If you’re a professional guitar player looking to spend $3000 or more on a guitar, you’re in luck. Most high-end guitars are still made in the United States as they’ve always been.
This is a pattern we’ve seen in other industries. Big brands, especially market leaders, manufacture the high end of their product line domestically, while offshoring their lower end products to developing countries. It’s something that’s been done since globalization began when in the 1970s companies; everyone who was around in the 1970’s remembers when “Made in Taiwan” or “Made in Japan” was a joke.
It actually worked out fine for a while. American and European companies could fulfill the needs of the low end of the market by producing cheaper, lower margin products for the masses while at the same times keeping their own talented employees making and innovating with higher end products.
Of course we know what happened. Corporate executives and private equity firms looked at their spreadsheets and thought, “If we can make this much money offshoring the low end, how much more money can we make by shutting down all our domestic factories and sending it ALL to China?”
In the meantime, China manufacturers and the CCP put on a great show. China manufacturers bid on projects at costs orders of magnitude below what manufacturers anywhere else can. It helps to be able to abuse labor, animals, and the environment while having a government that not only doesn’t stop you from doing it, they encourage it and throw in subsidies to make sure you win the contract. Of course, they also encourage the wholesale theft of intellectual property.
You can see the results. Search for “guitar” on Amazon and you’ll see no-name brands flooding the market at rock bottom prices. Outwardly they look the same, but try it in person and you’ll instantly see how flat and shallow the sound is. But since everything is online, most people either don’t realize it until it’s too late, or they never realize it because they have nothing to compare it to.
The good news is that with the exception of Gibson, most of the world’s more notable brands produce their introductory models outside of China. Yes, you will be spending on the order of $300 vs. $50, but the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies more than ever.
Best Acoustic Guitars Not Made in China
Fender was founded in 1947 and remains one of the world’s most respected guitar brands.
This is the model they suggest on their site as the “best beginner acoustic guitar overall”. It costs around $330 and is made in Indonesia. Be sure that you’re buying the “CD-60SCE” which is made in Indonesia and not the “CD-60” which is made in China.
Guitar World calls it a “near perfect guitar for beginners”
For a slightly more affordable option, you can try the FA-125 Acoustic Guitar that costs around $170, although there are conflicting reports with some saying they’re made in China and others saying they’re made in Indonesia. The likely explanation is that Fender is making them out of two factories, so it’s best to find a brick and mortar store if you want to make sure you’re not getting one from China.
By most accounts, the Yamaha FG-800 series is one of the top guitars you can buy if you’re starting out. But be careful. From what I can gather, the “FG-800” is made in China, while the “FG-800J” is made in Indonesia.
Guitar World calls it “one of the greatest beginner acoustic guitars of all time”. This sentiment is shared by a lot of review sites. According to Beginner Guitar HQ, it’s probably the most popular acoustic guitar for beginners.
The consensus is that there are only a few slight differences between the Indonesia-made FG-800J and the China-made FG-800, and most of these differences favor the FG-800J, including a slightly different shape, a 25″ scale length vs. 25.5″ (which people report makes it sound better and are even easier to play).
At $229.99 (vs. $299.99) the FG-800J is also less expensive than the China-made counterpart. It’s the guitar I chose when I was in the market.
At $700 it may seem that we’re getting a little on the pricier side, but that’s actually the low end of Taylor Guitars.
Taylor Guitars is an American Guitar manufacturer out of El Cajon California. They were founded in 1974 and are the guitar of choice by an impressive number of famous celebrities past and present, including Jason Mraz, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift, John Denver, and Jewel. Incidentally, it was named after one of the co-founders, Bob Taylor, fifteen years before the other Taylor was born.
Taylor Guitars is considered one of the “big three” in the world of acoustic guitars, the other two being Martin and Gibson. I’ll talk about Martin below. (As for Gibson, they don’t sell beginner’s models; their low-end of guitars is called “Epiphone” and are mostly made in China).
Taylor guitars are made in El Cajon, California in the US and in Tecate, Baja California, Mexico.
This particular model, the Taylor Academy, was designed to be as affordable as Taylor guitars get. They have a more relaxed feel for beginners and a solid wood top consisting of a single piece of spruce to produce a powerful, clear sound. You can choose from steel string or nylon string models. Song Production Pros rates the Taylor 300 series as the best overall, but calls the Academy the best value for the money.
This particular guitar is made in the factory in Mexico, which is only 40 miles from the one in California.
If you’re looking for something a little smaller, most review sites agree that the Martin LX1E Little Martin packs a loud, warm, and mellow sound into a smaller size.
C.F. Martin & Company was established in 1833 in New York City, and is currently headquartered in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. it’s still run by the Martin family. Over the years, it’s been the guitar of choice for celebrities such as Elvis Presley, John Mayer, Roger Waters, and Kurt Cobain.
Martin introduced many innovations to guitars, including inventing the 14-fret neck and the dreadnought guitar (a guitar with a larger and deeper body than most guitars).
This particular model is made with a Sitka spruce rop and a mahogany high-pressure laminate on the back and sides. It’s made in Mexico and costs $500.
This is a guitar that’s beloved among beginners, and it’s made in Canada. Not surprisingly, reviewers love the craftsmanship and quality of materials. Some reviewers compare the sound quality to Taylor and Martin.
Seagull was established in 1982 in LaPatrie, Quebec. All of their guitars are made in Canada from start to finish. Their philosophy was to take the essential components of high-end guitars such as solid tops and beautiful finishes, and make them accessible to working musicians by selling them at a lower price point.
Do you know of other acoustic guitars that are not made in China? Let us know in the comments!