Factory Made vs. Hand Made

The Differences (Condensed Version)
by Erwin Somogyi

  • Handmade and factory-made guitars are made for different markets. Factory guitars are made for mass market whereas hand made guitars are designed as effective tools for individual musicians.  There are two completely different ball games!  It’s like comparing a toaster to a painting.
  • An individual can either provide an instrument tailor-made for you in many different ways such as neck profile, finger board radius top, back & side woods, fret size, etc., etc.
  • Handmade guitars will carry a price that reflects it’s real value in terms of labor and overhead.  Handmade can require 120-150 hours of intensely skilled labor.  A factory guitar can take 2-16 hours of intensely repetitive and automated work with actual human labor representing a small fraction of that time.  Factory guitars are made for wholesaling where handmade in general are not.
  •  You can develop a personal relationship with your Luthier and talk face to face to gain a better understanding of the many subtleties of the art and craft.
  • Quality – how playable is the guitar? How good does it sound? How responsive to technique is it?
  • Workmanship/Craftsmanship – The factory standard is production. This wood makes these parts . . . period.  Because of the innate variability of wood in density and stiffness the craftsman approach is to match these braces with that top tone and many other variables.
  •  Playability and action – a guitar that is not as perfect as possible is not ready for delivery.
  • Sound – Because of the variation in wood for guitars added or subtracted material in the right places can produce improvement in tone.  This study takes years to learn.
  • Durability – Factory guitars are substantially overbuilt for very good reasons. The instrument may travel to the beach, mountains, or desert.  Craftsmen make their instruments more delicate ad fragile. This makes possible a louder more responsive instrument.
  • Machine precision vs. the Human Touch – Machine-made is made the same way every time.  Handmade matches the experience with variable woods for maximum effectiveness.
  • Is handmade better than factory-made?  No.  Many factory guitars are quite good. The more experienced the builder the better the guitar.
  • Are factory guitars better than handmade guitars?  By factory standards the people believe high volume of pre-made parts produces superior products.  Handmade and factory-made are each produced with a different mindset for different markets.
  • Are not high-end factory guitars better?  From the point of the musician . . . no.  Special versions and limited editions appeal to collectors.
  • Collaborative Aspect – The hand makers need is to make the best guitar possible for the client.  The factory’s needs are overwhelmingly to sell guitars.
  • Pride of Workmanship – Hand makers take time, effort, and skill to build the best instrument possible.
  • Aren’t handmade guitars a bit fragile?  YES . . . but much more responsive.
  • How can you really know if one guitar is better than another?  As musicians improve so does their hearing.
  • Is there Zen or Magic to the guitar?  Does the guitar have a soul?  Listen for that extra oomph, information, intelligence, and skill that’s the soul!