Friday, June 14, 2013

Oh, You Spent Thousands on Your Guitar, Did You?

The guitar many jazz and blues guitarists lust to take home is a Gibson ES-335 and these will sell for roughly $3000-$4000 US.  Vintage versions of the guitar will sell for much more as collectors have driven the prices up so much that real musicians can't afford them.  They have done the same thing with Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters as well and it's the most selfish, worthless kind of Yuppies who have done this.

The Gibson ES 335 is in the general class of arch-top guitars and the name reflects the shape of the body.  They are semi-hollow body guitars in that they are not hollow like acoustic guitars nor are they solid as are most electric guitars.  These things are important factors in the tone of the guitar and are why they are highly-prized. (Wiki:  Gibson ES-335)

However, the Godin Fifth Avenue Jazz sells for less than $2000 US and I have seen one that was retailing new for $699.

Note first that Godin is not in the business of making 'knock-off' guitars to imitate those made by other manufacturers.  Godin makes a wide range of instruments and the Fifth Avenue is one among them.  It is not my purpose to present their entire line but you can review it yourself at the Godin Web site.

The similarities between the Fifth Avenue and the ES-335 are unmistakable.  However, note also that it has a mahogany fingerboard which, in my opinion, makes for a very sensual touch.  It does not have a second Humbucker pick-up as with the ES-335 and only the musician can judge whether this is important.  For my playing it isn't important at all as I prefer the rhythm pickup for lead.

Note that all Humbucker pickups are not the same.  The ones used in Godin guitars are to his personal custom design and the tonal characteristics are different from others.

The Gibson Les Paul Custom is a solid-body guitar that is also an object of lust for many rock guitarists due to its tonal characteristics and its sustain.  (Wiki:  Gibson Les Paul Custom)

It is with the Gibson Les Paul Custom that collectors have done the worst damage as a '59 model may sell for up to half a million dollars.  It's ludicrous as the difference in tone and play between that model and a modern re-issue of the guitar is more mythological than real.  Nevertheless, they have been pushed up so high as to make them unattainable for anyone except the rich.

As with the Gibson ES-335, the Gibson Les Paul Custom will cost between $3000 and $4000 US.

The Godin xtSA is, viewed only from the standpoint of actual capabilities, a much more developed guitar than the Gibson Les Paul as it has many features the Gibson Les Paul does not share and among them are the twang bar, locking tuning keys, an ebony fingerboard (some versions have a mahogany fingerboard), acoustic simulation and MIDI capability, in my opinion the best MIDI of the business.  (Godin:  xtSA)

The Godin xtSA sells for about $1000 US.

Note that the Godin xtSA compares very well also with a Fender Stratocaster as the scale of the neck (i.e. spacing between strings and length) is a bit bigger on the xtSA although not quite as large as that of the Godin Les Paul.  For me that is perfect but you will need to play one to find for yourself.

The above is not a stock Stratocaster but the example serves nevertheless as the twang bar may be one of the most famous of its features in part because Jimi Hendrix made such glorious use of it.  However, note that even Hendrix did not play a Stratocaster exclusively.

The Fender Precision Jazz Bass is also highly-desirable and yet extremely expensive.  In part its reputation is because it was the first electric bass to be widely-accepted and has been on the market since 1951.  These basses retail for about $1649 US and up.  (Wiki:  Fender Precision Bass)

An alternative can be found with the Ibanez SR250 that sells for about $299 US.  I played one for some years and was also highly-satisfied with it.  Note that Ibanez also makes five and six string basses.

Basses don't have the flamboyance of guitars so your decision will be based on the play and the tone of the instrument.  The important thing is not to let yourself get captured by brand names as there is a tremendous selection of instruments and don't buy an instrument simple because someone who goes only by his first name buys it.

A note on 'signature' guitars:

My knowledge is specific to Fender Stratocasters as I know with this model of guitar that the signature models typically different from the stock models only in terms of the contour of the neck.  With the stock models the neck is generally rounded whereas with the signature models the neck frequently has been brought to more of a 'V' shape.  In all other aspects (electronics, etc) there is no difference between the stock Stratocaster which can be bought for as low as $699 US and the signature models which will sell for about $2000 US and up.

Adrian Belew, a guitarist from Covington, KY, and who fronted King Crimson from the eighties forward has worked in making a signature guitar but this is quite a different thing from simply changing the contour of the neck as he has insisted on MIDI capability and some other significant features.  However, even in this extreme example I advise as above to consider alternatives as the Godin xtSA provides these features already and, most likely, at a substantially lower price.

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