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Great cheap guitars vs. a transcendent guitar

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by matrix, Sep 27, 2017.

  1. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Tele-Holic

    Jun 25, 2016
    Midwest, USA
    I'm a poor state worker, so I can't afford expensive guitars. Anything $300 is already out of my league, so I'm usually stuck with used guitars. I currently have a Squire Tele CV which feels like a thousand dollar guitar to me. I also have an old Laguna electric which is awesome.

    You have to try out Mitchell electrics at GC. They are amazing!

  2. FirTrader

    FirTrader Tele-Meister

    Jan 8, 2017
    Alberta Canada
    I recently made a huge switch, guitar wise. It actually came about because I got into telecasters last year. Always been a Les Paul guy. Big fat, sustainy whistle. Smooth metal lead tone!

    But I'm not 20, the Les Paul is 45 pounds, it hurts to play for 3 hours. And when I go play at the local jams, no one wants to hear "Master of Puppets". These guys think Tom Petty is pretty heavy. They want CCR, and that's cool. Tele territory.

    I've enjoyed my teles a lot more than the LP for the last year. Enough to have me think about selling it or trading it somehow. But the market is very soft for high-end guitars these days, around here anyhow.

    I recently had an opportunity to trade for a Custom shop strat. Dude with the strat isn't bonding with it, is getting into Les Pauls, looking for an early 80s guitar (mine was an 81). I visited him, we played the guitars, did the trade. So this is a trade of.... 2500 dollar guitars, +-.

    I was unsure. The strat was cool, but ... a strat. And just so different. But I did the trade, I knew it was time to move on, and this felt right.

    A week later, I can't believe what a guitar this CS strat is. Where fenders have always felt a little cheesy, a little rickety to me... this thing is solid, and perfect, and just so nice to play. I can play, and what's more, I WANT to play. I'm learning new stuff for the first time in years. I feel inspired!

    So. Here's a bunch of stuff. A) the CS strat is really nice. Neck is superb, fit and finish dynamite, and the thing sounds amazing. B) No 500 dollar guitar sounds or feels like this. C) for all that, the ex-owner never bonded with it much, so there's also something subjective here - hand size, amp, desired tone, playing style etc is all different for all of us.

    I'll take a 2500 dollar guitar - not blind, not "any one will do", but I think that one killer instrument I'll get more out of than 5 "fun grade" ones.

    There are dogs at every price point, there are winners at every price point.

    But you can have this strat when you pry it from my cold dead hands. And no one could be more surprised at that than me.


  3. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    I have no doubt about the supremacy of the Martin sound. I've heard good players on Martins, and they are indeed beautiful guitars. I was just curious about the idea that a Martin allows you to do something you couldn't do on a lesser guitar.
    I've never played a Martin, but I am quite sure that my capabilities would not suddenly increase because of owning one. As you say, whatever I play would sound better, but I would not be playing any better.
    Toto'sDad likes this.

  4. crossroader

    crossroader Tele-Afflicted Gold Supporter

    Sep 24, 2004
    Endicott, NY
    I think that there can be such a thing as a "transcendent" guitar for someone, but the cost of that instrument is incidental to the equation.

    To me, a transcendent guitar is one that allows a player's true voice and artistry to shine. Something that inspires you to play and brings out the best in you.
    And one player's transcendent guitar may be another player's piece of crap. It's a very personal thing.

    That great guitar MIGHT be something that's very expensive, but it certainly doesn't have to be. In fact, the "transcendental guitar" and the "cheap guitar" could very well be the SAME guitar. That depends on the individual player and that specific guitar.

    So, given this....definition, I would also agree that a specific instrument could very well make you a better player. Or, at the very least, a more inspired player.

    But again, it's got nothing (necessarily) to do with cost. It's that connection to the instrument and what that connection allows you to say.

  5. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    A couple of years ago, I got my hands on a Gretsch White Falcon, which has become, for me, one of those unreachable guitars. I thought it would sound amazing, but I didn't really like it all that much.

    Maybe I just need to be a better player before I play really good guitars.

  6. Piggy Stu

    Piggy Stu Friend of Leo's

    Feb 26, 2017
    I wish you could play my Martin for an afternoon, because I think words are failing me. The bracing and balance makes it have some funny power in it

    Closest thing I can compare it to is a 12 fret guitar

  7. kelnet

    kelnet Telefied Ad Free Member

    Apr 17, 2008
    Port Moody, BC
    Yeah, but it's not like I could suddenly be able to play complex jazz chords or be a good fingerpicker. I wouldn't be able to do that tapping thing that Erik Mongrain does. I'm sure they would sound amazing on a Martin, but I would still need the skill to do it.

    I guess I'm asking, though, if those really complex things are possible only on a high-end acoustic like a Martin.

  8. Piggy Stu

    Piggy Stu Friend of Leo's

    Feb 26, 2017
    Nah: it isn't some magic string on a magic fret: your hands will do the same, but like a very fine paintbrush you can do finer things

    I think the secret is in fine bracing techniques. I just got a new tennis racquet and am getting a lot of new shots out of the fresh strings and carbon fibre handle, but it is still just my arm waving around and I am rubbish

    Easier to discuss after you spent 30 mins with a Martin

  9. ndcaster

    ndcaster Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 14, 2013
    a 14 fret grande bouche from Jean-Pierre Favino

    I played one, and it was like my guitar voice finally dropped

    some guitars, man ...
    matrix likes this.

  10. Wrong-Note Rod

    Wrong-Note Rod Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Mar 4, 2009
    5 guitars for 500

    sell four on Ebay for 650 and keep one.

    I've never played a 2500 guitar that I had to have.
    Piggy Stu likes this.

  11. Telesphere

    Telesphere Tele-Meister

    Oct 11, 2005
    The Telesphere
    It's good to dream, but while I'm still dreaming about being able to do justice to what I have already got...

    Honestly, I've never lusted after a very high end guitar that promised the sun, moon & stars. It may be a pragmatic realistic thing, with me, but it just doesn't do it for me. I can long for something that's reasonably achievable, financially, but if it's out of my league, then I forget it.
    Chicago Matt likes this.

  12. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

    I agree that price does not correlate very well with quality/transcendence. However, if a guitar is under about $800 it doesn't take too much for me to pull the trigger. There have only been two guitars over $2000 that I was willing to pull the trigger on, and they just felt so, so right when I had them in my hands. The first was a 30s Style O National resonator guitar. I've since sold it because I just wasn't using it much anymore and it was a shame to have it just sit there. I wanted a player to get it. The second was a Gibson Les Paul Trad Pro. I was looking for a Lester and holding out for one that spoke to me, and this one did. I fell in love when I first had it in my hands and still love it....the look, the sound, the feel in my hands, everything about it.

    But I also have a DeArmond M75T and a partscaster Tele that are huge keepers for me and I picked each one up for under $500. I have a whole pile of other guitars somewhere in the $400 to $1,000 price range that I really like a lot, but could also probably be talked into flipping someday depending on my mood.

    I guess my point is that a guitar better be pretty dang transcendent to me before I'll shell out anything north of $1,000, never mind $2,000.

  13. Chicago Matt

    Chicago Matt Friend of Leo's

    Aug 23, 2014
    I haven't owned many acoustic guitars, and probably am not qualified to comment.

    But as far as electrics go, I've owned many, many since 1964. There are so many reasons to choose one guitar over another. If you're a collector, that's one thing. If you have to have a certain look, that's another. But for my purpose, a guitar is only tool to make the best music I can make. It has to sound good, hopefully great, and it has to play good enough that I can execute what I know how to do (which I realize today isn't very much :)). I've had both Gibsons and Fenders from the 50s and 60s as well as new guitars from all periods since. My favorites have been the work horses that have done the job well.

    The most I've ever spent for a guitar is $1,299.00 and that was probably too much. The one I love and play the most currently cost me $799.00.

  14. Area51

    Area51 Tele-Meister

    Nov 4, 2016
    New Mexico
    I agree. I've owned nice guitars. My guitar tech still gives me a hard time for selling my 62 strat. Honestly, I only miss it for the vintage'ness of it. Beyond that I think my partcaster thinline is as fine of a playing and sound wise guitar as I'll ever need.

  15. Bill

    Bill Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    I've played transcendent guitars and am lucky enough to own a few. Not about ease of playing. Though they do play well.

    It's more about dynamic range, sweet harmonic complexity, even tone, incredible responsiveness, and a suitability for the kind of music you're playing. It's more easily heard on acoustics as there are far fewer variables.

    I've never really thought about it, but the common theme in my "transcendent" guitars is that they're old: '59 J-45, '28 Martin 0-28K, '56 and '63 Strats, '52 Tele. That sort of thing.

    I've played plenty of equally old models of those guitars that were nothing special. And I have some cheap guitars that come close--a Squier Bullet Strat that sounds remarkably like my '63. So it's really a matter of buying with your hands, ears, and heart. Not your ego or presumptions.

    Also, sometimes a small change can alter a guitar from good to great. My luthier was replacing the broken bridge on my '77 ES-175 when I told him it never sounded like a proper jazz guitar to me with the steel saddles. He suggested setting up a rosewood bridge and dang if it didn't make that guitar come alive.

  16. matrix

    matrix Tele-Meister

    Apr 13, 2016
    Vancouver, BC
    Only possible? Nah, that is not quite what I am trying to say. Most great players could do their thing on a well set up guitar. But this "extra" quality is something that pulls the best out of is not just the tone of the guitar. It is a kind of responsiveness, sensitivity that lets you find an extra 5% of musical expressiveness ... in a world where an extra 5% is a world of musical difference.

    It sort of makes you sit back and go "hunh. I did not know i had that in me". Or at least that is my reaction. Maybe a more pro-level player would have a different response.

    And I honestly think if I had not moved from that decent-but-amateur yamaha to the martin, I would not be the player I am today (not that my current level is anything to inspire awe).

    Nothing specific to Martin - there are other great acoustic brands out there. But that level of instrument, equivalent to a good example of a high-level Martin.
    Piggy Stu likes this.

  17. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity

    Mar 2, 2010
    Yeah I know exactly what you're talking about, and agree that it doesn't correlate perfectly with price.

    What "trancendant" means to me is that if I have some of "those" guitars, shopping at GC for guitars is like trying to get a date in a graveyard.
    Nuthin there for me.

    It means that out of a selection of 10-20 nice guitars at home, I always pick up the same one or two.

    It means that when I play one of "those other guitars", they just plain don't inspire or satisfy or even work very well.
    I never try out a guitar into a distorted amp, that makes any piece of crap sound OK.

    I would guess that players that have a compressor or OD always on might not have the same relationship with guitars, because much of the subtle inadequacies of OK guitars is covered up by compression and distortion.
    This is fine and those kind of players are lucky.

    As to where I personally get them, I use the two age old methods of our forbears in guitar history.
    1) Hunt them down.
    2) Build them from the best parts of several guitars.
    In order to do this, I needed to learn exactly what I want in an electric.
    Sadly, the internet supports a myth that there is no better or best, just the same basic stuff at different price points.
    While great parts may sometimes come off el cheapo guitar assembly lines, I find I usually get what I want in the mid priced range.
    Never paid even $1000 for any guitar, mostly $300-$400, but some of them had only one part I wanted.
    I'll try numerous assemblies before setting a neck or body aside, though some necks get binned right away.
    And I've played hundreds of bottom end Squiers, partly because they were my favorite used guitar when made in Japan and still cheap.
    I'd love to find a great set of bones for $99, even if I ended up scraping off a decal and reshaping a headstock.
    matrix likes this.

  18. matrix

    matrix Tele-Meister

    Apr 13, 2016
    Vancouver, BC
    Telemnomics- great post. Sheds some light on why (perhaps) some don't get the very idea of the transcendent guitar.

    Where do you hunt for #1 on your list of 2 options?

  19. soulgeezer

    soulgeezer Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 5, 2006
    Sinatra's World

    ... is the only "transcendent" guitar I've ever played. It cost around $700 when I bought it in 1981. I'm guessing that's around $1,500 today? So, it is definitely possible to find transcendence for a reasonable price. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that transcendence has nothing to do with price, it has only to do with the guitar melding with you like Spock on a Horta. This guitar does that for me. YMWV, of course!
    telemnemonics and ndeli55 like this.

  20. ndeli55

    ndeli55 Tele-Afflicted

    May 12, 2008
    I still remember a very special epiphone LP standard I played back in 2008 at GC. It played well, and sounded exceptional. It was an "acacodo burst" which turns out is a green hued honey burst. As I was playing it I felt I played better, and it it was the first time I thought, "so, this is what an LP should be like? I love it."

    It was in the pedal section plugged into an amp I was into. I needed an amp at that time, so I bought the amp--I wish I'd have taken the guitar.

    It was in your declared "cheap guitar" range, and I've never found another like it.

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