Copy Guitars (Part 1)
Copy guitars are about money. We were attending an editorial conference (jargon: a jolly-up; beak lunch; ale-tasting, etc) the other day, and the subject of copy guitars came up. The assembled company put forth several philosophical justifications for buying copies, but in the end we had to own up. It's all down to money. Copy guitars are manufactured to make money and musicians buy them to save money.
Judging by the number of copy guitars we saw at the recent trade fair (BMITF), copies, both acoustic and electric, are an important part of the musical instrument market. In fact, the sheer number of copies available begs the question: who buys them? Is the market really big enough to support Oriental bulk manufacturing, so many different models at remarkably similar prices, as well as the new and used 'original' markets? We can only presume from the evidence, and the much-talked-about Success Of The Trade Fair, that the huge market does indeed exist somewhere, not unlike the proverbial iceberg, nine tenths of which lies submerged. The ramifications for the musical instrument industry — and for the music industry as a whole — are many and complex (and in financial terms, encouraging!).
So, instead of collecting a handful of brochures and reprinting random extracts, we thought we'd do it properly. So here it is, the first of what is likely to become a regular SI feature and a model for future market surveys.
The problem then becomes: how do we look at these instruments fairly and in relation to the needs of the working musician?
Answer: The panellists.
Having assembled our taskforce of working musicians, off we trog to sunny Fulham, hire one of those converted water closets that sometimes pass for rehearsal studios, and do it.
We tested 13 guitars and 13 basses, representing 14 well-known brands of copies and the two originals. We went out of our way to make the tests foolproof, and we eventually came up with the following scheme: Before the guitarists and bassists were allowed to see the instruments, the logo on the heads (and any other identifying marks) were covered with masking tape and each guitar was numbered. From then on the guitars were only referred to by their numbers, including their identification on the forms. Only when the testing was completed did panellists discuss the instruments between themselves; it was only at this point that the logos were revealed. The prices were not made known to the panellists at all. We tested all the basses on the first day using a Fender Bassman 100 and an Electrovoice 15in speaker; on the second day the guitars were tested through a Redmere Soloist 100W combo.
Each panellist was allowed three minutes to generally suss out and play each guitar (Three minutes?! Wot's your game, John? You can't test a bleedin' guitar in three minutes! — but, we reply, the usual music shop tryout can afford you a good deal less time and uninterrupted concentration. Three minutes can be a surprisingly long time). At the end of each three-minute testing period, the panellist was asked to fill in an evaluation form on that specific instrument.
The form required a rating on a one to 10 scale of the following points: weight/balance, tuning/machines/nut, looks/feel, action, strings, string spacing, fret intonation, neck/heel joint, bridge, controls, noise/feedback, dead spots (basses only), and pickups. The scores which you will see listed with each model are a percentage of total points awarded by each panellist against the total possible points. The form also invited further comments on these ratings, the sound of the instrument, and any general comments. These comments are perhaps more informative than mere statistical ratings, therefore a selection is given on each model tested. Following the panellists' comments on each instrument are more leisurely observations by SI.
After much soul-searching, we decided to test each guitar straight from the box, as it came to us from the manufacturer/distributor - we thought this was how the potential customer would probably see it. We asked the panellists to consider what each guitar might be like given a bit of setting up (as many music shops do provide this service). We were obviously unable to test for long-term reliability, so if anybody has any horror stories or commendations on these guitars, or think we have missed out an important brand, let us know...
Copy Guitar Test Pt 1: Guitars A-G, Basses A-F
Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2
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