Buying a guitar for Xmas?

There is an old saying that “a dog is for life, not for Christmas”. Whilst this is a message that Mill Hill Music Complex would support to the hilt, we also consider that the same is true for parents buying their chilren a guitar. Around this time of year, we start seeing the first of the Xmas rush of parents coming in to try and buy a guitar for a child who wants to become the next rock and roll superstar.

Especially in these financially challenging times, parents are often keen to spend the absolute minimum on the product. Many will end up buying cheap packages from discount companies such as Costco or from online retailers. For small specialist retailers such as ourselves, this can be frustrationg, when hours of advice are given and potential customers then go off and buy one for a tenner less from Ebay.

What inevitably happens next causes much gnashing of teeth. Specialist retailers such as ourselves offer a full back up service. For products bought from our store, we give a complete service. Where parents don’t know how to tune guitars or fit replacement strings, we look after our custiomers. It is part of the service. For customers who buy online or from Costco, we charge them to do this.

Unlike a CD or a video game, musical instruments have much requirement for after sales support, especially for novices. Strings break, guitars go out of tune, occasionally a guitar develops fret buzz. Sometimes a machine head comes loose. All of these things will be rectified for free uif bought from our shop. When this is not the case, replacing a string will cost a£5 (plus the £1.20 cost of a string), fixing a machine head may cost £5-10 (plus parts), fixinga  fret buzz may cost £10 or £20.

We had one customer, who had spent hours getting advice and then bought a guitar online to save £15. When it arrived it was out of tune. He had bought a package with a  tuner and saved £20 on the deal (so he told us). In the process of trying to tune the guitar, he’d broken a string. He then nipped in to see us – “How much for a new string” We said “£1.20”. He then asked “Can you fit it?”. We replied “yes, that will be an extra £5”. He replied that we’d told him we fitted strings for free. We replied that we did for customers who had bought the guitar from us. He informed us that this was extortionate and would take his custom elsewhere. A week later he was back. Same question. This time he meekly handed over his £6.20. He then informed us that the guitar was buzzing when he played it. A quick examination showed that the guitar needed a truss rod adjustment and a set up. This would cost him a further £25. He stated that he wouldn’t bother and was going to return the guitar to the retailer.

A week later he returned. The retailer had refused to take the guitar back, as he had not complied with the timeframe for their returns policy. So his initial saving of £20, had cost him £31.20 so far. He then informed us that he didn’t like the guitar and found it hard to play. More bad news. The guitar had rather heavy strings on it. We recommended Ernie Ball super slinkys and offered him a similar model with these strings on to try. He said he liked these and found them easier to play. He was not amused to find that he’d have to pay for a new set of strings and another £10 to have them fitted.

Once the new strings were fitted, the customer was happy. He wryly commented that he’d spent £40 just to get the guitar into a state where he could happily strum a few chords. After about a year, he decided that he wanted a better guitar. This time, he visited the shop, sat down and went through everything with us. We fitted a new set of strings to his requirements for free as part of the deal, and he was able to go home and play it.

If you are buying a new guitar, please consider using your local specialist shop. None of us can survive simply on selling replacement strings. It is all very well using our knowledge to get a better deal off the internet, but don’t be surprised to be charged for help when things go wrong with the products. One of our customers runs a rather nice cafe locally. We had a discussion about whether he would buy a guitar from us or go online and buy it for £15 cheaper (having played every guitar in the shop). I informed him that if he did, I would visit his cafe every day and eat my own sandwiches and bringa  flask of tea. He said if I did, he would charge me corkage on them. When I pointed out that was in effect what he was doing, using our shop to try and then buying elsewhere, he understood why we charged for the small jobs listed above.

Of course, some experienced players get real bargains on line, when they can do set ups, string changes etc. What they realise cannot be guaranteed is the quality of the product they are buying. Major retailers such as Costco never check the products before sales. On line retailers claim they do, but we’ve seen hundreds of guitars which are in an awful state on arrival.

Bear in mind most guitars are made of wood, which is a natural material and reacts to humidity. Most are produced in China, spend several weeks ina  container, traversing tropical oceans in container ships. They then are put in large warehouses and kept until sale. They are then despatched by a courier to your house. With a small shop like ours, we unpack them and check hem. If there is a buzz or another problem, we can either recitify it or we supply another instrument on the spot. An online retailer won’t. They often have draconian returns polcies, which mean you are forced to then seek specialist advice (which costs money).

Don’t always assume that the cheapest product will give you the same result as one supplied by a reputable dealer. That is not to say every guitar bought online will be faulty, but it is a risk. Another issue to bear in mind is that sometimes your child will ask for a guitar and you’ll buy the wrong model/colour. A retailer such as us, will generally swap it if it is unplayed for athe right one on the spot. That option is not possible with an online retailer.

All of these things are things to consider. If you are buying someone their first guitar, you could be giving them a lifetimes worth of enjoyment. Make sure you get it right.

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