Shopping In New York: Music Stores

It might seem weird that I’m talking music stores here, but do you know how difficult it is to find a perfect one that has just what the doctor ordered? New York City knows stuff about music, and has a lot to offer to a music geek.

For example, there are at least three Guitar Centers around NYC – two in Manhattan, one in Brooklyn, that I visited. Guitar Center is a music superstore chain with shops all over the US. I bought my wonderful mahogany Ibanez guitar from the new one on Times Square. But I don’t only go to NY music stores to buy something, I go there to rest from the perpetuum mobile of the crowd, from the noise and the heat and what not that this crazy city has to offer. So an hour in a cozy, well-conditioned music store feels wonderful. Besides, they have instruments that I’m not likely to have at home anytime soon, and no one can stop you from clumsily strumming a few chords on a $5000 Martin. I really like that store, and the employees are awesome (as pretty much in any music store, aside from the ones that are being obtrusive, probably out of sheer boredom). They would always offer their help, but won’t insist and won’t bother you if you politely refuse. So you can just walk around and play whatever you want. I usually move from acoustics to drums to keyboards, a nice relaxing promenade.

GC’s guitar collection is impressive, as well as lots of others; they have great deals on used gear, offer some rare vintage, constantly have special offers and discounts. They can also brag about their “best price guaranteed” policy, meaning that if you find the same item cheaper in other store or online, they would sell you this item for the lowest price. And you can buy a protection plan that will cover all possible replacements and repairs for up to five years, even if you live abroad. Some Guitar Centers also offer guitar lessons.

The GC I visited in Brooklyn was on renovation, so it rather looked like a big messy basement and couldn’t match its Manhattan brothers in terms of selection. The 14th street GC is my favorite so far. It’s pretty similar to Times Square, but it’s more snug and much less crowded. On Times Square you sometimes can’t hear yourself play because of all the people playing around you.

As I said, Guitar Center is totally great for buying a whole variety of instruments, but there’s one thing they’re completely lacking: good ukuleles. Whenever I’m in a conversation with a GC employee, I praise their guitar selection and say: your ukuleles are crap. Like, totally. They have plenty, and of some well-known (but not mandatory famous for their ukes) brands, it’s just that none sound good. Nevertheless, they sell a helluva lot of them, because experienced uke players usually know all the hotspots and shop elsewhere. Of course, you can’t really know whether the sound is good or bad if that’s the first time you picked up your instrument. Unless it’s a plastic Makala with a little dolphin. Then you can’t but know.

I bought my first ukulele at East Village Music Store last year. Getting there was an adventure itself, because at the time I didn’t have smartphone data, I got lost and had to ask people on the street for directions. The problem was that the store was close to the border with Chinatown, so no one I met actually spoke English. In the end, I made it there.

The store’s not big, and it’s an independent one. Meaning, you may not find some super common models there, but instead there may be a secret gem waiting for you. The owner’s a really nice guy, and from what he told me, he used to work with some big ass bands. While he was helping another customer, I tried each and every ukulele he had, and settled on a beautiful solid okoume Kala. Afterwards I found out that this model wasn’t widely on sale and, in fact, was pretty untypical because of its soprano body and concert neck. The owner also offered me great advice on choosing strings and tuners, and gave me a very decent discount.

But the true ukulele heaven I found in Sam Ash Music store, just across the road from renowned B&H on 34th street. They have a big section devoted to good ukuleles, offering some models that I’ve never seen in store before. Most of them are Kala, which, in my opinion, is the best mid-range (mostly under $300) uke brand out there for now. If you want a real Hawaii-made uke like KoAloha, it’ll set you back at least $700, but for its quality Kala is hard to beat. And if you compare the prices on Kala’s website to the ones in Sam Ash, you’d be pleasantly surprised. They’re way cheaper in store. Besides ukuleles, Sam Ash has pretty much everything Guitar Center does, including the “best price guaranteed”, and it’s never too crowded. I love it.

All three names that I mentioned here have websites, where you can find approximate products and prices. They’re not always the same as in store, but at least you can have an idea. There’s also Rudy’s Music store, that I didn’t get the chance to visit, which seemingly specializes in guitars. And others. Many others. But if you’re limited in time, I would start with these three.

Good luck with your music wanderings! ☮♡♫

More shopping tips, only for clothing, shoes, lingerie and cosmetics can be found here.

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