• Hand made vs. factory made

    A really well made guitar almost plays itself

    A hand maker is generally flexible and inefficient enough to do customized work in every place where it counts. This methodology is essential due to the innate variability of woods: two identically thicknesses guitar tops can differ by as much as l00% in density, 200% in longitudinal stiffness and 300% in lateral stiffness. Factory guitars are substantially overbuilt to prevent warranty issues due to eg humidity problems. The factory cannot afford to make fragile, maximally responsive instruments. The hand maker cannot afford to overbuild his guitars.

    The factory way to eliminate human error and fluctuation is to eliminate, or at least limit as much as possible, the human. The hand maker’s way to eliminate human error is to increase skill and mindfulness. Many factory guitars are quite good, and many handmade guitars show room for improvement

    The collector’s market of vintage and collectable musical instruments is not large but it is quite strong, and its continual hunger for new products helps drive the production of “collectable” guitars. Factories respond to the demand by producing and advertising limited edition guitars which have, for the buyer, the requisite appeal of uniqueness, scarcity, rarity, and high cost. There are individual luthiers whose work is sought in the collector’s market. But on the whole the difference between factory’s and a hand maker’s collectable work is that the individual guitar maker’s collectable work is scarce by definition and ends when he dies. A factory such as the Martin Company can turn out limited and special edition collector’s models for generations.

    This same growth of ability to see and hear in an educated and experienced way affects our ability to appreciate nuances of detail, subtlety, and quality. These are the very areas in which handmade guitars can differ from, and excel, non-handmade ones. But, until a player reaches the point of capacity to discriminate, whatever guitar he has is good enough.