What is it about American-made acoustic production guitars?

dreadnut

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Boutique luthiers aside, what makes the tone of American-made acoustic guitars so special? I've played lots of nice offshore models, but they just don't seem to have "that sound" for me. It seems to me if they could achieve this they would be selling their acoustics for $3-4K too.

Not trying to pick a fight about the quality and value of these other guitars, because there are lots of nice ones, and I own one, a "Loar 0" model. It was a great deal at the price, and obviously there are a lot of guitars being sold at those price points.

But when I play my Guilds, or a Martin, or a Taylor, or a Collings, I hear something different. I can't define it 100%, but I know it when I hear it. The richness of the tone, the sustain...

Is this a case of price being determined by overall quality, or is it perceived quality being determined by price somewhat?

Of all the other manufacturers, I've always thought that Alvarez makes the best acoustics, they ring pretty nicely to my ears.
 

GAD

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I have Japanese guitars that blow away American models. Country of origin isn't enough to determine anything.

IMO the issue is the constant race to the bottom that our modern economy is based upon. People want to pay less, and companies from other countries can charge less due to different labor laws and/or practices. Thus, US brands are importing guitars (and everything else) because it's cheaper to do so.

It's not that overseas guitars are worse; it's that people aren't willing to pay for the quality that once was standard and the easiest way for a company to deliver what people want is to source it overseas. Add to that the "good enough" mentality that is pervasive today and you get to where we are.

This hit home for me looking at my Guild resonator. I think the MSRP for that guitar was positively absurd, and then I realized that it was almost the lowest-priced guitar in the catalog that year! The cost of producing in the US is very high and the average consumer isn't willing to pay it.

The argument of "all else being equal, US-made is better" doesn't work because all else is not equal given the above.
 

Cougar

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As many may recall, when I joined LTG I had several non-cutaway Epiphone Masterbilts from the 2003-2010 production run. They were all produced in China and very well made. They sounded OK, but somehow they weren't that well balanced across the strings, and they didn't have the "richness of tone" that dreadnut mentioned. Mainly, the sound of the low E string was weak compared to the other strings. I never noticed these things until I compared them to a U.S.-made Guild. Granted, I'm comparing to an F-50R, and you can't get much better than that in my book, but still, that's the difference. That's "what it is about American-made acoustics."

I've heard people (at AGF) claiming their MIC Guild is as good as an American-made Guild. I just haven't tried any MIC Guilds, so I can't argue against such a claim. I don't doubt the MIC Guilds are typically very good, and I'm occasionally tempted to pick up an F1512 myself... just because. :tiger:

Will be interested to hear what others more experienced than me have to say on this question....
 

GAD

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I have another anecdote to add (I have a migraine and am fairly medicated so please forgive my excessive typing).

When i was hunting for the perfect Brian Setzer guitar, I played a lot of Gretsches. This would have been five or so years ago, and there were (are) two major lines of Gretsch: The Professional and the Electromatic with the Electromatic being the lower-priced "import" version of the Professional. The problem with that statement is that they're both imports.

The Professionals are made in Japan and are amazing.
The Electromatics are made in Korea or China (sound familiar?) and are less amazing.

To me the difference was profound, but I've met plenty of people who say that the Electromatics are "just as good". I generally attribute this to experience, as an experienced player would be able to tell the difference while a newer player may not, much like anything else where a beginner may not be able to appreciate the nuances of high-end gear until they get more experience.
 

Default

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From talking to a worker at NH, Fender was trying to move Guild upscale, and was overcharging for the guitars. Hence the price and the low volume. Fender did itself a disservice when it bought every guitar brand it could. When you have so many different brands where the price points overlap, you make decisions based of where you don't cannibalize your own sales. If Guild and Ovation were the only acoustic brands that Fender had, we would have seen better pricing, and had our D-25s.
 

dreadnut

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Still, I can't imagine the American-made prices would hold up against the competition if their guitars were comparable. On the other hand, most US Guitar manufacturers are also offering offshore guitars in their lineups.

I know that Mexico made Strats are selling for 1/2 or less of the price of US Strats, but are the US-made ones twice as good? I don't know because I'm not a Strat kinda guy.

I love my Korean-made DeArmond Starfire Special, it's 20 years old and fire engine red. Twin DA 2K single coil pickups, Ernie Ball Power Slinkies. This thing really rocks, plays like a dream, even sounds great unplugged. Impeccable workmanship, flawless finish, binding, etc. I paid like $689 plus tax for it brand new, so I bought it at the highest price point they were at (I have a history of doing that. The people that got the real deals were those who bought the older stock Korean made DeArmonds at blowout prices, about half what I paid, when they discontinued the line and some stores had a mix of Korean made DA's and the cheaper Indonesian made DA's) But I digress.

Wonderful guitar, but not a Guild Starfire. Probably worth about what I paid for it now based on what I see for sale. It is a semi-hollow body with a center block, and it's considerably heavier than the comparable Starfire III.

I love it, but it ain't a Guild Starfire. I'm jonesing for a vintage Starfire II.
 
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GAD

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Gibson and Fender have destroyed the guitar landscape by buying up brands and killing them off or making them pale versions of what they once were.

I have a friend that owned a guitar store and the VAST majority of guitar sales were beginner instruments. He couldn't afford to keep anything in stock other than Samick due in no small part to Gibson and Fender's minimum inventory requirements. He eventually closed up shop and moved across the street where they are now lessons-only.
 

JF-30

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Jimi Hendrix is the best guitarist. He wins every poll, only really put out 3 studio albums, and has been dead for almost 50 years. Opinions ya know...
 
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Guildedagain

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I once had a 70's Japan Yamaki D28 copy that while it looked like it had been owned by a hobo (I think it actually was, it was from a pawnshop in that bad part of town by the railroad tracks), sounded ummm possibly superior to my '72 D28...

I sold it, of course, there was no way you could own both and not sell one, it was always going to nag me and I wan't going to sell the prestige guitar.

I've had lots of Gibson acoustics, never kept any.

Others, gone also.

Just old Guilds now, for better or for worse.

And a smattering of Stellas Silvertones Airlines and Harmony guitars, small and big, 6 and 12's, archtops, now that's some real unique American tone there.
 
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Rich Cohen

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I have Japanese guitars that blow away American models. Country of origin isn't enough to determine anything.

IMO the issue is the constant race to the bottom that our modern economy is based upon. People want to pay less, and companies from other countries can charge less due to different labor laws and/or practices. Thus, US brands are importing guitars (and everything else) because it's cheaper to do so.

It's not that overseas guitars are worse; it's that people aren't willing to pay for the quality that once was standard and the easiest way for a company to deliver what people want is to source it overseas. Add to that the "good enough" mentality that is pervasive today and you get to where we are.

This hit home for me looking at my Guild resonator. I think the MSRP for that guitar was positively absurd, and then I realized that it was almost the lowest-priced guitar in the catalog that year! The cost of producing in the US is very high and the average consumer isn't willing to pay it.

The argument of "all else being equal, US-made is better" doesn't work because all else is not equal given the above.
Gary, I second your opinion about Japanese guitars. I have an "Epiphone Elitist" Byrdland from 2004. Wow. It is a Japanese version, produced for Gibson, of the Gibson Byrdland, which by the way cost double. Production quality is IMO just the same as the Gibson. So go figure!
 

Quantum Strummer

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I think GAD has it pegged. You get the quality you're willing to pay for.

When I made the trade for my Gretsch Chet Atkins I had four really nice examples to choose from. (This was at Elderly, pre-WWW & maybe even pre-AOL.) While I was checking 'em all out an older guy came up and told me a Chet had been his main guitar for many years. He'd saved up for a couple years to buy it. And then he had to save up some more to get an amp worthy of it. For me, a late boomer & early *Silicon Valley dude, this was like hearing a dispatch from another world. IMO by virtue (or vice) of being born when & where we were, we lack the patience & focus of that guy.

(I encouraged him to give the guitars a spin, which he did. When he picked up & played the one I ended up choosing, he smiled & nodded. "That's the one, isn't it," I said. "Yep," he said. "Put it on layaway if you have to." Layaway, I thought, does anyone still do that? Spoiled brat, I was (am)!)

*No-one called it "Silicon Valley" during my time working there. The term existed but it wasn't really used 'til the media got hold of it after IBM released their first PC.

-Dave-
 

Antney

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I thought we couldn’t engage in any dialogue that put American manufacturing ahead of its off shore counterparts? I think someone said it contributed to klimate change or something to that affect (I could be misremembering).

Did anyone see the article in Parade this weekend about “the story behind the songs”? Three acoustics pictured..two were guilds.
 

Westerly Wood

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I thought we couldn’t engage in any dialogue that put American manufacturing ahead of its off shore counterparts? I think someone said it contributed to klimate change or something to that affect (I could be misremembering).
LOL awesome
 

Mark WW

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I am going to wade in gently here. I am a constant cheerleader for the Guild import line(s). Overt generalizations have always bothered me so COO is always a contentious point of discussion. GAD I don't really think it is what folks are "willing to pay" as much as what they "can afford to pay". Since (even before really) 2008 many folks have not fully recovered from the recession (if you are one of the lucky ones - I applaud you) and if guitar companies wanted to continue growth they need to lower the point of entry while those U.S. made guitars may take much longer to turn. Plus with all the Big Box stores there are fewer POS. THeir biggest customers want product at price points that move.

I would agree personally (even with my limited sampling)with the Gretsch Professional vs Electromatic line. I have owned only 2 Professional Gretsch's (still have 1) and 4 Electromatics (have none). The Electromatics did not seem to play or sound as nice but the Electro's have come a long way in fit, finish and overall QC plus many folks routinely upgrade their Electros and Streamliners. The only NS Guilds I have owned are a SF VI (still have) and a SF III. I sold the III because I didn't need 2 guitars with mini hums but I was quite impressed and happy with both. Now I have owned (2) US made SF III's and a Corona X-150D. The two American SF's were impeccably put together, looked great and played equally great. The X-150D was not as good at all. So I give the edge to American made Guild electrics but the NS line is creeping close.

Acoustics. Well I have owned only 2. A 60's D40 and to be honest I don't recall much but I must have liked it till I sold it. I also had a really lousy True American (d4ce?) I bought new from Mars Music. It was a dog but to be fair I should have had it worked on but back then if I couldn't adjust it...I sold it. I have been impressed with the older GAD's (except the 1-11/16" nut) quality and sound (still have a GAD G212) and I now also own 3 (sold my F-2512e) Westerly imports. A DS-240 for a beater (I really will never beat it) An OM-140 which I REALLY like a lot and then a D-140 that sounds, plays (1-3/4" nut width - SWEET) and looks fantastic in my opinion. All three of the Westerly's are bursts.

I think the F-512 is a glorious acoustic orchestra and I do not believe any of my import 12's can touch it but my GAD G212 is one of the nicest dred 12's I have played or heard with the exception of the aforementioned and I discovered that I prefer playing a dred (or a Grand concert)over a Jumbo body. Plus most of the current American made acoustics have 1-11/16" nut widths on the 6's whereas some of the imports do offer the 1-3/4" nut. If that statement is incorrect please let me know.

A lot of possibly wasted words because folks are gonna like and defend what they own. The fact that someone played 4 or 5 individual guitars in a store may or may not be representative of a whole line and I see a lot of anecdotal reviews based on this small sampling. Funny thing is my few Guilds and preferences are anecdotal as well I guess because it is based on the few I own (ed). I say if you like an American guitar then buy it and play it. If you like an import then buy it and play it. Either way I don't see it as a one is better than the other. It is more about what puts a smile on your face. Truth be known...all of my current guits put a smile on my face.
 

dreadnut

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But if others could produce comparable acoustic guitars they would command comparable prices. Just sayin'.
 
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adorshki

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Boutique luthiers aside, what makes the tone of American-made acoustic guitars so special?
Steel string flattops were invented here.
https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/Tracking_The_Steel_String_Guitars_Evolution_Pt_1
That's the most important reason I finally decided my first lifetime keeper guitar had to be US built:
Primarily sentimental but also the one most likely to retain intrinsic value as it aged.
And why the collector's market don't give imports no respect except in rare cases of unquestionably impeccable quality.
As has been said great sounding guitars can be built anywhere, but a (steel flattop) guitar worth refurbishing is probably gonna have a made in USA stamp on it somewhere.
Here's something else:
Much like the secret recipe for Coke, somewhere the secret recipe for "American sound" has been passed around from luthier to luthier and maker to maker.
We simply have the longest history of production and therefore the largest skill set and knowledge data base to keep that secret sauce recipe alive and evolving in response to new demands.
Cute analogy aside, I've said before I think it's little invisible things like top bracing and radius and thickness, and the almost infinite combinations thereof that a high quality maker knows how and where to use to best advantage.
Wood quality has a lot to do with it too, and when it comes to sitka and some other woods North America's got (or maybe had) some of the best resources on the planet.
When I came into the paper industry in '95 one of the first things I heard was that Japan was busily trying to buy up all the premium North American woods it could.
Not for papermaking but cabinetry (of which industry guitar making is considered to be a part of, in definitions of types of industries.)
This is once again a good time to trot out Guild's article on wood selection crediting their plant manager Willie Fritscher with being responsible for ensuring Guild had the highest quality raw materials to start with:
http://www.westerlyguildguitars.com/articles/woodselection.pdf
A note of acknowledgment on no less than Benedetto's website called him "the heart of the legendary guitar company".
And how about the accolades for Ren Ferguson when he came to Guild from Gibson?
Perfect example of dissemination of the DNA of US guitar making traditions.
I'd be willing to bet Martin has similar legendary figures in their history as well.

So I agree with those that say a great sounding guitar can be built anywhere, but I humbly submit there may be quality advantages to being located in the US to build 'em.
Sure, cost of production IS higher here.
But apparently there're enough customers to support more than one maker.
They can't ALL subscribe to the mistaken belief that higher price or country of origin is a reliable indicator of quality in both sound and materials.

When I first met my D25 in a Guitar Center, this little badge said it all:

(Random pic from the 'net, but:)
Even the script evoked the Harley Davidson logo somehow, and I said to myself:
"They know exactly who they want to sell to.
Guys like me."
It took me about 2 weeks to realize there was something about the way that D25 was built that was a step above all the others I'd ever owned: the intonation was just about perfect, making every chord sound good.
No more wondering why some of 'em sounded lousy and not realizing it was the guitar not the chord
 
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beecee

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Did anyone see the article in Parade this weekend about “the story behind the songs”? Three acoustics pictured..two were guilds.
I did!!! I was going to take a picture and upload it but my wife tends to discard anything I leave laying around for over an hour.
 

SFIV1967

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Steel string flattops were invented here.
...by a German :) Christian Friedrich Martin I. was born in Markneukirchen/Germany. But yes, he built them in New York or maybe he was in Nazareth already.
Ralf
 
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