3 WAYS LUTHIER BUILT GUITARS ARE BETTER
(and 3 ways they are not)
This is the first in a series of articles we’re putting out which will help you make an informed decision on your first (or next) purchase. Essentially, these are questions we tossed and turned over in our sleep when we first got into buying and collecting guitars many years back.
This article discusses some ways how luthier built guitars are better, and some ways they are not.
WHY THEY ARE BETTER
Unparalleled sound quality
A luthier built guitar has the potential to look and sound beyond anything from a factory or small shop guitar brand. Luthier built guitars are usually built one at a time or in small batches of 3-4 guitars. This allows the luthier to focus all their time and attention on the guitar being built, allowing them the luxury of being able to individually voice and perfectly balance the build of the guitar, with the goal of bringing out the optimum potential of the instrument. Due to the small volume of guitars being built, immense care can be taken in the voicing and bracing of each individual guitar; the thickness of tops, brace height and sound board stiffness can all be optimised to produce the best tone the wood can offer you.
Another advantage of the small volume of production is that the tonewoods used are subjected to a much higher quality of control, where woods used are often of Master Grade quality, especially for rare tonewoods such as Brazilian Rosewood. With a well built luthier guitar, you should expect unparalleled clarity and responsiveness from it.
2. Unique builds and custom appointments
Want a Cutaway? A Fanned Fret? Special inlays to convince your wife to let you buy another guitar? It doesn’t matter if you want something as simple as a Manzer Wedge, Fanned Fret, Arm Bevel, Rib Bevel, or something as outrageous as a 7/8/9/10 string, Harp Guitar, or something that Luca Stricagnoli would play; an experienced luthier would be able bring your design to reality. In the world of luthier built guitars, the sky's the limit. For some examples, take a look at some amazing builds done by Michihiro Matsuda and Leo Buendia.
3. Value for money
As counter-intuitive as this sounds, it is not always true that a solo luthier built guitar costs more than a factory or small shop guitar brand. Factory or small shop guitar brands tend to have different price ranges for different qualities of guitars built. A guitar from a factory or small shop brand built with the level of attention and detail required to deliver the quality of a competent solo luthier is almost certain to cost just as much and likely more. For example, we recently sold a limited edition handmade Martin D-100 for upwards of $100,000!
Additionally, mark-ups for exotic woods and appointments tend to be cheaper for solo-luthiers as compared to factory or small-shop brands. If we compare a luthier built guitar in Brazilian Rosewood, it can often be significantly cheaper than a factory/small shop’s top of the line Brazilian Rosewood series. The same can also be true for their other exotic woods.
You can also rest assured that the cheapest guitar built by the same luthier would sound practically just as good as their most expensive guitar!
WHY THEY ARE NOT
They may not necessarily sound better
It is not true that handmade guitars are better absolutely. Like with most things handmade (e.g. pasta, swords, soba etc), handmade guitars can only be as good as the skills of the craftsman. While having the ability to look and sound beyond any guitar from a factory or small shop brand, they can also sometimes miss the mark entirely. This is highly dependent on who the luthier is; there are many luthiers in the market, and only a small handful are really good. It is also largely untrue that the more expensive the luthier, the better the guitar.
If you are unable to try the guitar for yourself or are unsure of how to navigate this marketplace, it may be helpful to rely on the experience of someone trustworthy to guide you in making an informed decision. In this regard, trustworthy dealers can be very helpful guides for you.
2. They are expensive
While luthier built guitars can be value for money, they are as a general rule still expensive (just like how a Ferrari on sale can be “value for money” but still be expensive). Luthier built guitars are generally luxuries and we in no way encourage anyone to spend above their means or worse, go into credit card debt, to buy one.
Of course, there are still exceptions where a luthier who is just entering the scene can be pretty cheap. But you would have to depend on personal experience or advice from experienced and trusted dealers to know whether or not they are actually worth the money.
3. They require care and attention
Part of why luthier built guitars are generally of higher quality is because they are built to achieve the perfect balance between being lightly built (to achieve maximum responsiveness) and not having the guitar self-destruct. On the other end of the spectrum, factory guitars tend to be “overbuilt” with a larger margin of error in mind due to the sheer volume of production, which can compromise tone.
As a result of this, luthier built guitars (and small shop guitar brands too for that matter) require more care and attention. These guitars are built with the expectation that their customers are more discerning with regards to taking care of the instruments, which allows for guitars to be more lightly built.
If you enjoyed this article, you may look forward to the upcoming ones where we answer some of the nagging questions about guitars you've had, such as "What is considered as "Good” Tone" and "How many Guitars do you actually need?".
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