Mitt Romney's music stores not doing well...

December 2, 2013 2:54 PM

I posted this same link to Facebook and someone commented:

Mitt Romney left Bain Capital nearly a decade before it bought Guitar Center in 2007. Doesn't make it any better, obviously, and I'm no fan of Romney. But still.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:11 PM on December 2, 2013

it's been my impression that they're doing fairly well - i've NEVER been the only shopper in a guitar center and i've been in 12 different ones over the past few years - they all seem to be doing fairly well and are well stocked, although as far as guitars go, it's a matter of sheer luck if you find a cheap new one that isn't a piece of crap - (actually if it's an epiphone, it's impossible, but ...)

there are other sources for used stuff, but you can actually search their database online for things and go get them if they're within driving distance and you're fast enough

i'm also a little dubious about the claim that they've put independent shops out of business
posted by pyramid termite at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2013

Speaking as someone who was actually working in music instrument retail in the early 90's, the GC/Sam Ash/Mars Music BigBox Retail approach definitely put a hurting on local shops. The final nail in the coffin rather than the outright killing blow, maybe, for businesses that were already under pressure from mail order sales and often kind of laxly or incompetently run (I mean, musicians worked at music instrument stores, fer cryin' out loud . . . .), but a really major shock, nonetheless.

Not that I'm necessarily rolling in sepia-tinted warm-fuzzy nostalgia for Ye Olde Neighborhood Music Shoppe - there were puh-lenty of shady motherfuckers behind the counters at the various stores in my city.

When Guitar Center moved in to Cleveland in, ah, '94 or thereabouts, Sam Ash also moved in, and this was actually the first time these two MegaStore chains had actually gone head-to-head in the same city. This was a BIG Deal in the music retail trade press. And both chains started by recruiting the best salespeople and managers away from local stores, with promises of job security and financial rewards that sounded kind of unrealistic even to my naive ears (some of these people did make careers out of it, but many others found that reality didn't live up to the promises and left fairly quickly).

In a couple of years, almost all the other music stores in the greater Cleveland & Akron area had gone out of business. They just couldn't compete on price and selection. The handful that survived mostly did so through offering private lessons and rental, sales, and service on band instruments for kids in music programs at schools. A couple managed to limp along mostly through location.

Having said all that, I don't think GC actually bought out any local stores, so there's that.

Also, while I don't really speak financialese gobbledegook, I dunno if it's quite as simple as "Guitar Center be broke." There's some doubt about how they're handling their debt load, but I'm not sure that's quite the same thing as "They're not selling enough guitars and will sink like the Titanic any day now."
posted by soundguy99 at 7:38 PM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only GC I've ever been into is the one on Sunset in LA. It's like a pit of despair. Sam Ash is right opposite and lovely.
posted by sweet mister at 8:03 PM on December 2, 2013

Since I left the US for Japan in '95 and have only been back for rare and short visits since then, I had never been in one at all until last month, when I spent a month in NYC. I went to a GC in a kind of urban mall at Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn, and I gotta say, sweet mister's characterization in his comment just above hit the nail on the head: pit of despair. I mean, it was the saddest-ass music store I've ever been in. A bunch of totally bored dudes trying to sell a pile of ultra-generic gear. The drum and percussion section was pathetic, really. Miserable, incredibly skimpy selection. We're talking New York City here. I remembered the old Times Square area stores (Manny's, Sam Ash and a host of smaller, vital music stores) and felt, well, sad.

Drummer's World, a favorite old shop, has this to say on their website.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:32 PM on December 2, 2013

Yeah, the perils of big business - fucks stop being given pretty quickly about quality in favour of cheap, passable wares.

The guitar shop in the town I went to college in was the most odd, magical cave of delights - nothing can match the whims of a single person, maybe two, picking most of the stock. I remember coveting it's most fabulous treasures, whilst simultaneously eyeing a bloated Danelectro bass and feeling gaggy because it was so hideous (all according to taste - I know folk who love those things).

I want my guitar shops to be like a zoo, where you can see both the most splendid and the most wretched, and decide your favourite is the funny-looking thing in the corner.
posted by greenish at 3:37 AM on December 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well said, greenish. I'm with you on that all the way.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:49 AM on December 3, 2013

That's interesting, sweet mister, because on my latest visit to both the local GC & SA (about a year ago), they were virtually identical - both pretty bland and soulless, but laid out almost exactly the same. Like I think the only difference was the SA was slightly smaller (and therefore felt a little more pleasingly cramped) and their temp-and-humidity-controlled acoustic room was more prominent than GC's. I went from one right to the other, and I actually had a moment or two of "Wait, which store am I in?"

And the more I think about it, the more I think the article flapjax linked to is kinda off the mark by a decade. Twenty-ish years ago was when the big box music retailers hit the local stores, but at least here in Cleveland the last 5 - 10 years have seen a bit of a resurgence in local stores.

Top-of-my-head thoughts about why (not in any particular order):

- growing interest in private music lessons as local schools have their budgets (and therefore music programs) cut

- LOTS of people increasingly disgruntled with the "bored & uninformed dude" attitude of the salespeople at the big boxes. So some of 'em started their own stores.

- craigslist as free/cheap advertising that actually works

- a growing number of smaller or less-well-known manufacturers or brands. The big boxes won't carry 'em, so the smaller local stores get to be exclusive dealers for stuff people have heard about on the web or in magazines. And not necessarily high-end super-expensive stuff, either.

- along the same lines, the big boxes tend to stock mostly the popular standards from the major manufacturers. Some of the locals have found a bit of a niche in stocking some of the more obscure or unusual pieces from the majors.

- I think the recession dumped a huge amount of used gear on the market, and the big boxes locally have a piss-poor reputation for used gear, both buying and selling. So I suspect some of the locals got a pretty big boost in their inventory and attention from people looking to dump gear for cash quickly, or people looking to pick up bargains.

where you can see both the most splendid and the most wretched, and decide your favourite is the funny-looking thing in the corner.

Yeah, see, this is why I tend to try to avoid going in music stores in general. The lure of the weird is just too strong for me. Like, a few months ago I went cruising around area stores just for the hell of it, and one of them had a 3/4 size upright bass painted lime green. I don't play out, I don't play upright, I live in a small apartment already slightly too full of music junk, it was way more money than I had to spend, and I still basically had to drag myself out of the store by my own collar before I plunked down the credit card for that lovely monstrosity.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:27 AM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

That's interesting, sweet mister, because on my latest visit to both the local GC & SA (about a year ago), they were virtually identical - both pretty bland and soulless, but laid out almost exactly the same.

It was mostly the staff, although the selection in SA was much better. The guy in SA went out of his way to be nice, put a guitar aside for me because I couldn't decide about it, and remained friendly and polite when I came back later and didn't buy it. There was just a much better vibe about the whole thing.
posted by sweet mister at 11:08 AM on December 3, 2013

I've bought one thing at GC: an AKG C414 mic that they had for $799, as opposed to the $1400 or so up here in Toronto. We made a roadtrip to beautiful downtown Tonawanda, New York and spent the day loading up on clothes and groceries. It was okay, nothing great. Shiny and clean but half empty.
Other than that I sort of split my business between the smaller places here in T.O. like Capsule, Ring, Paul's Boutique and the inevitable Long & McQuade. LA Music wasn't too bad, cheaper than L&M.
Oh also the occasional online boutique-type things, like Strymon pedals.
posted by chococat at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2013

Long and McQuade have come through for me time and time again and I'm always surprised how cheap they are. Also they reliably price match which is great. LA Music not too bad but a bit shambolic. I also quite like Metro up in Markham. Totally unsung is PAShop in London which has mindboggling fast shipping and really nice guys running it. Online I've also had good service from Moog in Montreal and Axe which is in Edmonton I think. Folkway in Guelph also shipped something to me very nicely.

My friend Dave has a music store in Owen Sound that's always surprisingly (to me) cheap.

It's quite rare now that you can't match a Musician's Friend deal in Canada, once you factor in shipping and brokerage.
posted by sweet mister at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2013

The only GC I've ever been into is the one on Sunset in LA.

I bought a Martin D-12-20 there in, like, 1970. $200, I think. I have no idea whether it was a chain back then, but I thought that it was the only one.

I have bought strings at my local one (nothing else), because the little independent guitar shop does not carry the gauge I need. One of my co-workers has a Gibson he got from GC, which apparently was made just for that chain. That feels sorta creepy.
posted by Danf at 1:50 PM on December 3, 2013

Dammit, chococat & sweet mister, didn't I just tell you I already have too much stuff???!!! Stop linking to cool music stores with cool stuff.

But yeah, stores like Capsule and Ring and Metro are the kinda stores that often took a dive after Guitar Center moved in.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:10 PM on December 3, 2013

We made a roadtrip to beautiful downtown Tonawanda, New York

The real reason you should take a trip to Tonanwanda is to see THE MIGHTY WURLITZER at the Riviera Theatre.

The pictures from that page don't do it justice - it's a fully restored "theatre organ", which means not just a pipe organ but an orchestra pit with a piano and marimbas and various percussion and horns and all kinds of stuff all controlled hydraulically (I think) from the organ console.

I have seen it in action, and it is awesome.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:20 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only things I've ever bought at a GC were strings because they broke mid-session, and it really was a waste of time to go further than the 3 blocks to the nearest locally owned music store of choice (LOMSoC), or buy new ones online like I normally do. However, I've been inside GCs many times, usually with someone else who can't seem to understand why they're the Wal-Mart of music stores, ready to find them a better price online, or refer them to a significantly better experience at the LOMSoC.

I want my guitar shops to be like a zoo, where you can see both the most splendid and the most wretched, and decide your favourite is the funny-looking thing in the corner.

Spectacular; though I would extend it from just guitar shops to music stores as a whole. I love going in drumsticks, tympani mallets, or a bass clarinet cleaning, and walking out with some random doodad that I've never seen before, and upon knocking about with it for 30 seconds in the store, have thought of at least seventeen distinct uses for it in a recording or performance.
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 9:57 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

The GC near my house in the Valley has a great selection of used analog and vintage synths that I can't afford but they let me noodle with anyway. Slim and Sub Phatties, Minitaurs, MS20s, Microkorg, and Minibrute (I bought a Mini used based on my tests at GC). The Sam Ash near my house basically only sells MIDI controllerss and soft synths but has some really interesting classes.

I tried to go to two locally-owned synth shops only to find that they are web-only outfits (although the lady at Analogue Haven said I could make an appointment to visit, her tone of voice and body language screamed "JUST BUY ONLINE AND LEAVE ME ALONE"). So I really don't know what to do if I want to try, say, a Pittsburgh Modular Foundation before I buy.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:39 PM on December 30, 2013

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