Art and Criticism

I was on one of the guitar forums I frequent when a discussion broke out about the pricing of another builder’s guitars. Someone casually remarked that even though his guitars were nice, they weren’t worth the $1,000 he was charging. I read the builder’s site and noticed that he uses some really cool, old woods, good parts, and does some very nice work. I then outlined why I thought his guitars were, if anything, under priced. The original poster disagreed and then tallied up costs of the components and compared the hand-built guitars to a factory-built Fender.

*Sigh*

The flaw comes in trying to compare a hand-built instrument with a factory-built instrument. If, as a small business, you try to compete in the world of the Wal-Mart market place, you’ll lose — every time. You have to compete in the market of art and artisans. Your clients aren’t people who want just another guitar, they’re the ones looking for something they can’t get anywhere else. They’re the people who like your story and your vision. My guitars start at $1750. Are they worth it? When I calculate how much time I invest in tracking down wood, building jigs, working out the kinks in something new, perfecting my craft, and actually building, etc, I think I’ve priced things pretty fairly. I saw a post just earlier today that encapsulated things pretty nicely:

“When you buy something from an artist, you’re buying more than an object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a heart, a piece of a soul, a small piece of someone else’s life.”

Now, does that post romanticize things a bit? In a way, yes. And in a way, no. Not everyone builds with that kind of passion (to some folks, it’s just a fun hobby or a way to make money), but there are those of us that do. There are those of us who pour ourselves into it. And when I say “ourselves”, I mean that in a personal way. It’s always a very scary thing for me to build an instrument for someone because if they reject it, they’re in essence rejecting me. They’re rejecting my artistic sensibilities and abilities. So why do I post my builds on forums and social media? Because I want to grow. This is the weird yin/yang part of the deal. As hard as it is to hear criticism, I have to have it if I want to continue getting better. And I desperately want to continue to get better at what I do. That’s why I put my guitars in the hands of professional musicians every time I get the chance. Is it scary? As hell. Does it hurt? Sometimes deeply. Is it worth it? Without a doubt.

As to whether his guitars are worth $1k (or mine are worth $1750+), just because you can’t see yourself paying that much for one, it doesn’t mean they’re not worth it. The market will sort that out.

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2 comments

  • I read this and a light bulb went on, a really bright one. I have built quite a few guitars over the past few years, but struggle with how to price them. Partly because of this issue, I have not put them up for sale because I just don’t want to deal with it. I build for my own enjoyment and don’t need to sell them. But as the music room, music room closet, and other areas of the house are becoming filled with “my hobby”, it is becoming more apparent that I need to adopt your philosophy. Thanks for your brief, but to the point essay !!

    Michael Ferreira
  • I really liked your article on guitar pricing. I agree that some people just ‘don’t get it’ on how to price a hand built instrument that is also a piece of art. I’m a weekend wood crafter and guitar lover that’s been trying to learn to play for 20+ years, but doesn’t practice enough to get past the basics. But I still have a passion.
    I have a bunch of curly maple wood I was going to make a table top out of years ago but never did. Think it would be a good candidate for a guitar body? It’s one inch thick so it’d have to be glued together to build it up. Or should I save that for just a decorative top and go with an alderman or ash body?

    Thanks again, and keep building them!

    Ben Jarvis

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