This is a question which my good friend and colleague Rich put to me the other day: 'Is it better to have the Gibson Custom Classic Les Paul (or for that matter any high end/cost guitar) or to buy a slightly cheaper model and do it up?'.
There are so many arguments both for and against buying an £1800 Gibson Les Paul Custom Classic or a high-end Fender Strat but are they really worth all that money?
I've had the honour of playing a fair few guitars in my lifetime, some have been expensive – occasionally bordering on extortionate – and some have been very cheap but as for the middle ground it's hard to define what constitutes a mid-range guitar.
To me anything made by Epiphone will always be considered as cheap, regardless of how much it costs however that's not to say that they don't make some really good guitars. They do.
But what about the Gibson Les Paul Studios? Or the Mexican Strats? Both are reasonably priced and both have the all important headstock decal, so what makes these guitars 'cheaper' than their American counterparts?
The simple answer to this is where it was made and how much the companies have to pay for labour. Oh sure, you'll get people arguing about how poor the quality control in a Mexican Fender factory but I've never once had an issue with any of my Mexican guitars and I've played some pretty gnarly USA models.
I'm a huge fan of modding stuff, I have what you could say is the ADHD equivalent of music hardware, I like something, I get bored, so I tinker. I've owned three (possibly four) Mexican Strats, a couple of Epiphones, a USA Strat, Chinese Tele and countless copycat guitars bought on a whim from eBay.
I've played God knows how many 'high-end' guitars at places like NAMM and MusikMesse and I always come home, pick up my 'cheap' Mexican Strat, plug into my amp and just think 'holy crap, I forgot how much I love this guitar!'.
My MiM HSS Strat cost me around £200 (from eBay) and the first thing I did was rip the pickups out and drop in some Hot Noiseless from Fender (around £140, again, from eBay) along with a new scratch plate and to be honest, not much else!
I've had that guitar for just over four years and I've not touched it since, I play it everyday and never think, 'wouldn't it sound better if I had "X" pickups in it?' or 'Maybe I should change the bridge for a USA one'.
The counter side to the argument of modding a guitar is 'why bother? Why not just buy the nice one with the nice pickups and the shiny headstock in the first place?' and the answer to that is simple, you don't know how the guitar will sound, you don't know how your fingers will interact with it, you don't know how it will sound through your amp.