Bursting the Boutique Bubble

The Bad News

Those who have attended the NAMM show over the past decade have noticed a disturbing trend amongst manufacturers of boutique guitars and amplifiers. It seems that rather than applying the global principles of efficiency that are essential to survival in any other industry that makes quality products, they continue to run inefficiently and pass along the cost of this inefficiency to the customer via escalating prices. Unfortunately this trend isn’t isolated to smaller companies. It has also become commonplace amongst industry leaders. Much to the chagrin of working musicians, we have been subjected to drastic price increases with no increase in quality or service just within the past few years. This has left us all asking the same question… “When is the bubble going to pop?”

The Good News

NAMM 2016 seems to have answered our question. A few manufacturers with impeccable reputations for premium quality introduced new product lines that took those drastic pricing changes in the opposite direction. Among these impressive offerings a few really stood out with their game changing prices.

James Tyler, a patriarch in the boutique guitar market, unveiled a new line of MIJ guitars that look, sound, and feel precisely like his standard USA made instruments which generally start at $4,200. James even made the sly decision to place his Made in USA and Made in Japan designations along the bottom edge of the headstock. This makes these $3,000 guitars nearly indistinguishable in appearance from their  US made brothers.

John Page, who gained his Master Builder namesake producing collector grade instruments during his tenure at Fender Custom Shop, also rolled out a line of MIJ guitars with even more unbelievable prices. His guitars, which are a slight twist on Leo’s original designs, looked, felt, and sounded as good as anything you would expect from a custom shop instrument. I was quite amazed with these guitars and even more wowed when I saw the $1,200 price tag!

Bad Cat Amps did something even more impressive. Instead of taking production offshore, they reduced prices by applying proven efficiency techniques throughout every part of their factory in Irvine, CA. Since their parent company Inductors, Inc. has been a staple in the premium electronics industry for decades, they were able to apply their efficient company structure and production techniques to the Bad Cat Amplifier line. The result of their efforts is the new USA Player Series. These hardwired amplifiers are assembled by the same techs using the same handwound transformers, premium components, aircraft aluminum chassis, and 11 ply birch cabs as their true point-to-point Legacy series. The only difference is the internal components are mounted to a mil-spec PCB like Two Rock, Tone King, Jackson Ampworks, and nearly every other boutique amp builder uses on their amps. Surface controls, jacks, and tube sockets are all chassis mounted for durability. Bad Cat’s efficiency approach has effectively created the first premium hardwired USA amplifier with a lifetime warranty that competes in price with the PCB Deluxe Reverb and AC30 amps being imported from Asian factories.  The first amp in this line is the USA Player Series Cub IIIR, which sounds identical to their PTP Cub IIIR. This model is available as a 15w (2xEL84) head for $1,099 USD or 40w (2xEL34) head for $1,199 USD. You can make it an 11 ply birch combos with a UK made Bad Cat Celestion for only $200 more. This is the first of many amps Bad Cat hopes to release  in this price range. By next NAMM they plan to add their American blackface style amp to this series. 

Like every other working musician, my sincere hope is that  companies like these will inspire other boutique and major manufacturers to look for ways to improve production and company structure so they can offer better pricing to their customers without any compromise in quality. Looking forward to next NAMM!

Thanks for reading the Tonesmiths Report.                                                                                   Please visit http://tonesmiths.com/collections/amp-lounge/products/cub-iii-american-players-series for more information, specs, and ordering information on the Bad Cat USA Player Series Cub IIIR.

 

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