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OldSchool Blacksmith
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Discussion Starter #1
US, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, etc. I’ve played guitars from each country that were sweet and ones that sucked.

How much do you think it matters anymore?

Granted a Fujigen one is always high on my list... but my two favorite guitars in my current stable were made in Korea - and one of the worst ones I’ve ever owned was also made in Korea. I’ve played some pretty nice Chinese made ones in the last few years, and some pretty crappy ones. Seems like quality varies way more within model lines than it does from country to country anymore.
 

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It matters in terms of buying sight unseen. I'm reluctant to buy Chinese or Indonesian guitars online because I'm not sure what I'll get. I'll buy Japanese at any opportunity. My experience with recent Korean guitars is that the build quality is first-rate but that they sometimes use lower quality lumber and parts. Nevertheless, I'll buy Korean guitars online without hesitation. There's just a higher chance that I won't bond with it as much.
 

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It matters in terms of buying sight unseen. I'm reluctant to buy Chinese or Indonesian guitars online because I'm not sure what I'll get. I'll buy Japanese at any opportunity. My experience with recent Korean guitars is that the build quality is first-rate but that they sometimes use lower quality lumber and parts. Nevertheless, I'll buy Korean guitars online without hesitation. There's just a higher chance that I won't bond with it as much.
All of this. My shop had two ES-339's at the same time, one Gibson, one Epiphone. The Epiphone just played and sounded better. But I'd be very hesitant to just order one up sigh unseen.
 

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If you can play it first, it doesnt really matter beyond psychological. If its online, buy with a good return policy so you can ship back a dud.

Price point matters a lot too. A cheap indo model is not going to be as good as a more expensive model.

See the Ibanez Premium vs not range from Indonesia.
 

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If you can play it first, it doesnt really matter beyond psychological. If its online, buy with a good return policy so you can ship back a dud.

Price point matters a lot too. A cheap indo model is not going to be as good as a more expensive model.

See the Ibanez Premium vs not range from Indonesia.
 

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Hates Richie Kotzen
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I don't mention it at all anymore unless I know the person I am talking to and know they are a gear head and will understand what I mean. :lol: One of the weirdest victims of the rising nationalist and xenophobic right wing culture wars. Inconvenient for sure, makes it harder to talk about guitars.

I've always only personally really done MIA and MIJ guitars. But from day 1 I understood those terms as a shorthand for geographic realities of where the more highly trained talent was employed, and where the higher quality materials were used, and etc. etc. etc. It had nothing to do with having to play guitars that were made in America by Americans. Fenders in California are made by Mexicans, just like the Fenders in Mexico.

My generation is the last one where you can use those terms like they were intended to be understood and not have people misunderstand you. That's partly due to the rising quality of guitars made in non Japanese Asian factories, the declining quality of American guitars like Gibson, advances in automation and proliferation of non budget hardware on budget priced instruments, and largely due to modern right wing politics being heavily nationalistic.

I don't know when I first started noticing it. When I started buying guitars in high school circa 2006ish, the conventional wisdom was that MIA and MIJ was what to stick with, though there are brands outside of the MIA->MIJ->MIM->Other Asian countries paradigm like Warwick and whatever. So you could say something like "Indonesian guitars are shit" and people would understand what you meant was guitars made with corners cut to save costs in factories which just happen to be located in Indonesia are shit and not guitars made by Indonesians are automatically shit. There's also always been a largely generational clash between people who consider MIA and MIJ on the same level for high end guitars and the ONLY MIA crowd, since it's widely accepted that Japanese guitars were viewed as the lower end asian budget stuff of their day in export markets until the late '70s/early '80s at the absolute earliest.

So it's a term I will only use if I know the person I am talking to who knows what it is shorthand for. There is no fucking way I would tell a 16 year old just getting into guitars "Indonesian guitars are shit", because they won't understand that it's just a shorthand descriptor used to denote a larger span of criteria like where the more trained people are and where the higher quality materials are used as opposed to guitars made with corners cut in areas where manufacturing is cheaper to do and has nothing to do with "lol Indonesian people are shitty". If you tell someone currently in high school something like that, they are going to have no clue what you mean and unless they are MAGA youth or whatever they will be thinking "slow down there gramps, the south lost".
 

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Hates Richie Kotzen
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The closest analogue is actually power tools. When my dad or my Grandpa always told me to "buy american, don't mess around with the other stuff" I always understood that to mean buy the higher priced quality stuff that will last that just happens to be made in American factories instead of the stuff with corners cut that seems like a deal that will fall apart on you. Which is how its intended to be understood.

The most convenient way to refer to that subset of the product line is by calling it "American".

I'll use those terms if people understand what they mean. If they hear something like that and think the person means "only Americans are talented, other countries are inferior" the terms are meaningless because they don't understand the actual criteria you are referring to. It refers to the fact that the factories where those higher quality without corners cut products are made just happen to be located in America, and not products made anywhere else are automatically inferior because MAGA.
 

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I don't particularly give a shit where a guitar is made as long as it's quality. Having said that, in ~30 years of guitar playing I can't think of a single Indonesian/Korean guitar that I've picked up that made me say "Wow this is amazing". The closest I've come is "This is pretty good for something MIK/MII etc". I have very limited time to play these days because of work/life/other hobbies, so when I do I don't want to play a "pretty good considering xyz" guitar - I want something that kicks ass.

Most of my stuff these days is USA made but I didn't go out of my way at all to make it that way. I just like EBMM ergonomics, and Suhr guitars are amazing. Other than that, almost all of the MIJ Ibanez/ESP/Jackson stuff I own and have owned over the years has been really solid.

Every origin can make a shitter just as easily as they can make a superstar, but I'll never be able to shake the feeling that Korean/Indo/China guitars are just not as nice as MIJ/MIA stuff. It's kind like going out and spending $45000 on a Hyundai or a Kia. They're sweet looking cars that are reliable and have great warranties these days, but a Hyundai will always be a mediocre toilet to me no matter how much they've turned it around.
 

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Hates Richie Kotzen
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The closest I've come is "This is pretty good for something MIK/MII etc". I have very limited time to play these days because of work/life/other hobbies, so when I do I don't want to play a "pretty good considering xyz" guitar - I want something that kicks ass.
I think that is the more widely cited reason, cheaper imports becoming "actually pretty good", that's the first thing I would call it. Sort of damning with faint praise and all that. "Pretty good" That's how I think of any cheaper imports. Like, "Well color me pleasantly surprised, this was a nice shock, this is actually perfectly adequate, but it would never be my #1."

But there is also the decline in the quality of MIA stuff across a lot of makers in addition to the rising quality of Asian stuff. Gibson, Kiesel, etc. etc. etc.

The old common knowledge of "buying an MIA guitar is a surefire way to avoid getting a piece of shit" is sadly definitely false these days.

Most people, particularly Gibson into Marshall purists and crowds like that, want to talk about it in the positive light of the cheaper stuff getting better and not acknowledge a lot of the more expensive stuff also got worse. :lol:
 

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The old common knowledge of "buying an MIA guitar is a surefire way to avoid getting a piece of shit" is sadly definitely false
I'm not sure that's ever really been the case. Les Paul's have always been a "make sure you play one before you buy it" guitar, same with strats. Making up numbers here but if I've picked up 100 Fenders or Gibsons at guitar stores over the years I'd say at least half of them were terrible.
 

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Hates Richie Kotzen
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^It's definitely gotten worse though.

That's in every industry too, cars are a good analogue as well.

It used to be that almost everybody would think that VW is a higher profile more nicely built car than a Hyundai, and then like, over half a million got recalled.

It's not exclusively a function of advancements in automation and shit like that bringing the quality of stuff made in those areas up. There are also a bunch of higher profile brands totally dropping the ball, specifically when it comes to consistency.

That's where non Japanese east asian stuff really closed the gap. Not overall quality. Consistency.

It's pretty safe to say that the nicest American guitar is probably way nicer than the nicest chinese guitar. But all the chinese guitars are internally consistent across brands. You can buy sight unseen and get a good one, they are all built to the same standards.

America's lapses were in QC and in consistency more than in "the nice stuff isn't all that nice anymore". The really nice ones are really nice. But it's too much of a risk. You can walk into a shop and see two of the same model and one is godlike and the other is total shit yet you would have to pay the same amount of money to walk out with either.

That's where east Asian manufacturing stuff crushes.
 

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Change Everything
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i was mostly a US or Japanese fan. My made in Korea Schecter is probably the best playing guitar I have ever played. It wa an eye opener.

I have a Chineseband Indo made Squires that are prettty damn good actually. They are leagues better than most of the stuff that was around when I first started playing at the end of the 70s. They dont feel cheap and play and sound quite good.


That being said I have a cheap Indonesion made Ibanez that plays and sounds amazing, but has no tuning stability whatsoever and it feels cheap.

I jave an Indonesion made LTD that plays and sounds nice but in no way feels like a premium instrumment.

Higher end Indonesion guitars are pretty decent but i still balk at the thought of paying over a grand for something made there without trying it first.
 

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You can walk into a shop and see two of the same model and one is godlike and the other is total shit yet you would have to pay the same amount of money to walk out with either.
This was Carvin's problem forever. To this day I'm still surprised how nice my singlecut is, fit/finish wise it's probably the best guitar I own - absolutely everything on it is done amazingly well.

By comparison, I think I've played a dozen or so DCxxx series Carvins over they ears (and owned a couple) and literally the only good one I can recall was Keithb's. The rest were all disappointing dead planks.
 

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I jave an Indonesion made LTD that plays and sounds nice but in no way feels like a premium instrumment.
If you remember that green LTD seven string that I raffled off all those years ago (with Chip the Raffle Rat) - that guitar was like that. Didn't feel top end but it was a really good sounding, well made, comfortable guitar. I had a Schecter C7 just like it with the cockstock - same thing.

I can honestly say I can't ever recall playing a single bad Schecter.
 

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Hates Richie Kotzen
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In regards to the OP you also have to mention fretwork comparing used MIJ/MIA stuff to east asian stuff in terms of what you should buy. That's one of the big definers of quality.

Back in like, 2008 it was obvious to buy used MIJ stuff, you get a lot more bang for the buck. Nicer fretwork.

But as guitars get older, factory fretwork matters less, frets wear. East Asian fretwork has also gotten better.

Now in 2021, if you're buying a well played MIJ superstrat around $500-1200, it's debatable if you are coming out on top, because it probably needs a refret.

In 2008 I was way psyched on buying older MIJ stuff. Because it was like, it showed up, and for the money it crushed the korean stuff.

These days the korean stuff has nicer hardware and fretwork, and when an MIJ shows up it's not as good of a deal because I take it out of the box and think, "Yeah, the seller definitely lied when they said these frets had a lot of life left in them".

Considering fretwear, as guitars get older they become less of a good deal for sure.

It's slightly ridiculous to be looking at guitars from like, 1982, and people are still asking sellers "how is the stock fretwork compared to the east asian stuff?". The stock fretwork isn't there anymore. That's a 40 year old guitar.

If I had ~$750 to buy a guitar right now to serve as a #1, that is something I would definitely consider before settling on an 80s MIJ over a new Chinese one.

It's always funny to see those listings for heavily played 60s Fenders with stock frets and dudes are asking like, "How would you rate the stock fretwork?" Like, what stock fretwork are you talking about? :lol:
 

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Guiterrorizer
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In short, don't sweat the country of origin too much :lol:.
 

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OldSchool Blacksmith
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Discussion Starter #17
If you remember that green LTD seven string that I raffled off all those years ago (with Chip the Raffle Rat) - that guitar was like that. Didn't feel top end but it was a really good sounding, well made, comfortable guitar. I had a Schecter C7 just like it with the cockstock - same thing.

I can honestly say I can't ever recall playing a single bad Schecter.
I had the hardest time years ago with Schecters. I'd go into a store, see one that caught my eye, pick it and put it right back down again as it just felt dead.

But, my KM6 is amazing. Plays like butter sounds great acoustically, frets are smooth and the whole body is resonant.

The first Schecter I loved was a C7 Apocalypse, and I really dig a lot of the C line, but the rest are so very hit and miss for me.
 

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Korean fretwork is now as good as anyone's. Even Cort's Indonesian factory turns out good fretwork, though not as consistently.

Eastman is making high-end guitars in China that get great reviews. It's obvious that no single nationality is inherently more capable of making a better guitar than any other. It comes down to how much training, care and effort are involved. Cort focuses on mass-producing guitars, as does Gibson Nashville. You can make a very good case that Cort gets better results overall than Gibson does, despite the occasional amazing instrument that comes out of Nashville.

It comes down to expectations. You can get a gig-ready Indonesian guitar for $500, these days. If you're looking for something special and appreciate the finer distinctions that hand-building allows, there are great guitars available from all the countries we're discussing--it's just going to cost you a bunch regardless of origin.
 

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OldSchool Blacksmith
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Discussion Starter #19
In short, don't sweat the country of origin too much :lol:.
:lol:

Kinda confirms what I was thinking - you really need to play it first unless you're spending well into 4 figures for it.
 

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I use to be a MIA & MIJ only guy for years but that has all changed since now I own MIK and MII guitars that are GREAT. I even have a MIK Kramer SM-1 that will go toe to toe with both USA Jackson SL's I had. Unfortunately my entire collection of USA guitars was stolen but since then I haven't replaced them with any MIA ones but instead MIK and even MII ones. I still will always gravitate towards MIJ guitars whenever possible(Because they ARE so good) but after some of the over priced "NOT SO GREAT" USA stuff(And I mean JACKSON especially) I had in my arsenal I will never again discriminate where guitars are made theses days. BTW I've been playing since 1989 so I've seen and played and owned ALOT of guitars. I will say that I did have a few Custom shop Jacksons and Charvels that I wish I still had more then ANYTHING in that collection that got stolen. :facepalm:
 
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