The Cost-Quality Curve

As one becomes an expert in any hobby or craft, one learns about the best equipment that is possible to buy.  The dynamics of the cost-value curve are as follows:

In the beginning, you can spend the least amount possible.  This is what many amateurs do.  The quality is pretty low.  By spending a little bit more, you can increase the quality substantially.  There is a sweet spot there, where most equipment gets pretty good without breaking the bank.  Then, the curve flattens out.  More money increases quality, but only by a little bit.  The additional quality comes slowly but the cost goes up and up and up at exponential rates.  Finally, the cost becomes astronomical when a famous person signs the equipment or it is vintage and a collectors item.  At that point, it is more akin to artwork than usable equipment.

Yesterday, I bought a guitar for my son from Guitar Center.  We got the Sterling Silo 30.

The low end of a guitar is the Squier Bullet, which can be purchased new for $100.  The quality is fine and honestly it looks nearly identical to the amateur eye.  Even the sound and feel is nearly identical to a beginner.  As the beginner turns into an intermediate, the quality of the guitar will present itself more clearly.  The Silo 30 was $250.

At GuitarCenter, there were hundreds of guitars.  $250 was near the bottom of the barrel.  Most guitars ranged from $400-$1000.  Some went significantly higher to many thousands of dollars.  To me, they all looked and sounded the same.  To an accomplished guitarist, they understood the value of the higher end guitars.

Then, there was the glass cabinets where they kept the truly expensive pieces.  At the top end was a Fender Stratocaster from 1956.  It was beat up pretty good and probably sounded horrible.  Cost: $55,000.  Basically, it was artwork at that point, not an instrument.

Every craft has this dynamic.  I try hard to hit the sweet spot, where I get higher quality before the price becomes crazy.  Some examples:

Pool Cues
In college, I used a Huebler pool cue.  Cheap cues can be under $100, but at $200, this cue was wonderful to hold and use.  More expensive cues ranged from $300-$3,000, and I could absolutely feel the difference, but it wasn’t so much better to be worth the exponential cost.

Cars
Everyone is familiar with this effect in a car.  A cheap car is $10k.  Cars range up up to hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.  How much better is a $250,000 car versus a $100,000 car?  Not that much.  But a $25,000 car is alot better than  a $10,000 one.

Bicycles
A top end bicycle costs as much as a car.  Yet, a $500 bicycle is going to be pretty good by any standard.  Each $1000 added decreases the weight or adds features by a tiny margin.

Computers
One could spend $500 on a PC or $5,000.  The equipment gets better and better, but not by the amount paid. Buy a 30 year old computer and it’s a collectors item with an hefty price tag

Looms
Just ask my mother-in-law.  She will pontificate about the virtues of the computer controlled mega loom that has shuttles and other weaving thingers…if only she had the money.

Clothes
A $5,000 suit doesn’t look twice as good as a $2,500 suit.  And truthfully, you look fine in a $500 suit.  However, a fashion connoisseur, the extra cost makes all the difference.  And buy a dress worn by a woman in a movie and the cost goes up through the ceiling.

I could go on forever.  Pick your hobby or craft and the curve is the same.  Its fun to think about which ones you know the most about.  I learned something about guitars yesterday, but clearly, I have a long way to go.

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