Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Acoustic Guitar Purchasing Dilemmas (circa 2022)

Monday, March 7, 2022

Acoustic Guitar Purchasing Dilemmas (circa 2022)

 As a general rule, I think for most people the following made sense for the past 20+ years:

 Buy your first "introductory" guitar.   One takes a chance here, because it's probably not going to be very playable or sound nice.  This is usually without advice from me, and usually takes the form of a guitar that comes in a "pack" deal, somewhere in the $100-150 ball park.

  What I'd advise then would be a "compromise" guitar.  Something better than the above, but not a "real" acoustic guitar.  The advice would be to get the nicest possible with a solid spruce top, with consideration for a pickup system.  Epiphone and Seagull/LasSiDo has been a good choice in this category, .

 Then, I would advise to try not to buy another UNTIL one could afford either a Martin D28, or a 600-700 series Taylor.  Because - in between you're either paying for cosmetics, or another compromise, and these 2 are effectively where "professional, standard issue" acoustic guitars start.  But the main reason was - and I've been saying this for decades now - 

 "there will come a time when it will basically be impossible for you to consider buying a Martin D28.  Try to get one now if you can".

 For a long time $1,000 was the Magical Professional Price Point.  The "nice" guitars started there, or from another perspective, that was how much a Les Paul or D28 would cost.  In the late 90s D28s started creeping up in price; by the 2000s it was going up about $100 a year.  

 A D28 now costs $3,000.  While my perspective may be skewed - my income from teaching guitar has lagged inflation, effectively flat for my whole life, I can no longer advise someone to stretch their second-guitar budget to a D28.  Those days are over; trying to stretch $600,700 or even $800 to that Previously Magical $1,000 landmark was a tough ask, but $3,000 is ridiculous.

 Meanwhile, from what I've seen the sub <$500 price point has gotten better.  EXCEPT:

  • Manufacturing quality is sort of all over the place;
  • Traditional woods are harder to find.

 Which is why my advice is somewhat more ambiguous now:

 Try to get a solid SPRUCE top guitar first and foremost.  The Seagull brand is a cut above quality wise IMO; a less traditional choice of cedar for a top, buy probably a better deal if you're looking to get a guitar to actually use in public.  
 Secondly, instead of trying to stretch to get a D28 or Taylor/"?" equivalent,

 Try to find a guitar made of the traditional woods: spruce top; mahogany neck; rosewood or ebony fingerboard; mahogany or rosewood back/sides.  Because this is the formula for what you're used to hearing on recordings as a "standard acoustic guitar".  Scarcity is forcing manufacturers to substitute other woods, some working better than others.  

 What that means is that getting around that $1,000 mark means there are a couple of Epiphone, Yamaha models, and Seagulls that meet that bill.  Those manufacturers still exhibit a fair standard of quality; you're effectively purchasing an "off brand Martin".  They don't have the name cachet, but effectively speaking are still fine guitars.  

 Because where my advice once was "there will be a time when you won't be able to buy a Martin D28", I'm now stating "there will be a time when you can't buy an acoustic guitar made of the traditional acoustic guitar woods".

$.10, YMMV.

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