That Guitar Costs How Much?...

Commercially successful guitarists, like Chris Isaak, are able to play budget instruments and still sound good. However, Classical /symphony orchestra musicians aren’t as fortunate when it comes to instrument price tags.

By Michael Ross - PG Magazine online:

Chris Isaak — the pompadoured crooner of hits like “Wicked Game” and “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” — used to come into a vintage guitar store where I worked. He would look at a guitar’s price and joke, “For that much money, I don’t want to play it—I want to drive it!

These instruments were between $5,000 and $15,000. Though Isaak was still a bargain hunter, he’d achieved considerable commercial success and wasn’t what you’d call a cheapskate. But his thinking reflected that of countless players of the time.

And this was well before the incredible rise in quality control and bang-for-buck value we’ve seen in both American and imported guitars over the last decade or so. Back then you really didn’t need a guitar that cost as much as a car—and you definitely don’t now. Many great players get gigs with top acts—from Paul McCartney to Nine Inch Nails—playing quality instruments that don’t even come close to maxing-out a $5,000 credit card.

The truth is, when it comes to buying instruments, electric guitarists are pretty much spoiled — especially compared to players of many other instruments. Granted, we have to purchase at least one amp, and most of us will also use pedals or rack effects. But even if you go a little nuts at your local guitar shop and spend 10 grand on a reliable touring rig, it’s nothing compared to how much that, say, a symphony orchestra harpist has to plunk down for their dream instrument.

I paid $25,000 for my harp in 2001. The same model purchased new today would be $37,000,” says Allegra Lilly, (pictured left), principal harpist for the St. Louis Symphony. “You could easily get a great concert grand for $20,000–$25,000, though I would guess that the most popular model goes for $33,000.”

Or suppose you played double bass. Freelance classical bassist Ali Cook says she paid $17k for hers. “Colleagues of mine have basses that range from $10,000 to $50,000.

Once we, hopefully, win a permanent [symphonic] position, we would generally upgrade to an instrument that could cost up to $200,000.”

If you play traditional jazz guitar, you might pay as much as $30,000 for a custom instrument like a Benedetto. Yet you could just as easily gig with an Eastman, Ibanez, Godin, Epiphone, or Gretsch archtop and come in at under a grand. It’s interesting, though, that new instruments for traditional jazz players are the ones that reach into the range of those earmarked for classical players.



  1. I think I just fell in love with harpist Allegra Lilly. WOW! - - - Serious - what a babe.