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Commodities R Us?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Artillerist, May 25, 2001.

  1. Artillerist


    May 25, 2001
    Here's something to stir up the teapot.

    By now every fool must know to buy the store brands of aspirin, tomato paste, underwear and what not. Most fools must also know that they can easily assemble a high, why higher, quality desktop computer using off the shelf parts for less than any of the brand names. Television sets, mountain bikes? They're all the same assembled from commodity parts by factories in South Korea, China, Mexico.

    What about guitars? A store manager recently told me that all electric guitars (and presumably basses,) are too, assembled in a handful of Third World factories from parts that they, the factories, select and stock. The brand owners merely pick and choose the combinations of parts from catalogs sent out by the factories, supply the brand names, and sell to us as 'unique' instruments. The store manager then showed me an electric his store ordered this way from Korea, and sold for less than $200 (US) confidently claiming it was of higher quality than a Fender Stratocaster '50's replica that sells for over $500.

    Is it then possible or feasible to assemble one's own high quality electric guitar or bass using commodity parts?
    I see somebody sell guitar and bass kits on e-Bay for a little over $100 and then Carvin sells a couple of kits as well as the individual components of those kits.

    The impression I get then is that brands in amplified instruments have become or are becoming nothing more than meaningless labels and myths propagated by the brand owners with the cooperation of paid popular endorsers.

    The question I'd like to pose to this forum is not 'what do you think?', since I know how attached we all are to our favorite brands, (i.e. don't read the preceeding as a provocation!) but rather 'what do you know?'

    Am I completely off bass, or are all your basses are belong to us in Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico?

  2. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Welcome to TalkBass!

    That store manager knows about as much about guitars/basses as Eminem knows about quantum physics.

    I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was only referring to widely available instruments.

    To wit, a sampling;

    - Carvin, you mentioned; all California, US of A
    - Peavey - humming away in Mississippi
    - G&L, Fullerton. CA
    - Fender, not all lines are made in US, but they have plants on the west coast
    - All Gibsons, (not all makes owned by Gibson), are made in the US.
    - Spector's USA line, New Jersey
    - Zon, CA
    - Rickenbacker, Santa Ana, CA
    - Pedulla, Rockport, Massachusetts
    - Ernie Ball- CA
    - Washburn, has a USA line
    - U.S. Masters, US
    - Reverend, US
    - Kubicki, US
    - GR, US

    That's just for starters. Instruments made in the USA make that clear in the market place, because it is a competitive advantage. If they made the claim falsely, they'd have their doors shut in short order by legal authorities.

    That Korean guitar the guy was comparing to a $500+ Fender replica/reissue of a 50's Strat? The Strats that cost around $500 aren't made in the US. You can't touch a US-made Strat for less than $1000 these days (except for 1 or 2 models). The Strats based on designs from the 50's and 60's go for $2000 and up.
    I seriously doubt his Korean knock-off could compare with those. IME, Korean stuff may look allright cosmetically, but almost all of it is seriously lacking in several aspects, usually, electronics/shielding, and/or the neck and the fret job.

    I've never played a Carvin kit bass. But I imagine they're only as good as the person putting them together.

    IMO, you get what you pay for. There's no free lunch in bass gear. Labels still mean a lot if you're knowledgeable about the make.
  3. Ah, but I heard that there is a plant in Korea which makes nearly ALL of the low-end basses/guitars for maybe as much as ten brands, including Dean, Ibanez, Cort, ...
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Ah, but Artillerist mentioned "all your basses...Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico....". So, his point was raised about better instruments, as well as the junk.
  5. So my post was merely an affirmation for his post, but then specialised onto the field of low-end basses.
  6. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    that is a severe over-simplification of the facts. many instruments are built in the same korean factory, but there are many companies, only a few of which rickbass1 mentioned, that either build their instruments in a factory in the US or else by hand.

    there are MANY custom bass manufacturers in the US (and elsewhere, i'm sure) that build their insturments either partially or completely by hand.

    all of my conklins were carved and constructed completely by hand, even hand carved necks - no CNC machine. many of the electronics in my basses were hand-built and hand wired. there are manufacturers like ken smith who even build their own pickups and make their own bridges.

    i've been to almost 20 namm shows over the past decade, and there is no such "mystical guitar factory" - they would certainly have a booth there ;). there are a few plants that lease out their space for a few other makers, like sammick, for instance, but when you buy an "american made fender" it's built completely in the US.

    that music store "manager" is on crack-perhaps he was only talking about the instruments he stocks. in which case it's time to go to a new music store, huh? :D
  7. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I don't have a favorite brand so I won't "defend" it:D

    Don't take this as provocation but in all seriousness I think you need to either get out more often to other music stores, talk to more knowledgeable people or just investigate for yourself. If you've done all this and still think all basses come from Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico, cool.

    They obviously don't.
  8. In case you havent noticed the store brands of aspirin, tomato paste and whant not all have a lack in quality compared to the more expensive brands. The same goes for basses and guitars. If you buy a Fender rip off or what ever brand as previously stated it may look the same cosmetically but if you look under the finish you will find that the woods vary in quality thereby the price is lower, or the Pups blow or they just suck. So a MIM Fender in some cases might look the same (to some folk) it does not compare to an original, and a MIM never is better quality than a MADE IN THE USA FENDER. The guy at your music shop must be taking some "generic drugs" to be thinkin that.
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    A broad brush is a broad brush, either way.

    I haven't noticed store brands of aspirin, etc. being of lower quality, actually quite the opposite. The price is lower and if you read the labels you'll see that a lot of them have exactly the same ingredients and in some cases are made at the same factory. What's missing?...advertising costs.

    Even more true for generic vs. name brand prescription drugs.

    Tomato sauce or other foods are a different issue, now you bring personal taste into the equation. Remember, some people love Spam, some don't. Who is "right"?

    As far as a MIM "never" being of better "quality" (talk about a seriously objective word;)) than a MIA, tell that to MIA owner who has had problems with his/her bass and his/her buddy whose MIM has been flawless. It can happen.

    It's easy to speak in absolutes but exceptions aren't that rare. Never say never;)
  10. Hategear

    Hategear Workin' hard at hardly workin'.

    Apr 6, 2001
    Appleton, Swissconsin
    Sometimes, no-name brands are better than name brands, depending on the items in question. I would very confidently purchase a store brand of ibuprofin, but when it comes to something like macaroni-and-cheese, you almost have to have the name brand stuff (anyone that has ever had Our Family mac-and-cheese knows what I mean). With some products, a company will produce two, three or even four seperate lines and certain companies will then put their name on that line and market it as "their" product. Be careful about throwing around "Made in U.S.A.", as some products are no doubt made IN America, but made WITH foreign parts. Personally, Made in America (or U.S.A.) doesn't mean that much to me. I buy what I buy and the only time I am really bothered with who made it, is when they are working for Kathy Lee, if you get what I am shooting at. Currently, my situation makes it so that my first concern is cost, not where it's made or who made it.
  11. I don't agree with that. When I researched a new PC a while ago, I calculated what it would cost to build one from scratch using the lowest priced parts I could find from discount outlets which would be comparable to one I could purchase from DELL or Gateway. What I found was that the prices weren't that far off. If you take into account the cost of the software that came with the DELL system, it could cost less to buy from DELL rather than to build my own.

    The advantage of building your own is that you know exactly what you are getting. The advantage of buying form DELL is that you know that everything has already been tested for compatibility.

    As far as instruments go, if some 15 year old high-school student can afford to get a bass because it was made from cheap foreign parts, then that's great. It's better than them not being able to afford one at all. Then, they may have a chance of upgrading at some point. My first bass was a cookie-cutter Yamaha BB300. Now I own and am having built 3 Hanewinckel ( http://www.hanewinckelguitars.com/ ) basses built entirely in southern California. Of course, some of the hardware is off the shelf but there are probably no manufacturers that make every single piece that goes into an instrument.

    - Dave
  12. Sorry I just got a little over zealous. I read the posts and I actually agree with Brad Johnsona and Hategear.
  13. Artillerist


    May 25, 2001
    Let's start with the tomato paste. Tomato canneries first can the tomatoes, then ship the cans which they call 'brights' to the warehouse and then try to sell them. On each batch of brights they sell, they apply labels supplied by the buyer. Some batches, indistinguishable from others, the canneries sell as their own brands. There are of course various grades of such products but in the area of canned fruit and vegetables the taste differences are often imperceptible. To put it succinctly, since it applies equally well to so many other products, the labeling line is separate from the manufacturing line!

    I suspect that grades account for differences in quality of television sets and that high end sets may in fact be manufactured by the brand owners.
    (Add to this list computer monitors made to order by a few factories in Taiwan.)

    Now, with desktop computers, you can and should aim to assemble a better quality machine than any of the name brands by buying highly rated brand components. Admittedly though, nowadays you'll pay more for it than for a name brand.

    Now to musical instruments. The store manager was a knowledgeable guy and he obviously meant his remark to include a certain class of instruments, and not 'all'. I didn't have a chance to ask followup questions because an actual paying customer walked in and interrupted us, but I think the question that remains is this: at what price point or price range or brand name do we start getting a quality instrument as opposed to an assembly line commodity?

    If Fender cheapens its brand name by slapping it on Korean made knockoffs, how can I trust the brand name 'Fender'? $500 Strat is not a real Fender but a $1000 is? What about $750? Squier is or isn't Fender? Is a $500 Fender Strat made by a contractor in the tropics better than a $500 Carvin Strat made by Carvin in San Diego? And so on...
  14. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    that's what you have ears for - ultimately what you pay for an instrument is irrelevant, how it's made is irrelevant, what woods it is made out of, blah blah.

    all that matters is that one is happy with the sound and with how it plays.
  15. There is something to be said for buying American made. Besides the quality, you know that the American workers who build these instruments are treated a lot more fairly than workers in some other countries. Who knows what conditions people work under in the companies that supply cheap guitar parts. Maybe they make $10 for a 12 hour day with no benefits. Thats why these parts are so cheap. They can find cheaper labor. In the meantime, they are also taking jobs away from Americans. So, Fender exports jobs to some other country so they can fill the demand for cheap guitars. Meanwhile, people in this country go on welfare. If I had the choice between a $500 foreign strat and a $1000 American strat, I'd buy the American strat. Just on principle.

    - Dave
  16. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Nothing wrong with being zealous, GB;)
  17. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    The "worth" issue, as I would respond to it, is expressed by John.

    Fender doesn't cheapen their name, necessarily, because they they change the game with their custom shop. Carvin's whole marketing strategy is based on their "semi-customs." If the basement gets lower, then raise the roof.

    For many bassists and acoustic guitar players, "custom" is the buzz word. Ned Steinberger made an observation that bassists, as opposed to guitarists, don't seem to be content with what mass production offers and that bassists are more ready to push the envelope.

    To someone like me, those $500 jobs aren't "real" Fenders in essence, because they aren't true to the originals. They took something that had terrific brand name equity and just made line extensions off of it. Technically, they are Fenders, due to the decal. But, it's all hair splitting and that is boring. The truth is in your ears and your hands.
  18. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    One thing this thread illustrates is that it's not just what you say, it's how you say it. If you hadn't said "all" and "By now every fool must know" you probably wouldn't have much dissent because, while there are exceptions, "most" cheaper instruments "are" made abroad, even some Peaveys.
    Who would argue that point?:D

    As far as cheapening a name, you don't have to go offshore for that. Gibson Tobias prices were as high or higher than pre-Gibson basses, the way they were built cheapened the line. The higher priced models were built here in the good old USA.

    I don't really care where a bass is made, though I only have one non-US bass (a German one). If I were in a situation where I needed to buy a bass the chances are high that it would be:

    new, under $1000- a Korean one (MTD Kingston K5)
    new, over $1000- a Canadian one (Mollerup)
    or a used one- who cares where it came from.

    I understand the buy American thing, I hardly ever see anyone truly ascribe to it, kind of like PETA people wearing leather shoes.
  19. Hategear

    Hategear Workin' hard at hardly workin'.

    Apr 6, 2001
    Appleton, Swissconsin
    Taking jobs away from Americans and putting them on unemployment? Holy cow people! A business is in business to make money. If they can get their product made somewhere else for cheaper, thereby increasing their profit, that's what it's all about. You can't really blame the consumer for putting someone out of a job because they bought a Taiwanese guitar, bass, car, watch, VCR, microwave, etc. My daddy always used to yell, "Buy American, put Americans to work." I think that slogan and that mindset is FAR outdated. By the way, while he was driving a so-called American-made car, he would watch TV on a Japanese set, take his pictures with a Japanese camera, order out for Chinese food....
  20. Sure. But can't a business make money without exploiting workers in other countries just because they can? I suppose you think it was just fine that Kathy Lee Gifford's clothing line was being manufactured by children in a sweatshop. After all business is business. Right?

    The fact is, if a company wanted to pay minimum wage to workers, they could do so in this country and put people to work. They would rather pay less than minimum wage by having the work done in countries where there aren't laws about such things and workers have no rights.

    - Dave

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