September 18, 2009 by David Gillaspie
Every new musician with an electric guitar wants one thing, a huge amplifier with two twelve inch speakers. They want to share with the world; they can play a G chord, a C, and they’re working on D. They make beginning violinists sound like concert masters.
I had a Korean Fender copy, a Stratocaster with a warped neck. I was new and didn’t know to eye-ball the neck. It didn’t make much difference to the noise blasting out of the four inch speaker in my mini-amp. Everything was out of tune but I was completely thrilled to hear it. The first step to being a Rock-God is generating volume.
Have you been to a concert where you felt the drums and bass on your chest? Where the power of sound is a physical punch? I didn’t want that for my apartment. I just wanted something big enough to shake the dust off a lamp shade. My four inch speaker couldn’t dust itself.
Like every evolving musician and I use the term loosely, I found a used guitar store that sold amplifiers to go with the axes. The guitars were vintage gold face Gibsons, flying Vs, Fender telecasters, with a wall of acoustics with signs of wear. No cigarettes burns but plenty of belt buckle gouges on the back.
One reason to avoid used guitar store amps is that the guitars redlined them until they blew. I know that now. I tried all the amps in my price range and settled on a monster with the two twelves. I could feel the volume against my pant leg. I could also feel the salesman on my leg encouraging me to buy it and take it home.
“It breaks up on the high end,” I said.
“That’s the over-drive. This is your first quality amp. This is what they sound like,” he said.
I wasn’t a guitar store expert so I took his advice. Two hundred dollars later I packed the huge case into my car and headed straight to my music pal’s house. I played my chord for him.
“It breaks up on the high end,” he said.
“That’s the over-drive.” I was an expert.
He showed me the knobs and buttons on his amp.
“See the button that says over-drive? It’s a two channel amp with clean and distortion. Yours is not two channel.”
He didn’t say my speakers were blown. He didn’t have to.
“It still sounds good though.”
“If you want distortion all the time it’s fine, but that’s not what you paid for.”
“I got burned didn’t I?”
“Maybe. Take it back and see what the guy has to say.”
The used guitar store salesman smiled at me while he pointed to a sign, “All Sales Final.” I could read it clearly without glasses.
“Our policy is on the wall. It’s been there since I opened this store.”
“Then you’re the owner. I’m talking to the right guy. This sale isn’t final because I didn’t get what I paid for,” I said. The learning curve from the vision store flattened out.
“When you leave the store, the sale is final.”
“I appreciate that and if I left with the gear I bought I’d be happy. But this isn’t the gear I bought. I have a distortion amp without a clean channel. You sold me an amp with blown speakers that make a distorted sound.”
“That’s what you wanted.”
“It’s broken equipment.”
He pointed to the sign again, “You played it and paid it. We’re done.”
“You’re done, but I’m not. I don’t need two amps for clean and distortion. One is enough. I’d like one.”
“The most I can do is take it back in exchange for something else in the store. I’ll buy it back for one fifty.”
“I just paid two hundred dollars.”
“This is how used guitar stores work. I buy low.”
“It’s a good theory, but I want two hundred cash. There’s nothing else in your store for me. I already looked.”
“One fifty, take it or leave it. If you don’t want it then I’ll ask you to leave. I have other customers.”
I took a big sweeping look around; the store was empty.
“Listen sir, your final sales sign makes perfect sense. You don’t want to get worked by teenagers throwing down their mommies credit card. You’re a businessman. I’m not looking to take anything off of you. I want to give something back. I’m giving you credibility. You didn’t know the speakers on this amp were blown? Okay. You’ve been listening to electric music all your life, but you made one mistake. I’ll accept that. I’ll also accept two hundred dollars. My money is probably still in the register. Go ahead and pull it out and write me a return receipt.”
“I don’t have return receipts.”
“Then two hundred dollars without a return receipt works for me.”
“You don’t get it, do you?”
“Not yet, but I will. See your neighbors around here? I’m about to know them all better than I want to. I’ll ask them if they have policies similar to yours. I’ll check with the other music stores in town and see if they have policies like yours. Do you know what comparables are?”
The owner stood behind his sales counter. I pointed to a few objects.
“I see you have new tuners. If you sold one that didn’t tune would you take it back and send it to the factory? If you sold a broken cord would you do the same? Between you and me, let’s get this settled before anyone else comes in. No one needs to know you’re actually a responsible business owner. You can keep your roadie cred, your hard edge. Just do right with me and I’m out the door. It’s that easy. If you can’t do that then we can talk about it the rest of the day. Tomorrow, too. We’ll get to know each other better and better. I’m starting to like you.”
A few browsers came in. I lowered my voice.
“These people are here to spend money. I’m here to help you make money. Fix this amp and you’ll sell it for twice as much. Fix me up with a refund and you can work your magic on new customers. I don’t want to waste anymore of your time. We musicians understand time, don’t we? We keep time together. Let’s wind this up with a big solo. You don’t want me hanging around here. Go ahead and pull out my cash. No one’s looking.”
The man shook his head while he pulled twenties out of his cash box.
“You know you’re banned from this store.”
He handed me ten bills.
“I never want to see you looking in my window.”
“I never want to…”
“Save it brother. You did the right thing. I know it feels weird, but you’ll get used to it. It goes against every music instinct you’ve developed the last twenty years. You feel like you just lost money. Think of it as gaining your self-respect.”
He pointed to the door.
“Right,” I said. “It’s okay, you don’t have to thank me. When you dance the dance, you pay the band.”