What country makes the best guitars?

The likes of Japan, USA, China, Korea and Indonesia go head-to-head for the title of best guitar manufacturing country in the world.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

It’s no secret that the build quality of a guitar depends quite heavily on where it’s made. Of course, you get good and bad guitars anywhere – but there is some truth to the statement. Each country has to overcome different obstacles when making the best possible guitars in any price range. Everything from the builders’ abilities, to the quality locally sourced or imported woods and even the humidity in the workshop need to be taken into account.

Can small operations in Europe or large production lines in Eastern Asia possibly rival the behemoth of North American guitar manufacturing? Let’s find out what country produces the best six, seven and eight-stringed instruments across the globe.

Here are a few key points which determine the construction quality of a guitar, based on build location:

  • Labour costs
  • Trained, skilled luthiers
  • Regulation and quality control
  • Available resources and equipment
  • Production focus

Labour and luthiers

Employing a skilled workforce is the key to making great instruments. However, experienced or trained luthiers don’t come cheap. That’s why guitar companies with custom shops assign their most skilled and highest-paid employees to top builds, while less qualified labour work on production line guitars. An instrument’s retail price is regularly a reflection of the ability of a guitar builder.

A lot of classically trained luthiers come from the USA, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Australia and Scandinavian countries. This is simply because of a more readily available higher level of training. Without a doubt, there are highly skilled guitar makers all around the world. But the general cost of labour is much cheaper in places like Mexico, China and Indonesia – so companies make use of it.

Quality control and resources

Guitar build quality comes down to the type of operation a company runs in any given area. A big sticking point is a company’s budget to invest in materials, machinery and quality control. Usually it’s a result of their price bracket focus. For example, production line guitars are made quicker and under less scrutiny than handmade pieces.

Successful guitar companies rely on production lines in countries such as Indonesia and China. As mentioned, workforces are not as expensive as in America or Europe. Factory upkeep costs less, while the materials reserved for certain guitars are not as high in spec as those dedicated to ‘premium’ ranges.

USA and Japanese factories, which generally focus on guitars in a £1500 plus bracket, use the most advanced CNC machines and save their highest quality selection of woods for these creations. Quality control is also more thorough. It also correlates with the location of the most talented luthiers – if they’re in the USA or Japan, they likely get more time to work on each instrument. Sometimes, they’ll even work on the frets or finishes by hand. Find out more about what makes a guitar expensive.

Ranking the best guitar manufacturing countries

Now you might disagree, but there is a general (yet relatively truthful) ranking of guitar manufacturing countries based on a lot of the factors we’ve covered.

China and Central Asia

China, Vietnam and India have an unfortunate history of building sub-par guitars – but this is certainly on the up; there’s a stark difference between current operations and the standards of even 10 years ago. The likes of Epiphone have a factory in China and they certainly don’t make bad instruments. Nowadays, the quality of guitars built in Asia hinges on the access they have to good woods and hardware. You don’t need to write off any of these countries if you’re looking for an affordable guitar.

what country makes the best guitars Epiphone

Indonesia and Mexico

Indonesia is next on the list and is where most companies such as Chapman, Jackson and Faith make their production guitars. Mexican-based manufacturers produce around the same level of quality and are home to Fender’s affordable models and their offshoot company Squier. You’re sure to get a reliable, gig-worthy guitar by modern standards.

It’s worth noting that it isn’t a case of Indonesia or Mexico having less able people working for the companies based in these countries – a lot of it comes down to the sheer quantity of guitars they make. More guitars built equals less time spent in quality control, all the while using cheaper woods and hardware than their American counterparts.

Chapman Standard

Korea and Japan

Korean-made instruments are usually a step up in QC and regulations. Skilled labour and tighter checks become more prevalent factors in the resulting builds. PRS, Martin, Steinberger and Schecter outsource to Korea, just to name a few. Japan is yet another level above, mainly because it’s where companies such as ESP and Ibanez make their ‘standard’ E-II and Prestige ranges, which hover around the £2000 mark.

what country makes the besy guitars ESP

USA

Finally, at the top of the tree is the USA. It’s the birthplace of many a great guitar from Fender, Gibson, PRS, Music Man and countless other huge companies and boutique custom shops. Naturally, not every guitar made in the USA will win you over. But the country has an incredible history of guitar building and pay top dollar for the best woods and hardware. Many of the greatest luthiers in the world and famous companies reside in America.

PRS

Europe

An honourable mention goes to Europe’s elite guitar companies in England, Poland, Germany, France and Italy. If you’re after a custom shop guitar made using all the exotic woods and hand-picked finishes you could dream of without the potentially eye-popping prices of USA-made guitars, you’ll find one here.

If you enjoyed this read, check out more of our Industry articles!

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Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a copywriter for the Andertons web team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big prog/modern metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and headless or pointy guitars.

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