Are 'High End' guitars that much better?

This has been the subject of so much debate and arguments over the years…but it is a very valid question…are they really that much better ?...does the higher cost provide better value for money ?, are you just paying for a name? , what are the economic factors involved ?...so many questions, so many varied answers, is there a definitive answer to the question…who knows, probably not, but let's have some fun trying to explore the subject.

As we all know guitars from different manufacturers are different so comparing say an Epiphone Les Paul junior to a PRS Custom 22 doesn’t really work. What we need is a consistency of a brand and this is where Fender is a perfect choice.

For argument's sake let's take one of the original and arguably most iconic guitar designs…the Stratocaster. There’s good a reason for this as Fender / Squier produces this same guitar design across many price points…so it’s ideal for comparison. It’s a bit of a minefield but having perused the current Fender catalogue and putting aside all of the special editions and signature guitars there looks to be in the region of 15 ‘levels’ (and possibly more when you delve into the Fender Custom Shop) of Stratocaster available at time of writing.. Based on their RRP they can be catalogued in value order as follows: (prices at time of writing this blog 10/3/22)

  • Squier Bullet £169.99
  • Squier Affinity £229.99
  • Squier Classic Vibe £389.00 
  • Squier 40th Anniversary £499.00
  • Fender Player £719.00
  • Fender Player Plus Top £859.00
  • Fender Vintera £919.00
  • Fender Player Plus £939.00
  • Fender Vintera Modified £999.00
  • Fender American Performer £1279.00
  • Fender American Professional II £1799.00
  • Fender American Original £1849.00
  • Fender American Ultra £2149.00
  • Fender American Ultra Lux £2299.00
  • Fender Custom Shop £3000.00 and upwards

That's a huge variation in price to unravel for 15 guitars that are all basically the same ‘architecture’. If you break the guitar down further into its constituent parts there are 11 items that make it up….

  1. Bodies
  2. Neck
  3. Tuners
  4. Nut
  5. Frets
  6. Bridge plate
  7. Bridge saddles
  8. Pickups
  9. Controls
  10. Switches
  11. Paint / Finish

With each model listed above you as you go up the scale in price you will find incremental changes in these 11 elements. There is an old saying that ‘You get what you pay for’. The more you pay in theory the higher quality materials you will get, better-voiced pickups, better workmanship in the construction of the guitar, more time and care during the ‘set-up’ and more thorough and detailed final inspection and snagging. If you take PRS Guitars as an example they have a very stringent process to ensure their woods are seasoned to the correct level of moisture content. And then when they’re making their guitar necks they know the wood will move and change every time it’s cut and shaped so they give the wood time to ‘rest’ before re-truing the neck before the next stage in its construction. They say the process of building a neck takes roughly a month and this ensures their necks stay straight and true for a lifetime. So is high end better…well with this care and attention the answer is very much a yes. It is clear that ‘High End’ guitars are better but ‘better’ is a relative term to the competency of the person playing the guitar.

Between the 15 price levels and 11 constituents though, there will be a point where ‘best value for money’ is achieved and this can be achieved a number of times across the Fended range for example depending on your ability. As a learner for I would say the Squier Classic VIbe series represents really good value. They’re fantastic guitars for the price. For an intermediate guitarist, a Player Plus gives you exceptional build quality and great pickups.

There is one extremely important factor though that cannot be overlooked with any guitar that you’ve got to consider at whatever price point and that is the ‘set-up’. A poorly set up guitar regardless of how high-end it is will just play and feel rubbish. Whilst every guitar will leave the factory having been “set up”, the quality of this setup depends upon the individual carrying it out and the time they have available to them and the price point that you’re buying at. There’s probably a huge difference between the time taken to set up a Bullet as opposed to an Ultra Lux. This doesn’t mean though that all Bullet Stratocasters are rubbish, far from it….but with some extra attention from your local dedicated guitar store they can get the best out of any guitar. From my experience of guitars straight out of the box, the height of the strings in the nuts is sometimes a little high and could be lowered. Necks can also move during transit..they are pieces of wood after all and could require tweaking. Intonation is sometimes not perfect, string heights too high, fret ends sometimes still too sharp. They’re all little things but added together they turn an average guitar into something that’s a joy to play.

At Musicstreet every guitar is meticulously set up in our workshop, whether it's a starter Squier Bullet or a Top end Patrick Eggle, we go through every part with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that every guitar will play its best before we let it go out of the door.

But what about your existing guitars ?. They are generally made of wood..a natural material and over time it can move, change shape, bow, warp etc. Keeping your guitar maintained and serviced will keep it in tip-top condition and give you many years of playing enjoyment. If you’re not able to do this yourself Musicstreet offer a range of workshop services to suit your needs. A full set up starts from £45 + strings