Does planned obsolescence exist with guitars?
Are certain guitars designed to fail early?
Before I answer that, know that planned obsolescence refers to anything manufactured that is designed to fail so you keep buying it again and again.
As far as I'm aware, there are only two things with an electric guitar that will make it fail early.
The first thing is fret wire type. If the frets are made of nickel/silver, yes, they will wear out quickly no matter how big the wire is. If you want frets that last longer, specifically use stainless steel fret wire.
The second thing are strings. Certain strings made by certain manufacturers are fret wreckers. There are specific brands of strings I absolutely will not use because I know they wear down frets fast simply from how abrasive the string is to the fret.
If you know how to set up a guitar, know how to perform basic maintenance and use strings that are not fret wreckers, you will get many years of use out of the instrument. This is true even for the cheapest of guitars.
Basically put, no, planned obsolescence does not exist when it comes to electric guitars, simply for the reason there's really no way to engineer it in there.
And even if there were a way to engineer planned obsolescence into an electric guitar, the guitar modder community would find ways around it quick (as they have been doing for decades).
How can you tell if a certain brand of string is a fret wrecker?
Chances are you have a guitar with nickel/silver frets, so the only thing you can really do to prevent early fret wear aside from playing lighter is to use strings that don't wreck frets.
The easiest way to tell if a certain string brand is a fret wrecker or not is to examine the unwound G string from a brand new pack of strings before installing it. Why the G? Because it's the thickest unwound string of the set and the easiest to spot imperfections, should there be any. The string should be smooth all the way through, have no discoloration and no weird bumps nor coarseness anywhere along the wire.
If you do see discoloration, coarseness and/or weird bumps anywhere along the wire, consider switching to another brand of guitar string.
Does it matter how much the string costs? No. Spending more on a different brand of string doesn't guarantee it will be any better. What does matter is that every unwound string is straight, not discolored and smooth from beginning to end. As for the wound strings, you really can't visually determine anything from those concerning how they will affect frets over time. But you can visually determine how an unwound string would affect frets over time.
In other words, if brand new never-used unwound strings out of a fresh pack look bad, they are bad and will wreck frets.
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