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Perusing some for sale listings of guitars, many of them are Custom Shop, i.e. built to customer specification and not off the wall production models. By definition, these are one-of-a-kind instruments. However, many of these listings state them as "rare" which I find as a descriptor doesn't sound quite right when describing one-of-a-kind items.

Is something that is one-of-a-kind considered rare? When I think of rarity, I usually think of it in tiers or on a spectrum: things that are common, things that are uncommon, things that are rare, and then things that are unique (one-of-a-kind). To me, rare and one-of-a-kind are mutually exclusive.

To use another example, consider the Mona Lisa. Is that rare? To be more declarative, what contributes to an item's rarity: availability, desire? Can an availability of one be considered rare?

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    There is a line of products called "rare violins." This is just a category. Within that, there could be a custom-made one. So you see, "custom made" is a subset of "rare violins." I suppose these terms are used in a similar way in the guitar world. – aparente001 Oct 13 at 4:03
  • In certain contexts (it wouldn't be a mortal sin to have a unique car say in a collection of 'rare cars'). But normally, one wouldn't say of a unique item "That's a rare car." – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 at 16:43
  • Some mass market guitar manufacturers have custom shops that do build instruments to individual customers' specifications, but that also do company-initiated "custom shop" low-volume production runs, typically based on a standard production model but with certain more expensive improvements, resulting in rare but not unique guitars. Also some customers order custom guitars that are nearly same as the standard production model but with, say, upgraded pickups or custom-shop-only colours, so it's quite likely multiple customers have custom-ordered the same thing. – nnnnnn Oct 14 at 6:14
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Is rare an appropriate descriptor for something that is one-of-a-kind?

No. Something that is one-of-a-kind is unique. Something that is uncommon but not unique is rare.

  • The Mona Lisa is unique.
  • Gold is rare on our planet.
  • A custom-made guitar is unique, built to particular specifications and reflecting the capabilities of its maker.
  • Guitars that have been played by Jimi Hendrix are rare.
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    This is one case where it is correct to use unique, which people often use incorrectly to mean unusual. – Kate Bunting Oct 13 at 8:21
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    The fact that "unique" is accurate doesn't inherently mean that "rare" is wrong. It's very possible that both terms are applicable. You really need to cite definitions of the word "rare" in your Answer (or cite some other source) that back up the assertion that "rare" is wrong. – trlkly Oct 13 at 10:36
  • That's kind of what I was thinking myself. Unique is one step beyond rare in the "spectrum" I described in the OP. – gator Oct 13 at 13:51
  • But couldn't some guitars played by Jimi Hendrix be unique, make these rare and unique? – eik Oct 13 at 17:46
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Yes it is reasonable to apply 'rare' to one of a kind. For two reasons.

First is that it is reasonable to consider that "unique" is just an extreme form of 'rare'. But being an extreme form of rare does not stop it being rare. If there were only three of something it would be rare, or if there were two - therefore it does not make sense to everybody that something even rarer - there is only one - stops being called rare.

Secondly unique things can be rare as a category. If a Craftsman makes handcrafted decorations then each is unique. If he makes many millions, each one can still be unique while as a category they are common. If he makes only a few then they would be rare (while each one is still unique).

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