When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by Saul »

We all love a bargain. And I am certainly no different and with that in mind I set out to find out how low I could go in price and still get a decent guitar.

For this little experiment, it was decided that I would only look at guitars under £150/$200.

Surely you can't get much for that sort of money right? Well, actually, these days you can, as long as you buy the right guitar of course.

However, this post is not about those guitars. This is about a guitar you definitely do not want to buy. The problem is, the spec for this particular guitar makes it sound like it is a "must-have" and a real bargain.

The guitar in question is the Hartwood Prime from Gear4Music.com

Here is the spec:

Body & Bridge
Top: Solid Spruce
Soundhole Binding: Black Single Ply
Back and Sides: Sapele
Body Binding: Thin Double Stripe
Bridge: Mahogany
Finish: Natural Satin

Neck
Neck: Okoume
Neck Finish: Satin
Fingerboard: Poplar Laminate
Nut Width: 43mm
Machine Heads: Die-Cast Chrome
Scale Length: 25.5" / 20 Frets

Dimensions
Overall Length: 1025mm
Body length: 490mm
Upper Bout: 300mm
Lower Bout: 393mm
Body Depth: 105mm
Waist: 242mm

All for just £99.99/$140.00

The stand out there being the solid spruce top. There are very few guitars under £200 that come with a solid top let alone at just £99.00!

Too good to be true?

When someone tells you that you are going to get an acoustic guitar with a solid top for that sort of money it is almost certain that huge corners have been cut in production costs in order to achieve it. And this is where we hit the territory of a "guitar that is too cheap".

This particular Hartwood Prime was a complete lemon. The photos below don't even begin to illustrate just how bad this guitar is. Gear4Music assured me that this was just a "batch issue" and they had other examples they could send me that were not like this one.

However, even had this Hartwood Prime not exhibited any of the faults I found it was still a very poor sounding guitar. I don't know what the solid spruce top was supposed to add to the mix but there are plenty of all laminate build guitars at the same price that sounds better than this.

Here you can see there is a very noticeable blemish in the wood. This actually extends across the whole top of the guitar although it doesn't show up in the photo:
hartwood-prime-top-blemish.jpeg

In the next image, you can see where the end of the fretboard has not been aligned with the curve of the soundhole.
hartwood-prime-neck-not-aligned-with-soundhole.jpeg
This image goes some way to illustrating just how bad the action on this guitar is. This was partly a result of a completely untightened truss rod. Even with adjust though, this was as good as it got.
hartwood-prime-high-action.jpeg
It gets worse. There was quite a long crack on the back of the neck. I can't see this lasting very long. Especially with temperature and humidity changes!
hartwood-prime-neck-crack.jpeg
These must be the worst quality tuners I have ever come across on any guitar. They are small and not comfortable to turn but also they were not fitted correctly to the headstock.
hartwood-prime-poor-quality-tuners.jpeg
There were other issues such as excess glue on the heel of the neck and around the bridge and almost no saddle to work with if you wanted to lower the action. But, you get the general picture?

I feel sorry for anyone just starting out who may have bought one of these guitars. There are so many, better guitars out there that cost less than £150.00.

Alternatives:

Yamaha F370
Cort AF510/AF510 M OP
Tanglewood TWBB O
Tanglewood Crossroads TWCR O E

Conclusion:

It used to be the case that you could not buy a solid top guitar for less than £300-£400. That was the norm and mostly these guitars were all built using quality materials and were very well made.

The trend lately has been to bring solid top guitars to the entry/budget level but in doing so, are too many corners being cut? There is only so much you can reduce costs by before things start to take a turn for the worst.

Quality materials cost money. As does experienced craftspeople who care about the guitars they build.

If you are going to use cheaper materials and pay the workforce a pittance, the end result is never going to be a good quality product.

You certainly can buy a decent guitar for under £150.00 but I would rather buy an all laminate one where the money has been spent on build quality and playability than something which looks good on the spec sheet but fails to deliver.

Is there a price point at which quality is compromised too much? Is it ever possible to build a solid top guitar and sell it for less than £100.00 and still maintain the finish, build quality and playability? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by SKYWALKER »

I think that what's changed that means that a person can get landed with such a poor instrument ,in online shopping .
I have trouble imagining a music shop carrying a line like that .

I looked up that Hartwood on Gear4music , and of course they describe it like it was a Gibson Hummingbird .

What really blew me away was that video someone posted ,of receiving a new Breedlove on the " The inconvenient truth about guitar manufacture " topic . That was a pretty expensive guitar but awfully made . Again , a music shop that wanted to stay in business wouldn't dare sell that !

As for the " Great !...A solid spruce top !" I recon that a good laminate top is going to sound better that a bad solid spruce top .
We like to think of a given tone wood as complying by its very nature with certain standards of quality , but it doesn't !
One can't really tell good tone-wood by looking at it either, because it's about wood density. Wood classified as ' Mahogany' comes from several different species of tree , as does ' Rosewood ' . Also the quality of timber from a single species can vary greatly in its quality as a tone-wood . Then their is the matter of careful seasoning .

In conclusion I wound say that whatever ' Tone-woods' go into your guitar, this is where you tend to get what you pay for, although it might not be visible .


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by Saul »

Yeah, it's a pretty sad state of affairs when a guitar like that Hartwood Prime is being sold on what is essentially a myth. A solid top "must" mean it is a better guitar. We know that not to be the case but someone just starting out, perhaps having read something about solid vs laminate won't realise that there is quite a difference between a high-quality solid top and one made from offcuts that could not go into a higher-end guitar.

I did speak to Gear4Music about that guitar and they said they had checked in the warehouse and it appeared to be an issue with that particular batch.

So that means there were quite a few of these dodgy Hartwood guitars being sold to people who perhaps would have accepted the poor quality simply because they had no experience of what a good quality guitar should be.

In fairness to Gear4Music they said they simply cannot check every single guitar that comes into the warehouse because they do not have the staffing levels to allow this. It would also put the cost up. But this illustrates very clearly why buying from a smaller independent dealer is the way to go if you can do it. They can check each guitar that comes into the store and if there are problems, return it to the distributor before the customer ever knows there is an issue. Well, in theory, that is how it should work. Some dealers don't bother.

One dealer that does go the extra mile is Richards Guitars in Stratford-upon-Avon. They check every single guitar before it goes out to the customer. It is given a full setup too. He sells a wide range of guitars from around £220 upward. Guitars from Cort, LAG, Tanglewood, Eastman, Seagull and so on. Definitely worth checking out :)

If Richard sold Breedlove, that one in the video I posted would never have left the store. It is a shame all dealers are not like this :(

To sum up, though, I am not saying that ALL Hartwood guitars suffer from the same issues like the one I had but, I still think it would be better to spend the money on a Cort or Tanglewood. It will be far better made and set up so will be easier to play and it will sound good too.


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by SKYWALKER »

To continue on the subject of spruce tops , some months ago I was looking at an online supplier of tone woods .
They were selling spruce boards in lots ,sized for various string instruments and graded by quality . The higher quality lots were significantly more expensive and they were ALL marked as sold . This rather suggests that not only are there some very real differences in the quality of this material , but also that the demand for quality spruce exceeds supply .

Before I pointed out the variability I know as a carpenter to exist in mahogany and rosewood ,so thought to mention this too which I saw regarding spruce !🤔


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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This is why luthiers like Stan Marinov at Dowina, travel far and wide to find just the right woods for their instruments. Stan doesn't buy in batches though. He goes through every plate of wood to filter out the good from the not so good. :)


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by SKYWALKER »

I love things created with that combination of fine woods and skilled craftsmanship . Apart from instrument making its something that's largely died out . I may not be able to afford these masterpieces , but I still have an almost religious reverence for them .
That a cheap guitar is NEVER going to sound like one crafted with real art and passion is the way it should be .

We have a good laugh in my local music shop because I can't go in for strings without drifting over to admire the high- end guitars .😍😂😂

I grew up around classic wooden boats , and there too you find some really amazing works in wood . It's a truly wonderful material that has no real substitute .


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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I think this is why I have such an affinity with Dowina Guitars. Prices for a completely hand-made, all solid wood guitar using only the best quality tonewoods and built at their workshop in Bratislava starts at an incredible £699.00. That's an absolute bargain (Y)

So you can buy a super high-quality hand-made guitar without breaking the bank.

I agree there is nothing like wood. There are synthetic acoustic guitars now and they sound and play fine but it just doesn't do it for me. I just don't feel a connection with the instrument, if you know what I mean?


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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Saul wrote: Mon Jun 28, 2021 9:46 pm I agree there is nothing like wood.
I totally agree. Wood has always been special - there is something deeply "organic" about it that we don't really understand . . .

. . and there's probably still much to find out . . . .?

Hence the "Connection" we feel when playing an instrument . . .

One only has to consider the Ballyhoo surrounding Stradivari Violins . . . . Much of it is about wood, but also varnish . . . .

I have to re-iterate this beautiful Guitar for this topic . . . . it says it all. Who cannot be moved, looking at THIS:

Carved Guitar.jpg
Carved Guitar.jpg (81.93 KiB) Viewed 624 times

OK - it's a solid-body - and different criteria apply, but hey! - it's still WOOD, and it still has "That" effect on us :lol:

Very detailed description here: divine-jones.com/syrena.html

(not intended to be an advert) but makes a great read, as to the processes involved in designing and creating such an instrument.

The price IS eye-watering - as you might expect - given the huge number of hours invested . . . .

Chris


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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As you know Chris, I am not a huge fan of electric guitars but that one would certainly get my vote :)

Perhaps I have just never found "the right" electric guitar :think:

The magic with wood is much like the music itself. It is an intagible. There is a mystery as to why it moves us the way it does. Think for a moment about any of your favourite movies...and then take away the music? Music has such power and yet we still don't know why.

Wood is the same. We are drawn to it in ways that are hard to put into words. It is probably why, although I do play synths, I don't feel the same about them as I do about guitars. For the most part, it is all metal, plastic and electronics, even if the sounds are rather wonderful :) And here again, if you play a traditionally made acoustic piano, you "feel" the connection? It is so strange and so wonderful at the same time.

By the way, how is your Les Paul project progressing?


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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Yeah, point taken Saul . . .

With Acoustics of course the wood is very much part and parcel of the eventual sound - which is how they can get so "creative" with them

and also why the eventual result can be so varied :wink:

I've often heard it said that "Solids" are merely a plank of wood with pickups and a fretboard - so the shape can be "anything" (and often is).

There are arguments that there is an acoustic quality that can be had via the electro-magnetic pickups, but I'm still to be convinced.

My impression is that the sound of a solid guitar is ultimately all about the AMP/CAB its connected too - and little else??

. . . though I'm prepared to be "educated" about that, by those who may know better . . . :think:

I know the Germans have a special relationship with Wood - certainly around Trees and Forests, that I believe goes far back into their History

and probably, their Mythology . . . .

I did see evidence of that relationship during my visit to the Saarlands Festival some years back in Saarbruken . . .

We kinda have a version of it here with our "Green Man" - and the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest . . . .

Wood somehow "strikes a chord" deep inside us (no pun intended ;) )

Chris


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Curse! This means the end of the horned phonograph and the little doggie that looks in to it.

Watch out now! take care, BEWARE of the greedy leaders! They'll take you where you should not go - (George Harrison)

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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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It's one of those things that many electric players say but I have yet to see any evidence of.

The main influencing factors with an electric guitar are the nut, saddle, pickups and amp. I don't see where the wood comes into it, since you can stick the pickups in a sheet of plexiglass and get the same results.

Electric guitar companies like Fender, for example, will tell you that the wood resonates and so plays a big part in the sound? I can't see that myself. The strings interact with the pickups and that is what generates the sound. The pickups are not getting much if anything from the wood they are housed in.

However, if someone cares to explain why the wood in an electric guitar adds to the sound I would be happy to hear it (Y)


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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In England , Yew trees are frequently found around churches . Turns out that this actually started with the churches being built next to the Yew trees because the pagans used to plant them on their burial sites because they live a very long time and are therefor sort of time defying guardians ( or something along those lines ).

Bad King John signed the Magna Carta under a huge Yew tree because it was considered similar to swearing with your hand on the Bible .

English folklore is actually full of the significance of trees and shrubs .
Unfortunately most of that nature related culture disappeared as a result of the extent of the industrial revolution in England .


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

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Saul wrote: Tue Jun 29, 2021 6:10 pm It's one of those things that many electric players say but I have yet to see any evidence of.

The main influencing factors with an electric guitar are the nut, saddle, pickups and amp. I don't see where the wood comes into it, since you can stick the pickups in a sheet of plexiglass and get the same results.

Electric guitar companies like Fender, for example, will tell you that the wood resonates and so plays a big part in the sound? I can't see that myself. The strings interact with the pickups and that is what generates the sound. The pickups are not getting much if anything from the wood they are housed in.

However, if someone cares to explain why the wood in an electric guitar adds to the sound I would be happy to hear it (Y)
Precisely. I am not convinced that an electromagnetic pickup has any acoustic capability, despite what Fender may say - unless my

understanding of electomagnetism is flawed?

The string, by its vibration induces a voltage in the magnetic field generated by the coils which is then amplified by the amplifier . . . . ?

Perhaps Peter Townshend knows different? :lol:

Chris


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Curse! This means the end of the horned phonograph and the little doggie that looks in to it.

Watch out now! take care, BEWARE of the greedy leaders! They'll take you where you should not go - (George Harrison)

IT'S TRUE - "MONEY TALKS" - TO ME, IT MOSTLY SAYS "GOODBYE" ;-)
http://www.chrisnmiller.co.uk/Chris
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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by SKYWALKER »

Yeah !... Pete definitely experimented with the resonance of the solid body guitar when he got tired of bowling .😬😅😂

I can't help but feel he was kind of the Godfather of Punk ! ( Pete Rancid 😂).


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Re: When is a cheap guitar too cheap?

Unread post by Saul »

SKYWALKER wrote: Wed Jun 30, 2021 7:12 am Yeah !... Pete definitely experimented with the resonance of the solid body guitar when he got tired of bowling .😬😅😂

I can't help but feel he was kind of the Godfather of Punk ! ( Pete Rancid 😂).
Yep, that's definitely one example of a resonating electric guitar! :lol:


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