How much for that tele-deluxe in the window?
February 23, 2006 8:57 PM   Subscribe

How do guitars and other musical gear get priced on the retail end?

I'm a (very) amateur guitarist looking to purchase a mid-range electric. I'm pretty sure I know what I want, and my friendly local (and reputable) music store has it at $620, as opposed to $700 recommended from the manufacturer. All well and good, but why is the pricing on instruments so arbitrary, apparently? Why doesn't my FLMS put a price on each guitar hanging in the shop? Why do some manufacturers not even list a recommended price? Am I mistaken in thinking guitar pricing is a lot more opaque than other things, or is my FLMS not so friendly?
posted by bardic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
Guitar pricing is totally opaque. Check out online sellers, and you'll find the new instruments usually 40 to 60% off the manufacturer's recommended price, which makes the local place's 10-20% look sort of scammy.

Sometimes, as in the case of some mid-range and all low-end instruments, it is possible that the music store will set up the instrument and make sure it's working right before you handle it. A lot of chain music stores, especially Guitar Center, won't be bothered to do this or will do it wrong, and shopworn merchandise is also a problem there. And for high end instruments, like your PRS or Gibson or Fender Custom Shop, the guitar is set up at the factory to be perfect; the hair metal dude working at Guitar Center ruins it as soon as it's out of the box.

Check ebay, check, get a account and post for help; and if you want to post the model of the guitar you're interested in, I probably could find you one online from an online guitar store with a decent reputation. (You do have to be careful buying online, but of my 13 electric guitar buying experiences in the last couple years, 9 of the top 10 were conducted online; my feeling is that there are many *more* ways to go wrong buying from a brick and mortar store than from an online place that is shipping you a factory-fresh, untouched by human hands instrument.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:41 PM on February 23, 2006

I'd like to add two points to Ikkyu2's excellent response:
1. Your FLMS is almost certainly open to haggling. Make them an offer. When making an offer, it might help to know that (for new gear) the store will typically have paid 50% of MSRP for the instrument. For your example, MSRP is $700, they paid $350. Their price of $620 represents a $270 markup.

3. Ikkyu2 is right that it's easy to go wrong with a bricks-and-mortar store, but on the other hand, every guitar is different. You might love the FLMS's Tele Deluxe, but hate an apparently identical one you acquired elsewhere. I, for one, would probably not consider buying one without playing it first.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 4:40 AM on February 24, 2006

Your FLMS is ALWAYS your best bet. It is correct that the typical store pays roughly half of the suggested list price, when you factor in shipping costs. A good store will then prepare the instrument for sale, by setting it up, testing electronics, etc. A chain store typicallly will just stack the guitars up, and frequently doesn't even remove them from the box. Many local stores also offer setups of service for a period of time after the purchase. They will show the user features on the instrument. There is an inherent cost to all of this. Sure, you can probably get it cheaper online. If you are lucky enough to receive the final product set up and playable to your liking, great. If not, you will pay more to have it set up than you would have originally paid for the guitar in your FLMS. The WalMart mentality has taken over the minds of young instrument buyers. Look at the big picture.
posted by webtom at 6:17 AM on February 24, 2006

Another plug in favor of the FLMS: By buying there, you become part of your local music community. You're going to be going there for strings, equipment, and accessories. Why wouldn't you want them to know you well and thnk of you as a serious customer? It's likely there will be perks beyond saving money that being a patron will confer on you.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on February 24, 2006

ikkyu2 is a guitar playing neurologist. How come there isn't a TV show based on his adventures?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am going to ask that you remove the "Best Answer" flag from ikkyu2's answer. He strikes me as wrong on almost every point.

I work at a FLMS. I deal with our wholesalers, repair centers, and customers. We are a central point in our local musical community. We dispense advise, free quickie lessons, encouragement, free adjustments. We have an in-house luthier that will take time to actually consult with you before any major decisions are made concerning work done to your guitar. We offer much more than an online retailer could ever hope to.

Concerning pricing: We, like most music stores I'm aware of, will match the on line retailers price. Some stores will outright price the guitar that way (we do). The ones that don't will still match that price in order to keep your business. Just (politely) show them where that product can be found and for how much.

With most (not all) manufactures, they set a retail price. This price is usually twice the net price. They will also set a MAP (minimum advertised price)--usually 30% off of the retail. This is the price that essentially everybody sells at--online or brick and mortar. For example a Mexican standard Fender Stratocaster will have a list price of appx 500 dollars. The MAP (and consequentially the selling price) will be $350 pretty much everywhere. We (as will the big companies if the manufacturers are playing fair) will pay $250 for that ax. Trust me though, after all other expenses are taken into consideration, the store makes far less than $100 on that particular sale. As a result, that is as low as that particular item will go. Amps are quite similar in pricing.

With items like pedals thing get murkier. Manufacturers will sometimes sell effects to extra large retailers at a highly reduced rate. This results in an environment that allows an online retailer to to sometimes sell for a price that is dangerously close to what we pay for the pedal. It sucks to sell a Boss pedal for 2 bucks over net (actually at a loss when all is said and done) but we will match them even in those cases in order to hopefully insure your return business.

Concerning an instrument "untouched by human hands":

First off, that sounds a little pathological. I wouldn't dream of purchasing an ax that I didn't get a chance to play for a while, and I wouldn't expect anyone else to either.

If you come in and find an instrument you like, but want the same in the "virginal" variety, we'll just phone one in for you--it should arrive in a few days.

Online stores are a little shady about the term "new". As an authorized service center for many brands, it is common for items to come in to us for repair purchased on line. We see some pretty amazing service records. Many online stores will have a pretty long return "window." Since these items are purchased sight unseen you can imagine the buyer's remorse rate is pretty high. I've seen supposedly "new" items come in that are really on their fourth owner--on month at a time--many of them after multiple repairs.

Concerning setups: With the exception of settings on the extreme edges, setups are pretty much a matter of taste. One player's "sweet!" would be another player's "suck!" There is very little "right or wrong" here.

One thing for certain: You will never get a setup from an online store for free. You buy from a local place, they will take care of you--a free initial setup is no big deal--especially to our "regulars." You come in with a guitar you bought online, well, our regular setup fee is $35 dollars. A couple of those and you see how you haven't saved any money.

So, I feel there are many more ways to go wrong from an online dealer, especially if you want to isolate yourself from a great support network. The deals aren't that great and there is no love.

Sorry this response took so much time to compose, but I got a couple of kids started on their first ax, dispensed ton a ton of advice and made new friends. Good luck!
posted by sourwookie at 9:16 AM on February 24, 2006

What webtom and miko said.
posted by sourwookie at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2006

Hmm. I would never disagree with what sourwookie has to say here. There are still music stores that are "friendly" and "local," (Mandolin Bros. on Staten Island comes to mind), and if you can find one, with a real luthier who understands electric guitars, well, they're worth their weight in gold.

I'm someone who prefers to set up his own instrument - not only because I know how I want it set up, but because I enjoy setting up a guitar. If you can't do that, and if you know a real music store with real people who will set up your instrument the way you like it, I agree absolutely that you do better at your FLMS. It's fun to hang out at the FLMS, anyway. People who love guitars are there.

On the other hand, I dropped $X on guitars in the last 5 years. I obtained 11 wonderful guitars. If I'd dropped $X on guitars at my FLMS, though, I'd have maybe 5 guitars. For those of us, like doctors, for whom money isn't totally unlimited (but the gear obsession is), we're thinking about that kind of thing.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:41 PM on February 24, 2006

I think what really bugs me is that a lot of friendly local music stores charge a lot of money for guitars, have no idea how a guitar should be set up, and often sell broken or unplayable guitars, at the kind of prices where you could be buying a pair of the same guitar online. I see more of that than I see of the really good local guitar shop.

Also, has anyone mentioned Dan Erlewine's "How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great!"? Well, now they have.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:44 PM on February 24, 2006

Yes, well I wouldn't say those things about a shitty local music shop. Around here we're prisoner to Daddy's Junky Music for many things, and I think they're a lazy and disreputable chain. But I play acoustic, and at least on the East Coast you're always within a couple hours of a good acoustic instrument shop.
posted by Miko at 8:58 PM on February 24, 2006

I don't run that kind of store (granted, I'm only an employee, a trained employee however, and the store is a century old.)

I wish no one else did either. Someone who has no idea how a guitar is to be set up has no, well, just don't get me started.

And rip off-artists are teh suck.

Hurting for axes in Frisco though? Are gear and stores really that dear there? We must live in different worlds. Mine is the "play to pay rent" planet. It's an odd place. Should've gone to med school.
posted by sourwookie at 12:40 AM on February 25, 2006

Actually, my guitar buying frenzy happened in New York City, and apart from Mando Bros., the entire retail guitar world within 100 miles of there could be napalmed and I wouldn't shed a tear.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:03 PM on February 25, 2006

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