Should You Buy a Guitar or Amp Online or From a Store?

Updated on July 13, 2016
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Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

Should you get your next guitar online or from a local store?
Should you get your next guitar online or from a local store?

Where to Get Your New Guitar or Amp

If you are considering a new guitar or amp you might be thinking about whether to buy online or in a store. Online guitar shops offer great deals, quick service and a seemingly endless array of options.

Local shops provide one-on-one service, an enjoyable buying experience and other perks you can't find online. So which to choose?

I can remember the olden days, before it was even possible to buy a guitar on the internet. Back then, you’d walk in to the guitar shop, talk to the dudes that worked there, play a bunch of guitars and walk out with what you wanted. If you were smart you’d have relationships with the staff in a bunch of different shops, so you could search around for the gear you needed in different places.

When the internet started to make it easy to order a guitar and have it shipped to your door I was originally against it, mainly because I wanted to preserve the businesses of the shops I loved. Gradually, I started to see why, in many cases, it was better to be able to buy a piece of gear online.

I guess a lot of people felt the same way, because there are a lot fewer guitar shops around here than there used to be. Most of the places I used to haunt fifteen or twenty years ago are now gone.

Now, the market is dominated by big chain guitar stores and online retailers. It is sad in a way, but so goes progress. The companies that can give the consumer what they want are the ones that stick around. But some small guitar shops are still hanging on, and if you have nearby you might want to think about giving them your business.

In this article we will take a look at some of the things you should consider when trying to decide if you should buy a guitar online or in a store. I’ll cover where to buy online, what to think about when making your purchase, and some of the reasons you may prefer to buy from a store.

If you are a newbie you may first want to check out: How to Choose a Guitar for Beginners. This article not only covers what instruments are best for beginning guitarists, but teaches you what to look for when you shop for your first guitar.

Where to Buy a Guitar or Amp Online

If you choose to buy your new guitar or amp online you want to pick a company you know you can count on. There are many choices out there, and more seem to pop up every day. Here are five of the smartest places to find musical gear online:

1. Amazon is a great place to buy just about anything you can imagine, and musical instruments are no different. When you purchase from Amazon you know you are dealing with a highly reputable company that will stand behind the purchase.

They deal with most of the major gear manufacturers so you’ll be able to find a great deal on the guitar or amp you are looking for. Even better, many excellent musical instrument dealers sell through Amazon, such as Zzounds and 8th Street Music, so you have choices of where you want to get your gear from.

2. Musician's Friend

If you’ve been around for a while you probably remember how exciting it was when a new Musician's Friend catalog came in the mail. Because of the internet, these days these catalogs don't seem to come around as often, but Musician's Friend is still a powerhouse when it comes to buying gear from afar. They have a strong reputation built by decades of service, and should be among the top choices when you consider buying gear online.

3. American Musical Supply

I’ve always liked American Musical Supply and consider them right up there with Musician's Friend. AMS, too, has a legacy of great customer service, and you can count on them when buying a guitar or amp. In the days before Amazon became a viable source of music gear, Musicians’ Friend and AMS were the two top resources for buying a guitar online.

4. Gear Manufacturers

Many guitar and amp makers offer the opportunity to buy their stuff right on their own websites. I recently took advantage of this when I was looking for a certain amp. I couldn’t find it at Guitar Center, or Musician's Friend, AMS, or even Amazon. But I managed to get it straight from the company website.The gear companies usually broker with a brick-and-mortar dealer in the region who will ship the guitar or amp to your door. It works out great.

5. Carvin

Carvin is a little different than the other companies mentioned above. Carvin makes custom guitars and basses and ships them right to your door. There are a bunch of basic models to choose from, and you can pick your own woods, electronics, hardware and finish. Carvin also makes guitar and bass amps, PA equipment and other stuff. They are a unique option, and some players love collecting Carvin gear.

5 Things to Consider When Buying a Guitar or Amp Online
5 Things to Consider When Buying a Guitar or Amp Online

Things to Think About When Buying Online

Buying a guitar online is a little different than buying one in person. In addition to making sure you are choosing a guitar that meets your needs there are a host of other issues to think about. Here are five things to consider when buying a guitar online:

1. Company Reputation

If you go with any of the options above you probably have nothing to worry about, but what if you find a great deal on a guitar from a company you never heard of? Do a little research on the company before purchase and make sure they are legit and have a good record. To compete with the big boys most companies know they have to offer the same level of service, but it never hurts to check them out.

2. Return Policy

Next to the reputation of the company, the return policy is the most important thing to consider when buying a guitar online. Of course you should be able to send it back if it doesn’t meet your expectations right out of the box. Ideally, you should even be able to try a guitar out for a while and send it back if you don’t like it. Some companies have thirty-day policies and some even longer. Make sure you aren’t stuck with something you don’t love.

3. Getting the Right Model

When buying a guitar or amp online you need to be sure you are ordering the model you think you’re getting. Meticulously read through the item description so you don’t make a mistake when choosing your guitar.

Errors can also occur on the part of the online guitar shop if they didn’t list the item correctly. Most have customer service reps available by phone, so don’t be afraid to reach out if you are uncertain of something.

4. Model Year

Especially earlier in the year, sometimes online music gear companies will still have a stock of last year’s models listed. For most guitars and amps there is little or no difference from year to year, so you may not care. Others may have slightly different fretboard woods, pickups, electronics or other appointments between this year and last.

If this is important to you, make sure you look closely at the specs so you are getting exactly what you want.

5. Shipping

There are a couple of things to think about when it comes to shipping. Of course you want to know the rates, and most companies offer free shipping for larger items.

But another thing you want to think about is where the company’s distribution centers are located. A shorter shipping distance between the warehouse and your home means you’ll get your new guitar a bit sooner, but it also means your new guitar spends less time in the dangerous world of shipping transit.

This is especially important in the dead of winter or brutal heat of summer. When it comes to a company like Amazon this is less of a concern, since they have distribution centers strategically placed around the country.

5 Reasons to Consider Buying a Guitar or Amp from a Local Store Instead of Online
5 Reasons to Consider Buying a Guitar or Amp from a Local Store Instead of Online

When to Get Your Gear from a Store

So when should you consider getting your new guitar or bass from a local store instead of online? With the way ecommerce has exploded over the past decade or so it is harder and harder for brick-and-mortar guitar shops to compete. As the consumer you are stuck in the middle, but here are five things that might help you decide:

1. Customer Service

Back in the days before the internet (or at least before anyone cared about the internet), I can remember walking into the biggest guitar store in town as a long-haired kid who looked like he didn’t have a dime in his pocket. They didn’t treat me so well, and I’ve always remembered that.

Other shops did, so even when I got older, and had more money and less hair, they got my business over the Big Shots.

If a local shop treats you badly, remember you have other options. On the other hand, if they treat you really well, remember that too and give them your business if you can.

2. In-house Services

Does your local guitar shop have a great guitar tech or teacher, or is there an awesome recording studio attached? Do they rent PA gear and do the sound for local shows? It’s always a good idea to cultivate relationships, and if you are going to rely on a business in other ways it is nice to help them where you can.

3. Ability to Get Out-of-Stock Items

Honestly, this was the single biggest thing that pushed me from buying most of my gear locally, to buying online. Most guitar shops will order a guitar or amp for you if they don’t have it in stock, but usually it takes them a lot longer to get it than if you had ordered it online yourself.

If your local shop can have a piece of gear in your hands within a comparable time to the online stores, consider sticking with them. Otherwise, it’s a bummer to have to wait weeks for a guitar you know you can have at your door in two days.

4. Prices

If a local shop is willing to beat the online price, that’s a big bonus. But realize this isn’t an easy thing for them to do. They have expenses too, so every dollar they knock off a guitar is a dollar less profit for them, not the gear company. In some cases they may not be allowed to sell the gear for cheaper.

If a local shop is willing to slash prices to get your business, appreciate it for the good-faith gesture it is and consider buying from them.

5. The Experience

I’m probably just nostalgic here, but some of my best memories are of bumming around the guitar shop, chatting with the owner, trying out guitars and amps and just having a great time. If a shop owner welcomes you into his store when he knows you are probably not going to buy anything, you should remember that when it comes time to buy.

Sometimes it’s all about relationships and experiences, and you can’t get that online.

Also note that many successful brick-and-mortar gear shops are moving more and more toward incorporating technology into their shopping options. Just look at the amazing and innovative solution Dawsons Music has come up with in the video below. If you live in the UK you should certainly check them out!

Online or In-Store? Dawsons Offers the Best of Both Worlds

Tough Choices

Back when online guitar shops started to become popular I decided to take an ethical stance. My thinking was somewhere along the lines of how people react when a big-box retail store moves into town and runs all the mom-and-pop stores out of business.

In the end, it is like trying to stop a 50-ton boulder from rolling downhill. It is almost impossible for a local shop to compete with the online companies. A brick-and-mortar store has limited space, and usually only deals with a handful of brand names. Online stores have massive warehouses and literally almost every brand name you can imagine.

As consumers, we’re going to gravitate to where we can get the best deals, the best options and the best service. Without a doubt, shopping online is the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to buy gear. You can get exactly what you want shipped to your door in a couple of days, and if you don’t like it you send it back. I would even choose to buy online before I would buy from one of the large, national guitar stores.

However, if there is a small guitar shop near you that is still hanging on, and they can meet your needs, there are good reasons to think about giving them your business. Sadly, these shops are getting harder to find.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Should you buy your new guitar or amp online or from a store? I hope this article helped you decide.

Where do you prefer to buy your gear?

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