"I can't get that guitar in my country"
Something that genuinely makes me feel bad is whenever I feature a guitar - especially one that I own personally - and get a comment on this blog or YouTube channel from a fan that says, "I like the guitar you're playing, but I can't get it in my country."
Now I'm not talking about just expensive axes here. But just for the sake of example, if I had the money and wanted an Fender American Standard Stratocaster, I could go buy one tomorrow (I'd go with Olympic White, personally). And you could probably do the same in the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Germany and several other nations. But what about the low-cost guitars like the Epiphone I just bought? Why do these guitars seem to be mostly here in America and nowhere else?
The answer is Guitar Center.
GC gets all the good guitars both for expensive and cheap before anyone else because they're the #1 instrument retailer in the world. The way they've become huge is by acquiring a bunch of other companies over the years. They own Musician's Friend and Music & Arts (the largest school music dealer in the US) to name a couple of them.
I'll put it another way. GC has 10,000 employees and has a revenue report of 1.78 billion. Yes, that's billion with a big fat B.
To put this in perspective, I have my choice of not one but three GC's I can shop from in Florida, that being Tampa, Clearwater and Lakeland. And that's not even including the other GCs or competing instrument retailers in Tampa Bay.
I am very aware that I'm really lucky to have all this wonderful gear be so accessible and so close right where I live. But at the same time I'm also very aware that players who live in countries without a GC presence literally have to fight just to get the guitars they want, and usually pay triple the price for them (usually because of shipping fees and import duties). And yeah, I know, that's not fair at all. Not for a second.
I'm not Mr. Money, I don't drive a fancy car and I don't live in a mansion. But I do have the luxury of having three GCs within driving distance of me, and that's why I have so much gear that I can go and try out at a moment's notice. And it's also why I can get said gear for so cheap.
No, I'm not saying any of this to brag; that's not my intent whatsoever. It would be really nice if the guitars I can readily acquire could be available anywhere in the world for the same price I can buy them for. But as small as we like to think the world is, it's not. The world is huge and the major instrument retailers like GC only spread out to where they can make the most money. America happens to be one of those places.
The only advice I can really give to anyone outside the US to save a bunch of money on guitars here is to actually come here to buy them.
Here's the strange-but-true facts about flying over here to get the guitars you always wanted:
Even with the cost of travel and the shipping/duty fees to ship the guitars back to your country, chances are pretty good you'll still save a bunch of money.
First of all, GC usually offers 15% right off the top when you buy in person. That's big cash saved right there.
Second, when you're here you'll have access to all the used gear. You can search by particular store for the ones you plan to visit. Used stuff doesn't stick around long, but it gives you more buying options.
Third is access. The biggest problem buying guitars outside the US is actually getting to play the thing before buying it. When you're here, you can touch it, play it, plug it in and do all the stuff normal players do when trying out guitars.
Combine all these things together, plan your trip out accordingly, and you can save a ton of money while getting the guitars you always wanted.
When you find what you want, you can either have GC ship it direct to you, or buy and then head over to a local UPS Store and have them do it (which will cost more but sometimes it's worth it for the extra insurance you can add in).
Yeah, I know it sucks that non-US guitar players have to go through so much crap just to get the axes they want, but that's unfortunately how things are.
However if you're planning a trip to America and think buying some guitars while here is a good idea, you can at least project how much you would spend before even coming here. When you have GC and UPS shipping readily available while on our shores, it makes the guitar buying process while in the US a whole lot easier.
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