09.30.10

Guitar Center: Made in China

Posted in Made in China, Rock 'n' Roll, Stumble and Fail at 12:42 pm by George Smith

The new Guitar Center shopper arrived in the mail this week.

I get them regularly. Three years ago the thing was filled with offers indulging the stupid dilettante with money — boutique goods made by US brand manufacturers who had outsourced their everyman stuff to China. (Or maybe not so stupid person investing in a piece of ugly furniture they believe will appreciate significantly in value simply because it is ostentatious, rare and preposterous. Unlike off-shored guitars, which never gain in value, winding up at pawnshops and worth less than a case of decent beer to the seller.)

But lately the shopper has taken on a bit of a desperate quality.

In 2007, I wrote:

Which brings us to the extreme high-end of the American custom market, where often mediocre instruments attain intelligence-insulting pricing, indicating the total extinction of common sense and the middle class.


American relic guitar luthiers could give Eddie van Halen a precise replica of his 1977 axe, complete with cigarette burn marks, ugly sticky tape, lousy but freakishly unique paint job and power drill holes.

In the Summer edition of DD’s Guitar Center catalog it is said, “Ed has partnered with Fender to bring you the Edward van Halen Frankenstein replica guitar — a faithful reproduction of one of the world’s most recognizable instruments. The red, black and white body … has been put through an aging process to replicate the original, down to every last scratch, ding and cigarette burn.”

List price: $25,000.

New guitars allegedly “worth” $25,000 dollars are never played where other people hear them. And DD never wants to meet someone who would pay such money. Neither does he wish to meet scary Eddie van Halen, who probably wouldn’t have even paid one thousand dollars in the late-Seventies for any electric guitar.


Instead of saving to send your layabout parasite of a kid to college, get a Gibson Jimmy Page Doubleneck relic reissue, cheap at $8,000. Or splurge for a Paul Reed Smith Doubleneck Dragon, $32,000. You know you deserve it.

Outside of these extravagances, almost all the merchandise in Guitar Center was either made in China or Indonesia.

Consider that for a moment.

The business of rock ‘n’ roll instrumentation was built on a foundation of American made guitars and amplifiers. Period.

In 2010, all of the original American companies have the bulk of their brand name goods made in China. And China, despite the beliefs of Tom Friedman, does not rock. Ain’t no more rock in China than there’s blues in Sarah Palin.

Essentially, all the brand American companies — if they didn’t go out of business — turned themselves into custom shops for the high end. Except for the company that was always a custom shop for the high end — Mesa Engineering.

Can you believe the odious craftsmen at Fender responsible for the $25,000 Eddie van Halen guitar were actually revered a couple years ago? It tells you all you need to know about economics in present day America.

However, in the October 2010 Guitar Center shopper, almost all the goods shown are made by slave labor in China.

You have your Epiphone Guitars, used-to-be American factory made, now down market Gibsons made in China. (Sometimes Korea, a few years ago.)

You have your $119 Fender “Strat” — made you know where. Fender amplifiers, all made in China, except for one tube model at the high end of the range.

One could go on and on, page after page after page of stuff invented here for middle class Americans, made by middle class Americans, now all gone to China.

Paradoxically, the shopper features an interview with country music mega-star Keith Urban. Urban chats about his collection of vintage US-made guitars and amplifiers. Some of them were lost in the Nashville flood, he says.

It’s a pity. The cognitive dissonance.

Guitar Center employees, who are all rock musicians, probably make a little above minimum wage plus commissions.

What they think about working amidst the $4000 custom Gibson Les Pauls (plus the $9000 Gibson double-neck, the $4000 Gibson jumbo acoustic, and the $1200 Fender P-Bass) they can’t afford is unknown.

One wonders, for a moment, what the worker discounts are like.


From today’s business section:

In one of their final actions before returning to the campaign in their districts, members of House voted 348 to 79, with dozens of Republicans joining in support, for a bill that would open the way for the US to slap tariffs on Chinese goods … But the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate …

But major business groups representing a diverse array of trades — including cattle ranchers, Los Angeles freight forwarders and Wall Street firms — lined up against the bill, saying it would do more harm than good for economic growth and job creation.

Turning back the clock is impossible. But smashing Fender and Gibson’s Chinese-made imports with tariffs would be a very good thing, if only from the perspective of boosting mental health. It would cause these firms, and their competitors, discomfort. Such discomfort would be great right now, particularly if sending even more things to Asia wouldn’t soothe it, for what were quintessentially US firms which had, long ago, been dedicated to quality musical instruments made by Americans for the same.

Their CEOs might consider banding together with others to go before Congress to lobby for better pay, a living wage for their potential consumers.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

In the front section of the newspaper, defeated by GOP filibuster, a rider on the tax cut legislation: “A bill to punish firms that send US jobs overseas was blocked …”

And on the Opinion page, this gem:

Income inequality [in China] is another major concern [to the Chinese]. Cities and provinces have raised the legal minimum wage. In Guanghzhou, for example, it’s now [$164] a month …

“Marvelous,” as Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood used to say.


Related: The $180 blues harp. Everyman instrument gets upgraded to Swiss watch status symbol.

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