If you’re searching for a new musical instrument, there are a lot of options out there. Two of the most successful retailers in the business are Sam Ash and Guitar Center.
These two big-box stores have numerous locations across North America. If you don’t live near a physical store, there’s no need to worry. They both have excellent online shops as well.
Contrary to popular opinion, these two companies aren’t just guitar stores. Sam Ash and Guitar Center both offer a wide array of musical instruments and equipment. They even offer a number of services like instrument setups and repair. If you’re wondering which store is the best option, read on to find out!
An Overview Of Sam Ash
Sam Ash, currently the largest family-owned retailer of musical equipment in the United States, holds a storied history and reputation within the industry. Established in 1924, Sam Ash began as a small store in Brooklyn, New York, founded by Sam Ashkynase.
Over the decades, the company has grown into a well-respected and trusted destination for musicians, with over 44 brick-and-mortar stores in 16 states and roughly 1,000 employees.
With nearly a century of experience, Sam Ash has solidified its position as a go-to destination for musicians of all levels. The company’s longevity speaks to its commitment to serving the needs of musicians and providing top-quality products.
Today, Sam Ash continues to grow and evolve. This includes the opening of their online store. Sam Ash sells a wide array of instruments and equipment. Whether one seeks guitars, drums, keyboards, amplifiers, or recording gear, Sam Ash offers an extensive selection to cater to various musical preferences and genres.
Additionally, the retailer often collaborates with renowned brands, providing access to exclusive instruments and gear.
Beyond their diverse product offerings, Sam Ash prides itself on its commitment to customer satisfaction. With knowledgeable and passionate staff, the company ensures that musicians receive personalized assistance and guidance in choosing the right gear.
Moreover, Sam Ash extends its services beyond the purchase, offering instrument repairs and rentals to support instrumentalists throughout their musical journeys.
An Overview Of Guitar Center
The history of Guitar Center starts with Wayne Mitchell buying a store in California that sold organs and small appliances. This was in 1959, and GC was all about rock n’ roll, right from the start. While rock music and the British Invasion influenced the direction of Sam Ash, they were directly responsible for the creation of the Guitar Center.
Over the years, GC continued to grow and expand as a reliable and customer-oriented retailer, making it easily accessible to musicians nationwide. New locations were consistently being opened throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Guitar Center acquired the Musician’s Friend brand in 1999. This company was known mostly as an online retailer. This sparked the beginning of Guitar Center’s e-commerce success which now provides a seamless shopping experience for customers.
Now GC is the largest retailer of its kind, with over 300 locations. There’s at least one physical location in 47 different states. The three states without a store include Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming. Today, you can get equipment directly from Guitar Center, even if there’s no physical location nearby.
Overall, Guitar Center’s history, expansive reach, and dedication to meeting musicians’ requirements make it a significant player in the musical equipment retail industry.
Sam Ash Vs Guitar Center: The Physical Stores
Guitar Center starts out strong here, simply by having far more physical locations.
I’m privileged to have both stores in my area. They’re practically right next to each other too, which makes it convenient to browse around in both, to see who has the better deals.
My local Guitar Center is much larger than the Sam Ash, and I find this to generally be true when I travel to other locations.
Guitar Center often has a much larger selection of used guitars and amps. I generally find their staff to be quicker to offer some assistance, but this just depends on the specific location and who is working that day.
The quality of customer service may vary depending on the location and the staff, but generally, Sam Ash is known for having more helpful and knowledgeable staff who are music-oriented and music-obsessed.
Though both stores offer competitive prices and discounts, Guitar Center usually has more items in stock and so they do more clearance sales.
Regarding setups and repairs, my local Sam Ash has a couple of real pros working behind the counter. I typically get better results there.
This may also differ from location to location, but from what I gather, Guitar Center puts employees through a quick crash course for repairs and setups. It’s thorough, but they’re not going to be high-level experts, most of the time.
They do, however, often employ luthiers and other experts for tougher jobs. In my personal experience, both are fine for basic stuff, but if you need serious work done, go to an expert elsewhere.
Both stores offer financing programs for expensive instruments. Both also provide rentals for sound equipment and instruments. This is a great solution for bands on a budget. Sam Ash also offers some excellent discounts for students who play in their school band or orchestra.
When it comes to returns, both stores have a 45-day return policy for most items, but some exceptions apply. For example, both shops offer only 14 days to return specific items like workstations, DJ equipment, rack signal processors and lighting/fog machines.
Guitar Center requires returns of vintage instruments within 3 days of purchase, while Sam Ash Music does not have a specific rule for such returns. Overall, Sam Ash seems to have a better reputation when it comes to returns and service.
A Comparison Of The Online Shops
The Guitar Center website is vastly superior to the Sam Ash site. Both offer in-store returns. This can save you the hassle of shipping something back if you get the wrong item or something defective.
I’ve had to do this at least once with both online shops, and both shops made the process quick and easy. If you have a store close by, it may be a good idea to order from their online shop, just to make returns easier for you.
Guitar Center makes online purchases for used instruments easy. They will even ship an item from one store to your local store. This allows you to try it out in person before pulling the trigger on an expensive purchase. Guitar Center is really the better place to go for vintage instruments, in general.
Both online stores have regular deals and specials, particularly around holidays. Both offer fast shipping and good overall service. The Guitar Center website, however, is just far easier to use. They also have good deals on their Musician’s Friend sister site.
Which Is Better, Guitar Center Or Sam Ash?
The real answer here is that it largely depends. For online shopping, Guitar Center has a slight edge. As a general rule, Guitar Center is better if you’re specifically shopping for a guitar, bass, amplifier or related equipment. Sam Ash will often have a better selection of sound equipment for bands and DJs.
Both companies offer good service whether you shop in-person or online. From my personal experience, Sam Ash does a better job of setups and repair work, but this is just applicable to my local stores. The best option is to look at both stores to see who has the items you need in stock, and who offers the best price.
Also Read: Cost of Guitar Lessons at Guitar Center
Alternatives To Consider
Another appealing option is shopping online at retailers like Sweetwater. Sweetwater is known for their superior online services, offering personalized assistance, technical expertise, and excellent post-purchase support. With Sweetwater, you can expect a seamless shopping experience and the assurance of exceptional service.
If you prefer to shop in person and support local businesses, you can also check out your nearby music stores. There you can build relationships with the staff and get personalized recommendations. However, they may have less variety and availability than larger chains like Sam Ash or Guitar Center.
Before You Go . . .
Read our next article to ensure that your online guitar shopping experience is nothing short of exceptional if you’re interested in exploring a few more alternative destinations to buy guitars, stringed instruments or used gear from online retailers.