I spent a majority of my high school years working in a local music shop. As an emerging gear-nerd, I could not have asked for a better part-time job. Good pay (for a teenager), great co-workers, and I got to spend hours on end doing what I loved the most: talking about gear. To me, those four years weren’t about making sales goals or commission checks. It was about getting the right equipment into the right hands, depending on their needs, experience, and budget.
I learned a lot about buying an instrument in those four years. I sold instruments, amps, recording gear, and accessories to hundreds and hundreds of people. As a gigging musician and a weekend worship guitarist, I have also gone through several dozen iterations of my own gear through buying and selling.
I’ve developed a system of buying gear that works very well for me, on all fronts. It keeps me in budget, it gets me the gear that I really want, and it keeps the gear-buying process exciting and fun!
Step 1: Decide how much you want to spend.
At the music store, I took a very pragmatic approach when it came to spending money on equipment. We would have customers who wanted to spend as little as humanly possible, and also those who were looking to spend much more than they could afford. Neither are ideal in my opinion.
It’s helpful to ask yourself this question: “How much is an enjoyable, inspiring, reliable, great-sounding instrument worth to me?”
The value of your instrument is so much more than how much money you’ll make on return for playing. For the average musician, that’s close to zero. Ask yourself the honest question of what something like that is worth to you. Having a firm answer on this question will be important to know, and to stick to!
Step 2: Save and Wait.
As soon as you know what your budget is, start putting money away as soon as you can. If your like most musicians, money is not a resource you are dealing with in abundance. Set aside a little each month. Good financial habits and discipline go a long way when purchasing your dream gear.
Step 3: Research, research, research.
Once you have your funds saved, you are ready to start looking for that instrument! The biggest mistake you can make when buying equipment is making an uninformed purchase. Stay up to date on what’s happening in the ever-evolving gear world. Read reviews, watch tutorials, read manuals etc. Become a student of your craft, no only in playing, but in understanding how your gear works, and why it works the way it works!
reverb.com does a great job of resourcing musicians with insightful, well-written articles about gear’s functions, as well as some history lessons. Check out their blog, called The Reverb Tank if you get a chance.
Step 4: Go to stores frequently
Minneapolis, MN is the place I love and call home. This means I have the luxury of having multiple music stores just a short commute away from my home. I have a handful of favorites, and I’ll try to pop in every few weeks or so. I tell the employees what I’m searching for. I try a few things out. I chat with them. If you are buying used (which I prefer when it comes to guitars) inventory can literally come in and go out in a matter of hours. It’s important to have a pulse on the instruments that are available to you for purchase.
Finding and purchasing new equipment has never been easier than in the time we live in. Most stores have some sort of online presence, and would gladly ship to wherever you find yourself. If you don’t have a music store near to you, always check online. Websites like reverb.com, guitarcenter.com, and chicagomusicexchange.com have made the world of musical equipment much smaller, and accessible to everyone.
Step 5: Go with your gut.
We’ve all had “that moment” in a music store at one point or another. Your eye stops itself somewhere on the seemingly endless wall of guitars. You stop. Your heartbeat begins beating more rapidly. It’s almost like something about that guitar calls out to you. Like the captain of a ship and his vessel, you almost feel some sort of connection to it, before you’ve even held it. You walk over to the wall and pull it down. As you pull it down off the wall, you realize it: this instrument was meant for me. It inspires you, it sounds great to you, it feels great, etc. You feel it in your gut, this is the guitar. THE guitar.
Normally, going with your gut is pretty awful advice, especially when it comes to decisions involving large amounts of money. But if you stuck to the five steps above you’ll be able to stay in budget, as well as find that one of a kind, just-for-you instrument. You can find the instrument that connects with you, and snag it up before the guy right behind you does.
I like buying this way, because it’s responsible, efficient, and enjoyable. It allows you to jump on great deals. It allows you to buy guitars that have a story. It also creates great relationship with the players and sellers in your community, if you do it long enough! I also do it because I know it works.
Here is the last guitar I bought. It’s a 2014 Luther Dickinson Gibson ES-335. Essentially, it’s the best of both worlds between a 335 and a 330. Only 400 of them were made, and currently, there are none for sale on the internet. Anywhere. One popped up in a local shop, and because I stuck to the steps above, I bought it the same day I saw it. I even got a deal, because I had relationship with the dealer. I treasure it’s sound, and has become a faithful source of inspiration.
Here’s to you finding THAT dream guitar.
Be sure to follow Clark on Instagram today @clarkstrasburg and River Valley Worship @rivervalleyworship and check out their latest album “Edge of Heaven” on iTunes and Spotify today!