Guitarists often ask about what the value is in buying high end guitars. You can get a lot of guitar for $2000, but boutique electrics frequently run between $3,000 and $15,000, with acoustics and basses normally costing much more.

So what’s the big deal? Is it just bragging rights? Like owning a Rolex?

Obviously there are diminishing returns with build quality. Generally speaking, a $400 guitar is more than twice as good as a $200 guitar, an $800 guitar is about twice as good as a $400 guitar, a $1600 guitar will still be better, but not quite twice as good, and so on and so forth. This continues indefinitely, and while there’s obviously a difference between a Fender and a Teuffel…. What is it?

This article is going to show you 8 awesome feature on high end guitars that constitute that value. How are they better? Why should you consider buying one? Read on to find out!

1) Finish Quality

Many people assume that a guitar finish is as simple as throwing some paint on, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a reason cheap black guitars look cheap, and higher quality black guitars look expensive. It’s all in the execution.

A really good technique to examine is staining, which Paul Reed Smith guitars (particularly Private Stock) are experts at. A lot of companies cut some corners on stains for their exposed-grain guitars, but PRS does not. The proper process includes hand applying the correct amount of stain, a thin finish layer, grain filler, and finally the top coat of finish.

This meticulous process ensures that the figure of the wood isn’t lost underneath the color, and that it really “pops.” This is a big issue with cheaper or less-well executed finishes, but a PRS’ wood really has a 3D quality.

Aside from the aesthetics, the overall quality of the actual finish (gloss/satin, poly/nitro) is important as well. Cheap, poorly executed, or too thick finishes can look and feel ugly, lift over time, or even impede tone. Some satin finishes gloss quickly or feel odd to the touch, and some Polys are sprayed far too thick, which can really deaden the tone of your guitar. This isn’t a problem at all on high end guitars.

2) Hidden Fret Ends

This is a personal favorite feature of mine. The end of a fret is a pivotal point for guitars. These can be improperly executed and wind up sharp, or they can even stick out when the wood is exposed to temperature and humidity changes.

Hidden fret ends actually stop slightly before the edge of the fretboard, meaning they’re not exposed at all. The benefits of this are threefold: you get the smoothest feeling possible when running your hand up and down the neck, the fretwork isn’t susceptible to climate changes, and it looks cool as Hell.

Thorn guitars are widely known not only for the excellent fretwork in general, but also their use of hidden fret ends.

3) Specific Wood Cut Selection

This is something that truly separates the real deal from cheaper guitars. Wood is organic, and different cuts of it can vary wildly, even within the same species. This changes everything about a guitar!

The species of wood doesn’t determine the tone and weight of a guitar, the density does. So when you’re choosing a species (like ash vs. basswood) all you’re doing is choosing a range within which your wood’s density might fall. This is a major reason many production guitars can sound very different, even if they’re the same model.

High end guitars are not only going to have more careful and precise wood choice from the factory, but custom shops will even choose specific cuts at your request! For example, you could ask for a very light piece of alder, or a very dense piece of mahogany. Mahogany is a great example of a wood that varies wildly: because there are so many different species, many of which sound, weigh, and feel totally different!

You’re also going to be getting better figuring on high end guitars, and any reputable boutique luthier will take the time to ensure the wood is properly cured so it doesn’t have stability issues later on.

4) High End Hardware

As we covered in our Edge Trem article, hardware can be very important, and very expensive. While Gotoh obviously makes amazing hardware, many other companies like Hipshot and Schaller do as well, which is what you’ll largely find on high end guitars.

Obviously tuning stability and durability are much better when good hardware is used, but there are even more benefits! Aside from the whole unit not breaking, the finish on the metal will last much longer on nice hardware, and help you avoid rusty/tarnished machine heads and bridges. Locking tuners help you save a lot of time during restrings, and different bridges such as the Hipshot .125 and Schaller Hannes will have different feels that will be more comfortable to different players.

The differences are especially evident if a player is interested in trems, because there are so many different high quality choices that all have different feels, looks, and sounds. On that note, guitars with similar specs can look very different with different hardware as well!

Mayones is a good example of a brand that uses all high-end hardware.

5) Ball End Frets

This feature is not only great for comfort and playability, but can be found on some non-custom instruments as well! Ibanez’s J-Custom line is famous for their ball end frets. This simply means that the end of each fret is rounded.

This is no substitute for quality fretwork, which (regardless of whether or not the frets are ball end) is the ultimate goal, but playing some well-executed ball end frets sure is a treat.

6) Customization

Not only do you see more niche specs on high end guitars, but with custom shops you can choose your own! This is a huge value to some buyers.

Whether you’re looking for a unique neck carve, odd pickup layout, multiscale design, exotic wood choice, extra frets, or any other unique features, you’re going to find it more often on high end instruments, and better executed as well.

You have to really decide whether or not this is important to you or not. While some people are fine with normal specs, many customers may not feel at home without a custom neck profile, or have a repetitive motion injury and incur less pain playing fanned instruments. Some players may be fine with gloss white finishes, while other really like the look of zebrawood. Either way, it’s definitely a great way to get an instrument more personal to you.

7) Clean Neck Pocket & Alignment

A neck pocket can make or break a guitar. Sometimes you’ll get a bad angle that makes proper adjustment difficult, excess space that can betray your tone, or even the worst case scenario: a neck that can move in the pocket.

The pocket needs to be routed properly, the neck needs to be cut properly, drilled for screws properly, installed properly, and (if necessarily) shimmed properly. This is all too often not well executed on some less reputable boutique and custom guitars, and is something everyone should watch out for.

Neck construction is a huge factor in tone too, and while bolt-ons are regarded to be punchier and snappier sounding, neck-thru normally reigns king for sustain. However, a very good bolt neck that is tight within the pocket should have as much sustain as a neck-thru guitar.

Higher end guitars are also more likely to have better-designed neck joints for the ultimate upper fret access.

Like hidden fret ends, this is something that Thorn Guitars really excels at.

8) Proper Cut Nut

This important point of contact is of the utmost importance to any guitar, and is sadly often overlooked on many instruments. This determines your overall tuning stability and playability, and cheaper materials for nuts can really degrade your tone.

You can instantly tell whether or not a luthier is worth their salt by the quality of their nuts. High-end luthiers’ guitars are going to have solid materials like TUSQ or bone, and are going to have the guitar playing great out of the box. The Schecter USA Custom Shop is a great example of a brand that gets this right every time.


As you can see, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of high end guitars! You can get fantastic guitars for $2,000 or even $1,000, but like other luxury goods there are definite returns to buying something pricier.

It also goes without saying that a guitar doesn’t have to have all of these things to be great. There are amazing $3,000 guitars without ball-end frets and there are terrible $3,000 guitars that have hidden fret ends.

If you liked this article, feel free to read more. We are also authorized dealers for some awesome custom shops like Schecter USA, Thorn, Mayones, and PRS Private Stock, as well as great (and less pricey) brands such as Ibanez. Check out our selection here!

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.


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