Not all that long ago, most guitar enthusiasts would balk at the idea of buying an instrument online. While it’s true, getting a feel for what you like is nice, the necessity to do so has decreased significantly in recent years, thanks to easy return policies, and improved guitar manufacturing processes.
Now, the convenience of online shopping reigns supreme, and this is a big deal if you don’t happen to live near to a music store or guitar retailer. If you’re planning to buy a guitar online for the first time, though, you might be wondering which is the best website to buy a guitar from?
Should you play it safe with big names like Sweetwater or Guitar Center, or should you try and snatch a bargain on an auction site like eBay? In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be taking a look at the biggest online guitar retailers, and the pros and cons of buying from each.
Keep reading as we answer the most common questions about where to buy a guitar online.
- Best Places To Buy A Guitar Online: Individual Reviews
- Is it Safe to Buy a Guitar Online?
- What Are the Benefits of Buying a Guitar Online?
- What Are the Downsides to Buying a Guitar Online?
- Final Thoughts on Where to Buy a Guitar Online
Best Places To Buy A Guitar Online: Individual Reviews
Sweetwater is the largest online guitar retailer in the United States, and in fact only operate one physical store, which also happens to be their warehouse and operations center. They have over 100 acres of space, including the store, recording studios, warehouse, office space, and even a diner.
Their warehouse alone is an astonishing 480,000 square feet, so with so much space available, it’s not surprising that they offer one of the widest selections of brands and models of any music retailer, not just in the US, but in the world.
This store carries equipment for guitarists of all types. For beginners, they have a great selection of starter guitars and bundles to suit even the smallest budgets (and they offer financing if you need to extend that budget). You’ll find gear from the likes of Epiphone, Squier, PRS SE, and many more amongst their collection of entry level gear.
For intermediate and advanced players, Sweetwater boasts an incredible range of guitars and gear, from pro level recording and live sound equipment, through to high end guitars for the discerning blues lawyer and bedroom shredder. You’ll find big names like Fender, Gibson, Martin, and Taylor to name but a few.
Besides their huge collection of gear, Sweetwater’s biggest benefit is their unparalleled customer service. It sounds easy to say, but no other music retailer in the US can come close to Sweetwater when it comes to looking after their customers.
After your first purchase from Sweetwater, you’ll be assigned your own “Sales Engineer”. Sweetwater sales engineers are essentially specialists who are able to guide and advise you on purchases. What makes them stand out from regular sales staff at other retailers is that you have access to your sales engineer at all times, meaning you’re always dealing with the same person every time you call or email. Over time you will build a rapport, and they’ll be better positioned to recommend products that suit you and your needs.
The only real downside to shopping at Sweetwater is their limited used selection. Because they have only one physical location (in Indiana), they receive very few guitars in trade, which keeps their pre-owned stock pretty low. While they don’t have a lot of used stock, they often have great deals on demo models, giving you the option to buy gently used gear at a reduced price and still get a full warranty.
Sweetwater offers free shipping on almost all items that they sell, but if you require an upgrade, you can pay extra for expedited delivery.
Guitar Center is a brand that needs little introduction. They have by far the largest physical presence of any musical instrument retailer in the US, which has ultimately given them the strongest brand presence of any of the websites on this list.
They currently have 294 physical locations throughout the United States, and have been in business since 1959, making them one of the longest running music stores around.
As you’d expect, Guitar Center keeps a lot of entry level guitars, amps and accessories in stock. As they have such strong brand recognition, a lot of beginners tend to automatically turn to them for their gear needs.
Guitar Center also caters to more experienced players, too. Their online selection is absolutely enormous, and whether it’s a guitar, an amp, a recording rig, or even basic accessories, they’ll almost certainly have what you’re looking for.
Where Guitar Center tends to fall down is with their customer service, or rather lack of it. Guitar Center’s reputation has taken a beating in recent years, with reports of demo and, in some cases, pre owned and returned gear being passed off as new.
They’ve been trying to overcome this negative image with their new “Gear Advisor” program. The intent is to emulate Sweetwater’s Sales Engineer system, and while you are connected with a specialist when speaking to the Gear Advisors, you aren’t guaranteed to speak to the same employee each time you call.
If you’re looking for used gear, this is an area in which Guitar Center really shines. Because of their huge physical presence, they take in a lot of gear in trade, which leads to a vast selection of preowned, guitars, amps, and accessories. Used guitars can be shipped from whichever branch took them in trade, direct to your door, giving Guitar Center the Benefit of a national network of preowned gear.
Bargain shoppers will also like the Guitar Center Daily Deal. This offer is prominently posted on the home page of their website, and showcases a different (heavily) discounted item every day.
Musician’s friend is currently an online-only retailer, although they did start out by selling musical instrument accessories out of a garage. After creating a website, their owners were quickly approached by retail giants, Guitar Center, and were subsequently bought out. After the acquisition of Guitar Center and their associated companies by Ares Capital, both companies began sharing the same corporate structure.
Despite their association with Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend maintains their own online identity, so while they are effectively one and the same as their parent company, there are no references to GC anywhere on their site. Because Musician’s Friend has been a long time name in online guitar sales they are well recognized, despite no longer operating from any physical premises.
Where the lines between Guitar Center and Musician’s friend begin to become blurred is on their stock. The two brands share their entire inventory, meaning any item you see listed on Musician’s Friend is also listed on Guitar Center’s website. If one site is out of stock, so is the other. This can obviously be problematic if you’re shopping for rare or hard to find guitars as 2 reputable sites are taken out of consideration at once if there is no stock.
So, just like Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend does carry a wide range of guitars for everybody from day 1 beginners, through to seasoned professionals. Whether you’re looking to spend $150 on an entry level model, or $40,000 on a vintage 1950s piece, Musician’s Friend has the inventory you need.
As with their selection of new equipment, Musician’s friend also lists the exact same pre owned gear that is available on the Guitar Center website – so, if you’d prefer to shop at Musician’s Friend, you’ll still have access to a wide range of used guitars.
Unfortunately, Musician’s Friend suffers from the same poor customer service reputation as their parent company. It’s a safe website to buy from, without question, but they aren’t exactly renowned for swift or decisive resolutions to customer issues.
Musician’s Friend’s biggest benefit is their “Stupid Deal of the Day” promotion – a daily discount on one item, with hundreds of dollars often knocked off the MSRP for all kinds of items, including guitars from entry level to high end.
For more on Musician’s Friend, check out our head to head with Sweetwater.
Zzounds is a popular US based guitar and music equipment retailer that, like Musician’s Friend operates online only. They were founded in 1996 with a flagship brick and mortar store in the Chicago area, but as internet retail took off, the store closed and Zzounds focused solely on their web business.
They have nowhere near the size of market share as the likes of Sweetwater, Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend, or even Sam Ash for that matter, but that hasn’t hindered them too much, as they remain one of the most popular places to buy a guitar online.
While they are undoubtedly smaller than some of the other retailers we’ve covered in this guide, Zzounds still carry guitars from all the major brands, including Fender, Yamaha, PRS, Gibson, Martin, Takamine, and dozens more.
There are guitars to suit all budgets at Zzounds, with entry level models often costing under $200. Those looking for high end gear won’t be disappointed, either, as Zzounds carries a good selection of premium models.
Within their inventory you’ll find imports and beginner models alongside hand made in the USA limited edition pieces. It’s truly a 1 stop shop for all guitarists.
While they don’t boast the same range of products for sale as the big retailers, Zzounds does offer some of the best shipping in the business. Their free shipping offer covers almost all products listed, and because they ship 7 days a week with the exception of holidays, the time from order confirmation to delivery is often only 1 to 2 days for 95% of customers.
Customer service at Zzounds something of a mixed bag. Some customers report responsive agents and rapid resolution to issues, while others have reported receiving open box and used guitars after specifically ordering new items. It seems that your mileage may vary with Zzounds.
Zzounds website design and layout is another area that could use improvement. It’s best described as “early 2000s” style, with an outdated, difficult to navigate interface, and slow page loading.
Guitarists looking for fair financing tend to gravitate toward Zzounds for their easy, zero interest payment plans. Zzounds allows qualified customers to split the cost of their gear over several equal payments in exchange for a small application fee. This lets you get the gear you need right away, with easy repayment in installments.
If you’re looking for used gear, you’ll find a modest selection of pre owned guitars at Zzounds.
Sam Ash is one of the few holdouts operating multiple physical stores across the country in addition to their website. They are one of the oldest and most trusted music retailers around, and while their stores aren’t famed for their wide selection, their website tends to carry far more items.
Among the items you’ll find on the Sam Ash website, you’ll see guitars for everybody from beginners to touring artists, and from brands that make instruments to suit all areas of the pricing spectrum.
Pricing is generally quite good at Sam Ash, although, like most of the other sites, they tend to stick fairly close to the MSRP for each of the guitars that they list. They do, however, have some of the best sales, and so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on their site for markdowns and reductions.
For customer service, Sam Ash is one of the better online retailers out there today. Agents are generally knowledgeable and friendly, and they don’t ask too many questions about returns making the entire process nice and simple. Their return policy is industry standard, with 45 days to return items with no questions asked.
For used guitars, Sam Ash is only second to Musician’s Friends and Guitar Center when it comes to variety and availability, with over 1000 pre owned acoustic and electric guitars for sale on their website at the time of writing.
The Sam Ash website isn’t quite as well put together as Sweetwater, or Guitar Center’s, but it’s still relatively easy to navigate, especially when compared to the likes of Zzounds.
For more on Sam Ash, check out our full review.
Amazon is the world’s biggest online retailer, with millions of items bought and sold all over the planet on a daily basis. While they aren’t strictly in the business of guitars, there are hundreds of them listed for sale on the site, with many bargains to be found.
Shopping at Amazon is an incredibly intuitive process, and this makes the guitar buying experience even more straight forward. Just as you would for any other item search within amazon for exactly (or roughly) what you want, and you’ll be met with a list of choices, most of which are relevant to your search, but others will feel quite random.
Amazon’s customer service is absolutely fantastic, and it’s one of the areas that has cemented their already stellar reputation. Returns are generally no questions asked, and the return shipping is almost always free.
Free Prime shipping means members will get their products in usually around 2 days, unless an item is backordered, in which case, it can take weeks.
Reverb is one of the most popular guitar sales sites on the web today. It isn’t a retailer per se, but more of a marketplace that allows sellers to list their items in exchange for commission on each sale. Unlike eBay, it isn’t an auctions site, so unless the seller is prepared to sell to you for the price listed or less, the item will sell for the asking price.
They have been operating for quite some time as intermediaries between smaller guitar stores and the general public. The platform has allowed small independent retailers to compete with major chains for the first time, too, as if stores or individuals willing to ship, items are displayed nationwide.
Our favorite thing about Reverb are the celebrity pop up shops. Occasionally celebrity musicians will have a gear clear out and list everything in one place on Reverb, giving everybody a fair chance to own gear that was potentially once owned by their favorite musicians.
Besides the celebrity guitar selections, Reverb has one of the biggest collections of rare and vintage guitars in the world, so if you’re in search of something hard to find it, there’s a good chance you’ll see on this site.
Individuals are also welcome to sell new and preowned gear on Reverb. Because of the huge community, items tend to sell quickly, which means you often need to move fast, especially if an independent retailer is having a sale or offering heavy discounts.
Because of the way the site runs, Reverb isn’t directly involved in customer service disputes pertaining to items bought, although they will step in if the buyer and seller cannot reach an amicable conclusion to their issues.
For more on Reverb, check out our full review.
eBay is another of the world’s largest online retail websites. They have been in operation since 1995, and offer both auction style and buy it now type sales. They operate globally and have been a go to destination for guitarists looking to offload old gear and buy something new at a great price.
The majority of guitar listings on eBay are from private parties selling individual items, but as with Amazon, there are people using the service to list cheap, low end guitars bought in bulk from the Far East.
Patient buyers can still find some incredible deals on their dream guitars on eBay – if they’re prepared to sift through dozens of listings to find exactly what they’re looking for, that is. You’ll find everything from beginner models like Squier Stratocasters, through to extremely valuable Vintage Martin acoustics.
Something to be aware of when shopping for guitars on eBay is the number of fakes and replicas that wind their way onto the site disguised as the genuine article. If you’re planning to buy used from eBay, be sure to do your research on the models you’re looking for to avoid disappointment caused by realizing you bought a fake.
eBay does offer some protection that covers you in the event that your item doesn’t arrive, arrives damaged, or is not as it was represented in the listing.
Is it Safe to Buy a Guitar Online?
If you’re buying from any of the retailers we’ve covered in this article, then it is almost always safe to purchase a guitar from a website. These sites are not scams and nor do they steal credit card information. They are all trusted platforms with significant experience in selling guitars online.
What Are the Benefits of Buying a Guitar Online?
Buying a guitar online has all kinds of benefits compared with shopping in store, including:
When shopping online, you aren’t limited to the stock that one store or one person has available, you’re able to choose from a national, or even global variety of guitars. You can find new releases, vintage models, and everything in between when you buy a guitar from the internet.
Online retailers are more often better positioned to offer lower pricing because they have fewer overheads and a greater ability to buy stock in bulk, and these savings are often passed on to the customer.
Not everybody lives within a reasonable driving distance of a decent music store, so having the ability to shop for guitars online adds significant convenience to the lives of those buyers. Even for those who live 5 minutes from a Guitar Center, buying guitars from a website is still a more convenient way to shop than leaving the house.
What Are the Downsides to Buying a Guitar Online?
There are 2 sides to every story, and that goes for online guitar shopping too. Here are some of the downsides to online guitar shopping:
Not all retailers offer free shipping, and if you’re looking at a hard to find model online and it’s not from a major chain, there’s a good chance you’ll be paying upwards of $100 for shipping alone.
No Chance to “Try Before You Buy”
Even though many of the major websites offer flexible returns, it’s still nice to get your hands on guitar and play it to see if you feel a connection before buying. This is especially important if you don’t really know what it is you’re looking for.
Harder to Spot Fakes
Especially on private listings, some sellers have been known to take pictures of the genuine guitar that their replicas were based upon, and send out poor quality fakes to buyers instead.
Guitars Can Be Easily Damaged in Transit
Especially when shopping for used models that aren’t in their original packaging, there’s a not unreasonable chance that whatever guitar you buy might suffer some kind of damage during shipping. Reputable retailers will usually offer some kind of buyer protection against damage in transit, but if you’re buying from individuals on sites like Reverb or eBay, insist that the guitar is sent with insurance that covers at least the value of what you paid.
Final Thoughts on Where to Buy a Guitar Online
Online guitar shopping might not be as fun as wandering around a great music shop and picking up everything on the shelves, but it’s still a valid way to buy a new instrument. There are, of course, some pros and cons to all of the sites we discussed in this guide, so it’s important to be aware of these if you’re considering making a purchase from any of them. Keep your guard up, and you should hopefully have many positive experiences with buying guitars online.