How Not to Get Screwed When Buying Gear

You gotta know how to talk to these people.

I’ve been playing in a band for a large chunk of my life and although I’ve only been a salesperson for a couple years, I’ve learned how important the relationship between the two is. Ideally for someone selling you the gear, they want to make the most money possible. Whether it’s commission or just money for the store, it’s just good business. As a customer, you want to get something for the lowest price. It’s obvious, sure, but what you have to learn is how to play the game. Get what you want for a good price and it’s mutually beneficial for buyer and seller. The following are some things I’ve learned from behind the counter to help you in front of it.


As a salesperson, I know how to qualify customers and help them find the right equipment. The same goes with the customer looking for help. If you’re a death metal drummer looking for drum triggers, chances are, the guy with the puka shell necklace talking about Dave Matthews Band won’t be able to help you to the full extent. That’s OK. To help get a read on each other, start with some simple dialogue to explain your playing style, equipment, and budget. I’m guilty of assuming an old man missing several teeth was in the store just to wank around, when in reality he ended up spending hundreds of dollars that day. If you don’t feel a connection with the salesperson, it’s fine to do some research on your own, ask your friends or even other employees about some gear. Just make sure you strike up a conversation to get a feel for each other. The way I sell things is based on personal experiences. I love what I use so I’ll tell you about it. If you’re looking for something I’m not completely familiar with, I’ll be honest and say I’m not very knowledgable about it. I’ve watched people try to sell things they know nothing about and it’s tragic. You should be able to see that from a mile away. If you feel like you’re talking to a used car salesman, you don’t have to deal with it.


If you’re a drummer buying a cymbal or a guitarist trying out a new guitar, you have to remember that the store you’re in is adding several variables to the sound and feel you’re looking for. It’s fine to bring your own equipment into the store to use with the gear you want to purchase. After all, that’s what it’s actually going to sound like. Feel is as important as sound so make sure to test it out exactly how you’re going to play it. Most instruments’ tone is effected based on how hard you play it and how loud you turn it up, so don’t feel bad about going for it. If you’re serious about making a purchase, the employees will understand and let you crank an amp or wail on some drums. I’ve had several customers try to guess what sound they wanted, or even worse not remember the other equipment they had and hope it’d be decent sounding together. This leads to a return for the store and leaves you an unfulfilled, unhappy customer. If it’s a situation where you’d need to bring huge equipment like an Ampeg 8x10 cabinet and it’d be a hassle just simply find something most comparable based on what you own. After all, it’s a music store so they’ll have a lot of options.


Everyone out there has an opinion. When researching any future purchase you have to become a sponge and absorb as much information as you can about everything and take it all in with a grain of salt. Go to forums and read the comments, it’s the prime example of opinion battles. These people have tested things out and come from all walks of life. Focus on your favorite musicians and read/watch their interviews to see what they’re playing. If you’re trying to sound like them, the gear they use is probably the closest bet. When doing this, remember these people have endorsements and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually using the lower-end gear they’re promoting in magazines, especially when they have access to the cream of the crop from major companies. Watching YouTube demonstration videos is an awesome way to weed out stuff you may not want. Again, remember that your headphones and laptop speakers won’t do the product complete justice. Use this as a way to filter options then try the gear out at stores to get the full concept. If it’s not in stock, most places will have you pay in advance to get it shipped to the store to try out, so don’t be shocked when that happens. If you don’t love it, you don’t have to keep it. Get what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, unless it’s your bank account.


Stores want to sell as much as they can, so don’t leave empty handed and assume things are completely concrete in price. No, this doesn’t mean it’s some strange haggling situation in a third world country market. This is still a business. Items have some wiggle room and if it still makes the store money, chances are most people would be more than happy to help you out with a lower price or at least throw in something else for free. If there isn’t a way to lower the price, you’ll find out. All you have to do is ask. I’m a broke band dude and I know the feeling when you can’t quite afford something. To get the full perks of this situation, I highly suggest you don’t be a dick. Again, the sales people have the right to discount or not discount something. If you’re cool they’re more prone to help you out, just like in any situation in everyday life. The second you seem like you’re trying to take advantage of a deal and cross the line, you’re going to blow it. Have a realistic price in your head and go in knowing what you’d ideally want out of your money. If anything, they’ll meet you in the middle if they can. Again, it’s as simple as talking to someone like a person.


If you’re doing a trade or buying from someone directly, it’s a bit of a different ball game. You’re not guaranteed anything, but like any transaction, you have to go in knowing what you want out of it and stand your ground. Use the research you’ve done and prices you’ve seen floating around online and go for the kill. A specific rare vintage guitar has an existing marketplace value and there’s only X amount of wiggle room from that. If you luck out, you can offer fairly low and still walk away a happy person. A large percentage of sellers are recently divorced couples, estate sales, or people in a hard time trying to make a quick buck. As terrible as these situations are, they’re usually pretty killer deals and they’ll understand when you put in a low offer. As always, inspect the gear in person if you’re able to or ask for detailed pictures and even a product demo video. There’s still a small percentage of scammers out there so you have to know you’re taking a bit of a gamble. I suggest checking out flea markets and garage sales on your phone look up any instruments you find. There’s a chance it’s for a criminally low price and you can turn around and sell it for ten times the amount. Always keep your eyes open for deals.

I could write more on the subject, but these simple steps will help you get what you want for what you want. I’ve gotten a handful of people using the same model drumsticks, heads, and cymbals as me just because I suggested them. The employee and customer chemistry is crucial. Test out the equipment exactly how you’d play it in a realistic application and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you feel like you’re dealing with a dweeb trying to steal your money, you don’t have to settle. Sometimes you’ll hear a cooler suggestion and potentially fall in love with something new. If you know what you want, let them know and it’ll be a smooth transaction. After all, we’re all musicians and in the end, we just want to play something.

Jonathan Diener is on Twitter, haggling with Craigslist users - @jonodiener

Check out more of his articles:

How to Not Looking Like an Opening Band Even Though You Most Definitely Are an Opening Band

What It's Like to Be in a Cover Band

The Drummer at the Wrong Gig Explains Why He Was at the Wrong Gig