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FDP Forum / Miscellaneous and Non-Fender Topics / Very disappointed in high end, high profile acoustics these days (rant) (long)



Jul 31st, 2017 09:51 PM   Edit   Profile  

This past week I got a very expensive guitar in my shop for an emergency saddle and setup after the owner tried tweaking a few things on his own. I won't say who the builder is, but he is a very well reputed, well credentialed luthier running his own shop. The instrument had Brazilian back and sides, ivory nut and saddle, and all sorts of other features. New, this was probably a five figure instrument, or darn close to it.

The workmanship was... abysmal. It looked like someone's first attempt, and not a good one at that.

The binding (wood) was broken in several places, clearly broken during the installation process. It was just pressed into place and glued. This wouldn't be acceptable on a $300 guitar; it would have to be torn off and redone before finishing. There were also large gaps between the binding and the sides. The fret work was awful. I could bounce frets up and down with my finger. The general sanding/shaping of the instrument was amateurish. The transition from back profile to heel was far too broad, as though it was done without any measurements, and other things like the bridge shaping seemed very haphazard. The tone of the instrument wasn't great at all. It wasn't voiced well and did not work well through the whole range of the instrument. The original saddle (which the owner did not tamper with, he attempted to replace it) has a curved bottom so that you could barely tell which end was supposed to go into the slot.

It may seem like I'm being hard on this maker, but this instrument was truly awful. On most counts I would expect a $300 guitar to be better built. I am not one to pull out the magnifying glass seeking flaws on high end instruments, but these were just glaring.

Also, with these tonewoods and at this price point, it needs to be properly voiced. No one building at this level should be just slapping instruments together. They should be tuning them according to some method, or at least building them somewhat deliberately.

I've run into this a few times with these supposedly amazing, high end one-man-built instruments. What gives? Are people just getting lazy? Do these people really not know how to make a good guitar?

Makes me think I might be in the wrong business doing repairs. Too bad the start up costs for building are so high. Stanley Kubrick used to say that it wasn't great films that got him interested in making movies, it was the really bad ones and saying "heck, I can do better than THAT!".

Contributing Member


Aug 1st, 2017 03:37 AM   Edit   Profile  

Was it a counterfeit? A really bad counterfeit?



Aug 1st, 2017 10:30 AM   Edit   Profile  

We thought of that Leftee, but I don't think so. The reasons being that first, while this luthier is very well reputed and a big deal, he isn't terribly well known in the common market so I don't see the proper motivation for someone to make a knockoff. Second, this instrument used some seriously expensive and hard to find materials... not sure a knockoff artist would bother.

We also considered whether he had some bad lackies working for him or apprentices, but his site claims he is a "one man shop".

Another well reputed luthier does have employees, and on his instruments you can clearly see what he does himself and what he lets others handle. He makes beautiful sounding instruments that feel great, but things like fretwork or finish are horrible, and looking at some behind the scenes stuff on youtube confirmed that it was the stuff he delegated.

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Aug 1st, 2017 01:19 PM   Edit   Profile  

Not long ago I had a long term friend and customer bring me a brand new guitar. To complete a proper setup I had to level crown and polish all the frets. This was a big US brand and an expensive RI model. I couldn't believe it got out the door that way.

Contributing Member


Aug 1st, 2017 01:30 PM   Edit   Profile  

Three things.

"New, this was probably a five figure instrument, or darn close to it."

Then, everything after that.


Contributing Member


Aug 1st, 2017 01:39 PM   Edit   Profile  

I'm vaguely aware of that market but I have zero experience in it. My nicest acoustic was $300.

(This message was last edited by Leftee at 03:40 PM, Aug 1st, 2017)

Contributing Member

Houston, TX

Give me a second to think of something..
Aug 1st, 2017 01:45 PM   Edit   Profile  

I've played several guitars made by the guy that makes them for James Taylor and have been extremely shocked at how bad they all were - without exception. I guess JT must get the good ones...

Contributing Member

The rain sounds like

a round of applause
Aug 1st, 2017 03:52 PM   Edit   Profile  

"he had some bad lackies..."

Quite common for "one-man shops" to take on apprentices so they can gain some experience for the free labor. Too bad the the QC was so terrible.

Contributing Member


stigg "Geezer, and still lov'in it"!
Aug 8th, 2017 01:46 PM   Edit   Profile  

Are we going thru the 70's again when guitars, cars, electronics, made in the us were poorly made? it took the Japanese to force to clean up our act.
Where is the new guy to turn this around?

just sayin



Aug 11th, 2017 08:15 PM   Edit   Profile  

"Where is the new guy to turn this around?"

Well, with the proper funding... Hmmm...

Seriously though, you bring up a good point, which is "why now?"

The first I think is that there is a strange continuum between DIY and professional, and there is really no way to tell the difference on the surface. This is true for the repair world as well. Connected to that is that, quite honestly, snake oil and good advertising/PR go a very, very long way. I've had a rash of customers give me a long Q&A full of smoke-up-the-bum stuff they read online, and it can get frustrating.

Second, I'm not sure that consumers are making the proper demands. The sorts of people who drop five figures on a guitar frankly don't know how to evaluate a guitar and tell whether it was well made or whether it has strong value as a musical instrument. The real players usually go for off the rack stuff (with exceptions of course), and the folks looking at the very expensive stuff are quite easily bamboozled.

Some real honest journalism and reviews would be a good start. Few people want to call out the people making garbage... myself included since I omitted the luthier in question in the first post.


Hawaii, USA

Perfect is the enemy of good enough
Aug 31st, 2017 05:26 PM   Edit   Profile  

This reminds me of the last time I took an instrument into the shop. The owner of the shop was working on a Custom Shop Stratocaster that the owner had owned for about a month. He had to level a fret or two and electronics were giving issue.

He was telling his techs, "look at this".. All of the pots, switches and contacts look like they had solder thrown at them from across the room, the entire harness was a stinkin burnt up mess. It was a 7-10K guitar. The exterior was breathtaking for a strat, and it had all the proper decals and high end parts. Just crappy soldering.

(This message was last edited by jay1vinton at 07:27 PM, Aug 31st, 2017)

Contributing Member

USA/Taos, NM

Aug 31st, 2017 06:53 PM   Edit   Profile  

Years ago I purchased a Custom Shop Strat. It was certainly a beautiful guitar; played nicely, sounded **OK**, nice wood, etc. Not as good as my #1, but basically pretty nice. However, when the guitar arrived, it had the wrong stuff in the correctly marked goody bag--wrong trem arm, etc. And the strings on the guitar were a mish-mash of various types of strings and gauges. It was very confusing. It came in a sealed box from a very reputable dealer (FDP sponsor), who ultimately made good on the screw-ups. But it certainly had me wondering. Ultimately after a couple of years I let the guitar go. One of those that went out the door that I have never missed since. Bueno-bye.

6 Cylinder Slim

north woods

It just needs more voltage
Sep 1st, 2017 07:14 AM   Edit   Profile  

Interesting post. Maybe it's because when you get the chops to get people to part with 10 grand for a guitar, you don't need to worry about mundane stuff like luthier skills. If I could do that, I'd quit guitars and go straight into politics.

Coral Head

Sunshine State

Groupies needed
Sep 1st, 2017 11:26 AM   Edit   Profile  

There's nothing like CNC machines..... From a consistency and functionality perspective, a Toyota is probably built better than a Maserati.

Gene from Tampa
Contributing Member

Tampa, FL

Live! From God's Waiting Room ....
Sep 2nd, 2017 05:01 PM   Edit   Profile  

I have a co-worker who owns a $70k+ Maserati. The workmanship is about the same as my old Dodge Intrepid. That is to say .... poor. Just because something is expensive doesn't mean it isn't cheap.

Contributing Member

Maplewood, MN

Sep 7th, 2017 08:11 AM   Edit   Profile  

And then there are builders like Collings, which are the entire package: quality of wood, quality of build, and quality of finish are always exceptional and worth every penny.


Philly, B-3 Capital

don't dream it be it
Sep 8th, 2017 06:35 AM   Edit   Profile  

rip Bill

Contributing Member

So. Cal. USA

Sep 8th, 2017 10:17 AM   Edit   Profile  

I'm going to use the M word here.

I've been shopping Martin guitars. I want a Martin dread. Don't need it, just want it.

The action on most, yes most, of the new instruments I have sampled is just miserable. Some are acceptable but still need some tweaks, very few of these.....Sad for guitars with a 3-5K price tag.

Contributing Member

East Tennessee

Sep 14th, 2017 09:59 AM   Edit   Profile  

I'd have some reservations buying a >$2k instrument from any of the "big name" companies.

When I needed a concert grade instrument for classical guitar studies at uni I picked out a luthier and had the instrument commissioned. Took about 9 months until it was finished but definitely worth it. Was living in the Czech Republic at the time and got a great deal (about half off) due to the exchange rate and buying direct.

I love my fenders, other acoustics, cellos, etc, but there is no comparison in quality of materials, sound, and overall craftsmanship compared to the luthier built instrument.

13 years later, still very happy with the guitar and if I buy a nice steel-string in the future I'll probably go the same route (buying directly from a well respected luthier).

Pete McC

Co. Down, N.Ireland

Sep 24th, 2017 10:44 AM   Edit   Profile  

To contrast with the OP's story... Back in 1988 I decided to buy myself a 'good' acoustic guitar, shopping around I narrowed it down to a Takemine or a Lowden, playing both I went for the Lowden and still have it. I got it on discount because it came without a case, (no idea why) I didn't care and bought a cheap case to 'make do' until I got one. Fast forward 27 years and I was still using that cheap case, but I saw a guy at the Lowden factory (about a half hour drive away) advertising used cases cheaply. I drove to the factory and was met at the door by George Lowden himself who happily shook my hand and led me in. The guy who'd advertised the cases couldn't be friendlier and let me play some of the current models which they had on hanging in their showroom buy were waiting to be shipped out. I have to say they played, felt and sounded every bit as good as mine did and the quality was clearly top notch. I left the place feeling like I'd really been somewhere special and there was a real family feel about the whole operation. Lowden guitars start around 2k mark and go up depending what woods and features you want to involve so they definitely fall into the 'expensive' range. However I could never imagine anything less than top notch being made by them given what I've seen. They run tours of their factory every week so everyone can see the process and how they work. I'm not intending this to sound like an ad as I've no connection to them, but I felt that it's good to know there are still really good builders out there and its not everyone is cutting corners.

FDP Forum / Miscellaneous and Non-Fender Topics / Very disappointed in high end, high profile acoustics these days (rant) (long)

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