Guitars: Cheap vs. Expensive

Guitars have huge differences in prices ranging from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars or even more. Many beginners or casual observers will not understand the differences. After all, guitar manufacturers have gone to great lengths in the previous years to make their beginner and intermediate level guitars ‘look’ as close as possible to the expensive name brand models.

In this article, we’ll look at both acoustic and electric guitars and discuss the various price ranges for guitars and what those price ranges often mean. We’ll go over the impact the differences have on tone, playability, and other factors by going from the cheapest guitar to the most expensive guitars.

Beginner Guitars: $0-400

The first tier of guitar and where most people start are the beginner guitars. Here the name of the game is simply to have a working guitar. We’re not too concerned about great tone or having every feature possible. We just need something that works.

The first thing to note about guitars in this range is the quality of the wood. Wood is where most of your tone comes from. This is true on electrics but is especially true on acoustics. Most guitars in this range are going to be made out of a composite wood or from a very low grade of wood. Basically the hot dog of woods.

The next thing is the quality of the components. Tuners will be of lower quality which means that getting in tune or staying in tune may be more difficult on these guitars. Nuts and saddles are likely to be made with very cheap material like plastic in order to save on costs. Electronics like volume, tone, or pickups are usually much lower quality too and can vary wildly in build quality and consistency. I’ve seen many students come in with their new beginner guitar and have some of the electronic components already failing.

The last thing to point out is where these guitars are build. Most of them are built on an assembly line in the cheapest places possible. Usually this means China, Taiwan, or Indonesia. This can mean that details in assembly might be suspect to poor quality. I’ve played guitars in this range where the frets weren’t cut right causing the ends of the frets to cut into your hand as you moved up and down the neck.

Intermediate Guitars: $400-1200

The intermediate level guitars are where many hobbyist guitarists land. You can get a lot of great quality in this range. If you’re a most bang for your buck kind of person then this range is probably where you’ll live so you can still afford to own a lot of guitars. Here you’ll find kind of the junior level of guitars offered by big name brands. This comes with a wider level of variety and features for you to choose even stock on your guitars.

The wood often receives a significant upgrade here. Electric guitars often upgrade from the composite wood to an A or AA grade wood. Acoustics may do the same or they may choose to have a AAA quality wood specifically for the top piece since thats where a lot of your tone comes from.

Components may get an upgrade here. You likely won’t the best quality components in these yet but you should see an upgrade from the bottom of the barrel components you saw in the previous tier. Something some guitar modders love about this tier is their ability to customize this level of guitar. Upgrading pickups, tuners, or nuts can be very easy and provide a level of customization.

Many guitars in this range are made or assembled in countries like Mexico, Korea, or Japan. The build quality of these guitars is much higher and their is a much higher quality check when leaving the factory.

Professional Guitars: $1200-3000

Here is where you see the highest build quality in a guitar. Some of your most famous guitars live in this range as well as your boutique guitars. The attention to detail is very high. While manufacturers will still try to find ways to cut down cost here, they know that these are often viewed as their flagship models and their entire brand may be judged on the quality of these guitars.

The wood here is usually top level. Electrics will be AAA quality or better. Acoustics (especially at the higher end of this price range) will start to see full wood top, back, and sides for its body. Acoustics will also start to see more dynamic and complicated bracing for better structural support. Some manufacturers even go through the process of baking the wood in an oven before cutting or assembling the guitar. This reduces moisture and humidity in the guitar which keeps the guitar from warping over time.

Components are very high quality and may even come from outside companies. Components such as tuners, pickups, or whammy bars are just a few that can be brought in from other brands.

Guitars here usually made and assembled in the USA but may also be produced in Japan or other countries depending on the companies country of origin. The build quality is very high and goes through many inspections. You will also start to see as you go higher in the price range a big increase in cosmetics and finishes on guitars. Finishes will be of much higher quality and may also increase in complexity too.

Custom Shop and Signature Guitars: $3000-6000

The custom shop and signature guitars are where no expense is spared. These are where every detail is poured over. All of the details from the professional guitars applies here but to an even higher degree.

Signature guitars are guitars that have been designed or modeled after another artists guitar. For example, Eric Clapton is known for a few different models of Stratocaster. If you want to play a guitar that is made exactly like his with every modification and upgrade, Fender likely sells one. Some guitar companies have gone on to sell cheaper versions of signatures in past years but even those will likely cost you around $1500. Even those will likely have some details glossed over or some corners cut. Usually the true models start around this $3000 price mark.

This price range may also include recreations of older models of guitars known as ‘Reissues’. For example, if you want a faithful recreation of 1959 Gibson Les Paul, Gibson makes ’59 Reissue that is as close as they can produce down to the details of the pickups, finish, neck profile, and more. While it might seem expensive to pay this much for a recreation of an older guitar, paying for the real thing might be way too expensive as we’ll explore in the next section.

Collectors Guitars: $6000 and Beyond

Here we find the most expensive of guitars. Limited runs, classics, or guitars owned by famous guitar players all exist in this price range. This is reserved for people where the price doesn’t matter, only the result.

As with many collectors items, the devil is in the details. The value of the guitar may come down to things like the year it was made, what condition its in, the serial number on it, or maybe most important who played it. Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D18E sold for $6 million.

People look at these guitars more as works of art than for utility purposes and therefore there is no limit as to how expensive guitars in this area can get. Most of us will likely never even buy one. But it is fun to think what you might spend a million dollars on if you could.

Other Posts

Scroll to Top