The Top 5 Places to Buy Gear

Every guitar player, regardless of their skill level or style, deserves to have a great buying experience.  So, as Memorial Day approaches and stores begin prepping their online and brick-and-mortar storefronts for one of the biggest retail weekends of the year, wanted to take a  look at  some of the biggest and the not-as-big retailers so you know where to get your gear.

sweetwater-logo_093415Sweetwater Sound

“From Joe to Pro”

A particular favorite of, Sweetwater entered the music business 35 years ago with a focus on recording technology.  Sweetwater’s founder, Chuck Surack, had previously been a touring musician and quickly became known for the personalized level of service he provided, particularly with recording and sampler technology.

Sweetwater’s studio-centric soul is still evident today, carrying everything from the tireless standard Shure SM57 to high-end, hand-built, professional grade studio rack equipment, in addition to guitars, basses, amps and effects for all budgets.  Catering to such a wide variety of skill levels and price points really make Sweetwater stand out, but it’s not the only area where the company has truly innovated.

If you’ve ever made a purchase from Sweetwater, you’ve probably received a personal email from one of Sweetwater’s sales staff.  Called “sales engineers”, these folks act as your advocate at every step of the sale.  And this is not a one-time thing.  I’ve had the same sales engineer since I placed my first order with Sweetwater years ago and have always been very pleased with the help he’s provided me, even on the smallest orders.

Sweetwater also introduced the online market to the Guitar Gallery.  Instead of referring to generic  photos, players get to view the actual guitars in stock by serial number, with helpful details such as weight listed.  It provides potential online buyers with the closest thing to an in-hand inspection possible.  It’s a feature that has proven so popular that other stores have adopted the practice, some a little too well.

Combined with its capacity to carry dozens of examples of a single model and a sales engineer assigned to monitor every stage of your transaction, about the only significant advantage a brick and mortar store might have over Sweetwater is that you actually get a whiff of that new guitar smell before whipping out your credit card.  Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the guitar section in the next Sweetwater catalog I receive is scratch-n-sniff.  Mmmmm…fresh lacquer!


New MF LogoMusician’s Friend

“The Internet’s Neighborhood Music Shop”

Musician’s Friend has been a fixture in the music retail market for a long time, enabling musicians to develop a high degree of familiarity with it.  Originally a mail-based operation, Musician’s Friend was acquired by Guitar Center in 2000 as internet-based gear sales began taking off.

As with most large retailers customer experiences vary wildly, but overall Musician’s Friend has carved out a reputation as a solid place to do business online. We here at probably placed dozens (hundreds?) of orders with Musician’s Friend since first glimpsing their catalog in the early nineties for everything from my first Dunlop Crybaby (I mowed five lawns to get that thing) to top-of-the-line guitars to a couple of packs of strings and can’t recall ever having a bad experience with them.  The one time I had to make a return (a faulty cable), everything was resolved quickly and easily with minimal fuss.  If you know what you want and like to have a variety of shipping options (including free shipping) available, Musician’s Friend will get you properly set up.

Which brings us to the other great thing about Musician’s Friend and online shopping in general: anonymity on demand.  Sometimes, we don’t want or need a lot of personal attention from a sales staff; we just want to get the items we need at the best price possible without feeling like we’re in a car dealership.  With Musician’s Friend, a human being on the other end of a phone line or chat window is there if needed, but those who wish to go it alone can still do so.

“One cast-iron skillet, one DVD copy of ‘Caddyshack’, and one flametop Les Paul Custom, please”

Amazon is the innovator when it comes to online sales.  Now the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon was mainly known for book and music sales when it started nearly twenty years ago.  Now, you can get just about anything that is bought or sold in the world today, including fascinating products like…errrr…red fox urine?

Anyway, Amazon can be a decent source for all sorts of gear needs.  Many retailers make Amazon their online sales portal, so you can easily shop several different retailers (including Amazon itself) at once and compare prices at a glance.  There’s nothing really setting Amazon apart from more specialized music retailers, however, and custom service is going to be focused on shipping or inventory questions.  But unlike iTunes, you can get all of Def Leppard’s classic discs (“High ‘n Dry” is my personal favorite).

“The Answer?”

For all the ups and downs associated with Ebay, there’s no doubt that auction sites are still a prime destination for gear seekers.  Providing some fresh competition is, an online auction site specifically geared towards musicians.  Established in 2013 by David Kalt, owner of the powerhouse vintage dealer Chicago Music Exchange, was founded with the goal of giving musicians a tailored, interactive experience.

In addition to plenty of gear, there are artist and manufacturer profiles and an ever-expanding price guide.   Plus, charges an extremely competitive flat sales fee of 3.5% for sellers, with no listing fee. is barely a year old at this point, but it’s already attracting lots of attention among musicians. We at will definitely be keeping our eyes peeled to see where takes the online auction experience when it comes to gear.


Let’s Not Forget The “Locals”

Most musicians live within a reasonable distance of an honest-to-goodness “mom and pop” music store.  We’re sure your favorite is deserving of inclusion on our list, but with the wide geographic dispersal of thousands of readers it would be tough to give a shout-out to all of them. So we decided to pick two retailers that we felt were emblematic of all the great independent music stores out while being able to deliver to just about anyone in the world, Drum City Guitar Land and The Music Farm.
drum_city_logoDrum City Guitar Land

“Nearly 50 and Still Fabulous”

Based in Wheat Ridge, Colo., Drum City Guitar Land was founded in 1965 by professional drummer Ronny Kae and is now owned and operated by his sons, Tim and Jason.  DCGL has won many prestigious awards, such as ESP Dealer of the Year for 2008, Schecter Guitar Research Independent Dealer of the Year and an award from Fender for Outstanding Support of FMIC Brands.  One might think such awards would be out of reach for an operation without the size of name recognition of larger competitors, but online reviews back up the accolades.

On top of carrying many popular brands and items, DCGL has also set itself apart with its “Closeout Corner.”  Here, musicians can find great deals on special runs and other closeouts that they would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, which makes DCGL a great place to find that unique piece to complement your rig.


Honorable Mentions

This is where you come in!  If we here at missed your favorite dealer in the rundown above, tell us about it in the comments.  How did you find them and how do they earn your business purchase after purchase?  What do they have in common with the retailers listed above and what sets them apart?  We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

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