Luthier-made guitars provide certain distinct advantages, that you cannot obtain with a premium brand guitar, like Martin or Taylor. However, these benefits do come with some drawbacks.
Both the pros and cons of luthier-made guitars will be discussed at length in this article.
Table Of Contents
- Pros of Buying A Luthier Made Guitar
- Cons of Buying A Luthier Made Guitar
- Alternatives to Buying a Luthier Made Guitar
- What Are Luthier-Made Guitars Good For?
- Why Are Handmade Guitars So Expensive?
- Do Handmade Guitars Sound Better?
- How Do I Decide Whether To Buy A Luthier Made Guitar or a Premium Brand Guitar?
Pros of Buying A Luthier Made Guitar
There are many pros to buying a luthier-made guitar, and they will be explored in this section.
One Of A Kind
When you buy a luthier-made guitar, you are buying a one-of-a-kind instrument.
Rather than being one of multiple hundred guitars that are coming out of a factory batch, a luthier-made guitar is a ‘batch of one’ guitar that has been made to your specifications.
When you buy a guitar from a Luthier, you get to have input into all aspects of the guitar design and construction.
If there is a specific wood you would like your guitar to be made out of, you can specify that.
If there is a specific shape you would like your guitar made into, you can specify that.
You can choose very specific details of fretboard inlay design, neck length, neck width, or any other aspect of the guitar design.
When you buy a guitar through a big brand, you get none of these options, and just have to accept the specifications and details of the given model.
If you are ordering a guitar from a Luthier you know, and you know their reputation, you can be assured of the quality of the guitar you will get.
You cannot quite have the same level of assurance when buying from a premium guitar brand like Martin or Taylor.
They have multiple staff that may create a guitar you end up getting, so there are a lot more variables at play. However, if you are working with a luthier that you know, you can rest assured that you know exactly who has worked on the guitar throughout the whole manufacturing process.
Additionally, for a Luthier, every single guitar they make has a direct impact on their reputation.
As a result, their incentives are in line with yours. If they deliver you a lemon, this could be very bad for their reputation and their business.
One bad guitar could potentially ruin them. As a result, it is in their best interests to make sure you are very happy with your guitar.
In comparison, the major premium guitar brands have a decades-long history of hundreds of thousands of guitars being produced and a lot of goodwill throughout the world.
If they deliver a very poor guitar, they can just blame the production process and give you a new one.
So a single poor guitar does not have the same impact on their business. As a result, their incentives are not in line with yours, in the same way, as a luthier’s incentives are.
Supporting Small Business/Craftsmanship
When you purchase a guitar from a Luthier, you know that the money is going straight to them, and supporting their business and their life.
Compared to a multinational corporation, where you are just feeding the bottom line profits, you know that your hard-earned money is going towards someone else’s well-being.
It is also an opportunity to support small businesses, and keep the craft of custom-made guitars alive. If you are passionate about guitars, and about music, this may be something that you can really get behind.
If we lose all about small luthier production houses, we will have no other options other than buying from the mass-produced brands.
Post Purchase Support
You are also likely to get better support for your guitar after your purchase with a luthier-made guitar.
Even though most of the major brands, especially the premium models, offer a lifetime warranty for the original buyer, obtaining that support can be a frustrating and time-consuming process.
However, if you have already got an existing relationship with the luthier who made the guitar, obtaining support is going to be quicker and easier, and they will already know the instrument intimately because they made it from the ground up.
Cons of Buying A Luthier Made Guitar
You Won’t Hear It Until You Have Paid For It
If you are buying a guitar from a retailer, or a guitar showroom, you have the luxury of playing multiple guitars, for as long as you need and see which one you like the best.
You can see how they feel, how they play, how they sound, and then make a decision over whether you are satisfied, and whether you would like to buy it.
However, if you order a guitar from a Luthier, once you have paid for it, there is no going back.
Even though you can play other guitars they have made to try and help with your buying decision, once you have paid for the guitar and they start making it, it is very difficult to get your money back.
Once they have delivered the guitar to you if you are unhappy with the sound of it you will be stuck with the guitar as it is unless you can identify a specific fault.
Luthier Made Guitars Can Be Expensive
Buying a handmade guitar from a luthier tends to be a lot more expensive than buying a guitar from a shop. This is because the labor involved in making a guitar is often the biggest component of the end price.
With major brands who produce hundreds of guitars at a time, they can save a lot of money by getting guitars made in factories, in overseas locations, where the labor is a lot cheaper.
However, if you engage a Luthier from a Western country, they need to be paid well for their time, and they will be spending a lot of time working on every single detail of your guitar.
How Much Does A Luthier Made Guitar Cost?
A very cheap handmade guitar could cost you $2,000, but that would be a very low price for a custom handmade guitar.
Most luthier-made guitars are more likely to start at around $5,000 and go up from there.
Resale Value Of Luthier Made Guitars Is Generally Lower
If you have a luthier-made guitar and you wish to sell it in the future (or circumstances require that you sell it in the future), you are likely to get a lot less of your money back than if you had a premium model acoustic guitar from a well-known brand like Martin or Taylor.
This is because the buyer may not be as familiar with the Luthier, and be aware of the value of the guitar.
Whereas if you have a Martin guitar or a Taylor Guitar, the names are well known and the value is held to a higher degree in the second-hand market to the goodwill of the brand name.
Production Time Can Be Lengthy
A lot of luthier-made guitars will take at least three months, but often four months, even up to six months for the guitar to be delivered to you once the order is confirmed.
This is a long time to wait for a new guitar, especially when you are very excited about getting it.
Especially compared to the fact you could walk into a store and buy a premium brand guitar, and walk out with it on the spot.
Alternatives to Buying a Luthier Made Guitar
One alternative to getting a luthier-made guitar, but still having full customization over the wood choice and all design specifications of a guitar, is to do it yourself.
There are many different types of guitar kits that you can purchase and make yourself, and they come at varying stages of completion.
With some, the body is assembled, and you just bolt on the neck, and other you need to construct the whole thing from scratch.
However, if it is your first time, then this is probably not the ideal solution, because it requires a lot of skill, dedication, and specialized tools.
Buying A Premium Brand
The other alternative to a luthier-made guitar is to buy a premium brand guitar, such as Martin or Taylor guitars.
They have a good reputation for a reason.
Most of their guitars are of very high quality and produce fantastic sound.
If you are looking for specific customizations these may be things you can get done after you have received the guitar, or there may be various special editions or limited editions that are released which are of interest to you.
What Are Luthier-Made Guitars Good For?
Luthier-made guitars are typically purchased by very experienced players, who want to treat themselves with a very high quality, unique instrument that they can play at home or in the recording studio.
Some people take their luthier-made guitars on the road, and tour with them, however, the majority of people who own luthier-made guitars reserve them for very specific circumstances where they can control the environment and can be assured of the guitar’s safety.
Why Are Handmade Guitars So Expensive?
Handmade guitars are so expensive, because of the significant amount of labor that has gone into their creation.
The labor costs are one of the largest components of the overall price of a guitar, so when you buy a fully custom handmade guitar, that has a large investment of labor involved in its production, the price is inevitably high for the end product.
Do Handmade Guitars Sound Better?
In many cases, handmade guitars do have an amazing sound that outperforms their factory produce counterparts.
However, there are many premium brand acoustic guitars, that have an amazing sound.
Once you are spending above $1,000 on a guitar, the difference in sound that you can hear gets less and less with every thousand dollars spent. For example, the difference in tone between a $2,000 guitar and a $10,000 guitar may be very hard to discern, for most people.
How Do I Decide Whether To Buy A Luthier Made Guitar or a Premium Brand Guitar?
At the end of the day, the best way to decide whether to buy a luthier-made or premium brand guitar is to go and play a lot of guitars.
Go to the luthier you are thinking of buying from, and play multiple guitars that they have built. Likewise, go to a music store, and play a lot of different premium brands.
Only after playing ten or even twenty guitars for a decent period of time will your ears and your hands begin to discern the differences.
As much as you can never guarantee the exact product you are going to get when you order it a guitar from a luthier, s we have previously discussed, playing their previously made guitars, and whatever they have available in their showroom (if they have one) is the best indication you will get.