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A music store that sells high end instruments is faced with a dilemma.

It is their responsibility to sell you instruments. But you cannot buy an instrument without trying it out for some period of time.

At the same time, the store has to draw the line somewhere: For example, if they have a $4,000 guitar for sale, they cannot let everyone come in and play the instrument for a few hours everyday because it will degrade the quality of the guitar.

But if I want to buy a $4,000 guitar, for example, I am going to have to get a good feel for it.

What is an appropriate balance? If I go into a store and am interested in boutique instruments, how much "playtime" is reasonable per instrument?

The reason I ask is that yesterday I went into a store and played 4 different high end guitars (between 2 and 4 thousand dollars each). I was asked to leave after an hour and was told specifically that 1 hour is ample time, which I disagree with. I can't make a $4,000 purchase decision with 15 minutes on each instrument. But I understand that they need to keep their instruments in good condition in order to sell them.

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It may be hard to answer this, because clearly you know what you intended, but did anything in your behaviour, demeanor, age, etc. suggest to them that you had no intention or no possibility of buying the guitar? At face value their behaviour is poor, so I wonder if there is a reason not covered in the question. –  dumbledad Dec 14 at 10:46
    
Is this an acoustic or electric guitar? Either way they shouldn't ask you to leave if they want to make a sale, but the cultures in shopping can be pretty different. –  Ken Williams Dec 15 at 3:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 21 down vote accepted

If a customer hasn't made his decision after an hour, etiquette dictates you offer him a cup of coffee, not ask him to leave. I've had a lot of experience buying instruments, though mostly pianos, and have found 15 minutes of play time not to be nearly enough to purchase something in that price range. In fact, especially if the store has a wide selection, I've often stayed until listener fatigue sets in, only to come back at a later date. Some instruments I was even allowed to try at home for a week.

Not taking the time you need or feel comfortable with benefits neither you nor the store. Guitars don't significantly degrade in 15 minutes either. If they did, you'd have to acquire a new one every other week. In that sense, I don't think 'an appropriate balance' really applies here.

Of course, if the store suspects you of abusing the venue as a free studio with no intention of ever buying something, asking someone to leave is completely reasonable. As for not leaving that impression, it might help to take notes or to bring someone to listen while you play and vice versa, which I strongly recommend anyway.

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I was going to provide an answer, but it'd be exactly this. The "reasonable playtime per instrument" is whatever amount of time it takes for you to be confident that you're buying what you want. Like any other large purchase you are entitled to do whatever you need to provided it's not harmful to the instruments; it's the same as test driving a car a few times to get a feel for it. I've bought a few guitars in the ~$2,000 price range and if the store gave me a "buy it or get out" ultimatum, that wouldn't be any place I'd care to do business with personally. –  Evan Carlstrom Jul 17 '13 at 3:58
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Upvoted for being the answer I was going to write too. The store should ideally have somewhere for you to audition the instrument without disturbing other customers - but "throwing you out" after an hour is disgusting. That shop doesn't deserve your money, to be honest. –  Faelkle Jul 17 '13 at 8:22
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As long as you are not demonstrably damaging the instrument while you're auditioning it, you should have the time you need to make an informed decision. Simply playing the instrument is not harmful. It sounds to me like this is not what I would call a true music store; more like a product pushing store. I'd look for a better vendor, if possible. –  PSU Jul 17 '13 at 15:20

There are 2 parts to this, and both of them put the guitar store in the wrong unless you were rude or in some way threatening the guitars.

I absolutely go with the belief that they have that guitar for the express purpose of selling it. If they ask you to leave they're damaging that chance in many ways. I highly doubt there's an endless line of people for that one guitar, and if there is, they should buy a second one :P

They can't sell you on price The fact of modern life is that you can probably get whatever guitar they have cheaper on-line. Unless it's custom made by them, which I highly doubt, the price alone ain't gonna cut it. What they have to sell you on is 2 things.

service Do you get a free setup, will they tell you how to best keep it in good shape, do they offer guarantees? basically everything you can't get online

trust/enjoyment If you like the people selling, you are more likely to buy from them. on top of that you are more likely to trust that they're not selling you a fake, that they value your purchase and that they have advised you on the best guitar for your needs

The appropriate balance is as much as you want to play. You're the one with the money that they ultimately want so they need to accept that you will take time to make your decision. I tried out one of my guitars once every few months for 2 years before I finally bought it. It was a 7 string so I had to really get used to it! but after all that time they finally made the sale, and every time I need strings etc I'd go back.

As for the good condition thing, if they're genuine at that level there's not much a customer can do to degredate the quality unless they drop it, but in that case they have insurance, and possibly a court case for you ;)

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This is an interesting question. I don't really know if there's a right or wrong answer for this, but here's my take.

I don't think anyone can get a true "feel" for an instrument after trying it out in a music store for an hour. It takes months, if not years, to really get the true feel, break it in, and make it truly your own. However, it has usually only taken me moments in a store/at a convention to determine if an instrument is even worth the time to break in. I would almost relate it to buying a house - you might see 15-20 houses, but there's always that one that you walk into and say "yes, this is the one." It just feels right from the moment you play it.

My recommendation would be to try many of them out. You'll get an idea of which one feels the best when you've compared them to many others. You'll likely find yourself going back to one or two that exclusively feel pretty great to play. In the end, it shouldn't necessarily be the price tag of the instrument that determines if you make the purchase, but your personal compatibility with it. A great instrument will not hinder your natural approach, but help make it easier & better. That should be a relatively quick thing to determine -- I wouldn't spend too long hanging on the minutiae or you'll find yourself never purchasing a decent instrument.

As for etiquette, I suppose that just depends on the store's policies. I'm sure the store sees plenty of "customers" who play high-end equipment for hours and walk out with a set of strings. If they give you issues about playing, you always have the option of taking your business to a store that shares that spirit. Otherwise, as I said above, make the decision from the heart. In the end, you're the one who will be playing it for the next x years, so no amount of reviews or research will ever compare to the feel.

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Good analogy. When buying a house (or a car) you wouldn't normally expect to spend multiple hours in it - you might reasonably get an hour to poke around and you might come back for a second look. –  Mr. Boy Dec 15 at 12:48

We'll go on the assumption that you're not experimenting to see how far you can bend the whammy bar :-) . Certainly musical instrument tryout etiquette varies across instrument types. Reputable (orchestral) string dealers have no problem letting clients take $20k or $50k instruments home for a week, for example.
On the other hand, if you showed up every day or twice a week, played for a couple hours, and left, then regardless of the instrument class or cost the manager would toss you out.

Don't disregard the importance of appearance. Even in the world of punk-rock guitarists and drummers, if you show up at the store looking slightly wasted and wearing clothes that looked like dumpster reclaims (and smelling same), you are not going to look to the sales force like a serious buyer.

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While trying the instrument, you are consuming the acoustic space of the shop, others cannot try. Only one instrument can be played and heard well at time.

As a result, reaction may depend if there are more people waiting. If there is a queue, you are not polite with other buyers, and the seller may try to correct the situation one or another way.

If you just make random sounds or play really badly, the seller may stop you earlier suspecting you are not professional enough to be seriously interested in buying expensive instrument. Matters also how are you dressed.

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Maybe you can show them your intent by waving with the money so they believe you actually want to buy instead of just dreaming.

Quality instruments will not degrade that fast, infact, it needs some playtine to get ultra smooth. Besides, when you buy a guitar you will get a few sets of new string any way. So don't worry about string quality.

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