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OT: why are retail guitars set up so poorly?

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  • OT: why are retail guitars set up so poorly?

    This is at Phil's invitation, and I'm posting it here because I like the opinions of the HCFX group.

    WTF with the horrible, terrible set up jobs on retail guitars?  Borrowing and summarizing a little from my post in Phil's SG thread, I am old enough to remember when any guitar that wasn't a patent piece of crap (e.g., today's Starcaster) would be set up for display in retail.  Set up properly.  Like, as if they expected someone to pick it up and enjoy playing it and want to purchase it.

    This was generally true through much of the 90's, but by the first part of the 00's, it had just stopped as a regular business practice in the places I frequented.  Big box or mom and pop.*

    Given that most of the guitar stores where I've been feature very knowledgeable staff who often appear to be in need of something to do - why aren't they asked to set up the guitars?  I can do it myself; I can also filter for bad set up as I evaluate a retail guitar, but sometimes it's just an easy deal-breaker. 

    I hear and see a lot of business being lost: people who are perhaps less experienced with set ups pick up guitars, make a face, and put it down.  Some of those guitars are terrific guitars ... if set up properly.

    I've seen $1,700 Fender AVRI's set up like they were props for a high school play; Gibsons are no better.

    WTF?  Anyone in music retail want to explain this to me?  And for all the "string club" bull****************, you'd think the very easiest, smartest thing a Guitar Center could do would be a quick 15-20 minute set up for a purchaser so they spend more time with the instrument, get to like it, return for more products, etc.

     

    OK, rant mode off.  Anyone?

    **************

    * - wanted to name names, as I think it fair.  Mr. Music, Brighton, MA, Cambridge Music, Cambridge, MA (RIP); Sam Ash, Las Vegas, NV; Guitar Centers in Las Vegas, Boston, Albuquerque; Grandma's Music in Albuquerque.  ALL the same.


  • #2
    • no time
    • kids working at guitar center
    • nobody cares
    • better to do nothing than set up guitars

    Comment


    • Dialoquese
      Dialoquese commented
      Editing a comment

      I'm wundring if it's because the AT knob (as in AT200 push button) isn't functioning properly.

      Anybody old enough to remember when it was a curious thing to imagine a car that shifted gears for you? Or a Dodge with a calculator styled gear shift pad.WOW!

      That was a head-turner ... A sign of these here  times = head-turner's atrofy.

      My biggest beef these days (changing gears slightly) is the disparaging frequency with which my yard and a half long running shoe lace trails out to get stepped on by my other foot. It's not bad enough that I trip over my guitar chords on small platforms. THIS ... is my beef. Inside joke from quality control?

       


  • #3

    I wouldn't trust most of the staff working these days at GC or samash to change strings, let alone set up a guitar.  OTOH, would it be too much trouble to change the strings when a used guitar came in, or to simply tune what you have in the shop? 

    Comment


    • evets618
      evets618 commented
      Editing a comment

      I don't know about anybody else, but I very rarely let anyone play my guitars. It just never comes up.

      So when it happens, I notice that... some... thing... is *different* when I get it back. Hard to put my finger on it, but maybe it's somebody else's fingers on it that does the "reverse mojo".

      Now, I'm not super OCD or a neat freak. Just ask any woman who's been in  close proximity to me for more than 24 hours.

      Maybe it's akin to letting a friend drive your car. It's somehow subtly changed when it's returned.

      So, multiply this Idiot Non-Mojo (NoJo?) to a guitar that's been mangled by 1,247 (very bad) versions of "Eruption".

      Every day.

      For weeks on end.

      No wonder they sound like poop.

      NoJo. There should be a telethon.

       

       


  • #4
    I'm a bit biased because I'm the manager and repair tech at a small music store. I set up each guitar before it goes out on the sales floor, and I tune and clean the guitars daily. I hate it if someone picks a guitar up and has to tune it before they can try it out. If I'm not working on a repair or helping a customer, I'm going over our guitars and making sure they're still set up well. When someone buys a guitar, I'll put a set of their preferred strings on it and tweak the set up however they want it.

    We sell a lot of entry level and intermediate level guitars to kids who are just starting to play, and they don't need to fight a guitar with poor action or intonation. And more experienced players seem to appreciate picking up a guitar that's in tune and set up well. Brings in a lot of repair/set up business, too.

    I think the bigger stores like GC and Sam Ash have too much inventory to keep everything tuned and set up, but they should be able to take the time to set up a guitar before it goes on the sales floor, and set it up again when purchased. Smaller stores don't have an excuse. Ultimately it probably boils down to laziness and a staff that isn't paid well enough to care about how their guitars are set up.

    Comment


    • Player99
      Player99 commented
      Editing a comment
      In Canada the big chain for us is Long and McQuade. They have a luthier on site and give a free set up with every guitar. They also have a 30 day return and a 1 year no lemon policy (which I was grateful for this year).



    • V
      V commented
      Editing a comment

      GuitarSlim101 wrote:
       a staff that isn't paid well enough to care about how their guitars are set up.

      That's really it right there. GC is like the MacDonalds of guitar shops and the employees are treated more or less as poorly. Honestly I know how it feels to be low man on the totem pole (I somehow make less than the janitor at my current day job despite him being unable to spell the word clogged and my having two Master's degrees). If you really feel like a company doesn't care about your wellbeing you don't care that much about going the extra mile. You just do your job and get paid however little they're going to try and get away with paying you before the whole system collapses and your employees can no longer get to work because they can't fix their car and pay their rent. 

       

      To be fair our janitor is paid a lot more than most janitors.


    • travisbrowning
      travisbrowning commented
      Editing a comment

      GuitarSlim101 wrote:
      I'm a bit biased because I'm the manager and repair tech at a small music store. I set up each guitar before it goes out on the sales floor, and I tune and clean the guitars daily. I hate it if someone picks a guitar up and has to tune it before they can try it out. If I'm not working on a repair or helping a customer, I'm going over our guitars and making sure they're still set up well. When someone buys a guitar, I'll put a set of their preferred strings on it and tweak the set up however they want it.

      We sell a lot of entry level and intermediate level guitars to kids who are just starting to play, and they don't need to fight a guitar with poor action or intonation. And more experienced players seem to appreciate picking up a guitar that's in tune and set up well. Brings in a lot of repair/set up business, too.

      I think the bigger stores like GC and Sam Ash have too much inventory to keep everything tuned and set up, but they should be able to take the time to set up a guitar before it goes on the sales floor, and set it up again when purchased. Smaller stores don't have an excuse. Ultimately it probably boils down to laziness and a staff that isn't paid well enough to care about how their guitars are set up.

      This sounds awesome. I would love to set up guitars all day. 


  • #5
    At the local GC they have two techs. Both get paid to set up the guitar to customer request (action, intonation but and bridge work along with guitar getting set up for preferred string gauge and tuning).
    Only the guitars over $1500 get the full treatment prior to purchase but every Gibson/Epi is checked on arrival. LAdt week they sent two Les Paul Studios and three Epis back that just arrived due to unsatisfactory neck angles or fret issues.

    That being said, my guitars only go to one tech and he gets $70 for the initial setup of every guitar I buy new or used because I know it won't play 100% satisfactory for me until he does. So for me it's more about the initial resonance, feel of the neck, and pickup sound.
    It doesn't get any better than this

    Comment


    • #6
      I should also me ruin that this one has 90% of their guitars and basses in tune. Not bad considering watching noobs tune locking guitars at the headstock or believing they had to loosen the locking tuner from the back before it could be tuned, Etc
      It doesn't get any better than this

      Comment


      • Danhedonia
        Danhedonia commented
        Editing a comment

        Not sure why knocking "noobs" is discussed - aren't these 'noobs' the very folks they are hoping spend their hard-earned money on said guitars?  Or should someone have to pass a screening to be permitted to buy things at a music store? 

        Anyhow, went into Grandma's yesterday and picked up a few guitars ... huh.  Hmmmm.  Hey!  They're ... wait a minute! ... they're set up.  Spoke to the (wonderful, wonderful) staff there, and they said that in part my mentioning this spurred them to decide to set up the guitars on display.  I am proud!

        ... and it sure helped get me closer to mmmmmmmmmmaybe thinking about purchasing something I truly, truly don't need ... LOL.


    • #7

      IMO, this is a good topic for discussion, although I'm not sure if there's a "right" answer that will satisfy everyone.


      As Pewt correctly noted, everyone has different preferences, and setting up the guitar in advance of purchase has the disadvantage of being a "guess" at best - you may very well have to do it again to suit the preferences of the individual buyer.


      A good friend of mine is a master builder, and does setups like no one's business. Whenever he sets my guitars up, he often sets it too low for my preferences, since that's what a lot of people tend to ask him for. I like my action "Fender factory stock" in terms of height, which really isn't all that terribly low, but not so high as to cause you to bend the string so far that it goes out of tune when you fret it. Then again, I know folks who DO like it that high - due to playing really hard, or because they sometimes play slide on it too, etc. There's also the issue of string gauge preferences, which makes a significant difference in the way the guitar needs to be set up. I might want .10 roundwounds on a Jag, while someone else might want .12 flatwounds. How is the dealer supposed to know what the purchaser is going to want?


      Good guitar techs are not super-easy to find, and there's not as many of them out there today as there once was. Every store - or at least a lot of stores - had techs back in the day, and they focused on repairs and things of that nature, as well as doing the setups for the guitars that came out of the box... but very few stores have repair departments anymore. Having managed a repair shop in another lifetime, I can tell you that it can be a pretty tough business.


      Speaking of out of the box, why aren't most guitars "set up" right out of the box? Some are... but to be fair, what are the odds that the guitar could be exposed to extremes of heat, cold and humidity, as well as bumps and knocks while in transit from the factory to the store, and then from the store (if purchased online) to you? I'd say fairly high... so it's really a wonder that any manage to make it through that and stay set up and in tune by the time they get to you.


      There's also the issue of costs. A good tech costs money... either to you when you hire their services, or to the dealer / store who employs them for guitar setups. That cost pretty much has to be accounted for and made up somewhere - which means that either sales dudes and dudettes for the store are doing the setup when the store's not busy (not always the ideal folks to do it in terms of knowledge and training), or you end up paying extra for the cost of the tech's services when you pay for the guitar.


      I totally "get" that having the guitar at least moderately well set up n terms of neck relief / truss rod adjustment, action and intonation can make all the difference in the world in terms of how it plays and sounds, and that this can be helpful when evaluating guitars you're considering purchasing, but I also see how it could be next to impossible to set up all the guitars in a store in such a way as to please everyone. In the old days, when techs were in most shops, I used to ask for a setup and new strings as a condition of the sale, and even occasionally asked to have something that was way out adjusted so I could give it a fair evaluation before deciding if I wanted it or not, but to be fair to the dealer, I tried to only ask for that when I was very seriously considering purchasing the guitar. No days, in most cases, I think I'd rather do the setup myself, or have someone I know is REALLY good at it do it than to trust someone I don't know in a store to do it for me. YMMV.


       

      **********

      "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

      - George Carlin

      "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

      - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

      "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

      - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

      Comment


      • #8

        When I worked at a music store 10 years ago, I remember on my first week being chastised for setting up guitars during downtime. The owner explained that a proper setup was something we should offer as a free add-on for customers that seemed on the fence about a purchase, or should be sold to customers with easy flowing wallets.

        Comment


        • Danhedonia
          Danhedonia commented
          Editing a comment

          Guitars speak to me in stores despite their set ups - because I know how to set up a guitar, and I also have a lot of experience with guitars.  However, I would imagine (and can dimly remember) that when I was less experienced, "speaking to me" was in fact accounted for by how well the guitar was set up.  It was not until I was more comfortable with guitars that I felt that sort of saw my way around that. 

          In band/collaborative situations, too, you need to be able to play your way around someone else's tastes in set ups ... teaches you.

          So, I guess that argues in favor of setting up "lesser" guitars if your goal is sales.  Because I could take down a really poorly set up Jeff Beck Strat and still immediately have it "speak to me."  However, there are a few pricey guitars that I've played where I wondered "is it even possible to get this thing right?"  Notably a thinline MIJ Jag in a GC in Phoenix. It was that messed up.

          It's funny, these days "beginner" guitars are far, far better than the ones when I grew up in the 70s and 80s, but stores don't treat them as well, and new players are not encouraged anywhere near as much to get in there, look under the hood, learn about and care for your axe, etc.


        • Rich4Once
          Rich4Once commented
          Editing a comment
          The owner that doesn't want the guitars set up is an owner that doesn't want the guitars sold. Penny wise and pound foolish.


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