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.
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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.
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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!