Australia suffers from a Fender bender

By Jeff Linville -

Hobbies are an interesting thing. When we care about something, we will spend much more time studying up on that subject that we ever did in school.

No teacher has ever encouraged, bribed or threatened a student to spend as much time on U.S. history or algebra as the average comic book or stamp collector has invested in a hobby.

Or maybe the pastime of choice covers baseball cards, Civil War reenactments or being able to recognize clothing designers by their dresses.

I enjoy rock music, especially guitars. I have spent way too much time learning about different manufacturers, models, components, construction techniques, repair tips, etc.

While watching a recent video on YouTube, I learned of an interesting trend concerning a classic American icon.

An Australian guitar player has a YouTube channel, “intheblues,” where he tries out different guitars, amps and effect pedals. In one particular video, the young man was lamenting how good, ol’ Made-In-The-USA Fender was ripping people off Down Under.

For background, I’m going to overly simplify Fender’s business model. Basically the company has three sources of guitars. The American guitars are the most expensive. Then come the guitars made at a Fender plant in Mexico. The least expensive are sold under Fender’s Squier brand.

The Squier range runs from about $150 for a Bullet to $400 for Classic Vibe. The company has a few signature models with artists, but the regular line stops at $400 (at your average chain retailer like Guitar Center, Sam Ash or Sweetwater).

The made-in-Mexico guitars (or MIM if you’re looking at ads on Craigslist) start at $500.

A Fender American Standard Stratocaster costs $1,000. Then there’s the more expensive Elite line, or one of several signature models. For example, the Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat is listed at $1,700. Eric Clapton is $1,600, and The Edge (from U2) is $1,800. Obviously, the price isn’t based on playing expertise.

The price differences listed by “intheblues” sounded so outlandish that I had to investigate myself. I went to Fender’s U.S. website and its Australia site.

The first hint that something is wrong is the left-hand column that lets you sort guitars by categories. One of them is price range. In Australia, there isn’t a single guitar in the $0 to $1,000 range. Not a one.

On the U.S. website, Fender has four models with a suggested retail price of $500 or less. Then there are 20 models between $500 and $750 and 35 models between $750 and $1,000. That’s 59 different options for a grand. The rest of the Fender line includes 55 models, so $1,000 is roughly the cutoff for half the products. In Australia, there are no models under $1,000?

What about that $600 MIM Stratocaster? Down Under the price jumps to $1,500. That’s a 150-percent increase.

“Even with the exchange rate, that is absolutely ridiculous,” says the YouTuber Shane. “I bought my Strat last year, and it was under 900 bucks.”

The American Pro series is $1,400 in the U.S., but $3,400 in Australia. That price increase is 143 percent.

How about those signature guitars? In Sydney, the Eric Clapton model is $3,600 (125-percent increase), Stevie Ray Vaughan is $3,800 (124 percent) and The Edge $3,900 (117 percent).

The currency exchange rate right now is $1.33 for Australian money.

That means that the U.S. would need only charge 33 percent more to cover the currency difference.

So, for The Edge guitar, that would be $2,393 — not $3,900. And it certainly doesn’t cost $1,500 to ship a guitar from California to Australia.

For that kind of price difference, a person could hop a flight, take a vacation in the U.S. and then bring home a guitar, suggested the video.

“I love my Strats and Teles, but at this price, they can go get stuffed,” said Shane.

The exchange rate to Canada is virtually identical to Australia, currently $1.34 as of this writing.

According to a website for Long & McQuade, a chain in Canada, a Fender MIM Standard Strat is $800 — not $1,500 like Australia. At $800, this is a 33-percent increase — right in line with the currency rate.

An American Special is $1,350, that’s a 35-percent increase in line with currency.

The Eric Clapton model is $2,160, Stevie Ray $2,300 and The Edge is $2,450.

So, it would appear that Canadian prices are right in line with what one would expect.

Which begs the question of why Australia gets the price hike.

It’s not just shipping costs because the massive price hikes also apply to the Squier line, which doesn’t come from North America. It’s made in Asia and wouldn’t have much of a cost difference going to Sydney as going to San Diego. Yet that $400 Classic Vibe is $1,100 Down Under. That’s a 175-percent markup, even more than the Fender gear.

This could have an impact on the used-gear market in Australia. If new ones have shot up in price, then owners may start charging more for the older guitars, too.

Thinking of exporting used guitars to Australia to take advantage of the expected market trend? Forget it.

New restrictions have been passed on the use of endangered rosewood — the dark wood common on the necks of guitars. You would have to get a special permit and pay a fee for every guitar shipped, which would eat up your expected profit.

I guess Australians best figure out how to whittle their own instruments with one of those Crocodile Dundee knives.

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

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