So far this experience has been a positive one and Im wondering if I’ll be looking to swap rather than sell stuff in the future. I would suggest sometimes these things can be difficult. Most of us have fallen in love with an instrument only to fall out of love sometime later. Plus theres always fakes and charlatans around every corner of both Ebay and the classified ads.

However if you stick to relatives or just your Muso mates or their mates, this is probably a foolproof way of getting new kit without all the stresses of dealing with haggling and accurate descriptions.

I’d reccomend it.

PRS McCarty: My Life with the Dentist’s Guitar of Choice

The Lawyers favourite

If your a British guitar player of a certain age. PRS guitars conjur up a rather negative association with a certain type of well heeled player. Mainly middle aged professional “baby boomers” men who cashed in on the rising equity in their homes in the early noughties and bought into the brand big style. While over in America younger players such as Dave Navarro, Wes Borland, Chad Kroger and Linkin Parks Brad Delson made PRS the most populated guitar brand on MTV and VH1 (and before you ask yes the big 3 guitar companies actually do market research into this sort of stuff). In the UK despite the arrival of the affordable SE (student Edition) imports, the image of the PRS player in the United Kingdom is the stereotypical weekend warrior, the doctor, the lawyer,the accountant, the dentist. The guy who turns up at a blues jam to sing songs of pain and hardship (without any irony whatsoever) in a BMW Z5 or an Audi S4 estate (well…the golf clubs have to fit in the back too).

Guitar shops loved the baby boomer, before the recent arrival of his replacement (in Denmark St anyway) of the privately educated Stage School musician in his architypal Indie Landfill band (usually on Warners via BIMM or the BRIT school). These people kept Denmark Street turning over in the early to mid noughties. I used to see them ogling over the latest Mesa Boogie multi mode Combo or reliced Fender 52 whateverwecancashin…. nextocaster. You could always spot them as they were the only people in the shop who were not a sales rep wearing a suit. Future Publishing even started its own magazine for these people the woefully titled “Guitar Officianado”.

But back in 2000 Guitarist magazine named the PRS McCarty the number 7 guitar in its ’10 Greatest Electric Guitars in the World’ cover story, considering it was launched only 6 years earlier, thats pretty high praise. The McCarty is in raw terms is PRS’ homage to Ted McCartys presidency of the Gibson guitar company from 1950-1966. The guitar is essentially a thicker bodied Custom 22 with a thinner headstock, vintage style machines, 1 piece stop tailpeice and simpler controls (one volume and tone with a pull coil tap).

The vintage Gibson vibe came over very well at its launch in the mid 90′s and at the time (pre Singlecut) was seen as the biggest challenger to the hegemony of the Les Paul and found favour with many American musicians of the time. There were later hollowbody and semi acoustic variants too.

But 16 years on I get the impression that since the mid 2000′s lawsuit over the PRS Singlecut and the recently launched Dave Grissom signature guitar(basically a McCarty with a tremelo and revised pickups and electronics) have perhaps overshadowed the original McCarty model itself. The McCarty has somewhat fallen by the wayside. The McCarty II launched in 2008 featured a strange active circuit and barely lasted a year. The new McCarty is now the McCarty 58 which is essentially the same guitar with revised neck shape, tuners, pickups and finish. But neck shapes & the usual high end guitar marketing guff aside, its essentially the same guitar it was in 1994.

I stumbled upon the idea of buying a PRS recently. I’d set my sights on a CE22 or CE24 as in terms of my playing style I think I gravitate to a bolt on necked instrument, however the basic moon inlay McCarty is appearing in the classifieds for around £1000-1200. Thats a lot of guitar for the cash. Also the baby boomers don’t usually gig much, so these instruments are usually very very very well maintained.

I had a look around a few and didn’t buy mine from a stockbroker in the end Im glad to say, but a female blues guitarist in Gloucestershire. Aside from 2 dings on the lower bout (she gigged quite a lot I think) the guitar was pretty clean. Fretware was minimal for a 9 year old instrument.

The wide fat neck carve is a joy, reminiscent of a 1950′s Les Paul neck. But the whole feel of this guitar is upmarket. Its been put together from high quality woods with love and care, even when its not plugged in it sounds inherently toneful. Plugged in, its a fat big clear sound, more articulated than a Les Paul. I dare say It’d cut through live a bit more in a 2 guitar band than a Gibson.

The biggest suprise is the coil tap, usually this means we get some extra tones that are weedy and unusable, but with the neck pickup tapped, it sounds almost strat like, warm, fat and tubey. Perhaps this is the best coil tap I’ve ever heard.

All in all this is lighter and more comfortable to play than a Les Paul. As a guitar its very expressive and a joy to play. I am dissapointed that PRS fit all guitars with 009-042 strings though. Having ‘Jeztoned’ up the guitar with a set up of slightly heavier strings (009-046) and a medium to high action. Everything sounds even better than before.

The only niggle I have with PRS is considering the thought gone into both the guitars design and manafacture. The PRS hardshell case is a crock of shit. Its too big, too heavy and way too narrow. When placed as an upright rectangle on the floor it just falls over as its simply too thin. This is a terrible oversight and something you’d never find on an instrument costing even a third of the price. Whats the point of all that fancy guitar if its housed so badly.

As grim as it is to say, once the recession bites proper,combined with the brands seeming unfashionability in the current UK music scene. I expect to see more US made PRS guitars at very affordable prices. These are THE guitars purchased in the early-mid noughties credit orgy, many on hire purchase or plastic. As unfortunate and horrible as it is for anyone to have to sell their gear in hard times (and believe me I’ve been there). Im pretty sure we will see a large amount of these up for sale at very reasonable prices in the coming month. Cast aside the Yuppie guitar tag and these instruments richley deserve their reputation for build quality, tone and playability. With that in mind as a secondhand purchase I cannot see how one could go wrong.

Floyd Rose Redmond series: A future collectable methinks

Floyd Rose Redmond

I think I first came across a Floyd Rose guitar in 2005. Mr Rose has been developing his “speedloader” tremelo system since the early 90′s and as this new system with double ball end strings makes the headstock redundant. Mr Rose decided to launch his own brand of guitars to show off the new tremelo system.The strings were pre-cut to a very precise length (to sound very close to the right pitch when installed) and had special ends which snap into the bridge and nut. Once the replacement string is in place, fine-tuning is performed in a fashion similar to the Floyd Rose Original bridge. The process for changing strings is simpler and faster; the idea being that you able to change all 6 strings in under a minute. Clever huh???

Basically what we have here is a high end US made Superstrat with a “decorative” headstock. Think Anderson/Suhr/Charvel maybe? Swamp Ash body, Rock Maple neck, 22 Jumbo frets etc etc

I remember a positive write up in Guitarist magazine, innovative tremelo and excellent build quality and then………………..nothing.

The only time Ive seen one of these used was at Live8 in 2005 by Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi ( who was briefly an endorser). Beyond that I dont know. They did try a chinese made one, but it didnt take off. A few US dealers have them, but as far as I know production has ceased.

But since then Ive seen the odd one coming up used and they are…………..incredibly fucking cheap!!!!! So much so that Im starting to consider looking out for one. Face it these babys were high end US made rock guitars. They were on sale 5 years ago at £1300 and that was when the exchange rate was much nicer…now it’d be nearer 2 grand for sure.

But the ones Ive seen were cheap cheap cheap. £400-£500 for a guitar no more than 5 years old. Made in tiny numbers, I bet theres more custom shop reissues on the planet from Jan 10 than there is for these babys. My local guitar shop had one for about £700 end of line a while ago. I know if you went to audition for Interpol they’d laugh at you, but image aside, thats a lot of high end guitar for very little bread.

Your big issue froma player perspective with this is Spares and strings. Floyd Rose made their own brand strings and Dean Markley do as well. But there are horror stories on the net about string quality and also cost.

But in terms of exclusivity….these are only going to go up. The internet was awash with Kahler trem parts long before they started up production again. So I reckon these are a top tip for an affordable, playable, but quirky shred guitar.

The Ebay hunt starts here ;)

A Lesson In Manners For The Would Be Buyer

” Is your amp still for sale?”

My Marshall

I got this text on Sunday morning, I was bleary eyed as CJ my girlfriend made me a delicious breakfast, we had croissants, cereals, fruit, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, sausages…..oooooh and wine gums.

Having left Heroes of Switzerland in Dec 2008, I’ve found myself in the position of not gigging and quite frankly not missing gigging. The experiences of the last 4 years had made me think that a 2 x 12 combo might well be a better proposition as despite the TSL60 being the quietist amp Marshall make, all sound engineers just see its gleaming logo and imagine Motorhead and then treat it like a plexi and try to turn you down before you’ve even played a note.

In addition I figured that with modern drumming styles using a lot of ride cymbals, I’d be better off with a crisper midrange to cut through rather than turn up. So on my watch list among others such as Vox and Orange was a used Boogie Lonestar. As they seem to go for around a grand and have the parrallel FX loop like the TSL. But as I’ve been really getting into photography recently. I was in no real hurry to try these theories out. If a band or project appears in the future I’ll make my choices then and not before.

So the Marshall JCM2000 TSL60 and its 1960A 4 x 12 have been sitting in my room for the last 18 months not really doing much. I’ve not fired up the amp for at least 3 months and with the possibility of relocating down to the smoke still a long term goal, as well as CJ’s flat having limited storage (after her Imelda Marcos style shoe collection is in place), I’d put the amp up for sale rather tentitavely on Guitarmarts website. I wasn’t desperate for a buyer, but if one came around I’d be happy to sell, maybe buy a mac laptop or something.

“Err Yes”

“Great” came the reply. “I’ll give you £500″

H’mm

I didn’t advertise my rig at that price

The going rate for a used Marshall TSL60 (and as I write the worlds 107th best guitarblog according to what some website recently said, I ought to fucking know) is around £380-£425 depending on condition, mines had a service from Hotrox and new JJ Tesla tubes, and has a newish footswitch, the 1960A 4 x 12 is clean apart from a small tear in the levant on the back, they go for around £200-250 used depending on cosmetic condition.

Bearing these factors in mind, I’d advertised the whole rig for £625 and figured I’d drop to £600 if I could smell the money. Mine is not immaculate, but y’know its not trashed either and has been on the whole looked after well.

After explaining that wasn’t really an acceptable price and I found the texters manner quite rude another text arrived

“I’m sorry Im only 16 and don’t have any more money”

“Well, start saving then”

“I’ve seen them elsewhere for £500″

“Really so go buy that one then” I replied

“they are too far away, the head is in Belfast and the cab is in Plymouth”

So after explaining the going rate of said items, this whippersnapper informs me of the fact he’s seen a TSL60 head on ebay for £300. He’s right there is one, but its a brochure photo and the seller has a rating of Zero, all the other TSL 60 heads for sale are £400 upwards as they are on Gumtree……….Hmmmm. If its too good to be true, it usually is as my mother used to say. I’d say its a scam, but my young friend is having none of it and chooses to look elsewhere.

I don’t know whether its the decline of educational standards or to blame the parents, but i’ve found that a lot of potential buyers and sellers on the used guitarkit market to not only be abrasive, but profoundly stupid to boot.

Accordsing to GAK and Coda (2 of the biggest dealers in the UK)

A new Marshall TSL60 is £741
A new Marshall 1960A 4 x 12 is £469

Thats £1210! so even though mines a decade old, Im not likely to let it go for nearly a third of its retail am I. Well not unless I need to buy crack rocks urgently…..and I don’t.

Add to this that VAT is rising to 20% in January, that ‘ll bump it up another £30, plus Marshall usually have a January price rise and I reckon you could see the new retail of said kit go to £1300.

So I’m staying put. I don’t need the cash, and to be frank I’d rather it sits there and rots away than be used by some ill mannered imbecile with no concept of politeness or even decency. If your gonna hagggle don’t take the piss. If this lad had gone up a bit, maybe we could have done a deal, but no he wanted to dictate terms and nothing could have fucked me off more.

I’ve been buying a lot of camera kit recently, most of it at a very reduced price, but when dealing with potential sellers, I’m always polite and never try to dictate terms. I’ve gotten some great bargains, but I’ve never taken the piss and considering i’ve paid about £900 less for my complete EOS system (2 lenses, DSLR Body, Speedlight & Transmitter) than the systems current retail prices. Manners do go a long way.