When I delved into the world of premium rods, it was at a couple of shops located along Philadelphia's Suburban Mainline. The entire area is very affluent, and people were just getting into fly fishing after the movie. I hung out in those shops, and watched newcomers ask for the very best of everything, and one shop did NOT put prices on rods and reels. "It's disrespectful of the product" they said.
A guy came in one day, and after having spent the last year doing some fly fishing, he wanted to get into fly tying. The loaded up the counter with full Whiting capes, the best Dyna-King vise, a bucket load of tools, and enough thread, flash, eyes, and beads to decorate a city block. The even put Ted Leeson's $100 reference book on the counter. The guy went to the restroom, and I said, "WOW, that's a lot of stuff!" The store's manager told me that this guy came in regularly, and dropped as much as $3,000 on one visit. He also said the guy would feel insulted if he didn't give him all of the best materials and tools he could find. I told him that Leeson's book didn't have many basic patterns, so he grapped Skip Morris's book, and tossed that on the counter as well. The guy was quite pleased at all his money bought, and didn't even blink at the cost.
I had seen other customers come in, and say they were going to the Keys and needed a bonefish rod, reel, and line. They would grap the most expensive rod off the rack, spool an Abel reel with line, and send them on their way. Valley Creek ran through Valley Forge National Park, and has a large population of native trout. Most of the guys I saw fishing there drove up on Jaguars and BMW's, and looked at me like I was crashing their country club party (Dodge Colt and rubber hip boots
). These guys spent more time standing by the BMW admiring what they had bought, and these are the people that I don't think would want a crooked rod. I went to school on the Mainline (Villanova), and I knew the type all too well. When Sharkskin line first came out, it appeared at one of the shops on a Saturday morning. I went there Saturday afternoon, and tried it. The salesman told me they had sold a dozen boxes in the few hours before I arrived, and none of the customers had ever heard of it until they saw it that day. "$100? It must be the best. Spool me up."
I could be wrong, but I think Tom Morgan made the same comments about people wanting straight rods. I had a Diamondback 8wt that looked as crooked as any rod out there, but it cast fine. Whether it crooked because each section had been splined I couldn't tell you. That was bought from Cortland's factory store, and I wouldn't buy a crooked rod otherwise....
I bought two Sage Z-Axis blanks a couple years ago, and Sage marks the sections for visual straight line. They were both awfully close to being splined by hand when using Sage's visual marks, with both blanks benefitting from a 45 degree rotation of the butt section. The labels were off when splined this way, but I never built them anyway.
Some of my Sage rods have great cork, and some don't. I saw a ZXL on the rack, and it had a large chunk of cork glued into a void. It's better than wood filler, but way too nasty for a rod at that price. I do like the Struble reel seat and dark rosewood spacer on the Z-Axis and ZXL, and returned the rods that had shoddy cork. The decals I could take or leave. Makes no difference to me, but I will say they look cheaper for some reason on their budget rods (particularly the older Launch and FLi).