5 Reasons to Buy a Boutique Guitar

When it comes to guitars, Humbucker Music started out like most other shops.  We carried a large assortment of familiar, name brand models that just about everyone was familiar with.  Over the years, however, those brands slowly dropped off as our interests moved toward the more sought after, finer instruments.  Today, we honestly couldn't be happier with the brands that we carry. Call us "old school", but we don't really want to carry products that we don't think offer customers great quality and value. We say it a lot, but it's true.  We're musicians ourselves and for that reason we feel more obligated to take care of our customers and fellow musicians than in most other types of stores. It's also worth mentioning that the employees here at the shop use the same gear that we sell. When new gear makes it's way into the shop that's unique or interesting, we're just as enamored as the customers. In fact, we truly get a kick out of it!

One of the challenges in specializing in higher end products is conveying to customers the added value that products bring to the table. It's tough sometimes even for us to overcome the initial sticker shock inherent to limited production and often completely hand made items. The trend in manufacturing (and not just music gear) is continuously moving toward a quantity over quality direction. We realize it's cliche to say it, but things are just not built like they used to be.  In a lot of ways we as consumers have just accepted that and our buying habits reflect this. We're okay buying cheap, disposable products.  Well, at least some of us are...  We know, however, that there are still folks like ourselves that want our music gear built the old fashioned way.  We want the best components constructed with pride by the very best builders. That's the true embodiment of "boutique" and those are the only products we want to carry.

In this article we look specifically at boutique guitars and we have put together 5 reasons we feel why it is better to "buy boutique":

Raw Materials

There is an old adage, that like so many great old concepts is just as true today as it was a century ago and that is "good in, good out". This is especially true when it comes to manufacturing. If you want the best finished product you have to begin with the best raw materials. The problem is that most large volume guitar producer's goal isn't to produce the best finished product but rather the most finished product(s). It is the classic "quantity over quality" attitude that we mentioned earlier and it begins with the very beginning with the raw materials. It really is a classic numbers problem. The larger builders need to be able to source wood, etc in such large quantities that quality takes somewhat of a backseat. They are literally buying wood by the truckload and often using every scrape whether it is suitable for guitar building or not. It is not that they are trying to produce sub-par products, but by taking this approach they are all but guaranteeing that the instrument will be less than it could have been, not even considering how it is put together.

This is where the difference with boutique guitars begin. Great builders know that great guitars begin with the best materials. This is often one of the biggest challenges in making high quality instruments. Really high quality wood is tough to find these days, and it gets harder every year. This is one reason why many of the larger builders have taken to using wood that is not really "instrument grade". In our experience, you may not even want to build a dog house out of what some of these guys are using :).  It often takes a great deal of effort and not to mention a bit of savvy to track down high quality tone woods in the quantities needed to build guitars.  This doesn't detour a master builder though. They know that no matter how the instrument is constructed, a huge component of the end product will be the quality of the wood used. This is why many builders are willing to go to great lengths and pay premium prices for superior materials. Quite honestly, it shows in the final product. Just pick up a well crafted instrument and look at it much less play it. The difference is often pretty significant.


Once the best materials are selected the next biggest challenge is in how to put everything together. In the early days of instrument production almost every process was done by hand and therefor required a great deal of skill and experience. Leo Fender in the 50's not only gave us some of the most iconic designs of all time, but also "modernized" a great deal of the production into guitar building. This "assembly line" approach not only sped up production but also allowed for less skilled hands to craft great instruments. You could probably say that Mr. Fender was a genius on two fronts, design and production. The problem is that over time this approach to guitar building has been taken to the extreme. Whereas, in the early days with Mr. Fender's production model a great deal of the processes were still performed by hand, now in some plants guitars are basically stamped out like floor mats, boxed and shipped. So little care is given to the quality of the product by some of the major producers it is almost stunning.  It seems like a great deal of the mastery is gone. This is one place were the boutique guys are far away from the pack. Almost all of the production of the guitars is performed by hand, and furthermore by highly skilled hands.

Here are a few of the tangible results:   

Neck Joint - One of the most crucial areas of a guitar is where the neck meets the body. The proper construction and fitting of this joint is nothing short of the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar. To get this right requires a great deal of skill and know-how. It 's one of the few processes on a guitar that is very difficult to automate (though the big guys try). It almost has to be done by hand to do properly. A properly fit neck joint will do two main things: marry the neck and body together so that vibrations (sound) can travel through both evenly and align the neck and body so that the strings are at the correct angle for optimum playability. A badly fit joint will hinder resonance and tone as well as negatively affect playability of the guitar.  

Fretwork - One of the first things that we look at when a new instrument comes in is the fretwork. This is one of the places that really distinguishes the master's from the rest. This is again another process that is very difficult to automate and ultimately requires a great deal of experience and skill to master. It's absolutely crucial that the fretwork be both level and rounded as to not catch on a player's hand. Almost every player knows what a bad fret job feels like. It really does ruin any guitar. Master builders know this and that is why a great deal of time is spent making sure the fretwork is perfect before it makes it into the hands of players.

Finish - One of the places where a lot of the high volume producers cut cost is in the finishing of the guitar. Modern finishes are somewhat easy to apply and that has led to an almost careless abandon with some producers. Sure, the finish may not play as important of role as the frets or neck joint, but the aesthetics of an instrument are important to most folks (whether they admit it or not). There is an art to a great finish that requires a great deal of skill to really master. Done correctly, the finish can take your breath away when you open the case.


You want to know what really sells a guitar? Setup, setup, setup! You can do just about everything right, but if the guitar does not play correctly right from the start it is going to leave most players cold. Makes one wonder why then most large producers would ever send their guitars out with the types of setups that they have right out of the box. The answer is: properly setting up a guitar takes time and it takes skill, two things most of the high volume shops strive to eliminate from the production process. Sure, a guitar can be set up after the fact but the problem is a bad setup is often only the tip of the iceberg. More times than not the problems go a lot deeper than simple a couple turns on a screwdriver. Fret issues and even gross component misalignment are often only apparent once an instrument is setup correctly.

This is the last stage in production and is really an opportunity for a master to check his work. It is a chance to make sure everything has come together the way that it is intended to. Once the instrument is setup any flaw will be very apparent  Next time you pull a new guitar out of the box with a bad set up, you should wonder if the builder did not care enough to setup the guitar, where else did they cut corners?


A fair number of the guitars that we sell are ordered specifically for a customers. We hammer out the specs and send them over to the builder to be built to the customers exact wishes. Since each guitar is constructed individually, it's much easier for a smaller builder to offer such customization. We find that most of our more discerning customers have a great eye for detail, funny enough so do most of the builders that we do business with. For this reason, the builders are often more than willing to think or rather build outside the box to get a customer exactly what they want. They understand why the details matter and can relate. This more personal experience are what draw a lot of players the the handmade (boutique) instruments. It's often difficult if not impossible for the larger guitars companies to accommodate special orders. It just does not fit with what they are doing.

If you are interested in having a guitar built to your exact specs, it may be easier than you think. It is often a very fun experience just doing the research. Almost all the customers that we have had a guitar built for have been floored by the results. Thing again there is a reason why they are called "master builders".

Long Term Value

One of the results of the swing in consumer behavior from quality to quantity is the fact that just about nothing holds its value for any period of time. Most items you could almost consider "disposable" when you consider what they are worth on the resale market. This is one area where we feel boutique instruments offer even more value. Not only are they limited in their production protecting their future value, but their superior quality means that they will still be ticking away a century from now. They truly are one of those things that you can pass down to the next generation, and quite frankly items of that quality are rare these days. An investment in an instrument that is built by a master craftsmen is an investment for life and the benefits both on a personal and financial level are vast. We firmly believe that the boutique guitars of today are the highly coveted vintage guitars of tomorrow. It really only makes sense when you think about it. Do you really see most of guitars that are being produced as cheaply and quickly as possible being anymore desirable in 50 years than they are today. We certainly don't think so, but then again only the future will tell.   :)