July 5, 2007 | Author: Eva Roberts

musicstoreShopping for the perfect instrument to suit different musical needs is never an easy task. For beginners stepping into a dedicated music shop with instruments lined along the walls, asking for assistance can be a daunting prospect. Australian Musician’s Eva Roberts chatted to a few of the country’s music stores to find the answers to the questions which people often don’t like to ask.

Many music stores find budding musicians walk into the store, look around unsure of what their actual requirements are, and leave again without seeking the advice they need. Others are turning increasingly to the internet to research their chosen instrument and preferred brands before venturing into the shops. Although, the internet is also becoming a buying ground for instruments which are often inferior in quality and need maintenance before they are able to be used.

Taree Music is just one of the stores which are finding the new ‘purchase instruments on E-Bay’ a challenge. Owner James Bulley says it has become an alarming theme over the past six months. “It is almost on a weekly basis that Mum and Dad, rather than spend that money, have gone on E-Bay and found something direct out of China,” he says. “Maybe 15-20 per cent of them are okay, but the others are very average and they need set-ups or adjustments. Just fiddly little problems that you would expect to get when you buy a no name product. They have got to ask themselves that worst case scenario question – what happens if something goes wrong. If they buy something locally they have got someone to go back and punch on the nose if something goes wrong. It is a matter of buyer beware.”

James is quick to point out for the uninitiated music buyer, it is important to ask questions and seek advice in order to purchase the right instrument. It is also much wiser to actually view and play an instrument in  a store before you buy it, than take your chances over the Net. Owner of Western Australian store PK’s Music, Peter Kelly, agrees that seeking advice is an important thing. His store specialises in left-handed guitars, but also stocks right-handed instruments. He finds first time instrument buyers often looking at the wrong style of guitars for their needs because they haven’t asked for advice.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for advice,” he says. “They don’t realise there is a difference between left and right handed guitars and they could be looking at classical when they want acoustic. I think a lot of people are scared to ask.” Peter says for years it has been difficult to find a wide range of left-handed guitars and in the past some left-handed players had been forced to use right-handed instruments.

He mentions Jimi Hendrix as a prime example, a left-handed player who had a right-handed guitar he played upside down. Then there is Dire Strait’s guitarist Mark Knopfler, who is left-handed but plays right-handed. When it comes to young and fledgling musicians of a left or right handed nature, Peter says it is important to purchase the right instrument. “A lot of schools suggest a classical guitar,” he says. “The string is softer on their fingers because it is nylon and the thread board is a bit wider so they have to stretch their fingers, which will make it a bit easier later on in life. Now you can buy a narrower neck which makes it a bit easier for kids. I would say buy something that really appeals to you, that you want to pick up and play.”

Macron Music manager Adam Lang agrees determining the kind of strings you want on a guitar is an important part of the instrument buying process. He admits steel strings will take some getting used to and nylon strings are easier to start out on. He says another thing to take into consideration is that nylon string guitars have a wider neck than a steel string. “Nylon stings have a very mellow sound,” Adam says. “Steel strings have a bit more of a shimmering sound.”

Another common misconception with guitar players is the gauge of their guitar’s strings. Sean Smith from Musos Corner in Newcastle says a lot of people are unaware of the gauge they play. “Most guitars come with really light strings on them and you find that further down the track, most people get their guitars set up for something a bit heavier to sound better and not break as much,” he says. “It gives for a fuller sound, the thicker the string the fuller the sound. Some people are really acidic in their sweat and they can go through a set of strings straight away in a night. Coated strings are designed to last three to five times longer, and sound brighter. Some are coated before they are wound and some are coated after they are wound. The coating after they are wound feel a bit slipperier and they do seem to last that bit longer. If it is the first time they have changed the strings, we try to give them the light gauge ones.”

Sean says the gauge of the strings required for each guitar is also dependent on whether the guitar has a tremolo.  He says thicker strings on a guitar with a tremolo may need adjustment. “Something without a tremolo is less likely to go out of tune,” he says. “Something with a tremolo, there is a chance if you snap a string it will go out of tune.”

Adam from Macron Music says there are also considerations to think about when looking for an amp to complement an instrument. With a range in wattage, often musicians are unsure of what size amp to purchase for their requirements. Adam says a 30 watt amp is a good size. “Ten watt is great for your bedroom,” he says. “Jamming around the lounge room with your mates, possibly with a drum kit, probably from 30-60 watts and live gigs, 80-100 watts. Ratings can be less if they are valve amps because valve amps are punchier and have more volume per watt. Valve amps contain vacuum tubes in them like the old radio values and they extenuate and even alter harmonics to give the sound a bit round harmonically rich in texture sound. Transistor amps extenuate all harmonics evenly without bias and tend to be a little glassier and thinner sounding.”

CC’s Light and Sound Brendan Phillips admits although watts are an important aspect to consider, it is also pertinent to understand specifications can be misinterpreted. He says musicians should know what they want to achieve with their sound equipment before looking to purchase.

With regards to PA systems, Brendan says the style of PA musicians would need for a café style environment, would be vastly different in power requirements and amount of input for a band. He says a PA system can range from the $1000 mark up to $100,000s. When it comes to purchasing drums, hardware and full drum kits, there are plenty of aspects to consider.

Brisbane’s Drum City is regularly inundated by questions which range from quality to price. Owner Peter Burr says basic drum kits range from $400-$800. He says many of the questions he is asked on a daily basis surround what shells and heads are on the drum kit, how many ply and what size hoops. “A drum is a drum shell,” he explains. “How a drum is constructed – it has a wooden shell, a drum wrap which is a plastic wrap that is put on it and held on by little nut boxes which hold the heads on, or they are lacquered.  With shells, on basic drum kits (entry level drum kits) there is just a generic timber, a ply that is glued or laminated, then you go to birch and basswood, then they have mahogany. There is Canadian rock maple which is very expensive.  These are rare timbers but have a great resonance in sound. The hardware is your mounts, kick pedals and high hat and pedals. There is quite a bit in pedals; pedals range in price from $60 right up to $600.” With every serious question a music store is asked by a budding musician, there are equally bizarre and unusual ones.

Adam from Macron Music has worked for the store for over four years and still can’t believe some of the questions he has been asked. Are guitars made from wood rates highly as a memorable question and it seems he isn’t the only person who has been asked that particular query. “If you had told me before I worked here I wouldn’t have believed it,” he says of some of the more obscure queries. “One lady asked me about a violin.” She said, and I quote, does it come with the stick that you whack it with? “That is the absolute truth. “And I said, yes madam, it does come with the bow.”