When to buy American Guitars

A reader commented on one of my posts regarding quality vs. value in guitars. The comment essentially argued that you should pay the higher price of American built guitars to support American workers. I don’t disagree with the sentiment.

Personally, I like to both buy American and support local merchants. However, commitment to this is tempered by practicality and I think realistic outlook on the situation. Supporting American workers through the purchase of American products isn’t as simple as it sounds. This is true in many product categories including technology and automobiles. But since this is a music and guitar blog I’ll talk about guitars.

First, I own an American made Martin guitar and love it. I’m both glad and proud of the guitar. It isn’t the only American made guitar I’ve owned, though I’ve sold the others I’ve had. The quality of American build instruments is superior to the lower-cost, overseas substitutes, no question about it.

The first problem in being too committed to only buying American guitars is young, beginning musicians will not be able to afford an American made guitar unless their parents are rich. I want more people playing music. I don’t want music to be an elitist endeavor that is only pursued by the wealthy and prodigies.

American guitar companies realize this too. That’s why, below a certain price point, their guitars are made outside the USA. Essentially, the lower priced guitars are creating a market for those who start out on an inexpensive instrument and graduate to better and more expensive guitars, eventually purchasing American made guitars. Those American workers building Gibsons, Martins, Taylors and other guitars here would be out of their jobs if the lower cost, foreign built guitar market were closed. Boys and girls, young men and women, and older beginning guitarists would not start buying the more expensive guitars made in this country as their first instrument. Instead, most of them would not purchase any stringed instrument. Cost would prevent all but a few from learning and enjoying guitar they way I did.

Those players who planned on being professional musicians or those who thought they could make significant money playing part time are among the few who would still buy the expensive American instruments. But the wealthy, professional and dedicated amateurs would be a much smaller market than exists now for quality American instruments.

When I first started playing guitar, I dreamed of owning a Martin but didn’t seriously think I would actually own one. Fortunately, by mid-life I had achieved enough success to be able to afford the good guitars I once dreamed about. Now I’m on the other end of a bell curve where my income is flat and fixed. I only can afford a new guitar if I first sell one of my existing instruments. Value is again becoming of greater concern to me than it was twenty years ago.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never buy another American guitar. In fact, I recently received a new Breedlove 12-string guitar. The sticker inside the guitar says “Designed, engineered and quality controlled in Bend Oregon USA.” But the guitar was “Crafted in China.” I’m debating whether to return the guitar and if I return it, whether to replace it with something else. The something else that I’m strongly leaning towards is a Taylor 254ce 12-string made in the USA.

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