There are only two kinds of stores that I like to go in purely for the sake of browsing, trying things on for size, often with little or no intention of buying – book stores and music stores. Record stores used to be on that list as well, but it is difficult to find one anymore. I fear that bookstores may soon meet the same fate, which would be sad.
Music store visits is the topic for today. I categorize music stores for guitarists in three types, the big chain store, the locally owned and run store and the guitar specialty shop. Each offers its own unique experience.
The big chain store can be a challenge on a weekend afternoon. Lots of people thrashing about, amps turned up to nine and a half, aspiring shredders displaying what they know. In less frenetic times it is place just made for browsing. You can sit down and play a $3000 Martin or a $300 Squire and nobody will make you feel like a trespasser. Sooner or later someone will ask if you need some help. If you say yes, they are usually pretty knowledgeable and ready to help. If you say no they’ll leave you to your own devices, particularly if it’s apparent that you’re not likely to drop a Taylor or a PRS on its headstock. If you want to just talk guitar talk, they will be happy to oblige. The drawbacks – even odds that the guitar you pick up will not be in tune or anywhere near it. But that is only a minor annoyance, I can still tune a guitar to itself without a clip-on tuner. There are less than even odds that the strings will be fresher than three or four weeks old with lots of miles on them. It is hard to tell just how good that instrument sounds with those old strings on it . All in all, though, I’m glad these stores exist.
The locally owned music stores can be a nice alternative, but they run a bigger gamut. Some are geared to the beginner and to school band and orchestra students. The best of these, however, have a good selection of instruments, amps and accessories in a range of prices. The staff in these stores are usually very knowledgeable and interested. They are often friendly to a fault. You can usually try out anything, but they are going to be asking you what you think and working toward a sale right from the start. I understand the situation. They are in a competition and it is stiff. Nonetheless, it is usually a shorter visit. And, I almost always buy something – strings, cables, whatever – on every visit. Just so they’re not entirely unhappy to see me.
Then there are the guitar specialty stores. The ones with a few guitars in the $300 – $500 range but where most of the inventory consists of instruments in the $2000-6000 range. The store is climate controlled, the instruments are in tune and polished and the strings are new. When you play one of these babies, the guy takes it off the rack and hands it to you, making sure your belt buckle is covered. You know that you are hearing the best the instrument has to offer. The worker will tell you about the guitar in as much detail as you wish and will make suggestions for alternative choices. If you want to hear what the guitar sounds like from the front instead of just from behind, the person will play things that really makes it shine. They’ve got handmade amps and custom electrics, acoustics of all shapes and sizes built with every tone wood you can imagine.
The best of these stores make you feel welcome and valued but it is clear that this is serious business. The worst of these stores can make you feel like an intruder, like they are sure you are there for some nefarious purpose. There is one of the good ones in the city where I live. I love to go there. I don’t go very often, though. I feel like I need to be seriously shopping, really looking for the right instrument for me. The people at the store don’t make me feel that way, it’s just me. Besides, I think that lust is one of the seven deadly sins. Playing those instruments only engenders lust. Actually, I think that I’m afraid that I’m going to find the ‘one’, the guitar that I have only played and heard in my dreams. Then I will have to find a way to own it. I’m trying so hard to be good.