Roundup: Six High-Value 6-Strings

January 30, 2014

The logical step for most players when they come into some cash is to start buying more expensive guitars. Sure, putting it into gold or some other commodity might make more financial sense in the long run, but what’s the fun in that when so many fine electric and acoustic guitars are beckoning you to add them to your collection?

In most cases you really do get what you pay for, too, as instruments that jump past the $2,000 mark are typically made from select woods that have been properly dried, feature premium-grade pickups, bridges, and tuners, and have much more hand work in them compared to lower-cost production guitars. But perhaps the most important element of any high-end guitar is the builder, since that’s where the artistic part comes into play.

People who devote themselves to making guitars are a special breed. There’s no college diploma for this line of employment. Most of today’s builders had to learn their craft through years of hard work repairing, modifying, and building guitars in virtual anonymity before getting any traction or notoriety in the high-end guitar market. As such, custom builders usually have very specific design ideas that greatly affect how their guitars feel, play, sound, and look. You can find instruments that have been distressed to look like they’ve been in service for 50 years and ones that gleam like a brand new Mercedes—but either way the experience is often like slipping on a pair of custom-made boots compared to buying them at Wal-Mart. You know instantly when everything is right, and finding that sense of “rightness” is one of the most intriguing parts of the boutique guitar experience.

High-end models come in so many varieties now that it’s a bit mindboggling— from Custom Shop Fenders and Memphis-made Gibsons to the Private Stock beauties from PRS to hybrid wonders from Saul Koll and Dennis Fano to the aged-metal artistry of James Trussart. And those are just a few of many companies that devote their entire production to this specialized sector of the guitar market.

For this roundup we selected six very different guitars that land on various points of the custom guitar compass. We tested them through amps from Blackstar, Bad Cat, Fender, PRS, Victoria, Orange, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie, and Vox, and evaluated each guitar on its playability, construction, hardware, and, of course, the elusive vibe factor. —ART THOMPSON

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