Price vs Value in Guitars

The Trade-off of Price and Value in Guitars

Many guitar players own expensive instruments. The rest of us wish we could own expensive guitars. There may be good reasons to pay all that money for a guitar if you’re a professional or a collector. Even if you’re only a hobbyist like me, if you’ve had success in life you may want to own that one guitar you always wanted now that you can afford it. All that’s fine. But many of us are forced by finances to be more practical and pragmatic about how much we spend on our guitars.

A large part of a guitars price is based on marketing and how much the company can convince you the guitar is worth. You are buying a name and reputation and paying a premium if the guitar was made in the United States. But in terms of quality, playability and sound and other factors it is unlikely you are getting your money’s worth. Every factor you can imagine might be better, of higher quality for the more expensive instrument. But is it THAT MUCH BETTER?

Let’s look at some specific comparisons.

The Gibson ES-175 is a good example.

The Gibson Memphis Historic 1959 ES-175 (left image) is currently selling for about $4,500 to $5200 (January 2015).

The Epiphone ES-175 Premium (right image) is selling for approximately $900.

The Gibson model is a Gibson. There is of course more to it than that. For $5000 you get a flamed maple top that you don’t get on the Epiphone. I don’t doubt the Gibson is a better guitar. The question is whether the value is worth 5X or more than the Epiphone. I didn’t think so and bought the Eastman AR371ce single pickup guitar which is essentially modeled on a single pickup Gibson ES-175 but with a few differences such as a 1 3/4” nut width.

How about an Gibson ES-335?

You can purchase an Epiphone 335-Dot or an Epiphone 335-Pro for about $400 (without case). Add about $100 for a hardshell case, so $500 total for the Epiphone version of an ES-335.

There are currently a number of model choices from Gibson for a 335. Because it’s such a popular model they’ve released less expensive variations like the ES-335 Studio that sells for about $1300 – a good deal for a stripped down guitar but still a Gibson. The classic 335s are selling for about $3000 to $4000. Maybe a genuine Gibson is worth more than 2X the price of an Epiphone if you compare the Gibson Studio model to the Epiphone – but then again maybe not. But is 6X or 8X or more a good value for the classic Gibson ES-335s compared to the Epiphone?

Please understand that if you want a genuine Gibson 335 and can afford it, please get it. You might even want a vintage model which would be way more expensive. There are many reasons to want such a guitar and I’m not going to dissuade you if that’s what you want. In fact, if you get one I’ll congratulate you and even be a bit envious. However, if you’re interest is playing guitar rather than collecting guitars or fulfilling your life long fantasy and if you are hard pressed to justify spending 6X as much money for a Gibson as an Epiphone, I think I know what you should do.

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