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Low End as the new High End - the Second Golden Era



Low End as the new High End - the Second Golden Era

Back in the early ‘80s, when I briefly managed the electronics department of a local retail chain, I was a regular follower of Sam Tellig’s magazine column entitled The Audio Cheapskate. In those final halcyon days of high-end audio for its own sake - before the advent of all-digital, multichannel, multimedia home systems, when the tubes vs. transistors controversy wasn't confined solely to guitarists (and good quality tubes could still be had at fair prices), and dropping a grand or more (in 1980 dollars) on a top-shelf turntable got you a platter, a drive motor, an on-off switch, and precious little else - the good Mr. Tellig made it his business to seek out those components that offered esoteric-quality sound at a workingman’s price, often debunking the pretentious snobbery of the so-called “golden ears” (and platinum wallets) in the process... For the truly discerning guitarist, a similar situation exists today; no longer is it necessary to spend massive amounts of money when - except in a very few cases - comparable (and occasionally superior) tone can be had for far less outlay within most manufacturers’ bread-and-butter lines. For better or worse, advances in technology (CNC/CAD-CAM, etc.) have permitted a greater portion of each production dollar to be channeled into superior materials and attention to detail in the final setup; even beginners’ instruments (which in today’s market I would consider anything in the <$500 bracket) routinely have a quality of fit, finish, materials, playability, and tone that would have been unthinkable for those of us who learned to play on the trainwreck low-end guitars of the ‘50s and ‘60s... The ever-increasing internationalization of production - again, for better or worse - has also been a significant factor. Within the NAFTA sphere relatively new companies like Larrivee and Godin have become major players, while Fender and (to a lesser extent) Martin have anchored their lower-end operations in Mexico; along the Pacific Rim, mega-producers Japan and Korea now find themselves contending with the loss of their decades-long low- and mid-range dominance to the recent emergence of China as a market power. As the price of MIJ Takamines and Alvarez-Yairis routinely tops two grand - well into traditional Martin/Gibson/USA-Guild territory (not to mention a number of smaller makers) - Blueridge cranks out killer prewar -18, -28, and -45-style Martin copies for one-third to one-half that; if you want a fully hand-carved archtop for anything less then the four grand or so Mark Campellone is charging for his basic 17-incher - extremely reasonable by any standard - The Loar and Eastman are the only real game in town... My point...? Over the last fifteen years or so, nearly all of my new acquisitions have been what would be considered low- to mid-line pieces; I’ve played all the usual low-production items, as well as the high-four- and five-figure “snob boxes” - the mere mention of whose names sets off Category-5 GAS attacks among most hard-core gearheads - and quite frankly, I’ve been underwhelmed by the great majority. In the absolute they are all unquestionably very well-made, very fine-sounding instruments - but when the prevailing standard has become so high that 95+% of the tone and all of the visual vibe can be had for as little as one-tenth the cost, one needs to seriously question the old wisdom that more money automatically buys more guitar. CFM & Co. did and, not surprisingly, chose in favor of the almighty dollar, as the long list of discontinued, "too much guitar for the money" lower-line models - D-1/D-1R, 000-1/000-1R, D-2R, D-3R, 5-15, J/J12-15, D-15S, 5-16, 000-16RGT/SGT/SRGT, CEO-5, just to name a few - will readily attest... So I ask: are there any others whose collections consist primarily of high value-per-dollar pieces, who live for those moments when your carefully-tweaked bargain box drops jaws (and furrows brows) among owners of more rarefied fare...? Let’s swap tales/tips/ideas/recommendations for the uninitiated, as well as all those beginners who deserve to learn on a real instrument and (with all due respect to Bob Taylor's pallet guitar) not some recycled packing crate...


Posted 1 year ago by Steve DeRosa - 9 replies

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PRS... Tonna get a serions that way. Many Thanks !


Reply posted 8 months ago by Marc Mony


This is a great thread! Exactly the kind of info I was hoping to find when I subscribed and signed up for this forum. Thanks for kicking it off, Steve. Based on everyone's posts here, I've already found several guitars in a decent price range that I'm going to keep an eye out for used or maybe even new. Thanks all.


Reply posted 8 months ago by James Means


Avrim Topel

I have a cabinet full of those more pricey guitars and enjoy them for what they are. However, as of late I have discovered the new Paul Reed Smith SE Korean made acoustics that sell for $700-$900 and they are mind-blowing in every way. Also, i just picked up a Voyage Aire guitar that has a neck that folds for travel. designed by upscale luthier Harvey Leach, these guitars are an amazing value as well, every bit of a Gibson or Taylor costing twice the price. We truly are entering a Second Golden Age.


Reply posted 8 months ago by Avrim Topel


Well I am looking for some all mahogany om or ooo to play good old country blues :
It seems Martin ooo-15 would be great... Any opinion ?


Reply posted 8 months ago by Marc Mony



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