The Guitar Tax

I used to pay, depending on gauge, $75 to $85 for a bulk pack of strings (25 sets). The trade war has bumped them up to $109. That’s nearly a 40% increase. If the tariff is 25%, why has the price gone up 40%?

In the 8 years or so I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve largely steered clear of politics. My politics and your politics need not be aligned for you to read my posts and for me to write them. There are certainly political aspects to music-compare “Eve of Destruction” to “Ragged Old Flag” and about a zillion other songs from the left and right and more than a few in the center. But we don’t really discuss music here, we discuss guitars. The tool of the music trade. If I did a writers blog, I’d be talking about pencils. The topic simply isn’t that deep. But politics has entered our little world of guitars and I am not happy about it.

Guitars are expensive, especially vintage guitars but I think the level of enjoyment is remarkable and the cost is, in the long run, easy to justify. Vintage guitars have held their value over the long term. Even after the crash of 2008, most guitars have slowly made their way back to pre 2008 levels. New guitars still drop in value the day you walk out of the store but the used market is pretty robust. But there’s a new fly in the nut sauce. Tariffs.

The current occupier of the White House has started a trade war with China and those tariffs affect guitar players. Most of the steel comes from China and there is now a big tariff imposed by the president. I go through a lot of guitar strings which are, of course, made largely of steel. How bad is it? Well, I buy in bulk and a box of 25 loose sets of D’Addario XL’s used to cost me $75 to maybe $85. And this wasn’t some dealer wholesale price-I used to buy them off Ebay from one of the big retailers. Now, the price has risen by a few points more than the 25% tariff on steel. I now pay $109 for the same strings. That, to me, is a tax and it’s unfair and its unnecessary and it’s short sighted. I’m no economist but the economy was doing pretty well even with the big trade deficits we’ve had for as long as I can remember. It’s simple, Mr. President. We buy more stuff from them than they do from us. Their stuff is cheaper and Americans are likely to buy things that cost less. Making their stuff cost more isn’t helping us. It’s costing us money. I remember lots of times when “buy American” was a part of the political agenda. But nobody was forcing us to pay more-they were simply appealing to the possibility that folks were patriotic enough to buy American for the perceived good of the economy. Well, news flash. I am buying American. Its simply that the raw materials came from somewhere else because we don’t make a lot of steel here in the USA any more.

And it isn’t just strings. There’s a lot of steel in a guitar. And aluminum too. And wood which is now subject to a tariff as well. 20% for Canadian and 25% for certain Chinese wood including guitar standards like maple and ash. American companies make huge profits and the government just massively cut corporate taxes. So, as if the tariffs themselves aren’t bad enough, now many American companies use their increased costs an excuse to raise prices even further which hurts the consumer, not big business. They aren’t simply passing on the cost of the tariffs. Did you ever notice that when the cost of raw materials goes up 20%, the cost of the product goes up 25% (or more). Or why the gas tax goes up by three cents, the price goes up by five? There isn’t much to be done about it other than vote the current incumbents out (the midterms were a good start). I’m all for businesses doing great but I’m more for the American consumer (and musician) to get a fair shake. And we are not getting one. This administration is costing us, the consumers, while it should be protecting us and not big business. And how’s that big tax cut working out for you?

A 335 doesn’t have a whole lot of metal in it but there are now tariffs on wood as well and not just from China. Wood from Canada has been singled out as well. With the 25% tariff on steel, it’s a good thing I don’t buy and sell these.


12 Responses to “The Guitar Tax”

  1. RAB says:

    Interesting as always! Wonder how relative values would parse out if we compared the raw materials in ‘59 335/345/355s! Bigsby equipped 355 would have to win out just based on the massive Bigsby! Happy Holidays y’all! Hope they include blastin’ out some of your favorite tunes on your Golden Age ES!

  2. Michael McLuhan says:

    We are of retirement age. This administration’s policies have had wonderful response from the market. For that part we are doing well. For the rest of it, it seems to respond to the rest of the world in one of the most heartless, uncaring, un-compassionate, divisive ways of any government in the west. It is an ill wind that blows! They cannot be gone fast enough.

  3. rob says:

    I’m going to have to play “Orange Man Bad” now on my Chinese Les Paul.

  4. okguitars says:

    The rising stock market isn’t relevant to the people getting hurt by the current administrations economic policies. They don’t own stocks. Those of us at retirement age need to be aware that the huge tax cut for the big corporations and the wealthy will have to be paid for down the road. Say goodbye to your Social Security and Medicare if this keeps up. In the simplest terms, a struggling musician shouldn’t have to pay 40% more for strings (or a struggling carpenter paying more for nails) because our president doesn’t understand economics.

  5. Leeds says:

    Something wicked has this way come. Thanks for speaking out, boys. We need to speak up and speak out. This seems to be a situation not cured by making music alone.

  6. Arthur says:

    Agreed !

  7. Fairless Masterman says:

    Do you not fit Pyramid 11’s any longer?

  8. Tom says:

    I agree with you 110%. I am retired. I count the days until this nightmare administration is over. But the irony is that “big tax cut” you refer to probably IS working out well for some of your customers who can afford to drop the required big bucks on vintage 335s.

    I wish I could be one of your customers. I’ve read every post you’ve ever written here. I check every day for a new one. But sadly it is unlikely I will ever be able to afford the guitar of my dreams. That’s not your fault. I’m certainly not blaming you. Just commenting on the sad fact that the tax cuts never benefit the people who need them the most.

    Thanks for what you do here and Happy Holidays!

  9. DavidK says:

    I have to sympathise with these sentiments even though my view is from the other side of the pond. Sadly we have our own home grown version of political chaos to lose sleep about.

  10. Brian O Grady says:

    Hmmm that 25-set box costs 135 USD here in Sweden (guess it’s like gas prices 🙂 )

  11. okguitars says:

    You bet.

  12. okguitars says:

    Great strings but they go dead really quickly (and they’re expensive).

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)