The Psychology of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

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The Psychology of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by seenoevil II » Sun Oct 11, 2020 9:34 am

In this thread I hope to explore the psychology at work when we lust for certain pieces of gear. In particular, relatively expensive pieces of gear that have abundant cheaper alternatives. I have used my own experiences with wanting a Gibson es-335 here, but you could easily substitute many other things. A real Klon Centaur, a vintage Fender. There are some expensive pieces of gear that genuinely give you more for your money. Nords are expensive but have high quality sounds, Martin acoustics do have an undeniable sonic quality that cheaper imitations often fall short of. That's not what I'm talking about here.

It's a long one. Buckle up.

I will always want a Gibson es-335. I always have, and likely always will. Bizarrely though, for the past ten years at least, I have also been completely opposed to the idea.

My first ever electric guitar was my Dad's Epiphone dot that I borrowed for over a year in high school. When he wanted it back, I took my savings to guitar center and bought an Epiphone Sheraton II. I didn't have the internet at home at that point, so the only thing that I knew about either guitar really was that they were Epiphone's discount version of the Gibson es-335.


The case against the Gibson es-335
:

I already own one. I still have that Epiphone Sheraton II and it still plays great. It's been my most consistently well playing guitar. It looks 90% identical to an es-335. It has the same specifications, hardware compliment, body shape etc. etc. It truly is an Epiphone version of an es-335. Of course, the electronics aren't the same high quality you can expect on a Gibson. There are also some deliberate design differences with the maple neck, large ornate headstock, binding and inlays, and the mahogany center block as opposed to maple or spruce. But, I wake up everyday with the ability to play a guitar that is pragmatically indistinguishable from the 335.


They are very expensive... on purpose.
The es-335 is so named because when it was released in the 1958, it cost $335, or about $3100 in 2020 dollars. That's a lot of money. I don't have access to Gibson's ledgers from back then, so I don't know what margins they were pulling in, but Gibson always positioned themselves as a premium brand. And frankly, putting the price right in the name of the product seems a touch... ostentatious?

In the 80's, Gibson was losing a lot of market share to Japanese lawsuit guitars specifically and shredder guitars more broadly. In response, they enacted a managerial and literal retooling that streamlined operations to the point were they could compete on price with cheaper imports. But they're sales plummeted. In a head to head competition with shredders, Hamers, and Ibanezes, the consumer saw no reason to choose Gibson.

Then they arbitrarily raised their prices for no reason other than that they could. They repositioned themselves as a premium brand. The consumer (without the benefit of the internet to clue them in to what was happening), thus viewed a Gibson as an expensive status symbol. A luxurious guitar that rendered the near identical Japanese offerings inferior by virtue of the fact that it was less obtainable. With the arbitrarily inflated price tag came the irrational belief that the instrument was manufactured to more exacting standards. A fact that is made more galling when you consider that...

Gibson's quality sucks. I've never owned a Gibson guitar for longer than a week. Part of the reason why is my first hand experiences trying them in stores. I've played an $1800 Explorer that had large nitro bubbles and runs right on its top. I've played a $3600 es-335 figured top whose binding looked like an ape with a piece of broken glass had scraped it- the figuring of that top was also diagonal and only covered the upper half of the body. I've played a $2500 satin finish 335 that had a giant sap void right in the top and whose bridge was bottomed out because the neck geometry was out of whack. Then there are the countless stories from others on the interwebs. In essence, you're paying an arbitrarily high price for an item that is slapped together without much care. It's the exact opposite of value for money.

Gibson themselves suck as a company. This has been a popular topic in the guitar forumsphere o'er the past few years. There's the lawsuits against other manufacturers. There's the public and disgusting destruction of hundreds of Firebird x's simply to reduce their taxable inventory. There's the fact that they routinely destroy slightly blemished guitars rather than pay to correct the error, improve their QC, donate them then write them off, or sell them as seconds- all so they don't dilute their brand name in the market. That might not be so bad if these guitars weren't made of precious and dwindling timber stocks- which brings me to. They violate CITES and have their stocks seized. Their last CEO was likely a Trumper. They've molded themselves into a brand for chuds.

I'm vegan. I don't use stuff made by or out of animals. It's a pretty important part of my personal philosophical make up. I don't wear leather (shoes are really hard). Bone nuts are one thing. I can swap those out no problem. Hide glue on the other hand. Well, that's just sort of in there forever.

I don't really like es-335's O've the years since those high school days with my Sheraton, I've developed some preferences visa vie the guitar. I tend to prefer longer scale lengths for their increased string tension. I prefer chunkier necks to the typically thin ones on 335s. My hands don't like narrow nut widths. Humbuckers don't really appeal to me tonally. I don't use vibrato that often, but I like to know it's there. Naturally, this means I've gravitated towards different guitars, including, obviously, the Jazzmaster. My Jazzmaster is easily my most played electric.


And yet. Despite all of these very concrete reasons not to buy a Gibson es-335, I still want to. That's what I really want to explore with this thread. What are the psychological phenomena that overcome all of these rational conclusions? Here are some of my guesses.

"Authenticity" This massively cringey concept that the current equity ownership of Gibson has trotted out actually does cut to something real. My Epiphone Sheraton II is not a Gibson es-335. A 70's Greco or Takoi, or even an Orville with a open book headstock is not a Gibson. The differences are subtle. Epiphones have always looked slightly bloated compared to Gibsons. The lines aren't quite as sharp. Lawsuit guitars have always tweaked their designs ever so slightly to avoid direct counterfeiting. The f-holes aren't cut quite as crisply and they are positioned a little differently. The spacial relationships between the control pots and the bridge is just slightly different. Then of course, there are the headstocks.

There's no denying that the OG gibson design is utterly gorgeous. I'm sure they utilized various laws of symmetry and proportion to design a very visually appealing object. The result being that any none-Gibson archtop, thinline, semi hollow, double cut, twin humbucker guitar just looks... wrong.

Even more expensive boutique brands like Collins, despite being more expensive and higher quality, just look kinda off. If you play one these None-335's, then that's what you're advertising to the world. Your guitar is NOT a Gibson 335. It's one of the rules of rhetoric, denying the frame evokes the frame. To play a 335 style guitar that isn't a Gibson, even if it's objectively better, just makes everyone think of a Gibson.

I've caught myself doing this. I see real like, working musicians who make the objectively correct decision to buy an Eastman, or D'Angelica, or Yamaha SA something or other, and I have the thought, "you wish you had a 335." Incredible instruments that sound great, play well and cost over $1000, and they are still defined by which guitar they aren't.

Status Symbol, but not of wealth. Most of the musicians in the scenes I (used to) run in are probably little lefties like me. I'd assume that for most of us the notion of a flashy display of wealth kinda makes us nauseous. None of us wear Armoni, or expensive shoes. Our clothes are thrifted. Nobody rolled up in a BMW. Yet, there are Gibsons everywhere. We all know that Epiphone exists. So do dope ass lawsuit guitars, and every other more practical alternative to needlessly expensive Gibsons. And yet, we pay a month or more of rent for the privilege.

It's a status symbol. Not of wealth. But of validity. As aspiring musicians, to be seen an instrument priced and marketed to hobbyists would make us appear to be hobbyists and not aspiring professionals. Seeing a performer bust out a Gibson immediately communicates to the audience that they are somebody who takes this very seriously. That despite playing a warehouse show attended by 30 people on a Wednesday, that they are a valid musician. Maybe one that hasn't received recognition yet, but a real one all the same.

I deserve one, damnit. The way these last two points function for me is in the sensation that I deserve a 335. What a ridiculous notion. Plainly, nobody deserves anything in this world. You get what you get and what you can manage to take. Yet, I feel I "deserve" an instrument that I know is overpriced, that I no none 1%-er can ever honestly afford, that is functionally identical to a guitar I already have, will likely come with some shoddy quality issues, that I know isn't really to my taste as a player, heck, that I won't even feel safe bringing to the sketchy neighborhoods I gig in.

I don't merely desire it. I feel a musician who works as hard as I do on my music, that has been doing it as long as I have, who is over 30 years old, who still harbors ambition as an artist needs this instrument, despite its many flaws, in order to be legitimate.

It's the dumbest thing in the world, and yet I can't shake it.

Anyway. This is something that I thought about a lot over the years. I can't think of anywhere else in the world to discuss this topic (except maybe a Gibson forum, but this is the forum I frequent). Maybe it's interesting to you. It likely isn't though. I feel like I'm turning in a research paper that nobody asked for. But, yeah. What do you think?
Last edited by seenoevil II on Mon Oct 12, 2020 9:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by mbene085 » Sun Oct 11, 2020 10:00 am

I get what youre saying. Your desire for one started in your youth, where a combination of idol worship and unobtainability probably put it on a pedestal, and as you've gotten older, you've seen the practical reasons why it doesn't make sense for you - yet the teenager inside you still longs for one.

It's an emotional longing, and emotions don't respond to logic.

I will challenge your comment about changing out the bone nut, though. I've been vegetarian for 21 years (vegan for about half that), and my view on it was always that I avoided buying things that created demand for animal products, but didn't want to waste ones that were already used, since that's even worse.

Buying a new guitar with a bone nut, then throwing out the perfectly good bone nut and putting on a synthetic one does nothing to help animals. The demand was created, the bone was used. Throwing it out only serves a sort of personal branding, not meaningful change. If anything, it's environmentally wasteful to have used that bone, discarded it prematurely, and bought an avoidable extra one made of petrochemicals.

If the guitar is used, then there wasn't even any increased demand created; it was reused to begin with. But even new bone nuts are kind of a grey area in terms of supply and demand for animal products, since bone is a byproduct of the demand for much more valuable parts of the cow, and bone nuts are themselves a sort of minor waste-reduction strategy from the meat and leather industries, though I still buy synthetic when I need a nut, personally.

Just my two cents.

PS, I feel you on the shoe issue. It's one of the reasons I got into converse ages ago and never got out of the habit of wearing them. Canvas and rubber, and they had a line of waterproof ones that were also synthetic that I stocked up on for rougher weather (though the latest ones were all leather the last time I checked). Of course, finding shoes that are vegan and sweatshop free becomes an entirely different matter, so I wouldn't pretend they're some sort of piously ethical choice.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by FrankRay » Sun Oct 11, 2020 10:56 am

My two cents:

First, it’s a design thing. Gibson and fender both designed brilliant innovative instruments. I respect other makers who had their own thing going, like Vox Shergold Mosrite and Gretsch, but companies that rip the designs off are just fakes. Either illegal or morally dubious. For me if you want a Fender Jaguar, or a Gibson Firebird, get one. Then however it sounds it sound like what it is. Even if it’s a bit shoddy. So I totally get your instincts on that.

Secondly if there’s one thing people always come up to talk to me about after gigs it’s my guitar. I play distinctive rare guitars. I’m a terrible snob and enjoy the feeling of having the coolest guitar possible. It makes the band seem cooler and more serious. So I get that too.

I guess I’d say get one if you can. Make sure you try it out first. Not sure about 335s but les Pauls can suck or ring like bells. It seems fairly arbitrary. Some are great, some are awful. I quite like that about them.

My aim has always been to make my guitar speak. Getting the right guitar is an important part of that.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by jvin248 » Sun Oct 11, 2020 12:11 pm

.

Since you are on the vegan angle ...

Make sure the Gibson you lust for is not built with exotic rain forest lumber.
See what you can get them to make for you that is local, fast growing, and plentiful.
Perhaps even Grown in America woods, GIA, to go with the MIA guitar? Patriotically support local lumber industry jobs?

Get them to make one with a durable headstock so it won't need repairing or replacing (Epiphone models have the necessary design improvements).

.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by seenoevil II » Sun Oct 11, 2020 1:47 pm

I don't want to get too far sidetracked by the whole vegan thing. I was trying to use my personal issues with my personal object of material desire to explore the larger idea of GASing for gear for which there are much more affordable and nearly identical substitutes.
FrankRay wrote:
Sun Oct 11, 2020 10:56 am
...if there’s one thing people always come up to talk to me about after gigs it’s my guitar. I play distinctive rare guitars. I’m a terrible snob and enjoy the feeling of having the coolest guitar possible. It makes the band seem cooler and more serious. So I get that too.
See that's very interesting. For you in with your off the beaten trail type gear, it isn't so much about having a status symbol of your means or demonstrating your seriousness by showing how much you're willing to spend to obtain gear, but rather, you're demonstrating your seriousness by showing how much you know. You're showing off your cultural capital verses your capital capital. I think that's a big theme here on OSG, or at least it was more so in the past. Offsets were once considered very much off the beaten track. I suspect now that they are the mainstream. They continue being great instruments, but one no longer wins brownie points for knowing what they are and managing to obtain one a jaguar.
Not sure about 335s but les Pauls can suck or ring like bells. It seems fairly arbitrary. Some are great, some are awful. I quite like that about them.
Year, see that's something that rather bugs me about Gibsons. To me, that doesn't add an element of fun, it demonstrates that they manufacture wildly inconsistent instruments for a price that should damn well insure consistent quality. Their slogan is "Only a Gibson is good enough," not "Only some Gibsons are good."

First, it’s a design thing. Gibson and fender both designed brilliant innovative instruments. I respect other makers who had their own thing going, like Vox Shergold Mosrite and Gretsch, but companies that rip the designs off are just fakes. Either illegal or morally dubious. For me if you want a Fender Jaguar, or a Gibson Firebird, get one. Then however it sounds it sound like what it is. Even if it’s a bit shoddy. So I totally get your instincts on that.


I'm personally of the opinion that the current entities that are Gibson or Fender, don't really exclusively own the notion of what those brands created in the past. Half of the machinery that made the great Gibsons of the 50s and 60s is now owned and used by Heritage. Gibson have moved factories twice, changed ownership at least three times that I know of. In my mind at least, they are simply a company that has the legal right to make exact clones (but often choose not to). In a lot of ways that matter, Gibsons (or Fenders) made after a certain date are as much a fake as anything made in Japan.

All of this makes my nagging desire for a Gibson that much more confounding.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by spacelordmother » Sun Oct 11, 2020 4:26 pm

IMHO: All of your reasons against are good ones. All of your reasons for are bad ones.

Also "not to get too sidetracked by the vegan thing" but if it's that important to you then knowing that the guitar contains an animal product should be the end of it right there.
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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by Larry Mal » Sun Oct 11, 2020 4:32 pm

I always count myself very lucky that I actually like Gibson guitars, like, a lot.

I also don't know what this quality control issue is supposed to be all about. I've owned probably 40 Gibsons, from all eras, acoustic and electric, from cheap to expensive. They've all be what I expected them to be.

But I see a lot of this sort of thing, people buy Gibsons even though they don't seem to really want to but somehow do it anyway and then they have buyer's remorse about it then go over it with a magnifying glass and obsess over whatever faults they find with it no matter how minor until they are miserable with their guitar.

And it's not like I don't get it either, there's so much internet wisdom about Gibson's poor quality control that it's easy to be very nervous buying one. I've felt that way myself. But at the end of the day, I know how to get around the buyer's remorse and enjoy my instrument for what it is.

I would probably recommend that you don't buy the ES-335. I think that if you look for a flaw on almost any guitar you'll find one, and I think that's what you might do with it. I don't think that you'll end up very happy in the end.
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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by windmill » Sun Oct 11, 2020 5:12 pm

OTOH

Perhaps you could buy the best one for the money you can find

If you then find you dont like it, sell it.

Life is too short to be worrying over these things.

HTH

:)

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by Unicorn Warrior » Sun Oct 11, 2020 5:27 pm

windmill wrote:
Sun Oct 11, 2020 5:12 pm
OTOH

Perhaps you could buy the best one for the money you can find

If you then find you dont like it, sell it.

Life is too short to be worrying over these things.

HTH

:)
Agree. Get it. If you fall in love great. As wind mill said, if you don’t fall in love, sell it. Worse case scenario is you’re out a few hundred (maybe not)..but you had the experience. Best case scenario is you’ve landed your dream guitar.


I’m currently going through a similar thing with getting my holy grail Jazzmaster. Part of me has always wanted vintage, the other part of me wants to go custom shop and build my absolute dream of a guitar from Fender. Truth is, I want both. Whatever choice I make I’m still going to wonder what the other one may have been like. I just have to make my mind up on what I want more.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by seenoevil II » Sun Oct 11, 2020 5:49 pm

Larry Mal wrote:
Sun Oct 11, 2020 4:32 pm

But I see a lot of this sort of thing, people buy Gibsons even though they don't seem to really want to but somehow do it anyway and then they have buyer's remorse about it then go over it with a magnifying glass and obsess over whatever faults they find with it no matter how minor until they are miserable with their guitar
This is definitely a testament to the position that brand occupies in the guitarists' mind. It's part happy accident, and part marketing. There's this perception that a gibson will be nearly perfect (a new one at least). But that people can talk themselves into dropping (multiple) paychecks on guitars they aren't even sure about is an astonishing state of affairs.

As for QC issues. I don't know what to say other than my impressions came from first hand experiences. Some of it was cosmetic (though I think still inexcusable given the price), but some of it was serious stuff like neck geometry issues. Maybe there was a survivor bias thing happening. I.e. a guitar that lived on the wall long enough for me to wander in and demo is the guitar that nobody else liked enough to take home.

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by Shadoweclipse13 » Sun Oct 11, 2020 7:50 pm

This was a good read. I don't often stay for the long posts. I agree with most everything, but have to disagree about artists using other brands and thinking that they wish they were playing a Gibson. Maybe some do, sure, but everything I've ever heard about Heritage or Collins (Collings?) especially make it sound like they are WAY better than Gibson is (maybe like Gibson was back in the day).

As a lefty, I wanted a faded SG around 2002/2004 really bad, and the $900 price tag wasn't bad. The salesman I always used to go to at my local shop called Gibson and found out that Gibson wanted 25% more lefties (don't know if it's still true), so I've always been of the mentality "fuck Gibson". I would be ok owning an Epiphone maybe, but would never own an actual Gibson.
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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by hansbrinker » Mon Oct 12, 2020 10:15 am

This would be all the reason I needed to get a real Gibby....

Image

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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:26 pm

One funny thing is, I spend some time on the Talk Bass forum. I notice a lot of talk about people there considering that Fender's quality control is terrible.

Now, I'm not in agreement with that, either, I just think it is kind of funny. I also don't think that Fender has a quality control problem, although I've owned less Fenders than Gibsons at this point.

I think that both Gibson and Fender make very good instruments, although they cut corners where they think you aren't looking.

I also have been wanting an ES-335, or more accurately I would really like an ES-175 more than anything else. I might actually buy one when I finish my degree as a reward to myself, I guess I could sell a few things off in light of the ES-175.

I will have zero concerns about the quality of the instrument and I will almost certainly purchase it sight unseen. I've done that with a lot of Gibsons, including my ES-330.

I cannot imagine any way that ES-330 could be a better guitar. I cannot imagine that there is another 330 type guitar made by anyone else that would please me as much.

My Epiphone Casino certainly did not please me... it was a piece of shit. I hated it and fucking gave it away to my buddy who gave it away to his nephew. There was no similarity between the instruments, the Casino felt half-assed and cheap all around, it was miserable to play, plastic and fake looking. It sounded totally dead, no acoustic sound to it, probably because they use a cheaper and worse laminate in the construction of those compared to the Gibsons and then Epiphone slathers it down with thick plastic.

No idea how that concept would apply to an ES-335 vs the Epiphone equivalents, though, since those have center blocks.
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Re: The Psycholoy of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by seenoevil II » Mon Oct 12, 2020 10:34 pm

Larry Mal wrote:
Mon Oct 12, 2020 6:26 pm
My Epiphone Casino certainly did not please me... it was a piece of shit. I hated it and fucking gave it away to my buddy who gave it away to his nephew. There was no similarity between the instruments, the Casino felt half-assed and cheap all around, it was miserable to play, plastic and fake looking. It sounded totally dead, no acoustic sound to it, probably because they use a cheaper and worse laminate in the construction of those compared to the Gibsons and then Epiphone slathers it down with thick plastic.
A nuance and correction to add here is that Epiphone doesn't do anything to these guitars. There is only Gibson. The factories in China say Gibson on the sign.


Gibson got to take advantage of the depressed wages in China to keep the prices low (more on that later), but they also got to directly control the quality of their budget line and make darn sure it didn't threaten their flag ship brand.


My Sheraton is a Peerless MIK. The Chinese epiphones have always been a step down IMO. Especially the hollobodies. Sheratons have 5 ply laminated necks. The MIC ones have scarf joints where the plies don't always line up. Nuff said.

Peerless, Samick, Cort are all firms in their own right with reputations to protect. So, when they made epiphones, they tried a little harder.

Comparing a 335 to a Epi Dot or Sheraton is a closer fight than a Casino and 330 (assuming the neck joint is at the same point on both) because they are hollow. But I also don't think comparing current MIC Epis vs Gibson is fair for 2 reasons.

1. Elitist MIJ casinos exist. My friend has one. It's real nice, nicer than my Sheraton and leagues ahead of current MIC barf. Still a fraction of the price of the Gibson.

2. Epiphone increased its price by $50 on their hollowbodies last year. Before that, they had been the same for about 20 years! You could expect a whole lot more for $600 in 2000 than you could in 2018. For reference, a figured top 335 cost $2400 in 2000. They're $3,700 now. The epiphone version went from 1/4 price of the Gibson to 1/7.

I've got other problems with Gibson too, mostly relating to how they treat labor.

I'm eyeing a 90's MIA starfire IV on reverb right now. Gorgeous flame too. it's under 1500 now. That might be the "3rd way" for me.

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Re: The Psychology of GASing for a Gibson (es-335)

Post by Larry Mal » Tue Oct 13, 2020 5:46 am

I think a Guild Starfire is a tremendous alternative.

My Casino was a Peerless made one, I had done my research and read how that was the one to get. I kind of wrote off the whole concept at that point, though... I was like, shit, if this was the good one, what are the bad ones?

To be honest, my main criticism of it was the narrow nut width that might please some. But I went crazy for a while since I had to try and deduce what the nut width on the ES-330 I was going to buy would be.

Now, when we talk about labor relations, then sure, Gibson fucking sucks. I mean, the reason they moved down south was simply to take advantage of a region where there was no union to challenge them. Pretty gross.

On the other hand, though, the fact is that every corporation will exploit their workers completely. They used to make children work in coal mines, for fuck's sake.

What stopped that? The law. What will make Gibson have to deal with strong unions again? The law. What will make Fender stop trying to outsource all their guitar making to nations where they can exploit the workers more easily? Buying American made, and the law.

There's only so much you can do as a consumer, but as a voter you can make the government make the businesses here be what you want. Most people don't give a shit, though.

I guess you can buy guitars from small, boutique guitar makers that only employ a dozen people or so. That also works.
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