John Suhr is one of the leading architects of the boutique concept’s popularity in the guitar world. From his work in the Fender Custom Shop as the “Masterbuilder” to his shift to the world of manufacturing guitars, amplifiers, and pedals with his own brand “Suhr,” he has maintained a constant search for quality and the improvement of his products. He does not hesitate to apply new technologies during the process and undoubtedly achieves his purpose. But of course, this quality comes with its high costs.
So, Why Suhr guitars so expensive? The main reason is related to the manufacturing location, the U.S.A. Since the worker wages in the U.S. are more than triple compared to the cheaper guitar producing countries, production costs significantly increase. Secondary reasons for the price are Suhr’s boutique concept, high-quality material usage, fanatical attention to every detail, latest technology machines used in the process, and highly attentive customer service.
Are Suhr guitars worth it? A guitar is worth what you are willing to pay. They are top-quality guitars from one of the world’s best luthiers. And of course, there is a correlation between the quality and the price. So if you have the budget, I would say go for them, but if not, there are many high-quality guitars with more affordable prices! Since in the end, hands make the difference, not the top quality products.
While the mentioned aspects are common among most boutique high-quality custom guitar shops, Suhr has some nuances that differentiate it from others with their years of experience building custom guitars. I will go through all these nuances that make them unique and expensive.
U.S. Based Brand
Founded in 1997 by Steve Suhr and Steve Smith, the California-based firm is undoubtedly one of today’s finest guitar makers. Suhr is simply the best custom brand out there with their top-quality guitars and high price tags. But of course, this quality comes with its cost. The most basic model comes with a price tag of $2000 with more advanced custom models going up to as high as $20000.
To make a great instrument, brands need to employ as skilled a workforce as possible. However, experienced workers don’t come cheap. Most highly trained luthiers and workers are based in the U.S. since there is a higher training level.
That is one of the reasons why the general cost of labor is much higher in the U.S. compared to other countries such as China, Indonesia, and Mexico. So, Suhr’s price tag is mainly related to its manufacturing location.
Countries like China, Indonesia, and Mexico are commonly used for guitar production by brands like Epiphone, Jackson, and Fender. If we compare the average worker wage between the U.S. and these countries, we will notice a vast difference. The average worker wage in the U.S. earns more than triple that of the workers in these countries.
Production-line models such as Fender’s Mexican guitars are mostly mass-produced mainly by machines to produce more guitars than custom shops in a selected time range. Countries like Indonesia and China have similar big guitar factories producing affordably-priced guitars in a shorter time range. Less time and skill spent in creating the guitars naturally mean lower quality.
Suhr’s guitars are built to exacting specifications, and the quality control procedure is very strict. This is all a part of what you pay for when you buy a more expensive instrument. But a longer production time indicates more money spent on workers and processes, leading to higher amounts for the guitars on the catalog.
If we consider that Suhr guitars are partly handmade, they put a high level of attention to every detail, make the manufacturing process longer, and increase labor fees in the U.S. can have a slight glimpse of why these guitars are so expensive.
Suhr’s high-end boutique-style manufacturing in a large-scale format was almost unheard of until everything changed with the internet. Now, Suhr offers dozens of shapes, combinations, finishes, etc.
But don’t be tempted to think that their guitars look like typical and classic models from other brands. Any Suhr guitar you find will be top of the line in build and sound quality with fanatical attention to detail.
It is pretty challenging to highlight the differences within the current guitar world when we talk about manufacturing; if we refer to the classic concept of the Stratocaster, it seems that everything is already invented. Therefore the best way to achieve it may be to try to take care of all the details to the fullest regarding construction, finishes, and fit.
On the other hand, maintaining a high standard in quality of materials and innovation as much as possible, without losing sight of the idea of what a Stratocaster is, has been John Suhr’s choice to achieve that difference that draws the guitarist’s attention. Since, at the end of the process, all these details must lead to sound quality and “playability.”
There is simply no better custom brand out there with the same catalog of offerings. But of course, this quality comes with its cost. Suhr uses a combination of experience and high-quality sourcing of woods and parts guided by that experience.
The guitars are built with a very high level of criterion and then finished with a very high standard, and finally, they get inspected to test if they are up to those criteria. All of these steps cost a lot of money, and when Suhr adds its markup or profit on the specially built guitars, the costs go over the roof.
If you are running a business, it is ultimately necessary to add up the markup if you want to exist in the market. This is what Suhr and many other boutique guitar manufacturers do. They build guitars to a very high criterion, so the production costs and the end-product price for the buyer become higher.
That being said, Suhr does not mass produce guitars like other brands such as Fender or Ibanez. They have a specific amount to be produced each year, and some of Suhr guitars are limited productions with only 300-400 guitars available for those models.
Even the number of standard “Pro” models produced in a year does not exceed a certain amount. Putting quality over quantity, Suhr guarantees their products to be top-rated, which is clearly reflected in their prices.
Shortly, if you dream about a guitar Suhr, one of the best custom shops in the world, can build it for you with higher quality than you would imagine but also with a higher price than the rest.
All Suhr guitars are made with the most advanced technology available in the luthiers’ world. One of these technologies is called the “PLEK System.” A computerized code carries out the PLEK process (CNC, computer numerical control) applied to machines that use microprocessors to accomplish this task.
PLEK machines are the latest innovation to reduce variation between guitars, allowing expert Suhr luthiers to make their work easier. There is zero percent guesswork with the PLEK. The Luthier does not have to guess how the string tension will be; the machine knows it precisely with each piece of wood.
The radius and neck are measured and cut like no human can. It helps the Luthiers to be more efficient and accurate. The comparison would be like surgery with an x-ray and laser against an exploratory surgery with a steak knife.
These machines are the most precise and efficient tools for fretwork. The tension on each guitar is previously adjusted before going through the PLEK machine, using the STS module, a string tension simulator that complements the PLEK machines’ action.
The guitar then enters the PLEK process, and the machine simulates the string tension again while scanning the frets. The machine takes a 3D computerized graph on the fingerboard surface, including the simulated position and weight of the strings.
The strings will not stick as much to the frets when played, avoiding any other issues with strings being too high or low. So, the result is a guitar with excellent ‘playability’ that sounds much better compared to the others.
The PLEK machines are costly systems requiring special workers to control them. Having a “precise fretwork” label on the guitars increases the prices of the products significantly, especially if the work is done in an expensive country such as the U.S.A.
Handcrafted Special Pickups
One of the best parts of a Suhr guitar is undoubtedly its Suhr pickups. The humbuckers and the single coils are top-quality handcrafted pickups and their league leaders. As Suhr guitars are equipped with handcrafted, high-quality pickups, the price tags rise even more.
The pickups have an extremely immediate sound that they nearly play the note before you play it. This fast reaction makes the pickups an amazing choice for players with good technique. When you play the instrument, pickups keep up with you, defining the tones through all frequencies.
Be it a staccato with overdrive or clean, intimate sounds of percussive fingers, the pickups never get in the way, reflecting each nuance played by the hand. They are particularly useful for multi-style players.
Their sound characteristics resemble the typical PAF sound with a slightly modern touch, making it much more versatile than other pickups in the market. This versatility makes the pickups preferred by many musicians, from jazz to death metal players.
These unique pickups are one of the most expensive on the market, with prices starting from $100 and going up to $200. To hint, the alternative models from top quality pickup brands such as Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan start from $60.
Suhr uses the best possible wood for each of their guitars with a special pick of wood type depending on the guitar’s characteristic. When the raw wood reaches the factory, it is checked very carefully, and a large portion of it is sent back. The ones that pass the test get dried in a kiln and then set aside to settle for a while.
Whenever the wood gets cut, every little piece is left to settle again for a time. This way, Suhr ensures the quality, but this process adds to the manufacturing time reflected on the price tag.
Suhr uses many types of high-quality woods, from mahogany to Indian rosewood, from flamed maple to cedar. But what is really significant for Suhr’s quality is that they are incredibly choosey about their wood. They put quality before quantity, ensuring using the best wood possible. That is why the yearly production of Suhr is around 1200 guitars for each standard model.
If anything doesn’t pass their inspections throughout the process, the piece goes to garbage. Rough cutting is done by machine (CNC, laser, & Plek), and the rest is hand finished. Even Fender simply can’t reach Suhr’s quality or consistency in this sense. Let me repeat that, Suhrs are very, very consistent.
Neck & Frets
In every guitar, the neck is crucial. Suhr’s necks are often built with flamed maple, and its surface is quite dark rosewood, which already shows its high quality. The necks are always sealed with satin finishes.
The fingerboard is more curved in the lower parts than in the higher parts; this so-called “compound radius” is very complex to manufacture and leads to outstanding playability and better string action in the upper positions.
One of the remarkable things is the frets. Made of stainless steel, they allow the players to make infinite bends. It can be said that they are big enough to play comfortably, but they are not so big that they are continuously out of tune.
The feel of the necks is incredible since they are not the typical varnish, where the hand does not stop hooking. Their sizes are very well balanced and calculated that they are not very thin Ibanez type necks, nor are they something considerably fat, such as those of Les Paul. It is well balanced in between, but above all, it is comfortable since its radius is almost straight, making it easy to play the guitar.
All these features show the attention to detail by Suhr, reflecting their experience and hard work with every bit of calculation. And of course, all of these details add to the price of the endproduct.
Suhr uses Gotoh 510 model bridges, one of the highest quality on the market. This bridge comes with dual-steel knife-edge pivot points to provide greater functionality and years of trouble-free performance. The 510s steel block increases sustain and tuning stability significantly. As an expensive bridge, its price is around $120.
Suhr has specially designed locking tuners that are staggered high for more stable tuning on the non-locking instruments. Their manual locking parts are thoughtfully designed with an appropriate amount of girth, preventing their imprint from being permanently carved into your precious fingers when tightening or loosening. With their $90 price tag, these tuners stand on the high end of the price catalog.
Special Customer Service
Suhr has one of the best customer services worldwide, not just among the guitar world but among all the brands of various sectors. The customer care is unbelievably attentive, trying to solve any kind of problem you may have with your guitar.
Every guitar that Suhr sells comes with a lifetime warranty. If anything happens to the guitar, Suhr pays the shipping costs to their factory, repairs the guitar, and sends it back free of charge. If there is permanent damage, then they send a new one. It is like the guitar world equivalent of having a Ferrari.
Suhr stands behind its products as much as a company can. When you buy a guitar from Suhr, you don’t just buy a guitar; you literally buy it with lifetime guitar insurance. From guitars with such high price tags, people expect a solid instrument, and Suhr ensures every customer is happy.
John Suhr achieves this high-quality sound and comfortable playability on his guitars with aspects such as Suhr’s boutique custom order system, fanatical attention to detail, latest technology machines that deliver the most precise and efficient work, high-quality material, and highly attentive customer service.
And the most critical factor is that all Suhr guitars are “made in the U.S.A.” While these aspects significantly raise the quality of the end product, it also increases the price dramatically.
Although I can clearly say these top-quality guitars worth their price tags, I have to make the distinction between “want” and “need.” Every guitar player wants a top-quality guitar but do you need them to be a top-quality player? The answer is no. Skill and hard work play a much more significant role than the material itself.
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