I’ve been concocting a theory. Disclaimer: this based on my own personal experience and if you have had a different experience please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
Over the years I have owned a lot of guitars, and with the exception of a few they have all been on the cheaper second-hand region of the price spectrum. Other guitarists that have also swam these murky waters will tell you it can take a while to find anything note worthy and of a good quality. Alongside the usual arguments for the quality of woods, finish and hardware there is also the factory/brands quality control to consider.
For those that don’t know about quality control, it is “a system of maintaining standards in manufactured products by testing a sample of the output against the specification” (thanks google!). As a consumer it is difficult to ascertain the quality control of a company without playing twenty of the same guitar.
As a guitar instructor I often get asked what the best guitar brand is for cheaper models and thanks to years or purchasing and fixing students guitars I have noticed a pattern: Guitar brands that use the main company name on all their products often have better quality control then sub/sister companies. Now whilst this isn’t a hard and fast rule its is worth a consideration.
Brands such as Yamaha, Ibanez and PRS from experience seem to have a better consistency on the quality of build. I know PRS have a strict quality control process and they are scrutinized before they are shipped, were as Ibanez and Yamaha pay factories to produce the goods they have developed. Regardless the Ibanez Gio range and the Yamaha Pacifica range offer a great range of guitars which I’ve seen students and friends play for years with no problems other then basic maintenance.
Other companies create a sub-brand to produce their cheaper range of guitars such as Squier (Fender), Epiphone (Gibson) and LTD (ESP). I have considerable experience with the first two and especially with the cheapest models I’ve seen guitars with sharp uneven fret-work, faulty electronics, poor tuners and generally poor set-up.
It should be noted that the there are great guitars hidden in these lower ranges but they are less frequent then I’d like. Take for example the Squier Affinity Stratocaster, a common beginner model, I’ve played some good guitars but the majority needed work to get that way and out of the box they were often difficult to play. If you have the skills and knowledge you can fix these guitars up and many people use them as a basis for modification projects. Others were pretty dire and needed lots of fret/electronic work.
Cheaper models aside there are some excellent models in the higher end of these guitar brands such as the Epiphone Sheraton, Nighthawk, Pro Series and Les Paul Deluxe, and the Squier Classic Vibe and Vintage Modified Series. Fender currently bridges the gap between the two brands with Chinese the manufactured Modern Player Series part of the Fender line-up. With the recent price increase of the Gibson range I can see Epiphone extending its range to fill in the middle ground as most amateur musicians would struggle to pay for a Gibson.
If I could go back to my early years playing I would acquire a Yamaha Pacifica, a guitar I could just get on and play rather then the tons of cheap stratocaster clones whose flaws hindered my development. Just had a flash back to tuning after every string bend, the horror. The ignorance of youth. Hopefully these has answered some questions of the branding and quality control of cheaper guitars on the market and help you with your next purchase. Any questions or thoughts please comment below.