The Real Price of an Acoustic Guitar
When so much of the final price has little or nothing to do with the materials and workmanship its time to rethink how guitars are sold
How much does a good acoustic guitar cost and what goes into a guitar to make it worth its price? In other words "How can a musician figure out the "real" price of an acoustic guitar? Tough questions? Not really. We know the answer. We'll share it with you and tell you how we came up with the number. Firstly we want to establish what constitutes a "good" guitar. For our yardstick we're going with the following:
- an all solid wood body - no laminated tops backs or sides. "Laminated" is nothing more than the industry's way of saying "plywood" - kind of like "The parrot is only resting"
- quality hardware. (e.g tuning machines that stay in tune, and bone or Tusq rather than plastic nuts and saddles)
Next we need to consider how those materials are cared for and assembled. Proper drying, honest grading and carefull storage of wood all have a huge effect on the final product. It may be tempting to cut costs by using wood too soon (think Orson Wells) or save on real estate by not having enough dry rooms but the results show. The third component of our "good" guitar is the actual assembly. 21st century technology such as CNC machines are fine for tasks like carving neck blanks but can't compete with skilled hand work for setting those necks - especially if you want a guitar with more than ho-hum sound.
So our baseline is an all solid wood guitar made from dry selected woods and put together with skilled human hands. How much does that guitar cost? That depends. In addition to the cost of the actual materials and workmanship you need to factor in the cost of getting the guitar from the factory to your eager little (sorry Donald) hands.
The industry term for that trip is "distribution". It's one of the messy secrets of the music business that - from factory to brand to distributor to regional distributor to dealer - it can add as much as 60% to the final price. That's right - as much as 60%. Each step involves not just shipping and warehousing but credit departments, sales departments, accounting departments etc....hundreds or thousands of people. Guess who pays their salaries.
We're going to suggest that the real price of a guitar is the lowest price paid by anyone in that distribution chanel. If a factory sells a guitar to a disributor for $800 and through multiple markups that guitar eventually sits on a dealers wall with a $2,000 sticker price is the real price the original $800 or the final $2,000? We'll go with $800. When so much of the final price has little or nothing to do with the materials and workmanship its time to rethink how guitars are sold. This is the 21st century. There's no reason to pay prices based on a creaky distribution system that dates back to the launch of the Titanic.