One question that is thrown at me probably more than any other, about guitars anyway, is:
“Why are guitars so expensive these days?”
Well the answer is….they’re not!
The trouble with economics is that it’s all relative. Today’s economy is driven by choice….lot’s of choice. Huge scale, cheap, far eastern manufacturing has flooded the instrument market with countless options catering for every fancy, need and preference within several different price ranges. I’m not saying that is a really evil thing…not exactly anyway. I think it is great that someone on low-income can afford to own a working instrument, this certainly wasn’t the case many years ago!
The knock on effect that this does have is to lower our understanding of quality whilst simultaneously seeming to inflate the price of quality instruments.
Let’s look at some maths just for fun:
- Average pre-tax income in the USA in 1959 was $5000.
- The street price of a Gibson Les Paul Standard in 1959 was $289.
- This represents 5.78% of an American households yearly pre-tax income.
Like i said economics is relative….
- Average pre-tax income in the USA in 2013 was $51000.
- The street price of a Gibson Les Paul Standard in 2013 was $3000
- This represents 6% of an Americans households yearly pre-tax income.
Now, i know these sort of statistics can be bent in all sorts of ways so people see what we wish them to see and that average incomes are very difficult to calculate and they were different times and blah blah blah but i just wanted to outline a simple point….good guitars were never super affordable but neither were they unrealistically expensive.
We live in a society that has little or no concept of the worth of anything. Look around your house at a lot of the stuff you own…how much of it is of real worth and quality? We all own a lot of stuff we don’t need and didn’t pay much for. It’s a sad sign of the times, as the price of everything goes down and down the quality is never far behind. I am not saying that I’m any different….i own a lot of shit that i don’t need and was cheap and invariably made in a far off country with a questionable human rights record….i really wish i didn’t and i try where i can to buy quality or do without.
You can see from the comparisons between era that you still get what you pay for in terms of quality. Manufacturers are still making money…like they always have, and we still get an instrument that will last a lifetime and that you can be proud of.
I used Gibson as an example here purely because there was almost poetic symmetry when comparing relative prices, when using Fender as an example you get a lot more for yer buck these days than then!
So what does this all mean?
I’m under no illusion that the huge, mostly American, guitar manufacturers are whittling one-off, artisan pieces of musical magic from responsibly sourced fair-trade timber…… this clearly isn’t the case and never was, as much as this isn’t a lecture on economics it also isn’t a lecture on ethics!
What I’m saying is don’t let the comparative economy of cheap, poorly made guitars influence your feelings about the pricing of quality guitars.
Fender and Gibson (just as examples) are, in general, mass manufactured instruments but they are of superb quality and for that, surely, they are worth the money?
As a side note if you were to have purchased a Gibson Les Paul in 1959 for $289 you would see a pretty healthy return for your investment as they are now valued, on average, at over $100000