The Top 3 Music Gear Websites Compared: Guitar Center, Musician's Friend & Music123
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The Top 3 Music Gear Websites Compared: Guitar Center, Musician's Friend & Music123

In this report

Guitar Center, Musician's Friend and Music123 are the largest online music retailers. Buying a musical instrument on the Internet may at first seem impractical. Customers usually want to play a guitar or keyboard before purchasing but that isn't always necessary or possible, especially for people who live in small towns without a music store or who live a long distance from the nearest music retailer.

These three music retailers make it easy for someone to purchase music gear online because of the wealth of information available for each product. Musician's Friend.com, Music123.com and GuitarCenter.com have thousands of products reviews by customers and music industry experts, instructional videos, DVDs and books, and a knowledgable sales staff, many of whom are professional musicians.

Guitar Center owns Musician's Friend and Music123 and all 3 companies have similar prices and brands; but but there are subtle differences in their websites, products and customer relationships.

#1 - Musician's Friend   http://www.musiciansfriend.com

Musician's Friend is one of the largest music retailers in the world. It began in the early 1980's as a modest mail order business, operated by a husband and wife out of their garage. Today the company is based in Medford, Oregon and has over 1,000 employees. They have over 70,000 in stock at their state of the art distribution center in Kansas City, Missouri. 

  • Guitars, acoustic and electric
  • Electric bass
  • Drums
  • Band & Orchestra Instruments
  • Amplifiers, Mixers, Recording
  • Music accessories, clothing and jewelry

Pros:

  1. Competitive pricing on all major music brands (same or similar prices as Guitar Center & Music123)
  2. Stupid Deal of the Day - 50% or more savings on a different item each day 
  3. Web site is well organized and user friendly
  4. Customer reviews for most items
  5. Guitar selection is largest on the Internet
  6. Free shipping (no minimum purchase required)
  7. On Line courses and certificates available through Berklee Music School (lessons, music production, songwriting, etc)
  8. "Musician's Friend News Letter" has weekly specials, detailed descriptions of products, useful tips on maintaining instruments
  9. Payment options: Credit card, Pay Pal, Money Orders and Cashier’s Checks.
  10. Financing Options: Special programs such as 6 Months Same as Cash and credit line available up to $10,000 (on approved credit)
  11. 45/45 Satisfaction & Lower Price Guarantee: You may return items within 45 days for full refund, credit or exchange or, if you find a lower price elsewhere within 45 days, Musician's Friend will beat the other price by 10% (after verification)
  12. Huge selection of used instruments and other music gear that has been inspected by the staff at Musician's Friend. (Used gear also has 45 day guarantee)

Cons:

  • No layaway plan
  • Website is rather drab compared to Guitar Center

Musician's Friend has many loyal, long term customers as evidenced by the following comments:

"I've played professionally for 40 years, been a customer of Musicians Friend for 20 years, both online and in the store, and NEVER had an unhappy experience. I've spent upwards of $20,000 over the years. At times I've been the "pain-in-the-butt" customer, and returned guitars, amps, miscellaneous items, for a variety of reasons, and Musicians Friend has always honored its policies and refunded or replaced items PROMPTLY. . As long as a person follows their return policies, and as long as a person is courteous and LISTENS to customer service reps, there is no reason to expect anything but prompt, courteous service in return from Musicians Friend..." http://www.resellerratings.com/store/Musician_s_Friend

Musicians Friend truly is an amazing website. i really can’t think of anything they could make better. they already provide free, fast, reliable shipping with tracking, no taxes, and the prices are lower than any of its competitors...http://www.bizrate.com/ratings_guide/cust_reviews__mid--25210__start--10.html

Even before it was purchased by Guitar Center a few years ago, MusiciansFriend.com was a highly respected online retailer. I had a very positive shopping experience with Musician's Friend when I purchased a Tascam DP-03 Digital Portastudio multitrack recorder. The shipping was free and there was no sales tax as it wasn't applicable in my state. I applied for a Musician's Friend Platinum Card and financed my purchase through a special "6 Month Same as Cash" program. My credit is OK but not perfect so being approved for financing was appreciated and improved my overall credit rating. I lost the owner’s manual so I called Customer Service and received a copy of the manual within 10 days. (This is not their normal policy so the service rep when above and beyond for me). I live near a Guitar Center and enjoy browsing their website, but I would rather buy from Musician's Friend instead of dealing with the chaos of a crowded store or placing an order from a company with which I have no purchase history.

#2 - Guitar Center   http://www.guitarcenter.com

Guitar Center is the largest musical instrument retailer in the United States. Founded in 1959, this company was originally called "The Organ Center". In the 1960s, the name was changed to The Vox Center as it became the major seller of Vox guitars and amplifiers made popular by the Beatles. A few years later, the company was renamed Guitar Center and gained a reputation as the  "Mecca" for guitar players. Guitar Center today has 100 stores throughout the US. Several years ago the company bought Musician's Friend which remains an independent subsidiary of Guitar Center. 

Guitar Center sells:

  • Electric and acoustic guitars & amplifiers by top manufacturers like Gibson, Marshall, Fender, Ibanez
  • Bass guitars
  • Keyboards and small digital pianos
  • Drums
  • Sound and recording equipment
  • Vintage and custom made instruments
  • DJ Gear (turntables, mixers, etc)
  • Live Sounds equipment (PA speakers, microphones, stands, instrument cases, etc)
  • Books, software, videos

Pros

  • Name recognition and a loyal following among professional musicians
  • Beautifully designed website
  • Competitive pricing (same or similar prices as Musician's Friend and Music 123)
  • Larger selection of used gear than Musician's Friend or Music 123
  • Platinum Store: Unique, collectible and custom guitars and other top of the line instruments and equipment not found on any other website. Only a few of the Guitar Center stores have a Platinum department staffed by a specially trained guitar expert. One of the most expensive and incredible guitars available is a Martin D100 Deluxe Limited Edition Acoustic guitar made from Brazilian rosewood. Price: $87,899!
  • Musician Services (CD duplication, mastering, mixing)
  • Vintage instruments
  • Product Reviews by consumers and professionals
  • Payment options: Credit card, Pay Pal, Money Orders and Cashier’s Checks.
  • Storefronts - items seen online can be tried out at 100 locations throughout the US
  • Interviews with musicians and influential people in the music industry
  • Lowest Price Guarantee - If, within 30 days, you find an item for less at an authorized dealer, Guitar Center will refund 100% plus 10% extra (original receipt and other dealer's ad must be submitted)

Cons

  • 30 Day Lowest Price Guarantee is less than the 45 day refund policy at Musician's Friend
  • Free shipping on "almost" all items
  • Trade ins accepted but only if you take used gear to a store
  • Band and Orchestra instruments not sold
  • Negative reviews - like most large retailers, the customer reviews run the gamut from very satisfied to unhappy with the customer service.

"Completely dissatisfied with their Customer Service.  I ordered an item on the phone, it was my first purchase from Guitar Center (online, phone or store).  The credit card authorization was obtained and the purchase appeared on my online statement.  However some days passed and no word from them about shipping, no word in email or phone call about the order.  After a few days, I called them up.  One hour on the phone, to find out they did not trust me and considered my purchase a potential fraud, and were not going to ship the item.  The sales representative said it was because this was my first purchase.
I bought the same item for about the same price from another well-known large website, without problems, using the same credit card that they refused. http://www0.epinions.com/content_529237970564

"GuitarCenter.com is my number one music store to go o on line. They have been very good to me, for my musical needs. I recommend them to family and music friends. Have no problems with GuitarCenter.com, very nice group of people there, thank you" http://www.bizrate.com/ratings_guide/cust_reviews__mid--141658__start--20.html

A major difference between Guitar Center and the other two companies is that Guitar Center sells custom, vintage and collectible guitars. Musicians Friend and Music123, although owned by Guitar Center, do not offer specialty and boutique instruments. For serious collectors and professional musicians, Guitar Center is the only of these companies that can accommodate this type of client. The content of Guitar Center's web site is superior to the other websites when it comes to design, graphics, and involvement with famous artists and industry professionals.

#3 - Music123   http://www.music123.com

Music123 is actually the oldest company of the three reviewed in this article. It began as a family business 75 years ago in Germany. The founder, Leonard Zapf, was a well known music teacher of fretted instruments and the zither, a stringed instrument. If you don't know what a zither sounds like listen to soundtrack of the classic film noir, The Third Man. Zapf moved to the United States in 1923 and the company has been run by his family for 4 generations.

Products sold at Music 123:

  • Guitars, Electric, Acoustic & Bass
  • Drums, Percussion
  • Music Accessories
  • Marching Band & Orchestral String, Woodwind & Brass instruments
  • Pro Audio (Recording equipment, microphones, headphones, etc)
  • Used gear

Pros

  • Web site is "no frills", easy to navigate
  • Rewards Club - points earned with each purchase can be spent on new gear
  • TICO (Trade In/Cash out) Customers may sell or trade in used gear
  • Advice from Professionals: Staff of professional musicians available to answer questions and describe and compare newest instruments, recording equipment, etc.
  • Payment options: Credit Cards, Pay Pal, Money Orders and Cashier’s Checks.

Cons

  • Return Policy - 100% refund given for items returned within 45 days (Guitar Center and Musician's Friend offer 100% Plus 10% return)
  • Free shipping on "almost" all items
  • Vintage or collectible instruments not sold
  • Product selection is not as large as Guitar Center and Musician's Friend
  • Customer Service reviews mainly negative. There may have been some improvement since 2007 when Guitar Center bought Music 123 after it filed Chapter 11.

Guitar Center (GC) owns Musician's Friend (MF) and Music123. There is a common misconception that because the three companies are associated, their pricing is same. The comparison below shows that this is not true and buyers should check all 3 websites for the current lowest price. 

  • Fender '62 Jazzmaster Guitar $1,889 - same on all 3 websites
  • Beatles T-Shirt (large) $24.99 - same all 3 websites
  • Ludwig Accent Combo Drum Set with ZBT Cymbal - Music 123: $599....MF:: $549....GC: not listed
  • Vox VT15 1x8 Guitar Amp: Music 123: $169....MF: $169....GC: $129
  • Yamaha P95 Keyboard - same on all 3 websites
  • Tascam DP004 Multitrack Recorder - Music 123: $199....MF: $169....GC: $199

Music123.com is the homely cousin of Guitar Center and Musician's Friend. It doesn't have the class and flash of GuitarCenter.com nor the depth of MusiciansFriend.com; however, it is worth your while to check Music123.com as they sometimes have the lowest price. Because of the simplicity of Music123's website, it is probably the better choice for non-professional musicians who just want to find a specific item and won't be distracted by Guitar Center's razzle dazzle and the glut of detail on MusiciansFriend.com. Music123 has a Rewards Club (Guitar Center and Musician's Friend do not). If a customer is planning to buy a lot of gear, Music 123 might be the better choice so accumulated points may be applied towards future purchases.

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Comments (3)

Great info! Thanks for sharing... voted it up! :-)

KevRock72

Thank you for the info. Good read, I enjoyed it.

Great piece of work, I use some of your theories in my free song downloads, http://dannyhauger.podbean.com/2011/02/12/sun-fields-in-g-free-song-download-from-danny-hauger-music/

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