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Are USA Standard Fender & Gibson Guitars Overpriced?

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Are USA Standard Fender & Gibson Guitars Overpriced?

Recently, when visiting guitar stores across the UK, I’m often taken aback by the price of the current range of USA Standard Fender & Gibson guitars.

…if we’re going to spend £1600 on a new Les Paul, why not spend the cash on an instrument that has been crafted by the hands of an independent luthier?…

USA Fender StratocasterFive years ago, I saved for a very long time to purchase a USA Fender Stratocaster. I was so chuffed as I finally became an owner of a “real” Strat and even though some Mexican and even Squier models can sound almost as good (with various modifications and upgrades), nothing could beat the feeling of actually owning a USA Standard Stratocaster.

The guitar was purchased new from Guitar Village (great shop) for a price of approximately £600. Five years later, to purchase the same guitar from the same shop, I need to find the best part of £1000. I can appreciate that the cost of goods rise with inflation, but an extra £80 year seems ludicrous by any standard.

Gibson seemed to have adopted the same practice, if not worse. Rumour has it, a couple of years ago Gibson added literally £100’s to the price of their guitars, meaning (at the time of writing) we have to find approximately £1600 to own a new Les Paul Standard.

The aspect I find the most challenging with the rise of Fender & Gibson guitar prices is that we’re just coming out of a global recession. Sure, Fender & Gibson may need to raise their prices somewhat to cover manufacturing and export costs, but the RRP of USA Standard models, in my opinion, are just too high in the current financial climate. For many people, the dream of one day owning a Standard Stratocaster or Les Paul will still remain a dream for quite some time to come.

Independent Guitar Manufacturers

I’m not having a rant about the independent guitar manufacturers or luthiers. I do appreciate the price of their guitars will always be on the expensive side. In my mind that’s justified, mainly due to the amount of time, effort, blood, sweat & tears these guys spend in crafting their instruments. Maybe, as guitarists, if we’re going to spend £1600 on a new Les Paul, why not spend the cash on an instrument that has been crafted by the hands of an individual / independent luthier?

Second-hand Market

The second hand market currently seems to be a good place to purchase guitars. After spending the last hour searching eBay, I noticed numerous USA Fenders priced between £500-£750 which seems to be a much fairer price. There’s the old problem of buying a guitar online though; ideally you’d like to “try before you buy”, ensuring the guitar suits your requirements, resonates well and is in working order.

I’ve also been scouring the local Cash Converter stores during recent weeks and I’ve been blown away by some of the second hand guitar products on offer. Last weekend I stumbled across used Fender, Gibson, Jackson and Ibanez guitars all priced amazingly, even for the second hand market. In addition, I discovered a used Marshall JVM head (priced very competitively) and a Tech 21 combo in fantastic condition.

Are the USA Standard Fender & Gibson guitars overpriced?

Personally, I think so. I do understand how Fender & Gibson need to cover costs and ultimately retain profitability, but do their current pricing models reflect them as companies who are passionate about their work and the standard of their products, or does it make the consumer feel that these companies simply want to make as much money as possible, regardless of the thoughts and opinions of their customer base?

If I was on the lookout for a new guitar, I’d be more inclined to scour the second hand market or even invest my hard earned cash by purchasing a guitar from an independent luthier.

Having said that, there’s that underlying problem that’s been a running theme to this post; to some of us, and I’m definitely included, there’s nothing like owning a “real” Fender or Gibson. Maybe that’s exactly why these two guitar giants can keep their prices so high?

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Sam is passionate about talking all things guitar related and started GuitarJar.co.uk to help encourage all guitarists in their guitar playing journey.

12 Comments

  • I think that both these makes are far to expensive for no good reason. How can gibson call something standard and charge £1600 there is nothing standard about that price. At least gibson are using expensive woods like mahogany but fender as we all know mainly stick to ash and alder which are far far cheaper.

    I recently inquired about the price of ash and found out that i could get it for about £28 per cubic foot which is enough to make 3 or more body’s. The fact of the matter is that these company’s that once stood for rock and sticking it to the man are now the very man they once helped rebel against with one thing in mind the profit margins. Don’t get me wrong i love les pauls, strats etc. but i dont know if the companies behind these pieces of music history love them as much as they love the money they make off them.

  • Great comment Ben – £28 per cubic foot… no way! It makes me wonder what the manufacturing costs and overheads are per Fender/Gibson guitar prior to RRP really are…

  • yea right and i’m sure at the bulk they buy in its would be far less than that.

  • Indy’s all the way!!

    The big makes ride on the back of the legends that have played their model when they were priced lower!

  • Slightly in their defense the dollar/pound exchange rate is significantly worse than it was (got to $2 to the pound less than a couple of years ago), which will add 25%, or so. I also understand that Gibson are not in the best financial place to start off with, so probably needed to raise the price!!

    Having said that I agree that they are over-priced compared to the rest of the market, especially when you consider the price in the US. A few years ago I demoed many Gibson and Fenders and ended up with PRS SE Soapbar for £400! It beat the others in tone and playability hands-down (to my ears) and had the advantage of being a bit more unusual.

  • Fender? There hasn’t been a real Fender since 1964. Those guitar we call “Fenders” are actually FMIC guitar. FMIC makes junk. Heritage are more “Gibson-ish” than Gibson. The only company that is still original is Rickenbacker and I have never been a fan of them.. not to say that they are no good, but not my cup of tea. According to Nash Guitars :”Another thing to consider – what percentage of the parts used on a “real” Fender are made by them? I think you would be surprised at the answer”

  • I think Fenders are well priced and you can get a good quality instrument at a fair price. Compared to Gibson, Fender do cater for a wide range of budgets. Having factories in Mexico and Japan has helped with this.

    Gibsons are over priced. Especially when I have heard so many negative things about quality control. They are getting better price wise with the latest Studio 60s classic models, which are more reasonable, but quality v price Fender still have the advantage.

    Like it or not with both manufacturers you pay for the name. I own a Fender Jazzmaster, and it’s nice to own a real Fender. (Also I didn’t have many alternatives as no one else makes a Jazzmaster quite like Fender.)

    I would like to own a Gibson but they are doing 2 things wrong: 1) over pricing 2) bringing out ugly guitars that are over priced that no one really wants.

  • Yes, they are BOTH overpriced for what they are. Fender has not added any new ground breaking features at all. The features Gibson adds are usually ones that nobody wants (ie. Robot Guitar). The quality isn’t even on par with the price you pay.

    I feel especially sorry for the people who have to import these pieces of garbage. I would recommend a G&L or Ernie Ball over any Fender.

    Additionally I would pick a PRS or Carvin over a Gibson any day. It’s sad people continue to pay for the name. People need to be educated.

  • My first ever “fender” guitar was a Japanese made 1986 standard strat. I chose it because it was all I could afford. As soon as I started gigging, I would get lots of comments about the “great tone” and how good it looked. As soon as a lot of people spotted it was Japanese – there were all sorts of comments like “why not get a real one” – “oh – those are crap copies”.

    As a 17 year old this was crushing. I saved and saved and finally went to London to buy a “real” strat. I came away empty handed as not one that I tried was a patch on mine! This confused me all the more, and that first guitar is still in my collection and anyone who tries it says “how much for this”. All guitars can be in-consistent, but while people are obsessed with having the right name on the headstock – The big names will charge what ever they can get away with. I have had Fenders all my life since that one, always paying more, finding the best guitar for the money.

    My whole thought process was turned on its head when I eventually had a guitar built for me by DM guitars. Its better than any custom shop strat I have ever played, for around half the price. Those who now come to me at gigs saying “so whats that?” – I take great pride in telling them it was custom made for me.

  • I have to agree with the comments above, a few years back I bought a Mexican Strat, it sounded great so I had to have it £350 approx, my mate paid nearly a grand for an American one and he reckons my sounds better than his.

    The moral of the story is try before you buy because the tones and sound differ in all guitars. On another note I bought a Schecter as well for £250 and it sounded better than a £1200 Gibson!!!!!

  • I have to agree with one of the other posters: Sterling crashed massively in 2008-2009 meaning that many goods imported into the UK from other countries rose in price almost overnight & it hasn’t done much better since.

  • In the last 20-ish years I had about 40 guitars. Only 3 of them I would never sell. First one is 1988 Korean built Stratocaster (Squier).

    After I changed tuners, pots, cap and pickups with DiMarzio, this guitar will blow out of the water any American built Stratocaster and for a fraction of the price. Second one is 1976 Gibson Les Paul Custom. The reason is I paid a lot for it, so the real reason for not wanting to sell it, I know if I do I could never afford to buy another one. No other reason.

    Third one is a Chinese copy of Les Paul Axcess, with Floyd Rose. All I did to it was a little fret leveling and changed pickups to Seymour Duncans. This Chibson runs rings around any real Gibson. I compared it head to head to at least 10 real deal Gibson Les Pauls, it sustains longer, rings nicer and stays in tune for weeks.

    All this brings me to think – how much are we prepared to pay just for a sake of having certain name on the headstock? Are we paying for show ponies? I think that first priority to any good and honest guitar player should be how guitar feels and sounds and not what name is on the headstock and how much guitar cost.

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