28th Jun 2010 | 14:49
One of the commonest gripes I hear is about the 'extortionate' cost of electric guitars these days, not surprisingly Fender, Gibson and PRS being the commonest culprits.
One of the commonest gripes I hear is about the 'extortionate' cost of electric guitars these days, not surprisingly Fender, Gibson and PRS being the commonest culprits. Well, from my point of view, given that the American made Fender Strat (let's use that as the most played and copied model on the planet) is a 'professional' musical instrument, it's not over-priced at all. And if you look back to the 1950s you might be shocked at the relative price then compared to weekly salary, and the same thing now.
Okay, these are approximate figures but they reflect reality pretty well. In 1957, in the UK a Strat cost around £90 while the average weekly wage sat at a meagre £7.50. That means the guitar cost 12 times your average salary.
Today a '57 Reissue Strat is £1,450 while the average weekly wage is £500 - roughly three weeks' wages to buy it now, versus 12 weeks' hard slog to purchase it back then.
Things were different of course. There were 'real' guitars, like the Strat, and Les Paul, and others like Burns and Hofner in the UK; and 'semi-toy' guitars that may have looked okay but were unusable in the professional arena.
Trouble is, we are so used to cheap but excellent imports – including those from Fender, Gibson and PRS and which to untrained eyes, hands and ears don't look, play or sound much different to the pro stuff – that it makes it harder to distinguish between the Strat you buy for your teenage kid, and the one Eric Clapton plays on stage.
True, the many budget versions are brilliantly made for the money and play a billion times better than the dogs of yore, but the truth is you don't see professionals playing them because they want the absolute top woods, the most tonally transparent finishes, the finest electrics and the years of reliability implicit in buying the best.
Next time you see someone who looks like a professional violinist waiting for the tube or the bus (the clue is the violin case and huge satchel of music they're carrying), ask what their orchestral instrument cost them. Chances are they'll tell you five grand plus, and maybe that they've had to take out a mortgage on it into the bargain.
Food for thought for the whingers is that the professional standard guitars of today are actually cheap when compared to what they used to be, and even cheaper when looked at alongside what orchestral musicians are forced to pay. So I think we need to appreciate the quality - and indeed value – that we guitarists are lucky enough to have on tap.