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Sweetwater and zZounds are two of the biggest online music retailers. Both companies have been around for over two decades.
But which one is the best place to buy music gear online?
In this overview, we’ll be comparing Sweetwater Vs zZounds head-to-head to see which is the best guitar store for you. We’ll be looking at several factors including customer service, return policy, prices, shipping costs, websites, warranty coverage and more.
How will these two online giants compare? Let’s find out!
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: Sweetwater Review: Is Sweetwater Legit?
zZounds was founded in 1997 and later acquired by Harmony Central. They are exclusively online with no physical locations.
zZounds ships from 4 warehouses spread across the United States, 7 days a week. They have headquarters in New Jersey.
With over a million customers annually, zZounds is one of the most popular and convenient places to shop for music gear online.
Read Also: zZounds Review: Is zZounds Legit?
Sweetwater Vs Zzounds: What’s the Difference?
So what are the main differences between Sweetwater and zZounds? Here are some factors to consider 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. However, the clear edge here has to go to Sweetwater. The look of their site is much more modern and straight-forward, while the zZounds site looks a bit dated. Sweetwater’s search engine is more helpful, too, with an auto-fill function that lets you find what you’re looking for often before you finish typing. zZounds search engine seems to be based on something else, because it brought up other words I searched for in the past that were unrelated to music gear. There is no auto-fill function either, so you have to type out the full name of the product you’re looking for.
The product pages on Sweetwater’s site also seem a bit more organized than those on zZounds. All the details and specs are clearly available on one page for Sweetwater, while zZounds has you click to see more info. While Sweetwater shows you similar items to what you are viewing, zZounds shows other random items that other users bought.
Overall, zZounds’ website is good, but Sweetwater’s is better.
When choosing an online retailer for music gear, or anything else, variety of selection is hugely important.
You’re going to want to shop somewhere that not only has what you’re looking for, but also has it in stock.
When it comes to selection, both Sweetwater and zZounds carry the majority of major brands including Gibson, Fender, Ibanez, PRS and many more. They also carry some popular boutique gear like JHS Pedals and Earthquaker Devices.
zZounds claims to have an inventory about 50 times bigger than the average musical instrument retail store, while Sweetwater claims to have a massive selection of a huge assortment of gear. Comparing the two, there wasn’t anything I searched for that I couldn’t find on either site. If it’s new and from a well-known brand, odds are you will find it easily at either Sweetwater or zZounds.
Sweetwater does offer some unique finish options on guitars that are exclusive to them, so that might be something to consider if you’re in the market for something different. Also, since Sweetwater is a larger retailer than zZounds, they are more likely to have more popular items in stock, though not necessarily.
Another important factor to consider is price. While most music gear is priced the same regardless of the retailer, there can be differences due to sales or other factors.
zZounds offers a Lowest Price Guarantee, meaning that if you find an item at a lower price than is listed on their website, they will match it. They even guarantee this price match for up to 45 days after purchase if you see a lower price elsewhere.
Sweetwater’s website doesn’t mention a price match guarantee, though they do generally offer the standard lowest price on most gear. They also regularly have deals on B-stock items that were used in demos. This allows you to get a nice discount on what is still essentially brand-new gear.
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.
zZounds offers a “Play as You Pay” plan, which spreads the cost of an instrument over multiple payments with no interest. However, there is an application fee based on the cost of your order. This ranges from around $7 to $25, depending on the amount of payments. zZounds does not offer its own credit card.
Shipping costs can also affect the overall price of buying gear. Fortunately, both Sweetwater and zZounds offer free shipping with no minimum on most items.
Both companies offer a large inventory, with zZounds claiming to have an inventory 50 times bigger than a typical musical instrument store. They have four warehouses across the U.S. and ship seven days a week.
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!
If there’s a new piece of gear you’ve been wanting, chances are that either Sweetwater or zZounds has it in stock.
While many of us are used to buying items online with one click, customer service is still an important factor to consider when buying products online.
If something goes wrong during shipping or after, it’s nice to be able to talk to a real human being about how to fix it.
Sweetwater’s customer service is legendary. Everyone who shops there has their own dedicated Sales Engineer. This salesperson is the same person who makes sure your order is 100% correct and calls to assure you it will ship to you nearly immediately. Sometimes, these engineers call weeks or months later to see how everything worked out.
Sweetwater’s sales engineers also give personalized advice if you’re not sure which guitar or amp to buy. They also have tech support from gear experts should you run into any issues with getting equipment up and running.
zZounds also offers personalized service from other musicians like yourself via toll-free call or email. These musicians are not paid by commission so they are free to give honest advice. While they probably won’t be as hands-on as the sales engineers from Sweetwater, they will do their best to assist you in whatever way possible.
Buying larger items like amplifiers and guitars can get pricey, especially if shipping costs are included.
The great thing about Sweetwater and zZounds is that both retailers offer free ground shipping on all orders shipped within the continental U.S.
zZounds ships seven days a week, except holidays. Packages ship from their warehouses in Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey and Ohio. Ground shipping for most orders arrive within 2-5 business days.
Sweetwater also offers free ground shipping and often ships the same day an order is placed. Lightweight items ship via the USPS and typically take between 2-4 days. Heavier items ship via FedEx or UPS and typically arrive between 1-5 days.
Another great perk to shopping with both Sweetwater and zZounds is that there is no minimum order to qualify for free shipping. That means even if you order a single pack of $5 strings, the shipping is free.
Having a warranty comes in handy in case something goes wrong, especially with higher-priced gear. But sometimes coverage can be expensive, and we may be hesitant to add an extra cost to our purchase.
Sweetwater offers a free 2-year warranty on nearly every product. This warranty is separate from any manufacturer warranty and allows you to send your gear directly to Sweetwater for any service, with free parts and labor. That’s a pretty incredible deal and not something I’ve seen with most other retailers. They also offer super fast turnaround for any work done.
Compared to Sweetwater, zZounds does not offer competing coverage separate from the manufacturer’s warranty. While they do offer 45-day hassle-free returns, there is no option for extended coverage.
When it comes to the security of having a free 2-year warranty, Sweetwater clearly edges zZounds for extended coverage on any purchase.
Buying gear online can seem a bit scary compared to in-person shopping because you are buying something sight unseen. In those cases, it’s great to know that you can easily return something for whatever reason.
zZounds offers a 45-day return window, hassle-free. You can either exchange the item or receive a full refund. There are no restocking fees as long as proper procedures are followed. If the item was damaged or there is some problem, zZounds will cover shipping costs. If you simply don’t like the item and want a refund, you will be responsible for shipping.
Sweetwater asks that you call your sales engineer if there’s any problem with your order. They offer a full refund on any orders within 30 days. Used gear is covered up to 90 days. Shipping cost will usually be deducted from your refund.
Sweetwater and zZounds have pretty comparable return policies. But since zZounds gives you up to 45 days to return something compared to 30 days on new items from Sweetwater, we will give the edge to zZounds here.
Sweetwater Vs zZounds: Which Guitar Store Should You Buy From?
Now that we’ve offered a full comparison between Sweetwater Vs zZounds, which guitar store should you buy from?
Overall, these companies are pretty even in terms of pricing, shipping and inventory. Sweetwater maintains a slight edge in customer service, and their website is more professional and easier to use. They also offer a free 2-year warranty, something that zZounds does not offer. Sweetwater is a highly-trusted name and most of the musicians I know use them.
zZounds has been in the online music retailer game for almost as long as Sweetwater, and they definitely have their diehard customers. A 45-day return policy is a nice perk, and their price matching policy ensures that you won’t find a better price elsewhere.
While both companies offer comparable features, I would give the edge to Sweetwater. They are the larger and more well-known company, and they make it very easy to order gear from them. I’ve ordered several items from Sweetwater over the years, and always received my order much quicker than expected. Any issues were rare, and easily solved with the help of my sales engineer. That trusted customer service combined with a free 2-year warranty make Sweetwater hard to beat. However, if you find something you like for cheaper on zZounds, there’s no reason not to shop there. Whichever store you choose, you can’t go wrong with either company.
Read Also: The 8 Best Online Guitar Stores
Both Sweetwater and zZounds have been around for decades, and both have their strengths. The most important thing at the end of the day is that you’re happy with your gear purchase. Hopefully this comparison will help you make your decision on where to shop. Whether you go with Sweetwater or zZounds, you should have a great experience.