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You do not have to be an expert guitarist to get a good deal on a good guitar. What you do have to be is a disciplined shopper.
For many guitarists, especially novices, trying out a guitar in a music store can be an intimidating experience. Invariably, there are several other guitarists in the store who feel the need to show off their skills on the instrument, by playing all their most impressive licks. Understandably, this can be scary, but you'll need to focus on your goal - finding the best instrument possible, for the least money.
Scan the store until you find an instrument that appeals to you. Make sure you are given a good stool, and a pick (although I suggest you bring one you're comfortable with). If you're playing an electric guitar, make sure you're plugged into an amp similar to the one you plan to use. If you've only got a small practice amp at home, don't allow the guitar to be plugged into a Marshall half-stack through a rack of pedals.
A lot of beginning players and first time buyers who go to a music store usually will play very quietly in fear that someone else would hear what they sound like. This is especially true if their not comfortable with their playing. It’s a perfectly natural instinct, but realized that it’s the silliest thing you could do. In order to really hear the tonal qualities of a guitar (either electric or acoustic), it needs to be played at a reasonable volume. Do not be afraid to strum the open strings hard - listening to the guitars sustain, and keeping an ear open for problems like buzzing strings.
If you're having a hard time hearing (due to other guitarists in the store, etc.), ask to play the guitar in a separate room, or in a quieter part of the store. If the music store owners glare at you for turning up the guitar a little, or strumming an acoustic vigorously, my recommendation would be to hand them the guitar, say thanks, and take your business to a store that allows you to find out what the guitar sounds like before you buy it. I urge you to do this... these people are obviously not very familiar with the way guitars work, thus not the best stores to deal with anyway
Here’s a common mistake, you have your instructor teach you something cool to play in music stores. Wrong approach, when you’re demo-ing a guitar, you should be playing things you're comfortable playing, and concentrating on the guitar, NOT on who is listening to you. Try playing each fret on the neck, slowly, making sure there are no fret buzzes. Be sure to check the guitar's. If playing an electric guitar, try all of the different pick-up combinations, and listen for unwanted pick-up noise.
Spend time trying many guitars in the store. Ask questions, and make notes on every guitar you play. Write down the manufacturer of the guitar, the model number, and the price. Ask what type of wood the guitar is made of. Note any special likes or dislikes you have about each guitar. When you feel like you can't stand to be in the store another minute, thank the salesperson, and head for home.
So, now you've played a bunch of guitars, and hopefully found a few that you really like. It's time to do some research on all the guitar companies whose instruments you are considering. Use the links resource in the member section of the site to get familiar with what each of these companies has to say about their instruments. Most guitar company websites provide specs on each of their guitars, so you can find out additional information on the instrument you're considering. Search their website for warranty information, make note of that also. You can even call or e-mail them if you have any additional concerns.
Guitar company websites are fine, but obviously they're going to be biased, so you'll need to find out what others think of the guitar you're considering. Fortunately, the web is filled with sites that archive user-reviews of guitars. When studying these reviews, take special notice of the prices people paid for the instrument, and carefully consider all criticism. Be wary of people who give their guitar a "perfect 10" score - many of these reviewers aren't knowledgeable enough to offer constructive criticism.
Next, take out your phone book, and look up the other music stores in your area. You should consider visiting each of these stores and trying out the guitars they offer. For now, call each of them, and see if they offer any of the same guitars you're considering. If so, ask to be quoted a price. Occasionally, you'll run across a store employee who is hesitant to quote you prices over the telephone. Mention you're about to buy a guitar elsewhere, and he should change his mind. Again, make note of any differences in price.
If you're still unsure about what guitar is right for you, feel free to post your questions to the Forums section which is designed to help musicians interact. Chances are, in no time someone will respond to your questions with their advice.
Armed with all this new knowledge about the guitars you're considering, it's time to take the second trip to the music store. I'll generally suggest wait until the next day to do this - a clear head often gives you better perspective.
You think you know which guitar is right for you? Congratulations. But, your work isn't done yet. You've got to get that guitar at a price that you can be proud of. Many people assume that if the guitar price tag says $599, that's the price they'll have to pay. Not true. Music store owners make a profit on the sale of items from their store, thus are able to significantly decrease the price of an item. The trick is to get them to do that for you.
Unfortunately, in order to get a bargain, you'll have to temporarily think of the music store employee as the enemy. The basic fact is - he/she wants your money, and you want to give them as little of it as possible. It is important to remember that YOU are in control - they want your money, and you should make them earn it. Here are some other things to keep in mind during your second trip to the music store:
Keep the salesperson on a need-to-know basis. Don't tell them "I have to own this guitar!" Mention you've seen some nice guitars in other stores around town.
Before you begin bartering, make sure you know if the price includes a case. Ask whether the case is hardshell (more $) or softshell (less $).
Try out several guitars on your return visit. You might want to pretend to be considering a much cheaper guitar. Selling you a cheap guitar means a small commission for them. So they'll be more willing to give you a deal on a more expensive guitar.
Don't appear to be in a hurry. Take your time, and carefully consider whether this is the guitar you really want.
NEVER pay list price for a guitar. List prices are usually greatly inflated.
Many people have difficulties bringing up the subject of getting a discount with a salesperson. In any situation here's the way I generally approach sales people - ask the salesperson to give you the whole price, in this case ask for the price including tax and case, for the guitar. When they give you the final quote, simply say "Hmmm, now what can you do for me to get that price a little lower?" Have a price in mind that you'd like to pay - I often aim for a 15% discount. If you know of a store that offers a lower price for the same guitar, make the salesperson aware of that. You might have to use a little bit of pressure, but it's something you'll get used to doing.
Sometimes, if the guitar is already on sale, or is a very budget-priced instrument, you'll have a hard time convincing the salesperson to further lower the price. In these circumstances, try asking them to include some guitar accessories for free, or at least at a heavily discounted price. These might include: a capo, guitar strings, a patch cord, guitar polish, a guitar humidifier, a guitar tuner, or even small items like string winders and picks. It might not be the discount you're looking for, but it will at least give you the satisfaction of knowing that you successfully bargained with the salespeople.