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Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

Author: DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 23 years. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist.

A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia.

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Editor: Edward Bond

Edward has been playing the guitar since 2002. So Edward has over 20 years of experience as a guitarist, has authored 15 guitar books, has written for renowned music blogs, and spent a decade teaching music. He began merging his passion for writing and music in 2020 and has written for big guitar websites such as Guitar Head Publishing and KillerGuitarRigs.com.

Originally from Seattle, Edward moved to Norway in 2021 for a master’s in music. He’s studied at the Jazz Institute Berlin and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and currently resides in Trondheim. His education includes a European Jazz Master’s, a diploma in Film and Game Scoring from Sofia, and a Bachelor’s in Jazz from University of Oregon.

Edward has played in numerous bands and currently, Edward works on his own project Starship Infinity


I’m a huge Gibson fan. I have been for many years. I often get asked why I spend so much money on Gibson guitars. The fact is that Gibson guitars are expensive because they are made with the highest quality materials and are made in the USA. 

If you’ve been dreaming of owning a Gibson guitar but have shied away because of the high price tag, you’re not the only one. I was the same way when I was first starting. They had to be unique because guitarists like BB King, Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Slash of Guns n’ Roses, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin played them. 

Players from all genres, from blues to punk to metal, have used Gibson guitars as their axes of choice. But what really makes them good? 

  • Is it really because they use premium materials? 
  • Is it because they are made in the USA? 
  • Is it because their name carries a legacy? 

It is actually a combination of all of these. In this article, we will take a closer look at what makes Gibson guitars so expensive. We’ll examine: 

  • The materials.  
  • The manufacturing. 
  • Their legacy.
  • And a handful of other reasons. 

Let’s get to it!


Why Gibson Guitars Cost A Lot?

Gibson’s Brand & Legacy

Gibson guitars began in 1894. This means that they were around for the early bluesmen like Robert Johnson, and they were around for the birth of rock and roll music with pioneers such as Chuck Berry. That’s a pretty solid foundation to build upon. 

Later, Gibson electric guitars could be found in the hands of players such as Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton. The fact that these virtuosos were playing Gibsons made people realize they were high-quality guitars. This only further enhanced the brand’s already firm foundation. 

There have been so many influential guitarists who have played Gibsons at some point in their careers. These players realized that Gibson guitars were quality instruments because they relied on them every night, gig after gig. This meant that not only did they sound impressive, but they were also built exceptionally well. 

These players have helped keep Gibson in the spotlight and simultaneously push the brand forward into the future. In other words, you are paying for the Gibson logo. They have a reputation that stretches back almost 130 years. They have earned it. It is no different than buying a Harley-Davidson motorcycle or a Martin acoustic guitar

Their commitment to quality over their long history has allowed them to maintain their brand and build a legacy. 

So, when someone says that you’re just paying for the Gibson brand logo on the headstock, they are partially – but not entirely – correct. 

We Found A Gibson Factory Tour Documentary From 1967

Materials Used

Premium Tonewoods

Gibson uses some of the highest quality tonewoods available. Some of these tonewoods are expensive to import due to US laws, and that cost is then passed onto the customer. The woods themselves are not cheap in the first place. If you add in the import taxes and other fees, it can get expensive quickly.

Quality Hardware

There has been some confusion in the past concerning where Gibson hardware was made. I decided to follow up on this and contact Gibson Guitars directly via telephone. I spoke to a very knowledgeable representative who was willing to answer my questions about the origins of the hardware. 

He stated that all hardware including bridges, tuners, fret wire, and knobs is sourced from vendors in the USA. This isn’t surprising, given the high quality of their hardware. It is tough and doesn’t discolor like cheaper hardware. I have seen 40-year-old Gibsons with hardware that shined like brand new. 

The fact that it is sourced from USA manufacturers tells me that it is expensive. I’m sure Gibson pays a premium price compared to what they could get it for from overseas vendors.

Exquisite Finishing

If you have ever looked at the finish on a Les Paul Standard, you can almost “reach” into it. This isn’t some “spray-and-pray” paint job. The finishes are expertly applied with care.

Check: Gibson Les Paul Traditional vs Standard.

Gibson uses nitrocellulose lacquer. They use nitrocellulose because it ages beautifully, and more players prefer it. However, certain solvents in nitrocellulose lacquer are highly regulated in the USA

This means they can only mix a certain amount of the lacquer with the proper amount of solvents that make it sprayable. This makes the lacquer more expensive and complicated to work with since some solvents must be substituted. 

Gibson spends a lot of money on safety measures just so they can use nitrocellulose lacquer. This adds money to the price as well.

The Best Electronics

Gibson takes no shortcuts on electronics, either. All Gibson pickups are made in their pickup shop in Nashville, TN. They use only the best materials to craft these pickups as well.

According to the representative I spoke with, Gibson sources all its electronic components from USA-based manufacturers. These components include:

  • Potentiometers.
  • Switches.
  • Wire.
  • Output Jacks.

They are extremely high-quality components and are more expensive than imported parts. This increases the price of the guitars.

The Gibson SG: A Short History

American Craftsmanship

Manufacturing Process

There aren’t a lot of guitar companies with a manufacturing process like Gibson. Other companies find cheaper ways to make their products, but this doesn’t concern Gibson. Their process is tedious and detail-oriented. 

There are CNC machines that do a lot of the work, but many people do not realize that a lot of the work comes from the hands of talented craftsmen and women. There is a lot of hand-sanding involved – especially on the necks. This takes time, which means it costs more. 

The fact that they use glued-in set necks means no bolts to put in. Instead, the necks are carefully placed in the joint and glued. This results in a guitar with more sustain. 

A nitrocellulose finish is more difficult to work with than a urethane or poly-based finish. This means that it takes more time to finish each guitar. 

Their process takes more time, and that translates into more money.

Les Paul Custom vs Standard – Expensive vs Pricey

Labor Costs

Additionally, the cost of labor in America is more expensive. Overall, American workers have higher wages than workers in other large guitar manufacturing countries like China, Korea, or Indonesia. This is sometimes due to local minimum wage laws which mandate certain payments and also has a lot to do with the relative strength of the American dollar. 

Many of the jobs these craftspeople do are considered skilled labor, meaning that the jobs take longer to learn how to do correctly. These jobs generally pay higher than unskilled positions. 

The cities in which the guitars are made are also considered “high-wage” areas. This means the wages are typically higher than other areas due to the overall cost of living. 

The bottom line is that much of the guitar’s cost goes to labor. When you buy a Gibson guitar, you should keep this in mind.

Plek Machine

Gibson uses a Plek machine to test their guitars once they are finished. This machine scans the guitar’s neck to check for irregularities. This means it can identify a single fret that was not leveled correctly, as well as neck twists, and other potential problems. It will even fix issues with frets while the guitar is strung up! This process allows each guitar to be completely dialed in and free of neck or fretting issues. 

This machine isn’t cheap. However, you’re getting a guitar set up with the latest precision technology. It’s worth spending a few extra bucks to ensure your $4,000 Les Paul has been scanned and fixed correctly, right?

USA vs. Overseas Quality

As we have noted, the emphasis on quality means that the guitars sometimes take longer to make, leading to higher prices due to increased labor costs.

Overseas manufacturers can sometimes be inconsistent when it comes to quality. They may have times when the quality suffers. While this can happen with any manufacturing facility due to materials shortages or machine failure, it can be most commonly found in guitars produced overseas. 

Quality control is usually better at USA guitar factories. This means that USA-made guitars are less likely to have sharp fret ends, poor-quality tuners or nuts cut wrong. These types of problems are prevalent in guitars manufactured overseas.

Gibson Guitars – What’s the Deal?

Used & Vintage Gibsons

Gibson guitars have been around for a long time, meaning people have gotten used to certain materials and designs. This is what has helped keep Gibson alive for so long. Once guitarists get used to something, getting them to play anything else is hard. 

There was a time when there weren’t so many regulations placed on materials or manufacturing processes. For example, the government did not regulate nitrocellulose lacquer when Gibson started using it. Now, it is regulated heavily. Gibson still uses it to meet the demands of players, and therefore, they must pay more for it.

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These extra costs come from the more expensive lacquer and in the form of additional safety equipment, environmental protections, and special disposal methods. Modern urethane or poly-based finishes may not require these extra precautions. 

Due to import fees or regulations, certain woods or materials might also cost more. Rosewood is now regulated and is less plentiful than it once was. This means that Gibson must pay more to use it to meet the demand of players. 

All of these costs factor into the price of each guitar


Are There Any Alternatives?

Some companies have some viable alternatives to Gibson guitars. One of these companies is Epiphone, which is owned by Gibson. Epiphone makes many of Gibson’s designs, but they do so more affordably. This is because they manufacture them in China. 

Epiphone’s quality has improved over the years. They now make several Gibson designs in their “Inspired by Gibson” line of guitars. Many have raved over the quality of these instruments, and some say that it is right up there with Gibson’s quality. They can be had for a fraction of the cost of their Gibson counterparts. 

Epiphone isn’t the only company with models based on Gibson designs. Companies like ESP have guitars that come strikingly close to Gibson designs. They have been sued over the Explorer design because it was too close to the Gibson design. Some of their other designs, such as the EC-1000, share Gibson-like qualities. 

If you want a high-end alternative, you should look at PRS. Luthier Paul Reed Smith teamed up with former Gibson president Ted McCarty for several designs. PRS offers some unique designs with construction methods that are similar to Gibson. Their Singlecut models have a definitive Gibson style while still being unique. 

PRS also offers more affordable models, the SE series, made overseas, much like Gibson’s Epiphone brand. These guitars are known to be of excellent quality as well. 

Another viable option would be to find vintage “lawsuit era” guitars from companies like Ibanez and Greco. These Japanese companies began making copies of famous Gibson designs, such as the Les Paul, Explorer, and Flying V, in the 1970s. The instruments were very high quality – some even rivaling that of Gibson. 

They were sold for much less than Gibson guitars, which made Gibson take legal action against them. They can still be found on the used market, but the prices have increased in recent years. You may still be able to find a good deal, though. 

There are many companies out there who are either copying Gibson’s designs directly or creating versions that are based heavily on Gibson’s designs. These companies are mainly from China, and many of them make very poor-quality guitars. It is better to go with a brand with a good reputation instead of opting for one of these guitars.

Greco, Burny, Tokai & More:A Guide To Lawsuit-Era Japanese Guitars

Conclusion

Gibson guitars are not cheap, and there are many different reasons. Their legacy plays a considerable part but would only exist with their commitment to quality. Their manufacturing process involves American workers hand-crafting many parts of the guitars, which takes extra time.

Gibson also goes to extreme measures to make sure that the materials they use are sourced from the USA, and they only use materials that their players demand – such as expensive nitrocellulose lacquer and rosewood fingerboards. 

When you factor in the labor costs and everything else, you will see that the price is justified. It would be hard to find a luthier anywhere who would make you a guitar for less than the price of a Gibson, using the finest materials and top-of-the-line craftsmanship.

Are there cheaper ways to make guitars? Sure, there are. But that doesn’t mean that they are better. Gibson has had it figured out for a long time. The things that make them so expensive also make them so unique. 

Now, you have an understanding as to why Gibson guitars are so expensive. The next time you see one and jump back because of the price, think about how much hard work (and money) goes into crafting each one. 

Pick it up and play it! You’ll see that it is worth every penny they ask for!


FAQs

Why Are Gibsons So Expensive Compared To Other Brands?

Gibsons are expensive compared to other brands because of their high-quality materials, the high labor costs and time that goes into making them, and the fact that they have spent decades building a legacy. 

Are Cheaper Gibsons As Good As Their Higher-end Models?

In my experience, yes, they are. I own several “cheap” Gibson guitars, all of which are very high quality. I play them live and in the studio. They often lack looks but are crafted with the same care and pride as the more expensive models. 

Do Gibson Guitars Hold Their Value?

Yes, Gibson guitars generally hold their value well. Sought-after and vintage models often fetch well above their original price on the used market. 

How Can I Check If My Gibson Is Real?

One of the main ways to see if your Gibson is fake is to look at the serial number. Gibson stamps the serial number into the finish on the back of the neck. The guitar is probably fake if the serial number is etched into the wood instead of stamped. 

You can also run the serial number through a guitar serial number decoder to see if it matches the listed year. I found a fake Gibson Les Paul with a serial number that said it was made in 1920! The first Gibson electric guitar wasn’t released until 1952. 

Also, look at the dimensions. If you notice that things seem a little off-center or that the frets are too long, this is likely a fake. 

What Guitar Brands Are Owned By Gibson?

Gibson owns Gibson, Epiphone, and Steinberger brands of guitars. 

What is The Most Sold Gibson Guitar?

The Gibson SG Standard is the most-sold Gibson guitar of all time. 

What Famous Musicians Use A Gibson Guitar?

  • Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
  • Eric Clapton during Cream
  • Slash of Guns n’ Roses
  • Ace Frehley, former Kiss guitarist
  • Les Paul
  • Pete Townsend of The Who
  • Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne
  • Peter Frampton
  • Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers
  • Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day
  • Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters
  • Adam Jones of Tool
  • BB King
  • Angus Young of AC/DC
  • Alex Lifeson of Rush

DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 25 years and teaching guitar since High-School. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist. A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia. Expertise: teaching guitars, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, guitar amplifiers, guide pedals, flatpicking, bluegrass, metal, rock, and blues.
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Dave Drawdy

You are 100% correct.
Once you pick up a Gibson and play it, it should be obvious why the cost is higher. I think ALL of the hate stems from people either not being able to afford a Gibson or not willing to spend the money if they can afford it.