If you’re in the market for a new guitar or other music related equipment but don’t know the best place to buy, then we’re here to help.
Sweetwater and Guitar Center are undoubtedly the two giants of the musical instruments and professional audio equipment industry.
But which one is better? Where should you shop from?
In this article, we’re going to be comparing Sweetwater Vs Guitar Center to see which online music retailer is truly the best.We’ll look at factors including overall selection, website user experience, price, customer service, warranty and return policies of both companies to see how they compare.
Let’s get started!
Sweetwater Sound is one of the largest online musical instruments retailers in the world. It was founded by Chuck Surack in 1979 and currently only has one physical location, with everything else exclusively being online.
They sell all things musical instruments and professional audio gear including, guitars, drums, keyboards, DJ equipment, software, and much more.
Over the years, they have become one of, if not the, most reputable music retailer in the world known for their outstanding customer service.
Guitar Center Overview
Guitar Center is a brand that needs no introduction. They are the largest musical instruments retailer chain in the world with 269 physical store locations throughout the United States and as well as being one of the largest online retailers.
They are owned by Ares Management, an investment company that owns various businesses across different industries.
If you’re a musician, then you’ve definitely heard of Guitar Center. Unlike their name suggests, they offer all sorts of musical instruments and audio gear; not just guitars.
They are definitely the giant of the industry and the only real music chain of its kind.
Sweetwater Vs Guitar Center: What’s the Difference?
When choosing a guitar store to purchase from, here are several important factors that you should consider before buying anything.
Website User Experience
One major factor that most people overlook when it comes to choosing a guitar store is its website user experience.
With the majority of commerce in the music industry taking place online, how users interact with the website can have a huge impact on the overall shopping experience.
Some factors that should be considered are:
- Fast loading speeds (especially on mobile)
- Modern imagery and layout
- Well organized and easy to navigate
- Easy to checkout and input payment information
- Advanced search and filtering features
When it comes to online guitar stores, Sweetwater and Guitar Center have some of the best website experiences relative to the rest of the music industry, which tends to lag behind other eCommerce industries.
While they’re both nice looking sites, the slight edge goes to Sweetwater. Its homepage does a better job of organizing the different categories of products. The product imagery also seems to fit the site’s branding a lot better than Guitar Center. When it comes to the product pages, Sweetwater keeps it clean and offers better product details about each product, highlighting major features and benefits rather than just listing specifications.
Guitar Center’s website is also quite good in terms of navigation but does not look as clean. In addition, Guitar Center’s product pages aren’t nearly as good, and can be difficult to find the relevant details, user reviews, etc. that you’re looking for.
Options, options, options. This is quite possibly the most important factor when selecting an online guitar store to buy from.
At the end of the day, you’re searching for a product and will shop that the store that has what you’re looking for. Everything else is secondary.
When it comes to the selection, both stores have a massive selection from all the major guitar brands that you would expect including Gibson, Fender, PRS, Ibanez, Schecter, and many more. Both stores also carry other music-related products including a wide variety of other instruments, music production gear, DJ equipment, and more.
Since Guitar Center and Sweetwater are the largest online music retailers, it makes sense that they both have pretty much everything you could possibly want, aside from boutique brands or custom shop guitars.
Comparing the two, I would give the slight edge to Guitar Center since they have the option to shop in physical stores located all throughout the nation, compared to Sweetwater, which just has a single physical location. Also, since Guitar Center is larger, they will typically have more product in-stock and ready to ship immediately, whereas Sweetwater will often have to order the item, which can delay shipment.
In addition, Guitar Center has a much larger catalog of used gear, which is particularly important to me since I buy most of my guitars used.
However, one advantage that Sweetwater has over Guitar Center is Sweetwater’s exclusive finish options on some guitars. Some guitar brands partner with Sweetwater to provide unique color options that you won’t find anywhere else for some popular guitar models including Les Paul guitars, Telecasters, Stratocasters, PRS guitars, and more.
Another factor that you should consider is obviously the price. In most cases, the prices of popular guitar models are standardized based on the manufacturer, meaning you’ll be paying the same exact price at Sweetwater and Guitar Center for any given guitar.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that individual guitar stores may offer different deals at different times of the year. These deals can vary from guitar to guitar, so I would suggest checking both stores for the best deals if you have your eye on a specific model.
Aside from that, shipping fees can also be a significant cost factor, especially when you’re talking about large musician instruments, such as guitars, drum sets, and keyboards.
Sweetwater offers free shipping on most items. And while Guitar Center does offer free shipping on select items, many guitars will incur some shipping costs, which make your overall purchase for the same item more expensive than if you were to buy it on Sweetwater with free shipping.
When it comes to customer service, Sweetwater probably has the best I’ve ever experienced from an online music retailer.
When you shop with Sweetwater, you’ll basically have access to dedicated specialists who are extremely knowledgeable in the music industry. Nothing’s more frustrating than dealing with a general customer service representative that doesn’t understand the product.
Rest assured, the customer service representatives are actually specialists. Wherever I’ve had specific questions regarding guitars, equipment setup, or software I’ve purchased, I was able to get good help. If you’re having trouble setting up software, you can even have their team, remote monitor, your computer and help set it up for you. Overall, I was very impressed with Sweetwater’s customer service.
For Guitar Center, their customer service can be hit or miss. From my experience, it really just depends on which individual representative you get connected to. In some cases, I’ve spoken to really helpful representatives that know their stuff. Other times, I was connected to general receptionists you don’t really understand the music industry, but rather just handle basic inquiries.
The major difference between Sweetwater and Guitar Center is that when you purchase from Sweetwater, you are actually connected to your own sales rep who can guide you through any issues you may have, which is really helpful. Overall, Sweetwater definitely wins from a customer service perspective.
When purchasing a guitar online, the shipping process can ultimately be the determining factor in terms of which retailer you choose.
For musical instruments, which are typically larger items, shipping costs can potentially be very pricey if your retailer doesn’t offer free shipping.
And on top of that, you’ll obviously want your new purchase delivered to your door as soon as possible.
When it comes to shipping and delivery, Sweetwater offers free shipping on most items, which is definitely a perk. In terms of delivery time, Sweetwater typically provides 1-5 business day shipping to the continental United States and 7-6 business days for Alaska and Hawaii. The exact day range will vary based on your actual location, but you’ll be able to see the shipping estimate for you based when you check out.
Guitar Center does offer free shipping on select items, but unfortunately, many items do not qualify for free shipping. This is especially true for larger items that are odd-shaped including many musical instruments like guitars.
In terms of shipping times, you can typically expect 3-5 day delivery times in the United States.
Overall, both online retailers do a good job at handling shipping and delivery, but since Sweetwater offers free shipping on nearly all items, I’d give a slight advantage to Sweetwater in this category. Again, be sure to check both sites when shopping to see if the particular item qualifies for free shipping.
In terms of the warranty, Sweetwater offers a free 2-year warranty on top of the manufacturer’s actual warranty on the product, meaning you can buy with confidence knowing that you’re covered. They call this their “Total Confidence Coverage” which is something that you won’t really find anywhere else. Read more on Sweetwater’s warranty.
Guitar Center offers its Pro Coverage on all purchases, but it’s not free like Sweetwater. This is obviously not ideal, since most people will not opt into it, meaning you won’t be able to buy with complete coverage. However, you’ll still get the standard manufacturer’s warranty which is usually good enough.
Having a good return policy is important because it allows you to buy in confidence knowing that you’ll be able to return the item if you’re not satisfied. This is especially true when you’re ordering a guitar online since you won’t be able to feel it in your hands and play it before your buy, like you would when buying in a store.
Sweetwater and Guitar Center both offer excellent return policies when shopping for musical instruments.
Sweetwater offers a 30-day “No-Hassle” return policy, meaning you can return your item within 30 days for any reason. If you’re purchased a used item, then you’ll have a 90 day period where you can return it. If you’re item qualified for free shipping, then you will have to pay to ship it back, but that’s a small price to pay knowing that you have the freedom to return with no questions asked. Read more about the Sweetwater Return Policy
Guitar Center offers a 45 day satisfaction guarantee meaning you’ll have 45 days to return a product for a full refund (excluding shipping costs) if you’re not happy with it. However, there are some limitations based on the actual product which may have a lower time frame to return. You can see more details on the Guitar Center Return Policy page
Sweetwater Vs Guitar Center: Which Guitar Store Should You Buy From?
So now that we’ve done a full breakdown between Sweetwater Vs Guitar Center, which online music retailer should you actually buy from?
Overall, both Sweetwater and Guitar Center are comparable in almost every regard. If you’re someone who is brand new to buying musical instruments, then Sweetwater might be the best for you due to their excellent customer service. You’ll essentially have access to a dedicated sales engineer who is knowledgeable and will be able answer your questions and help you find the right fit for you.
If you’re someone who wants variety, or someone who wants to have the flexibility of being able to go to a physical store to try out the guitar, even to handle returns for online purchases, then Guitar Center is your best bet. With 269 store locations throughout the nation, you’ll likely have one in your area. Also, since Guitar Center is a larger brand, they’re more likely to have a particular guitar in stock if you already know the exact model of guitar you want.
At the end of the day, both Sweetwater and Guitar Center offer an excellent experience when buying music gear. It’ll all come down to whether they have the exact item you’re looking for and if there are any exclusive deals that are being offered. Be sure to check both out just to be sure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Sweetwater Owned by Guitar Center?
No, Sweetwater is not owned by Guitar Center. Sweetwater was founded and still owned by Chuck Surack. Guitar Center is owned by an large asset management company called Ares Management Corporation.
Does Guitar Center Price Match Sweetwater?
Yes, Guitar Center does price match! For more details on this, check out their Low Price Guarantee
Is Sweetwater a Good Place to Buy a Guitar?
Yes, Sweetwater is a good place to buy a guitar. They have a huge variety of options from the most reputable brands, excellent customer service, and offer a 2-year free warranty on every purchase.
Is Buying a Guitar Online a Good Idea?
Buying a guitar is a good idea for many since you’ll have access to a much wider variety of different guitars. While some people may be apprehensive about buying a guitar before actually trying it out, all reputable online guitar stores offer good customer satisfaction guarantees, warranties, and return policies allowing you to buy in confidence.