Dab rigs have caught onto the coattails of concentrate popularity, and you can now find them at any head shop in a legal recreational market. The problem is, even if your local head shop is friendly, professional, and everything you're looking for – they're still a business that wants to sell you stuff. It can be difficult for beginners, and even intermediate dabbers, to figure out what matters most in the glass they purchase. A common source of confusion is the extreme gulf in pricing between the cheapest of cheap dab rigs, and the most expensive. Here's a short intro to the world of cheap dab rigs.
Imported vs. U.S. Glass
The biggest predictor of a dab rig's price is its origin. If the glass is cheap, it was almost certainly made in China or India. Anything up to around $300 can be considered "cheap" by glass snob standards because American-made glass runs into the multiple thousands of dollars.
What's the crucial difference that makes imported glass so much cheaper than pieces made in the U.S.? It all comes down to craftsmanship. Because imported glass is mass-made as cheaply as possible, U.S. glassblowers have drifted toward the opposite end of the scale and make money because the quality of their work elevates each product into an art form.
- Design: All mass-produced cheap dab rigs steal design elements from the hot North American artists of the day. From glass coloration to distinct shapes, designs for cheap dab rigs often copy designs from U.S. artists. For example, U.S.-based Diamond Glass (which sometimes outsources to China) made a series of cheap dab rigs obviously modeled on pieces from Bear Mountain Studios.There's massive controversy surrounding the design poaching practices of cheap dab rigs. "Glass snobs" like to rail about the flat-out theft of designs, but savvy shoppers are usually just happy to get a cool knock-off for a tenth of the price. For example: Bear Mountain pieces cost about $1,000 at the lowest, whereas the knockoff by Diamond Glass can be had for just over $100.
- Craftsmanship: There's no question cheap dab rigs are not going to be gorgeous. The more you pay for your dab rig, the better quality glass and workmanship you'll get in return. Extremely cheap dab rigs tend to be, well, wonky. You'll find crooked or badly machined percolators, off-center joints, and weak coloration on many of the cheap dab rigs under $75. Anything above that, however, has a chance of being well-made and downright pretty.If you're a perfectionist and only dab with top shelf concentrates, you may want to invest in a U.S.-made piece. But if you just want something that looks cool and gets the job done, there's nothing wrong with a piece on the lower end of the price spectrum.
- Innovation: Imported glass doesn't innovate at all. These manufacturers are pretty brazen about spotting the latest functionality tech and replicating it en masse. Take the Swiss perc, for example. It's a flat disc with holes punched through it, like Swiss cheese. This type of percolator pipe emerged from the Seattle workshop of famed glassblower Nate Dizzle in the early 2000's. Within a couple of years, every cheap glass manufacturer had picked up the design and mass-produced Swiss perc pipes without any credit or compensation to the designer.Understandably, this bald-faced theft drew ire from anyone with a conscience, and still does today. The process repeats as new artists create more new designs, and no one sees it as ideal. But because most of us can't afford to drop thousands of dollars on something extremely breakable, cheap dab rigs are usually the way to go.
Choosing a Cheap Dab Rig
If you're looking for a cheap new rig to dab with, there are a few concerns to bear in mind. The range of price and quality available on the market grows constantly. You want to find the best possible intersection between quality and price. First, you need to decide where to purchase the piece
- Local Head Shop: It's fairly easy to pick out a quality piece in a physical store. You'll be able to handle the piece and hold it up to the light to check out its glass thickness, joint quality, and any imperfections it has. The main problem you'll run into is over-pricing. Head shops tend to charge a much higher markup than online retailers and are likely to try and upsell you.
- Online Retailer: For those who can't or don't want to buy in person, online head shops are a solid option. Prices are usually much better than at a physical store, and the variety of products is unbeatable. The cons are you may get a piece with some irritating flaws, and shipping glass is always slightly risky.
The main difference between cheap dab rigs and the more expensive stuff is simply artistry. If you're paying more than $200-$300 for a dab rig, it's because you value the art, craftsmanship, and superior function of the rig. For those who just want to enjoy their favorite concentrates with a pipe that works, the $75-$100 price point can get an attractive and sturdy piece that will last.