(Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are solely based from the author's experiences.)
It's great to be back writing again for Musicians Unite, and I hope 2018 is going well for everyone. I'm trying to go forward this year, and write articles on my own music experiences that I feel could truly benefit you. Almost to the same effect of a "pay it forward" type of mentality there have been many people that have helped me along the way in the past, and if you the reader can benefit from my experiences that I write here, so much the better for your own career in music.
Over the years I have bought many instruments from online retail companies for writing and recording my commercial licensed music. While I have bought many acoustic and electric instruments, I'll be basing this article on the electric guitar, but the same thoughts apply to acoustic guitars, bass guitars, ukuleles and other instruments.
As any hard working songwriter/composer/artist will tell you, instruments can be "very" expensive. One thing that I have done over the years is to buy guitars that are close "copies" to the originals. Now don’t get me wrong, I'm not talking about 100% counterfeit guitars that even have "forged" brand names on the headstock. I'm talking about similar body styles and pickup configurations that look and play close to the originals, but cost way less. Three places that such guitars can be found are on Amazon and Ebay as well as Bridgecraft USA. Let's look at this "Tele-style" vintage guitar that I bought for only $109 dollars from Amazon:
This is very close to a vintage early 50's era of guitar, but there are modern differences. First we see the Chinese brand Huntington of the headstock, as well as the headstock is not the same as the original tele manufacturer. The neck is a thick C-type neck profile, which was found again back in the early days of the electric guitar.
And on the bottom of the guitar, we see the more modern bridge and string saddles here than the traditional telecaster three brass barrel type of saddles:
Now why would you want to buy this type of guitar? There are a few reasons, and I'll list the pro's and con's below.
1) Overall cost is the first one. Electric guitars can cost on average from $400.00 USD to $1000+. Buying guitars like this saves you a lot of money. It also makes me always think if this inexpensive guitar costs this amount of money, how much money over wholesale cost is the more popular guitar manufacturer charging people? Trust me; some of the biggest guitar manufactures out there care very little about the independent artist. Sad but true.
2) Cost is also the second reason. If you are playing out locally do you want to bring your $1000+ custom or brand name electric guitar to a venue only to have it knocked over and scratched, or stolen? I've seen it happen before, to me and to others.
3) Playability of the guitar after a basic setup is the same as the most popular brands of that same body type. Also, because these guitars are so inexpensive you may need a guitar like the one in this article that has that sort of sound from single coil pickups. Maybe you need another electric guitar that has humbuckers for another song that you are writing or covering live at a venue. In regards to the commercial licensed music that I write, I always have the need of electric guitars with different pickup configurations and body styles as they do sound different.
4) Upgrades. Any of the guitars that I have bought I can upgrade the knobs, pickups, bridges - you name it. So if I wanted to upgrade or customize the guitar I could do so in the future. Also to add, guitar parts can be found very inexpensive, even guitar pickups, if you look on certain web site like Amazon or Ebay.
1) Physical flaws like sharp fret ends, broken necks, scratches and dings on the body of the guitar, marks or bubbles in the finish all are possible. This is why I buy from Amazon more than say Ebay, where returns (for the most part) are easier. I've also fixed minor issues and have asked for percentage back in regards to a refund, such as half price. Sometimes it's not worth the effort to ship back an item if you really need it and, more importantly, you can fix the issue, or if it's just a cosmetic issue you can live with. Sometimes even small things like screws on the pickguard and input jack are not installed correctly. Hey I've seen it all folks.
2) Poor or nonexistence of internal packaging that some vendors do not use inside a box. It would seem to make sense to protect the guitar in shipment to you, but trust me some vendors don’t worry about the condition of the guitar once you receive it. Again, I've seen it all. That’s why you should make sure the web site you buy the guitar or other instrument from has a great return or discount policy that protects you the customer.
3) Bad electronics can be a problem. Wiring on the inside of the electric guitar may be poorly done. Soldering wires from pickups to volume and tone pots to the pickup selector switch may be misconfigured and wired. It happens.
4) Some issues like fret buzzing will be more prominent with an inexpensive guitar. Basic setup will be needed as almost every guitar does no matter how much it cost. I recommend if you do not know how to set up a guitar or other instrument to look on YouTube first. There are great videos on YouTube that can show you how. If you still are not comfortable, a basic setup adjusting the truss rod in the neck, adjusting the saddle height and intonation should cost you about $50.00 USD or less. The same applies to filing down or dressing sharp fret ends, $50.00 USD or less at a local music store. DO NOT get ripped off! This is easy maintenance, and I have seen local music stores ripping off people left and right in regards to basic setups. It's not hard, really!
So in closing, even with the items listed in the Cons list, with a bit of luck and effort you can get a few inexpensive guitars that will sound good and hold up in regards to any music project you come across.
Check out the sound of this actual guitar here:
Good luck as always and keep going forward with your music!!
-Thomas Rawding - MU Columnist
*Thomas Rawding (AKA: Mr.Tom) is an multi-instrumentalist, singer and a registered songwriter currently under BMI, Inc. He has been playing and recording music for more than 20 years and continues to write and record songs in South Carolina, for both retail sale and commercial licensing.