By Rebecca Apodaca
Today’s market is filled with imports of lower-quality instruments manufactured from around the world. Through the years, this has happened in band, orchestra, fretted and percussion. As a technician, I have seen many instrument companies manufacture lower-quality instruments without offering the availability of parts or with mechanisms that barely work correctly for one year. Technicians refer to certain instruments as “disposable.” Sometimes, it is a situation that an item is Beyond Economical Repair (B.E.R.).(1) The instrument can be repaired, but it will cost almost as much as, or more than,
the price the customer paid for it. As a musical instrument appraiser, I have to review values constantly. Which instrument will hold or appreciate in value through time? Appraisers cannot predict the future values, but manufacturers and retailers can control it.
The instruments that were manufactured in the late 1800s were made from solid woods. Horns were made of solid metals, clarinets were made of wood and the plating held up for more than 100 years. The beginner guitars of Martin, which sold for less than $100 in the 1800s, are valued in the thousands in today’s market.(2)
Many major manufacturers have made their own low-cost lines, and set up or contracted with manufacturing plants in different countries to build their own “knock-offs.” They hire a lower-waged employee and use lower-quality materials. They are not as precisely manufactured to make instruments more affordable for the masses.
The pride of culture — Starting in 1931, the fretted instruments of Rickenbacker helped set the standards in Southern California that established pride in guitar making. Southern California, with the right temperature, humidity, craftsmanship and the oldest culture of the Americas, has stood the test of time and quality just as the pyramids of Chinchen Itza have. In the world of setting values for musical instruments, Rickenbacker’s quality is what sustains and raises the value. When you start with quality parts and people who take pride in what they are making, value is the result. The monetary value is the value of the tonality of the instrument. Tonality and sustain are synonymous with the name Rickenbacker and the local staff who make them.
Adolph Rickenbacher, F.C. Hall, John Hall — When Adolph Rickenbacher emigrated from Switzerland, Los Angeles became his home in 1918. He helped create legendary instruments that changed the world for musicians. Now, guitarists could be heard among the horn players, drummers and piano players of the dance hall days. The sound is what carried the company forward. In 1953, when the distributor of Fender guitars,Francis Cary Hall, purchased Rickenbacher’s company and combined it with his own, Santa Ana, Calif., became the future home for Rickenbacker. What made it last through the years is the quality.
“In 1956, Rickenbacker celebrated its 25th anniversary with the introduction of the student model Combo 400 guitar and added a solid body electric bass. Both instruments had a novel construction feature: their necks extended from the patent head to the base of the body. Today, this is known as neck-through-body construction, with the sides of the guitar body bolted and/or glued into place. Rickenbacker was first to mass-produce instruments like this, and the design would soon become a well-known trademark.”(3)
In interviewing John Hall, F.C.’s son and owner of RIC, I asked him why Rickenbacker had never created its own knock-offs or set up manufacturing plants in other countries to make a lowerquality instrument. He said, “Not while me or my family are running the company.”(4) He is proud they are made here in America and believes in supporting America. I could see this as he stood in front of his 300-plus personal collection, including the first one he built (featured in blue box). He and his wife, Cindalee, President of RIC, were both raised locally.They made the choice to live near their parents and follow the path of quality. They have raised their family locally and their grown children work for RIC.
Kando — The Japanese have a word, Kando, which signifies an inspired state of mind. “Traditional tools, such as musical instruments, that are deeply rooted in culture and possess a long history tend to evolve at a conservative pace.” Vis-à-vis musical instruments, “something that grows in value the more it is used, or a tool that grows into your indispensable companion through long years of use.”(5) This is the philosophy of Yamaha Corporation.
Quality equals value — There are many young makers of musical instruments who are considered “boutique” who have this pride, as well as some larger manufacturers. We are at a major changing of our industry. We are in a battle of quantity versus quality. The quick and easy profit versus the larger profit for taking the time to create a product of quality. The instruments that appraise at the highest monetary value are the ones of quality. When we sell a low-quality instrument, we are almost guaranteeing failure for our customers. When the customer sounds bad on that instrument, he or she blames himself or herself. It might be that anyone would sound bad. Let’s help educate them. That is part of our job as professionals.
1 Los Angeles Unified School District Musical Instrument Repair Shop
2 Vintage Guitar Price Guide
4 John Hall