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    Mar 2005
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    Default The Case Against Guitar Center

    Like a lot of folks, I've spent thousands of dollars at Guitar Center, over the years. I've participated in the Drum-Off a number of times, (and won the Store Finals six times, in three different cities). I've made friends with employees at the GC closest to me, on a number of occasions, and even became life-long friends with a buddy who I originally met as a customer; in fact, I was in his wedding.

    A few days ago, I went in to GC, looking to wheel and deal on a used 16" Zildjian K Custom Dark Crash that had been sitting on their wall for awhile. I asked the drum salesperson what his thoughts were on using K Customs as all-around cymbals, for jazz gigs, blues gigs, top-40 gigs, etc. And that's where this story begins.

    The guy I dealt with proceeded to lead me -- or so he very obviously thought -- on a twenty-minute escapade through the cymbal room, giving me every opinion he had on which cymbals would work best for rock and metal, because that's what he plays. He proceeded to tell me which ride cymbals were his favorite ride cymbals, largely due to their abilities to double as crash cymbals. On several occasions, he mentioned a line of Paiste cymbals that GC doesn't even sell, because John Bonham used them, before switching to some other brand of cymbal. I nodded, smiled, and pretended that I was even remotely interested in anything he was telling me about his (and John Bonham's) tastes in cymbals, because his disconnect from anything I was interested in had become painfully obvious. In the end, without even registering what I'd come in for, he recommended that I buy an entire cymbal pack, because they're "such a great deal."

    I wanted a used 16" crash cymbal.

    To play jazz.

    Figuring that I could get at least *some* use out of this guy, I asked him if he'd mind playing the crash I was interested in, while I listened from the other room. I mentioned that I wanted to hear how well a 16" Cymbal would cut through the chatter of a room full of customers and random guitar sounds. And as if any question remained about what type of playing I'd get, the guy proceeded to play a medium-tempo hard-rock beat in 4/4.

    I play jazz.

    And salsa.

    Like I'd mentioned.

    Several times.

    And it's not that a nation-wide retail chain hiring a mediocre player with a fairly severe case of the Dunning-Kreuger effect is such a travesty. Every Home Depot and Chili's in America has that one guy who's just totally out to lunch. The problem is that EVERY DRUMMER at EVERY GUITAR CENTER is this same guy. The guy heard nothing that I said, connected with nothing that I do, and had no real expertise to offer, but topped off that trifecta of terribleness with a recommendation that I either buy a 22" Sweet Ride and a couple of 20" crash cymbals, or one of their $950 cymbal packs.

    I play jazz.

    And I told him that.

    For real.

    Today, I returned to GC, begrudgingly. I had $120 in my pocket and a 12" Zildjian A Custom splash cymbal to trade in. They were asking $150 for the crash I wanted, so I figured I'd get 40 or 50 bucks for my cymbal, because it's got zero cracks, zero keyholing, and despite having some smudged logos, is in excellent shape. I figured I'd make up the difference between my cymbal's trade-in value and the price of the K Custom with cash. What I didn't tell the kid working the counter is that I'm going through a phase of pure, literal obsession with watching eBay, Craigslist, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace, to keep tabs on the prices of cymbals. So when he told me that they would sell my splash for $60, I laughed. I happen to know that GC's policy is to give customers about half of their trade-in's value, so I didn't wait for the guy to say, "I'll give you $30," before I walked off. And it's not that the cymbal is worth *way* more than $30. I see the same cymbal on eBay, in about the same condition, selling for $80. So they could have given me $40. I would have preferred $50, assuming that they'd sell it for $80 or so and make $30 on the deal, but I suppose I could have settled for $40.

    Either way, the money itself isn't the problem. The problem is these corporate chains moving in to American communities, driving off all of the mom-and-pop stores, and then giving us these second-rate shopping experiences. The kid behind the counter could have given me $50 for my cymbal and then sold me his used K Custom crash, which probably had 70% gross profit in it to begin with. On top of that, even given my hatred for the corporate takeover of our society, he still might have made a somewhat loyal customer out of me. I mean, I'll never take any of GC's salespeople seriously, but to the extent that they carry decent products at low prices, I suppose I could have looked past my philosophical qualms with them.

    But this isn't what corporations like Guitar Center build their business on. The axiom that drives companies like Guitar Center is "profit at all costs." Sure, they'll offer some degree of customer service, and many of the employees at these stores mean well. But even employees with the best of intentions can't change the bedrock of Guitar Center's mission, which is to syphon money from American soccer moms, in return for entry-level rock-'n-roll gear that GC hopes they'll lose interest in, so that they can but it back and sell it again; corporate megaliths like Guitar Center function like a cancer, in this sense, growing relentlessly, whether it's healthy or not.

    Anyway, if you're still reading this, just know that there are still hometown music stores in most major cities. We don't have to financially support the millionaire shareholders at GC Corporate with our paychecks, while they provide us with novice musicians whose primary concern is meeting sales goals.

    I encourage everyone reading this to consider supporting their local music store, so long as that store provides you with actual care.
    Last edited by Ryan_Cox; 08-14-2019 at 05:14 PM.

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