Why Some Guitars are Outrageously Expensive • Acoustic Tuesday 273

Do you ever dream of having a guitar only to realize it’s five—maybe 10!—times outside your budget? It’s probably because of one of these seven factors that determine a guitar’s price.

In this episode, we’ll explore why some guitars are more expensive than others. After decades of experience playing, buying, and selling, I’ve picked up on seven main factors that determine price.

Some of the factors are fairly fixed. Some of them are tied to market conditions. But all of them come together to determine the price of a guitar. I’m not saying this is a definitive list. Instead, it’s a great starting place for anyone who is wondering why a guitar is as expensive or cheap as it is.

I see so many guitarists dismiss a guitar based on its price. Instead of balking at a number or judging it on its value, ask yourself why. Why does it cost that much? Is it because of branding? Materials? Endorsements? Manufactured scarcity? The list goes on.

Also featured in this episode…

  • Music Emporium
  • Emily Hopkins
  • Polar Bear Effects
  • Candy Rat Records
  • Chris Thile

Related Articles

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the heads-up on ‘expensive’ guitars, but surely the only criteria for a beginner/intermediate is will a more expensive guitar improve my playing. If I could buy an $5,000 guitar that would take my playing to a much higher level, why wouldn’t I buy it? I assumed that expensive guitars are built to better tolerances and things like action was far superior to cheaper guitars, but maybe this isn’t true. I seem to recall that I was advised that for any beginner you should buy the best instrument you can buy as they will be easier to play. True?

  2. To me if a guitar is easy to play, the right size ( don’t prefer dreadnaughts) that is all I am looking for. I don’t pay any attention to the manufacturer. BTW, would you be able to review Riversong guitars? I heard one of their models won an international award.

  3. I think resale value is important when buying a guitar. For instance, I bought a standard no frills Martin D-28 from Guitar Center in 2013 for $2400. Today, looking at Reverb I could probably get that much if I sold it. So I figure so far the guitar has cost me $0. It’s not exactly an investment, but it is storing it’s value nicely and in the mean time I get to play it.

  4. Interesting format for your discussion on guitar pricing. In a rare, less than glowing, comment from me I felt the presentation was a bit disjointed and confusing and dwelled too much on why some guitars are worth way more than their build quality, materials, brand and condition would suggest. I don’t mention tone since that is such an intensely personal thing. Fundamentally, mass produced “factory built” guitars are the lowest price. You completely missed the impact of WHERE THEY ARE MADE on the price. I won’t go into more detail about pricing differences. You did end up covering most of the major factors eventually. And your discussion did do good job of explaining why some guitars are outrageously expensive. I like the discussion format but I suggest you spend a bit more time creating a script or outline to follow and record a dry run to go back and see if it make sense before publishing. Sorry for the negative feedback Tony. Just being honest that this segment seemed below your typical standards to me. You also didn’t specifically mention that how much you may love owning and playing a guitar is not necessarily proportional to the price. There were some hints about deciding what is important. Many newer guitar geeks get hung up on a straight line relationship between cost and how good the guitar is. For example – one of my favorite guitars is a low end model I paid under $500 for. Stamped out in a factory in China with solid top and laminated side/back. Super detail and finish quality for what it is. Looks great, sounds very cool and inexpensive enough to travel and camp out with while good enough to gig or jam with. If you are curious, it is a PRS Tonare P20 SE. I find myself playing it nearly as often as my expensive Collings OM2.

  5. It’s Thursday morning and I just now saw the Episode 273 show.
    Comments:
    I don’t remember what “sweater” you had on in the Martin episode, but being born and raised in Illinois until age 62, love today’s sweater. Notice I didn’t say “jersey”. 😉
    Guitars:
    My first acoustic from 15-16 months ago, is a Yamaha FG830 Dread. Love it! May never get rid of it.
    Since then, I’ve gone a little nuts. I have since purchased a Martin 000-18 Standard, several Taylors, a used PRS A50E Angelis, a Furch OM-SR, a Larrivee 000-OM……. I also have several electrics. You get the idea. There are advantages to being retired AND not being married. 🙂 No offense ladies.
    My purchases are based on a couple different criteria. I like the idea of something that should at least hold it’s value, if not appreciate. Being a part time woodworker, I love beautiful woods. I am also willing to pay more for handmade as I know what kind of work goes in to woodworking projects. Making some of these guitars from scratch, could be a nightmare. Something that is also collectible, whether it is a color/style in an electric, or a more exotic wood type scenario for acoustics. But, in the case of an acoustic, it has to have a wonderful sound.
    Right now, Furch is producing what they call a Rainbow Series. As I understand it, in this series they are using wood combinations that they don’t ordinarily use, or just more exotic woods. Supposedly, it will be limited to 22 units. Hmm.

    Now, Tony, a question for you. Do you have any experience with the newer(?) Bourgeois Touchstone D Vintage/TS Series? From what I’ve seen, I believe they are hand voiced at Bourgeois and assembled by Eastman. Still handmade. I’ve seen a very nice Dread and was surprised by the price point compared to other Bourgeois’ I’ve seen. Any insights?

  6. Hi Tony. Just watch episode 273. I joined in 2017 just as I retired. Great resource for anyone thinking of taking up or getting better at playing guitar. Around that time I decided I wanted to learn to build acoustic guitars from the blocks of wood and was taught by a guy in Ayrshire Scotland. Here’s the core of the email. Having built many acoustic and electrics from scratch one thing you could have mentioned regarding costs of acoustics is time. The raw materials (wood, hardware, etc) usually cost me £600-900. They can take 100 hours to complete so time is a factor for some acoustics. Even if I charge £25/hour for my time building one that puts on £2500. I know the big companies have modern machinery that cuts the time to build an acoustic but when one is crafted by hand not machine the cost will increase immensely. So spare a thought for the smaller guys out there like myself who love to build guitars and don’t always get what they are worth when selling them. Finally percussive guitar players wow. The guy who taught me to build guitars also make custom guitars for Preston Reed. Have a listen to him playing guitar, absolutely fabulous. Thanks for many pushes and shoves along my acoustic journey..
    Mike Johnson Isle of Man UK

  7. When I bought my first guitar I had a budget. I was then taken around a load of guitar shops by a friend who had encouraged me to start playing (You’re never too old, he told me) and the criteria I established after a couple of shops was how the guitar sounded and how comfortable it was, especially with respect to the neck.
    On a different aspect, I hate the inflation introduced to the market by collectors, who have no intention of ever playing the guitar at all. They want to own it and perhaps put it in a glass case to hang on the wall. But they have no intention of ever using it for the purpose it was created for.

  8. When I was shopping for my retirement present guitar, I started with making a list of the criteria important to me. Made in the Northwest, small to medium shop, sustainable woods culture, fit my budget. I ended up at Music World in Vancouver WA, spent over 3 hours playing 20 guitars. Once whittled down to 3, I had the manager play them with my back turned so I could judge the sound fairly. I ended up with the middle priced one, have continued to compare it to more expensive guitars and it always wins to my ear. I love that guitar! It’s not how much it costs or how pretty it is or what name is on the headstock, it is what you like.

  9. A huge factor in cost would have to be who might have owned the guitar. I know a guy (no, really) who played in a band which opened for The Grateful Dead in the 70’s. He bought a Fender Strat from Jerry Garcia for $75. He sold it a few years later for about the same amount. We could only take a wild guess what it would be worth today.

  10. I love fine guitars. Particularly acoustic guitars. I appreciate not only their sonic qualities, but their overall design, beauty, heritage, materiality, craftsmanship, technical developmental history, mystique, aroma. . everything about them. Guitars (and music in general) are one of the pinnacles of human invention. I have collected a few, play them daily, and cherish every moment. I’ve worked hard all my life and I think its ok to enjoy and appreciate some of the fruits of ones labors and acoustic guitars are one of mine. So to those who are casting shade on yesterday’s episodic topic, GFY.. Henry David Thoreau said it best: “Always you have to contend with the stupidity of men.” So don’t let your detractors get under your whiskers! btw.. almost 4 years TAC member with 1270 playing sessions and enjoying every bit of it. JJ

  11. I bought a guitar based on the wood (and resulting sound)… I came across a rosewood backed Gibson dreadnought at a sweet price and knew that fewer of them are available with import limitations now. Investment for future? Maybe. But it sounds great today anyway!

  12. my new goal is to become knowledgable enough about bracing, tone woods, neck width etc to become a real guitar snob – and then just be really nice to everyone and accepting of all instruments that make music and make people happy

  13. For me, there would never be a question of buying an expensive guitar based on the brand recognition, artist association, or special edition mystique. At this point in my guitar journey my playing skills are not advanced enough that it would matter, really. Someday I hope to get far enough to reward myself with a special guitar – and my intention then will be to find a local luthier and have my ideal guitar custom made for me. From what I’ve learned, that choice would cost about the same as a higher end Martin, Gibson etc production model. As for the vintage and collector editions, sure I’ll pick up a couple of those after I get my Maserati and my private island!

  14. My first “quality” guitar was a Taylor 214ce-SG with hard case for under $1,200 from Chicago Music Exchange – my son actually found it and had me come down. Not super expensive but I think it’s a really nice instrument and more than good enough for a beginner, especially after he worked over the fretboard and lowered the action. It was a huge step up from my $150 Ibanez. I’ve been a Taylor fan ever since, although I’d like to add a Martin to my guitarsenal at some point.

  15. I quite understand the issues of market, uniqueness, antiquity, etc. Yet I am surprised you haven’t given any attention to playability, action, depth and quality of tone, size/weight, etc. Perhaps these are matters to consider other than price, but it does seem to me that price would relate to what the player wants/needs/values.

  16. This is such a timely discussion for me as I am currently shopping for another guitar. Thanks, Tony! I appreciate the discussion!! How a guitar sounds and how it feels when playing are my two top priorities. However, a third category that has been a huge disappointment in my current search – aesthetics. I played a $3500 Taylor which sounded awesome and felt like it fit me like a glove when playing. However, I was disappointed that the fret inlay was mere dots. Really? Dots?? I feel like at that price point there could have been at least a differ shape. My 20 year old Washburn has beautiful quatrefoil mother of pearl inlay. What about about a unique design on the pick guard? Guitars at a much lower price point, like Luna for example, come with a little extra pizzazz. Speaking of price point, I was surprised at how inexpensive guitars are! There were several at around $500 that played beautifully.

    1. whatever shape those fret makers might have been, other than dots, they still would have been done by automated machinery. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing but if you’re looking to buy some craftsmanship for your money, you’re not going to get it from any of the bigger manufacturers. You may get fancier but not really craftsmanship. If you like the look of the fancier inlay, pearl inlay etc. by all means buy it and enjoy it. Remember what Tony said – the first influence on price it the name – Taylor spends a lot of money convincing everyone that the Taylor headstock is worth a premium price. The factory is putting out 1000 guitars a day. The amount of actual human time spent on the guitar is tiny. There are individual luthiers out there who put hundreds of times the work into each instrument. A luthier built instrument will likely be more money than the $3500 Taylor so that might be am unfair comparison. I’ve been playing for over 50 years, worked in guitar stores, taught guitar, even studied music at university. I’ve travelled the world to see guitars and visited many luthiers and builders. If I had the money I might buy a Somogyi, and Olson, Ryan, Greenfield, Laskin,…Even if you can’t afford any of those (I know I can’t) you should find a dealer with some and play them. I think it will change your ideas about guitar. In the more affordable price range there’s a new brand – Maestro, $3000-$6000 are totally amazing, see if there’s a dealer near you. – I’m not associated with them in any way just discovered and played them recently.
      Happy hunting.

      1. So would an Maestro Original Series Singa SR CSB A 2022 (used) in Very Good condition for $1900 be a great deal?

  17. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Some folks feel compelled to express it… and some just want to fight. Some of what that troll-like fellow wrote actually did make sense, but most of it was incoherent. There are some very nice guitars made in China. (Korea not-so-much, for some reason.) J-45 vs. D-18? Totally a matter of personal taste.

    Tony, the hockey sweater (not ‘jersey’) is your trademark. And you have a right, since you actually play hockey! So, c’mon…

  18. Hi Tony I can see why some guitars cost more than others however I am wondering is there a big difference in sound between a cheaper guitar and say a mid price guitar and then a high price guitar? I would assume the wood used would make a big difference in sound. Great video today.

  19. Playability & Sound have to be #1 for me. Everything else is secondary, though I’m willing to pay a little extra for a beautiful instrument… as long as it sounds great and I love playing it. I have nothing against factory-built guitars if they are designed well and built to precision using good materials, but the concept of an instrument that was hand-made by a person is so cool!

  20. I happened to be eating pretzels while “having my mind pretzeled” listening to Chris Thile on your show; inception?

  21. Great discussion. As an example of your point; In 1974 I moved from a small town to Toronto for college. I discovered a Larrivee guitar at small guitar shop. Up till then I have only seen and played a few Gibson and Martin acoustics (don’t forget Canada is a small market compared to the US). The Larrivee was a far better guitar than anything I had seen or played up to that point. It was basically a hand made guitar (at that point Serge De Jonge had apprenticed with Jean and set up on his own, Grit Laskin was just finishing his apprenticeship, David Wren and Linda Manzer were just about to begin their apprenticeship, it was a small shop, they were hand built guitars). The guitar had a wooden Spanish style rosette, wood bindings, and it just looked and played better, It cost about 60% of a similar Martin, because at the time almost nobody knew Larrivee, that was yet to come, Bruce Cockburn had just bought one and used it instead of his Martin. The smaller guitar builder explosion (Bourgeouis, Santa Cruz, Froggy Bottom, Taylor etc.) had not yet happened and Martin predominated. If you are just looking for a great playing, great sounding guitar to accompany your music making journey, try to ignore; the name, the wood, the vintage, the collectability, etc. Close your eyes and play, if that guitar moves you, if it says, play me, play me, then that’s the guitar for you. Of course if those other factors mean something for you there’s nothing wrong with that either.

  22. Oh Dudddde, you should so call me in the morning so we can coordinate outfits and make sure the outfit for the day will match the guitar choice for the day’s session. I like wearing purple when I am playing maple, Green when I am playing rosewood, Blue when I am playing mahogany, and when I am playing KOA I like prints. How about you Tone? Uh oh, is this distracting me from my focus. I will say no,…it is focus adjacent.

  23. You also have to factor in current economic conditions. The same guitar that brought, say, $2000 on Ebay or other selling list in 2007, dropped to nearly half of that when the impact of the 2008 crash set in. This probably impacts the time it takes to sell a guitar even more, but both this and price reflect how many buyers there are and how much they have to spend.

  24. Great show. I finally found the comment spot.
    1-have you ever played a Stehr guitar? Out of Spokane.
    Custom guitars, very good sound and High craftsmanship.
    I got to play 4-5 brand new never been played. What a treat,they sound good at first but after 5-10 minutes of playing they settle it and go from good to jaw dropping. Stehrguitars.com.
    Really enjoy the show. Taking TAC. (SERE name)

  25. Seems really strange that in all this wordy analysis of guitar value the factor of SOUND is never mentioned once.

  26. I want to imagine that appearance of an instrument doesn’t matter to me to any significant degree — but it does. In my case I am turned off by “endorsements” or highly decorated models with lots of inlays and bindings and so on. I get some sort of value satisfaction if the instrument looks simple, unpretentious, clean. More than I should. I’ve looked at a couple of instruments that were more than appealing by sound and playability that I rejected because they didn’t have the plain simplicity of a Seagull. Strange!

    1. Lots of great guitars out there but I keep coming back to Seagull. At my second home away from the USA right now and the guitar in leaving here with gamily and currently playing is an older S6 slim. Its got loads of great warm sound. Got 2 more Seagulls at home in Mt Shasta.

  27. Tony, do purveyors of guitars typically have the background information available on any given guitar they are selling that can inform the buyer about the seven factors you discussed in pricing a guitar?

  28. A lot of perceived value depends on whether you plan to actually play it or just put it on a fancy display and dust it off every now and then. Are you buying it with the intent of reselling it at a profit, or are you going to play it until it wears out?