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All (Gibson) Epiphone guitars are made in China. In 2004, Gibson opened a factory in Qingdao, China, which manufactures Epiphone guitars. With few exceptions, Epiphones are now built only in the Qingdao factory.
Is Gibson guitar quality on the decline?
Gibson’s incredibly high price point, a perceived lack of quality control, and increasing competition from the next generation of guitar makers i.e. PRS, Ibanez, have caused consumers to shy away from Gibson as a brand.
Guitars from the 1950s were built very well. Every guitar I have played from that era was great, with a few exceptions (and that might have simply been that they were not well maintained). The caveat is this: every guitar had been in a shop at some point for new frets, action adjustments, etc. So only one or two ‘now’ are “as from the factory”. Overall, it is the “fit and finish” the finished product that undermines consistency – This is where Gibson’s failed during the 2000–2018 period. They took their eyes off the ball, producing some poor quality, expensive instruments.
Are guitars made in China Good Quality?
Chinese-made guitars used to have somewhat of a bad rep when it comes to build quality. But guitar snobs might be too quick to dismiss the Far East manufactured guitar. Chinese manufacturers keep costs down, their biggest saving being cheap labour. Lower costs mean lower prices. A so-called, ‘Chibson‘, a Chinese-Gibson guitar, costs a fraction of the cost of ‘the same‘ Made in USA Gibson guitar, sometimes as much as a 400/500% difference in price. The question is – is there, that much, of a difference?
So many ‘big brand’ guitars are now manufactured in China – Gretsch guitars, Gretsch Electromatic guitars are made in one of two countries. The hollow-bodies and semi-hollow guitars are built in Korea, whilst the Jet models and all other solid bodies come from China.
China’s capacity for manufacturing excellent quality instruments has greatly increased in recent years. Other Chinese produced Brands include – Deviser. Fender. Epiphone. Ibanez. Yamaha. All manufactured by three huge companies – a. Guangzhou Huayi Musical Instruments Co., Ltd. b. Guangzhou Vines Music Instruments Co., Ltd. & c. Changle Feiyang Musical Instruments Co., Ltd.
Fender also makes guitars in China. Fender Performer, Professional, Original, and Ultra guitars are made in the United States. The Vintera, Player, and Artist series guitars are made in Mexico. The rest? All standard Fender guitars Stratocaster’s, Telles, Jazz are Made in China.
I have been thinking of ‘going Chinese’ for some time, after trying, first hand, a Chinese Gibson 335. I was so impressed by the finish, the fit and the sound, so much so I started looking. I came across some Internet research and discovered several websites that actually list the customers and actual shipments of Chinese guitar manufacturers.
Gibson has their main Epiphone factory in Qingdao. Gibson claim, ‘all Gibson’s are exclusively made in the US’. Guangdong province is home to hundreds of guitar companies, one of them being Sihui Huasheng Musical Instruments. listed as the largest musical instrument manufacturer in China, the World?
According to their export shipping info they have sent hundreds of cartons of “guitars” to Gibson, Epiphone, Jay Turser, Parker, Oscar Schmidt, Washburn and several other companies around the world. The Turser, Parker, Schmidt and Washburn guitars were sent to US Music Corp or their sub, American Music and Sound, in either Illinois or, Southaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis. They also supply amps and other equipment to a company in Tennessee EMD Music Inc.
Maybe these ‘cartons’, Gibson shipments, were actually electronics, pots, pick ups, tuners, nuts, etc. But they were clearly labelled GUITARS. This one factory is turning out instruments for all of these brand names. It is unrealistic to think that it is hard NOT to get a Chinese guitar in the US or further afield (in the UK) anymore. They may have been assembled in the US but, USA, Gibson guitars, are (at the very least) full of Chinese parts.
Is it plausible that those shipping invoices from China to Gibson USA are exclusively Epiphones? In the past some quality U.S. furniture manufacturers would send U.S. wood to China to have it machined, finished, then shipped back and assembled in the U.S. It is not that unrealistic to consider this process but with Guitars? Lets face it they charge that much, the expense of applying this process would be easily absorbed. China cuts the wood, puts on some lacquer, ships to US and US fit the (Chinese) electronics and hardware – the finished products carry a ‘Made in USA‘ label?
The proof of the pudding
Facilitated by efficient, inexpensive, modern technology, CnC, Computerized Numerical Control, a computerized manufacturing process in which pre-programmed software, code controls the entire production process. If nothing else, ensuring greater consistency, quality. There is little doubt that ‘modern’ guitars, those produced adopting CnC, are of a more consistent – and high – quality than the handmade instruments of yore. Does that make them better or is older ‘still’ better?
You have to consider this objectively to really make an assessment of whether older is better? In some cases, absolutely, yes. But in many cases, no, not so much. I have come across a couple of, so-called, ‘vintage duds’ that should have been much better? And one or two ‘cheapies’ that were far better than what they should have been.
Guitars are like anything else, from one to the next, you will find some great, some good, some okay, and some not worth your time….kind of like people! Ultimately, the era is not as important as the (individual) instrument itself?
And on that note, a story…
Someone I know, (of a certain age), owned a 1959 Les Paul, actually a few over the years… and he liked them. A lot. Needs be, he sold them off over time, they had become quite valuable, sought after and sellable. He bought a reissue in around 2018 or so…and he swears the reissue is equal to and in some ways superior to the original ‘57.
He says the sound is as good, due to well reproduced PAF style pickups by Gibson. The wood is as good, everything is very well assembled – but the most discerning factor is the “fit and finish”. Todays guitars look incredible.
The Emperor’s new clothes
Very few, who have forked out £8,000 and upwards on a classic Gibson would admit it was a bag of shite? Those who own expensive Gibson’s, those who sell expensive Gibson’s, nor any other ‘stake holders’ would never admit that a similar guitar costing just a fraction of the price was even close to being comparable?
Ultimately, the price is not as important as the (individual) instrument itself? You pay your money, you make your own choices, good luck.
Thanks for Reading