Wait a minute...it looked great in the catalog

or...Buying a guitar from an Internet Super Store...again...in 2004.

Just in time for Christmas came this gem.  Again, we don’t make these up.  We cruise forums and newsgroups to find the ultimate in guitar decisionmaking.  The psychology of guitar buying is very interesting, and I've developed some very strong opinions based on observations over a number of years. You want an example? Here it is folks -- exactly what I have been talking about.  This post is verbatim from a popular guitar newsgroup. The names have been deleted...again:

Based on our years of experience with guitars and work stuff, we believe the hardest thing most people have to do is to get others that work with them or for them to take a step back and approach a question objectively, complete without emotion.  Unfortunately, the problem with that is guitar is all about emotion, and we never effectively can separate them!  This poor guy is pretty confused – probably trying to impress his buds with his great purchase.

Read on...


Subject: How Many Mistakes Can I make!
From: "xxxxxxx" xxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.net
Date: 12/23/03 5:39 PM Central Standard Time
Message-id: <xxxxxxxxxxx@news2.news.xxxxxxxx.net>

Well, I just received the Alvarez acoustic guitar I ordered from 123 Music. It was packed ok, nothing special. The original triangular shaped box was put inside a second box. Upon seeing this my first thought was that no one opened the box and checked the guitar. I was right! I pulled the guitar from it's box and got excited. But that excitement quickly turned to anger when I played it for....................5 seconds.

The high e, b and g strings fretted out badly starting at the 7th fret. It is so bad at the 12th fret that it sounds like I'm holding the string right on the fret wire. I was at first disappointed that I had to adjust a brand new guitar. Then upon looking closer I realized that this guitar had no truss rod adjustment and no saddle adjustment. The only thing I can think of is to pull the brand new Elixir strings off that have been trimmed down to the tuning post and pulling the saddle out and putting some kind of shim under the one end. No xxxxing way am I doing this to a brand new guitar. So it's going back.

Having seen this guitar I might get an upgraded one.............one with adjustments!

Say it ain’t so….the guitar hadn’t been inspected?  It was playing poorly?  No way!  Well, our hero decided to get some more advice.  Check it out below.


Subject: Re:  How Many Mistakes Can I make!
From: "xxxxxxx" xxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.net
Date: 12/23/03 7:50 PM Central Standard Time
Message-id: xxxxxxxxxxx@news2.news.xxxxxxxx.net


OK, I was so pissed I didn't even look at the instructions that came with the guitar. There is a truss rod adjustment. It's inside the sound hole. But I looked down the neck and it looks like there is plenty of relief. Should I mess around with the neck to see if I can get it right or just take my medicine and ship it back? Seeing that the neck has what I would call quite a bit of relief I can't see any adjustment making the fretting out disappear.

It might be a twisted neck. Upon playing it a bit more open chords sound great. Then moving up the fretboard the problem becomes apparent. It's already packed up. Damn I hate this!

Instructions?  We don’t need no stinking instructions.  Our assessment is that our friend here was so distraught that his guitar didn’t play like his buddy’s, nothing probably would have made him happy.  But there is more….

Subject: Re:  How Many Mistakes Can I make!
From: "xxxxxxx" xxxxxxx@xxxxxxx.net
Date: 12/24/03 7:53 AM Central Standard Time
Message-id: xxxxxxxxxxx@news2.news.xxxxxxx.net

 Having gotten a good night sleep and reading some of the posts here I unpacked the guitar for one last look. Of course the guitar was shipped from up north, NJ to be exact. Cold up there. Temperature changes could have caused this I said to myself. I pulled the allen key out and adjusted the truss rod, giving the neck a lot of relief. No good. It helped a little but still fretted out badly at the 12th fret. And the action went from good to horrible in the attempt.

Packed up again and will be sent back.

Our internet buyer packs up the guitar, then unpacks it again like somehow some helpful elves came around and fixed it while he slept.  It never occurred to him that maybe he should have taken it to a local guy for a decent setup.  A good repairman or luthier could have gotten him going in a few minutes, but probably would have cost $30-50.  But that would have defeated the purpose, wouldn’t it?  Spend money locally?

We believe our friend will continue to be disappointed in his attempts to buy a guitar from the internet.  Eventually he will just give up, declare victory, and go about convincing himself and his buds that he absolutely did the right thing in buying a guitar using his PC. 

 Finally, this final post showed up, and seem to have the correct guidance.

Subject: Re: How Many Mistakes Can I make!
From: "Joe" xxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxx.com
Date: 12/24/03 8:51 AM Central Standard Time
Message-id: <xxxxxxxxxxx@corp.xxxxxxxx.com>

Save yourself a headache. DON'T ever buy a guitar you can't smell first!


Well said – a little simplistic, but well said.  Good luck, and support that local store.

What is the bottom line (Updated from our first "But it was Cheap..." article)?

First, I've always believed that the big mail order places that also had retail stores "culled" the good guitars to hang up in the store and sent the second-tier ones out in the brown truck. Does the top look a little less flamey than the one you expected? Too bad -- its prettier stablemate is hanging in the store.  (Oct 03:  I'm not so sure anymore -- this presumes the warehouse folks actually look at the guitar prior to sending it out in its factory box, and I'm not sure this happens.) (Jan 04:  I'm pretty sure there is no culling -- too much training and effort involved.)

Second, what makes a Gibson Les Paul and Epiphone Les Paul so different is the materials, quality control, and workmanship.(Jan 04:  You get what you pay for in most cases.)

Third, what makes guitar playing and building so interesting -- and frustrating -- is the subtle differences in guitars that look exactly the same. The pickups may be just a little hotter, or the wood in the body just a little denser. It is difficult to explain these subtleties to a guy that doesn't know what a humbucker is, so the guitar companies turn to icons to peddle their wares -- if it looks the same, it is the same, right?


If you are going to spend more than $300-400 on a guitar, take a road trip and go to a store that has a number of instruments and play them until you find the one that really "speaks to you" and buy it.  This is what we found with our acoustic guitar, and any number of guitars in our collection.  There is that "mojo factor" when you find a great guitar and you really can't articulate why you like it other than "man…it plays great!"

The guy that wrote the post above would be much better off just taking a weekend and hitting the road, looking for guitars.   Or he will just get bored, accept the final guitar, and start the process of convincing himself of what a great deal he got.

Good Luck!

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