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Factory Produced v. Boutique Guitars


There are more independent guitar makers than ever before, it appears, by all accounts making fantastic sounding and looking instruments. Finely crafted, indeed. I even have one made specially for me in 1987 by my old friend Chris Eccleshall.

Now these fine instruments have to be superior in every sense from anything that comes out of a factory, don’t they? A guitar, whose woods have been carefully selected and assembled with all the love and care of a master craftsman, has to be intrinsically more musical and more valuable than any “production-line” guitar. Doesn’t it?

Yes, I wonder.

When I consider the history and usage of the steel string acoustic guitar, it occurs that it’s genius is to be found in its ability to be replicated ad infinitum, with consistent high quality, so that it’s available to “the masses” reasonably cheaply. Affordable inherently. It is the modern folk instrument par excellence. Add a little bit of QA/QC and you get instruments of exceptional quality at a price within the reach of the working man or woman.

Another thought: steel string acoustic guitars like to start their public life as part of a well-drilled platoon standing (or hanging) to attention on the wall of a store and regimented neatly on stands on the floor below. Thus arranged, they promise joys and dreams of fame and fortune to patrons young and old (mostly young) whose musical fulfillment may be only a few major and a couple of minor strummed chords away. And sometimes is.

In contrast, the luthier sits in a different world and crafts his instruments for a different animal. His customer is one who appreciates an instrument made exclusively for herself and to her exact specifications. She has graduated from her old “mass production” guitars and now has an ear for, and the playing ability to demonstrate, the better sound of her unique guitar. Made from the best grade woods from the oldest trees from the deepest forests inhabited by the most secretive of elves. “If only more guitar players would see the light!”, the luthiers cry.

Why? They would need to set up a factory to cope with the demand.

You can’t say that about orchestral instruments. I still remember recoiling in horror when I was browsing a stringed instrument store in Edinburgh. I say “store” when in fact is was more like a museum with ticket prices on the exhibits. Or without, I should say. Prices hanging from the necks of these instruments would, I think, have been considered a tad vulgar.

But back to acoustic guitars. It seems as if luthiers (as they like to be called) would like to bestow a refinement and almost an exclusivity to these instruments that is against the grain of their true nature.

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