You know what, some guitars just aren’t that different…and that’s okay!
I’ve been fortunate to have a career in guitar journalism for about a year and a half now, with almost exactly one year of guitar review experience now in the books! I never would have imagined the likes of Fender, PRS, or Ernie Ball Music Man sending me guitars to review, demo, and talk about. I’ve reviewed guitars as expensive as $5000+ and as cheap as $60, and everything in between.
The difference between relatively expensive guitars ($1000 or more) and super affordable guitars ($300 or less) is obviously pretty big. Brand name pickups or hardware, finish quality and colors, and overall craftsmanship are the features that really stick out at these high prices, resulting in a great sounding and feeling guitar.
But honestly, when you starting playing guitars in that $500-$1000 range, they are more similar in overall quality than not. That’s why you’ll see so many guitars in that price range get a score of 7.5-8.5 on Guitarsforidiots.com and Ultimate-Guitar.com, where I also handle reviews. That’s not to say these guitars are all the same, because they have a ton of fun, interesting variety. In fact, that’s what I’m always writing about, is the variety.
But at the end of the day, the awesome $1100 Harmony Juno I just reviewed isn’t that far off from the $600 Fender Lead III. In fact, both are awesome guitars that won’t be a disappointment. The fact is that price isn’t necessarily derived from quality. Surely it is sometimes, which is what makes an awesome Squier so much better than the $60 Glarry products. But at the end of the day, a guitar’s price can be inflated by the brand name, country of origin, or business model of the company making it.
Basically, my take away message here is that if you think the USA-made Harmony Juno is overpriced because it is comparable in overall rating to a Mexican Fender or high end South Korean guitar, you’re wrong. Maybe it isn’t the best value out there, but the Juno is an awesome guitar and that 8.4 score reflects my thoughts that “if you want this guitar, it will exceed expectations”. In fact, that’s why I started putting a section at the bottom of each review saying what the guitar is best suited for!
If you buy the Juno, which I highlight for its clean tones and songwriting applications, and expect it to be the Fender Lead III, which is a super high output, distortion-ready guitar, yeah, it won’t be an 8.4 in your mind. All the scores are relative and when you see a guitar like the Harley Benton DC Junior get an 8.1 with a price of barely $200, that means you should think it’s a good value. Not necessarily that it is just as good a guitar as the Gretsch G5622T. They are both excellent guitars but suited for very different styles and players. The Harley Benton is an 8/10 for a Les Paul Junior, shockingly good results from such an affordable guitar.
The way I review guitars is always changing, as I don’t think any reviewers are exactly the same nor do any stay exactly the same over the course of their YouTube/magazine/website career.
So when you read my reviews looking for information about what guitar you should consider buying, look for key words like “versatility” and check my suggestions about what each guitar does best. Of course, anyone could pick up a Silver Sky and turn it into a perfect metal guitar in their hands. But definitely don’t buy that guitar for metal without playing it yourself first. On the other hand, if you’re in a punk band, then yeah, order a Fender Lead III because it’s an awesome punk/garage rock guitar and many more reviews out there reinforce that idea. Only buy a guitar without trying it out in person when you’re confident it will suit your needs, especially if you read 4 different reviews all saying the same thing!
Hopefully this rant makes sense and helps explain why you may sometimes see so many guitars get similar ratings out of 10. It doesn’t mean they’re all the same, it just means they’re all great options. We’re living in the golden age of guitar manufacturing and overseas models no longer suck. If a guitar is similar quality but a bit more expensive, it’s usually because of some intrinsic value. Is it made in the USA? If supporting domestic builders is important to you than the extra cost may be worth it. Is it a unique signature model? An extra few hundred may be worth it if you can’t just pick up any off the shelf Strat to get your favorite musician’s guitar model. Either way, when reading reviews just remember context is everything, price isn’t everything, and compare similar guitars, not widely different models when comparison shopping!
Shameless plug coming below….
Oh, and buy guitars through my Reverb links so I can keep the lights on and grow this website into the resource tool I always wanted but never found as a young guitarist!