By Phil Maneri
This Article Was Originally Published On: July 1st, 2014 #Issue 14.
American culture is obsessed with cheap stuff. I suppose economic hardship drives part of this. Add the easy availability of bargain-basement labor in other countries (exploited by huge importers) to the post-WWII mentality of “I want more,” “I want new,” and you get a populous driven to acquire lots of cheap stuff. Somehow, the priority of “quality” got tossed in the back seat to “acquisition.”
The musical instrument industry, from manufacturing to retail sales, has deduced this, and much of it has morphed from a marketplace of excellence to a marketplace of cheap. Instrument makers have responded to this demand by importing the most expensive portions of instrument building from where the work and materials aren’t as good, but are significantly cheaper. This way, they can sell their wares for almost half what you would expect to pay for their home-shop-made boutique instruments. Instead of rebranding these imports – like Gibson did with the Epiphone line, decades ago – they lend their high-quality name to the lesser work in an attempt to tie these products to their established offerings and gain more sales from the association.
I think this is short sighted. It only serves to dilute the high-quality brand and rarely helps the sales of the imported instrument line. Perhaps in the beginning, people pay more attention to the instrument because of the branding, but consumers aren’t stupid; they eventually understand the difference. If they do so after spending the money on the lesser product associated with your name, good luck getting them to ever consider your high-end product with the same lofty esteem as before you diluted your brand.
I understand the “allure of the cheap” in the marketplace. There are more consumers and more sales available, and you have to feed the people who rely on you. As there is less and less pie to divide, the need to expand business into places where you can gobble up a bit more is crucial to long-term survival. Just try not to cash in your established brand to do it.
As a consumer, well, just stop it! Really, you don’t need all that stuff. How about we reorganize our priority around something other than greed and gluttony? How about we prioritize an appreciation of fine things? Instead of buying ten crappy guitars, that you can only play one at a time, how about you just get one or two really good ones? Save up for them. Suffer for them. Find a way to support the guy who sweats bullets to create them. He makes something really special for YOU, not mass production of thousands of things for money. In the end, your art will speak to that. If the tools you use are disposable, then the art you create with it be, as well. Conversely, if you develop a relationship over time with an instrument created by loving hands – with craftsmanship as its highest priority – you WILL, in turn, create work with loving hands that has vitality and that lasts.
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