Buying a guitar online can be an extremely convenient and enjoyable way to shop for your next instrument, and in cases of rarer items, might be the only option you’ve got. Yet many players feel uncomfortable buying guitars on the web for a variety of reasons, all of which are legitimate concerns. Generally, the biggest concern is that guitars are dynamic instruments, each one often having its own character. You could put three identical guitars next to each other, and each might play and sound just a little bit different than the rest.
So how do you get around this? How do you ensure that the guitar that comes to your door will be perfect in every way? Well, realistically, with the manufacturing of today being so heavily computerized, the consistency that companies are putting out is higher than ever. That includes low-cost import guitars as well. Generally speaking, it is a very safe bet that a guitar you buy online from a reputable dealer or seller will be just fine. There is still always the possibility however that you’ll get one that just doesn’t meet your standards. Then what? In this guide we’ll look into the best practices for buying online to ensure you don’t end up in that spot, and what to do if you do.
Buying From Online Retailers
As a Canadian or American buying a guitar or other musical instrument online, you’ve got a lot of retailers to choose from in the primary online market. Shopping online opens up buying options that would simply not be available when shopping locally. When choosing what retailer to buy from, there are a few important factors to consider in order to ensure that you get the best experience possible.
Basically, the question here is what is this store known for and what kinds of experiences have previous shoppers had when buying online from them? A little bit of internet research will provide you with examples from previous customers of just about any major retailer on the net. Is the store known for fast smooth transactions? Are they known for their reliability? Do there seem to be a disproportionate number of complaints? Remember that it’s quite often better to go with a store that has a slightly higher price if you’ll also most likely get significantly better service. Make sure to check into the retailer’s online service specifically, as sometimes a great physical store just doesn’t measure up in online sales for whatever reason.
All legitimate online retailers will have a return policy for new items, but that’s essentially where the equality stops. Return policies will vary from store to store, and some are better than others (some much better.) Always check into the return policy of a retailer you’re considering purchasing from in order to make sure that it is a) fair and b) will give you enough time to evaluate the instrument. Make sure that should the instrument need to be returned, that the retailer covers the cost of return shipping, otherwise that cost is coming out of your pocket. Most of the major online retailers cover return shipping costs, but not all. If the return policy is ambiguous, call and ask. Make sure to check for restocking fees as well, as some retailers charge a high restocking fee for online returns.
The location of the retailer is another important consideration. First of all, if you’re buying in Canada, you’ll often have the option to be from retailers in the United States. Some will offer free shipping, but be careful. While the shipping may be free, crossing the border generally isn’t. If you buy an instrument made in North America, you won’t be charged duty under NAFTA, but if the guitar you buy was manufactured in Asia or elsewhere, you may be charged duty. Secondly, commonly used shipping carriers, namely Fed Ex and UPS, are known for charging incredibly high brokerage fees when items cross the border. These fees can quickly eat up any deal you might have snagged by buying from south of the border. Go with the United States Postal Service whenever possible to avoid these fees.
The second big consideration with location is actual physical locations of the retailer. If you buy online from a store with no presence local to you, if you need to make a return, you’re essentially stuck shipping it. While the company may pay the costs, it’s still a pain in the butt to have to repackage everything, label it, take it to the post office, and wait for it to arrive back at the seller. On the other hand, if the retailer you buy from also has a physical location that you can get to, you can normally simply return the product in-store.
Buying on the Secondary Market
Buying on the secondary market, i.e. used instruments, can be a little more tricky than buying new. There are quite a few places online you can shop used gear, from classifieds, to forums, to auction sites, to retailers who offer up their used stock online. Wherever you’re buying, when it comes to used gear, there is a much higher degree of trust that you place in the seller to deliver what they say they will. When you buy a new guitar from a retailer, it comes with a concrete return policy, a factory warranty, and other assurances that just don’t exist when you buy on an auction site or online classifieds. Here’s what to look for in order to help protect yourself when you find that great deal on the online secondary market.
Just like with retails, this is a huge one. If you’re buying from an online auction site like eBay.com, reputation is tracked and calculated using user feedback. Always dig into a seller’s feedback when buying an item. Don’t just glance at their overall score and decide that it’s a safe bet. You might find a seller who has 99.9% positive feedback and seems great, but upon further digging you see that they’ve got hundreds of positive scores from selling $3 widgets, but the few times they’ve sold guitars there was always a problem. You need to look carefully before you decide to buy. Some online forums also provide these kinds of feedback scores.
There are certain places where you’re safer shopping the secondary market than others based on the buyer protection offered by the market itself. For instance, shopping on Craigslist or a forum sales board will generally offer you absolutely no buyer protection. If something goes wrong, the website is not going to meddle. It’s between you and the seller. However, some sites, like eBay, do offer buyer protection and arbitration services, so that if you make a purchase and it goes bad, you can present your case to the website’s resolution staff, and they’ll look into it and make a decision. If you can prove that the seller did not hold up their end of the bargain, you stand a decent chance of coming out ok.
Payment method is something to watch out for and in some cases can immediately alert you to potential scams and unethical sellers. Certain payment methods, like credit cards and PayPal, offer a degree of buyer protection. Other methods, like money orders or Western Union money transfers, offer absolutely none. If you send someone money with a cashier’s check money order or through Western Union, that money is gone. It’s like sending them cash in an envelope. If a seller will only accept payment through one of these methods, you’re almost always best off to just pass.
The overwhelming majority of online guitar purchases, whether it be through a retailer’s website, an online auction or a private sale, go very well, with both buyer and seller coming out happy. However, there is a higher element of risk when buying online than there is buying in person. There is no trying out a guitar you buy online before you shell out the money. For that reason, it is important to make sure you protect yourself so that in the unlikely case that there is some sort of a problem, you aren’t left stuck. Follow the tips in this guide and pay attention to the factors mentioned above, and you’ll be ready to make an informed and excellent choice in selecting what to buy and who to buy from.