Fender is one of the most iconic guitar manufacturers in the world. They have a great selection of guitars for all kinds of players and all kinds of budgets. It is great that their most affordable models have excellent quality and are great starter guitars.
However, to really get all of the characteristics of their legendary models, you have to considerably up the price. Some of their high-tier models such as the Fender American Original 60s Stratocaster or the Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster are priced over $1,500.
Is there an acceptable reason for this? Is the quality of these instruments that good? Or is it just because of the popularity of the brand? There is no denying that a guitar priced so highly will have the utmost detail and attention possible. However, there might be some factors that have less to do with the quality of the guitar and more with external factors such as the Fender brand.
Here are the main reasons why Fender Guitars are so expensive.
Brand And Legacy
It is no secret that Fender is one of the most popular guitar companies on a global scale. This, of course, has to do with their great quality and attention to detail.
However, a big factor in their popularity comes from their association with many legendary guitar heroes. When you have players such as Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Jeff Beck in your roster, your quality becomes undeniable.
This holds to be particularly true if you are a guitar lover. It would be hard for you not to have come to discover and admire what these people did in music and guitar. It is then only natural to want to play the same guitars they played.
Think about it, even if you don’t know much about tonewood, hardware, and electronics, you probably trust a Fender guitar is of excellent quality. This is mainly to the fact that your favorite players have used these guitars over the years, so Fender must be doing something right.
It is no small feat for a company to achieve this, but it doesn’t necessarily mean its price is justified or that all of their guitars will be of the same quality.
Ultimately, Fender’s quality is certainly undeniable and has endorsed such great artists over the years, proving that Fender is a great choice of top-tier guitars. There’s a reason why David Gilmour’s 1969 Black Strat is worth $3.975 million dollars (insanely overpriced in my opinion, but a fact nonetheless).
To me, this is the second most obvious factor as to why a Fender Custom 60s Stratocaster is worth $6,400. The term “vintage” has become a valuable coin for companies to increase the price of their instruments.
To start off, let’s define some of the characteristics of “vintage” guitars:
A vintage guitar usually falls around the range of 30 years or older to become vintage. This will naturally make it more valuable but it is crucial to consider the condition of the guitar. If a guitar has had proper care, it is more likely it will be considered a true vintage model.
Another very important factor is how much of their original parts have remained, as well as the finish. This has to do a lot with the influence of collectors, people who are willing to spend thousands of dollars to get the closest version of an antique guitar.
It might be that a guitar can benefit from some replacements to enhance playability and/or tone. However, by doing this, their price becomes lower. This holds particularly true to electronics. Changing the pickups might give you a better tone, but will detriment the price.
In the end, getting an older model with good maintenance and original parts is a difficult thing to come by. This is why some Fender guitars are really expensive. Is it worth it? It might be, depending on your needs and your personal opinion of vintage-sounding gear.
Gibson guitars consider expensive as well. If you are interested to know why as well, check out my post 9 Reasons Why Gibson Guitars Are So Expensive
Availability Of Materials
This plays right into what I was just discussing. To be able to get a proper vintage guitar, most if not all of its original parts have to remain functional. This is also influenced by the fact that some materials are much more difficult if not impossible to get nowadays.
In regards to pickups, the term used is “new old stock”. This means that these pickups were manufactured a long time ago and are no longer produced that way. This makes them pretty rare, which in turn will increase their value and cost.
An important aspect of this is the natural degradation of the alnico magnets of a pickup. This degradation affects the tone in a way that it creates what is considered the vintage sound. Again, this does not necessarily mean the sound is better. But the important thing to consider is that the only successful way to truly replicate this sound is by letting them age.
The biggest thing to consider with Fender, are the Custom Shop Fat 50s for the Stratocaster and Custom Shop Twisted Tele neck and Broadcaster bridge pickups for Telecasters. As of 2017, these have been replaced by V-Mod pickups.
Regardless of the quality of pickups, this plays into the whole vintage factor of things, which makes Fender guitars more expensive.
Tonewood is another very important factor in a guitar’s quality and price. Along with electronics, it is a crucial element that dictates the overall sound of an instrument. The main issue with this factor is the availability and expense to get the finest tonewoods.
There are many regulations that restrict the use of tonewoods or make it very complicated to get. This will naturally increase their price of manufacture, which will increase the sale price.
With Fender, there are two main tonewoods they use: Ash and Alder. In reality, Alder does not have any issues in terms of accessibility. It can be found all over the US West Coast and it is Fender’s favorite tonewood. Ash, on the other hand, has some difficulties.
The most noticeable one is that Ash can be difficult to work with. This is mainly because the manufacturing process has to be made quickly to preserve the richness of the wood. Another complication is the fact that two ash bodies are more likely to be different in a tonal aspect. This makes it complicated to have consistency, which implies they will have to use more to obtain the same consistent tone.
Tonewood is a crucial aspect in determining the price of a guitar and is one of the reasons Fender guitars have a greater value and are more expensive.
It is no secret that nowadays every company, whether they are big or small, rely heavily on machines and automated processes to build their guitars. Specialized machines do the work of cutting the wood into a body and shaping the neck with precision. Wire cutting for the frets is another process that requires machinery.
However, there are specific aspects of building a guitar that requires expert hands to ensure the process is completed with satisfaction. Sanding and polishing are two parts of the process that Fender leaves to their staff of world-class luthiers.
This holds even more true to their Limited series or Deluxe series (which I’ll discuss later). These series of guitars are usually made by a specific luthier with a specific group of people to ensure authenticity and uniqueness to the final product.
This is another factor that explains why Fender guitars are so expensive. I will say that the detail and passion of craftsmen can never be replaced. The amount of attention and detail given to a Fender guitar is what makes it so much more valuable, therefore pricier.
A guitar pickup is crucial in determining the overall tone of the instrument and it will certainly dictate the value of a guitar.
Since 1954, when Leo Fender introduced his first line of electric guitars, Stratocasters came with a three single-coil configuration for optimal tonal versatility. 60+ years later, this configuration is one of the most popular configurations found on electric guitars.
If you are interested in knowing more about guitar pickups, check out my article Do Electric Guitar Pickups Really Make A Difference?
Adding to this, single-coil pickups have certainly evolved over the years and Fender has made sure their customers have many, many options. From replicas of the old tones found on the 50s and 60s Stratocasters to new, modern-sounding tones, Fender’s got everything.
Fender’s Shop gives you an incredible array of pickups that have different tonal characteristics and can help you find the best possible sound for you. You can find vintage sounding pickups such as the Custom ‘54 Stratocaster pickup to the modern Gen 4 Noiseless Stratocaster Pickups.
Fender’s Luxurious Series
This is where prices are most noticeably over the top. Fender has many different series of guitars that are luxurious commodities. They all have different specs that are unique to them. Their finishes also make them stand out and end up “justifying” greater prices.
Some of the most noticeable series that fall into this category are the Limited Edition series, the Deluxe series, the Parallel Universe series, and the Artist Series.
The Fender Deluxe Series is a continuation of the Plus Series that was discontinued in 1987. Some of the specs that make this series of a higher-end are the chrome, gold-plated hardware, and noiseless pickups that sound great.
The Deluxe Series was discontinued in 2016 and replaced by the American Elite series, which didn’t do too well. Fender Deluxe became a great success before being discontinued and as time goes by, their value will increase.
Out of the three series I am mentioning, the Artist series is the most expensive one. This is because of two facts, the first one being that some guitar legends helped design their signature models. Players such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Tom Morello helped Fender create top quality instruments that hold great value.
The second fact greatly plays on what I mentioned before, the legacy of the Fender players. It is much easier to increase the value of a guitar by modeling it after an iconic legend such as Kurt Cobain (priced at $1,224.99). They are excellently made guitars, but their price is highly influenced by their mystique.
“The Parallel Universe celebrates the modular nature of Fender guitars, splicing together DNA from various Fender models to create off-the-wall hybrids,” said Fender Senior Vice President of Products Justin Norvell.
This exotic series Fender created takes different models of theirs and transforms them into unique hybrid instruments. This, in turn, creates different sounding instruments that prove to be even more versatile than the normal models out there.
There are other series that can be worth mentioning but you get the idea. The matter of fact is, these series are very unique and have different characters that make them very valuable instruments. This is another great reason why Fender guitars are so expensive.
Preference For US-Made Guitars
A factor that is particularly important to many American guitarists is buying locally. They feel particularly good about supporting USA made products and are proud to support an American company that builds the best of the best. However, American Fender Guitars are the most expensive on their roster.
This makes it difficult for some buyers, as they might not be willing to spend big amounts of money on an US-made Fender guitar. This is why Fender gave us the Player Stratocaster, a cheaper, made-in-Mexico version of this legendary guitar.
Don’t get me wrong, it is known that Mexican Stratocasters are of the highest quality. However, patriotism has always been a big part of the American culture and in this case, it reflects on the price difference between the two of them.
The main reason why a US-made Stratocaster is pricier is because of its superior tone and quality control. Mexican Stratocasters are of great quality as well and with enough time and patience, you’ll be sure to find an excellent MIM Strat. With American Stratocasters, this process is far easier as the quality control is much more refined.
American Fenders will also have more value over time. I mentioned the whole concept for a guitar to become “vintage”. American Fenders can potentially become much more valuable over time than Mexican Fenders.
There is really no particular explanation but the fact that American Fender is associated with the vintage concept, while Mexican Fenders are closer to the “affordable” spectrum of guitars, making them less valuable to the customer’s eyes. As of now, there aren’t any Mexican-made Stratocasters that are considered vintage.
Import/Export, Living Outside Of The USA
Lastly, we have to consider guitarists outside of the USA and Mexico looking to buy Fender products. This particular factor doesn’t really involve the value of the guitar but it is no secret that taxes have to be paid in import/export transactions.
If you were to live in Europe or Asia or any other place but the USA, you will certainly have to pay more compared to someone who bought their guitar at a Guitar Center (one of the most common music stores in the USA).
It makes sense too since the shop you bought your guitar at had to pay shipping expenses to bring you the possibility to acquire said guitar.
The shipping price would also increase if you were to purchase a guitar online, rather than through a local store. This is because local stores are more likely to have special deals with the manufacturers, making their shipping costs lower.
However you were to do this, an inescapable fact is that you will have to pay extra for shipping expenses.
As you have seen, there are many different factors that influence the price of a Fender guitar. There are factors that can be considered good reasons for a price increase such as materials or craftsmanship. There are other factors that are not good reasons such as legacy or patriotism.
In my opinion, if you are not a seasoned professional player or are just lucky enough to have a very solid financial background, you can find good guitars without having to spend that much money.
However, it is guaranteed if you were to decide to break the bank, that any Fender guitar you purchase will be of the highest quality possible.
On the other hand, if you wanted to explore the Fender sound without having to spend great amounts of money, Squier is the option for you. Squier is the affordable branch of Fender and has great guitars in its roster.
For example, the Affinity Series. The Affinity Series is one of the best low-budget line of guitars you can find out there. Granted, it will not be of the same quality as an American Professional Stratocaster, but it will do the job.
If you are a beginner player, I’d definitely recommend you check out the Affinity Series.
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