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They say you get what you pay for. Generally that’s true, but when it comes to guitars, there’s a whole lot of gray area in determining the value of an instrument. There are objective factors that contribute to worth such as materials and quality of construction, but there are also several subjective elements that hold just as much weight, if not more, in the importance a player places on his or her axe.

I never gave this much thought until recently when I was reviewing a nicer acoustic guitar with a price tag well over $2,000. My good friend and neighbor, Johnny DeMarco, is a phenomenal guitarist. He was checking out the guitar with me and running through a medley of songs in different styles. I like kicking back and just listening to him play. I was thinking about how he can make a broom stick strung with fishing wire sound good when it occurred to me to have him play my beater guitar in comparison: an 80’s Japanese dreadnought that I bought off the local pot head in high school for $70. I expected to be blown away by how much better the premium guitar sounded. And I was blown away, but not for the reason I expected.

The more expensive guitar didn’t sound that much better. Well, let me clarify. It sounded better, for sure. The tone was more full, warm, and rich and notes rang out with a bell-like quality compared to the flatter, less defined quality of my beater. But I say that relatively speaking because in my opinion it didn’t sound $2,000 better. Or even $1,000 better. And this is what got me thinking about how value is placed on an instrument.


One definition of value is “the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance or preciousness of something.” This can be interpreted as subjective worth that people put on instruments for whatever reason. Take the recent rise and fall of the vintage guitar market. It used to be that older guitars, like those found in pawn shops or in your dad’s or granddad’s attic, were considered worth no more than what they originally sold for and oftentimes much less. Then the vintage craze hit and people in possession of these guitars of yesteryear instantly found themselves sitting on little goldmines. Why? Because somewhere along the way buyers decided that older vintage guitars held greater value and as the trend grew, the market was pushed up and up to incredible heights. This further led to a new market in relicing guitars. Can’t find an authentic vintage ’62 Strat with all the charm of cigarette burns and buckle rash built in? Buy one new from Fender’s Custom Shop (no need to count out the bills – just turn your wallet upside down into this bucket thank you very much). This was unheard of and would have been considered absurd a few years ago. Today it’s a booming market as people are willing to fork over good money to recapture the essence and feel of bygone eras. Using the ’62 reliced Strat as an example, where does the value lie? This sucker costs $4,300! According to the “Blue Book of Electric Guitars“, this is a steal compared to an original in good (less than very good, excellent, mint, and new) condition which is valued at $7,750. There’s certainly something to be said for quality components that are no longer manufactured, choice of materials, and craftsmanship, but a brand new American Strat can be had for $1,000. Is that reliced Strat really worth $3,300 more? Is that ’62 original in “good” condition really worth $6,750 more?

The answer all depends on how people determine value. To offer another definition, value can be described as “the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it.” Ultimately these questions should lead to the greatest measure of value: does it make you happy? Whether you pay $100 for a garage sale beater or $12,000 for an authentic vintage six-string; whether you plunk down your good money for a guitar that feels like an extension of your body and sings like a bird or looks great on your wall and conjures up rock and roll fantasies (to quote Bad Company), if it makes you feel good, that’s the value that justifies any purchase.

What’s your most valuable piece of gear and why? Cruise on over to our forum and chime in on the discussion!

Oxford American Dictionaries

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