HAND-BUILT vs MASS PRODUCED?
A couple of things struck me in this month’s GT. Michael (Speed vs Feel) and your response call for a heated debate; and Nigel (The Price Of Love) raising the question, “Can a guitar really be worth that much?” I can offer a topic for debate on that question - from my own experience. When I retired seven years ago, I took up guitar as a hobby, and soon moved across to learning jazz. I swapped my beginner’s Ashton for a Vintage Les Paul replica because it looked nice. Because it looked nice, and sounded nice, I soon added a pre-loved Epiphone PR5E, then a Sparrow Big Daddy Custom; then a Washburn Rover for packing on holiday. I got roped into playing in the jazz band and the folk group at the last school where I taught, so had to have a ‘jazz style guitar’ and an acoustic. Enter the Ibanez Artcore and Fender Dreadnought.
Then I tried a Godin - and bought a 5th Avenue Kingpin. My eyes - or should I say ears - were opened. Various musical friends explained this by saying these hand-made guitars “are made with love” and “have soul”. A return visit to Cooke’s in Norwich revealed the 5th Avenue I’d also tried still hanging on the wall looking lonely. I tried it, and it sounded even better than the Kingpin. Then a Seagull shaded the Fender and joined the collection.
Talking to Richard over in Stratford on Avon, he revealed that he had managed to grab the last two Stonebridge A17 jazz guitars ever built. I just had to drive across from Norfolk to try and buy. It sounds sweeter than any of the Canadians. I may just be approaching a basic level of competence, but I get so much enjoyment from playing the hand-built instruments. I’m sure I play better! I couldn’t justify taking up all the space with ten guitars, when I wasn’t playing four of them, so the Far Eastern mass produced ones, nice guitars though they are, went up for sale, and I offloaded them in the run up to Christmas.
As I said, I don’t claim to be anything more than basically competent, and no doubt there will be those who disagree. But as far as I’m concerned, while Far Eastern guitars have good build quality, the better sound and the sheer enjoyment of playing hand-built Canadians or Europeans more than justifies paying three or four times as much for them.
My only problem now is trying to persuade She Who Must Be Obeyed to let me drive to central Hungary, where I’ve located the last two Furch (aka Stonebridge) la Gitanes to be made. Suggestions or monetary contributions gratefully accepted. Pete Widdows, Heacham, Norfolk. A very entertaining letter and I’m sure it resonates with many readers, Pete. I love the fact that you drove from Norfolk to Stratford-upon-Avon to bag a specific catch. I’d bet that there are many out there have very similar stories – not necessarily even in the ‘upgrading’ sense, but just becoming tired of, or bored with their current guitar flame and feeling the need for a change. I’m a terrible flitter when it comes to gear – especially guitars. You don’t mention amps in your letter, Pete. But a lot of players I know seem to find the amp brand that suits them and stick with it, yet flit from guitar to guitar like a butterfly on a buddleia bush. Others are inveterate ‘customisers’ and can’t wait to upgrade pickups, frets, tuners and so on. My feeling on the subject is that, if you feel better with this guitar in your hands rather than that one, you probably will play a little better – or perhaps even think you are doing so. And, to be honest, if you think you are, you probably are!
STAR LETTER PRIZE
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Hand-built Canadian Godin 5th Avenue and Seagull Entourage Grand Rustic. Better?