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Who Has the Best Deals and Prices on Music Gear? - Sam Ash - Guitar Center - Review and Shopping Tips

Updated on February 10, 2017

Throughout the years as an active musician who is constantly performing, teaching, and obsessively recording, I've periodically conducted extensive research and a considerable amount of price comparison shopping in an ongoing effort to upgrade my home studio and live performance experience with the most recent, modernized, cutting edge technology and music gear available. In this entry, I will focus on two of the largest musical instrument retailers in the world, Guitar Center and Sam Ash Music. Both have built solid and well deserved reputations over the years for providing consumers with a wide variety of quality products and services at the best prevailing market prices.

As a result of my exploratory and investigative oriented shopping experience, I've acquired a vast wealth of valuable working knowledge and in depth understanding of how each company runs its respective operations as it relates to all facets of the musical instrument business. In the following review I will offer my personal opinions on a few key areas and focus upon logical shopping techniques and tips to be used if and when you contemplate a purchase from either of the two retailing giants. The tips I touch upon in this entry may help you to secure the best possible outcome on your music gear shopping experience which will hopefully result in substantial monetary savings while you gain a quality product.

Both Sam Ash and Guitar Center offer essentially the same line of gear, give or take a few items which may be exclusive to one or the other, but essentially, the inventory of both is fungible or the same in likeness. The most popular categories include Guitars ( Electric & Acoustic ) Drums ( Electronic & Acoustic ) Keyboards ( Mainly Electronic ) Home Recording Equipment, and lastly, accessories that either enhance or support this respective product line.

So sit back, and enjoy the musical journey. As always, if you have additional info or input to share on this or a closely related topic, please feel free to leave an insightful, detailed comment at the bottom of this page.

Photo Courtesy of Matt McGee
Photo Courtesy of Matt McGee

- No Sales Tax For Some Online Purchases -

Just like a cruise ship floating atop international waters, there seems to be no specific jurisdiction at this point in time which dictates tariff collection on consumer purchases. So in some cases, it's "Duty Free", or on land it's called "Tax Free".

Presently, there are several online stores which are exempt from charging sales tax, and talk about substantial savings if you buy via the Internet, especially big ticket or high end products. You may be surprised at the large percentage of the general public who are still not aware of this fact, especially the golden generation who may not be regular online shoppers or don't even surf the Internet yet.

The general rules and guidelines which have been established over the decades in relation to traditional brick and mortar commerce have yet to be completely integrated with our online shopping experience, therefore, in many instances we are still in a sweet spot when purchasing via a click. Check with the specific company or respective web site you're interested in buying a product from to find out if collecting a sales tax is a requirement and if they currently charge a tariff for merchandise sold via the Internet. I think you may be surprised to find out how many are still operating duty free. One common element that seems to dictate the collection or non-collection of a sales tax is the state in which the transaction takes place. There are other aspects in play, but this is one of the primary determinative considerations.

Photo Courtesy of borevagen
Photo Courtesy of borevagen


Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

So what exactly does this mean? Unless it's a one time offer or Internet special, usually the online branch of a store or company will offer the same exact product at the same exact price as its physical location just down the block from your house. Essentially, a $1000 item purchased online without the added tax burden costs a grand total of $1000 ( Check shipping charges especially around Christmas, typically, many items will ship free. If not, it still may be worth the purchase but might not be as good of a bargain ). In comparison, let's say the same exact item is purchased at the brick and mortar and you pay the standard sales tax rate of say 8%. Even without adding potential shipping charges, your $1000 purchase is now up to a total of $1080. So instantaneously, without even negotiating, you've already saved $80 or 8% which is pretty substantial for doing nothing more than ordering the product via the online web site. In addition, if the online branch offers free or discounted shipping charges, placing the order using this option may turn out to be the most prudent, budget friendly way to save time, fuel expenses, headaches, and of course money.

- Closeouts & Discontinued Models -

Unquestionably, some of the best deals, especially on products that appreciate in value such as Gibson, Fender, or Gretch guitars, can be found in this category. And believe it or not, these "Once in a Lifetime" offers happen more often than you think, and of course you already know this if you're an individual who stays abreast of the slow moving, stagnate musical instrument market. Knowing when new models will be manufactured and delivered to retailers, how many will be produced, etc. This is extremely valuable information to keep track of which will inevitably prepare you with negotiating power to be used for future purchases if and when these sweet deals materialize. Irresistibly must have deals don't materialize quite as often with the higher end gear such as Gibson or Fender, but if you stay informed, do a little research, and remain unwaveringly vigilant in your quest, you never know, it can pay off in spades. Case in point below.

I was fortunate enough to purchase a brand new in the box, never been touched outside the factory Gibson Les Paul at an unbelievable 30% discount just because it was a discontinued model, That's right, just because Gibson was no longer manufacturing this particular guitar in a specific color and the warehouse was over stocked, the retailers were actually willing to realize a sizable loss on a premier quality guitar simply to clear a little inventory off the books. And yes, believe it or not, retailers will slash prices, even on the legendary Gibson Les Paul if they feel it's warranted and it will save the franchise money. So not only did I get an incredible discount, it was a substantial savings on a top notch, legendary guitar that would also appreciate in value faster than some of its sisters in the same class due primarily to the end of production status, hence, the rarity and supply and demand factor comes into play.

Photo Courtesy of borevagen
Photo Courtesy of borevagen


Unlike automobiles, boats, or most other assets, which unless they have attained antique or collectible status, tend to depreciate, Gibson Guitars have always appreciated in value as they age, especially the discontinued models. The Gibson Guitar I bought in 2003 was an overstock product from 2002. A perfect example of a company that needed to move inventory in order to save money and I became the fortuitous beneficiary of poor product management by the franchise. I got a 30% discount on a discontinued model which should actually appreciate in value faster than a model in current production. So needless to say, although a bit of luck was on my side, it was still a fantastic bargain all the way around for me. All relevant deciding factors falling into place like they did at that point in time, certainly doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's a great feeling to know you got a fantastic deal on a top quality collectible instrument.

So my best advice would be to look at the prospects for a discontinued or closeout special on just about any music gear product you're interested in before making a final decision. If the larger retailers occasionally offer this kind of substantial bargain on one of the premier electric guitars on the market today, I'm sure other deals of equal or substantially greater savings can be found with even greater ease.

Photo Courtesy of borevagen
Photo Courtesy of borevagen

- Negotiate -

Yes, it's merchandise purchased from an online store and most people I talk to automatically assume the price of musical instruments and accessories are written in stone. Conventional wisdom seems to dictate the only time you're "Allowed" to negotiate price and terms is when you're shopping for an automobile or a home, and of course this logic couldn't be further from the truth. Everything is potentially negotiable, not to suggest you can purchase anything at anytime for a deep, store busting discount with very little effort, but it doesn't hurt to give it a go, even when shopping online. It's certainly not a strategy out of which a guaranteed favorable outcome will emerge, but always worth a try.

Take my Gibson Les Paul purchase for example. Brand new 2003 models were listed for $1,999.00 at the time I was shopping. The overstocked, discontinued model that I enthusiastically purchased without hesitation was a 2002 model listed at a discounted tag of $1,499.00. No scratches, no dings or blemishes, it was brand new, still in the box and resting snugly in a felt lined protective case. The only reason for the significant price cut was to enable the company to move inventory presumably for accounting reasons. So from the word go, I realized a savings of $500 right out of the gate on a pristine, legendary Rock and Roll icon. I was already sold on the guitar and had planned on purchasing anyway, but here's where the uncomplicated negotiating tactics came into play.

The Les Paul was offered for sale by what I like to refer to as a second tier retailer, not of the stature or reputation of larger, well established companies, and I always prefer to make purchases from one of the premier stores like "Sam Ash" or "Guitar Center". So I logged on and probed both sites to find out if either outlet had the same guitar offered at the same price. To my surprise and excitement, one of them did have the exact same model, year, and color I was interested in buying, however, it was listed at a slightly higher price of $1,529.00. Still a fantastic deal but $1499.00 would have been even better. So I called the retailer in question to inquire as to whether or not they would be willing to match, or possibly even beat the second tier company's price of $1,499.00. After several minutes of negotiations, the deal was sealed at a matched price of $1499.00. So in my opinion, it's never a good idea to just assume anything, especially in regard to price, even when shopping for musical instruments. My personal account reveals a proof positive scenario that illustrates a favorable outcome which is not unique to my personal experience. If you apply a magical combination of adequate negotiation skills, in depth research, and are the fortuitous recipient of a bit of luck, I believe anyone can finalize an even better bargain than they had ever dreamed possible.

Photo Courtesy of raging_rocket_run
Photo Courtesy of raging_rocket_run
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