Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

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Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by seenoevil II » Sat Apr 04, 2020 5:50 pm

I'm in the market for a nice acoustic. Something with all solid woods costing at least $1000. The trouble is that there's much less ability to try a guitar before buying it anymore. And in no case is trying a guitar it more important than with acoustics. Really though, this goes for all gear.

I'm lucky to live in a built up area of the US with Guitar Center and Sam Ash (along with smaller shops that usually have nothing good). Their selection though is pretty small, and GC has cut staff so much that they have every nice guitar under lock and key. The few sales people that remain seem too overwhelmed to indulge me trying 6 different guitars.

That leaves Reverb and the like. However, I've been burned on there more than once. Most recently by a Gibson LG-0 that the seller didn't disclose the poorly reconstructed back or the lifting bridge.

I can be convinced to buy an electric without playing it. So much about the tone and playability can be adjusted on an electric. Acoustics however, I think you need to "meet" and bond with before buying. Heck, I don't even know what I like in acoustics. Gibson or Martin? OM or dreadnought? I don't think I can Google my way into an opinion either.

How do you choose gear in a world where there's hardly anywhere to try it first? I recently bought a Guild electric that I like well enough But honestly, if I could have tried it first, my ambivalence would have made me pass on it. Now Im having trouble off loading it again (no doubt due to the Rona).

This all being of of course compounded by the Rona. Online sales may be the only option in the new world order.

How the heck do I pick an acoustic? Especially an expensive one?

Maybe I'll just go off looks then learn to love whatever it sounds/plays like. That seems like how it was done in olden times. IDK. Thoughts?

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by tylerforyou » Sat Apr 04, 2020 6:24 pm

When I went on the hunt for an acoustic I knew I wanted a slope shouldered Gibson. Once down that rabbit hole I realized I still had a long way to go in narrowing it down.

I happened to be taking a trip to Florida at the time. I stopped in every GC & Sam Ash and a few others between where I live in Kentucky and Orlando. There were shockingly few guitars to look at at all, let alone that met my criteria. I was dumbfounded at the inability to go check out a J45.

This post is no help, I just wanted to share. I bought my acoustic, a Gibson Stage Deluxe, from a seller on Reverb with good feedback, good pictures, and who responded kindly to all my questions. It's always a gamble that way, but I lucked out. Best of luck to you.
El Duderino, if, you know, you're not into the whole brevity thing.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larry Mal » Sat Apr 04, 2020 6:34 pm

Shit, I don't know. I've bought probably 30 guitars online in the last ten years. I have no problems doing it again.

I have some confidence in my abilities to set a guitar up, so I can quickly diagnose if I have a guitar that will be something I won't be able to deal with at all and I return those. It's a hassle. I've only returned a few.

I've sold a few on. Traded some.

But who cares. The fact is, there are a lot of videos out there that can give you a pretty good idea of what a guitar will sound like. Case in point, I had been reading that there was a fairly unknown Gibson acoustic out there called the J-60. I understood that it was their attempt to directly compete with the Martin HD-28, and that's what I wanted, a big rosewood dread. I read about how Gibson had the Advanced Jumbo, which was as loud and strong as any Martin, but people didn't seem to know about it so they came up with a more direct competitor.

I read a shitload of stuff on guitar forums about it. It seemed that everyone agreed that it was a very good guitar.

I found this video, and the guitar sounded great. I figured if they could make it sound that good then so could I.

I bought the guitar and it's amazing- I'd totally recommend one if you wanted something like that.

So, sure, you have to order blind, and you have to do a lot of research.

But then again, there's far more information out there than there ever has been, isn't there? If you want to know what a guitar sounds like, there's videos about it. More and more videos. You can easily find people that own one, and ask them what they think.

I find it all fine. It's really as good as it ever was, in my opinion. Better in a lot of ways.
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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larry Mal » Sat Apr 04, 2020 6:37 pm

I mean, what are you looking for? There's a ton of experience right here. What's the budget, what's important to you? What sounds are you looking for?
Back in those days, everyone knew that if you were talking about Destiny's Child, you were talking about Beyonce, LaTavia, LeToya, and Larry.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Scout » Sat Apr 04, 2020 7:08 pm

You're points are valid, I don't think I would buy a serious acoustic without playing it, even if I knew what i wanted. I've always considered electric and acoustic guitars to be separate instruments, with an acoustic you are generating the tone, with an electric you are modifying the tone, different processes even to the same end. Couple that with the difficulty of adjusting set neck guitars and you can be disappointed on so many levels. You really should narrow it down to how you want it to sound musically , there are so many good options today besides Gibson and Martin and don't be afraid to buy used, a seasoned acoustic well cared for has most likely settled in tonally and physically and you'll get the most bang for your thousand bucks, which unfortunately is not even high end anymore. Take your time and choose well.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larsongs » Sat Apr 04, 2020 8:34 pm

When you say, that leaves Reverb & the like.... Are talking about buying a Used Guitar? If, so that can be a bit of a challenge buying online.. Although, if a dispute arises between Buyer & Seller Reverb usually sides with the Buyer.. But, it can be a lengthy hassle.. Takes the fun out of buying a new Used Guitar..

If you're talking new. The major Online Stires have 45 Exchange/Return policies.. I've bought many new Guitars Online in the past several years. Including 3 Acoustic Electric Guitars.. A Ramirez Classical Guitar, an Epiphone Inspired by Paul Mc Cartney Texan & a Gibson Bozeman Masterbilt J-160E.. The only one that wasn't perfect was the Texan. I exchanged for a 2nd one that was perfect.. All 3 sound as good as any I've seen or played anywhere if not better..

The upside is they were in the wrapper Brand New.. No one, other than the Store Setup Guys, had touched them. They were without blemish...

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by seenoevil II » Sat Apr 04, 2020 10:31 pm

Larry Mal wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 6:37 pm
I mean, what are you looking for? There's a ton of experience right here. What's the budget, what's important to you? What sounds are you looking for?
See, that's part of the problem. I'm not really sure what I'm looking for. I understand in the abstract what various variables mean for tone. Smaller bodies have more mids, rosewood is bassier than mahogany is bassier than maple. But what will this mean when I actually play my music on it? How will these various qualities mesh with my voice when they're accompanying me?

I agree that if there was a time to by a guitar through the web, now is the best time. But while demos of electric guitars, amps and everything else in the signal chain will more less tell you how they'll sound for you, playing an acoustic is this whole other deal.

I could go to school on this stuff, but while I can tell myself I'll like something before trying it, I can't really know until it's in the room.

I thought I'd love a Gibson LG-0 (despite the terrible flaws with the one I had), but when I got it in my hands, the narrowness of the nut was almost a deal breaker by itself.

IDK. The internet option just feels inadequate. Maybe the answer is letting go of some pickiness. Like. I love jazzmasters. Specifically the sound of their neck pickup through EL34s with the mids scooped. That's super specific. Maybe I can't be that preemptively selective with an acoustic. I should just find a "healthy" one amongst the smallish selection at the big boxes (if they ever open again) that looks nice and sounds good on the day. On the other hand, maybe I should find a brand with a reputation I can trust and go for bread and butter model (for instance I've never played a bad Martin that was made in PA).

Frustrating as it may be, and as helpful as I'm sure you all could be if I knew what I was looking for more -I'm not sure I'm looking for answers more than I'm expressing frustration at my options closing off as the market place changes and in-person shopping goes the way of the Buffalo.

Also, I'll journey for a life long purchase. So if you know a good spot in the Mid Atlantic region.....oh... wait... nevermind. Maybe I should just invest in bags of rice and cross bow bolts instead.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by chillybilly » Sun Apr 05, 2020 3:55 am

I've been walking through Sam Ash & Guitar Center for decades and I can count on one hand the number of guitars I would even consider buying from them on one or more criteria: make, model, finish, appointments, etc.

They keep hanging guitars on the wall with 'mass appeal' - apparently I'm not one of the masses. On the other hand, if the masses want a tacky flamed periwinkle blue PRS with garish gold hardware then I'm overjoyed not to be one of the masses. Ironically, I've found some gems at mom-and-pop stores.

I know what I want/like before I begin the search which probably means my odds aren't good in the first place but I have been surprised that an avid guitar buyer like me can walk out of retailers discouraged but determined to find The (Next) One elsewhere.

Of my last 6 guitars only 2 were try-before-you-buy. 2 of the remaining 4 were new guitars unseen until they arrived, the other 2 used but well documented.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larsongs » Sun Apr 05, 2020 5:52 am

You haven't said what kind music you play? That would help..

You can but a new Guitar Online easily. Usually you can negotiate better deals. The Martin D-28 is the bar which all Acoustic Guitars have competed against for over a Century. Buy one. If you don't like it, return it. But, you probably won't..

If you do. Buy a Gibson J-45. The 2nd most popular Acoustic for about a Century..

By that point you'll have a good idea of what you like & don't like.. If, you don't like it, send it back...

I'd be very surprised if neither one is up to your expectations..

From there to get even better Guitars both Martin & Gibson have a variety of variations of those Guitars with prices scaling upwards.

The 3rd choice if your expectations are even higher would be a Collings.. Arguably, the best Acoustic Guitar on the market today..

If you deal with Sweetwater or Wildwood you'll get the nicest Guitars, Best deals & best Service.. Plus, they have photos & info about each of the Guitars they have in a Stock. Most of the other Guys are like Finance Companies that want to put you on payment plans & give no deals... Most are 0% interest but if you're paying 15-20% more for the Guitar it's really the same thing.... Cash is King!

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larry Mal » Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:05 am

seenoevil II wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 10:31 pm
See, that's part of the problem. I'm not really sure what I'm looking for. I understand in the abstract what various variables mean for tone. Smaller bodies have more mids, rosewood is bassier than mahogany is bassier than maple. But what will this mean when I actually play my music on it? How will these various qualities mesh with my voice when they're accompanying me?
I think that rosewood is just "more" all around. It seems to have more bass, more treble, more resonance, more sustain than mahogany. That does not mean that it is necessary "better". Your voice might very well seat in faster with mahogany than rosewood and that's kind of why mahogany rules the world for now.

Let me tell you not to overlook walnut, though. In the push for sustainable and American sourced woods, companies are turning to walnut, and it is an absolutely fantastic wood.

seenoevil II wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 10:31 pm
I thought I'd love a Gibson LG-0 (despite the terrible flaws with the one I had), but when I got it in my hands, the narrowness of the nut was almost a deal breaker by itself.
This was you taking a chance I wouldn't have. Between the laminate construction and the ladder bracing, and them often having plastic bridges and very narrow nuts, I would have never considered this an "all-arounder". They were not considered anything other than student guitars in the day, either. I'm sure they are fun, I would like to have one, and I'm sure they are good for "that sound" but little more.

seenoevil II wrote:
Sat Apr 04, 2020 10:31 pm
Also, I'll journey for a life long purchase. So if you know a good spot in the Mid Atlantic region.....oh... wait... nevermind. Maybe I should just invest in bags of rice and cross bow bolts instead.
I buy acoustics in the $1k range. Over the last couple of years, I bought a Guild D-40 for a flat $1k, I bought a Gibson J-15 for $800, I bought that Gibson J-60 for around $1k. I'll recommend you look into the J-15 a bit but I'm not really trying to sell you on those models or anything, but I can say that in each case I found that I got much, much more guitar for the money than I had expected and I expected a great guitar. Frankly if any one of these would be my only guitar I would have a wealth of riches and sounds to get me by for the rest of my life.

My point is the deals are out there, and if you are willing to buy a guitar on the internet you stand a much better chance of getting a good deal on a guitar, which is important since that means you would be able to sell it down the road for roughly what you paid for it. It's a chance to get something in and use it for months, if it isn't quite what you were hoping, sell it, trade it. You've learned a lot more about what works for you in the process.

It's for this reason that I have no nostalgia for "running the racks". I don't look back on that with fondness and I will probably never really do it again. Used wisely, buying guitars on the internet gives you a lot of strength and flexibility that you don't otherwise have.

That Guild D-40? I never would have found one around here- you don't see Guild acoustics in the stores in St. Louis, certainly not a D-40 from the very narrow window of Guild's history when they were made in New Hartford with the Adirondack spruce tops. I would never have seen one, never have played one, never have known that it was an incredible guitar and value that I would immediately consider a keeper for the rest of my life.

Some other quick advice: don't over-romanticize the past. Gibson and Martin are making the best guitars they've ever made right now from the viewpoint of design and consistency, and companies like Eastman are also turning out fantastic product with incredible consistency. Guitar companies have this shit down now at a level that they never had before using computers combined with hundreds of years of design research to put out awesome product.

There are exceptions: Martin has simultaneously put out their "re-imagined" guitars which are great, just great. But they genuinely are having bad production standards at the moment, sometimes the necks aren't seated correctly and are in too shallow, which means you'll need a neck reset immediately in some cases like with one I bought. Also, they seem to be using some glue on their binding that doesn't hold up.

Modern Gibson is consistent and strong all across the board, don't believe what you read. That being said, Gibson puts out their guitars set up absolutely horribly and with cheap plastic saddles and awful under-saddle electronics that hurt the overall sound of the guitar. I have a lot of Gibson acoustics now and what actually helped me do that was to get confident in my ability to set up acoustics, because playing Gibsons in the stores always made me dislike them because of the terrible setups. Point is, if you play a modern Gibson and you like the sound, when you get it set up you'll love it.

Hope any of this helps.
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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larry Mal » Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:13 am

Larsongs wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 5:52 am
The Martin D-28 is the bar which all Acoustic Guitars have competed against for over a Century. Buy one. If you don't like it, return it. But, you probably won't..

If you do. Buy a Gibson J-45. The 2nd most popular Acoustic for about a Century..
I was going to mention this. If you don't otherwise have a strong preference, then the research has already been done, you know? These things are classics and archetypes in the guitar world for a reason.

Even if you eschew the Martin and Gibson brand, well, Collings, Eastwood, pretty much all the other guitar makers still make the D-18, they still make a J-45, they still make an HD-28, they still make an OM model, they still make the aughts- 0,00,000. They aren't making their own designs because there is no reason to do so, they are standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before them.

Martin and Gibson between them are the encyclopedia of American guitar making, with flat tops, especially Martin. Every other guitar maker operates in a world that those two created.

Those guitar designs are the guitar designs, so just pick the people you think will execute them the best.
Back in those days, everyone knew that if you were talking about Destiny's Child, you were talking about Beyonce, LaTavia, LeToya, and Larry.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by seenoevil II » Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:34 am

Larry, thanks a bunch. There's a lot of good insights here. I'd quote various parts, but I'm either too dumb or too lazy. So, I'll just respond I'm general.

My LG-0 was a weird duck, hense why it was a bummer that it was a turkey. It was from a weird transition year so it had a solid spruce top, X bracing instead of ladder, a rosewood bridge (still screwed down). Mostly it was a deal, and I'll admit that most of reasoning was that Stephen Malkmus rocked one (or a similar Epiphone).

That also helps answer what kind of music I play. I'm not a total malkmus fan boi rip off, but I use a fair amount of weird chord voicings and alternate tunings, while my voice has a slightly similar weedy tenor.

My thinking in regards to flagship models is similar. A D-28 or J-45 or such (though the d-24's price makes my eyes water). I hear that Bozeman has largely been exempt from Gibson's qc woes. While I've had the displeasure of owning a Martin x-5 (or something). The one with composite parts. Mine was made in Mexico and was complete garbage. The neck angle was shit, so it had painfully high action and a jump at the fretboard extension.

The internet does expose one to a lot more options than the store. I share Larry's fascination with Guild. However, I'm hoping to avoid buying and selling a lot of guitars. It's a hastle and I'm afraid it might make me somewhat jaded to play/own so many excellent guitars . I'd prefer a "meet cute" where I buy "the one" in person. Though, this might not be easy (or even possible) in 2020.

Walnut is a thought. Gibson has the new G series now and the look and price is tempting. The only fly in that ointment is that to boost the value for money angle, they used hide glue which my vegan mind might not be able to deal with (a problem that might widdle down my options real fast).

Mostly, and much like all gear, I think I could make anything work for me as long as I thought it didn't look like ass and it wasn't difficult to play. My current flat top is a $200 Yamaha that I bought 13 years ago. It's only a solid top, but it's so played-in and I'm so familiar with it that I'll gladly perform with it and know I can deliver. Though, I hate looking like such an amateur. I know gear snobbery is a sin worse than murder, but I feel myself losing points when I bust out the Yammy.

I want an expensive flat top because I'd like to put another 10,000 hours on a guitar that will age and change more with all solid woods. All while I'm still young enough to reasonably put those years on it without being an old man at the end (depending on your definition of old).

Lastly, I don't even know why I feel this way, but, no Taylors.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larry Mal » Sun Apr 05, 2020 8:08 am

seenoevil II wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:34 am


Walnut is a thought. Gibson has the new G series now and the look and price is tempting. The only fly in that ointment is that to boost the value for money angle, they used hide glue which my vegan mind might not be able to deal with (a problem that might widdle down my options real fast).
I think that Gibson uses hide glue across the board, not as a cost cutting measure. They consider it to be some kind of old world guitar technique that can be marketed to people who think the tone is in the glue. It's snake oil.

There are vegan guitars out there.

https://www.guitarexcellence.co.za/make-guitar-vegan/

If you get over that, I strongly recommend the J-15 over any of the G series stuff. You can get a J-15 used for less than a G series, and they are better guitars in every way. Frankly, Gibson was hesitant about walnut, and they weren't sure the market would accept it. So they put the J-15 out at a cheaper price point than the guitars deserve, which they've since corrected, but the used market still finds J-15s at a good value. I love mine. It's as good as my J-45, but different.

seenoevil II wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 7:34 am

Lastly, I don't even know why I feel this way, but, no Taylors.
I have a great deal of respect for Taylor guitars, own one now, and had another for years. Frankly, a lot of guitar makers just make boutique versions of Martins and they tell you that they make them better than Martin. To me, it's a lot of snake oil. But Taylor has always been innovative and has never rested on either being just another Martin clone or even on their own successes. I don't love everything they do, but they make great guitars with their own voice (not my favorite), and they constantly innovate and improve.

Plus they play like a dream.
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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by seawalker » Sun Apr 05, 2020 11:46 am

There is some truth to the fact that hide glue is different than titebond or another wood glue. It does dry harder and crystalize in a way the plastic glues don't. It can be taken apart relatively simply later if needed for repairs. Doesn't mean it's "better" necessarily, except in the sense that some people will pay more money for it, but it is different and I could subscribe to the fact that it has different properties in critical joints like a neck joint.

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Re: Buying without trying (or, the death of guitar stores)

Post by Larry Mal » Sun Apr 05, 2020 12:00 pm

Good information, thanks.
Back in those days, everyone knew that if you were talking about Destiny's Child, you were talking about Beyonce, LaTavia, LeToya, and Larry.

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