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Things To Keep In Mind When Buying An Acoustic or Acoustic/Electric Guitar

Updated on December 28, 2014

Buying a New Acoustic or Acoustic/Electric Guitar

The acoustic and acoustic/electric guitar market is confusing at best but what’s worse is that it might be construed as being full of loopholes and underhanded trickery. There are a multitude of acoustic guitar brands, some familiar and some not so well known. In my opinion the “Big-4” are Martin, Gibson, Taylor and Takamine. Gibson is the only company that competently makes top end electric guitars and is equally adept at crafting a truly superior acoustic guitar(Acoustic/electrics included). The other three are primarily acoustic luthiers although all have dabbled with producing electric guitars during the 80’s hair band era. Martin came out with the “Stinger”, Takamine with the “Flying A”(Sometimes known by another similar but less acceptable name) and I believe Taylor is still in the electric guitar market with their solid bodies and the T-5. In recent years I have been disappointed in all but Gibson who maintains it’s American integrity. If you see “Gibson” on the headstock you can rest assured your guitar was made in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. Not so true with the other three. Martin has started making their lower end acoustic models in Mexico. When I think Martin I think Nazareth, Pa. not Navojoa, Mexico but if you see an “X” in the model number chances are it was made in Mexico. Taylor’s lower end guitars are made in Tecate, Mexico. Takamine, on the other hand, chose China for their G-series acoustics and Singapore for the D-series. Few music retailers are up front about the country of origin of these famous maker guitars in their advertising. Often, the guitar companies themselves don’t list the country of manufacture in their descriptions, opting for a sound hole surprise for their uninformed customers. Caveat emptor.

Solid Wood vs. Laminates

Most people think all guitars are made of solid wood, but then, they would be mistaken. Most guitars under $1500 are composed of a solid top(Not always)usually spruce(Not always) and laminate back and sides in reference to the guitar’s body. A laminate consists of two pieces of wood veneer(Thin sheets of wood) glued together. Some laminates sound very good and resonate well while others leave much to be desired. A solid wood back and sides seems to have become a premium appointment in guitar construction. It has been my experience that if the description of a guitar does not say “Solid Wood Back & Sides” chances are they are laminates. The key words are “Solid Wood”. A common problem, aside from the resonance factor in laminated wood, is it’s tendency to warp. Different types of wood have different characteristics and tolerances to humidity and temperature change. If one of the wood sheets in the laminate has a lower humidity tolerance than the other and begins to warp, it will stress the lamination(glue) and adversely affect the integrity of the guitar’s construction. Some guitars have laminate necks. Martin makes an acoustic(DRS series) with a laminate neck as do several other companies. It seems recently that you, as a customer, are paying for a name on the headstock rather than the tradition of superior construction that has been C.F. Martin’s legacy. One of their Performing Artist models($1399 at Guitar Center in November 2012) has “Solid East Indian rosewood back and sides” but sports a “Richlite fingerboard and bridge”. According to Wikipedia, Richlite is made from a combination of recycled paper and phenolic resin. Perhaps Richlite is a superior fretboard material, I don’t know, but for $1399 I’d prefer a solid wood, like rosewood or even maple. I don’t mean to pick on Martin which is an iconic guitar brand with very excellent instruments in their higher end($2000 range) guitars. The same laminated construction can be found on lower end Takamine and Taylor guitars among others.

Korea: The New Kid on the Asian Block

Starting with the Teisco company back in 1946 Japan has made great strides in guitar construction, design and respectability over the years. Companies like Takamine and K. Yairi now enjoy luthiery prominence all over the world alongside their American peers; Gibson, Martin and Taylor. I believe that this success was the direct result of the tenacity of the Japanese people coupled with the country’s history of time honored craftsmanship. My favorite guitar is my own Alvarez-Yairi JY-84 Jumbo that features select woods, elegant appointments and meticulous attention to detail. The upper tier Takamines are superior instruments as well and serve as a tribute to Japanese luthiery excellence. In 1972 Hyun Kwon Park a Korean luthier started the Sung-Eum Music Co. Ltd. in the basement of his home and began creating classical guitars for the Korean market. The company expanded and eventually Hyun’s son Jae joined the company in 1986 and changed it’s name to Crafter. Jae wanted to focus the company’s attention toward craftsmanship and entered the international market with a line of acoustic and acoustic/electric models. In the face of fierce competition from it’s already established American and Japanese counterparts, Crafter slowly began to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. In recent years Crafter has gained tremendous credibility in the acoustic guitar market. I personally own a Crafter guitar although the name Breedlove appears on the headstock. At first I was skittish about the thought of buying a Korean guitar but eventually I put my faith in Breedlove’s reputation and took a chance when I found Crafter was building them. I was not disappointed but rather overwhelmingly surprised. I won’t go into detail now but will save the details of my new guitar for a future review in an upcoming hub. I will say that the guitar was very, very good in both construction and sound quality.

Do Your Homework!

When buying an acoustic or acoustic/electric guitar it’s important to do a little research. Know what you’re buying. In this competitive, global economy it seems companies in general, not just guitar companies, are more focused on profits and longevity than anything else. Most guitar companies have their under brands that are well known to have lesser quality than the “Name Brand”. Gibson has Epiphone, Martin has Sigma, Takamine has Jasmine and Taylor has, well, I guess the 100 & 200 series. Name brands don’t mean the same thing that they used to. Do your research online. Peruse the different guitar brands and compare the product details against the details offered by online music retailers. The truth is out there somewhere. Remember the key words, “Solid wood” and “Laminate”. Compare electronics and “Country of origin”. E-bay is a very informative source for determining what a particular model is worth or will be worth in the future. E-bay sellers often lists details about a particular model that may be hard to find elsewhere. Use Harmony Central’s User Reviews and Ultimate Guitar which post reviews on many of the popular guitar models. I’ll list the links below. Go to Guitar Center and check one out if you don’t mind an overanxious sales person popping into the acoustic room every 5-minutes trying to rush you. Let your ears and fingers be your guide. The one thing to remember above all others is: Play...

My Acoustic Guitars

"Loves Dem Jumbos"  ~ Alvarez-Yairi JY-84 Jumbo (Left)                                          Breedlove Cascade J-25Cre Jumbo(Right)
"Loves Dem Jumbos" ~ Alvarez-Yairi JY-84 Jumbo (Left) Breedlove Cascade J-25Cre Jumbo(Right)

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    • stclairjack profile image

      stclairjack 4 years ago from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks

      great article, my favorite is my alverez yari DY-38,... was wondering, do you have an opinion of washburn guitars? my only wash was a complete POS,.. very much a dissapointment,... eventualy gave up, pulled the bridge up, two-part epoxy'd it back down and aplied cariage bolts w/ wingnuts for insurance,... has a nice tin like sound now,.. but it holds tune....... i know my fix seems barbaric,.. but i was hacked, and now i like laughing at it as i play it!... its still quite fun!....... meanwhile, i'm considdering a washburn rover travel guitar,... heard much about these?

    • GuitarGear profile image
      Author

      Walter Holokai 4 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      It's funny you should ask about Washburn. I just sent a Washburn back to Musician's Friend with a crack near the end pin jack. It was one of their solid wood acoustic/electrics, a WD150SWCE. Perhaps the damage was a blessing in disguise. I was looking for an inexpensive guitar so I could save my Yairi from the rigors of travel and gig mishaps. I was very disappointed with the Washburn build quality and the electronics were horrid. I have a friend who owns a Washburn that was built several years ago and the one I got was definitely not of the same quality or sound. I won't buy another one. At the suggestion of a friend, I started looking at the Breedlove Passport models which were fairly inexpensive. After further consideration and research I noticed Musician's Friend had the entire Breedlove Cascade line on sale. The Cascade line was a step up from the highly regarded Atlas line and 2-steps up from the Passport and just under the American line. The MSRP on the guitar I got, a J-25Cre jumbo, was $1869. Street price was$1399 and it is still being sold by Sam Ash & Music123 for that price. MF had it on sale for $799 and with the 15% discount offered I bought it for $679. Like I mentioned in the above hub, I was a little skeptical about a Korean guitar until I found out that Crafter was making it for Breedlove. Crafter is an excellent luthier and is played by many noted professionals. MF still has their entire line of Breedlove Cascade guitars on sale at closeout prices. You might still be able to get one but I expect they won't last long. Jack, this guitar is over the top in sound and luxury appointments. It's 100% solid wood with a cedar top, rosewood back and sides and a LR Baggs Element active pickup that sounds awesome through an amp. Another thing that was offered was a Breedlove hard shell case which was not offered with the Washburn. It's no TKL but it's good enough for my purposes. If I were you I'd stay away from the Washburns which are made in China. Although it was a solid wood guitar the workmanship on the Washburn that I returned was sloppy. The bridge had a glue smear on it that wasn't completely wiped off and the inside showed globs of glue. I don't know what your requirements are but if I were you I'd jump on the Breedlove Cascade closeouts at Musician's Friend. I plan to write a complete review of my new Breedlove in the very near future. Thanks for the comment and stay tuned(No pun intended...or maybe it was) for my review:)

    • stclairjack profile image

      stclairjack 4 years ago from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks

      i'm back,.. like a bad penny!

      i'm still looking around the e universe and wondered if you had heard of a cupit travel guitar? i've looked at the washburn, the applecreek, the johnson,... and the martin backpacker is just,... well... ugly.

      to be honest most of what your advising is WAY out of my price range, lol!..... and even this is more than i was initialy wanting to spend,... but it fascinates me,.... was wondering if you had seen it.

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/170749409322?_trksid=p5197...

    • GuitarGear profile image
      Author

      Walter Holokai 4 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      Jack, No way you're a bad penny! I've never seen that guitar. It looks interesting though. I wonder myself what would be a good, inexpensive travel guitar. I'll have to do some investigating. The Best Inexpensive Travel Guitar would make a great hub. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I must have missed the notification. Let me know which guitar you decide on and what it's like. Thanks for the comment! Your comments are always welcome.

    • stclairjack profile image

      stclairjack 4 years ago from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks

      well,... god have mercy on me i bought the silly thing!,.. and here's my review. being the perverse gluton for punishment, i think i may just buy the washburn rover as well because i can,... review of it to follow.

      https://hubpages.com/entertainment/The-Cupit-Trave...

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