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Thread: Cost of building a guitar

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    MeltedClockologist The Dali's Avatar
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    Default Cost of building a guitar

    I was thinking the other day about the escalating costs of guitars and why there were no affordable USA guitar manufacturers... Even if you wanted to start up a shop with a few friends and build locally. The price of equipment and raw materials just makes it difficult to build something for less than $700 - not including labor.

    I'm starting to understand why it costs so much for USA guitars...

    Basic cost of building using pre-fabricated parts (we'll use a Telecaster as the starting point since they are the cheapest to manufacture):

    Pre-finished body (Warmoth): $250
    Pre-finished neck (Warmoth): $300
    Tuners (Grover): $35
    Electronics (pots, switch, wire): $40
    Pickups (USA Texas Specials): $100
    Bridge (Gotoh Modern): $45
    Misc (neck plate, strap pins): $15

    Ok, that is $785 (no case) for a guitar and we haven't even assembled it yet!

    So... let's assume that we become a manufacturer start to build our own bodies and necks...and we get 40% off our other hardware.


    Wood for body and neck (blanks): $50 per guitar (total guess)
    Tuners (Grover): $21
    Electronics (pots, switch, wire): $24
    Pickups (USA Texas Specials): $60
    Bridge (Gotoh Modern): $27
    Misc (neck plate, strap pins): $9
    Finishing supplies (filler, sealer, stain/paint, lacquer): $40

    $231 (again, no case) and we haven't paid ourselves yet for the hours of work to build the guitar! Not to mention the costs of machinery and tools to get the guitar made correctly.

    Oh - and that is for a Tele! No binding, no set neck, no MOP inlays...

    It truly is amazing that you can get a really nice playing guitar for $400 now-a-days...

    Feel free to update my numbers or challenge this, just off the top of my head anyways...

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    Shaftologist Kam's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Child labour's awesome.
    I remember calloused hands and paint-stained jeans, and I remember safe-as-houses self-belief.

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    John Mayer's Mankini ImmortalSix's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by The Dali View Post
    I was thinking the other day about the escalating costs of guitars and why there were no affordable USA guitar manufacturers... Even if you wanted to start up a shop with a few friends and build locally. The price of equipment and raw materials just makes it difficult to build something for less than $700 - not including labor.

    I'm starting to understand why it costs so much for USA guitars...

    Basic cost of building using pre-fabricated parts (we'll use a Telecaster as the starting point since they are the cheapest to manufacture):

    Pre-finished body (Warmoth): $250
    Pre-finished neck (Warmoth): $300
    Tuners (Grover): $35
    Electronics (pots, switch, wire): $40
    Pickups (USA Texas Specials): $100
    Bridge (Gotoh Modern): $45
    Misc (neck plate, strap pins): $15

    Ok, that is $785 (no case) for a guitar and we haven't even assembled it yet!

    So... let's assume that we become a manufacturer start to build our own bodies and necks...and we get 40% off our other hardware.


    Wood for body and neck (blanks): $50 per guitar (total guess)
    Tuners (Grover): $21
    Electronics (pots, switch, wire): $24
    Pickups (USA Texas Specials): $60
    Bridge (Gotoh Modern): $27
    Misc (neck plate, strap pins): $9
    Finishing supplies (filler, sealer, stain/paint, lacquer): $40

    $231 (again, no case) and we haven't paid ourselves yet for the hours of work to build the guitar! Not to mention the costs of machinery and tools to get the guitar made correctly.

    Oh - and that is for a Tele! No binding, no set neck, no MOP inlays...

    It truly is amazing that you can get a really nice playing guitar for $400 now-a-days...

    Feel free to update my numbers or challenge this, just off the top of my head anyways...
    As someone who recently started building guitars, I can tell you: you have to spend a lot of money to make a guitar for cheap.

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    Mojo's Minions GuitarStv's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    I think that there are reasonable priced North American made guitars all over the place. Pretty much every Godin that I've tried has been decent quality for a reasonable price . . . the Charvel that I just picked up used sold new for under a grand and was made in the States. You don't need to buy from China to get a decent guitar made by people who can afford to live regular lives.

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    Lovely BIG Starologist bluesbend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    I've built five electric guitars and the satisfaction that comes with with the finnished instrument is priceless to me.
    " you tell it like you're barefoot while you wear those hundred dollar shoes. Yeah, you can shuck and jive me all ya want to but, please please please, don't tell me 'bout the blues!"......Buddy Guy

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    MeltedClockologist The Dali's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    I wrote this based on creating a business model of building guitars. I know building your own guitar can be very rewarding, I was talking about the lack of US made guitars at affordable prices in general.

    Steve - I hear you - Godin somehow manages to compete with the import guitars. I'm not sure how they do it. You mention the Charvel, but $1000 is still pricey.

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    John Mayer's Mankini ImmortalSix's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    If you look at the guitar building blog link in my signature, you'll see that I say "I'm not doing it to save money. I'm not doing it to make money." That's true. I just want to get the guitar in my head into my hands; but say for a minute I did want to make money by selling them:

    I won't tell you guys how much I've spent on tools (you could figure it out if you read my blog), but suffice it to say that the initial cost outlay is pretty large - to acquire the pieces of machinery you need to shape the wood in the way that you must for a guitar build.

    I would have to buy a planer, a jointer, a bandsaw, a table saw, and about another $1000 worth of specialty tools (fretting, radiusing, finishing - finishing is a big one) to get to where I could reliably produce high quality guitars. Let's say it's $5000 up front.

    Now, you spend about $50 worth of wood total for each guitar. (neck, body, fretboard)

    You spend about $100 for pickups, and about $100 for the other hardware (truss rod, truss rod nut, fretboard markers, side markers, tuners, bridge, pots, caps, jack, switch, but mostly the tuners and bridge)

    So that's about $250.

    Now you factor in the labor. Say I want to bill myself $20 an hour for my labor, which I think is fair. I can see spending about 16 hours on a guitar build if you had nothing else to do and you were well equipped and totally in the zone.

    That's $320.

    For simplicity, I am not factoring in the time and expense spent designing jigs, purchasing materials for jigs, and building jigs, which is a lot of the up-front effort.


    So $250ish + $320ish = $570ish.

    Then we get into spreading the cost of that $5000ish into each guitar.

    For the first guitar, and this is caveman math, you have $570ish +$5000 = $5570ish.

    For the second guitar, you have $570ish + $2500ish = $3070ish.

    For the third guitar, you have $570ish + $1667ish = $2237ish, and so on.

    At the tenth guitar, you have $570ish + $500ish, which is $1070ish.

    At the twentieth guitar, you have $570ish + $250ish, which is $820ish.

    To approach the point where the equipment outlay is negligible, you are in to the 50 guitars + range (+$100 each), and that's a long time down the pike.

    So yeah, for a small builder, expecting a guitar to be under $1000 is unrealistic. Now, we all know that FMIC (cited here only because we're using Telecasters as our example guitar) is not a small builder, but hey, like my mother always says: put yourself in the shoes.

    Also, there are things like space to consider: what is the cost of using existing space in your home to use only for spraying / finishing / curing finishes? If you don't have the space, what's the cost of buying or building a dedicated finishing shed?

    All in all, it's fairly expensive.

    That's why 9 out of 10 small builders you talk to, if you ask "how's the money?" they'll say "Oh, I don't do it for money."

    Bluesbend's post above is a case-in-point.
    Last edited by ImmortalSix; 12-02-2010 at 10:13 AM.

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    Lovely BIG Starologist bluesbend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    I have been asked by many people why I don't build and sell guitars for a living. The answer is that I would have to charge $800 - $1200 for them. Why would someone want to by my version of a Strat or Tele at those prices when they can have the real thing for less.
    Last edited by bluesbend; 12-02-2010 at 01:55 PM.
    " you tell it like you're barefoot while you wear those hundred dollar shoes. Yeah, you can shuck and jive me all ya want to but, please please please, don't tell me 'bout the blues!"......Buddy Guy

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    John Mayer's Mankini ImmortalSix's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by bluesbend View Post
    I have been asked by many people why I don't buils and sell guitars for a living. The answer is that I would have to charge $800 - $1200 for them. Why would someone want to by my version of a Strat or Tele at those prices when they can have the real thing for less.
    Yeah - and the answer to that is "if you have a unique or valuable addition to the guitar that justifies extra price," and then we're talking about binding, inlays, cool hardware, unique or just plain awesome finishes, etcetera - and all that adds what? More expense, in both materials and labor.

    So there is kind of this valley --- you could get a basic MIA Fender Tele for $1000, or you could get a basic MImybasement Tele for $1000. I would go for the Fender.

    BUT, if you could only get my cool finish, or my unique feature, or my whatever with mi MImybasement guitar, then you'll want that more than the Fender, provided you just-hafta-have that cool extra feature.

    Only thing is, now the price has to be $1800 because I spent a lot more money on materials and a lot more time with the craftsmanship. And at that price, you could get a pimped out G&L or a Vinetto or something

    So yeah, basement builders do it for fun and satisfaction.

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    Lovely BIG Starologist bluesbend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    You sir have....

    Attachment 21979
    Last edited by bluesbend; 01-16-2011 at 08:10 PM.
    " you tell it like you're barefoot while you wear those hundred dollar shoes. Yeah, you can shuck and jive me all ya want to but, please please please, don't tell me 'bout the blues!"......Buddy Guy

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    Mojo's Minions GuitarStv's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by The Dali View Post
    Steve - I hear you - Godin somehow manages to compete with the import guitars. I'm not sure how they do it. You mention the Charvel, but $1000 is still pricey.
    Godin is always my first example of reasonably priced good quality North American made guitars. Mine is a great hardtail guitar made from Canadian Mahogany and maple, assembled in the US, with a versatile SSH setup for about 450$ new. 1K is getting up there for a guitar, but that was list for the Charvel . . . I mean, they are on sale for 799$ Canadian right now.

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    MeltedClockologist The Dali's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Yeah, and their acoustic lines (Seagull, A&L, etc) are all reasonably priced as well.

    I do find it quite amazing that a guitar made in Indonesia can be fairly well-made, shipped across the world, and still only cost $300 (Squier Classic Vibe, for example). I'm not saying it is a good thing, just amazing given the realistic costs associated with building in the USA.

    I've no doubt that Fender could build USA Telecasters for $400 if they really wanted to - but I guess the next question is whether or not that $400 guitar would REALLY be better made than the $300 from Indonesia.

    Anyway... my entire thought process was simply that it costs money to makes guitars - either by a large factory or in your basement. Many of us complain that Gibson LP Standards cost $3000 (which I agree is high), but given the materials needed, the machinery, and the know-how I can see why it is expensive. Not to mention all the additional expenditures that large companies have that we wouldn't (site expenses, wages, insurance, shipping, vendor relations, advertising, etc). Of course, you also have to add in the other thing... PROFIT!

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker guitarded's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by bluesbend View Post
    I have been asked by many people why I don't buils and sell guitars for a living. The answer is that I would have to charge $800 - $1200 for them. Why would someone want to by my version of a Strat or Tele at those prices when they can have the real thing for less.
    I think you would need to compare to a custom shop, because that is essentially what you are getting by building your own.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by The Dali View Post
    I do find it quite amazing that a guitar made in Indonesia can be fairly well-made, shipped across the world, and still only cost $300 (Squier Classic Vibe, for example).
    Think of it in terms of how many boxes of guitars you can fit in a shipping container for $2000 and its only going to cost you a couple of dollars per guitar.

    They ain't flying these guitars around the world first class like a 'burst.

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker Uk Ant's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    I did some thinking on this the other day and I came to the conclusion that big name USA guitars cost roughly the same these days in real terms (factor in inflation etc) as they did when I was a kid (MIJ are similar as well) it's just that guitars made in china, korea, Indonesia etc are just really cheap.
    Using the basic premiss that thing double in price over twenty years (it's a bit rough, but kinda true) back in 1990 an USA LP standard was just under a grand, a MIJ Ibanez RG was about £500 and MIK Kramer with locking trem was about £300. These days the Gibson is about two grand, the Ibanez the best part of a grand and MIK, MIC, MII superstrat with a well known name on the headstock is about £300.

    A not very interesting fact I learnt this year is that in the days before containerised shipping the cost of shipping for an imported item was about 20%, these days it's less than 1%. Also international shipping is the largest source of pollution in the world... but that's a debate for another time and place.
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by The Dali View Post
    I wrote this based on creating a business model of building guitars. I know building your own guitar can be very rewarding, I was talking about the lack of US made guitars at affordable prices in general.

    Steve - I hear you - Godin somehow manages to compete with the import guitars. I'm not sure how they do it. You mention the Charvel, but $1000 is still pricey.
    Your business model is based on buy materials at retail though. You have removed the vast majority of the labor that you are actually getting paid for as a builder.

    To make it cost effective you need to buy the equipment to build the bodies and necks from blanks and shoot your own finishes. That kind of investment requires a certain amount of production to cover the maintenance on the capital outlay you made. Once you do that though you have become what you where trying to overcome.

    Custom shop work and prices are just a fact of life in the hand made realm
    Last edited by AudioWonderland; 12-02-2010 at 03:23 PM.

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    Ultimate Tone Slacker Uk Ant's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    One of the more cost effective ways to build your own is to buy second hand parts, but even then my Ibanez RG cost me the thick end of £400 but that is with all pretty good parts, SD pups etc. But if I added the time it took me to re-fin the body and neck (My time at work is about £12 per hour) then you could add another £100 say.
    All of a sudden you're in the realms of MIJ guitars or even USA made Fenders/Charvels and it's just second hand... just with a unique finish and the hardware I want.
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    MoneyForNothingologist PoorMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by The Dali View Post
    I wrote this based on creating a business model of building guitars...
    Business model? You heard about th luthier who won the lottery, right? When asked what he planned to do with the money he repsopnded, "I guess I'll just keep building guitars until I run out of money."
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    A Ficus ehdwuld's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    If you are talking a true business model
    then you will buy in bulk to save money
    get cheaper parts to save money
    farm out labor to manpower at the cost of quality to save money
    and make a small fortune till the IRS finds out
    then declare bankruptcy to save money
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    Junior Member STINNETT's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cost of building a guitar

    When I first decided to start selling my builds, I could barely bring myself to charge enough to cover the cost of the materials...I have raised my prices a little as I've expanded my capabilities - but I still basically build the guitars for free. If I charged a reasonable amount per hour, the guitars would easily cost several thousand dollars.

    Having a mind toward increasing my output - most anything I make simply goes into equipping myself better for building the next one. Maybe when I get into the hundreds I'll be able to say that I'm actually making a little money - but for now I only do it because I love it.

    That's just my take on the whole thing...

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