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  • Who built what when?

    Rhetorical question.

    And as I've been looking at acoustic-electric guitars, this post is ending up here... but it's really type-agnostic.

    I notice the PRS SE A15AL (Alex Lifeson signature thinline model) that I looked at recently is (was) made by "Wildwood, Korea, under exclusive licence..." and that leads me to learn a little about Wildwood Guitar Company, LTD, in South Korea. That in turn leads to discovering current PRS SE acoustics are now made by PT Wildwood, Indonesia... which in turn leads to info that PT Wildwood also makes guitars for Schecter, Fender, maybe others. And wait, PT Wildwood is also making PRS SE electrics, which I discover were previously being made by World Musical Instrument Company, LTD, Korea... and that they (WMI) also make (made?) guitars for Gretsch, Schecter, LTD, etc...

    Oh, and there's also a Wildwood Manufacturing in Arcata, CA, that makes guitars, too. (Can't really tell if there's a business relationship between Wildwood, CA, Wildwood, Korea, and Wildwood, Indonesia... all mass guitar producers.)

    I haven't actually tried to map out what years WMI built which PRS SE electrics, what years Wildwood Korea built PRS SE acoustics, what year Wildwood Indonesia began building PRS whatevers... but I'm fascinated.

    I usually look at quality versus price versus intended use first, so I don't usually much care where products are made... but I'm intrigued to learn guitars can apparently be so easily mass produced to designer specs... apparently by anyone anywhere given training, machinery, and ramp-up time. I remember when Japanese-made guitars were considered schlock, but then they became the sought-after imports... Mexican-made guitars were somewhere between schlock and acceptable, depending on era... and now I expect Chinese-made instruments are or have been going through the same cycle... While U.S.-made guitars still cost a lot!

    No real point here, just finding it all very interesting...

    -D44
    Last edited by Drummer44; 12-24-2017, 06:40 AM.
    ************************************************** *********************************

    Old guy, just trying to play through the arthritis...
    - Balance is a virtue; loud for its own sake is not... and loud won't fix bad
    - I may not interpret ridiculous, crazy, or stupid the way you intended
    - Common retail products are never awesome (thermo-nuclear probably is, though)
    Assume the requisite list of stuff...

  • #2
    Yeppers, many people making many products for many consumers who can't afford to make their own stuff. Free market economy gone global to properly express itself. That much isn't too interesting but the who, what and where can be. I've never touched a PRS product. The CNC realm of digital quality is ushering the craft part of the instrument making guilds of old into the dust bin. It's about time, too. I'm all for art for art's sake but if a machine can give me the same quality at a cost that doesn't impact my grocery list I'll compromise the art.

    Trouble with that, though, is the continuing saga of lost art forms to technology. A guitar may no longer be seeing itself as one. Many art forms are headed that way. Face-to-face discussion, a communication art, is leaving us. The communion of man in all his artistic colors is drawing to a close. The machine has seen to that and no argument against it will prevail. My own above is tell-tale of that.

    The acoustic guitar has been taken privately into the hands of builders who fancy the art of the visually aesthetic to be the draw of disposable income eyeballs, while the art form of sound is left to question. It's a reasonable assertion to consider CNC products safer bets than handmade products when the costs beg justification. This elevates far east fabrication with consistent CNC precision to a better market position while the private hand builders take what they can get from it. I did and came back to the CNC side only because the desired goal, sound quality, did not find itself in the hand built product I experienced any better than the CNC put up.

    I expect the CNC product to be further taught to embody sampled sound qualities in the build process. Yamaha is already artificially producing reverberated sound in certain acoustic guitars. This will take on greater market portions as people take to it and they will because it sounds great. The private builder cannot champion that. If he does he sacrifices his craft to digital supplementation and thereby shrinks in stature. When the Boomer's disposable income has left the market place so will many of the private builder. The world of offshore CNC will then become the primary source of product. The legacy builders, Martin and Gibson, etc, will employ offshore economics and survive while still maintaining custom shops.
    - The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it. - H.L. Mencken

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    • #3
      All PRS guitars that are actually PRS guitars are made in Maryland and hand numbered. I have no idea what my Custom 22 serial number is, but it's hand written on the back top of the neck. I purchased it 15-20 years ago and at the time was one of my more costly instruments. I think that the price of the USA PRS are priced fairly, although some may disagree,



      Other than that, the SE models are licensed up the PRS name and now made in Korea. They actually do a great job for the coin. Paul Reed Smith is a the king of the CNC machine build.
      Even with CNC machines there still a lot of grunt sanding work to be done.

      There's a luthier in town her that makes a killer acoustic, all done by hand. He will personally select the wood used and spare no expense to detail.

      There's so many nice instruments out there these days, and in a price range for just about any budget,

      So far Martin and Gibson have manage not to build in the Asian belt, however Martin builds some less expensive stuff in Mexico as does Taylor.

      Some day we will run out of wood, or at least decent looking wood that instruments are built out of. Taylor has already made plans for this. Bob Taylor said recently don't expect the best of the darkest ebony on there fret-boards anymore. The new ebony might be a bit streaky looking and we are just going that to accept that as part of a new conservation plan.




      _____________________________________
      Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

      Join Date: Aug 2001
      Location: N. Adams, MA USA
      Posts as of Jan 10th 2013: 82,617

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      • #4
        I saw one on-line review that stressed there's a branding difference between a "Paul Reed Smith" guitar (made in MD) and a "PRS" guitar (made elsewhere). Control over the final product always exercised from MD. Doesn't seem like a big problem to me; product differentiation is normal. That review went on to compare two similar electrics, on from MD and one from overseas, part by part. One-piece wood versus 3-piece, regular versus locking tuners, etc. Outcome: both seemed like good guitars, and one was probably "gooder" than the other... but only for those who could afford it.

        I think CNC makes sense. Artisans can be good, but part of that was simply because they had to be to get anything done, i.e., they had no CNC to rely on. That also probably means their products could often be good, but not necessarily consistent. Any two guitars made by the same guy -- even using jigs (CNC wannabees) that guy designed and built -- may or may not have had the same dimensions, etc. I don't think that's horrible, just a factoid. And now, maybe, more of the product from Factory A (or X or whatever) would be more consistent.

        Although that could mean more consistently good, or more consistently bad... and I suppose that's where design (bracing and so forth) and materials selection (tuners, wood quality, etc.) could influence both quality and price at the same time. I don't see CNC as replacing the luthier, but more as just another tool to help the luthier get to a good end product faster/better/cheaper.

        Not sure of the value of "art form" if most people can't afford the product. Many products didn't get built as "art" but rather as a "thing" to be used for whatever. Yes, looks and especially sound quality are big factors in musical instruments but I try to remember the goal was a good instrument, not "art" for art's sake. And I can equally see the "art" involved in CNC programming...

        Something like that; probably not expressing anything very well...

        -D44
        Last edited by Drummer44; 12-25-2017, 06:46 AM.
        ************************************************** *********************************

        Old guy, just trying to play through the arthritis...
        - Balance is a virtue; loud for its own sake is not... and loud won't fix bad
        - I may not interpret ridiculous, crazy, or stupid the way you intended
        - Common retail products are never awesome (thermo-nuclear probably is, though)
        Assume the requisite list of stuff...

        Comment


        • #5
          A few random thoughts. First, I have a very high respect for Paul Smith as both a luthier and as a business man. He jumped on to the electric bandwagon withe well designed well manufactured and incredibly well finished electric guitars - some of the absolute best on the market. Then, as the story goes, he was dissatisfied with what he was hearing from acoustic guitars so he built his own with bracing (and a sound) which combined the traditional X brace with even more traditional fans instead of tone bars - a totally new concept combining some very old ideas. Like many manufacturers he created both a domestic line of guitars combining the best in materials (his "private stock") for people who can afford them, and the PacRim models for the rest of us. Both are excellent guitars - there are differences.

          In my book, Smith is a lot like Bob Taylor - rethinking the way guitars have been manufactured and sold and moving them into the new century. I applaud them both.

          Second – what is the role of automation (specifically cnc) in the manufacture of guitars? I think it has a huge role just as it does in the manufacture of everything we use. My vocation for almost 50 years was that of an automation engineer – I used to joke that my job was to figure out some one else’s job and replace them with a machine. Cnc does just that – it takes some repetitious millng or turning or cutting operation and lets a machine do it – over and over and over again. The parts will be consistent within the tolerances of the mill – a good thing in a production environment. Every fretboard will be exactly the same, every neck, every bridge.

          Interestingly it is Taylor and Smith who we think of as pioneering cnc is guitar construction. But it is the Chinese who have really elevated it. Cnc’s are incredibly expensive – the Chinese have installed large complexes of mills and other robots, then sold the service of making parts for others. Mighty Mite sends maple cut in NE US to China, have necks manufactured and sent back to the US to compete with people like Warmouth who mill the necks in Washington State. Later in the day that same Chinese mill might be making Ikea furnature, at night it might be making bootleg Gibson bodies. Point is the mill is working all day, Warmouth’s might be working part of the day.

          Some operations are ideally suited to a cnc mill – necks, bridges, electric guitar bodies. A cnc will have a hard time assembling an acoustic guitar body and it probably will never scallop braces to get the best tap tone. A robot makes complete sense to spray finish (how would you like to spend 40 hours a week in a spray booth with a respirator on your face breathing toxic fumes?).

          An interesting question is where does cnc impact the small builder (like me)? I’ve mitered a few fretboards (and screwed up a couple) and I’ve made some bridges but right now I’m buying premade parts from someone with a mill. I pride myself on carving every neck by hand – if you order a guitar from me the neck will be exactly to your specifications. A friend has a small hobby mill, he wants to experiment with making some parts for me, but in the long run, if you buy one of my guitars it will be hand made.

          Lastly, I’m not going to get into a geo-political argument. I know all the “facts” about PacRim manufacture. I will not knowingly buy any product that involves sweat shop labor or materials that are banned by international treaties. And I like to think that buying domestic makes sense. But I also have to admit that I’ve seen some pretty great guitars made on the other side of the Pacific. I’ve recently had three different Les Pauls on my bench – the $700 Epi blew the pants off of two much more expensive Gibsons. And I’m storing some guitars for a friend right now – his Eastman OM is truly one of the finest production guitars I’ve played in a long time.

          So, short story – I really don’t care where an instrument is made or what kinds of machines are used to make it. As long as no one was abused in its constructions and no elephants were killed or endangered trees cut down what I want to see is how well it was made and what it sounds like. We are blessed by having so many wonderful guitars to choose from.

          Comment


          • #6
            Agree. Machines are good at some things, people are better at others; makes sense to me that each of those "specialists" can contribute as appropriate.

            And ditto, as long as people and raw materials aren't abused or unfairly exploited. Folks in "other" countries gotta eat, too, nothing special about "us" in that regard.

            -D44
            ************************************************** *********************************

            Old guy, just trying to play through the arthritis...
            - Balance is a virtue; loud for its own sake is not... and loud won't fix bad
            - I may not interpret ridiculous, crazy, or stupid the way you intended
            - Common retail products are never awesome (thermo-nuclear probably is, though)
            Assume the requisite list of stuff...

            Comment


            • #7
              So what's the rhetorical question?

              The difference between here and there is that European-, Canadian, and American-made goods are less likely to come from sweatshops or prisons than goods from Asia, the Pacific rim, or Latin America. And we can certainly assume that anyone trying to organize a union in an Indonesian factory is more likely to get shot than someone in France.

              And while there are nonprofits that track which imported clothing brands are made ethically, no one does it for musical instruments.

              So - want to start a nonprofit with me?
              Del
              www.thefullertons.net
              ( •)—:::
              Sent on my six-string jumbo ukelele

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Delmont View Post
                So what's the rhetorical question?

                Who built what when where.

                But as I said, I'm not really bothered by the answers... assuming quality matches intended purpose and cost... and assuming no sweat shops involved.

                I'm just mostly intrigued about the way production has moved/is moving and the way techniques (including use of machinery) have progressed over time. Can't say as I think hand-made is "better" -- might be, or might not -- but I realize early instruments were hand-made because that was the only option. And at the same time, early-machine-assisted stuff could well have been crap, although that seems to be less the case now.

                I do still wonder if there's a link between Wildwood, CA, Wildwood, ROK, and PT Wildwood, Indonesia. But it's just a passing query; I can get over it.

                -D44




                ************************************************** *********************************

                Old guy, just trying to play through the arthritis...
                - Balance is a virtue; loud for its own sake is not... and loud won't fix bad
                - I may not interpret ridiculous, crazy, or stupid the way you intended
                - Common retail products are never awesome (thermo-nuclear probably is, though)
                Assume the requisite list of stuff...

                Comment

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