The difference in price between one electric guitar and another can be insane. While one will set you back a couple of hundred quid, another one costs a few thousand. Sometimes this comes down to the brand, but even then there must be something that makes one guitar worth more than another, and for the complete beginner, this can be pretty unclear. In this blog, we explain why there can be such a big price difference between different electric guitars and basses, so that you can get a clearer picture of exactly what you’re paying for.
The Way an Electric Guitar is Built
A really important factor when it comes to the price of a guitar can be the build. Many electric guitars have a bolt-on construction, there the neck is literally screwed in, or bolted-onto the body. Since the neck and the body are made separately, this requires a little less work and reduces the production cost so that the price can come down a bit. Way over at the other end of the spectrum, we find guitars with a neck-through-body construction. Here, the neck extends through the body so that they’re almost one piece – improving the sound quality of the instrument, while the heel of the neck has been nicely rounded for playing comfort. Since a lot more work goes into this construction, the price gets pushed up. Dedicated neck-through fans will wax lyrical about the extra sustain it gives them (how long a note can be held before it fades away), but there are also guitarists who much prefer the ‘pointed’ sound of a guitar with a bolt-on construction.
This can be explained by simply saying, the higher the quality, the better the performance.
Countless types of wood are used to build guitars and they all lend their own specific characteristics. Some woods, like basswood, alder, and mahogany are easy to work with and readily available, so you’ll find that a lot of cheaper models are built from them. More expensive models are often made from higher quality pieces of wood or have an additional soundboard made of a wood with a striking grain. As well as being good looking, these woods definitely improve the construction and the sound, but the question is, how much? If you’re looking for your first or even second guitar, you may not even notice the difference just yet. It’s also worth knowing that the wood used to construct an electric guitar will have a less noticeable effect on the sound than the wood used to construct an acoustic guitar.
There can also be a big difference in quality when it comes to the hardware. Frets made from soft iron will wear faster, so a cheaper model with iron frets will demand more maintenance than a guitar finished with stainless steel frets, for example. The type of bridge can also effect the price. If you have a model with a fixed bridge without extra parts and there’s no need to cut routing into the body to mount it, it’s likely to be a bit cheaper. Meanwhile, if you’re looking at a guitar with a floating bridge, like a Floyd Rose, things are a bit more complex in terms of both design and construction and can cost more. In any case, a more expensive bridge is going to be better constructed and made of better materials which will reflect in the tuning stability and sound of the guitar.
Finish, Setup and… Pickups
One of the most important features of an instrument is its finish. The details of the finish are definitely what separate an OK guitar from a great guitar. Here, we’re looking at things like the finish of the frets: if you run your fingers along both edges of the fretboard, do the fret-ends feel sharp? If they do, then the finish as well as the playing comfort, has a lot of room for improvement. The height of the pickups and the position of the string saddles is also essential when it comes to the sound of a guitar, and speaking of pickups, since they are what literally transfer the sound of your instrument to your amplifier, these might even be the most important factor of your guitar or bass. The beauty of these is that, if you’re brave and kit yourself out with a soldering iron, they can easily be replaced to give a relatively cheap model a sweet upgrade.
There’s a lot to consider when looking at a guitar since the bridge and frets might be cheaper while the pickups are high-grade and expensive. The fact is that a guitar is literally the sum of its parts and this will usually be reflected in the price. So, don’t get blinded by one specific detail! Also, this absolutely doesn’t mean that a cheap guitar is always a bad guitar. Actually, you can find budget models that were built in the ‘90s that have since become underground heroes, while there are some budget models built now that far outstrip some of the more expensive models on offer twenty years ago. So, are expensive guitars always mind-blowingly awesome? That’s also not always the case since sometimes you might just be paying more for the brand name, the exclusivity, while what a great guitar really and truly rests on is what you like looking at and what feels so great in your hands that you never want to put it down. So, if you don’t have the cash for a super-expensive guitar, then you can always pick up a cheaper one that plays well and tweak it with some upgrades.
Have you managed to find a gem of a guitar that offers the ultimate balance of price and quality? Or have you tweaked your own budget guitar and turned it into an awesome instrument? Let us know in the comments!