A couple months ago, while the pall of winter was still cast over the northern hemisphere, my spyphone brought news of another assignment. My mission—if I chose to accept it—was to visit music stores in and around Akron OH. Did I mention this was back in February?

Wasn’t there an assignment in Florida or California…maybe Tennessee? This going-store-to-store 007 work could be hazardous to my health: snow, sleet, ice, cold…ahahahahchooo!

This might be going just a little too far to bring you the ins and outs of music products retailing. Ah, well. You, the readers of The Retailer, deserve only the best industry information.

I prepared for my latest assignment, having gathered all the latest “tools of the trade.” There was a pen, paper and a cheap voice recorder, plus some other equipment, too: furry boots, a heavy hooded thermal coat, two pairs of gloves and a large mug of hot cocoa.

I started the car, got out the snow blower and cleared the driveway. Of course, the drive was snow covered again before I could back out. As I did, with the snow falling faster than I could clear the windshield, I just kept thinking, “This is for the sake of informing the music world.”

After a few slips, slides and frozen windshield wipers, I arrived at the first mission destination….

Guitar Center
3750 W. Market St. Unit R
Fairlawn, OH 44333

Getting out of the car, I locked the door, put the hood up—on my head, not on the car—and slid my way toward Guitar Center’s iced-over doors. I opened the door, anticipating a surge of warm air to thaw my brain to continue my mission. Instead, I stepped in and two employees whooshed by me, ignoring the fact that I was standing there. They were headed out the door, cigarettes in hand.
I did not care that they were going out for a smoke, dinner or whatever. What got me was that I was almost brought down in the rush. A “hello,” or holding the door, might have been a better greeting to a potential customer. You might think I am being petty, but I was particularly focused on the customer service aspect of the mission.

Maybe it was because I had just had an experience at a box retail store (not a music-related one) that was not pleasant. Just to show you what I mean: I had been looking for a new receiver for my surround sound. The young salesman there had been texting, yawning and totally disinterested in what I needed or how best to solve my problem. Finally, he’d said, “I’ll be back,” and walked away. I’d suspected it was to make a phone call. I had walked out.

OK…back to the spy thing. After the quick exit of employees, I walked in and was standing, looking around. At first glance, there were people sitting testing guitars and the store, in general, seemed cluttered…a bit unorganized. I think it was due to the amount of merchandise sitting on the floor.

In less than a minute, a man standing behind the counter and working at the cash register said, “Hello.” I turned around and looked his way. “Are you looking for something in particular?” he asked. I said, “Yes, a bass guitar.”
He pointed and said, “That whole corner over there is bass guitars.” It took a little effort to get to the corner. I had to finagle my way around boxes stacked between the wall of basses and myself. Once I worked around the boxes and items sitting on the floor, I got to the wall only to find more “stuff” sitting around and on the floor.

I figured the salesperson was just going to let me stumble around the bass guitars section on my own when, suddenly, he was behind me. He asked if I was looking for anything specific and told me that, at that moment, I was looking at the Ferraris of bass guitars. “The top of the line,” he said.

He asked me all the right questions to qualify what I was looking for, whom it was for (age, skill level), etc. I went under the premise that I was gathering information to buy a bass guitar for my grandson. This was a perfect thing for me. I’m not really an expert on bass guitars; I lean more toward band instruments.

I knew just enough about guitars to be dangerous, yet sufficiently little to play my part of the grandmother who knew basically “nothing” about the stringed instrument. Playing as though I knew nothing about music came surprisingly easily! It was actually scary.

He continued, “If he is just getting started and never played before, we offer packs that have everything he needs to begin. We offer basses from used at $99 to new at $179, and then the sky is the limit.”

It was suggested that I stick with a four-string bass and, also, that I should be concerned with the ease of playing. With a young student, the strings should be close to the neck and the neck should be small.

“The friendliest bass to scale would be the Fender and Ibanez,” he said. He reiterated that these brands have a thin neck and the string position is close to the neck.

The salesman said Fenders were the most played-on guitars in the world and that they started it all. He showed me an Ibanez with a skinny neck and small scale (sounds like a fish or giraffe) and then a Jaguar Squier at $297, stating it was a little better looking. He said there was a lot of bang for the buck with a used Yamaha model on the wall. He proceeded to tell me that he taught bass and he always recommended the Ibanez, Fender or Yamaha to start because of the ease of play.

He did not treat me as if I were stupid, nor try to impress me with industry jargon. He was very respectful, knowledgeable and patiently stayed with me while I asked my questions and asked him to explain things for a second or third time.

He told me that good electronics in the guitars were important, and he added at they really did not sell any bad basses. “We are the biggest bass distributor in the world, bar none,” he said. He even declared, “Most manufacturers make instruments that only we sell.” Hmmm….

I was told to keep in mind that I would need an amp to power it and a tuner was very important, because it takes a long time to develop the ear for tuning. He suggested a stand or a bag to store it when it was not being played.

I was shown an Ibanez package, and he said he owned some Ibanez guitars himself. “Some of your greatest celebrities and stars play them,” he said. I was encouraged to go with the package with the most “bang for the buck” at $199 to $250. It would cost considerably more to buy them separately, and this was absolutely the best way to get started.

He advised me to purchase a warranty for two years at $26 to cover the bass that had a one-year warranty. It would cover accidental damage.

After feeling pleased with the information and no pressure to buy, I bundled back up to slip and slide my way to the next part of my mission. He gave me his card and told me to give him a call if I had any other questions. The store was easy to locate, with plenty of parking.

Akron Music Center
629 Howe Ave.
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221

Arriving at what I thought was Akron Music Center, I was surprised by the fact that I could not find a sign for the store. It had been located in this spot for years. I have been in the store and shopped at this plaza. I knew it was here. Each store has prominent signage on the building, and Akron Music Center always could easily be seen…but no more.

I got out my spyphone, went to the Internet and typed in “Akron Music Center.” The address came up on the same road, so I figured the store had just moved locations on this street. I then began to go closer to look for an address when I discovered a small sign in the window of a storefront that said “Akron Music.”

This spy was shocked! Once upon a time, the store was much larger and included several locations. I parked, walked in the door and was surprised by how dirty the store was. There was actual dirt, paper and other stuff on the floor among the clutter, through which I had to walk to get to the bass guitars.

I was greeted immediately and a gentleman asked what I was looking for. I said bass guitars and he replied, “I have a wealth of information on bass guitars.” He then began to qualify what I was looking for. I told him it was for my grandson. He asked if he took lessons or just wanted to play with his friends. I said he was going to begin with a video and go from there. He suggested that there was a lot of information on YouTube.

He told me that I did not need to buy anything expensive to start out, and he pointed to the wall and a red bass (it was a Dean). “They love the red ones,” he said. “It has the long neck, big pickup and the black hardware,” he added. He then told me that they (I assume my grandson) would recognize the name brand and that a lot of famous guys play it.

I explained that I was gathering information for my daughter and that I would let her know. He said to be sure to let her know that his stock changed very fast and she could not count on it being there. It was a Dean full-scale, full-size bass and was $149. I asked if there was a model number, because I was writing it all down for my daughter. He said, “They really don’t have model numbers. They give everybody different ones, so people can’t just go look online. It’s a professional brand.”

He also pointed out a Galveston, which is more of a Fender-style, he said, at $189: a good instrument with which to start. “They both have low, fast action, so it’s easy to push down and get a big rock sound. We sell them for the kids to play in jazz band at school, church groups or anybody,” he said.

He mentioned that he had a chord chart for $5.99 that a lot of people buy, so they know their scales. Those were the two basses in the store.

I asked about an amp. “Do you want to get an amp?” he asked. “Those are on sale for only $129.” I noticed it was a Kustom amp. He told me that he would give me a free strap and cord. I asked about the warranties, which were two years. “That is the problem with online. They say, ‘Oh, we will give you a three-year warranty’,” he began, but you have to box it up and send it back to them at $75 or $80. He added that they had a guitar tech at the store.

If there were any other questions, I was to call. There were no box kits.
Back outside, I found my snow-covered car. Although this wasn’t a negative experience, I was hopeful that the next stop might be more productive.

Central Instrument
Company, Inc.
739 Portage Trl.
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221

At Central Instrument Company (CIC), I found a clean store with pleasant employees, one of whom greeted me immediately. I said I was interested in a bass guitar. She said that the guitar expert was not there, but she would do what she could to help me. Asking whom it was for, she began looking over the guitars and said there was a guy in the back who could help.

The gentleman told me the two bass models the store stocked would be fine for a beginner. He added that, for a beginner, there was a weight issue. He was a bass player himself. One was an Aria Pro II, which was a four-string at $300, and there was a five-string Austin with a more traditional body at $179.

He said I would need an amplifier and pointed out a couple different ones: a used Yamaha Quantum for $129 and a Line 6 Spider for $99. The salespersons were not sure what the warranty was on the basses; they would have to ask the guitar guy. But, they did have a repairperson on site.

There were no packages in the store for bass guitar, but there were some for acoustic and electric guitar. She said they could order one. They encouraged me to stop by again or call, saying the guitar person could answer any other questions.
It was certainly not a huge selection of guitars, but the store had some of everything and a focus on band instruments. The showroom isn’t large enough to display a lot.

Soundboard Music, Inc.
3776 Fishcreek Rd.
Stow, OH 44224

My last stop, after a quick drive-thru fast-food dinner, was Soundboard Music. I was greeted as soon as I walked through the door. I found the store to be spacious and uncluttered, but with plenty of inventory and a variety of instruments, music and instrument supplies that would fill most needs. The salesperson asked what I was looking for. Like the other stores, his first question was how old my grandson was.

We walked the length of the store along a wall that was filled with guitars, and then back to another with guitars and a large selection of basses. He immediately went into high gear with a plethora of information, interjecting some personal information about how he and his son began a band and that they play in the area for different occasions. The salesman plays bass guitar, and he took one off the wall to show me, telling me the ins and outs of the model. He plugged it into the amp and played a riff or two, all the while describing the Samick bass. “If you can’t make a living playing an instrument, then it is a toy,” he said.

While he was conversing with me, a customer walked in. Immediately, he said, “Hello, sir. I’ll be with you in just one minute.” The entire time we talked—about an hour—each time a customer came in or a student did for a lesson, he greeted them.

“The reason why I like this bass is it is easy to hold,” he said. He pointed out how the neck was made, saying, “Samick makes the majority of guitars out there under different names. This instrument has a lifetime warranty. If you have a problem with the neck, the frets or a crack in the body, the warranty is good for the entire time you own the instrument. The warranty goes around the world,” he said.

I was also told that everything was made well in the instrument. He told me that guitars today are much nicer and more reasonable than they were back in the ’60s and ’70s.

The Samick Corsair bass, Greg Bennett design, came with a case and was $180. He added that he didn’t think it was right to sell a guitar without including a case/gig bag. It was like selling a car and not including the tires.

He continued to demonstrate and handed it to me to take a look. He showed me several makes and models, taking them off the wall and talking about each instrument, usually hooking it up to the amp and playing a little. He showed me a Samick Fairlane and a Squier Affinity, each for around $200.

We talked about an amp, and he pointed out the one he was using, saying it was good and had jacks for headphones, an mp3 player and other “points of interest,” including a five-year warranty. The cost was $60 and, together, it would be about $250. The amp was from Peavey. He explained the amplifier was great for practicing, but it would not be heard over drums in a band.

I asked about the package deals, and he said they were a little more expensive and I was not really gaining anything. A gig bag was included, but the one I would get purchasing just the guitar was of better quality. “In the package, you get a cable and picks, which I am giving you anyhow.” The kit contained headphones, but he said most people have those.

The package was a Fender Squier Original Rock Machine for $300. “I like what I was just showing you [the Samick],” he said. “The Squiers [the package] are great, but there is only a one-year warranty.” Packages ranged from $300 to $330.

He gave me a great history of guitars, telling me of the different makes and changes over the years. In the salesman’s own words, “I am telling you more than you would ever want to know about bass guitars.”

He said that, for eight years, he has been doing a concert with all the guitar students from Soundboard’s school of music during the summer. They also have their annual “Stowstock” concert, highlighting area bands in the parking lot each year.

I found this salesperson to be very informative. He actually took the bass guitars off the wall, played them and let me hold them. That is something no one else did. He was passionate about me having the correct item for my grandson.

The Sale
And the winner is…pass me the envelope please…Soundboard Music. I found that the salesman had deep-seated knowledge of bass guitars, music in general and 17 years under his belt at the same store. He knew the products’ ins and outs, as well as his customers, and went above and beyond to help me. He even gave me tips if I was going to be looking elsewhere for the bass. The store was neat, clean and well merchandised.

Although still in the midst of winter, the next day brought sun and melting snow. The mission was fun and interesting after all. And, now, I know more about bass guitars, in case my grandson ever decides to quit the trombone.

No more articles