Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why buy cheap guitars?

Tight wad. I love playing the guitar, but people are amazed that I don't buy expensive guitars. My friends who golf or play hockey as their hobbies always buy the best equipment they can afford, and sometimes beyond what they can afford.  They justify the expense because they say the high priced equipment brings out the best in their performance.
But I know myself too well. 
When I start any new hobby that involves buying something, I tend to buy cheap to medium priced gear.  I never know if something is going to stick with me because I am interested in lots of things.  In the last five years, I have been interested in: classroom technology, design and architecture, knitting, home exercise, fountain pens, Steampunk watches, Hermes citrus fragrance, woodwork, yoga, slow cookers, pressure cookers, economics, jogging, and cycling (I just have to buy a bike). 
My friends also justify the initial outlay of cash because they can always sell their quality equipment later.  Resale is not big with me because I don't want the hassle of trying to get a few bucks once the interest is dropped.
But here is my favourite reason for buying inexpensive guitars: modding.  I am a huge tinkerer, so buying something that is perfect is not as interesting to me as getting something I can mess about with.
Take my number one workhorse guitar.  It was a  $240 Mexican made Fender Stratocaster.  Then I:
1. Changed the neck to a maple one.
2. Put on better tuners and got rid of the string tree.
3. Shaved down the screws on the bridge.
4. Put on a humbucker on the bridge position.
5. Rewired the tone control to make it control the bridge pickup.
6. Put in a mini switch so the humbucker could be a single coil too.
7. Removed the trem cover and floated the trem.
8. Put in different saddles.
9. Put the string tree back on.
10. Replaced the jack.
11. Reseated a couple of high frets.
12. Cranked the trem back down.
Would I have had to do all of this if I had bought a new Strat?  Yes and no.  Yes because some of these things were because the original parts were worn or just plain crappy.  But no because some of these mods came from the evolution of my playing and my tastes. For example, for modern heavier songs, I needed the growl of the humbucker, but I missed the clarity of the single, so having the switch gave me both.  There aren't many Strats fresh off the shelf that can do this.  I raised the trem to be like Jeff Beck, but when I realized that I am a mere mortal, I lowered it back down.  I was able to make all of these mods along the way as my preferences dictated.
I don't think I would have done all of these changes with a new expensive guitar.  With a cheaper instrument, I wouldn't be as worried making these changes or if I totally botched the job.  Leo Fender was a genius.  He designed this guitar with modification a true possibility.  This is not as true with other guitars.  The Strat is like a Hot Rod in that sense in that you can find a myriad of parts available to suit your particular needs. 
There is also the process.  If I bought a perfect guitar I would be denying myself all the fun of tinkering which includes doing the actual mods, the purchasing of the parts, but also the research of the how, the what, the why, and the where.  Ask my wife and she will tell you I spend more time thinking and reading about guitars than I do playing one.

Are cheap guitars better than expensive ones?  Probably not, but for frugal tinkerers like me, they can be a lot more fun.   

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