Brand Cacophony: Guitar Center

Ok, I may be 46, but this post does not prove I am guilty of Ted Nugent's "If it's too loud, you're too old" comment. I have played music at all volumes for 34 years, used to be a recording engineer, currently have a recording studio in my basement, and play in a band that includes two 17-year olds (my son and nephew) and a 20-year old. So I can credibly make this point without being accused of being too old to "get it."

Guitar Center is a chain with 151 stores. Although I prefer the local "boutique" I've shopped at since age 15, there are numerous occasions where it makes sense to shop at Guitar Center. I bought a guitar amplifier there about 6 months ago, and it was difficult to audition the amp since the store had a radio station blaring so loud over their mega-sound system, with ceiling speakers all over the store. But, I managed, and bought the amp, because I really wanted it.

Recently I was in Guitar Center, trying out this very cool effect called a "looper" that lets you make instant digital recording loops of your playing and layer phrases on top of each other in real time. However, unlike with a basic guitar amp, I really had to be able to hear this piece of equipment, which was once again difficult with the uber-loud radio getting in the way. I mentioned to one of the store managers that it was hard to hear the looper with all the noise, and he looked at me like I was crazy. (Even though we practically had to shout over the radio to hear each other.) I asked him if it was hard to sell guitars when it's so hard to hear them, and he curtly said, "no, we do it all day long."

So, what does this tell me about Guitar Center? In addition to the obvious (it's hard to shop there), it signals to me that they are more interested in superficial rock and roll "culture" than helping real rock and rollers make music. There are 200 guitars hanging on the wall (most of them out of tune) and you can't really hear the subtleties of any of them. The cacophony in their store does a lot to spoil their brand for me. Am I reading too much into the noise? I don't think so.

What's really funny is that my son says he heard a radio ad for Sam Ash, a major Guitar Center competitor, coming out of the Guitar Center sound system one day. Serves them right.

Think I bought the looper?