View Full Version : The way it is.

Michael N.
09-09-2011, 12:38 AM
I have too much time on my hands of late. No doubt you all have noticed.
The following is what can cross ones mind under under such circumstances.

If you purchased a 'factory made' (as opposed to a single Luthier made) Violin for say $5,000 and then proceeded to tell the Violin community of your purchase, you would very likely be ridiculed, frowned at or great pity would be bestowed on you.
If you purchased a 'factory made' (as opposed to a single Luthier made) Classical Guitar for say $5,000 and then proceeded to tell the Classical Guitar community of your purchase, you would very likely be ridiculed, frowned at or great pity would be bestowed on you.
If you were to purchase a factory made Steel string Guitar (or indeed a Uke) for $5,000 . . . you would very likely be paraded down the high street to hordes of people cheering.
How odd.

09-09-2011, 04:53 AM
Disappointing, but maybe not all that odd.

Could economies of scale be the thing?

Not many people really expect to have a career as a classical violinist or guitarist. However, everyone and his dog, at some point, dreams of a career in rock/pop music and also believes that there is a chance that they'll become a just-about-good-enough guitarist to bluff their way to success. (Resists unkind urge to name examples of people for whom this dream has come true.) Ergo, a huge market of less discerning musicians to whom mass production brands can cater.

Real luthiers thus find themselves competing with box-shifters for the attention of end users who can't see 2,000 worth of difference between a Yamaha FG700 and a Martin D-28, let alone between a Yamaha and an acoustic by Pat Eggle, Rick Turner or yourself.

The differences in quality between bargain basement and luthier-built are huge, but the size and nature of the market mean that those differences are mostly appreciated by the wealthy, or by the thin layer of really good musicians for whom that difference is really exploited by their abilities.

Also, are some luthiers partly to blame by lending their names to the design credits for instruments that are then mass produced by the same SE Asian facilities that make the budget clones?

Disclosure: I am a talentless hack who plays mostly Chinese guitars, mandolins, fiddles and 'ukuleles because a decent instrument would be wasted on me... and I have no money anyway. My workhorse axe is a Yamaha. My apologies to all real luthiers.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
09-09-2011, 06:56 AM
The range of instruments is as diverse as the people who play them. There will always be a market (and customer base) for either gems or junk. Get over it and don't take it personally. There's room for everybody.

Michael N.
09-09-2011, 07:47 AM
Sorry Moore but I think you are making far too many assumptions regarding my Post. I'm not complaining about anything. I certainly do not resent people buying cheap instruments - why should I? I've done it myself! I fully understand that folk buy what they wish to. If you can quote a section of my post where I state the contrary I will be more than too willing to apologise.
My post pertained to the different attitudes or traditions. For many Guitarists (perhaps Uke players too) the ultimate is a Martin or one of the other relatively expensive larger scale makers. The point being that this is the complete opposite of the Violin and Classical Guitar players.
Perhaps it's all just down to tradition.

09-09-2011, 08:00 AM
Maybe the violin and classical guitar communities are just squares. People who consider themselves "real artists" seem to think its gauche to actually buy something for themselves....it has to be given from a patron or inherited or something to be "real". If you have to ask how much it cost.....blah blah blah

I have to say that building guitars makes me very aware how some factory models can cost so much. Materials can easily run several hundred dollars. Then add on 50-80 man-hours of labor and a reasonable profit margin....easy to hit several thousand. Economies of scale help the factories but I'm amazed at the value in some mid priced instruments. I bought my first guitar 25 years ago when the the choice was expensive famous brands or cheap junky things from Asia......the guitar market is so much better out there these days where you can get a pretty-darn-good guitar for a grand or less.
(Although there are also big bucks instruments that clearly get by on brand-name or history alone.)

Michael N.
09-09-2011, 08:23 AM
Interesting perspective but I can't quite agree. Precious few (a handful) actually get anything given. In fact I'd go so far to say that is just as likely to happen in the Folk/Rock world. There may be some airs and graces but I'm pretty sure that happens with your Martin D28 owners. From my experience (and as a generalisation) Classical players certainly are no richer than most other types.
BTW I know a folk player who owns 5 expensive Martin Guitars (amongst others). He looks like he hasn't 2 dimes to rub together.

09-09-2011, 08:47 AM
Steel string players are buying Martins for the label, not for superior quality. There is just no way a high-volume producer can be as selective in choosing tonewoods as a small-shop luthier. Many of the construction procedures that independent luthiers do by hand are automated in the big guitar factories. Big producers also can't afford to spend much time on set up. The result is inconsistency. On any given day, Martin produces a couple of great guitars, a couple of real dogs and many instruments in the mediocre range between those two extremes. When it comes to string instruments, smaller is almost always better IMO.

09-09-2011, 09:34 AM
I don't know anything about violins, but when it comes to classical guitars, individual luthiers don't turn out enough product to really make an impact in the market. Top luthiers like Smallman and Ruck are largely unknown outside the CG community, even though they have long waiting lists and their guitars command ridiculously high prices.

The only mass produced high-end CGs I can think of would be Ramirez, and I would hazard a guess that a large portion of their sales come from their lower-end models. But they have built a "brand" reputation similar to Gibson or Martin.

As mentioned, not all Gibsons or Martins are top-of-the-line, yet people buy them for the brand.

Michael N.
09-09-2011, 10:08 AM
The Ramirez product line is one of the very few that has similarities to the Martin business. I don't think it's quite the same though - unless they have changed policy within the last 15 years.
The Ramirez lower models aren't even made by Ramirez. They are probably made in one of the large Valencia factories. That's probably the same for their intermediate range as well. Their top model/s used to be made by Ramirez himself, possibly with some input from one of the senior craftsmen. It's still a very small concern.

Rick Turner
09-09-2011, 11:40 AM
The steel string guitar, acoustic or electric, was basically developed not in small lutherie shops, but in factories, and the timing for such was just right...the early 20th Century (though there were steel strings available for guitars in the early 1890s and perhaps before that). You're looking at an instrument that is a product of the late industrial revolution and the early days of mass distribution of factory-made products. It's as much a social phenomenon as an artistic issue. Hey, you don't see many small shop piano builders, either!

BTW, Ramirez is back to making less than a couple of thousand instruments a year in their real shop. They do put their brand on "student" models made by subcontractors.

The only credible US-made factory classical guitars came out of the Guild plant in Hoboken in the 1960s with their "Mark" series...not to be confused with Gibson's "Mark" series guitars. The Guilds were made and supervised by Carlo Greco, a builder deserving of much more recognition than he's received. http://www.adirondackguitar.com/Guild%20Guitars/Adirondack%20Guitar-The%20Guild%20Story.htm and http://www.carlogreco.com/