High-end instrument sales continue to rise as seasoned players seek exclusive, hand-crafted instruments
Following a precipitous drop in sales between 2008 and 2009, high-end, custom, and boutique acoustic guitars are making an encouraging comeback. Headed into the 2014 NAMM Show, sales of high-end, luthier-crafted and custom acoustic instruments are at a five-year high. Guitar craftsmen and dealers point to a strengthening economy and growing pool of accomplished players for the increase in people searching for (and purchasing) their fretted Holy Grail.
“Purchasing a custom or hand-crafted guitar is exciting; it’s an event,” said John Silva of Trilogy Guitars, who will be looking for hand-crafted guitars at the NAMM Show. “As a guitarist evolves, plays and gets better as the years go by, he knows the sound he wants, knows what a guitar is capable of.”
Sales of high-end acoustic guitars, a category that includes all guitars priced above $1,500, have increased 39 percent since 2009. Nearly 750 guitar and fretted instrument companies will be exhibiting at the 2014 NAMM Show.
In the last year, Silva has seen a marked difference in his business, which caters to the high-end and custom classical, flamenco and acoustic markets. The walls of Trilogy’s appointment-only studio are lined with one-of-a-kind instruments from Spanish, American, South American and German luthiers. “I get a lot of calls from people wanting to see and play the instruments, but in the last year, I’m seeing more people actually making the purchase.”
Some of this, according to John Karp, CEO of Bourgeois Guitars, is a fortuitous symptom of the strengthening economy. “It’s no secret that the baby boomer is our customer base,” he said. “Right about now they are looking at some reassuring 401K numbers and a healthy stock market. A high-end guitar is, after all, an optional purchase, and we do see an increase in this market.”
An additional factor driving sales of boutique guitars is the renewed emphasis on an instrument’s intrinsic worth. These guitars are exponentially valued for what they represent to the purchaser as well as to the craftsman. To the purchaser, it may be the culmination of many years of yearning for that coveted objet d’art; but to the craftsman, according to Silva, it represents a slice of his or her life. “That guitar is a month or more of the luthier’s life that he’s been sweating blood, making that instrument. It is a part of his life he put into it that makes it so valuable,” he said.
Instruments with a bit history are in demand as well, according to Jonathan Thomas, president of Cordoba Guitars. “These small-batch instruments have more of a story attached to them; they are limited and exclusive in nature, and people really value the individual attention and craftsmanship that goes into each one,” he said.
It appears that the upward climb in the sales of custom, high-end, luthier-crafted acoustic guitars has little to do with fluctuations in fashion and everything to do with the perennial quest for the very best. Richard Hoover, president of Santa Cruz Guitar Company, asserts that this is a natural progression in the arc of a serious guitarist. “As players age, they gain appreciation. They hear the sound of a custom instrument. They start to realize that true sophistication of sound is achievable. They develop a taste for the extraordinary, and nothing is ever the same after that.“
Karp agrees. “Being a guitar player is a progressive experience,” he said. You need to learn on the Volvo to really appreciate a Ferrari. But eventually, you are going to want that Ferrari.”