Why Do Some Guitars Cost So Much More Than Others? (2023)

It’s probably the single thing we’re asked most in the guitar department: why are some guitars so much more expensive than others? It’s a fair enough question given that you can buy a new guitar as cheaply as £50 or you can spend many thousands. Surely it must be hard to justify such a huge variation in cost for what is essentially the same design of instrument? There are three main factors that effect the relative cost of a guitar: the amount of hand work or skilled labour that is applied in the build process, the materials from which it is made, and the country it is made in. In this article we’re going to take a look at the three factors and why they are important in producing a good quality instrument.

1. How the guitar is made

It takes somewhere in the region of 100-200 hours (depending on the design and ornamentation) for a skilled craftsman to make an acoustic or classical guitar from scratch. Sounds like a lot of work, right? That’s how many of the master guitar makers of the 19th and early 20th Century made their guitars and it’s still how some individual makers build today. But it’s insanely time consuming and, even at the paltry hourly rate guitar makers generally work for, it ends up with a very costly instrument.

The proliferation of modern technology has played a big role in reducing the time involved in making a guitar. Many of the more laborious and less skilled jobs involved in guitar making can now be speeded up by machines and, particularly as CNC manufacturing finds its way in to the industry, some jobs can be done entirely by a machine. CNC manufacturing is undoubtedly transforming the budget industry in terms of producing consistent quality at very low prices, but it’s also hugely useful to small makers to take care of smaller, time consuming jobs.

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Since most guitars you will see in a music shop are made by companies that have at least a few employees, and many by large factories, the way the workers are trained and deployed makes a big difference to cost. Ideally, you want your guitar to be made by someone who understands everything that goes into making a great guitar and can tie up all the elements into a great sounding instrument. This is the best possible way to get a great guitar and, if you can afford it, it’s the route to go down. However, someone who has devoted many hours to learning a craft is going to be expensive to employ: if you’re running a business, it’s far better to employ people who are trained to do a specific job within the build process than it is someone who can make a guitar from start to finish because they’re going to be cheaper and easier to find. To take this to its logical conclusion, you can build a guitar from start to finish with a workforce of factory workers trained in a particular job. When you look at many of the popular professional guitar models – a Martin D-28, a Gibson J-45 or a Taylor 310 for example – that’s the process through which they’re built and, as each worker is highly skilled in their step of the build process, it still results in a very good guitar.

If the company wants to get the cost down further, then it reduces the skill level required of its workers. For example, the top bracing is a crucial part of what makes a guitar sound great. The braces are glued onto the top oversize then carefully carved and sculpted to create exactly the right tensions and flexibility for the top: brace the guitar too heavily and it will sound dull and lifeless, too lightly and it will gradually pull itself apart under string tension. Unfortunately since wood is an organic material and every piece differs slightly from the next, it’s not possible to have a uniform shape and thickness at which the braces will produce the correct results, and a skilled guitar maker goes through the time consuming process of bracing each top based on the qualities of the individual timber. If the maker wants to save some of that time, the easiest answer is to use a pattern where every guitar is braced the same but to leave the braces deliberately thicker than they need be so that an unusually flexible piece of wood won’t result in a guitar that folds up under string tension. Suddenly you’re making guitars much more quickly and cheaply, but they don’t sound as good.

To summarise then (assuming equal quality of materials) a company where the instruments are largely handmade under the supervision of one skilled person is likely to produce the best sounding guitar, a factory making instruments by a well trained workforce taking their time on each instrument and operating to high manufacturing tolerances is likely to be much more affordable and still of very high quality although not in the same league as the hand made guitar, and a factory making instruments with workers of a more basic level of skill taking less time on each instrument is going to produce an affordable but less good sounding guitar.

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2. What the guitar is made from

The cost of the materials is a big contributing factor is how much the instrument costs. Different species of wood can differ dramatically in terms of value depending on how easy the species is to come by, where it comes from and whether it is protected for environmental reasons. Some woods, such as Rosewood from Brazil which was commonly used in expensive classicals and on many vintage Martin guitars, is protected to the extent that it is completely illegal to harvest and any Brazilian Rosewood used today requires paperwork to demonstrate that it was harvested prior to the ban and has been purchased legally – consequently it is very hard to obtain and expensive to buy.

However, in acoustic and classical guitar construction there is a much more obvious factor that effects the cost of the wood used: whether it is made from solid wood or laminated wood. Laminated wood usually comprises a thin veneer of attractive looking wood on the outer faces with a core of much cheaper wood in the centre: it is therefore very cheap to buy compared to solid wood. Plywood is manufactured industrially, is strong and easy to store, which adds to the advantages: solid wood once planed to anywhere near the thickness of a guitar top or back is fragile and prone to warping, so needs careful storing and handling before use.

However, laminated timber is also very stiff and does not produce a particularly good sounding guitar, so generally the only guitars that use laminated timber throughout are very cheap entry level instruments. Since the top is the most critical part of the guitar in terms of sound quality and much of the function of the back and sides is to reflect sound rather than to vibrate and produce sound as the top does, a popular compromise is to make the top of the guitar from solid wood and the back and sides from ply. This is commonly the construction found when you go a little way up the price ladder, and guitar with a solid top and ply back and sides can be a really great sounding instrument. On more expensive guitars the back and sides will generally be made from solid wood and this generally adds a little more depth and volume to the sound.

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Although wood is the main ingredient in an acoustic or electric guitar, there are also a number of mechanical parts that contribute to the functionality of the instrument and the quality of these parts also makes a difference. In particular good quality, precisely engineered tuners are much nicer to use than cheaply made tuners which can be imprecise and temperamental. Electronic components in amplified guitars are also an obvious example where better quality parts contribute a lot to a great sounding guitar.

3. Where the guitar is made

Wherever a company decides to make a guitar, there will be a number of fixed costs associated with the manufacture of the instrument and those costs will differ dramatically depending on the country of origin. Manufacture in Europe, the US and Japan is typically very expensive compared to countries such as China, Korea and Indonesia – consequently the majority of cheaper guitars are made in those countries.

How much this impacts the quality of the instrument is a difficult question. It’s very difficult for Western countries to compete with Far Eastern ones at a lower price point, so most Western manufacturers have given up trying to compete at the lower end of the market. Conversely if a country is perceived as being known for cheap, low quality instruments, it’s hard for a manufacturer to compete at the other end of the market against product being made in countries that are perceived to produce high end instrument.

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Consequently the vast majority of high end instruments are made by companies based in the US, Europe and Japan and the vast majority of cheaper instruments are made in China and other parts of Asia – but a workforce with the right level of skilled labour should be able to produce a great guitar regardless of the country the instrument is made, so it’s not fair to assume a guitar made in China is automatically inferior to one made in the US.

A practical example

So how do these factors come into play when choosing a guitar? A good case study to use to demonstrate the effect of more hand work in a guitar might be the Burguet brand of classical guitars. Burguet is a small company based in Spain who make a range of classical guitars ranging from £1000-£6000. They offer an entry level model called the Model 3, a step up guitar called the Model 2, and then a series of more advanced guitars hand made largely by individual family members. The difference between the Model 3 and the Model 2 is that the Model 2 has bracing that has been ‘tuned’, i.e. they have been thicknessed by hand to get the best out of the materials, where as the bracing in the Model 3 is uniform. Forsyths sell dozens of these models a year so we’ve played a large number of them find the results of this are that the Model 2s are typically louder and more responsive, and that they are very consistent from one to the next. The Model 3s are still a nice sounding guitar but the majority are not quite as resonant, and they vary a little more from one to the next. So that element of hand work really does make a difference in terms of consistency and in squeezing a little better performance out of the materials.

Burguet also offer their student guitars in a choice of solid top / laminated back and sides or all solid woods, so we get to see the effects of solid vs laminated timber very clearly as well. The main thing we notice with the all solid guitars is that they typically sound a little louder than the versions with laminated back and sides. This makes good sense from a physics point of view: in both guitars the sound waves emanating from the top reflect off the back and sides in a similar manner so both guitars share the tonal characteristics of the wood, but in the guitar with solid wood back and sides the back is able to vibrate more freely, generating new sound waves in addition to the ones emanating from the top.

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So how can you apply this to choosing a guitar?

At the end of the day it comes down to the individual to decide how much it is worth spending. It's certainly not the case that a £2000 guitar is ten times better than a £200 guitar, but the £2000 guitar will almost certainly be better in tone and playability, and for many the improvement is worth spending the extra – whether that applies to you is your decision. What we will say is that, within a budget that is comfortable for you, you should buy the guitar that makes you happy and inspires you to pick it up and play it: a £200 guitar that sits in the corner barely being touched is not as good value as a £2000 guitar you play for hours every day – but if the £200 guitar inspires you to play, that's fine too! The decision is yours, but remember whatever your budget and requirements we're here to help, and we're always happy to spend time you going through what options will suit you best.

Why Do Some Guitars Cost So Much More Than Others? (1)

In the photo: two very pretty guitars - but the Patrick James Eggle is £4500 and the Crafter is less than £400. Why? The PJE is made in Shropshire by Patrick and a small team of experienced makers, and it has critically endangered and hard to find (and, we hasten to add, bought legally by Patrick!) Brazilian Rosewood back and sides. The Crafter is produced in a large factory in South Korea and has laminated Rosewood back and sides. They're both good value for money at their respective price point but the Eggle is definitely a Ferrari to the Crafter's Volkswagen.

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FAQs

Why are some guitars so much more expensive than others? ›

There are several reasons why a high-end model could be five times more expensive than some midrange guitars made by the likes of Fender, Gibson, PRS, ESP and Jackson: Material quality and sourcing. Build location. Luthier ability and pay grade.

Why some guitars are so expensive? ›

Quality Control. One of the biggest reasons why expensive guitars cost so much, is because they have gone through an extensive quality control procedure. In order to make sure that the guitar is setup properly, and the materials are of high quality, they must all be checked thoroughly.

Do expensive guitars make a difference? ›

The answer is yes, expensive guitars will most likely always be of better quality than cheaper guitars. The detail in which the guitars are made, the type of materials used and how well the adjustments are made is what increases the quality of a guitar, therefore the price.

Is there a difference between cheap and expensive guitar? ›

Some guitars cost as little as $150 while others cost over $3,000. But what separates a cheap guitar from an expensive guitar? Well, in short, the main differences between cheap and expensive electric guitars are the construction and workmanship, pickups, hardware, and aesthetics.

Why are some guitars thousands of dollars? ›

A guitar made with high-quality wood, metal, and electronics will be more expensive than one made with lower-quality materials. The second reason is the brand. A guitar from a well-known, high-end guitar company will be more expensive than one from a less-known company.

How much should I spend for a decent guitar? ›

A good beginner's guitar costs between $100 and $500. Louder sounds at the mid-level are typically audible to people who spend more than $500 on a sound system. If you want a quality acoustic guitar at a reasonable price, it will cost $500 to $1200.

Are cheaper guitars harder to play? ›

Cheap acoustic guitars can be harder to play because of issues in manufacturing. Common problems include high action (larger distance between the string and fretboard), sharp frets (making it difficult to hold strings down), and warped bodies. These can make playing painful for beginners.

What determines guitar price? ›

The price is primarily determined by the country of origin, brand, body type, and wood type. The price of an acoustic guitar varies depending on the quality of the wood used, the finish chosen, and the way it is constructed; guitars made of higher-quality wood are less expensive than those made of laminate.

What is considered a high end guitar? ›

Simply put: High End guitars are crafted in the company's country of origin (usually a rich country such as the USA or Japan) using the finest materials and hardware. There is a lot of work put into them by the well paid luthiers, and they are made in smaller numbers than cheaper guitars.

Are $1000 guitars worth it? ›

These days, $1,000 IS not that much for a good playing guitar but isn't absolutely necessary to play and get enough sound to play even professionally. Buying a used acoustic is a great option and rather than being new and the guitar having to settle into it's unique sound, will already have gone through the process.

Which guitar brand has the best quality? ›

To sum it all up, the best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson. The best overall option would be the Ibanez JSM100, based on its overall quality and versatility. The Fender Telecaster is our number one Fender recommendation, while from the Gibson range we would single out the ES-175.

Is it worth buying an expensive guitar? ›

Are Expensive Guitars Better? To put it simply – yes, expensive guitars are almost always way better than cheaper ones. You'll not only get a better build quality and materials, but the tone and the overall performance will be much better.

Is a $2000 guitar worth it? ›

Is it worth spending around $2,000 on a guitar? Typically, you can expect the very best in fit, finish, and overall quality control, when you are buying a guitar at this price point.

Are 200 dollar guitars worth it? ›

I recommend guitars in the $200-$300 range for newbies simply because I believe it gives them the best shot at success. Companies like Epiphone, Yamaha, and Squier have earned a reputation for producing quality instruments at low prices, and you can depend on them for your first guitar.

Are 200 dollar guitars good? ›

What Is the Best Electric Guitar for Under $200? The Squier Bullet Stratocaster and the Epiphone Les Paul Special II are the best electric guitars under $200. Both guitars are well made and they both sound great. Your choice will come down to your style of play and your goals as a new musician.

Is 400 dollars a good guitar? ›

There's many great electric guitars under $400 dollars. Guitars in this price range sound much better than the cheaper models and you also get more options available. These instruments still may require some setup, but for the most part, there's not a whole lot to do.

How many guitars is it reasonable to own? ›

Owning 1 acoustic & 1 electric guitar is a good start, Adding different models of each helps if you have varied interests. You may want to add a guitar to experiment with different types of pickups & modifications.

Do old guitars really sound better? ›

Older guitars often sound better than newer ones as they dry out over time which causes them to become harder leading to a more resonant tone with better sustain. The increase in age affects the tone more in acoustic guitars than electric ones.

How many hours does it take to master guitar? ›

More Arbitrary Ratings of Proficiency
LevelHours NeededDaily Practice Investment
Beginning625156 days
Intermediate125010 months
Advanced25001.8 years
Expert50003.5 years
5 more rows

Can you haggle on a guitar? ›

I always pitch at 10% less of the sale price of whatever it is (only with guitars or amps though - too much effort on lower cost items). Like the others say, just tell the guy what you'd pay (not what you can afford), and then walk away if he doesn't go for it.

Is it easier to learn on an expensive guitar? ›

With that said, there is one reason why expensive guitars may be considered easier to play. Higher end guitars are usually built better. This means that you're less likely to experience fret buzz, even with a lower action. Hence, this can make it easier to hold a note and puts less pressure on your fingers.

Which guitar is hardest to play? ›

In many cases, the traditional steel-string Acoustic guitar can be the hardest to play. The strings tend to have a heavier gauge which makes things harder when first learning. The metal strings also means that your fingers will ache after playing while new to the instrument.

What guitar brand is the easiest to play? ›

  1. Yamaha Pacifica 112V. The best beginner electric guitar for small budgets – a great all-rounder. ...
  2. Squier Classic Vibe '50s Stratocaster. The best beginner electric guitar overall. ...
  3. PRS SE Standard 24. ...
  4. Epiphone Les Paul Studio. ...
  5. Gretsch G2420 Streamliner. ...
  6. Yamaha Revstar RS320. ...
  7. Epiphone SG Standard. ...
  8. Squier Bullet Mustang.
4 Nov 2022

How can you tell a cheap guitar? ›

The main differences are:
  1. On cheap guitars they don't spend a lot of time to finish them and to make them perfectly.
  2. Usually the action of the strings is not right. ...
  3. The pickups are not just with magnets, but has a lot of steel, so the sound is not too clear, and the output is lower.

What price is considered a cheap guitar? ›

Entry-level Guitars: $180 or less

You'll often find these guitars in those all-in-one guitar bundles that include a gig bag, strap, maybe an amp, as well as other accessories. Those extras usually bump the price of the whole package up to around $200+.

Which guitars are a good investment? ›

Rarity and quality are two key determiners of investment value, and Martin guitars made before World War II are both rare and excellent in quality. These acoustic guitars are known for great sounds and were used by many prominent musicians, making them valuable.

What is a Grade 8 guitarist? ›

The Grade 8 Guitar exam is for candidates who have mastered advanced technical control and have a thorough grasp of extended stylistic techniques.

Do guitars increase in value with age? ›

If an older instrument is worth more, then at what point does it begin to be more valuable? The huge majority of guitars depreciate in value rapidly, just look at "that big auction site" versus the same instrument sold new through a retailer.

Do cheap guitars sound good? ›

Yes, they can. If you are good enough, you can make any guitar sound good. Also, the amp and strings you are using have a huge impact on your tone. So if you replace stock strings with better ones and choose a solid amp, you can sound really good with a cheap guitar.

What is the most comfortable guitar to play? ›

The most comfortable electric guitars to play while seated have Stratocaster body shapes. Parlour acoustic guitars are the most comfortable of all acoustic guitars to use while sitting down. This is due to the small size and comfortable contours of these guitar body types.

What brand sells the most guitars? ›

The top-selling acoustic guitar brands from Sweetwater were Taylor, Martin, and Gibson. While on Amazon, the most prominent acoustic brands were Fender, Martin, Taylor, Ibanez, and Yamaha. On the other hand, Guitar Center saw an increase in demand for less expensive brands such as Rogue and Mitchell.

How many years does a guitar last? ›

The roughest estimation would be around 10 years for a cheap acoustic\classical guitar. On the other hand, even cheap electric guitars will be able to last a lot longer, 20-30 years. Of course, if we talk about expensive models, both acoustic and electric guitars will be able to last you for a lifetime.

Why do people buy expensive guitars? ›

A more experienced technician will build them. It will have bespoke features a mass produced guitar won't, such as combining a different fret, and/or fretboard radiii with high quality machine tuners. Pick-ups and other electronics are likely to be better quality.

Is 25 too old to start guitar? ›

It's never too late to learn guitar! While there are definite advantages to learning the guitar at an early age, all it really takes is the desire to learn and the motivation to practice. School of Rock teaches adult students all the time, and there's no reason to let the kids have all the fun!

Is 23 too old to start guitar? ›

You are never too old to learn guitar. You can start learning guitar at any age. While younger people tend to learn faster, you are still capable of learning guitar as a beginner whether you are 30, 40, 60, or even 70.

Do smaller guitars sound better? ›

While tonewoods will affect overall tonality, smaller bodies will generally have less presence and a narrower dynamic range. The sound will often have more mid-range but is always precise and articulate, hence the desirability of a small body guitar for recording purposes.

What determines the price of a guitar? ›

The cost of labor, materials, shipping costs to market and maybe most importantly, branding. The retail price of a product to be commensurate with its quality, however, I do not find that to be a stable indicator. With guitars, one needs to touch and feel and play them to know the answer about quality.

Do more expensive guitars play better? ›

With that said, there is one reason why expensive guitars may be considered easier to play. Higher end guitars are usually built better. This means that you're less likely to experience fret buzz, even with a lower action. Hence, this can make it easier to hold a note and puts less pressure on your fingers.

What is the most high quality guitar? ›

To sum it all up, the best guitar brands are Ibanez, Fender, and Gibson. The best overall option would be the Ibanez JSM100, based on its overall quality and versatility. The Fender Telecaster is our number one Fender recommendation, while from the Gibson range we would single out the ES-175.

Is buying an expensive guitar worth it? ›

To put it simply – yes, expensive guitars are almost always way better than cheaper ones. You'll not only get a better build quality and materials, but the tone and the overall performance will be much better.

Is a 1000 dollar guitar worth it? ›

These days, $1,000 IS not that much for a good playing guitar but isn't absolutely necessary to play and get enough sound to play even professionally. Buying a used acoustic is a great option and rather than being new and the guitar having to settle into it's unique sound, will already have gone through the process.

Do old guitars actually sound better? ›

Older guitars often sound better than newer ones as they dry out over time which causes them to become harder leading to a more resonant tone with better sustain. The increase in age affects the tone more in acoustic guitars than electric ones.

What is the most well known guitar brand? ›

Along with Gibson, Fender is probably among the most recognized guitar names out there. Models like the Stratocaster and Telecaster are etched into history as some of the greatest guitars ever made. Their USA-made instruments have shaped just about every genre of music for over 60 years.

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