Remember the days when buying a guitar was a whole week's (or month's) process? When we would go to all our local music stores and try out countless guitars, hoping to find the one that fits perfectly and snugly between our fretting hand, and allows our picking hand to smoothly transition between strings? The whole process would take hours everyday if you knew what you were looking for beforehand, but it would be relatively simple if you did not plan ahead (sometimes this would lead to regret long after the return policy has died down).
Well, online shopping has made it no different. It still takes weeks before you should decide on what to spend on, and with newer online music stores coming up every now and then, the process should take even longer! But that's not necessarily a bad thing, as my article would suggest to you as you read on.
Before I begin, I'd like to say that I am in no way affiliated to any online music shop, and that I simply am a musician, just like you, who'd like to tell you, and especially beginning players, how online stores can be the difference between that awesome Jackson or a mediocre one.
Buying Online Vs. Buying At Your Local Store
- Online stores do not have to actually keep a physical shop, with salesmen, electricity bills and rent, and this significantly brings their cost down, a portion of which they transfer over to us. This allows us to choose even more exclusive guitars with better hardware and electronics. At times the savings can reach even more than $500!
- Have you seen the range available at websites such as Musician's Friend or Music123? They have all the brands on the planet! You can choose between a Gibson, Dean, Ibanez, Hamer..and the list goes on. It is virtually impossible for physical stores to keep such an inventory!
- Guitars come and go like a fashion season. Every year companies release new guitars, with new designs and dimensions and what not. Online stores have the ability to keep up with all new launches, as they do not actually keep everything that's put for sale on their website in a warehouse. Once you place an order, they contact their wholesaler and ship your item to you. This simply does not mean that you can get newer guitar releases much before your local shop, but also that the older designs would now be available for cheap, as manufacturers want to get rid of them as fast as possible! A guitar is a guitar at the end of the day, and a 2007 Epiphone is not going to be much different from a 2009 model in terms of quality and playability. And the best part is that it's now going for cheap! A physical store cannot usually do this as most stores are small private businesses that order guitars and keep them until they are sold out, before ordering the next stock. Personally, I wait till it's the start of a new season to buy a guitar, and end up choosing an older model that now is selling for half the price it went for last year.
- Online stores also have concrete return policies (at the expense of shipping, however). Remember that online stores these days all give free shipping to customers in the USA and Canada, and that is a huge benefit. While it obviously isn't "free", because nothing is, it most certainly saves you the hassle of wondering if it would be a lot more costly once shipping is added to it. I have also never heard of anyone returning a guitar bought online due to bad production. Most returns are by people who do not invest time in looking for what they want and then end up not liking what they get.
- Even more savings are warranted when you look for items that are marked 'Scratch and Dent' and such, which usually have a bit of an aesthetic loss but play and sound exactly like a perfectly new model. If you're looking to get that awesome Razorback that sells for a $1000, but you've only saved $800, look for one with a marked 'defect', you could still get that very Razorback. These defects are only visual and never really affect playing.
The Guide To Buying Guitars Online
The most obvious disadvantage of buying online is that you cannot actually try a guitar you see online. This is what turns most people away from online shopping for guitars, even though there are huge savings to be made. And it's only sensible to try a guitar before you buy it, because that Wizard II neck is only as fast as your hand likes it to be. What I personally do is that I look up all guitars matching my musical tastes and style and make a list, and then contact respective dealers of those brands in my town and look for a store where I can go and try the guitars that I liked online. This seems like a simple thing to do, but it really is a lot tougher than it seems.
As I've gotten more and more into online guitar shopping, I've started realizing that (unfortunately) guitar dealerships are usually on either corners of the city. I once found a good Jackson dealership in town where I tried the RR3, DKMG and the KE3, but I also had a Dean Razorback 255 and ESP-LTD EC-1000, among others, still left to try out. This meant that I had to now find a Dean dealership, and an ESP dealership. It took me a whole month to be able to find stores where I could try out these guitars and finally decide on what I would get. It's great if you live in a big city where there are guitar stores aplenty, but smaller, sparser cities are less likely to have everything you see online, regardless of where they're located in town. In this case, I would recommend that you go only with what you've tried and purchase the tried guitar online, unless you're willing to pay the shipping costs of returning a guitar to the online store.
Another issue that you need to be careful of when buying online is the time lapse between trying different guitars. I had tried the Jacksons, but there was a gap of almost a month in between trying them and the rest of the guitars. When I went in to try the Dean, I had more or less lost track of what I thought of the Jacksons IN COMPARISON TO THE DEAN! I knew that I liked the DKMG, but how did it fare against the Dean Razorback 255? I had a difficult time crossing either off the list.
To solve this problem I had to go to the Jackson dealership again, but this time, I made a list of things that I wanted in my guitar. That list should include your personal choices; mine included things such as "Playability ahead of the 12th fret", "Feel of Neck", "Sound Quality" and so on. It's imperative to remember that the DKMG and the 255 both have the same pickups, so which one sounded better was now a matter of personal flavor.
In terms of price, the local stores were significantly more expensive than Musician's Friend, Music123 and SamAsh. The DKMG was almost $120 cheaper online, while the Razorback 255 was almost $400 cheaper! The RR3 astonished me the most, where it was almost $600 more expensive locally. While these prices usually differ by city or state, I've never seen a local store selling a guitar cheaper than an online one.
My story aside, I'd also like to mention that if you're currently looking for a budget guitar, it is much better to get one at a local store, as they do not really have much of a price difference online and locally. Also, budget guitars do have a tendency to encounter some problems, which your local store could help you out with (broken tuning peg, unscrewed strap hook etc).
On an end note, I'd like to say that buying guitars online can be a major boon to the intermediate and advanced guitar player, because from this stage onwards you know what you want but the price is not always right. As musicians we have to deal with significant costs, not only for our guitars, but amplifiers and effect pedals too. These costs run into thousands of dollars, and I'm glad that we can finally save some money and make honest investments. It's not so much a great help for the beginning player as I mentioned before, but it is only a matter of time before you go online too!
Last but not least, my friendly tip of advice. If you run into a nosy salesman, whip out a crazy Michael Romeo sweep-tap combo. It will usually blow everyone in the store away, unless Mr.Romeo is at the very place looking for his new Juliet (probably a $5000 ESP). Cheers!
On a side note, please do not consider this as legal advice on buying guitars. This is what my personal endeavors and research has taught me, which I'd like to pass on to you.