Monday, October 23, 2006

Love and Honour

As a socially backward musical instrument obsessive I spend probably more time in guitar shops than any healthy person should. I’m one of those guys who is always sitting around playing whatever new stock the shop has and having nerdy discussions with the shop owner. I always stop if someone comes in who looks like they might be a legitimate customer, even if it does mean that I end up handing over whatever bass I’ve been messing around with to some 16 year old who then launches into a interpretation of some Metallica song that owes rather more to enthusiasm than ability.

In Canterbury (where I live) there are five guitar shops that I know of. I won’t bother mentioning one of them in any detail as it isn’t really guitar shop, more a secondhand shop that sells anything that electricity passes through, from mobile phones to valve amplifiers, and this just happens to include guitars.

Two of these shops are independently owned and run enterprises, the other two are franchises or chain stores of some sort. Now I’m not one to try and reinforce stereotypes but the two chain stores really can’t match the independent ones for quality of products and service despite their much larger size and more substantial stock. Part of the reason why they aren’t as good is because their stock, whilst large, is always limited to a small number of large brands that their parent company has distribution deals for but the main reason is that they generally sell guitars with neither love nor honour.

When I say that they sell guitars without honour I mean that they don’t really consider what the customer actually needs, instead trying to coerce them into buying whatever it is they get a good profit margin on or are having trouble shifting to more discerning customers. A good example of this being a co worker of my mother’s who went to a chain store in SE London near where she lives and was sold a overpriced, right handed, fender electro-acoustic guitar despite the fact that she told them that she was only looking for something to learn on (therefore no need for it to be amplifiable) and that she was left handed (which they told her was irrelevant). They had no honour and as a result of that, and their ridiculous prices*, they went bust about 6 months after they opened.

By love I mean caring about the instruments you sell and the people you sell them to. This isn’t just some tree hugging small business ideal, it makes sense, if I’m told I can’t play an instrument unless I’m seriously thinking about buying it then I won’t want to buy anything from that shop. This is a bigger consideration when you take into account the fact that whilst I have spent a whopping £50** on a new bass this year I estimate that I have spent more than twice that on various musical necessities – strings, straps, mic stands, jackleads etc. – and all of that goes to the independently run shops who go for a more holistic approach to musical instrument sale.

The love for the instruments also makes financial sense; if an instrument is badly set up and poorly maintained then nobody will want to buy it. Both of the chain stores in Canterbury have a wide selection of basses which are completely untouched from the factory: they still have super high action and appalling intonation which renders even the highest quality models unplayable. The people who work there just don’t seem to care, it isn’t their shop after all. On top of this most of the instruments don’t appear to have even been tested by the guys who work there***. I played the most expensive instrument in one of the stores today and, in addition to its nasty action and bad intonation, it was a factory lemon – the pickups were wired out of phase****, which is something they should have picked up when they took it out of the box.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if you are in Canterbury and need something of a guitarlike persuasion then go to Socodi music. They rock.


*their battered 1983 ibanez musician would only be worth the £700 price tag they put on it if it’d actually been played by jesus

** That isn’t a typo, it’s a Yamaha fretless bass that I got from a pawnbroker and lovingly nursed back to health

***yes, with the exception of Denmark Street guitar shops are always run by guys

**** put them both on equal volume and they cancel each other out, resulting in a nasty, scooped out and above all, really quiet sound.