Today, I will talk a little about upgrading your guitar. I received an e-mail from my student Ed and I thought it would be best to answer it here since many of us might find the info helpful or at least interesting.
The e-mail contained a few great questions. To answer them I will use the example of a Jackson, not only because I know these guitars best, but also this is a brand Ed was asking about in the e-mail.
1. Are USA made Jacksons better made than, let say, ones made in Indonesia? Is it true that the quality of instruments overseas is now better than before?
MM: So, I have never received a guitar that was made in the USA (for that matter a USA model Jackson) that was poor in quality. The factory looks over each model that I get and makes sure it is right before they ship it to me. Every single time I open the case, the guitar plays fantastic. One thing that is interesting is that Jackson does not make a ton of these USA guitars at all and the supply is limited. They don’t want to sit on a bunch of unbought guitars. Each one is well balanced, meaning they feel just right and it does not tilt from left to right when you have it on a strap. Overall, I must say the USA made Jacksons are really an amazing sounding guitar. I play them because I like them, that is pretty much it.
Now, with that said, when I got cautious about taking my USA made Jacksons overseas one time for a tour, Jackson sent me a “Professional” model. I was surprised how well it plays and it sounds very good. So, if this is an indication how they make them overseas now, than yes, the quality has improved a lot. These Professional models are made in Indonesia as well. Another student of mine, wanted one and he is super picky about the guitars being mint and perfect. I saw the 3 Jackson Professionals that Sweetwater Music sent him and they were all excellent. He kept sending them back b/c he kept finding tiny specks and faults, but I wouldn’t even worry about it – they were all good. And, they sell well for under a $1000.
2. Is upgrading to a USA model worth it for a non-professional?
Well, it is hard to say depending on what you are looking for. Can an intermediate player enjoy a $1000 guitar? You bet. If you have achieved something that you want to reward yourself for and you can – go for it, life is short. The only thing I believe is that, if you at all can, don’t get a super low line cheap guitar because they are hard to play, most don’t stay in tune and it is easy to get discouraged. So, I keep talking about that $1000 Professional Jackson because to me it is a cool happy medium of a well made guitar that is not uber expensive. But, if USA Randy Rhoads is what you really want, and you know it deep inside, then, I definitely would not discourage anyone. They are the ultimate monster instruments that withstand anything you throw at them.
With all of the above, new gear is fun and always will be. New gear high fades fast though and you already know that the lasting change in your playing is learning something new and sticking with it. Nicer gear, better effects or amps is like the icing on the cake of who you are as a player. It is certainly important and of value, but it must be used in conjunction with practicing and committment to getting better on the guitar.
Above all, lots of awesome guitars out there. One of my favorite guitars to pick-up and jam is my $649 Ibanez RG750 (Original 80’s) and sometimes I even noodle around on a Charvel that I stole (not literally, though) at a Guitar Center sale for $99. They all work and are fun.
Of course, my ultimate concert and recording guitar that I love is the USA made Randy Rhoads. I play them stock.
The only thing I ever do over time is to replace some Floyd Rose pieces with titanium parts and a bigger block (in the cavity behind the pickups where the springs attach to) for longer sustain. I have done this to 2 of my guitars so far and the rest of my RRs are completely stock.