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  1. #1

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    I've been performing regularly for twenty years in small venues with small groups - usually without drums.

    I get the feeling from browsing here that people are very unclear about the value of high end archtops. One of the things that confuses everyone is the whole historic thing. The question of the worth of a guitar gets mixed up with questions about history and historic value. As a musician I have absolutely no interest in the fact that Wes played an L 5 (and a 175) or that Jim Hall played a D'Aquisto (and a 175) etc. I want a guitar that functions properly - and that is very hard to find - and I want a guitar that sounds and feels good. I won't go into what that amounts to.

    My point is this. I recently made the transition from a Sadowsky Jim Hall - which as everyone rightly says - is an incredibly high-functioning instrument - to handmade archtops. There is absolutely no comparison from a musical point of view. The Sadowsky is like a plank compared to a Comins a Campellone or an Andersen (etc.). It is meant to be of course. The whole point of that guitar is to resist feedback, and it does that (better than any 175 old or new that I have ever played) by being a bit of a plank. I got to the point where I just was not prepared to make the musical sacrifice of playing something so acoustically dead in order to get the feedback monkey off my back.

    So can you have a guitar that handles feedback well and is really musical - which is to say - responsive and rich acoustically. The answer is yes! Both the Campellone (16 x 3) and the Comins (17 x 3 3/8) work beautifully at moderate gigging volumes and they make you feel like you have something really musical in your lap when you are practicing at home unampflified. There's not much thats subjective about this - well nothing really. If you want to be able to play your guitar without an amp - and I always have - you need a really good acoustic instrument. If you want to be able to plug it in and have it work in professional situations, you have to have an acoustic instrument that has been made by a hugely skilled craftsman. You could get lucky and get a cheap one that does this (Eastman perhaps) - but if you want to rule out luck, you need to go with the big luthiers who have made over 200 archtops.

    The best you'll get out of an archtop is this. You need a hand carved, floating pickup, guitar - unplug it and FACE THE WALL. Get your head about a foot from the wall and close your eyes. That is the best sound you can get out of an archtop (I would say out of a guitar full stop but I'm biased).

    The reason this matters is that guitars are musically crap compared to e.g. a trumpet or a saxophone. We should all be in the business of copying the human voice - we all have to make our instruments sing. Sax players and trumpet players have an immense advantage here (that is why these instruments dominate jazz). We haven't got much to go on here with our bit of wood and metal - so we need as much help as we can get. That makes people like Campellone, Comins and Andersen very important indeed. Sell everything and get one of their guitars.



    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Groyniad
    The reason this matters is that guitars are musically crap compared to e.g. a trumpet or a saxophone. We should all be in the business of copying the human voice - we all have to make our instruments sing. Sax players and trumpet players have an immense advantage here (that is why these instruments dominate jazz). We haven't got much to go on here with our bit of wood and metal - so we need as much help as we can get. That makes people like Campellone, Comins and Andersen very important indeed. Sell everything and get one of their guitars.
    I guess I disagree with everything you've said in this paragraph. Given that we have been blessed with an incredibly powerful polyphonic instrument capable of great harmonic depth and nuance, why in heaven's name would we want to give that up to copy something which can only produce one single note at a time? If I really want to sound like a human voice, I think I'll just sing but when I play guitar, I can do so much more than that.

  4. #3

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    Polyphony is irrelevant. Even when we improvise with chords not single notes we have to phrase musically - and that basically means phrasing like a good singer. This is why guitarists need to learn to breathe.

  5. #4
    I love the sound of a nice hand-carved archtop, but I have a hard time trying to state that one is "objectively" better than another, though if I spent too much money on one, I would probably try.

  6. #5

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    Its about the feel of the thing in your lap as much as anything. A well built solid wood archtop is responsive in a way that a well built laminate archtop is not. You can probably get well built archtops for not very much - but the question is how do you do it? If you put more money into it you can guarantee (pretty much) that you'll get an instrument that is responsive in the relevant way.

    Sit down and play a series of acoustic instruments with a blindfold on if you like. You could rank them in terms of 'responsiveness' - and I think - unless they were all about equally responsive - that you'd rank them consistently the same sort of way on different days (with blindfold). This is not a 'scientific' test - but that is not relevant here - no more relevant than the absence of a scientific test that tells you when someone you went on a date with was 'responsive'. The absence of a scientific test does not impugn the concept because its isn't that sort of concept.

    Of course as soon as you introduce effects and start using solid body guitars you are using a totally different method for making yourself sound musical. I don't like that method - I find it fails to make people sound musical - but that is not something I want to argue for.

    It is only after twenty years of regular playing that I have discovered that I'm really playing an acoustic instrument that I amplify when playing in public, rather than an amplified instrument that I play privately without bothering to plug it in. The sound of an acoustic archtop is quite a humble thing - simple, dry, very little sustain but lots of texture from deep and woody to silvery and stringy - but trying to shape that sound affords plenty of opportunity for musicality. My point is that, with a nice (not necessarily expensive) solid hand carved archtop, you get more opportunity for musical phrasing because these instruments are much more responsive than laminated instruments. The only point about the expensive instruments from established micro-manufacturers is that they are virtually guaranteed to be enormously responsive (and perfectly functional). So we all have a way to get our hands on a really rewarding guitar whenever we want (if we can come up with the sponduli). Another point is that paying around 5000 for a top notch instrument ain't bad at all. A top notch sax is going to be 3 or 4 (isn't it?), a half-decent piano is going to be 20 (isn't it?), a usable violin is going to be at least 5 etc. etc. Campellone and Andersen produce economy instruments that are absolutely first class musically that are 5 new (their more expensive instruments are just fancy to look at).

  7. #6

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    When I run into preachers like this, I'm always wishing I had the chance to actually perform the blindfold test, but I'm going to bet that EVEN IF the preacher chose the plywood press-formed top every single blind test, he would STILL find reasons why his opinion shouldn't change. Some of us hear so well with our eyes that our ears exist only to ratify what we see.

    My old ears can't even hear any noteworthy difference (so to speak) acoustically, and once plugged in it hardly matters anymore. So I'm hoping that Groyniad is going to start telling us how much better cherry sounds than maple, which is in turn better than mahogany, etc. That's always entertaining.

  8. #7

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    A "Cork Sniffer" thread (!) Yay. We haven't had one of those in a while. Pass the popcorn.

    I have a Sadowsky Jim Hall, and I think it actually has a very underrated acoustic tone. I've also played a early 60s L5 with a floating Johnny Smith pup. Clearly it has a nicer acoustic tone, but electric? I dig them both.

    The only thing further I'm going to say is that nothing cures G.A.S. more than one or two very nice guitars. In my opinion.

    We are so lucky to be living in a time where many great luthiers are making great guitars, across the board.

    That's all I have to say.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Groyniad
    But I do know that the best laminate guitars I've used (not just tried but used in performance and practice consistently for years) lack the responsiveness - which is to say musicality - that all the not much more expensive carved archtops that I've used have had.
    Hi, I'm just really curious to know what you mean by "responsiveness" and "musicality". I feel as though a really crucial point is trying to be made, but to me, those terms are really vague, they don't really associate to anything.

    If by responsiveness, you mean the ability to vary the different sounds of the guitar, then I think that's really up to the person who uses it. My two guitars I use (a flattop acoustic and a Squier CV 50s tele) are to me some of the most versatile guitars I own based solely on the technique I use to play them, costs and brand-name considerations aside. On the tele, I don't even have to change any settings or pickup positions. However, on an archtop, (at least the ones I've tried) I have a lot more difficulty trying to achieve that same versatility in sound. That's more due to inexperience. When I (hopefully) get an archtop soon, I expect that variation in sound on that instrument to change.

    I don't know if that's what you meant though...
    Last edited by capt_kurk; 07-04-2012 at 12:12 AM.

  10. #9

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    First of all, I agree whole heartedly that higher prices do not mean better quality at all. I remember when Gibson came out with its first Super 400C reissue that was like $14,000 balloons. At the same time, I could have gotten an eighteen inch Heritage guitar, tap tuned and all for a lot less money (even with the so called goofy headstock, which I happen to like anyhow). It would have been just as good if not better made by folks who really knew how to make guitars. There, you're paying for the Super 400's history and the Gibson name, plus a nice healthy profit. After all, it's a Gibson, ain't it.

    Second, The sound of an acoustic guitar is highly subjective. What one person hates, another one loves. It's like broccoli. I know people that can eat broccoli 3 times a day because it tastes good. In my case (and George Bush Sr.), I hate broccoli because it tastes bad. Now how can something be good and bad at the same time? Simple. It depends on who's eating it, how you cook it, who cooks it (I went out with a woman who was the only one that could cook it and I liked it) and what you put on it. Same with a guitar. Who plays it is very important because we all sound different playing the same guitar. We've proven that over and over again. How you play it, (finger style, pick, strum it hard or lightly,) and what you put on it, (string brand and/or gauge, round or flat) are equally as important.

    Third, what kind of music are you going to play on it? I play music from the 30s and 40s while many of you play much more modern music requiring a whole different set of sounds. Some players use different effects, different amps, different pickup types, play with different volume and tone settings. Some need more sustain, and some less. Some play using microphones only and some don't use amplification at all.

    Fourth, not everyone's hearing is equavalent and neither is everyone's taste/preference in sound. Some prefer more bass while others prefer more treble while others want better balance while others want deeper distortion.

  11. #10

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    Sell everything and get a Comins, Anderson, or whatever? Because guitars don't sound like the human voice and we severely constrained and handicapped guitar players need all the help we can get?

    High end guitars take you in the direction of additional harmonic content and resonance. Say, towards a keyboard. This is not getting you any closer to the brass section.

    If the goal is human voice, trumpets, and saxophones, get a Les Paul.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spook410
    Sell everything and get a Comins, Anderson, or whatever? Because guitars don't sound like the human voice and we severely constrained and handicapped guitar players need all the help we can get?

    High end guitars take you in the direction of additional harmonic content and resonance. Say, towards a keyboard. This is not getting you any closer to the brass section.

    If the goal is human voice, trumpets, and saxophones, get a Les Paul.
    You're right on that one. If you want to sound like the human voice or any other instrument for that matter, get a solid body and MIDI or synthesizer. I watched a guitarist once who had that kind of a setup and he was able to make his guitar sound exactly like a sax. Heck, he probably could have done the same thing on a $300 dollar Squire. Why spend so much money on a Comins, Anderson or a Whatever. I never played a Whatever.

  13. #12

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    Pianos and guitars are musically disadvantaged - you hit/pluck something - it rings out - that's it. You're better off than a vibes player or piano player in a way because you can shape the sound a bit after you've plucked the string which is much harder to do with those two instruments. Obviously pianos and guitars have a different function than the other instruments - an accompanying chordal function - groovy. But its not the same as playing a melody. To do that you need musical phrasing and for that if you're singing or blowing you have an immense musical advantage because you are constantly in a position to shape the sound you are making. Sax players stick their instruments into the middle of their faces for God's sake - and they make the sound by blowing (something over which they have a great deal of control).

    Someone mentioned the violin - and they are right to do so. The violin (cello etc.) allows for some of the control over the way the note sounds that singers have (paradigmatically) and blowing instruments have too - because of the bow. That's why its been so popular - because it allows the player to shape the sound musically (the whole time its sounding, so to speak). I personally find that Django and Stephan show us that a guitar can be plucked and fretted to in such a way that it sounds at least as musical as a bowed violin. (This remark of course presupposes the I'm sure controversial view that Django plays more musically than Stephan - this seems to me simply obvious, but I don't want to have an argument about it.)

    By the way - there's a difference between having a clear view about something and being dogmatic. Dogmatism has to do with the way one presents a view not with the view that is presented. All of the claims I'm making are at least a bit controversial, if they weren't it would be boring making them.

    capt-kurk asked about what I mean by responsiveness. Well I don't pretend to be enormously clear about this - no more than I claim to be clear what I mean by playing 'musically' etc. I can't help thinking most relatively accomplished guitar players would know what I mean - but it certainly pertains to the acoustic aspect of the instrument. A solid body guitar would score zero on my responsiveness scale - when you do something to it, it does almost nothing back (unless you plug it in, and that's a totally different thing.) If solid body guitars do produce a sound one digs without plugging in - then they would have to count as responsive as I am using this term. Of course if you touch a solid body guitar thats plugged in to an amp turned up high it responds - but that is not to the present point.

    I think you have to learn to play quietly and sensitively (such that you are yourself responsible for making the difference between quiet passages and loud passages) and then - when you want lots of people to hear you, or you're playing with other people louder than you - you take steps to make yourself appropriately louder.

  14. #13

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    I still can't agree with the disadvantage of the guitar and piano as opposed to the sax or trumpet. I believe we're talking about apples vs. oranges in that neither instrument is better or worse but simply different with a different function. I don't believe that a brass player is a better musician than a guitarist. He/she just uses a different set of skills. A sax can't do what a guitar can and a guitar can't do what a sax can't. That's why they exist. That's why you can't say a hammer is disadvantaged with respect to a saw. A hammer just hits things while a saw can cut different patterns and the saw handler skillfully controls the cut angles and shapes. I can't knock a nail into a piece of mahogany with a saw and I can't cut out a pattern with a hammer. I love the guitar for what it can do. It doesn't matter to me what it can't do. I often thought about playing the sax. I even borrowed one from my cousin but I didn't like it as much as the guitar. I'd rather sing my melodies and accompany myself.

    With the answers I've given, I think I need to explain why I have a D'Angelico in my avatar since I've shown I disagree with you, Groyniad. It makes me look like a hypocrit, sort of. The reason I have it is primarily because of its place in musical history rather than any "mythical, magical sound". It's a part of the musical history of my home city, i.e. NYC, it has art deco appointments which is my favorite style, it was there during a particular significant period in history (it's a 1939), it's a huge part of the history of the archtop and it makes me feel like I have a connection to the musical past of the business of music in NYC. The fact that it sounds great is not the main reason I keep it. It's much more to me than a tool of the trade.

  15. #14
    Groyniad, I'm amazed at how much your grounds for argument continues to lack any real content. You may as well be arguing that Metallica is obviously the best band ever. Your continual use of subjective terms to back up objective claims is amazing. Do you also believe that the world is 6000 years old and that you have the "science" to prove it?

  16. #15

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    Part of the point of my post is to bring out how many overlapping issues there are here. First off you have to specify what the guitar is being used to do. Acoustic jazz requires utterly different volumes than electric jazz (if you know what I mean) - never mind rock or pop or classical etc. So assuming you want to play relatively quiet music in a jazz vein - what sort of guitar is best? This is a perfectly legitimate question. It turns on how much you have to give up as a guitarist in order to make yourself heard in acoustic jazz settings. It may be virtually nothing if you're playing in a duo with a sensitive double bass - it might be a lot if you're playing in a driving quintet with two horns and a drummer. I have spent my professional life playing instruments that were primarily meant as electric or amplified instruments. I have recently discovered that I was sacrificing a lot in using these instruments and that it is possible to find much more responsive guitars - meant primarily to be heard without amplification - that function well amplified (with e.g. a big floating Kent Armstrong pickup fitted). What surprised me most I think is that they consistently make a sound that is balanced and satisfying - neither dull nor shrill - and that I need to make that very sound louder using amplification. That way of thinking makes the amplification inessential to the sound I'm making. I used to think that the real sound of the guitar came out of a good amp - but a couple of really first class archtops changed my way of thinking. Now I think about my guitar the way the bass players I play with think about their double basses.

  17. #16
    Unless you're recording the music and measuring different sound levels, your point is moot. The very act of listening is an extremely subjective activity, and to make any objective claims pertaining to it is just silly, as is making any objective attempt at assessing the value of any of the tools used to arrive at that sound. You also have to take into account different techniques and styles. What you claim is an expressive instrument may be a real dud to me, and vice versa. I'm not arguing the validity of your "professional career" which you keep bringing up to try to lend weight to your argument, I'm pointing out that the nature of your argument is ignorant the moment you omit the words "in my opinion".
    Last edited by amusiathread; 07-04-2012 at 02:46 AM.

  18. #17

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    Laminates are designed to facilitate amplified sound. It should be no surprise that they fall a bit short at producing rich and full sound unplugged and, especially when A/B'd against a well built hand carved archtop.

    I actually play my carved archtop up against a wall every so often. The sound is rich, clear and the full range of bell like sound quality is very near the best I have experienced. My guess is that it was carved by someone who really appreciated and understood how to make a top sound musical. Can't do the same with my laminate, but then I don't expect it to sound that way unplugged. Just like I don't jump behind the wheel of my S2000 when I want to drive on dirt roads.

  19. #18

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    There are two kinds of archtops. To sum it up:

    1) The ones intended for acoustic playing. Here there seems to be a fairly broad consensus that a carved spruce top instrument sounds better than a laminated top.

    2) The ones intended for amplified playing with a magnetic pickup. Here the opinions are split. Some prefer a carved top instrument, while others prefer a laminated instrument. There have been numerous discussions here and elsewhere about which is better, but obviously there's no consensus.

    Concerning price:

    There is no correlation between price and quality - at least not at the upper end. As Bob Benedetto says in his book: "The right price is the price the market will bear". It's as simple as that. Bob Bendetto had his 35 years aniversary guitar for sale for $250.000. You can get an excellent and beautiful hand carved archtop from Jim Triggs or Mark Campellone for under $5000. Is the former so much better than the latter? Hardly. Is it better at all? Better for what? The Benedetto may be better for display behind glass in a collection, but it's not an instrument I would ever dream of taking outside the house. Heck, I have a Bendetto Fratello which I payed $9000 for in 1997, and I don't take that out of the house either because the prices have gone up. I have a Triggs, a gorgeous guitar, but nevertheless a utility instrument I gladly take out of the house. So which is better for what?
    Last edited by oldane; 07-04-2012 at 03:41 AM.

  20. #19

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    It's very straightforward, IMHO. People spend their money on what they like. What they buy depends on how much money they have and what they enjoy. If someone thinks $10000 is too much to spend on a guitar, then they won't. If someone else really really like the look and feel of a particular guitar, and it has a certain something about it, and they are in a fortunate enough position to pay a high price tag, then they will.

    Personally, I can't think of many high value things that I'd prefer to spend money on than a nice guitar, whether it's a hand carved archtop or a nice strat. They give way more pleasure than, say, a car and will probably outlast most of their owners, if they're looked after properly.

  21. #20

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    If you use a magnetic floating pickup, you still won't have a true reproduction of an acoustic instrument. A piezo pickup might do it as well as correctly miking the instrument. I would tend to use a good microphone, one suited to amplifying an acoustic instrument rather than the piezo because the piezo needs a few holes drilled to install it. I sure don't want to do that on a good archtop. Check out how the best upright bass players amplify their instruments. They reproduce that acoustic sound well.

  22. #21

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    Of course, we are all overlooking that the archtop was invented because of a need for the premise is already flawed that a carved archtop is the pinnacle of sound...because it was invented as a compromise.

    The true voice of a guitar is a flat top, gut string, box. Every development thereafter placed volume as the main reason for the innovation.

    Just stirring the pot...i love the sound of an unamplified carved jazzbox...plugged in, i hear sounds i like from all kinds of guitars...

    But i also think a well made selmer style beats an carved archtop at it's own game.

  23. #22

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    I suppose it really depends on your playing application doesn't it?

    Are you playing in a large room with a multi piece band at loud volumes or are you playing a small intimate room solo or in a small trio? Laminate guitars definitely have their strengths in terms of their physical stability, resistance to feedback and lower cost. I think the success of Roger Sadowsky's instruments has to do with their design and high quality of execution. I can't imagine taking a high-quality carved archtop out on a tour dealing with today's airport security, gentle handling and club security.

    Some of what you are getting when you buy a hand carved instrument is craftsmanship. You are also getting features tuned to your playing preferences. Bill Comins is making me an instrument that should be ready next Spring. He watched my touch when I visited his studio and the instrument that he is making for me will be made for low volume playing. I am a hobbyist and play solo chord melody at home. He will tune the instrument for that playing application. Probably not the best instrument for a loud, large gig, but likely acoustically responsive and musical when played in a more intimate setting amped or acoustically.



  24. #23

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    I had a carved archtop once with a set-in pickup. I mostly practiced unamplified even though the volume was not very satisfying. Then I got injured, took about a year off the guitar and learned the trumpet.

    Playing the trumpet was so fulfilling...that sweet sound you create is very different than the feeling I get from playing guitar.

    But anyway, when I went back to playing guitar I just couldn't stand playing unamplified. I missed that louder, singing quality of a trumpet. Since then, I pretty much always practice through an amp (or using my iPhone as an amp with headphones).

    The OP's position is based on the notion that the guitar is an acoustic instrument and that we're amplifying that voice...but to me, for jazz, it's really the electric, amplified tone that represents the guitar's voice - and for that, in my experience, having owned a megabucks carved f-hole archtop, the carved instrument is no better than a good laminate.

  25. #24

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    I believe in the right tool for the right job. There may be plenty of situations where the carved guitar will function fine, but there also may be a few where a laminate will perform better. That can still be true.

    I don't take my Gibson out to gigs, not because it won't work. I'm sure I can set things up to work fine, but because I just value the guitar too much to have a beer bottle thrown at it (it did happen. Everyone's a critic, I suppose).

    My cheap Epiphone sounds good enough for the likes of beer thrower. Actually, it sounds pretty good. When I get a performance at Carnegie Hall, the Gibson will come to the gig.

    As far as history, I'm also not a believer. My Gibson has very little collectable value, despite its vintage (L-7, no cutaway, poor cosmetics), which is how I could afford it in the first place. If I could afford a Collings or something like that, I'd already have one.

  26. #25

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    lets see the original question was are hand carved archtops worth the money , right?

    i see guitars not only as tools but in many cases art-or close

    a factory made instrument, is designed to specs that can be repeated and assembled-works fine for lots of things, not always for wood-thats why, when i look for an accoustic, i play many, because desptie the factory aspect, each will be different.

    to me an analogy is McDonalds-a perfect mcdonalds burger everytime

    hand carved-and i take this to mean-'artisinal' or private luthier as opposed to larger production-it does make a difference-

    if anyone has read the benedetto book making an archtop, or acquired of the angels, or read what Triggs, Derrington, or other archtop makers say, consistently, is that you get to know wood, and tune it-i think theres a lot of folks who dont really get the differences in how things are made-or what they are made of-or why they cost more-merited or otherwise-

    oddly i have a lentz t, about as cookie cutter as one could hope for in a guitar-after having tried a dozen fender versions of 52 ri's , and 5 nocasters, the lentz was superior, frets, sound, neck , finish. It is not, imho, a status item. It is, a superior insturment, IMHO, and cost a bit less than a CS nocaster, with probably far less re-sale value
    -the point is that an artisan luthier with experieince and skill does merit more , if those changes have value to the buyer. iave a nice luthier made archtop L5c, which is the best of its model ive ever played-and better than the factory made equivalents that ive encountered -it was worth it , to me, -it makes me feel great and it sound and plays wonderfully, .....and its cherry sunbrust red! LOL-

    sorta-like a chef , fine tuning his dish based on the ingredients in the market-it is actively adjusting the design

    is it worth it-?

    i really dislike the Patek Phillipe , cork sniffer patronising comments, or the argument that if one has nicer things, you have no reason or justification because by simply falling prey to the 'hype' you cannot be objective -a Patek has all the pieces made and polished by hand-it is not only a timepiece, but a mechanical work of art-and it is likely that a casio will keep better time , certainly in the long run. Value? depends upon what YOU value. Does someone have a Gibson because it is the most readily available, new or used, or someohter reason, great insturment, great price, etc.

    nonsense-value is subjective, and as noted its all about the market in one sense

    in another, long ago i had cheap guitars, and never will again i hope-
    i like the feel beauty, sustain, correct intonation, nice fret work, and the sound-guitars, short of acrylic and the like, as instruments, virtually all, are somwhat unique, each is different

    there are many things that enter into what makes something valuable to the buyer-the most readily available idea is 'it speaks to me'

    it is indeed insulting to imply that all folks that have high end insturments have no ability to make an objective judgment as to thier personal needs

    there are many beautiful utilitarian things, sometimes because they are utilitarian

    there are other things, that go beyond-beautiful shoes, an original painting (instead of the copy) etc-if you value the differences , thats all there is to it

    you pay more for items in certain colors sometimes-it may be to show you paid more, or it may be because you like the color enough to pay the difference
    Last edited by stevedenver; 07-04-2012 at 12:04 PM.