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Zack

Completely Disgusted - Chinese Guitar

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I sold a motorcycle and decided to shore up my collection of metal guitars to cover every tuning I've been needing. One of these was a LTD MH350FR. When I unboxed this thing, my jaw almost hit the floor. It's beautiful. It was when I set it up and really inspected it that I really became upset. Made in China. This used to stand for something sub-par, something that's cheap for a reason. "You get what you pay for". Nope! This guitar is absolutely amazing down to the rounded fret ends. What's disgusting is that it costs me double the price of this guitar just to buy material to make one just like it, and I'm not sure it would be as good. It makes me thrilled as a player, but as a builder it's rather disheartening.

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In the not-too-distant past anything marked "Made in Japan" would have been in a similar category. Cheap and (for the most part) well-trained labour in developing economies is going to be attractive to big companies wanting to turn a profit on high-volume products. More than likely it is far more cost effective to employ an army of low-cost workers, each performing one task under the watchful eye of a "lead" luthier, than it is to employ a dozen luthiers doing multiple tasks each.

I have heard it said that China's continuing expansion as a developing economy will eventually lead to a catch-22 situation. The improving profits from using a low cost workforce will lead to the workforce negotiating better pay and working conditions, which not surprisingly costs businesses and customers more, creating a positive feedback loop leading to China's eventual emergence as the new "Made in Japan" semi-premium category. When this happens it's possible that the market will simply move to the next part of the world to source cheap labour and parts. Who knows - in 20 years time our cheap instruments might be stamped "Made in India" or "Made in Sri Lanka".

Bigger companies have bigger buying power. A couple of tons of mahogany for a few thousand guitar builds will be a fraction of the cost of one slab of timber for a single instrument on a per-volume basis. But hopefully that single plank of wood will be used to create something unique; something that none of the bigger production companies are making.

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