USA made vs Foreign made (a poll)

I just made a post about a “sexy new bass” I have my eye on (Gibson T-Bird), and it occurred to me that there’s so much confusion about what is “worth it”.

I have a Squier Jazz Bass, but Squier is “owned” by Fender . . . I want a Gibson, but Epiphone is “owned” by Gibson . . . :crazy_face:

Why would I spend $2300 on something from Gibson, when I can get the equivalent from Epiphone for $400-750? . . . and why did I spend $350 on something from Squier, when the equivalent from Fender costs at least $1000 more? . . . :thinking:

Well . . . there are differences between these manufacturers, some small and subtle, and some more obvious . . . I did a LOT of digging around on the Interweb and confirmed this. Are American-made Fender basses of better quality than those made in Mexico? Do foreign-made basses have less quality control than those made in North America? etc. etc.

What is YOUR take on this? . . . (votes are anonymous)

“American made” . . . means Fender and Gibson guitars made in the USA
“Foreign made” . . . . . means Epiphone, Squier, Fender MIM made outside USA

  • American made is BEST and is worth the higher price
  • Foreign made is as good as American made, just cheaper
  • Foreign made is BETTER than American made
  • Foreign made is ~OK, but has less quality than American
  • American made is just overpriced due to labor costs
  • It’s a global economy, doesn’t make any difference to me

0 voters

Post your additional thoughts and opinions here.

All best, Joe

1 Like

My own vote went to American made being overpriced due to labor costs.

IMHO, it’s just too tempting for instrument mfgrs to farm out the work overseas because cheaper labor costs there = greater profits here.

That being said, in hindsight, I admit I bought my Squier Jazz Bass because of the good reputation it had vs the “real” Fender Jazz basses, and because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to pursue the bass guitar again. ( i.e. I didn’t want to spend $1500-2000 on a Fender bass, when $350 would do).

Now I KNOW I’m sure . . . three modules left to go in Josh’s course! :wink:

All best, Joe

2 Likes

@Jazzbass19,

I think I understand what you are trying to achieve here, but I also think your survey is flawed. If you ask the wrong questions, you risk to get the “wrong” answers - something that is biased from the get-go and doesn’t provide you with new or “real” insights.

Your survey might work if you only consider US-based brands, but there are so MANY bass manufacturers out there that are not US companies, and thus “foreign” in your categorization. A lot of them offer very sophisticated instruments.

The reason why well-recognized brands also offer cheaper alternatives is because they also want to have a part of that market. However, they don’t want to “dilute” their original brand, which is why they sell the cheaper products under a different label. Fender does it, Gibson does it, and so does Honda (which is the cheaper stuff here) by creating the luxury label Acura (and other similar examples).

In order to be able to offer products that are cheaper you’d have to compromise on raw materials, on how much manual labor is involved, how much production time you need, and the basic labor cost as well. Thus, US companies might take it to Mexico or Brasil, Japanese companies might take it to Korea or Vietnam. But, there are very expensive (and probably very good) basses coming out of India also these days - so what gives?

“Cheap” basses play fine, just like a Ford Pinto runs fine, but perhaps one day you might want to sit in a Mercedes, which then hopefully doesn’t start rattling as soon as the Pinto does :grin:But, for us beginners, I think it has a lot to do with that we just can’t appreciate the differences between cheaper and more expensive basses to the fullest yet.

4 Likes

Good point, @joergkutter

I was thinking about Fender and Gibson being the “US-based” brands in this poll, so I’m asking whether or not it is worth buying these brands OR their “affordable” counterparts (which are all made outside of the USA).

I still think that it boils down to labor costs and profits, although there are many high-quality basses made outside the USA as you pointed out.

Thanks for your response :+1:

All best, Joe

1 Like

OK, I thought more you were inquiring about the differences between, say, Fender and Squire basses…

It is not just the labor cost in many cases - it is also the materials (the woods, the metal hardware), how much is machined vs done manually by a luthier etc. All that also defines how long these instruments last and keep their value…

What makes the whole picture even muddier: Fender also has basses made in Mexico - are they better/worse than Squire basses made in the US? There might be differences in craftsmanship, but that is also hard to evaluate.

Anyway, I guess my main point would be: are they affordable because they are made outside the US, or are they affordable because they compromise on materials and how much “love and care” goes into making them?

Good luck with the rest of the course!!

2 Likes

I think BOTH, @joergkutter . . . :slight_smile:

Anyway, I went back and clarified my poll based on your input . . . thanks again! :+1:

(btw, I once owned a 1974 Ford Pinto . . . :rofl: :face_with_hand_over_mouth:)

All best, Joe

3 Likes

Interesting topic Joe! I had trouble answering, I think because the poll is too general. For example, you could get as specific as a “what’s better” poll between:

  • Fender USA
  • Fender MIJ
  • Fender MIM
  • Fender made somewhere else too probably
  • Squier (made not sure where?)

And even then you’d have a hell of a time making generalizations. For example, I like the Squier VM J Bass I play in the videos way more than a Fender MIM J Bass I used to own, and the QC was actually better on the Squier than the Fender… in this one case. (the Fender had sharp frets on the G string side, ouchhhhhh)

And I would put my Fender MIJ '62 Reissue P bass up against any American- (or elsewhere) made P bass for a killer Motown sound…

And another angle of this discussion would be “name brands vs. cheap brands,” which is connected to geography / manufacturing origin too. Is it worth paying ~$250 for a Squier when you can get a similar (or similar-seeming, at least) bass from a China-based company for $80? Lots of variables to consider… time to do some more bass reviews I guess!

1 Like

I guess what got me started on this was $2,300 price for a Gibson Thunderbird vs $400-700 for the Epiphone version of the same bass. That’s a HUGE difference!

They have “Grover” vs “Clover” tuners; the Epiphone has a bolt on neck (except the highest priced model) vs the through neck, etc. etc. Trying to compare these could be very confusing, especially for newer people.

So . . . are we paying (a lot more) for the Gibson name or are there really significant technical and quality differences between them? . . . :slight_smile:

And the debate goes on . . . but the final answer is in the ear and the eye of the beholder.

Thanks for your vote and your input, Josh :+1:

1 Like

Going to have to sit this one out… I don’t care for Fender, Gibson, Squire or Epiphone. I’ve seen them way too often and I don’t want to just be one of the masses… I’m vain like that. lol

Give me something unusual, something exotic, anything but the same-ol’ same-ol’ that everybody else plays. Yes, I did just buy an Ibanez Mikro but for the scale length, not for the name, the body shape or that god-awful headstock with the tuners pointing all over the place willy-nilly.

So if it feels good in the hands, sounds good, looks cool and I can afford it… I don’t care who makes it or where. And if I can ever retire and set up a real work shop… I’ll just build them myself. :slight_smile:

3 Likes

Based on the good reviews I have seen and the posts from others here that like theirs, I am really looking forward to your impressions of the Mikro :slight_smile:

Everyone else more or less made the points I was going to make about the poll. In the end, I don’t think you can really pull off a poll like this outside of the context of specific manufacturers or even specific models. Some of the best Fenders were made in Japan. Some of the best Yamahas are made in Indonesia. Warwick is (currently) making really solid guitars in China. Until you hit the really top tier price points the same is true for most manufacturers - they build where it makes sense for them, and the individual quality varies by make, model and year.

3 Likes

Neat topic for sure, and, congrats @Jazzbass19 for almost completing B2B - probably a bittersweet moment, accomplishing that, but also knowing there are no more lessons ahead!

My vote went to “It’s a global economy, doesn’t matter to me”. Globalization and its effect on consumer goods is such a complex topic. My personal reasoning on buying my first bass was similar to yours, I was so new, didn’t know anything about it, bought a $300 2017 Schecter Stiletto off Craigslist because it looked wicked cool, and had terrific reviews. I got lucky that I really like it, and at the time, knew that it wasn’t a huge investment in something that might have been a passing fancy, or that I just might not like. And my reasoning’s the same now a couple of months later - I’m falling for Ibanez’s SR series at Guitar Center, don’t care so much about the brand/origin/even the quality, just that it feels awesome in my hands!

That being said, surfing Reverb, crap, the most expensive basses/guitars on there are vintage Fenders and Gibsons from the '50s/'60s, some with market prices in the 6 figures (USD). That kind of reputation/nostalgia’s gotta be pushing the brand’s value up, regardless of quality or other factors.

4 Likes

Don’t shoot me, I also play guitar and have been looking for a new one, in the process I’ve learned a bunch about production and quality control.

Initially I was looking at a Fender and had the same issues as with the bass; MiM, MiJ, MiI?! There is one guitar called the Squier Classic Vibe, it’s made in Indonesia and costs about £500. The kicker, in blindfolded reviews experienced guitarists were rating it better than MiM and MiA Fender’s costing 2-3 times more.

Then I did a Korrigan and decided against Fender and started looking at other brands including Chapman guitars which are made in Indonesia. This video sheds a bit of light on the manufacturing / quality control processes (apols for dirtying the forum with guitar shit :nauseated_face:)…

I ended up going with a £700 Sterling Musicman guitar made in Indonesia and it plays way better than any Fender I played up to £1,500. It even compared well to the MiA full fat Musicman version which costs 3x more.

The short of it… the quality of the bass is down to the specific factory it is made in and the quality control processes. The country it is made in is arbitrary.

4 Likes

Quick question, @Chris: did you have the chance to test-drive all these different guitars, or did you (have to) rely on online reviews and YouTube videos to make your decision?

Thanks!

3 Likes

@joergkutter I got to try some of the Fenders but bought the Sterling blind based on reviews - someone was selling “like new” for a great price on ebay, couldn’t resist taking a punt. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous but turns out there is some reliable info YouTube. If Sterling basses are as good as the guitars I’d definitely be checking them out.

4 Likes

Awesome topic.
I used to work in a guitar shop, and so I got to play all the guitars that came through, tune them up, adjust setups, wank, noodle, etc.

The guitars were all very very very unique. Even the more assembly line Squier products were wildly different instrument to instrument.

In general, there is a clear tier process. The best ingredients and wood selections are selected for the MIA stuff. There isn’t much care in the wood selection for the Squier stuff, but every once in a while you’d get super lucky and get a killer instrument.

The pricing makes sense in a general way. But - with all instruments - you GOTTA PLAY 'EM!!
I almost bought a $4500 '65 P-Bass from a shop in Colorado when I was on tour. But then I remembered that I didn’t have any money.
So I didn’t get it.
I bought a 50’s reissue P-Bass (MIM) for under $1000. I love it. I bring it to every gig and session and it sounds killer.
My J-bass is a modded MIJ Jaguar. I got it when I worked at the music store and played every single J-bass that came through for years. This one had the neck and vibe and weight that felt perfect for me.

So.
My conclusion -
The tiered pricing makes sense, and you are getting more for your money as you move up the Instrument Label / Made-In-Wherever food chain.
But!
It won’t guarantee a better instrument for you, and the only solution is to know your budget, and put in the time to play tons of instruments so that you know the difference.

3 Likes

Agreed, @Gio . . . I guess I just got lucky with my Squier VM Jazz Bass, buying it on-line based only on reviews and videos . . . :slight_smile:

This next time around, I’ll definitely be making trips to a brick-and-mortar store and get some hands-on time with the T-Birds and SG’s . . . :+1:

Thanks and all best, Joe

3 Likes

Even within major manufacturers, there are runs of “good” years and “bad” years, and exceptions abound. For example, Fender instruments in the 1970-somethings are generally regarded as inferior, because CBS was trying to “maximize profits.” Nevertheless, within those years are instruments that are stellar, but a lot are just meh. Conversely, in the “good” years you can get a clunker. Maybe the guy running the fret press had a bad day, and every neck he touched that day is dreck.
All that stuff is true today, except manufacturing methods are more automated than ever, so consistency is better, so there are fewer “meh” instruments in the stores. Fender USA in Corona, California and Fender Mexico in Ensenada have the same machines. My former teacher (who’s even older then me!) told me that trucks go back and forth between the two factories every day, carrying parts that the other needs. Like if Corona needs some particular bodies, it’ll tell Ensenada to send them a bunch.
Even a lot of the cheap stuff is well made, because of computer-controlled machinery and manufacturing techniques. That allows the factories to pump out a lot of guitars quickly. The savings there might be in junky hardware and low-quality electronics and woods. But it’s put together nicely, and these days, buying a “beginner” guitar usually gets you something a lot more playable compared to back when I first started in the 60s.
In the end, ya gotta do what @Gio says above, and try LOTS of different ones before buying. Even if you don’t live close to a place with a good selection. In that case, can you arrange to, say, drive there in time to spend several hours trying basses before needing to go back home? And if you don’t find “The One” on that trip, can you do it again the next week? And don’t do like I did 20-some years ago and fall for a pretty face, the way I did with aGibson Les Paul one day. Worst guitar I ever had. We divorced in less than a year. :slight_smile: So I’ve had good and bad USA-made stuff and good and less-good Mexican- and Asia-made stuff.

5 Likes

I believe that technology has narrowed the gap between the American made Fender and the ones made out of the USA. Things like CNC machines, which Fender uses in Mexico, has made those products very consistent as far as shape. It also helps with fit. Now when it comes to pickups, it would be hard to understand why machine made wouldn’t be more consistent than hand made. We just bought my Granddaughter a MIM Mustang PJ and I was very impressed by the quality and tone. No doubt the USA product is outstanding, if you have the money, if not the MIM is very good.

3 Likes

Based on my own experience, and with feedback from those that know better than I, would be that sometimes you get lucky with an instrument made elsewhere when comparing it to a USA made. I have a made in Mexico 1993 Fender Strat that, as I’ve been told by a few guys that play American Strats, I got a really good guitar that plays/feels as good as or better than theirs with great tone, even with the lesser quality pick-ups. I gave it to my daughter when she started taking lessons and her teacher, who has American Strats of various ages, was very impressed with it. So I guess if the particular instrument feels and sounds good when you pick it up and play it it doesn’t really matter where its made.

4 Likes

I’m what you guys would call a “pawn shop player”. I no longer look at the name on the headstock, or the pups or hardware for that matter. It’s genuinely down to “if it feels good.”
What exists now is an after sales heaven of pups and parts of amazing quality at a great price. You can put together a “custom” bass/guitar with class parts for a lot less $ than Fender/Gibson.

4 Likes