For the past couple issues of The BackBeat, we’ve been looking behind the scenes at some of Louisville’s music shops. With a couple more interviews and shop profiles on the way, I thought we’d take a break to talk about what happens once you get to the shop for your very first instrument. The format will be a little different for this one, but hang in there with me as we look at four key things you should know when shopping for what can often be a memorable step in your own musical journey – a new instrument.
Know Your Options. A quick search in Ye Ol’ Google will show you that there are scores of great music shops in this city, which can feel overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start. Part of the reason for this shop series is to help you get to know the music shops in this area! We looked at DeGeorge Bro’s Guitars which carries unique brands of electric guitars, a beautiful line of ukuleles, and much more. We looked at Maxwell’s House of Music which has a variety of new and used instruments set in their own perfectly designed spaces. And as we take a look at a couple more, you’ll begin to see that each shop really does have its own unique character and specialty. While these are generalizations, here is a quick rundown of a few more shops besides the two mentioned above: Music Go Round has a huge selected of pre-owned gear. Doo Wop Shop does, too, and they also have a great rental program so you can try something out without committing to buy it first. Guitar Emporium, right across the street from Doo Wop Shop in the Highlands is where you can go to find vintage gear, and Steilberg Strings Instruments has a gorgeous selection of high-end acoustics. There are many, many more, and whatever you’re in the market for, there’s definitely a shop in town for you!
Ask Questions. It’s okay that you don’t know something! Every music store I’ve ever patronized is full of staff members ready to help. Don’t forget, they were all beginner musicians at one point, so they’ve been in your shoes. The best way to avoid indecision and buyer’s remorse is to be open and honest about what you don’t know. You may even get the occasional impromptu lesson! If a salesperson is using jargon you don’t understand, ask what it means. If you don’t know what all you may need to take care of your new instrument, they can help you. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s okay!
Spring for Key Accessories. It may feel like I’m trying to up-sell you on things you don’t need, but hear me out. If you’re going to be traveling (to and from school or lessons, for example) then you’re going to need a case to protect your investment. Many instruments come with their own cases, but if yours doesn’t, look into getting SOMETHING. If you’re buying a new guitar, don’t forget a spare set of strings. The worst thing you can do to kill your momentum as a newer player would be to break a string and let the instrument sit around until the next week when you can go get some new strings. Have a spare set (or 3)! One of the most important things you could possibly buy may not seem so obvious – a stand. Buying a stand for your instrument means two things: 1) you have a safe place to set it down when it’s not in the case, and 2) your instrument will be out in your line-of-sight, which means you’re more likely to think about playing, which will definitely contribute to your success!
Seek Out Inspiration. When I worked in music retail years ago, I had a recurring conversation with a lot of parents buying first instruments for their children. It went something like this: “Little Johnny wants to play AC/DC, but we think he should start out on acoustic, because that will be easier.” Here’s the problem with that logic – Johnny might learn how to play those AC/DC songs, but he’s not going to sound like Angus Young banging out “Thunderstruck” on an acoustic guitar. The sound and look of Young’s Gibson SG going into a cranked Marshall JTM45 is what makes Johnny want to play, and if he can recreate that at home, he will put in the practice needed to be successful. A helpful litmus test for picking out an instrument is that if you’re compelled to pick something up in the store (even if you don’t know how to play it yet), you’ll likely be compelled to pick it up and practice. If a Flying V makes you want to be a guitarist more than a sensible Stratocaster, I say go for it! If the bright red Bach trumpet inspires you more than a silver or brass one, rock it! There is no wrong answer, and if it inspires you to play, then it’s the right choice. (For parents reading this that are leery of investing in a $1000+ drum set or other similar commitments, when you’re not sure if your little one is going to stick with it, don’t forget about Doo Wop’s instrument rental program.)
More than anything, I hope these tips and this behind-the-scenes music shop series inspire you to pick up an instrument – any instrument – and make music a part of your life. It’s never too late to start, and there are so many resources out there to help you get going. I want The BackBeat to be one of those resources, so as always, feel free to hit me up if you’re not sure which direction to take!