Sorry for the long post but I thought this might be useful to someone going through a similar decision process. I recently bought a used Sailrite LSZ-1 but this was not without looking very hard at the clones and vintage machines. Almost all the sailing friends I know who have sewing machines for boat canvas work have a Sailrite or a vintage machine and I had borrowed a friend’s LSZ-1 in the past to do several projects. However, since no one I know has a clone and the clones are generally not sold in stores, I’ve unfortunately never put my hands or eyes on one (although I’d very much like to at some point to put it through its paces side by side with a Sailrite).
Reviews for the clones are wildly mixed. It seems the fundamental problems are a lack of quality control and essentially no post-sale technical support or parts availability. If you get a lemon, you have little recourse but to return it, buy replacement parts from Sailrite, or turn the thing into a backup boat anchor. There are not a ton of comprehensive reviews of the clones from people who’ve really put them through making complex projects or owning them long term, nor are there a lot of independent, in-depth head-to-head Sailrite vs. clone reviews. That said, some of the negative reviews seem to come from people who may not have understood the purpose of the entire Sailrite/Sailrite clone class of sewing machines and therefore compare them unfavorably against machines not meant to contend in this class.
My overall impression of the clones is that, so long as you don’t get a lemon, they can be good machines that perform comparably to a Sailrite. However, they have some limitations – primarily that you are likely not going to get any technical support from the clone manufacturer, you most definitely will be going to Sailrite to buy most of your replacement parts and maintenance items, some of Sailrite’s add-on accessories may not be available for a clone machine (they
will may [heard differing stories on this] not sell you a PosiPin, for example), and your machine will be pretty limited in its potential resale value.
As for vintage machines, a few factors pushed me away. First is that most are not walking foot. There’s some debate about how necessary this is, but it’s a feature I wanted. Second is that the vintage machines are 50-70 years old entering their second and third lives. Although the current trend toward handmade things has resulted in pretty good communities of support and spare parts availability for some of the more popular models, it’s not unlikely that this would mostly vanish if the fad runs its course. Third, vintage machines that only a few years ago could be found for about $100 or so in good working condition are now often going for $2-300 (and up!). This changes the calculus of their value proposition a bit.
All these factors noted above combined with wanting a machine that is still likely to have some level of support and parts availability 10-20 years from now pushed me into the Sailrite camp (cult?!). But I acknowledge, if your budget is very tight and/or you’re just looking to get some canvas projects done soon and aren’t looking for a “forever” machine, a clone or vintage machine could present a very attractive value.
Finally, as an obligatory disclaimer, I am not affiliated with Sailrite or any sewing machine manufacturer or retailer other than as a customer. I bought my sewing machine used and have often purchased fabric and accessories from a variety of retailers. I don’t have a strong affinity to the Sailrite company or brand other than acknowledging that they have filled a niche where few others even compete and I appreciate that they have not reduced the quality of their products or offshored customer service like so many others.