The Beauty of Going to Retail Instrument Stores Before the Internet

The glory days of retail musical instrument stores have come and gone and boy I kind of miss them.

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Back in the 90’s, the only way to see and play guitars was by going to retail musical instrument stores. It was an experience, an experience to be had. Before the internet arrived and gave everyone the chance to purchase a guitar or instruments online, going to a retail musical instrument store was it. People frequented all of the local musical instrument stores and crowded the big box retail musical instrument stores. Some went to pawn shops, antique stores and local auctions to chase the guitar they were after but for the most part, retail musical instrument stores had the biggest stock inventory so most ended up there.

It was a totally different time.

Seeing a guitar in person that you had previously seen only in magazine ads and posters was an absolute treat. I mean, this is why most people are able to buy a Gibson, Martin, Fender or Gretsch online without trying it out first because of the brands reputation from years of people playing and purchasing from retail musical instrument stores. The word spread quickly. Sure, you can say rock star influence plays a part and you’re right, but believe me, my friends and I plus the community bought guitars from retail musical instrument stores. There were no other choices and at that time, It was the cool kid thing to do!

The experience was completely fascinating. There were days where you popped in and stayed for hours, trying out different guitars, amps, pedals and whatnot and some days were short runs for strings, picks and cables. Some days you came for a free clinic or workshops to see your favorite guitarist and learn a thing or two and some days you went to see the next big thing. It was basically like a kid going to a toy store but with awesome guitars. The stock inventory was wild.

Although musical stores are still around, the sheer number of them is low and the experience is really not quite the same, even though, the operations seem to be?

Chain owners and workers from these musical stores were also a big help to their communities and to everyone in general. Most had knowledge of the guitar brands they sold and helped people choose which guitar would be right for them, sans the price. The specialized knowledge that the workers had were invaluable to the public as again, information was scarce. Local shops treated local shoppers like family (not all though) and that’s one of the things I truly miss.

But the days of chain owners and workers possessing valuable knowledge that the public couldn’t get their hands on is over, thanks to the internet. The type of specialized knowledge they had is now readily available online, complete with explanations, diagrams and videos.

Going to retail musical instrument stores also gave you and your friends another reason to meet up, debate and dream about guitars & musical instruments throughout the day. There was a certain mystery about guitars as information was not readily available, leaving you to peruse, try and find the one that fitted you. It didn’t really matter if you were actually buying a guitar that day but it did matter that you found the one that’s for you, which is still hard to do these days and probably much harder with all these new guitar brands and online purchasing.

And speaking of new guitar brands, today, you can find new guitar companies sprinkled all over the internet. Prices, style, build, and custom guitars are all the rage online but for an old schooler like me, I just can’t committ to buying online. I myself have to be able to give a guitar a good go before I can completely say “this one’s mine” or “this one’s tremendously awesome.” It’s my personal take but hey, it’s valid and I know you know that.

I need to be able to get my hands on it, period.

This also presents a problem for the last standing music instrument stores as the newer guitar brands are not at all concerned about getting their guitars in the big box retail musical instrument stores and that’s fine. I actually love that new guitar brands are getting their due cause as the world changes, so do guitars and guitar players. I for one know, we’d actually like to see more different guitars from different makers, luthiers and companies.

By the way, If you’re wondering how we got here, it’s simple. Retail musical instrument stores failed in adapting to the new business model. The rise of internet catalogs and peer-to-peer marketplaces from Musicians Friend, Amazon, Craigslist and others created diversification, providing marketplaces for musicians to sell and trade. I myself scored a pretty sweet, used American Fender Strat for only $250 on Craigslist because the guy just didn’t want it anymore. Back then, an American Fender Strat sold for retail at around $900.

So if you want to look at it this way, the internet did kill the retail musical instrument stores but not without warning. Big box retail musical instrument stores are now adapting to new business models but overall, the damage has been done.

What do I mean by this?

Well, do you still shop all your groceries from big box grocery chains? Probably but a huge majority of consumers are now looking for smaller, independent, innovative brands with consumer conscious products. I’ve seen all sorts of different guitar brands re-envisioning their processes and materials by using recycled wood bodies, aluminum bodies, specialized customizations and wood and metals from around the world. It’s actually pretty neat and refreshing and is life now for most guitar players looking for new guitars.

Also, today’s click and buy generation actually have an easier time choosing a guitar that they think is right for them. Let’s be honest, it starts at the price range. Well, the price is right when you’re a beginner looking for a $200 guitar with a trusted name. It’s right there and just makes full sense to purchase now and get it delivered straight to your home, instead of taking the time and effort to go down to a retail musical instrument store where your chances of coming out empty-handed is high.

I get sentimental now and then, thinking about all the memories I collected from going to retail musical instrument stores. It brings up nothing but amazing memories like going with my dad and trying out guitars, skateboarding with my best friend to try things out, purchasing products with band mates or literally just going there to hang out for a few.

Those days are forever gone and so are the glory days of retail musical instrument stores.

As they say, those were the days.

What was your experience with retail musical instrument stores? Comment it up!