Why I Recommend American Musical Supply

Click Here for My Recommended Online Guitar StoreIt was late 2007. My main guitar, a Gibson Les Paul Classic, had served me well for many years. However, at the time I was taking guitar lessons from a shredder who was fond of the whammy bar. Plus I had always been a bit frustrated that I couldn’t play the tremolo-bar parts of some of the songs I liked. Since I hadn’t purchased a new guitar in eight years, I decided it was time.

It was clear to me that I would have the guitar I was about to purchase for a long time. That being the case, I wanted to make sure I found a guitar that I really liked. My first requirements were simple:

  • Six-string, solid-body electric
  • Tremolo bar
  • Routed for at least two humbucker pickups (which I knew I might replace)
  • High quality
  • Not too pricy
  • Hardshell case

Click Here to Visit My Recommended Online Music Store

With these general thoughts in mind, I dug in and started doing research. I looked through the inventories of various online guitar stores. I visited my local guitar center as well as other local music stores. I read reviews at all the standard online review sites. I also talked with my guitar teacher, Scott. Generally, Scott recommended Ibanez guitars, but there were also some Jackson models that he felt were good.

At about this time I briefly considered the possibility of getting a so-called Fender “Fat-Strat,” i.e. a Stratocaster with a humbucker. Very quickly I came to two conclusions. (1) I really wanted a locking tremolo – that is a tremolo that locks near the nut. I just felt like tuning would be too much of an issue with a non-locking tremolo. (2) I wanted at least 22 frets and preferably 24. The Fat Strats only had 21 frets. Ultimately, I decided this was just unacceptable.

To be sure, I was taking my time figuring out what to do. By April of 2008 I had narrowed the field of potential guitars down to a set of five. All five met by basic requirements. All five had excellent reviews at the various review sites. Likely, any one of the five would have made a great guitar.

  • Ibanez S470DXQM
  • Ibanez SV5470
  • Ibanez S520EX
  • Jackson DKMG Dinky
  • ESP LTD MH-1000

From the very beginning, I had planned to purchase my guitar online. Of all the local music stores, there was only one store that had any of these five guitars – the local Guitar Center had the most inexpensive guitar: the Ibanez S520EX. I, of course, stopped by and played it. It had a nice action and nice feel. The ZR tremolo was unique in that it was designed using ball bearings. It was nice and I liked it a lot.

Nonetheless, in this timeframe I was leaning towards the Ibanez S470DXQM.

About this time I started grappling with the question of which online store I should use to order my yet-to-be-chosen guitar. Through reading the numerous reviews I had come to the conclusion that the largest internet merchants were not the best choice. While they are good choices for run-of-the-mill guitar gear, I had read too many complaints about guitars themselves arriving in poor condition. I would clearly have to go elsewhere.

I also had another problem. The guitar I was leaning toward, the Ibanez S470DXQM, had a beautiful quilted maple top. Of course, the particular look of a given maple top is going to depend largely on the specific characteristics of the piece of maple used. And to drive this point home even further, I read a review where a person commented that he had seen several S470DXQM’s where the quilted maple was downright ugly. This really left me in a quandary. If I bought the guitar over the internet, I would be buying it “unseen.” On the other hand, no nearby store carried the S470DXQM. I considered the possibility ordering it through a local store. However, that seemed less than ideal also.

Soon I found an online guitar merchant that seemed to be able to solve my problems. I’ll call this merchant SW. To address the issue of guitar setup, SW followed a strict setup and inspection process for all guitars that it sold. And even more impressively, the merchant had a solution for the quilted-maple problem. Many guitars that SW sold were actually individually photographed and the photos were displayed in an online gallery. You could see what you were buying. Perfect.

I was gaining more confidence in my decision to purchase the S470DXQM and to buy it through SW. The main problem I had was that SW was not able to keep the S470DXQM in stock. Often they would get the guitar in stock and it would, in fact, be sold before the staff had a chance to photograph it. Plus, I was leaning toward the blue-moonburst model, but SW seemed to be getting mostly the Red Viking model. No matter, I was not in a hurry.

Regardless of whichever guitar I would eventually buy, I knew that I would likely change the pickups.

Most of the Ibanez guitars came with either straight Ibanez or hybrid Ibanez-Dimarzio pickups. Many of the reviews agreed that these pickups were “okay,” but generally represented the weakest point of the guitar. This aspect of the guitar depressed me a bit. I wished they would just sell the guitar without pickups and lower the price. Of course, that’s not the way it works.

I spent some time investigating pickups. My guitar teacher used Dimarzios (he was actually sponsored by them) and he crafted some pretty cool tones using them. Previously I had been partial to Seymour Duncan. Both companies have audio samples of their various pickups on the web. However, the two companies take very different approaches with their audio samples. Dimarzio provides samples of studio recordings involving their given pickups. Seymour Duncan, on the other hand, has recorded a person playing the same short piece of sample music through each of the different pickups. Of all the available tones, I was most drawn to the Seymour Duncan Live Wire Metal pickups. These pickups are active. They have an insane amount of gain and a harmonically saturated tone. I read through all the reviews at Harmony Central. They aren’t a very flexible pickup. They do one thing – but they do it very well. Everybody that had the pickup loved them, almost to the point of being neurotic.

Of course, active pickups require batteries. This requirement turned out to be a potential problem with the SX470DXQM guitar. I had read that the streamlined, contoured shape of the guitar had left relatively little room for electronics in the electronics compartment. Everything on the guitar fit fine, but upgrades using significant hardware would not fit. The active pickups would likely be a problem.

Not knowing exactly what to do, I decided to revisit my set of potential guitars. For each one, I listed out the pros and cons associated with the guitar. By the time I was done with that task, the best overall guitar for me was crystal clear. It was not the SX470DXQM (even though it’s clearly a great guitar). Rather, the best combination of features and price, for me, was the Ibanez Prestige RG2550Z.

It was a little more expensive, but it had almost no negatives. The guitar has a basswood body, 24 frets, a bound rosewood fretboard, and an Edge Zero Bridge. As with a few of the guitars, the pickup configuration is HSH – I didn’t really care, one way or the other, about the middle single-coil pickup. The electronics cavity is large meaning it could easily accommodate active pickups and/or push-pull pots (another gadget I’d been thinking about). Also, with the cavity being front routed, I had some flexibility in terms of future changes. I could give it a different look by buying a custom body plate. I could even change the pickup configuration from HSH to HH. I didn’t really see myself doing either of these anytime soon. But just having the flexibility to do it, if I one decided to, seemed like a plus.

The price of the guitar was in the middle of my range. It certainly wasn’t an inexpensive guitar. But it wasn’t the most expensive one either. I liked the most expensive guitar a lot (ain’t that always the case), but ultimately I decided the price was more than I could afford.

The only significant downside to the RG2550Z was the pickups. Several reviewers had noted that the pickups left something to be desired. Really, this was a non-issue. The only alternative to having less-than-great pickups was for the guitar manufacturer to install real Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan pickups themselves. Ibanez did this with more expensive models and Jackson also did it with their guitars. However, that wasn’t a perfect solution either since they are unlikely to choose the exact pickups I would choose. As I mentioned earlier, I wish they would sell the guitar without the pickups – but it just doesn’t work that way. So, I was fine with the idea of getting the Ibanez-Dimarzio pickups and replacing them. Although I would probably wait a bit to replace them – since that would be another $160 or so for two humbuckers.

Another good thing about the guitar was that I didn’t have to worry about a quilted-maple top – it didn’t have one. In fact, there were only two finishes available: white and galaxy black. Initially I leaned toward the white version, but soon after I changed my mind and settled on Galaxy Black.

Having finally settled on the guitar I wanted to buy, I began to reconsider the question of where to buy the guitar. Of course, I was still inclined to use SW even though I no longer needed to approve the look of the guitar prior to purchase. But just for sake of information gathering, I repeatedly looked at all of the major online retailers.

About this time I found a new retailer: American Musical Supply, or AMS for short. AMS had very good customer-satisfaction ratings through places like bizrate.com, etc. Also, I had managed to find reviews of people who had bought guitars through AMS and were pleased with the results. I added AMS to my short list of potential merchants.

Comparing the price of the RG2550Z across all of the online retailers – even the ones I knew I would not use – revealed something interesting. SW and AMS listed the guitar for $899 with the hardshell case, all of the other retailers had for $899 without the case or $999 with. To be precise, SW actually had the white version of the guitar for $899 and the black version for $999. However, I was pretty sure that this was a typo since nowhere had I seen the color be a price differentiator.

By this time, it was August of 2008. I had finally resolved to buy the Galaxy Black guitar from SW. All I had left to do was confirm that the $999 was, in fact, a typo and that the right price was $899. The next day, while at work, I gave them a call. Much to my surprise, I discovered that $999 was the right price. As it turned out, there was a subtle difference. The Galaxy Black version came with the case and therefore was $999. The white version of the guitar did not come with a case and hence was $899. Since both versions were shown on the same web page, this distinction was not obvious. I hung up the phone and began to think about this new tidbit of information.

That meant that SW’s price was actually the same as all of the other major online retailers. I thought they had been cheaper, but they weren’t. On the other hand, AMS really was $100 cheaper than every other retailer out there. No matter, I liked some of the things I had heard about SW and I really wanted to buy my guitar from them. And I had an ace in the hole – SW had a price guarantee. AMS had the identical guitar, with the hardshell case, for $899. SW would have to match it, right?

I called SW back and told them I wanted a price match on a guitar. I was transferred to the person who had the authority to make such a price reduction. I explained that the difference between the white and black RG2550Z guitars. I further explained that the Galaxy Black version was available from their competition for $899 with a hardshell case. The manager asked me who the retailer was. I told him American Musical Supply. Then the conversation took an unexpected twist. The manager asked me what I wanted. I thought it was obvious – no matter, I told him explicitly: I wanted the Galaxy Black guitar with a hardshell case for $899, exactly what their competition was selling. He then explained to me that Ibanez shipped the guitars from the factory either with or without the case. He said there was nothing he could do. He offered no alternative solutions. He provided no avenues for further discussion. He seemed to expect me to say okay and pay the $899 for Galaxy Black version without a hardshell case. While I understood the situation better than I had before, the manager appeared to have no understanding of my perspective. At the end of the day, AMS had the exact same guitar for the exact same price, but AMS included a hardshell case – a value of at least $100, more if you tried to buy the case separately. Given this situation, why would I buy from SW? Did they think I would pay an extra $100 if I didn't have to? And after all, I was not the one that who decided that SW needed a price-match policy. Somewhat taken aback, I said goodbye and hung up the phone.

American Musical Supply was the last retailer left standing. Their good reputation and satisfied guitar-purchasing customers had prevented me from crossing them off my list. And ultimately, their superior price eventually beat out the only other serious contender. AMS’s price of $899 for the RG2550Z with a hardshell case was a full $100 cheaper than every other online retailer. I called AMS and placed my order. My nine month ordeal of ordering a new guitar was done. All I had left to do was sit back and wait for it to arrive.

To complement the guitar, I also ordered a Fender amplifier and a Gator pedal board. In all, I spent about $1400. Due to logistics, my order was broken up into two shipments. The first, which consisted of everything except the guitar, showed up so fast that I literally believed the packages were more likely a UPS mistake rather than my order – that has never happened to me before.

My Ibanez RG2550Z Guitar Purchased From American Musical SupplySoon after, the guitar itself arrived. I have to say I have been really happy with my final choice. The guitar has amazing playability. The neck is really great. The Edge-Zero bridge is excellent. I love how the guitar never goes out of tune. The look is just awesome. I eventually did switch out the pickups for true Dimarzios (an Evo 2 in the bridge position and a PAF Pro in the neck), but I waited about a year. Check out the picture of my guitar.

If you’ve gotten to this point, I want to say thanks for reading. I know the story is anything but short. From my perspective, the point to take away from all this is that I invested a lot of time and effort into purchasing my guitar. I did not make the decision of which online merchant to use lightly. After a long and drawn out process, I chose American Musical Supply because they proved themselves to be the best, both in terms of customer service and price. The guitar arrived quickly and in perfect condition. Everything about my transaction with AMS was great. If I had it to do over again, I would choose AMS without hesitation, even if their price was no better than everybody else’s. They’ve proven to me that they take their job seriously and value each and every customer.

And that is why I strongly recommend that you use American Musical Supply for all your music related needs – especially for purchasing guitars online.

Best of luck,
Dan

Click Here to Visit American Musical Supply

Click Here to Visit American Musical Supply