It’s no secret that the number of people who prefer the convenience of online shopping is increasing. And musical instruments and equipment, particularly guitars, have gained popularity with the online shopping revolution.
That said, buying anything you haven’t seen in person before paying for it can be scary. So, I set out to review the most prominent retailers to determine the best online guitars stores for your next purchase.
In my opinion, the best online guitar store is Sweetwater due to their unmatched customer service and quality control. zZounds takes the second spot with its fast and free shipping and price match guarantee. Sam Ash impresses in third with their expansive range. Amazon, Guitar Center, Reverb, Andertons, and Thomann make up the remainder of the list.
Table of Contents
- The 8 Best Online Guitar & Instrument Stores
- Advantages of Buying Guitars & Gear Online
- Disadvantages of Buying Guitars & Gear Online
The 8 Best Online Guitar & Instrument Stores
- Sweetwater: Best customer service, quality control, and range.
- zZounds: Free, super-fast shipping, competitive pricing, with no minimum order value.
- Sam Ash: Great depth of stock and a 60-day price protection policy.
- Amazon: Wide selection of guitars and gear to suit every pocket, good for small purchases (like strings) if you have Prime.
- Guitar Center: Option to pick up from a physical store, with up to 48 months to pay.
- Reverb: Best used marketplace, including custom and vintage instruments.
- Andertons: UK-based, with a massive selection, including beginner bundles.
- Thomann: EU-based, offering a 3-year warranty and good prices.
There’s been a steady increase in the online shopping trend for several years. The rate of adoption has accelerated due to the outbreak of COVID-19. However, buying groceries, clothing, and make-up online is one thing. Purchasing an expensive guitar or fragile gear, on the other hand, is more daunting.
Selecting the right store to buy your instrument from is just as important as deciding which guitar to purchase. It could be the difference between a happy unboxing experience and an outright disaster.
Here are my picks for the best online musical instrument stores to purchase your guitars and gear from.
The largest online musical gear retailer in the US, they started out as a humble recording studio in the late 1970s. Today, Sweetwater sells musical instruments online and is not just the largest, but also the fastest-growing music retailers in the US.
The company enforces an enthusiastic customer-centric approach, where the primary focus is building relationships with customers. Their customer-focused ethos has been evident in every one of the many interactions I’ve had with them.
The Sweetwater team really knows their products. Their staff always go out of their way to recommend the right equipment for your needs. When you first contact them, a dedicated support representative is assigned to you.
I love this about Sweetwater because if there’s anything at all I need to ask, via phone or email, my personal rep is there to help me. If they don’t have something in stock, they’re always happy to offer an alternative at a similar price point.
Sweetwater displays high-resolution photos of every guitar they have in stock, as well as their serial numbers. This way, you can look at their inventory and pick the exact guitar you want.
It’s also essential to note that Sweetwater does a 55-point quality control check on every item sold before it’s shipped. The guitars I’ve bought from Sweetwater came with a signed inspection card as verification.
These guitars were also completely set up and ready to play when I received them. Something most other retailers charge extra for. And my Sweetwater sales rep always calls me after delivery to make sure I am happy with everything.
Pricing: On par with other large online stores.
Product Range: An extensive range of well-known brands from Fender to Schecter. They also offer used items, including B-stock and demo guitars, available through their “deals” page.
Customer Service: Second to none. Excellent product knowledge and after-sales service. They do a comprehensive 55-point check on every item shipped and set them up for free (which you normally need to pay for after buying a guitar). This means the guitars are always in tune and ready to play out of the box!
Return Policy: 30-day return window
Shipping: Free shipping throughout the US with no minimum order.
Warranty: Free 2-year warranty on new items (even if the item itself comes with a 1-year or shorter warranty period). 90-day guarantee on used items.
Finance: 6 to 48 months financing available on many instruments and gear.
Established in 1997, the zZounds online store has become extremely popular amongst musicians and gear nerds. Their extremely competitive prices are the main reason. The free and fast shipping is another plus, with most orders arriving within 2 days of the order.
One of the unique benefits of dealing with zZounds is that they’ll often send out discount coupons to their mailing list. Their product range includes both new and used stock. This means that there are some budget options available to you if you’re cash-strapped.
In my experience, they seem to drop the ball every now and then regarding packaging.
I once received a guitar from zZounds packaged in a large rectangular box without any major protection. There was no wedge box inside, as is standard practice for added protection. They were a bit stingy when it came to the bubble wrap. Fortunately, the guitar did arrive in one piece!
Of course, this isn’t always the case, and they’re always very open to replacing products that get damaged in transit (I’ve had this happen with a Marshall amp once). Besides, this isn’t even an issue for smaller items that are less fragile (strings, mics, etc.).
Their customer support is adequate, but the interaction is minimal compared to Sweetwater, and this is considered as an advantage by many of their customers. Why? Because many musicians simply get annoyed by all the phone calls and constant follow ups by Sweetwater. So, if you know what you’re buying (in other words, confident about your needs) and don’t want to interact with another human being, zZounds would be the best option for you.
Overall, zZounds is a ‘zound’ option if you’re looking for the best price and super fast delivery.
Pricing: Usually offers the lowest prices. Offers a 45-day price-match guarantee to secure your purchases.
Product Range: They have a smaller range of products, in terms of volume, than some of their direct competitors. But all the big-name brands are there. They have new, used, warehouse resealed, blemished, scratch and dent, factory resealed, and b-stock items available.
Customer Service: Quite efficient in my experience.
Return Policy: 45-day return window
Shipping: Free shipping on anything with no minimum purchase. 1 to 2-day shipping lead times on most items (I usually receive most stuff within 2 days). They only ship to the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
Finance: Best in class financing plans (3 to 18 months) on instruments and gear with zero credit checks.
Sam Ash is a sizable and renowned family-owned chain of stores selling musical instruments and gear since 1924. Apart from their 46 stores scattered around the US, Sam Ash’s comprehensive online store is also fairly popular.
One of the things I like about Sam Ash is that you get a sales representative to deal with directly. And their sales representatives seem to be well versed in the instruments and equipment they sell. I’ve also found their online live chat support super helpful.
However, I’m not a big fan of the design of their website. At this point it feels quite dated and it’s also not as easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for as Sweetwater or zZounds.
It’s not a surprise that their online store only caters to US customers. So, if you’re outside the US, you’ll need to fill in a form on their website. After which, one of their representatives will be in touch to discuss your needs.
Because Sam Ash has brick-and-mortar stores across the country just like Guitar Center, customers have the option of buying online and collecting in-store. This could be an advantage as you can get the product faster if you have a physical Sam Ash store nearby.
I’ve never experienced issues with packaging or delivery from Sam Ash, nor have I heard any complaints from any of my friends who also bought from them, in that regard.
Pricing: On par with their competitors. But they are often willing to price match if you ask. They also have a 60-day price protection guarantee.
Product Range: They stock all the major brands as well as some budget options. And, they have quite an impressive selection of used guitars.
Customer Service: Decent, in my experience.
Return Policy: 45-day money-back return guarantee.
Shipping: All orders over $49.99 get free shipping. And most orders arrive within 2 days.
Finance: 6 to 24 months financing available on select new and used models.
Did you know that Amazon, by far the world’s largest e-commerce retailer, has a dedicated section dedicated to musical instruments and gear?
They sell some of the most popular gear and instruments themselves, and for others, they fulfill those orders on the seller’s behalf through their own shipping and distribution network.
The rest of the products are handled and shipped by the sellers themselves, directly to the buyer. I personally try to steer clear of these products, because you get no ‘benefit’ as such of buying from Amazon when it comes to these products, since you’re at the mercy of the seller for packaging and speed of delivery.
Sure, there are some reputable sellers in this category, like Sam Ash, who use Amazon as just another online storefront apart from their own website to sell stuff they already have in stock. But, there are also quite a few other sub-par sellers.
Therefore, when buying a musical instrument or gear from Amazon, your shipping costs and lead times will vary from product to product. Return policies, quality control, and packaging will also be inconsistent depending on who handles the shipping. So, make sure you check each product’s shipping and return policy information before committing to a purchase.
What I find most helpful about shopping on Amazon are the customer reviews for each item. Except for very high-ticket items, most popular products have way more genuine user reviews on Amazon than anywhere else. This is a great way to determine the quality of the product before buying it.
Pricing: Usually the lowest price (or close to it, at least) you can get a product for online.
Product Range: A wide selection of almost all musical instrument and gear brands under the sun. The big-name brands are present, but there’s not a massive selection in terms of high-end guitars. There are a host of beginner instruments and kits available. As well as cheap replicas of famous brands from Asian manufacturers (the infamous clones!).
Customer Service: Amazon’s customer service isn’t bad. But you won’t get a dedicated sales representative. And they won’t have any knowledge about instruments specifically, unlike representatives from a specialized musical gear retailer.
Return Policy: It varies from product to product and seller to seller, but for most items, there’s a general 30-day return policy for items purchased from Amazon.
Shipping: Free shipping on orders over $25 shipped by Amazon.
Warranty/Guarantee: You can optionally purchase a Music Accident Protection Plan as an extra from Amazon.
Finance: There are financing options available for some products, but they differ from product to product.
Guitar Center is probably THE most renowned big-box guitar store on the planet. They have been around since 1959 and have over 260 store locations in the US.
But there seems to be some inconsistency in packaging and quality control when you buy gear from Guitar Center. I’ve received most of the gear I’ve purchased from them packaged beautifully and in good nick. But one or two of my purchases have arrived damaged due to inadequate packaging.
That said, Guitar Center has an extensive catalog of quality new and used instruments and gear to choose from. These include some rare custom and vintage guitars for the connoisseur with a bit more cash to spend. But there’s also a vast range of inexpensive options for beginner and intermediate level guitarists.
They also offer the option to collect your online purchase at your nearest Guitar Center store. This is a plus if you prefer to give the guitar or gear a test run before buying or just have a store nearby where you can collect your stuff from quickly.
One of the disadvantages compared to Sweetwater is that they don’t set your guitar up before shipping, no matter how premium it is. This usually causes the guitar to arrive in less than ideal playing condition (higher action, not in tune, etc.).
They do however offer paid guitar setup services, that cost around $50 for the standard setup.
Pricing: Comparable to their peers.
Product Range: All the big guitar brands are listed, and many exclusive small (beginner focused) brands are there. They have an excellent range of guitars for lefties online, but this is rarely the case when stepping into one of their stores. So, if you’re a leftie, it’s probably best to order your guitar online.
Customer Service: Their customer service is pretty good overall. However, at their physical stores, I have spoken to the occasional staff member who I felt could undergo more technical training.
Return Policy: 45-day Satisfaction Guarantee.
Shipping: Most orders placed before 3pm ship on the same day, except on weekends and public holidays, then it can usually take 2-3 more days to reach you.
Finance: 12 to 48 months of financing on selected brands.
Reverb could be considered the premium used musical instrument marketplace. Although you’ll find plenty of new guitars and gear on the platform too. It’s the perfect place to shop if you’re looking for a rare or vintage guitar.
Established in 2013, this online marketplace operates similarly to Amazon. They provide a platform for sellers to display their new and used goods to the market. However, unlike Amazon, the Reverb website is 100% focused on musical instruments.
The sellers are often musicians themselves. Most are individuals selling guitars that they no longer need, or just as a small side hustle. Some are small musical instrument retailers worldwide. As a result, I find that there’s often a more hands-on approach to product quality and care.
Apart from their slick website, Reverb also has a great mobile app that comes in handy when you need to purchase on the go.
Pricing: Competitive pricing on new products. Great deals on used items. Some sellers are open to offers.
Product Range: It’s primarily well-known brands that are listed. Clearly, these are the type of instruments and gear that have a good resale value. There are some spectacular custom guitars to buy. But be prepared to dig deeper into your pocket if you want a one-of-a-kind instrument. The website is absolute eye candy for collectors.
Customer Service: I found Reverb’s customer service to be decent. But, most of your interaction will be with the individual sellers. And, in that respect, the level of service will differ from seller to seller.
Return Policy: 7-day Reverb Buyer Protection policy. Outside of this 7-day window, the individual seller’s return policy comes into play.
Shipping: Shipping rates vary per seller and item. But the general rate is detailed on each product page under the price.
Finance: There is no evidence of any finance option available through Reverb.
Andertons is a family-owned and run musical instrument retailer based in the UK. They’ve been around since 1964 and are a household name to those across the Atlantic.
I’ve never purchased anything from them, but I have friends in the UK who swear by Andertons. They almost use Andertons exclusively when it comes to buying gear online.
Anderton’s inventory is vast and packed with all the best brands on the market. There is a great deal of variety, and they even have a massive section dedicated to left-handed guitars.
Pricing: Very competitive. Especially, the prices of their beginner guitar bundles are a steal.
Product Range: The range of guitars is immense. They have a section dedicated to beginner guitar bundles, including additional items like amps, bags, tuners, and other goodies.
Customer Service: I’m told that this retailer is very customer-focused. The staff has sound knowledge of the instruments and gear on offer.
Return Policy: According to their website, goods can be returned for a full refund if you contact them within 14 calendar days of receiving your item.
Shipping: Shipping is calculated by weight, and the amount payable is stipulated upon checkout. International orders are usually delivered within 5 to 10 days.
Warranty/Guarantee: They only offer warranties to customers purchasing from within the UK. These include a 12-month warranty on new goods purchased. And a 3-month parts and labor warranty on all second-hand items.
Finance: 6 to 36 months finance packages on selected items available to UK residents only.
Thomann is a great online retail option based in Germany, especially for musicians living in the European Union (EU), although many UK folks (who don’t mind the longer delivery times) buy from them too. Thomann is the third family-owned and run retailer on this list and has been in business since 1954.
I’ve heard about their friendly and helpful sales representatives more than once. So, I would be inclined to check them out. And while they are based in Europe, they sell and ship products worldwide.
Thomann also has a fully functional app for convenient price-checking and ordering, no matter where you are.
Pricing: In line with prominent US online retailers.
Product Range: Thomann has everything from Gibson to Ibanez on the guitar side. So, there’s something for every budget. They have a classifieds section for individuals to advertise their second-hand instruments and gear for sale.
Customer Service: I’ve heard only good things.
Return Policy: 30-day money-back guarantee (Europe and US purchases).
Shipping: They offer free shipping for delivery in the EU on purchases over £149 (approximately US$205). International orders are subject to shipping fees which are determined at checkout.
Warranty/Guarantee: 3-year Thomann warranty.
Finance: I don’t see any mention of a finance option on their website. But they offer loads of convenient payment options.
Advantages of Buying Guitars & Gear Online
Buying anything online is convenient. You can shop day or night from the comfort of your sofa. You don’t have to endure the hassle associated with going to the store.
When you shop online, you have a clear overview of all the inventory the retailer has available. Too often, I’ll walk into a brick-and-mortar store, only to be met with slim pickings. This is often true of big box stores that also have an online store. You’ll usually find many more product options on their online store than you would see in the physical store.
Easy Product Comparison
Browsing through an online store allows you to open multiple tabs in your browser and compare products. It’s so much easier to hold the specifications and pricing of different products up against each other. And it makes the decision-making process more efficient.
You Can Shop Around
If you choose to purchase your instruments and gear online, you can visit several online stores simultaneously. You can quickly determine which stores have the product you’re looking for and which do not. You’re also able to compare pricing from store to store and easily take advantage of deals. This cannot be done when visiting a brick-and-mortar store.
Spoilt for Choice
Theoretically, you have the world at your fingertips when you buy online. You have the option to select instruments and gear from retailers and manufacturers across the globe and have them delivered to your home. You are not bound by borders or international travel.
Sure, you’ll incur high shipping costs, but you get the luxury of choice and the opportunity to get exactly what you want, even if it’s not being sold by any online music store of your country.
It stands to reason that online-only stores have fewer overheads than brick-and-mortar stores. This means that online retailers can offer more significant discounts and deals on instruments. You might even be able to negotiate the price on that heritage cherry Gibson SG you’ve had your eye on.
Disadvantages of Buying Guitars & Gear Online
When it comes to guitars, each one has a different feel and sound. And sometimes, you must play the guitar to determine whether it’s a good fit for you. Therefore, guitarists usually prefer to give the guitar a test run before buying.
As a result, buying instruments online can be tricky if you’ve not had an opportunity to test the product first. Unless the retailer offers an in-store collection option, in which case you can get a feel for the instrument before taking ownership.
Whether you’re buying a new or used guitar, it helps if you can inspect the instrument for damages before purchasing. New instruments could easily be damaged in transit from the manufacturer. And then there’s the wear and tear often inflicted on used instruments over the years.
Except for Sweetwater, most online guitar stores don’t display high-resolution inventory images from every angle. That said, almost all online stores have a decent return policy for your protection. But receiving a damaged instrument and then having to return it is not a fun experience.
When purchasing from online guitar stores based in foreign countries for delivery in the US, you will incur additional costs. Over and above shipping, you may need to fork out additional funds for import tax and duties when your package arrives.
Bear in mind that local tax or VAT is usually included in the price advertised on these stores. The rate of VAT is different in each country but usually ranges from 5% to 20%. This VAT amount is added even before the shipping costs are added.
Buying your instruments and gear online definitely has its advantages. Online retailers understand the potential perils of buying online. That is why they all have comprehensive return policies in place for your protection and peace of mind.
And some of them (Sweetwater, for example) offer detailed close up shots of the exact product you’ll be getting, from every angle.
Therefore, there’s really no reason to be concerned when purchasing guitars or gear from an online retailer. Especially if you make use of the list of stores above. Generally, you can rest assured that your purchase is in good hands.