Which guitar to buy?

wombosi
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Which guitar to buy?

Post by wombosi » Thu Feb 01, 2018 12:48 am

I'm in the market for a good guitar. I have been borrowing my Dad's Pavan spruce top.
Serviceable, but I now feel I want something that is more inspiring.

I have found two guitars made by John Peter Barthell (no information online about him whatsoever except for a few guitars for sale, and a few posts here). His guitars look to be incredibly well crafted, and both sound good based on the audio samples.

Guitar A) 2011 Spruce EIRW 650mm, 52mm nut.
Has sound port, which I really like.
Has basic Gotoh tuners.

Guitar B) 2012 Cedar/Cocobolo - in theory a much more desirable combination for me. I've been thinking all the while that I want a cedar top, having played both my dad's and brother's cedar tops in comparison to several spruce tops.
This guitar is a 654mm scale, and only 50.8mm at the nut. I spoke with the seller and he went through measurements while I was on the phone. It sounds like the string spacing is maybe 1mm wider than the Pavan, at the most.
Also no sound port.
But it has beautiful Gilbert tuners.

Both guitars are nearly the same price at around $2,500 which seems like a bargain.

Now, the monkey in the wrench: My Pavan has a 50mm nut and I've been looking forward to getting one standard/wider at around 52mm. I have large hands. My left hand has gotten used to it, but I feel for things like tremolo I'd be better off with a bit more space between strings. Maybe I am incorrect, though.

I have the opportunity to play guitar A in person this weekend.
Guitar B would ship with a 48 hour approval window and I'd pay shipping both ways to return it.

I feel like the 50mm nut is almost a deal breaker, but I haven't played enough guitars to know if the 0.8mm in extra width might be just enough difference. But I love the cedar/cocobolo.

Any suggestions?

I could keep shopping around, but it seems tough to find a real high quality guitar in that price range.

Thanks for any feedback.

astro64
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by astro64 » Thu Feb 01, 2018 3:13 am

What matters more is the string spacing, not the nut width. With a 50.8mm nut you should still be able to get a nut with standard string spacing (43 mm or so). What is the string spacing at the saddle end? That may matter more for the tremolo. The small difference at the nut won't be noticeable for the RH because it is so far from the nut, assuming the saddle spacing is the same for both guitars. The left hand will know.

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souldier
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by souldier » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:40 pm

If you have large hands I'd pass on the 50mm nut as you suspect. You have less flexibility on the string spacing and when you do pull offs on the 1st string it's more prone to falling off the edge. I have small hands and wouldn't want to go below the standard 52mm nut. You'd be surprised how much easier things become when string spacing is less cramped, especially if you have large hands.

Since the reputation of the luthier is obscure, I would strongly encourage you to patiently explore your options. For $2500 you have a tonne of great options, many of which could prove superior to the two guitars you are looking at. The last thing you want to experience is dropping the money then wishing you had spent your money elsewhere once the honey moon phase fades away. Guitars are not always the easiest things to resell, especially if they don't have a solid reputation. When you try either of the above guitars, be sure to compare it directly with your current guitar, putting preconceived ideas aside to see if it is really a worthwhile upgrade before making a final decision.
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rpavich
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by rpavich » Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:48 pm

this is going to sound CRAZY but bear with me.

If you don't have a classical guitar store near you I'd say treat yourself to a trip to "The Classical Guitar store" in Philly, PA.

They are like the Classical Guitar supercenter. They aren't just a Guitar-center-clone with a few classicals thrown in for good measure, they have lots to choose from and expert personalized help. You tell them what you want and what your budget it and then you can narrow down your choices based on how the guitars actually sound rather than doing the mail order roulette.

They will even play them for you so that you can hear how they sound as an audience member would.

I know that 8 hours is a long drive but you are going to plunk down 2500.00 and live with your choice...think about it. For $2,500 you can get something that you are really happy with.

http://www.classicalguitarstore.com
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dta721
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by dta721 » Thu Feb 01, 2018 5:23 pm

rpavich wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 1:48 pm
...

If you don't have a classical guitar store near you I'd say treat yourself to a trip to "The Classical Guitar store" in Philly, PA.

They are like the Classical Guitar supercenter...

I know that 8 hours is a long drive ...
I have a high school friend living in Philly, I now suddenly have the urge to drive there visiting him this summer, also to treat myself with some exposure to those Picados and Bernabes -if available at that time! 7-hour drive from where I live is worth it :D

Lovemyguitar
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by Lovemyguitar » Thu Feb 01, 2018 7:11 pm

wombosi wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 12:48 am
...I have the opportunity to play guitar A in person this weekend.
Guitar B would ship with a 48 hour approval window and I'd pay shipping both ways to return it.
Since you can play Guitar A this weekend, do it, and then you can decide if you even like the guitars made by this builder (before you fork out $2500 for one). Your impressions from Guitar A may also help you to decide other things about a guitar that you may really like or dislike, which may help narrow (or broaden) your search. You may end up loving Guitar A so much that you buy it! (You can always put better tuners on a guitar -- I wouldn't let that sway your decision).

Good luck!

simonm
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by simonm » Thu Feb 01, 2018 8:40 pm

wombosi wrote:
Thu Feb 01, 2018 12:48 am


I feel like the 50mm nut is almost a deal breaker, but I haven't played enough guitars to know if the 0.8mm in extra width might be just enough difference. ...

Never heard of this maker before but I saw a few of the guitars for sale on line. Mostly much more expensive that what you have located. The guy has been active for close to 40 years and his guitars are at a couple of really top end dealers. (GSI and Savage amount others). To me the fact they have him means a lot. You make have located gems.

Playability is a combination of things. I would say string spacing and neck profile are at least as important, if not more important than the exact nut width. Everyone can persuade themselves that certain measurements are more important than others but the same people presented with a guitar and no measuring tape handy, might not notice the any difference between things they thought looked important on paper. For example, plenty of players would not be able to tell whether they are playing a 650 or a 640. People can play mandolins and steel string guitars. The nuts are way smaller than on nylon string guitars but it works.

So play the guitar this weekend and bring the Pavan so you can compare side by side. If you know a good player who would be willing to go along so much the better.

As to the 50.8 … you don't know how the person measured it. If he measured in inches and converted he could easily be off a bit just due to rounding error even if the measurement was precise. If he used and ordinary ruler, he could have misread it or are it might not be super accurate. I have some cheap rulers that are over 1mm off at the beginning of the ruler so I measure from (say) 10cm to avoid the error.

wombosi
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by wombosi » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:08 am

Thanks everyone.

And thanks simonm. Guitar A in question is indeed at Savage and I'm looking forward to playing it. Hope it sounds as good as it looks!
I've been researching for a long time. In no real rush to buy one but it does seem awfully hard to find a great guitar for $2,500 made by a reputable luthier.
I'll bring the Pavan for direct comparison.

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souldier
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by souldier » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:09 pm

wombosi wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:08 am
Thanks everyone.

And thanks simonm. Guitar A in question is indeed at Savage and I'm looking forward to playing it. Hope it sounds as good as it looks!
I've been researching for a long time. In no real rush to buy one but it does seem awfully hard to find a great guitar for $2,500 made by a reputable luthier.
I'll bring the Pavan for direct comparison.
If you're going to savage, you'll have a good amount of options in your price range and Rich will be able to help you out. If I were in your shoes I'd probably just tell him my max price and ask him to bring out what he thinks are his best guitars in that price range. Then I'd just pick my favorite one in terms of sound and playability, regardless of construction methods, price, woods used, "luthier vs factory", etc. In fact, I would just play whatever guitars he pulls out without looking at the label or obtaining any information on it so that I can judge the guitar on its own merits with as little bias as possible. That's just me however... you may be more particular about other things.

Be sure to play your Pavan for a few seconds before moving on to the next guitar. When trying out guitars, it is really easy to go into tunnel vision and aimlessly play a guitar without actually evaluating it. So try to single out specific attributes at a time such as timbre, basses, trebles, balance, sustain, volume, playability, etc.
Last edited by souldier on Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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simonm
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by simonm » Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:42 pm

souldier wrote:
Fri Feb 02, 2018 2:09 pm

If you're going to savage, you'll have a good amount of options in your price range and Rich will be able to help you out. If I were in your shoes I'd probably just tell him my max price and ask him to bring out what he thinks are his best guitars in that price range. Then I'd just pick my favorite one in terms of sound and playability, price, regardless of construction methods, woods used, "luthier vs factory", etc. In fact, I would just play whatever guitars he pulls out without looking at the label or obtaining any information on it so that I can judge the guitar on its own merits with as little bias as possible. That's just me however... you may be more particular about other things.

Be sure to play your Pavan for a few seconds before moving on to the next guitar. When trying out guitars, it is really easy to go into tunnel vision and aimlessly play a guitar without actually evaluating it. So try to single out specific attributes at a time such as timbre, basses, trebles, balance, sustain, volume, playability, etc.
I agree with all this. You might be surprised to find that scale length, nut width etc don't bother you at all. A part from playing the Pavan yourself, see if one the folks there would play it briefly so you can hear a comparison also from a listeners point of view.

As for options in general, you have a good budget. If you look at what is on offer here and what has been sold (archives) you will see that there are plenty of nice instruments about for that money.

wombosi
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by wombosi » Sat Feb 03, 2018 2:13 am

Thanks guys. Looking forward to checking out Savage's place tomorrow. Will let you all know what I find. Have cash in pocket but will really need to 'fall in love' to walk out with something tomorrow.

For a bit more coin, I really like the Peter Oberg for sale on this forum, but no audio sample makes it tricky.

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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by astro64 » Sat Feb 03, 2018 3:31 am

Savage lists a Peter Oberg guitar in stock. It is not made of the same woods as the one here for sale but it might give you an idea of the kind of sound Peter obtains, to satisfy your curiosity.

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souldier
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by souldier » Sun Feb 04, 2018 1:21 pm

wombosi wrote:
Sat Feb 03, 2018 2:13 am
Thanks guys. Looking forward to checking out Savage's place tomorrow. Will let you all know what I find. Have cash in pocket but will really need to 'fall in love' to walk out with something tomorrow.

For a bit more coin, I really like the Peter Oberg for sale on this forum, but no audio sample makes it tricky.
This is where it is important to determine your real max budget. Like if you says your budget is $2500, but you find a guitar that really blew you away at $3000, would you be willing to spend the extra cash? If so, then $3000 should be the the budget you tell Rich Sayage. But when you evaluate, each guitar he brings out, don't ask him what guitar it is or how much it costs. The guitar that speaks to you could actually be on the less expensive end of the spectrum. Don't be pressured to buy right away, and take multiple trips if needed before really being sure and narrow down the options.

Anyway, hope you have a great time. Would love to hear which guitars you end up trying and your thoughts on them. It's important to record your impressions when you get home because memory can tend to play tricks on you when trying to recall how a guitar sounds.
"Success grants its rewards to a few, but is the dream of the multitudes.
Excellence is available to all, but is accepted only by a few." - Christopher Parkening

wombosi
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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by wombosi » Mon Feb 05, 2018 12:39 am

So I had an interesting and educational experience at Savage's the other day.
He's a good guy and was very patient with me.

I had told him my max. was $5,000. I went there very interested in the Barthell (it looked great on paper and was inexpensive).
It was immediately evident it was not the right guitar for me. Very quiet, not a lot of life, not terribly easy to play, etc...

I played a Cordoba and maybe something else, and both were unappealing.

He brought out a '95 Blackshear that was obviously in a different league - much more of a bold sound, especially from the basses. But a bit lifeless in the trebles, I felt.
https://www.*** Commercial link removed ***.com/product ... edar-eirw/
A pretty guitar, very well made made, but in rough shape. At $5K I just wasn't feeling the value given what I see for sale on this forum, and the fact I could get something custom commissioned for less than or around that from many reputable luthiers. I understand new Blackshears are running $15K, but it seems irrelevant to compare that to this guitar that's 22 years old.

Then he brought out a a curious guitar - a 2009 "Martinez Dragon," apparently made by an American friend of his while in China, under the supervision of Kenny Hill.
https://www.*** Commercial link removed ***.com/product ... ruce-eirw/
This thing sounded fantastic to my ears and was fun and easy to play, with gorgeous, very "alive" trebles.
But I was a bit put off by the whole convoluted backstory and the fact I'd probably never be able to resell it.
First he told me it was around $3K, but then later told me $4K when I asked again.
Turns out it is $3K. I would have been more tempted at that price.
Even at $3, I just wasn't feeling compelled enough to justify the difference over the Pavan.

I played a few others, but the Blackshear and Martinez were the only standouts for me. Even played some brand new guitars in the $5K range and was not wowed.

I wish I had done some more due diligence and showed up with a list of guitars to see. Looking through the site now, there seem to be at least 2-3 other excellent guitars under $5K, namely a Jason Wolverton and a Tom Malapanis, as well as Alan Chapman. Not sure why none of these came out to play...

I was surprised by some of the sort of "rough and ready" construction of at least several of the guitars I played - obvious tearout around rosettes that had been filled with what looked like glue and sawdust - sanding/scraping marks around the heel, etc... I may be spoiled but it's important to me to own an instrument that is built to the highest standards and visually appealing in addition to the sound.

My dad owns a Stephen Connor guitar ($10K) and my brother has a nice Ken Whisler that he bought used for around $1500. For my ears and hands, the Whisler is more enjoyable to play than the Connor.
So I'm not convinced that it's necessary to spend vast sums to get an awesome guitar.

In hindsight I wish I had asked to play a few guitars in the $7,500 range just to see if I could find one that really wowed me and to understand the price jump.

I really appreciate hearing your opinions on this!

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Re: Which guitar to buy?

Post by simonm » Mon Feb 05, 2018 9:48 am

Great to hear about your visit. A couple of things strike me. If a guitar sounds pretty good but one element is not to your liking such as the trebles, it could be that different strings would be enough to fix it. A very experienced player may be able to feel this.

If you want "highest standards" then you have to pay highest price or make some other compromise. If you want a work of art and a top class playing guitar, then in essence you are going to be paying for two items. (slight exaggeration :-)) Be careful not to judge a builder too harshly by one or two guitars at a dealer's place. You don't know the backstory. Could be that the builder sold the guitar pretty cheaply because of the imperfection, maybe even gave it as a present and now some owner along the way is cranking up the price due to the builder's current reputation.

Go back 20 years and not everyone was so concerned about absolute perfection in the finish. I have seen plenty of rosettes with a little filling in places. Mostly, you can only see it if you hold the guitar close up to your face and look for. From a few feet away it will be invisible.

You have learned how essential it is to play until one jumps out at you. Do not convince yourself that the one you like will automatically be in the more expensive category. It ain't necessarily true. Do keep an eye on the for sale list here. Real bargains turn up. Sometimes things are price so attractively that they go very quickly and I have even seen some clear bargains hang around too long because I suspect they were too cheap or simply the name wasn't known in the country where the guitar was for sale.

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