Over the last few months we’ve become regular visitors of our local guitar shops, fondling equipment and occasionally spending more money than a responsible thirtysomething couple really should. We’ve gone into the stores as newbies, and mingled with the veterans and the slipknot kids half our age, and I thought it was time I shared my thoughts to enlighten not just those of you preparing to make those first brave steps into a store, but hopefully to give store owners a bit of insight into how it feels to step into a guitar store for the first time.
Each store we’ve been in has had a different vibe, but all of them for me were initially uncomfortable. There’s something about a music store that differs from any other kind of store (maybe with the exception of a computer store) – it’s easy to feel like you wouldn’t be welcome there if the staff realised you knew nothing about instruments. You want to be cool in a music shop, especially when it comes to guitars. You don’t want to pick up a strat and go "What’s this?". You want to cast an apparently expert gaze over the stock, stroke your chin thoughtfully and say "Two single coils and a humbucker? Interesting. Are they Seymour Duncans?". You want to command the respect of the sales staff, first for your knowledge, and then for the pitch perfect rendering of a really complicated Steve Vai bit. You want them to know that you know your stuff and you’re not to be trifled with.*
*I say ‘you’, I do of course mean ‘I’.
"Look, I’m a newbie, my fingers are short and stubby, I’m in my 30s, I should know better, but I want a guitar so I can rock out in my spare bedroom after a hard day at work. I have *this* much money, make me happy". *That’s* what I should have said to them, but I was too damn nervous at the time.
The first store experience I had was a place near my work where I even went as far as having a lesson. As much as I told myself not to be intimdated when I walked in there, I was. And even their move to slightly bigger and brighter premises hasn’t helped. The guitars are near enough behind bars! How is it possible to find out which instrument suits best when you can’t even pick them up? I’d mention their name and offer you a link, but their web site has been ‘coming soon’ for the last six months so it’s hardly worth the bother.
The second store, and the one that has received the majority of our fun guitar budget so far, is Fox’s Music. The Arnold store had just the right vibe for me. It was big, the sales staff didn’t hassle us and the guitars were free to be picked up and fondled. It was here I met my first six-stringed love, my ESP LTD M-50, and where Michael’s love was rekindled with the Variax. A nice quiet buying experience, but not really a place for advice on how to rock out.
The most rocking store of the lot has to be the Academy of Sound. On our first visit Ozzy was blasting out over the shop sound system, and one of the sales guys was playing along on a Strat. Kind of intimidating at first, but the array of toys on offer, again, happily waiting to be picked up and fiddled with, made it impossible to leave. The guy playing along with Ozzy, came over to talk to us. I asked him what the best guitar was for my crappy stubby fingers. He showed me his own stubby little fingers, the ones I’d just heard raise hell on a strat, and made a few suggestions. Then he left us to play. We didn’t leave with a guitar that day, but we did leave with a POD, and then went back last week for the Guitar Port – more about that later.
The ideal store for me would have all the ‘rawk’ of the Academy of Sound, but be as roomy and pleasant as Fox’s. We’ll definitely be back at A of S soon though. And as I get more knowledgeable and become a better player I’m sure I’ll feel less nervous mixing with the slipknot kids – with or without their masks.