Before I get to introducing ‘A' Strings as a company, let me give you a little backdrop on the world of retail musical instrument selling and my experiences with it. Over a lifetime of playing guitar, keyboards and recording, I have spent countless £1000’s dealing with retail business’s. Most dealings have been straightforward with only two instances of - “I won’t be going back there again.”
Is it Better to buy Cheaper Online?
I once bought a guitar from a very reputable online company for £450 which wouldn’t tune to itself. I made the grave mistake of paying another £90 to try and have it fixed locally, which it didn’t, and I couldn’t send it back as it had been worked on. Lessons learned. Now, it's just a wood box because it's unplayable. I was unlucky enough to have bought the rare one off the production line which was defective. I still have no idea how it got through quality control checks though.
Peace of Mind
Shopping locally gives that you added peace of mind and the opportunity to build up a relationship with the staff. You can’t beat the security of trying out a guitar and knowing it’s the one you want and will have. We’re only human and we can’t help but fall for particular shaped guitars and colour schemes, but you have to make sure it plays well because you are going to be spending a lot of time with it.
How am I Supposed to Know What to Buy?
The quality of guitars these days is very good, even at entry level, but it can be a nightmare trying to make sense of the many brands and specs available today. All that glitters may not always be gold and you need a friendly and knowledgeable helping hand that you can trust to guide you through the minefield of choices. As a beginner, it can be so difficult trying to make sense of it all.
Step in - ‘A' Strings
At this point, I would like to introduce you to ‘A' Strings who operate from their retail premises on the Broadway, Pontypridd. They supply all the customary 6/12 string electric & acoustic guitars, bass guitars, keyboards, effects, accessories and yes, you guessed it – a large selection of strings. They even boast Brian May of Queen as a customer!
Reasons to be Cheerful
Why do I use them? Quite simply, I like the way they run their business. Most retail musical instrument dealers will look after you, but I do like the way they take their after-sales responsibilities seriously. Over the course of my dealings and contact, I have found:
• Friendly, knowledgeable staff who are also very patient
• A wide variety of brands and price points
• Great after-service
• Staff that want you to be a repeat customer
• Setup costs at very reasonable prices
Are they the cheapest?
You’ll probably get cheaper elsewhere if you shop around, but is that a wise policy in the long run? I would rather build a relationship based on trust, so you know you’re making the right choices going forward. As I mentioned, they offer many brands in a well-stocked showroom and these include:
Do I get a Paid Incentive to big ‘A' Strings up?
No, I don’t, although I do get a small percentage discount off anything I buy as a registered guitar tutor. As I have an extensive catalogue of equipment already, I’m not planning to buy a great deal more so this acts in no way as the incentive to write this post. I have directed many of my students to shop there, and I have not heard any negative comments so far, so I will continue to do so. If my students are happy shopping there – I’m happy to promote.
Tips on Guitar Shopping
If you’re new to buying guitars, then you’ll be well served to do a little due-diligence before you start flashing the cash. Try to do your bit as a customer and not spend hours trying out every guitar (yes, this happens regularly), they’re busy people and trying to run a business. Here are some tips on prepping before you visit the showroom:
Have a look at the store’s online range, have an idea of what you are looking for
Look for online reviews for anything you fancy
Try and go to the shop with someone who knows a bit about guitars
Don’t get drawn into paying more than you have budgeted for unless you can afford to
Don’t spend all day trying out guitars – you are not their only customer!
Does my new (or old) guitar need a Setup?
'A' Strings differ from many other music shops in that they have a full time guitar
& electronics technician working full time.
Most new guitars are ‘set up’ to some degree at the factory and I believe they are further set up for ‘A' Strings at an intermediary source, but this does not mean it will play as good as it could.
The setup consists of:
· Adjusting the neck through the truss rod
· Raising/lowering the string height on the saddles
· Ensuring the grooves in the nut are suitable for the string gauge
· Adjusting the string radius to match the camber of the fretboard
These adjustments are said to ensure the ‘action’ and ‘intonation’ are set at their optimum points so the guitar is in tune with itself and plays more easily.
Will spending more money make me a better guitar player?
You should already know the answer to that – NO! If you don’t have the skill, a £3k guitar won’t save you. Learn to play properly before you start thinking of the high numbers. Start off with something the staff recommend based on your playing experience and spend more money when you know the difference between playing on more expensive models.
Coated Guitar Strings
As you would imagine, 'A' Strings offer a huge selection of strings. My favourites? Plastic coated strings. They have been a life-saver for me and I use them all the time. If your hands sweat while playing, it can start the oxidisation process leading to the strings starting to rust which affects playability and tone. They are more expensive, but they last so much longer - and I love them! Elixr were the first company to produce them, but now there are alternatives made by companies such as Fender, D’Addario and Ernie Ball.
What else to they Sell?
Pianos & Keyboards
As with any serious serious-minded musical instrument retailer, they cover most bases. I’m sure they will help you source something specific outside of their range if you ask them. The showroom area is very spacious, so you don’t feel as if you are part of somebody else’s buying experience. There should be something there for all budgets and preferences.
So there you have it. Most musical instrument companies will look after you, but ‘A' Strings are fairly local to me and I like the cut of their jib. Good choice of brands, well-stocked showroom and an attitude which encourages you to become a long-term customer. Andrew, as the owner has put together a team which I feel comfortable with and his attitude to his customer base rubs off on them. Give them a try and don’t forget to mention me. It makes the world go around!