The Art of Musical Instrument Shopping

The day has arrived. You’ve either broken open your piggy bank, won the lottery or been left a truck load of money from a great step-Uncle you never knew you had. Either way it’s a big day because you have the money and the shops are about to open. Time to grab that shiny new guitar/bass/drum gear/saxophone/anything you’ve been waiting for all this time.

As with just about everything musical, buying new gear is fraught with danger. It can be the culmination of years of saving but it could also be a big road to disaster. The thrill of entering the music store knowing that you can afford more than a few picks and a kazoo is almost the attainment of nirvana but it pays to be armed with a few hints and tips to keep your feet firmly on the ground and your wallet unmolested.

Here then are my personal thoughts on shopping for gear. Sit back, relax, and clear your mind….

Do Your Research

Now I’ve been there, done that and bought what turned out to be a heap of junk. If you know what you are looking for then it pays to do your research first. This will ensure you are savvy on what you want to buy and will it do what you want it to do. Remember musical instruments lose their value the minute they are touched by human hands so you need to make sure you have bought what you need (it’s a given that you ‘want’ it).

The internet is a great place to find information on your chosen product. Check out the product manufacturer’s website and see what the specs say. Ask yourself all the hard questions: do I need this/does it do what I want/can I look after it, that kind of thing.

Then check the reviews. One tip is to NEVER look at reviews from sites that actually supply the gear as you will always find great write ups with all the stars. The best sites are music magazine review pages, forums and of course Musicians Unite. If you know someone who has the piece of gear you are after, have a word with them and see what they think. At the end of the day it is vital that you have a clear picture of what you want before you even enter the store.

How Much Is That Drum Gear In The Window?

This is the big one that gets most of us…..the ‘P’ word….price.

As part of your research be sure to find out who can supply you at a price that suits your pocket. There are a few snags on pricing that you need to be sure of, such as:

Is it all inclusive? - I hear of so many people thinking they have got a bargain until they find out the price excludes, say, the power adaptor or other piece of gear that you assumed the price included.

Stick to the budget – All musical gear sales folk are exactly that. Many are excellent musicians who really know their way around the instrument but at the end of the day they are there to make money. If you have $500 then that’s all there is. Don’t let the manager talk you into buying a product that’s twice the price but will improve your playing overnight. The only thing that makes your playing better is practice, so don’t fall for that one.

Haggle, haggle, haggle – this is difficult for so many people but you just never know until you try. Simply ask the question, is there anything the store can do for you on the price. You may find that the answer to that is a no but they may throw in a few sets of strings / drumsticks / cases etc.

Take Your Time

As with everything musical, take your time. Make sure you have enough hands on time with your chosen piece of gear. I find its better to visit the music store on a Monday or Tuesday as it is quiet and the staff are happy to let you loose in the store.

Weekends in music stores can be really bad, you could find yourself standing next to little Johnny who is trying to play Smoke on the Water on the violin while mum is off smashing pianos. That’s the weekend crowd, to be avoided at all costs.

Find a quiet part of the store and spend as much time as you need to check the look, feel and playability of the gear. Check for any surface chips and scratches; check any threads or bolts etc. Ask questions, be inquisitive and be thorough. Do not let the sales person push anything on you or get you to hurry up. As Phil Collins said, “You can’t hurry love.”

Choose Your Company

I always shop for new gear alone. I never take any family or friends with me because they find music shops boring and eventually would be looking at me to rush . There is nothing worse than standing in a shop full of stuff that you have absolutely no interest in, you get bored and want to go. So make sure if you do bring anyone they won’t be getting in your face, pointing at their watch and expressing the “wow I’m so over this” facial look.

Another one is the over excited band member who wants you to get that amazing looking skull head shaped guitar because it will look great on the posters. These guys can cause no end of turmoil and are best left at home. It’s your gear and you are buying, not them.

Covering the Bases

I talked about ensuring you know exactly what you are getting for your money, but you have to consider protecting this purchase once you walk out of the shop.

Check the warranty and guarantee on the item, make sure you know how long you are covered for and what your coverage consists of.

If possible, try and include some cash in the budget for cases / protection etc. Your $12,000 vintage guitar won’t last long in a $0.50 black bin liner so make sure you have the gear covered. Then check your insurance policy is in place, are you covered in case the worst happens.

So that’s it, my guide to musical instrument shopping. Remember the basics – research, stick to the budget, take your time, shop alone if you can, and protect and survive.

Happy hunting folks!!

-Mark Hill - MU Columnist

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