The Guitar Store Problem


I am in the market for a new e-guitar since I am tired of my own. My guitar did a good service for that price but there are definitely much better guitars out there. When I wanted to play a great guitar, I borrowed the Fender 70`s American Standard Stratocaster of my grandpa and I really loved it. Sadly my grandpa had to sell this guitar so that this is no option anymore. Back then I played different Strats (as people call them too) in music stores, I developed a love for Strats with vintage pickups or vintage hardware in general. I mean guitars with this evil blues or 60`s electric sound. Since I play 60`s stuff and blues most of the time, that would be a good fit for me. But I don’t mind if the guitar is a bit more flexible. I just know what I want and nailed it down to the Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Strat. It’s not an American one, it’s made in Mexico but I don’t mind if I can take a look at the guitar first in a store, and here is the problem…

There was a time when you could find all kind of guitars in our local music stores, but that is the past. Today they have a very small collection and of course if you know what you want, you will hate all of them. I always thought they have less and less guitars because our city basically became wasteland over time, I basically imagined that there are barely people who could afford a guitar at the €1000 range and thus it would not be worth it for a store owner to show off a whole collection of different guitars. The point about poor people is probably still valid, because people can’t throw around money in our city, but the reason why the stores have just a few guitars is a total different one as I learned today…

I talked with some guy in a music store and to be honest he was very unfriendly. When I asked him if he could order this guitar so that I can check it out in the store, he replied that this would not be possible since he would hang it on the wall for the next 10 years if I would decide not to buy the guitar after testing. He said that in a tone as if I was offensive. I mean it was possible back then, was I really right? Do people barely buy guitars in our city? His statement just confirms my assumption. Even if I disliked the way he talked to me, we talked about the subject further. He said “If you would, let’s say, want to buy 5000 Fender guitars, I could set this up”. Oh boy, what an idiot I thought but continued to listen to him. He continued that manufacturers like Fender or Gibson would today only work with stores together on commission if they take that amount of guitar and if they are in the position to pay off the commission.

I didn’t “fact-check” this today because I am already too tired, but even if that would be true, it’s still evidence of incapacity for the local store if I consider that the owner makes business in our city since several decades. I wonder why he still has to rely on commission, it must be what I thought, he doesn’t sell a lot of instruments in our city, for whatever reason. In other words, he tries to stay afloat and can’t just order enough random guitars for his customers. Back to this guy, he told me that he could order the guitar I mentioned if I would pay first and I laughed and replied “Look, I don’t even know if I like to play on this model, and even if I would already know it I could also just order it online”. He then tried to persuade me into buying another brand, one of those cheapo guitars but that annoyed me even more since I dislike it that some sales persons can’t accept the fact that there are also customers that know their own direction already from researching. I said “No, thanks” and left the store.

To be honest, if this store has these issues, I respect that. But I disliked the tone this wise guy used. He even mentioned conspiracy theories like “Fender and Gibson will be gone very soon”, yeah sure, and my grandma got through the NASA tests and they will send her to Mars, but this is a different story. While I respect the fact that the store might have economic problems, I just disliked the discussion with this sales person. Talking about myself, what are the left options? Well, I can still ask other local stores, but I wouldn’t wonder if they don’t order the guitar for a test either. It’s that bad here, our music stores have been much better in the past, but now they are just not worth it anymore. The next option would be to visit a store in Hamburg, it could be that they have bigger music stores, although I know the biggest ones are in Frankfurt and Cologne but that’s a bit far away to purchase a guitar unless I connect this with a travel weekend. Just ordering the guitar online would be an option, but as said, I like this model of guitar in theory, but I want to see it in action first.

It’s funny, saving money was not the issue, testing and getting the guitar is. I planned to get myself one of the Sigma or Tamron 150-600mm lenses first but over the last weeks I started to believe that the guitar could come first since I played one that is just ok, for so long. Apart from that I have such a huge backlog of not uploaded photos, and some decent lenses already, which means I can take it easy with lens purchases at the moment. But who knows, if the guitar issue is annoying to solve, I might change my plan yet again and go with a new lens out of a store instead.


5 thoughts on “The Guitar Store Problem

  1. I think this is a trend in stores now to carry less merchandise. They say it is because more people are ordering online and it is uneconomic to stock as much. I have noticed it even in chain stores, fewer household appliances and not always the brands you want. When it is something you want to try before you buy it is even more frustrating. I imagine that individual guitars even of the same brand may not sound the same, not the good ones anyway. I would think that any musician would want to play the instrument before parting with money unless there is the opportunity to return it for a refund. and even that is not ideal. You would try a lens in the shop before you bought it. You should be able to try a guitar.
    Regardless of the business aspect I think that store owner has very poor customer service skills. You will probably be reluctant to shop there again because of his bad attitude.
    Perhaps the idea of travelling to another city to purchase the guitar you want is not a bad idea. Especially if you combine it with some photography or other vacation activity.or visit to friends. However, I think I would be contacting the stores you hoped to visit first to see if the instrument you’d like to try in stock so you can try it out as you can’t come back easily if they have to order it in.

    1. You are right, the individual Fender models for example all play different (the neck or fretboard has different sizes and other differences) and the guitars sound different due to to different pickups (there are tons of options for that alone). That’s something I like, because they discovered this market of guitarists who want to find their own tunes. So, naturally I would go with a guitar that is totally Vintage, pickups that were used in the 60`s. I love that Woodstock or Jimi Hendrix sound, or if it just sounds retro but they can be very well used for blues too. There are so much factors for a guitarist, and the sales person should know it that buying can’t be done without playing first.

      Playing the instrument was never a problem back then, not even ordering a guitar to the store before buying. My current guitar was a cheapo model but people said back then it would be a “secret tip” for that price. I went to the store almost two decades ago and said “Yo, can you please order this one?”. They did it, and I went there played on it for 6 hours straight (laugh) in their dark guitar basement and said “Yeah, I want that guitar” and bought it. It was 700 Deutsche Mark (350 Euro) at that time. Even if that was a cheapo, I wouldn’t have spend the money without playing on it. Of course I am grown out of this guitar, if you become a better player, you want a better guitar. This one is limiting me because there are better designed fret boards out there, Fender does make awesome fretboards but they have so many different ones with V shape, U shape, C shape and different sizes that you really can’t just go in and say “Give me this one”, same goes for the sounds and stuff.

      Good point with the online stores. I think a lot of people went into the local stores and ordered a guitar for a test and finally purchased them for €100 or €200 less online afterwards since these big online stores can set these prices due to their large inventory. I have the cash right now to afford a decent guitar at the price range around €1000, and since this particular guitar costs around €870, I would even pay €1000 locally if I like this one…. mainly because it would be easy for me too with local warranty instead of online warranty. I would see the lost money as warranty convenience. So, he had someone in buying mood in front of him.

      Yes, the customer service was awful, if someone starts a discussion with me like “If you can buy 5000, I can set this up”… I would fire this person right away if this would be my store. That’s a cheeky way to speak with customers, as same as telling someone who wants a Fender guitar that they disappear from the market soon anyway (like saying Mercedes will be gone this year). You are right, I went out there with the idea that I won’t even buy €15 guitar strings there anymore. If they continue on this way, they are the only ones who will be done in a few years. 😀

      I play with the vacation idea and I still have money left for it when I substract the guitar because I saved a bit more as I had difficulties to make buying decisions. Maybe something like two or three days. I just don’t like Frankfurt, but Cologne would be cool. They both have a “mega guitar store” with thousands of guitar on the wall, these stores do even show off the guitars on YouTube. In case I do that, I would contact them, even if they have so many guitars. I would not forget my camera on a city trip 🙂

      Anyway, it’s still funny… I saved money for one of the three wishlist item… new guitar, longer lens and maybe 1-2 weeks vacations…. when I achieved the goal to afford one item, the idea to really spend the money became difficult because cash makes you feel super secured, and I saved more. As always, grandma convinced me “Spend it on the things you love, you don’t know what happens tomorrow”. Now that the guitar problem is there, I am afraid I will fall back to the habit and don’t spend it at all because of thinking back and forth 😀

      For next week I still have another local store on my plan, last year they seemed to be cool guys, maybe they help me out. But I assume they don’t do it either.

  2. There are some very fine stores that sell musical instruments in this country and I’m sure you have them there, too. You just need to do enough research to make sure you’ve found a good organization. When i bought my ukulele, it took a lot of conversation before I decided — and it was a relatively small purchase. A guitar is a big one.

    1. Not in our city. But there are mega music stores in Cologne and Frankfurt where you can get any guitar because they have a super large inventory. Our city does have a few very small shops with maybe 20 guitars on the wall, and that is very sad.

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