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I'm planning to buy a new guitar (an Ibanez RGA-T62 if it makes any difference) from a brick-and-mortar shop and my dillema is if I should get the display unit that potentially 100s of customers have tried or ask for a boxed one (they do have it)? The salesmen insists (perhaps too strongly IMHO) that the display unit has been properly set up by them and that I would be better off taking that.

Since I am not very experienced player, I am not entirely sure what to do here. Any advice?

  • What if as I beginner I don't know what to ask for a setup? I know I want to try 9 gauge strings on it and that I like low action, but that's about it... – Alexandru Cristescu Jul 11 '18 at 12:14
  • I only ever take the display one if there’s a discount for it or if I really want the model and it’s the only one available. – Todd Wilcox Jul 11 '18 at 12:44
  • @Tim: Stores that don't include a set up should be cheaper than those that do, but having a guitar set up before purchase may not always add value. If one would want to use one's own labor to modify the guitar in ways that would alter the setup, it would be better for the store to either offer to do the setup after purchase, or offer a discount for going without the initial setup and then do the later setup on a "cash" basis. – supercat Jul 11 '18 at 14:56
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    @AlexandruCristescu that 9 gauge would just be referring to the high E string. There are different sets that all start at 9, and go to very different numbers on the other side. Usually you would say something like 9 - 46 or 9 - 42, or something like that. Do you know WHY you want the high E to be .09 gauge? I fell into the trap of trying to just do what my guitar idols chose, and that is usually a bad choice imo. Try a bunch and find your own preference. Of course you may have already done that haha – Aethenosity Jul 11 '18 at 15:00
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    Hi @Tim, can you please change that to an answer. I think it is worth having as an answer post rather than a comment. – Doktor Mayhem Jul 14 '18 at 8:28
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That could go either way. Many mom and pop music shops will include the set up as part of the retail cost, other will charge a fee for set up. That varies depending on complexity and location. In NJ it's ~$75 for a set up and new strings.

The situation sounds similar to buying a house. New houses have never been touched, but they haven't settled and could have problems. I would expect that your new guitar has a warranty (1 year I'd guess) so you should be covered if its defective. I am not impressed by the argument that the display model is "set up" because it may not feel just right for you and needs to be set up again. So why not go for the brand-spanking-new guitar?

The other issue is condition. Does the display model have chips in the finish, wear and tear on the hardware, pick guard, etc? Are there pick and finger nail scratches on the top paint? If it looks used I wouldn't take it.

Also, will the display model have the same warranty as a new one? I'd find out.

Last but not least, are they offering a discount on the display?

It's a matter of weighing all these factors and whether or not you feel comfortable with the display model. You have to live with the choice.

I'd find out the following.

  1. What is the warranty on the guitar (manufacturer and store)?

  2. Will the display model have the same warranty?

  3. How much does the store charge for a set up, is it free with purchase?

  4. Is there a discount for the display model?

And go from there.

  • Thank you for the answer. The answers to the follow up questions are as follows: 1. 3 years from the store (not sure about manufacturer) 2. yes 3. first one is included with the purchase 4. no discount By the sound of it you are leaning towards getting the brand new one and having them set it up too, right? – Alexandru Cristescu Jul 11 '18 at 12:12
  • It seems like the store wants to avoid doing the set up again (which I would make the do since I have my own action preference) and like all businesses they want to squeeze as much $$ out of their stock as they can. I have purchased used guitars and been very happy with them so I am not really leaning either way. If they will stand by the product the only issue is whether it have any apparent damage. One thing I didn't think of is that the pots on guitars are cheap and usually break after 100's of turns. These may be over worked on the display model. – ggcg Jul 11 '18 at 12:18
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    So, after my after thought I'd lean to the box guitar. – ggcg Jul 11 '18 at 12:18
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    Often times, the guitar on display is actually the only guitar of that model in the store. I think only cheaper guitars will have multiple unboxed models available. – Paul Jul 11 '18 at 17:23
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    That depends on the store. The OP didn't state if it's guitar center or some neighborhood store. I've been in stores with a $5,000 ax on display and a dozen more in the back room. You can't really make a seeping judgement like that. – ggcg Jul 11 '18 at 17:35
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A lot of stuff you buy is "used" as a display model. Cars and clothing come to mind.

It would be very hard to find a car that hasn't been test driven and I wouldn't ever buy a car without test driving it first. I always assume clothes have been tried on before and wash them after buying, because yuck, and I always want to make sure the clothes fit, don't have holes etc, before buying.

For me I would:

  1. Want to try the guitar that I was actually purchasing. So if you go for the in the box one, ask to play it first.
  2. Make sure the guitar is in perfect condition. Even the one in the box could have a scratch or a ding....and you should be the one to scratch and ding it! (preferably when diving off the stage.)
  3. Make them do a setup for either model. the one that has been played by others should get new strings and a set up. the one in the box should get a set up.

Remember when buying something it is a negotiation. That sales dude wants to make the sale. You want the guitar. Negotiate: Here is my money, I want to play the one in the box, and get a set up, if I find it is in good condition/like the way it feels.

EDIT: all that being said both my Taylor acoustic, and my Fender Strat have been on display and I bought them.

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I would prefer the display guitar. If it had any problems, they would have been fixed (or the display model replaced). The one new-in-box might be shinier and have no buckle rash, but it might have loose connectors or some other issue. In general, if something is all electronic, I would prefer new-in-box.

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    This. Buy the guitar you try out. Not one in the box, which may be warped, dried out, have been dropped, a bent neck, etc. Inspect the guitar you tried out, and if it all looks, sounds, plays good buy it. If anything isn't perfect, then don't buy it. When buying a guitar off the rack, make sure you know what comes with it and insist on getting those items (paperwork, bag, case, etc). – Paul Jul 11 '18 at 17:20
  • I've bought guitars from major retailers that have had problems that were not at all fixed. Maybe this is more of a big box store problem, but the techs just don't have the time or the mandate to make sure every guitar in the store is in perfect shape. – Todd Wilcox Jul 11 '18 at 18:40
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As the 'properly set up' one has been played by potentially hundreds, it ought to come along at a better price, possibly with the start of buckle rash thrown in! A 'brand new' one will probably need a set-up, for the purchaser in particular, rather than a generic set-up for the shop. That ought to be contained within the price. Or, as I oft say, look around for a pre-loved model which will usually save 30-40%.

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What will your "pride of ownership" be? If you've thought about it this long, there's probably some amount of importance for you that you'll get a brand-new out-of-the-box new guitar, and if so, trust your instincts. It's your money and you should get what you want for it.

(It seems odd to me that the shop owner is pushing the display model, since he surely would have to take the boxed one and put it on the shelf to sell it. But that's his business. If he's keen to sell the display model, then he should be discounting it to the point where it's attractive to the customer.)

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