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Musician’s Friend and Sweetwater are two of the biggest brands in music gear. Both companies have been around for over two decades, since the dawn of the internet.
But which one is best? Where should you spend your hard-earned money?
In this comprehensive review, we’ll compare Musician’s Friend Vs Sweetwater to see which is the best online music retailer. We’ll look at several factors, including websites, inventory, shipping and warranty policies.
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Table of Contents
Musician’s Friend Overview
Musician’s friend was founded in 1983 by Rob and DeAnna Eastman. It became an online retailer in 1997. The company has grown from a barn in Southern Oregon to a 700,000-foot distribution center in Kansas City, MO.
In addition to the distribution center, Musician’s Friend also maintains their corporate headquarters in Southern California, as well as call centers in Salt Lake City, UT, and Indianapolis, IN.
According to the company’s website, Musician’s Friend ships an average of between 9,000 and 10,000 orders each day, with 90% of orders placed before noon picked and shipped that day.
The company reported a little over $36 million in revenue in 2020, and they have approximately 10,000 employees nationwide.
Musician’s Friend is now owned by Guitar Center, though the two brands maintain separate distribution centers and websites. Unlike Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend has no physical locations.
Musician’s Friend was one of the first music retailers with a large online presence, and they continue to be a major player decades later.
Read Also: Is Musician’s Friend Legit?
Sweetwater Sound is one of the world’s most-trusted retailers for musical equipment. It’s been around since 1979 and is still owned by its founder, Chuck Surack.
Sweetwater has one physical location in its headquarters of Fort Wayne, IN. Other than that, the company sells gear exclusively online.
As far as online retailers go, Sweetwater is as big as it gets. They have over 1,500 employees and took in over $800 million in revenue in 2019.
Sweetwater’s famous customer service and extensive selection have made them one of the top brands for music gear of any kind.
Read Also: Is Sweetwater Legit?
Musician’s Friend Vs Sweetwater: What’s the Difference?
So what are the main differences between Musician’s Friend and Sweetwater? Here are some things to keep in mind before shopping.
Website User Experience
If you’re going to be shopping for gear entirely online, the experience should be as easy as possible. This includes a functional website that’s easy to navigate.
Loading speeds (especially on phones), search functions and easy checkout options are all things to consider.
Since both of these brands have been online since the dawn of the Internet, they both have pretty user-friendly websites with good loading speeds.
One of the things I look for in a website is a good search engine that allows you to find what you’re looking for quickly. Both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend have great search engines with auto-fill functions, so by the time you write out “Gibson les” you already have several choices of Les Paul guitars to search from.
For product pages, it’s ideal to have all of the relevant information about a guitar or product easily available. On this end, I’d give the edge to Sweetwater. All of the specs and product reviews are easy to find and laid out in a logical way. The product pages on the Musician’s Friend site also have all of this information, but often you have to click on a button to reveal more. It’s a small detail, but for ease of use I prefer Sweetwater here.
Loading speeds on both sites are very fast, and in general both of these sites look fresh and modern. The homepages for each feature a nice overview of new and best-selling gear. Musician’s Friend has a “Stupid Deal of the Day” that is also displayed prominently on their homepage.
Overall, both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend have professional, easy-to-use websites. I’d give the slight edge to Sweetwater for their better product pages, but it’s close.
Selection is always an important factor in shopping for any product. So who has the biggest amount of variety between Musician’s Friend and Sweetwater?
Both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend carry the majority of big guitar brands like Gibson, Fender and PRS. As a general rule, if it’s something you can find at Guitar Center, you’ll be able to find it at either Sweetwater or Musician’s Friend. Both retailers also carry the better known boutique gear now, as well.
As far as used gear goes, both companies offer used and B-stock items. As of this writing, the Musician’s Friend site has over 20,000 listings for used gear, while Sweetwater’s site has 25 pages of listings. The difference in buying used gear, however, is that you will mostly be dealing with individual sellers, so the typical shipping and warranty policies found with new gear may not apply.
For variety of selection, both retailers are fairly even. Sweetwater does offer some unique finishes on certain guitars that are exclusive to them, while Musician’s Friend has a Private Reserve of more premium options. But overall, you should be able to find whatever you’re looking for at either store.
Price is also another important factor to consider in purchasing any product. For music gear, most prices are standardized, meaning you will find the same new piece of gear for the same price no matter where you shop. However, there can be exceptions due to special sales or clearance events.
Musician’s Friend does offer a price-matching policy, which can be helpful if you see the same item for a lower price, even after buying. Musician’s Friend gives you up to 45 days after purchase to match the price seen elsewhere. Sweetwater doesn’t appear to have a price-matching policy, but their customer service agents would likely do whatever they can to remedy the situation.
As mentioned above, both companies offer used items as well as B-stock products. Often a product will be used very lightly in a demo, allowing you to get a “like new” item at a nice discount. Musician’s Friend also offers its “Stupid Deal of the Day,” which features a different item each day at a pretty hefty discount.
Both companies also offer a variety of different payment options. Sweetwater offers its own credit card, often with no interest for the first 6 months. They also have an Easy Payments plan that allows you to split the cost of an expensive guitar into several, smaller payments.
Musician’s Friend also offers its own Platinum credit card, with financing options available. However, there is no Easy Payments plan.
Prices will usually be the same across the board for music gear. Musician’s Friend does offer a price-match guarantee, and it’s “Stupid Deal of the Day” can be a great way to find deals. Sweetwater offers more ways to pay, however, which makes this category overall a draw.
Having a great selection is one thing; having those items in stock is another. Both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend have pretty large inventories, however, so availability usually isn’t a huge issue.
Sweetwater has one of the largest inventories for any music retailer, and a massive warehouse in Fort Wayne, IN. Its newest $52.5-million distribution center has 480,000 square feet of usable space and a footprint of nearly 7 acres!
According to its website, Musician’s Friend has over 1,700,000 items in stock and ready to ship. They have a huge distribution center in Kansas City, MO, that is large enough to hold 12 football fields!
If there’s a new guitar or piece of gear you’ve had your eye on, chances are either Sweetwater or Musician’s Friend has it in stock. However, check both sites for availability, as shortages do happen.
Though shopping online isn’t the same as going to a store and talking to someone in-person, customer service is still very important.
Mistakes and problems do occur, and when they do, it’s nice to know that someone on the other end is there to make sure they get solved.
One great thing about shopping at Sweetwater is that every customer gets a dedicated sales engineer. This person is responsible for making sure everything is correct with your order and that it ships on time. Often, they will call almost immediately after you order to let you know they’re on top of it.
With Musician’s Friend, you’re able to consult their Gear Head advisers with any questions or issues that arise. These knowledgeable professionals are available via telephone and live chat.
While both companies offer great customer service, Sweetwater is widely renowned for their quality of service. The edge here would have to go to Sweetwater.
Though it’s not always at the forefront of one’s mind when shopping for gear, shipping costs can be very important. If you’re buying a larger item like a guitar or amp, shipping costs can increase the overall price significantly.
Fortunately, both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend offer Free Ground Shipping on all orders shipped within the continental U.S.
Another great thing about these policies is that there is no minimum or maximum amount to qualify for free shipping. So whether you buy a $2,000 amplifier or a $7 bottle of guitar polish, you won’t pay an extra dime for shipping. That’s a cool perk that many online retailers don’t offer.
In addition to offering free ground shipping, both companies also try to get your product out to you as quickly as possible. At Musician’s Friend, any order placed before noon is shipped the same day. For orders placed after noon, they are shipped no later than the next business day.
Sweetwater also ships many items on the same day the order is placed. They use a variety of carriers to make sure the product gets to you fast. Lightweight items ship via the USPS, while heavier items ship via FedEx or UPS Ground.
There’s not much of a difference between the shipping policies of Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend. Both companies offer free and fast ground shipping with no minimum. No matter which one you choose, you can’t lose.
While many manufacturers provide their own warranties on instruments and other pieces of gear, it can be comforting to have extra protection. Both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend offer their own warranty policies.
Musician’s Friend offers a Free 2-Year Silver Warranty on all guitars and basses. This warranty covers parts and labor, though you are responsible for shipping. It protects against defects under normal use, not accidents. This warranty is only available for guitars and basses – not other high-end items like amps or recording equipment.
Musician’s Friend does offer separate Gold Coverage for a fee. This warranty covers more than just guitars and basses, and offers a lot more coverage for things like heat, dust and electrical failures.
Sweetwater also offers a free 2-year warranty, but unlike Musician’s Friend, it’s available for nearly every product, not just guitars. Sweetwater has an award-winning Service Department, and the warranty covers parts and labor at no cost. You are responsible for shipping costs, however.
Both companies have great warranty policies. Having a 2-year free warranty separate from the manufacturer warranty is definitely a nice thing to have. However, Musician’s Friend only covers guitars and basses with their free warranty, while Sweetwater covers nearly every non-consumable product sold. The edge goes to Sweetwater.
In addition to a great warranty, knowing you’ll be able to easily return something if you don’t like it is a great comfort – especially when buying online. Fortunately, both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend have great return policies.
Musician’s Friend offers a 45-day “No Hassle” Return Policy. That means that if you aren’t satisfied in any way, simply return the item (in its original condition) for a full refund, minus shipping costs. If the item is somehow not in its original condition (meaning it has scratches or dents) then Musician’s Friend charges a 15% re-stocking fee.
Sweetwater also offers a full refund up to 30 days after purchase for new items. Used gear is covered up to 90 days. The shipping cost is usually deducted from your refund. If there’s a problem with your order, contact your sales engineer.
Both companies offer a pretty reasonable window for you to check out your new gear before deciding to return it. However, since Musician’s Friend offers 45 days compared to 30 days for Sweetwater, we will give the edge to Musician’s Friend here.
Musician’s Friend Vs Sweetwater: Which Guitar Store Should You Buy From?
So now that we’ve covered all the differences between Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend, the question still remains: Which is the best guitar store? Which one should you buy from?
There’s no right or wrong answer, as both stores are fairly even and both companies are trusted names that have been around for decades. One easy way to decide is to go to both websites and see which one feels best to you. You can also order something small from each company to see how the experience goes.
For selection, prices and overall inventory, both companies are pretty similar. If it’s a major or well-known brand, you will most likely be able to find it at either store. It will likely be the same price, as well, though that can vary.
For customer service, it’s tough to beat Sweetwater. They seem to place a high priority on making sure the customer has a great experience. That’s not to say Musician’s Friend doesn’t care about customer service, but they aren’t as well known for that aspect. Internet reviews generally back this up.
Both companies offer free ground shipping, which is great. Sweetwater does ship through a greater variety of carriers, however, which could lead to faster shipping times.
Sweetwater seems to hold the edge with their free 2-year warranty on most items, while Musician’s Friend offers a free 2-year warranty only on guitars and basses. Both retailers have great return policies, but Musician’s Friend gives you a bit more time to figure out if you want to keep your product or send it back.
From a pure capitalist perspective, the market seems to give the edge overall to Sweetwater. The Indiana-based company took in over $800 million in revenue in 2019, compared to under $40 million for Musician’s Friend. That’s a pretty wide gap, and it goes to show just how dominant Sweetwater has become in the online musical gear business.
Both Sweetwater and Musician’s Friend are great companies that have been selling quality music gear for decades. While they are pretty even in a number of ways, there are also definite differences. Hopefully this comparison has helped you to make a decision on the best place to shop for your next guitar or piece of gear. While both retailers have their fans, ultimately you should go with what works best for you.