Should I Buy a Cheap Chinese Guitar?

Do Not Buy Cheap Chinese Guitar - Les Paul - I Really Like Guitars

Wait, no! Do not buy that Cheap Chinese Guitar!

Ok, you want to get a new axe in the style of your guitar hero. You came across that great online offer that is simply too good to ignore. It looks amazing. It is very, very affordable. You can have it sent to your door for free. What are you waiting for?

Phew, I am so glad you waited. This was most likely the best ever decision so far in your entire guitar playing career. Let me tell you why.

Never, ever buy a low-cost guitar. If something costs less than $700.00 then you will most likely have to deal with many of the issues listed in this article. From my experience this is especially the case with guitars made in China no matter whether they are knock-offs coming out of no-name factories or whether they are big brand products. Never, ever buy a low-cost guitarBranded guitars made in Indonesia and Korea on the other hand seem to have better quality control.

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I sold all my China made guitars

Over the last 5 years I bought almost 70 new guitars that were made in China. I did not keep one of them, but I sold them all. Okay, you can call me a hypocrite. I sold stuff to people that should have been burnt. To my defense I can say that I made it my hobby to fix these things up as much as possible before putting them up for sale.

Chinese Guitars are Saving on Materials, Manual Labor and Quality Control

Your Chinese guitar is cheap because the manufacturers are saving on material, on manual labor and on quality control procedures. As a result you have to deal with issues that are holding you back and are slowing down your progress towards becoming a better guitar player.

Frequent Guitar Neck Movements

You cannot fix the inferior quality wood used on your cheap guitar. You cannot fix the inferior quality wood This makes acoustic guitars sound thin and nasal. Also, if the wood of the neck is not cured well enough then these necks move so often that I suggested in my Guitar Truss Rod Adjustments – Do It Yourself! post that the manufacturers should not install truss rod covers as you need to take it off every other day to adjust the truss rod.

Guitar String Buzzing and Rough Fret Ends

The most common issues are rough fret ends and string buzzing due to high frets. Hand finished fret work adds much to the production costs of mass fabricated guitars. Even affordable guitars from quality makers coming out of China will most of the time have these problems. Fixing these faults costs money no matter whether you do it yourself or whether you ask a pro. This is money that you may as well spend on the guitar that you really deserve.

I thought that I could fix these issues with some elbow grease and good intention. I bought the tools and learnt how to make the fret ends smooth. I studied books and videos to learn how to properly level and crown the frets on my guitars. Starting out, I think I just about ruined five of those guitars in the process before I got it right.


The String Buzzing Returned

Ok, you may think that I still managed to salvage 65 guitars with my handiwork and so did I. the buzzing started again!Trouble is, that the buzzing started again! When I checked I found that I had high frets again! Some explanations for this to happen are:

  • The most likely cause is that the originally installed frets have room to move because the slots were cut too deep. The fret levelling process pushed the fret deeper into the slots and over time they rose again.
  • Another possibility is that the frets are pushed out of their slots by movement of the fingerboard wood which has not been cured appropriately.

More Guitar Buzzing Issues

And there is more stuff that can buzz on those Chinese guitars. Most tune-o-matic bridges that they use have a very flimsy retainer wire to hold the intonation screws in place. If you take off the bridge and shake it a bit you can hear all the bits rattling. Compare this with a proper Gotoh bridge where the free end of the intonation screws are secured on a rivet and you know what I mean.


High Guitar String Action

Most online ordered guitars out of China come with extremely high action. The action is the distance of the string to the fret. If the action is high, playing the guitar becomes really difficult and hard on the fretting hand. A proper setup should make the guitar easily playable and there are three components that need to be considered for a proper setup. Before making any other changes you need to make sure that the neck is straight by adjusting the truss rod. Then you want to ensure that the string slots in the nut are deep enough to allow you to play comfortably in the area of the first three frets. Only then should you move your attention to the height of the bridge.

Lowering the nut slots and the bridge on an acoustic guitar is a destructive process

Lowering the nut slots and the bridge on an acoustic guitar is a destructive process. It means that if you get it wrong you cannot change it back. You either need to learn how to cut and install a new nut yourself or you need to take it to a professional. The same is true for most nuts on electric guitars.

I find it quite funny that most electric guitars have easy accessible mechanisms to adjust the bridge height while the bridge is the element that should not be touched again once it is properly set up.

Inferior Guitar Hardware

The shiny gold hardware that caught your eye will be faded within four to eight weeks. Most of the gold pickup covers on my guitars arrived with dark discolored patches and my attempt to clean them resulted in instant fading. While I did not have many issues with the tuners I found that most of the bridges and especially the tremolos were simply not up to the job. You cannot tighten the screws enough to do more than one dive bomb before setting up the entire Floyd Rose tremolo mechanism again. By the third time your screw heads will be worn out and you need to replace the whole thing.

Low Quality Guitar Electronics

Another place where savings are made is using low quality electronics. Most of the pots that come with the cheap Chinese guitars behave more like on/off switches. There is hardly any gradual adjustment noticeable when turning the volume or the tone knobs. Oftentimes the pots and switches are crackling and the only fix is to replace them. Piezo pickups on acoustic guitars and magnetic pickups on electric guitars sound okay in the bedroom but I have not tried them on stage.

Display Only Guitar

Cheap Chinese Les Paul Guitars - I Really Like GuitarsAs you can see there are simply too many issues with these cheap guitars made in China and I have not even started on the quality issues caused by lack of quality control. If you want a feature to hang on the wall in your living room or if you want to show off a rack of Les Paul knock-offs or if you want to practice fret level and crown procedures then these guitars might just do the trick.

If your intention is however to play guitar and improve your playing then you need to move on. Do not waste you money, time and energy on these instruments. You want a continued boost and motivation from your instrument. You want to have an instrument that gives you confidence and a feeling of quality and reliability. You want to have the best guitar you can afford if you are serious about playing the guitar.


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PS: What are your experiences with cheap guitars? What are your thoughts about Chinese guitars?  – I’d love it if you share it in the comments below!

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