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So you've learnt to play the guitar, you've bought the model of guitar you've always wanted, and you've spent the last few years either playing at home or have joined a band and been playing gigs around the country. Or you have inherited an old guitar and it is now starting to show signs of its age. If you've been looking after your guitar, which in an ideal world will need to be checked and adjusted at least every year, it has almost certainly been a fantastic servant and has burnt a place into your heart.
This does not mean that the guitar is with you for life. After a few years of playing the frets will begin to wear and will need a fret-dressing, or if this has already happened it may eventually need new frets. In addition, the guitar's tone and volume pots may start to become crackly or even start to fail, and the pickup selector switch may also begin to show problems with crackling or cutting out. A more common fault is that the output jack either becomes loose or cuts out completely or that the nut wears down. These faults can be fixed relatively quickly and cheaply, depending upon the quality of the replacement parts and the charge imposed by the luthier.
On the other hand, the fault may be a little more drastic. Maybe the guitar has slipped and the headstock or neck has broken - a common fault, especially with neck-heavy guitars such as SG models. Or perhaps you are playing an acoustic guitar and the bridge has started to lift away from the body - again a common fault, especially on 'student' models. At this point things can start to get expensive, but that is the reality of the situation.
So is there any point at which you should just bite the bullet and buy a new guitar?
One of the obvious reference points is whether it would be cheaper to buy a new one. Especially if your guitar is a budget model, then it is possible that the cost of repair will be more than the guitar is worth. If it is a more expensive model, this may still be a factor: replacement parts and the cost of having a luthier complete the work may be at around the same price as a new/second-hand model and so you might decide to just buy a replacement.
The first question to ask yourself is this: if I buy a new guitar, will that guitar soon develop the same problems? For example, if you replace the student acoustic guitar above with a new one, over time the new bridge is likely to lift, or if it is a fault with the electrics in a cheaper electric guitar it is likely that the same fault will occur given enough time. If something along these lines is the case, then actually a guitar repair may be the better option. A quality repair is likely to be superior in quality, both workmanship and materials, than those found on cheaper models - especially in the case of electrical components and the glues and methods used on cheaper acoustic guitars. So spending the same amount of money to repair a guitar that you are used to is probably the better option.
On the other hand, the guitar may be an expensive brand and the luthier may demand more money due to the insurance risk - if a mistake or accident damage the guitar no doubt you would want something done about it!) and the extreme cost of replacement parts. (If you don't think the latter is true, try searching the internet for original parts for more expensive guitars: the result will surprise you!) At this level it is likely that repair is still the preferred option, as the cost of a new guitar may be far greater than having your own repaired.
Yet there is one factor that all of the above does not take into account. Is the guitar special to you? Was it the first one you owned, or bought by a friend/relative who is no longer with us? Or did it belong to a family member and is now classed by you as a treasured heirloom? Or have you simply become attached to the guitar as it produces the sounds you want perfectly? If any of these are the case then the chances are that a repair is the only option. In that case, do checks on the company you are planning on using, and at least get references before you hand over your guitar. A poor repair on a valued instrument can lead to distress and regret.
If none of the above relates to your guitar, then it is possible that buying a new guitar would be the best option. Or perhaps an even better option would be having a guitar custom made? Or by far the best option may be to sign up for a guitar building course, allowing you to design and build a guitar from scratch that will meet your every need.
If you are considering either of the latter two options, please feel free to get in touch. After all, there is no feeling like playing a guitar that you have designed and had at least one hand in building!