Other Guitars

People Who Buy Boutique Guitars Thousands of Dollars

51

Daniel nice build you did. Was it hard to build? Takes skill to build an archtop.

– ThePolecats

I should have clarified I didn't actually build the guitar, I just built up a pre-built cheap Epiphone Olympic reissue, and turned it into an electric guitar, with a TV Jones Harness, some Gretsch Dynasonics, and a pickguard. I should have phrased that better. It's a cheap little thing as I bought the guitar for $300 and even with the new parts it still cost me less than $700 total. And it really sounds great for what I do.

This is what I started with... https://i.imgur.com/yoTjAQo...

52

Not everybody's broke...

53

The beauty of being well-off is that you can waste money on things that don't really add value. (Ironically though, one doesn't get rich by paying more for things than necessary.)

54

I'm so fortunate not to have the stress of whether I should invest in guitars in that price range. The honest truth; I was looking at Harley Bentons today. Go figure!

55

A little more food for thought: Which would you rather have, a Da Vinci or an excellent copy of a Da Vinci that someone is charging twice as much for?

56

Which would you rather have, a Da Vinci or an excellent copy of a Da Vinci that someone is charging twice as much for?

Yup. At least a useful analogy, if not 100% applicable. Da Vinci wasn't in the business of making serial "copies" (or "issues" or "editions") of his own work. So far as I know, he was pretty much one and done. (Many artists have, however, done series, I know.)

Neither Leo Fender and his point men nor McCarty and his buds at Gibson thought they were making art in the 50s and 60s. They were making consumer items, produced with as much assembly-line industrially reproducible consistency as possible.

From that perspective, was the first [Broadcaster, Telecaster, Strat, Les Paul, you-name-it] the original artifact, and every one made thereafter (by Fender / Gibson) simply a copy made by the same firm?

The comparisons to art kinda fall apart with these assembly-line guitars. Virtually none - during the models' first couple-three decades - were made by a single individual who might have been considered a craftsman or artisan. They were passed down the line, where employees (with more or less experience, expertise, seniority) did their bit.

I'm not saying that makes them better or worse guitars. I don't know if a guitar coming from an assembly-line operation wearing the sanctioned brand name - or a guitar built to the same general spec by one guy, more or less from the ground up (as are both Custom Shop and boutique instruments) - is "better" or worth more. I'm sure it's down to a comparison of the specific guitars.

For the brand-named production guitar, we can say it carries the legitimate heritage of its brand, or more cynically notice that none of the people involved are the same as in the glory days. The best we can say is that there's an unbroken chain of business legitimacy - in that we can trace the ownership and management of the brand - and that there may be an identifiable lineage of managers and production heads who have more or less faithfully passed down a company culture. In the end, we know that everything bearing the official logo is sanctioned and blessed by whomsoever runs FMIC today. What's that worth? Mystery calculus.

For a boutique clonalike, a cynic can't help but observe that no matter the quality of materials, attention to detail, and faithfulness to the original design (or intelligent evolution from it), the guitar is still a copy of an original idea which was not the builder's. No doubt there have been copyists of Da Vinci art who became more technically skilled than Leo was at producing "his" art. But they didn't create the ideas in the first place. They remain copyists, not originators.

And the best that can be said - and it's not a little thing - is that the boutique version of a bonafide classic design may be built by one guy (though I suspect few really are executed end-to-end by one guy - more likely a small team), with meticulous attention to every detail, and a determination that the instrument be optimized stem to stern to be the very apotheosis, the Aristotelian ideal, of that particular design.

While hypothetical future value isn't, for me, the deciding factor in what guitars I spend my money on, when the price rises above a fuzzily defined threshold (which will differ from buyer to buyer depending on his resources and attitudes), I think prudence does dictate giving some thought to that future value.

For me, at the moment, that threshold is somewhere between 1,500.00 and 2,000.00. Less than that, I'm not thinking much about what the instrument will be worth to my heirs and assigns when I shuffle off, figuring it was expense money for my recreation and not an investment. Above that figure, questions like will this be worth at least this much when I'm in the ground (or, less dramatically, need to pay the nursing home for another month) do come to mind. I want to have toys, but I don't want to burn money.

In that context, it's worth asking what the future value of Fender copies which cost more than Fender Custom Shop guitars might be. I don't follow that market - but I have observed that boutique amps based on Fender designs fare poorly in resale by comparison to their purchase price. (And the more slavish the copy, the greater the gap.)

So if I felt the need to have the ultimate Tele / Strat / Jazzmaster / etc - and was convinced my current versions weren't it, or close enough - a boutique build would have to impress me, in hand and to the ear, as shockingly superior before I'd spend twice the money of a Fender Custom Shop guitar for it. And I don't know if I could still bring myself to do it. Not that I'm that much of a fan boy, but because it seems to me the Custom Shop hits the sweet spot: a guitar built by a small team, of premium materials, with obsessive attention to detail, and to my personal preferences - with the brand on the headstock of the company that invented it.

As it happens, I'm not convinced I'd sound or play one whit better on a Custom Shop or boutique version of these guitars. Could a guitar feel several thousand dollars better, or could I feel more owner satisfaction? I don't know.

But before I judge others' acquisitions, I play with the zeros, understanding that perceptions of money's value change as a function of how much of it we have. Would a guitar that felt better, or I was prouder of - for whatever reason - be worth tens of dollars more to me? Easily. Without a thought. Hundreds? Maybe, if it was, say, still under half the cost of the guitar. I definitely fold at thousands. But I appreciate that there are buyers for whom thousands are as tens to me.

And, practically, I'm ever mindful of the 80/20 rule, where we might be asked to pay 80% more for 20% improvement (in some aspect). Or 90/10. And the higher up the scale you get, the more you pay for less objective improvement.

I also think that if money were no object, I would rather put it into great vintage examples of classic Fenders than into boutique builds. And loooong before I did that, I would buy much more adventurous and stranger guitars from recent and current guitar innovators: a Gittler, a Teufel Birdfish, something from Skervesen or Rick Toone. It's a wide guitar world, with more in it than Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker, and even Gretsch - or any other "classic" instruments.


I do think there's an element of me-too cork-sniffery in the high end boutique-build-clone market, perhaps a tacit agreement to admire (and pay for) the emperor's resplendent new duds, even while suspecting he's buck nekkid. When I see many of the premier demo guys on youtube playing Fender (and even Gibson) type guitars, it's usually one of the currently trendy boutique builders - Suhr, Collins, etc.

But when those same guys play guitars originated by younger brand names - say Reverend, DiPinto, and the like - they play the "real thing." It's almost like there's a prejudice against guitars made by the old brand names, with boutique players telling Fender and Gibson "you guys don't even know how to make your own guitars."

There have been times - and are probably still particular instances - when that might be true. And when it's a value proposition, it makes perfect sense to me: hey, if I can get a guitar as good as or better than Fender/Gibson for less money, why wouldn't I?

But when it's I can get a better guitar than the name brand's Custom Shop offerings for just twice the money! ... the rationale falls apart for me.

Because you might end up with a Mona Lisa better (by some definition) than Da Vinci painted...but that doesn't make it a Da Vinci. It doesn't even come out of his shop...

57

Well when I get that 6k strat I'm definitely springing for one of these:

Calton Cases Fender Stratocaster, Strat Flight Case, Silver Sparkle, Blue Interior https://reverb.com/item/368...

What's another 1100.00 in the mix

58

I've had cheap, and I've had expensive over the years. Some of my old Country Clubs that I bought new cost me north of $2500 (my Fender Britt Daniel Tele Thinline, also drifted pretty close to $2500 cost-wise by the time I was done getting it refretted), when you throw in sales tax, the guitars I traded for them, and the cost of refretting them due to my nickel allergy. Actually due to the cost of refretting guitars, cheap guitar thrills are out for me nowadays. The lowest price new guitar I can justify getting refretted is an MIM Fender, or a midrange Epiphone. Not withstanding their toothpick thin necks, that puts the nice sounding, and nicely made Squier CVs out of the running.

As it is. Coughing up the kind of money a custom PRS, Tom Anderson, or Skerveson 7-string goes for, is waaay more than I'm comfortable spending for a guitar. I've played some of those blue chip brand guitars, and I don't play or sound any better than I've sounded on my lower priced guitars. To each his or her own, but I'll pass.

59

I'm somewhat of a collector of guitars, and that why I probably paid too much for some of them. And, I own way more guitars than I should (I just counted and I own 45 guitars). So I just got to thinking, if I had to keep, 1 electric guitar, 1 resonator, 1 acoustic guitar, to make a a living with, which ones would I pick. I mean which guitar would be the guitar that got the job done if I had to play in a band or solo to pay my bills and I was only allowed one of each. In since I make my fulltime living with my guitars this is a question that I know I can answer honestly.

And when picking these guitar, resale value, so I could buy cheaper guitars didn't come into the equation.

My main criteria was, which model would work the best tone-wise, the best playing, and the most roadworthy.

And when I picked the few models that I would keep, their street value on each would all be in the $2000 - $2500 range. And quite of my guitars go over that range, so it just goes to show how expensive something is doesn't necessarily mean it's the best.

None of the cheapies or the ridiculously expensive models made it into my personal list.

60

The beauty of being well-off is that you can waste money on things that don't really add value. (Ironically though, one doesn't get rich by paying more for things than necessary.)

– drmilktruck

That depends on how you define added value. Does a Strat that sounds like the next one but weighs two pounds less have added value? Does one that feels lively and resonant but doesn’t really sound very different plugged in have added value? Is there any added value to a sunburst that’s artfully shaded rather than clumsily shaded?

It doesn’t take a lot of money to get a decent or even great playing and sounding guitar. But piling money into the equation can get you a lot more, whether it’s necessary or even beneficial. Toxophilite’s herringbone example was spot on. You can’t hear that inlay. But you know it’s there, and you pay for it, and I think you’d be hard pressed to mock a player as a diva for shelling out for a D-28 over a D-18.

61

Well..... They ARE art, and in such high demand that the repro market is thriving. But they were built as work tools. Something like Model A Fords. You can have a meticulously built reproduction that never got near the Dearborn factory. Likewise, some of the surviving steam locomotives ( and what was more of a work tool than a steam locomotive!) get meticulously restored, and more are on the way, although the most actual work they now do is pulling a few vintage passenger cars at slow speed a few miles for the sightseers. For awhile railroad museums were even importing locos from China when that country dieselized a couple decades ago. There's just something about a bygone era's work tools that resonates with us. Maybe it's that they were used to do real work.

62

My thought on it is if someone has enough money and wants a guitar like that then why not. But another thought is percentage wise is the resale value of a boutique guitar more or less than a Fender CS model. Also even at that can a $6500 boutique guitar like the MacMull be any better than a CS model for $3,000? I don’t know but somehow I don’t think so. But there must be market for $6,500 guitars otherwise would they be for sale otherwise?

63

Boutique starts cheaper than some might think. Doug Kauer made some Titan models. Usually, about $1K up used and he isn't making any more for the time being. Ron Kirn makes great (usually Fender style) guitars. They're starting to get pricier on the used market but again $1k up.

64

My thought on it is if someone has enough money and wants a guitar like that then why not. But another thought is percentage wise is the resale value of a boutique guitar more or less than a Fender CS model. Also even at that can a $6500 boutique guitar like the MacMull be any better than a CS model for $3,000? I don’t know but somehow I don’t think so. But there must be market for $6,500 guitars otherwise would they be for sale otherwise?

– ThePolecats

Many of those boutique guitar makers are one-man/woman businesses. AFAIK MacMull is a small team of three with actually one master luthier building these. If we compare prices to the Fender Custom Shop we should at least use their Masterbuild guitars, shouldn't we? These don't sell for 3k (over here). It's more >5k. A MacMull can be had for less.

65

Many of those boutique guitar makers are one-man/woman businesses. AFAIK MacMull is a small team of three with actually one master luthier building these. If we compare prices to the Fender Custom Shop we should at least use their Masterbuild guitars, shouldn't we? These don't sell for 3k (over here). It's more >5k. A MacMull can be had for less.

– sascha

sascha that is an excellent point. MacMull and similar should be on line with Fender Masterbuild which are online with that price. I think that is a better point I didn't entertain that thought.

66

This place is about five miles from my house. I'd consider one of these if I was a good classical player with money, but none of those I am. I went to this place about 15 years ago. This place is old school before even the term Boutique Guitar was coined. Don't know but I doubt this is a boutique guitar but a good old fashioned craftsman guitar. As a matter of fact Paul "Every Time You Go Away" Young bought a guitar from them for that British Tex Mex band he had for a bit. He also purchases strings from them. They mail them to him, he doesn't fly over just for strings, that would be costly for $15 strings.

67

Here is another old school custom guitar maker. He was known for classical and flamenco guitars. He made Gene Simmons axe bass for him. I saw it on his wall. maybe Simmons sold it back to him or maybe he made another for display purposes. Valdez was a bus driver originally from El Paso who came to Hollywood to make guitars and by all accounts excellent guitars. I spoke with old man Valdez years ago and been to his shop many times. I wish I asked him more questions. I heard different things why his shop closed. I heard that the shop closed because old man Valdez died but I heard he just retired. Which is it? Hoping he just retired.

71

Which I would totally have, if it fit into my range of (mostly) sane discretionary funds.

72

From the sublime to the practical. Lots of fine-point-philosophy going on here. Many perspectives that I probably wouldn't have otherwise considered. Truth be told, if money were absolutely no object, I would in all likelihood, simply buy whatever struck my fancy.

Or maybe that is not entirely true. There's something about the name on the head stock of an instrument that I simply cannot quite move past. Too much cool-aid I guess. IOW, I'd still be more likely to buy a custom shop model, or even a good quality production run unit than a boutique item, no matter the apparent quality difference(s), assuming there were differences to perceive. Is that a weakness, loyalty, or simply stubbornness. Regrettably, or perhaps fortunately, I'll never know for sure. I will say this however, call it art, or simply craftsmanship, Leo's original work at least, will always stand at the head of the Strat/Tele type line for me. If I'm blinded by the reality/absurdity of an actual brand name - then so be it...

73

Leo's original work at least, will always stand at the head of the Strat/Tele type line for me.

Well...Leo's name is on the headstock. And with his Henry Ford instinct and intentions, Leo made it happen. But we sometimes give him too much individual credit for the instruments. During development of the Telecaster, he was a kind of funnel for ideas and design elements borrowed from others (like Paul Bigsby). In a way, he was the one who got to a workable and saleable format for a notion whose time had come, and which was already floating around.

The Tele proved to be the right idea at the right time, but without Don Randall (who, besides being Sales, Marketing, and Organization in the early years - not to mention naming the Esquire, Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Precision Bass) - who knows whether Fender would today be The Icon or just a footnote.

Unless I misunderstand the history, Leo himself had less to do personally with the Strat, which owed more to the work of Freddie Tavares, Bill Carson, and George Fullerton. I guess, like Harley Earl at GM - who got credit for everything a team of designers worked on - Leo called shots and made final decisions. Obviously, full credit for that. Ain't knockin' the Leo.

Just pointing out that when we're appraising genius, insight, foresight, the force of originality, and the uncanny rightness of the designs...it was a group and not one guy who was responsible.

But for that work - and for the unbroken (though occasionally weakened and, by now, diluted) chain of ownership and management that goes back to 1946, and the fact that we have never not been able to buy Fender guitars - I do kinda feel like my Fenders ought to be Fenders.

I've read summaries of Fender's legal loss of trademark protection for its body shapes, and while I understand the company was lax about defending its interests in those designs for decades - and so has lost the legal right to claim them - I think the statement that those shapes are now "generic" for electric guitars and basses is ludicrous. We know there was nothing that looked (or, in the case of the Strat and P-Bass) worked like that before Fender introduced them. In my mind, the shapes as well as the headstocks are Fender's "intellectual" property - certainly the crown jewels.

Or do we now say spiritual property? Because whensoever thou dost play an instrument looking and configured like a Fender, thou doth convene and pay homage to its creators - yea, verily, not to the copyists (however skilled) who executed a facsimile.

I also have a lot of sympathy with the notion expressed in this thread that only so much can be to optimize the quality and performance of a bolt-neck slab-bodied electric guitar - whereas there are logarithmically more parameters, and wider scope for skill and individual genius, in building set-neck hollow(er) guitars. Along with the contributions of the other Fender forefathers - set down as perhaps THE self-evident core value of the line of the guitars - was Leo's bedrock instinct and insistence that the guitars be (relatively) inexpensive, simple, easily constructed (without traditional luthiery skills), and repairable. That was the Henry Ford in him, building workmanlike guitars as tools for the everyman. It's hard to believe Fender's Custom Shop can't manage to completely fulfill the promise of the designs. (And I'm satisfied with the down-market options.)

I don't have any horses backed with money in this race, because I am perfectly satisfied with my current Fender (and Fender-like) guitars, with absolutely no impetus to pursue either Custom Shop or boutique builds. Doesn't mean I haven't held and played some of these bespoke instruments. None have compelled me with any obvious tonal or functional superiority to guitars I already have. I'm just wondering, from a purely practical point of view (where I'm defining "practical"), just how much "better" they can be. So: like you, wise General, when I think Fender...I think Fender.

What a different tenor this conversation would have if there were dozens-hundreds of credible Gretsch clones, huh, and it was suddenly open season on Gretsch designs as "generic"?

74

I can't say anything I own is boutique, or something so beautiful and prissy you wouldn't dare to touch it. Or so unique, or rare, you couldn't replace it.

I've fondled guitars worth a lot, most for reasons not boutique-worthy.

But that shiny, hard to look away, ever so wonderful, special guitar is out there for everyone, we're only human.

We're all "Guitar Geeks" on this Bus...

75

The most money I spent was $2,100 plus shipping for my 1966 Mosrite Mark V but it isn't a boutique guitar but it has vintage status, hence the high price. I don't think I would spend that much on a Strat or boutique "S" type guitar.


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