Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Guitar Center

I have a real love/hate relationship with Guitar center, which is probably the largest musical instrument retailer in the world. They have stores all over the US, which always give me a welcome place to go if I am out of town and need to kill some time.

Guitar Center stores vary quite a bit, but generally they have a very diverse inventory so there are quite a few instruments to choose from. They have had a long-standing policy that you can sit down and play pretty much any instrument on the walls for as long as you like. The idea is that all of the wanky 15-year old kids that come in will eventually buy something, so they make it a place that is friendly to them. This makes for a handy place for me to practice while I am on the road. The down side to this policy is that some instruments get a lot of wear and tear, and generally they will not discount instruments for this. They USED to, though (more about this later).

One thing that you will find is that Guitar Center does not carry instruments and accessories from every major manufacturer. If you need a Mesa Boogie or Genz Benz amplifier, you will have to go elsewhere. Until recently they did not carry any ESP guitars. These brands are popular, dammit.

Guitar Center made a few changes after they were acquired by Bain Capital in 2007 (for an astounding 2.1 billion dollars). By far, my least favorite change was their “guaranteed lowest price” policy, which pretty much took away my ability to negotiate pricing on instruments.

The “guaranteed lowest price” policy means that they will match any other retailers lowest advertised price. Many manufacturers and distributors set a minimum advertised price, so they prices are the same everywhere you look. Generally, Guitar Center will not negotiate below these minimum advertised prices, even if instruments show a lot of wear or are (GASP!) damaged. In the good old days, if you were a good customer they would negotiate the prices below the minimum advertised price, and closer to their cost for the item. Nothing good lasts forever, I guess.

Fortunately, they always have a large selection of used instruments that are in very good condition. These are generally available for a little more than ½ of what you would pay for a new instrument, and there is usually some negotiating that can be done. Also, during their yearly sales, they will still discount equipment to stupidly-low clearance prices, which can make for some lucrative eBay reselling.

By the way, Guitar Center also owns Musician’s Friend, which is probably the largest online retailer of musical instruments. In the past few years they have bought out Music & Arts Center and Music 123.

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