Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How to Be A Guitarist on the Internet who's not an Asshole: Part 3 of 7

3. The Country on the Headstock Doesn't Matter     

Guitarists from the Internet can't help but universally laud American-made equipment. Well, American guitarists can't help but universally laud American-made equipment. Here in the Universal States of America.

Every major guitar brand these days has both of the following: First, there's the "real deal" guitar, made by the company, right in the company's country of origin. Guitars that are big-ticket items; instruments that are superbly cut, given a perfect set up, go through meticulous quality control, were installed with top-notch parts/pickups, and of course, achieve orgasmic tone. All these bits of instrumental perfection are automatically assumed, at least, due to the fact that the people putting them together are much better paid, and get to go to bed at night with a much fuller belly. Then there's that other kind you can get from the company -- the sub-brand that's callously thrown together with unwashed hands, somewhere far away, in a country that isn't a complete economic powerhouse. It's the toy version that's played only by total newbies who don't know/care about an instrument's quality. Either that, or by the peons who can't afford it.

I'm speaking of course about the Epiphone to the Gibson. The Squier to the Fender. The SE to the PRS, the LTD to the ESP. The Sterling to the Music Man. The Schecter "Diamond" to the Schecter "Custom".

The Ibanez to the... um... other Ibanez?

Not every guitarist can afford the best a company has to offer from their premium selection, let alone have one custom built for them; so a lot of mass guitar production is outsourced to countries like South Korea, Indonesia, India, Mexico, and China, to provide a budget version of these instruments that are more affordable and widely available for players who aren't totally swimming in dough.

So due to this "Made In" divide, we find the online guitar community split into a social class-based system; where the vagabonds are left to noodle on their inferior, outsourced production models, while the privileged soar to greater musical heights with their premium, customized, home country, hand-crafted pieces. (Guess which class you'll find more assholes.)


Sorry to say, the overall concept of "Made In USA" quality in guitar production, is more often than not, complete artificial bullshit. Artificial bullshit perpetuated by assholes to get you to spend way more money on an otherwise comparable product.

Yes, I realize that the "real deal" class of guitar are at least in some way generally better. The companies that produce these instruments do indeed put special focus on the instruments that they put out with their true name sake. They have to, I mean, look at the fucking price on some these things. In the case of Squier versus Fender, I'll secede there is a sorely obvious difference between the two brands. However, you're mostly going to find that the difference in quality between the home-team premium product and the overseas equivalent is typically found only in the minute details. Things like how the wood and neck are finished, how the edges are precision cut, how the electronics are carefully soldered, how the frets are leveled and how the instrument is carefully set up to play in factory. This sort of stuff is more than enough for many guitarists to pay the much higher price, but just like with the solid state vs. tubes argument; cheaper doesn't always necessarily mean worse.

Feh! Look at him playing his Schecter Hellraiser, because he hates our freedom.
You will indeed see a lot of overseas production models with inferior hardware and electronics in order to cut corners for much a cheaper product. That's what you're gonna get with guitars that are typically less than $500-600 new; guitars built for people just trying to learn on something that makes noise when its plugged in. However, the main reason LTD guitars are generally cheaper than ESPs, is because one is built by Korean factory workers who can legally be paid much less than Japanese factory workers, and that's really the bottom line. Upon close inspection and comparison, you're gonna find that an LTD-Deluxe model is built with the same hardware, tonewood, pickups, and cut/finished exactly to the same spec as its much more expensive ESP counterpart. Maybe, I dunno, one mahogany on one side of the planet might be a better mahogany than the other mahogany, but shut the fuck up.

As many internet arguers will attest, the only thing that many of these assembly line, Asian-made models need is a little TLC in the form of a professional setup to match the playability of their higher-end counterparts. Remember that luthier we were talking about earlier that needs to feed his kids, too? Tonewood is tonewood. Pickups are pickups.

A solid body mahogany instrument with an EMG 81/85 humbucker set is not automatically better quality than another solid-body mahogany instrument with that same EMG 81/85 set just because one of the guys who slapped one of those together had a name you could pronounce.

Also, let's not pretend for a second that musical instruments put together right here in good ol' USA aren't capable of being complete ass. It's pretty much common knowledge in the world of musicians that Gibson's lowest end products, don't come close to the quality of Epiphone's highest end models. Yet they are both about the same price, if the Gibson is not more expensive, simply because the American-made one says "Gibson" on the headstock. A lot of guitarists will screw themselves out of an honestly better piece of a equipment, just because they don't want the stigma of playing the "sub-brand" guitar. That Gibson logo on the headstock makes you a player of status. That Epiphone on the headstock makes you a wannabe. 

Pictured above: 0 wannabes.
Even Gibson's ultra high-end "Custom" boutique models are getting a bad rap these days, due to the company's purportedly recent focus on efficiency of production, as opposed to careful quality control. Finally, let's not pretend that every Gibson doesn't come stock with shit tuners that you're gonna want to replace, and sticky, finished necks that you're gonna want to sand down, and frets that you're gonna need to file. But hey, if you ever need to give in to that meth habit of yours, at least you'll get back what you bought it for!

Let's all admit, a $600 ax from Schecter's Korean plant is going to sound way better and play way better music in the hands of some young, scrappy, hard-practiced shredder with his Peavey Vypyr combo, than any $6,000 PRS doomed to an inevitable existence of clean dad chords through a Mesa Boogie Lone Star and sitting in a lighted glass case in a finished basement somewhere.

Don't worry about the brand. Don't worry about the price. Don't worry about the name on the headstock. Don't worry about the country on the headstock.

Does it sound good? Does it play good? Does it feel good? Does it look good? Is it good for the music you want to play, or versatile enough to play whatever?

Then it's a fucking Carvin, dude!

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