If you’re looking to buy a new guitar or other piece of musical gear but don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place.
Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center are two of the biggest names in gear. Both companies have been around for decades, and each has its own strengths.
But which one is better? Where should you spend your money?
In this comprehensive review, we’ll be comparing Musician’s Friend Vs Guitar Center head-to-head to determine which is the best guitar store. We’ll be taking a look at several factors, including selection, customer service and pricing.
Ready to see how these two music retailers stack up against each other? Let’s get started!
Musician’s Friend Overview
Musician’s Friend started as a catalog order company and became an online retailer in 1997. It was one of the first major music gear brands online, and it’s continued to grow ever since.
Currently, Musician’s Friend ships all orders from its 700,000-foot distribution center in Kansas City, MO. It also has offices and call centers in California, Indiana and Utah. The company’s website estimates they ship around 10,000 orders a day.
Musician’s Friend took in around $36 million in revenue in 2020. It has around 10,000 employees nationwide.
Though Musician’s Friend is currently owned by Guitar Center, the two companies maintain separate brands, distribution centers and websites. Musician’s Friend is an exclusively online retailer, while Guitar Center has several physical locations nationwide along with its website.
Read Also: Is Musician’s Friend Legit?
Guitar Center Overview
Guitar Center is by far the largest music retailer in the United States. If you live in America, chances are that you live within an hour or less from a Guitar Center location.
In terms of revenue, Guitar Center takes in around $2 billion annually. That’s over $1 billion more than Sweetwater, the closest competitor. Much of this is owed to the company’s huge presence with physical stores in nearly every decent-sized city. Though the company has had some issues with debt, it appears to be on solid financial footing now.
Guitar Center is also one of the biggest online retailers, competing with brands like Musician’s Friend, Sweetwater and zZounds. Whether you want to shop in-person or online, Guitar Center is going to be one of the top options.
Musician’s Friend Vs Guitar Center: What’s the Difference?
So now that we know a bit about each company, what are the main differences between them? There are a few important factors to consider.
Website User Experience
If you’re shopping online, you want to find a website that is easy to navigate and easy on the eyes.
Many people now prefer to shop online because of convenience, meaning that Guitar Center doesn’t necessarily have the advantage here.
When shopping for music gear online, there are a few things I look for in a website:
- Overall look and feel of the site
- Search engine functionality
- Well-presented information and reviews
Both the Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center websites have a pretty nice, modern look and feel to them. Both websites currently have a large banner at the top notifying customers of the latest holiday sale, while you can easily click on any category below.
Guitar’s Center’s homepage does include video, which makes it look a little more modern than Musician’s Friend. In general, the images seem to be a bit brighter, as well. Musician’s Friend does show some featured articles about gear, though, which Guitar Center does not have.
The search engine on both sites seems to be about the same. For example, once I type in “Epiphone,” I’m presented with a number of auto-fill options underneath, as well as some pictures of top results to the right. Though the pictures differed slightly, the auto-fill results were almost identical. Both search engines should enable you to find what you’re looking for quickly.
Once you’re on the product pages themselves, the layouts for each site are a bit different. Both feature an overview of the product, followed by specs and then reviews. The overviews are a bit more in-depth on the Guitar Center site, which also includes a video.
The guitar specs on both sites are easy to see and about the same. However, in order to see the reviews, one has to click on a “+” button on the Musician’s Friend site, whereas the Guitar Center site simply shows them. Guitar Center also presents a “Most liked positive review” and “Most liked negative review” at the top of the reviews section, along with data culled from all reviews about the overall pros and cons of the product. This makes it easy to get a good overview of customer reaction without diving into multiple reviews.
While both retailers have good websites, I would give the edge here to Guitar Center. That surprised me, since Musician’s Friend is exclusively an online store. But in terms of overall feel and presentation, Guitar Center just feels a bit nicer and more modern.
Any time you’re shopping for new gear, you want the greatest variety of selection available. So how do Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend stack up?
Since both Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend are two of the biggest names in music gear, chances are they have what you want. Major brands like Gibson, Fender, Ibanez and PRS are all well represented, as well as bigger boutique brands like JHS Pedals and Earthquaker Devices. They also both carry used gear, so there are plenty of options.
Musician’s Friend claims to have the largest selection of music gear in the world, with over 1,700,000 items in stock. But since Guitar Center owns Musician’s Friend and is the larger company overall, it’s safe to say that they have at least as large of a selection, if not larger.
While both companies look to be pretty even in terms of selection, I would give the slight edge to Guitar Center because of its many physical locations. Each store will have its own unique selection of used gear that changes daily, while you can also check the website for an even greater variety if your local store doesn’t have something in stock.
Musician’s Friend does offer a Private Reserve collection of premium guitars and amps. This is likely similar to the high-end guitar room that most Guitar Centers have behind closed (though not locked) doors. Both stores have a variety of premium options, though you may be able to find vintage gear easier at Guitar Center because of its physical locations.
For the most part, prices will be exactly the same for new gear at Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend. Most music gear prices are standardized, meaning they will be the same price at any store, at least in the U.S.
However, each store has different sales throughout the year, and obviously used gear prices will vary. Both stores offer a price-matching guarantee, meaning that if you find a lower price on an item within 45 days of purchasing, they will match it.
Musician’s Friend also offers a “Stupid Deal of the Day” in which a different piece of gear is offered at a heavily discounted price every day. If you’re paying attention, you can get some really great deals this way. Guitar Center, meanwhile, has a similar offer on their website called “The Daily Pick.”
There’s not much difference in prices between these two stores, though you might be able to find great deals on used gear more easily at Guitar Center, so we will give them the slight edge here.
Read Also: Average Cost of an Electric Guitar
While both companies have a wide selection of new and used gear, having most of that selection in stock is also crucial.
Musician’s Friend maintains a massive distribution center in Kansas City, MO, where they claim to have almost two million items in stock.
Guitar Center, of course, has hundreds of locations nationwide, as well as a warehouse in Brownsburg, IN. While each store will vary in terms of its inventory based on the size and location of the store, they will likely be able to order anything quickly.
Both companies seem to be pretty even in terms of inventory. While Musician’s Friend has the advantage of having everything in one central location, Guitar Center has added flexibility in having multiple locations and the ability to order items quickly.
As with any shopping experience, whether online or in-person, customer service is highly important. It’s nice to feel like a company actually cares about you and your experience, instead of just trying to make a sale.
Musician’s Friend has Gear Advisers that are available to talk to via phone or live chat 7 days a week. These are fellow musicians who will assist you with questions or problems with your order, as well as any other gear questions you may have.
With its physical locations, Guitar Center has more of a traditional retail set-up. Employees are assigned to their area of expertise, so the Drum Room will be staffed by a drummer, while the Pro Audio area will have people with experience in live sound and recording gear, and so on. Guitar Centers also have more of a traditional retail hierarchy, so you will be able to speak with a manager if you need someone with more power or experience.
Since customer service is a personal thing, it can be difficult to quantify. Though Guitar Center is a major corporation with a set of standards it applies to all stores, the execution of those standards can vary from store to store. You may get outstanding service in St. Louis and so-so service in Phoenix, depending on who is helping you that day. The turnover of employees can also be high in these types of stores, so the quality of service may even vary from month to month in the same store.
Musician’s Friend is exclusively an online company, so while they can’t offer the hands-on service that Guitar Center can provide, the level of service is likely to be more standard across the board. Unlike Guitar Center, the employees at Musician’s Friend don’t work on commission. That means they don’t have any personal interest in trying to sway you towards higher cost gear that may give them a bigger commission. Employees at Guitar Center often work for close to minimum wage, so they depend on that commission to make a living. That doesn’t mean they will necessarily try to sway you one way or another, but it’s something to keep in mind.
In my experience, there are great employees at Guitar Center, as well as mediocre employees. Like any business, it has its pros and cons. One positive thing about working on commission is it also means that employees are more likely to go out of their way to ensure the customer is happy. A great salesperson is trying to develop relationships that hopefully last years, instead of making one sale.
In terms of customer service, if you are someone who prefers to shop for gear in-person, I’d recommend going with Guitar Center or another local music store. However, if you prefer to shop online, Musician’s Friend may be a better choice.
When shopping for gear online, one has to take into account any shipping costs. Depending on the item, this could make or break your budget.
Fortunately, Musician’s Friend offers free ground shipping within the continental United States. There is also no minimum, meaning that even a $5 pack of strings will be shipped for free.
Guitar Center also offers free ground shipping on most orders. However, there is a $25 minimum to qualify. That’s a bummer, but it’s a pretty standard policy for a lot of online retail stores.
Guitar Center also gives you the option to buy something online and pick it up at your nearest store, for no shipping cost. While it’s not as convenient as getting something delivered straight to your door, it’s still a pretty cool option.
Obviously, the shipping policies on both stores don’t apply to used gear, which is often shipped by individual sellers. There are some other exceptions, such as special orders or extremely overweight items, but these are also standard.
While both Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center offer free ground shipping on most items, Musician’s Friend doesn’t have any minimum amount to qualify for free shipping, so they get the edge here.
Read Also: How Much Does it Cost to Ship a Guitar?
A warranty can come in handy in case something goes wrong with the normal operation of your gear within the first few years of use. While most manufacturers offer their own warranty plans, some stores offer a separate plan on top of that for added protection.
Musician’s Friend offers a free 2-year warranty on all guitars and basses. That’s a pretty nice thing to have, especially on top of the manufacturer’s warranty. However, this warranty is only available for guitars and basses. For other items, Musician’s Friend offers Gold Coverage for an extra fee.
Guitar Center offers Pro Coverage for an extra fee, depending on how long you want the coverage to last. This is similar to Musician’s Friend Gold Coverage. It covers things like environmental factors and accidents. Guitar Center does not have a free warranty option.
While both Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center offer competing warranty plans, Musician’s Friend gets the edge here for offering a free 2-year warranty on all guitars and basses sold.
Let’s face it – we all have buyer’s remorse sometimes. When that happens, it’s nice to know you can return something without any hassle.
So how do the return policies of Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center stack up?
Musician’s Friend offers a 45-day “No Hassle” return policy. That’s a full month and a half to figure out if you’re really in love with your new gear. Whether you want a full refund or an exchange, you’ll just be responsible for the shipping cost of returning the item.
Guitar Center also has a 45 day Satisfaction Guarantee. If you ordered online, you’ll be responsible for the shipping costs, while if you bought the item in-person you can simply return it to the store. You can also return items you bought online to the nearest store to avoid the shipping costs.
As far as returns go, both brands are pretty even. They both give you 45 days to decide whether or not to return something. However, with Guitar Center giving you the option to return something to the nearest store and avoid shipping costs, they will get a slight edge here.
Musician’s Friend Vs Guitar Center: Which Guitar Store Should You Buy From?
So now that we’ve compared all of the key differences between Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center, which is the best? Where should you buy gear from?
Both companies are pretty even across the board, which makes sense. They are both owned by the same company and share many of the same policies. However, because Guitar Center is the bigger brand and has hundreds of easy-to-access physical locations in addition to its website, we will give the edge overall to Guitar Center. However, if you’re shopping exclusively online, it’s worth giving Musician’s Friend a look, as they have some nice deals and perks that Guitar Center doesn’t have.
Are Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend the same company?
Yes. Guitar Center acquired Musician’s Friend in the early 2000s. However, they remain distinct brands with separate facilities.
What company owns Guitar Center?
Guitar Center is owned by a company called Ares Management, which is a global alternative investment manager
Can I return Musician’s Friend products to Guitar Center?
No. Musician’s Friend and Guitar Center operate independent of each other with separate policies and employees.