One of the biggest issues many beginning guitar players face is budget. If you are one, perhaps you are in a dilemma about buying a cheap guitar first before upgrading to a good one later. You may also be tempted to buy your grail guitar straight.
Both options are actually ok. However, suppose you should start with the first option, avoid buying overly cheap guitars because they can be bad. How are cheap guitars bad?
Generally, cheap guitars may have quality control issues, such as warped fretboard, bad pickup, and weak tuning pegs. The quality of the wood is also low, meaning the sound quality is also not good. Cheap guitars also may be harder to play, as they have higher nuts and bridge and lower quality strings.
In this article, I explore what cheap guitars are like. I also discuss why cheap guitars are generally bad and why you should avoid them.
How Cheap Is A Cheap Guitar?
Cheap guitars could be considered as guitars below $100. These guitars tend to not be from popular brands. They may see shortcuts and lower-quality materials being used during construction. The quality control may also be rather lax, meaning the guitar may have many problems.
Guitars are hard to build. It takes great materials and experienced luthiers’ hands and eyes to craft the best guitars. As a result, most of the great guitars are hand-made and produced in small numbers.
However, knowing the guitar’s appeal to many, guitar makers try to make guitars cheaper to cater to all budget levels. Guitar makers have three ways to do this, scale up production, save on materials, or save on manufacturing.
Scale-Up Production: The best way to lower the guitar’s price and still keep its good quality is to scale up. The idea here is to produce more guitars and sell them cheaper.
This allows the guitar maker to make less profit per guitar, but since they are selling more of them, it is better for their bottom line. This is called the economics of scale.
This explains how you can see Fender, Yamaha, or Ibanez selling guitars for around $150 or even lower since they have the production volume to benefit from the economies of scale.
Save On Materials: If scaling up production is not possible, guitar makers may resort to saving on the materials used for the guitar. Instead of mahogany or rosewood, you get basswood instead. Instead of steel or copper fret wires, you get plastics instead.
Saving on materials can drastically lower the cost of a guitar, allowing guitar makers to sell it at a low price. However, these guitars tend to not last long and may have many issues that make playing them an unenjoyable experience.
Save On Manufacturing: Another way to make guitar cheap is to save on the manufacturing process. High-quality guitars are hand-made by experienced luthiers. The quality check may be very stringent, leaving many rejected guitars.
To make production cheaper, experienced luthiers may be replaced by inexperienced assembly line workers, with machines replacing many parts of the production. QC may also be relaxed since the general quality of the guitar has dropped.
Most of these guitars may be available brand new at $100 or lower, and I would like to advise you to stay away from these guitars when possible. Better that you save up a little bit more and get better guitars at $200 or more than to waste your money on these.
If you cannot save up for that, consider buying cheap guitars from popular makers, such as Yamaha, Fender, Ibanez, or Epiphone. Cheaper guitars from these brands may at least have higher quality.
Why Are Cheap Guitars Bad?
Cheap guitars, in general, are bad due to a myriad of quality issues, such as warped fretboard, high bridge, and nut, as well as poor quality material and construction. As a result, you may find it harder to play cheap guitars and enjoy them.
Cheap Acoustic Guitars Have Cheaper Wood
Cheap guitars tend to be made with lower-quality wood to save costs and keep the price very low. High-quality guitars may get a singular piece of rose, mahogany, or spruce wood.
Mid-range guitars may see two pieces of high-quality wood being merged together. In contrast, cheaper guitars may use cheaper wood altogether, such as basswood.
As a result, cheap guitars do not sound good. The guitar may sound dull, unlike nice guitars, which may sound bright, creamy, and full. Cheap guitars may also have short suspense. This means the sound does not ring long once you strum the guitar.
Cheap Guitars Get Out Of Tune Quickly
One of the places cheap guitar saves cost is on the headstock and tuning pegs. The tuning pegs are the heads where you twist the end of your guitar strings. You usually twist and turn these tuning pegs when you tune your guitar.
High-quality tuning pegs usually are made of high-quality steel or brass. They can hold themselves against the tension generated by the string. This means high-quality tuning pegs do not turn by themselves, resulting in the guitar holding its turn better long term.
You may see lower-quality tuning pegs with cheap guitars, with low-end ones even made of plastic. These tuning pegs usually succumb to the tension from the guitar strings and may turn themselves.
As a result, you may need to constantly tune your guitar as it always sounds out of tune. Constant tuning can be disturbing and may ruin the fun of playing guitar.
Cheap Guitars May Have Warped Neck
One of the ways cheap guitars save cost is to use lower quality materials or have lower manufacturing standards to make more and sell more.
Unfortunately, applying this to production on a guitar neck and fretboard will produce pretty bad results. Wood pieces that are not straight are used to make guitar necks. This means the guitar neck curves in or beyond the acceptable range.
On top of that, wood pieces with unsuitable grains are also used to make guitar necks. Some wood pieces may have grains that could indicate that they may warp later, and wood pieces like this are used to make guitar necks and fretboards, which means the part itself may warp.
A warped fretboard may affect the playing feel, changing the distance between the strings and the fret line. It also may make tuning harder since a warped neck may also affect the headstock. Overall, it will result in an uncomfortable playing experience.
Cheap Guitars May Have Low-Quality Strings
Cheap guitars may use lower-quality strings to try to save costs. High-quality strings are usually made of high-tension metals with additional coating. These coatings may either slow down the deterioration of the string or help the string to perform better.
Some coatings help the guitar to hang a brighter sound, while some help the string to vibrate more and ring louder. High-quality strings can also handle rougher playing, meaning they do not snap easily.
Lower-quality strings may not come with these features. As a result, lower-quality strings tend to sound duller, and the strings may not vibrate as well. This means the strings may not have long sustain.
Low-quality strings may also not last long and may deteriorate fast. Discoloration and rusting can also happen faster on low-quality strings.
No doubt that lower-quality strings can be replaced with good-quality ones, but this represents additional problems and fuss. The better quality guitar usually comes with good strings, which means you spare yourself this trouble.
Cheap Guitars May have High Bridge And Nuts.
Cheap guitars may also come with low-quality control. This means there may be less stringent checks on the playability of each guitar before they get packed up and shipped out. This means these guitars may not have been manually adjusted and fine-tuned to be comfortable to play with.
With high-quality guitars, each guitar is usually checked by an experienced luthier. Things that affect playability, such as distance between guitar strings and the fretboard, may be measured in detail and checked.
If the distance is out of spec, the luthier may try to shave down the bridge and nut to lower the string distance. Things like this may not happen with a cheap guitar.
This means a cheap guitar may have a high bridge and nuts, meaning the strings may be sitting very high from the fretboard. This makes playing the guitar much harder, and you may need to manually adjust these things.
Cheap Electric Guitars May Have Low-Quality Pickups
If your cheap guitar is electric, the guitar maker may try to lower the production cost by using a low-quality pickup.
A pickup’s function is to detect the strings’ vibration and send the signal to the amplifier via the cable. A high-quality pickup can better detect vibrations and send a cleaner signal to the amplifier.
This results in a cleaner sound with less buzz and noise. A cleaner sound may allow you to better add in effects such as reverb or distortion as you see fit without any dirty sound.
A low-quality pickup may also not detect vibrations, meaning the signal sent to your amp may not be accurate. This means the amp will not produce the right pitch, and the sound may be dirty, as it may have additional noise.
Cheap pickups may also have weak springs. It may fail faster if you frequently plug in and out the audio jack. It may also be loose, leaving your audio jack not plugged in snuggly. This may, in turn, affect the sound delivery from your guitar to the amp.