Why Are Music Shops Shit?

More Fun That Shopping For Music Gear
More fun than shopping for music gear.

I’m a musician. That’s my job. It even says so in my passport.

You’d think a professional musician would be able to buy the tools of their trade without too many problems. After all, I spend thousands of pounds on music gear every year, I’m a good customer. You’d think any shop would recognise I’m a high spender and value my business

You’d be wrong.

Here’s a litany of recent problems:

1. I bought a Poly Evolver Keyboard from Turnkey. Lovely synth, the only problem being that there was a fault on the outputs, resulting in an alarming intermittent crackling sound.

So, I phoned Turnkey:

Me: Hello…blah..blah faulty keyboard. I need it replacing, can you send me another unit?
TK: No sir, because of previous abuses by customers. We’ll collect that one and then see if it’s damaged.
(Previous abuses? What does that mean? And surely they have your credit card details and address so how could you nick anything? More to the point, I’m not previous customers. Check my account details, look at the thousands I’ve spent with you.)
Me: So, how long till I have a working synth?
TK: Well, we’ll get it back, check it out and then send it off for repair.
Me: So it could be weeks?
TK: Yes.
(Why should I wait round for weeks? For that matter, why should I have a repaired synth instead of a brand-new functional one?)
Me: Right, I want a refund.
TK: Ahhh…umm… we can repair it, are you sure?
Me: Yes, I’m sure, when can you collect it?
TK: Next Tuesday, I hope that’s okay?
Me: Do I have any other option?
TK: No.

Great. You’ve got my £1800, I’ve got nowt until you get the synth back, check it out and then, at your leisure, arrange a replacement.

To their credit, Turnkey collected the PEK when they said they would.

Then I waited round a couple of days. Kept checking my card: no refund. So I had to phone Turnkey and ask where my money was. Turns out, they’d forgotten all about me. And my £1800 refund. They said someone would ring back.

When TK finally phoned back, the bloke was very, very pleasant and helpful, he even offered to knock some money off and send me another PEK. Anything to avoid giving me my money back. Too little, too late. I finally got my money back a day or so later.

Do you see? A simple transaction made into a French farce. Not a good way to run a business, I would have thought.

2. I bought an AW2400 from Digital Village. On the day it arrived, I opened it up. No manual. Now, I know that music shops are famous for selling on demo / secondhand stock as new but the box genuinely seemed to not have been opened before. So, I give DV the benefit of the doubt and phone up, asking them to send me a manual. They say they’ll get right onto it.

I hear nothing.

I phone DV again. This time I’m told that they need to get one from Yamaha so they take the serial number of my AW (why?). DV also say Yamaha won’t send me a manual directly, only to them and then they’ll have to post it on to me.

I hear nothing for another few days.

All this time, I’ve been trying to record music which is my job, not a hobby, on a piece of complex gear with no manual.

I get fed up and phone again:

Me: Blah blah where’s my manual?
DV: Ahh, yeah… oh, Yamaha haven’t sent it yet. (Sounds completely bored and ‘Computer says no.’)
Me: I told you about this the day I received the machine, it’s been over a week now!
DV: Uh… yeah.
Me: Well?
DV: We’re still waiting for Yamaha to send us the manual.

The next day I phone back and demand a refund. The bloke says I can’t as it’s now over 12 days since I bought the item! That just enrages me as it’s their fault it’s 12 days later – I told them the bloody day I got it! I’d been waiting on them ever since. He says that if I return it, DV will charge me a re-stocking fee. Even better, now they’re saying they’ll charge me money for supplying gear that’s incomplete!

While I’m out, my mrs. takes a call from DV. They say they’re couriering me the manual. It arrives the next day.

Do you notice a pattern here?

The magic word is ‘REFUND.’

Unless and until you say the magic word, you get no service from these retailers. The cliche is true: once they have your money, they don’t care. You’re just some schmuck with a complaint until you ask for your money back.

Right… onto the last moan…

3. I bought a Moog Voyager from Turnkey. (You may ask why but I’ve little choice: they’re the only place in Britain that sells them. If you want a Voyager, there is literally no competition. So much for ‘free market forces.’)

At the same time, I ordered the VX-351 expander.

The Voyager arrives and it’s gorgeous. Then I unpack the VX box. There’s no output adaptor card, a little board that you have to install inside the Voyager before you can use it. Without it, the VX is just a load of sockets in a box, useless. More than that, there’s a power supply in the VX box, a Yamaha KPA-3 psu.

The VX-351 needs no power supply at all to work.

What the hell’s going on?

I take a deep, deep breath and phone Turnkey.

Me: Blah blah… no adaptor board.
TK: Really? That’s strange, you’re the third person who’s phoned up saying that.
Me: I think someone’s sent me a shop demo unit, not a stock item.
TK: No, no, we get all our VXs direct from America.
Me: So, if it’s a sealed unit, how come it’s got a Yamaha power supply in the box? Which says ‘yamaha.co.uk’ on it? And ‘only use with Yamaha equipment?’ Do Moog import the power supplies from Britain to the US and then slip them into boxes for units that don’t need them? Seems a little unlikely…
TK: Ummm… well… We’ll get you a board.
Me: Can you just send me a boxed, new VX and I’ll return this one?
TK: No, no – it’s much easier to send you a board.
Me: Where will you get the board from?
TK: Moog in the US.

I gave up then. Both the phone call and part of the will to live. So, I’ve been sent a VX-351 with no adaptor board and a superfluous Yamaha UK power supply. It’s obviously a shop unit they’re trying to pass off as new. Whoever packed it in a hurry thought the VX needed a psu and just bunged whatever was handy into the box. The VX doesn’t even have a socket that can take a power supply, for god’s sake!

And, no, they won’t simply send me a new VX-351 and pick up the incomplete / demo model. That would be far too difficult. Much better to make me wait while they order a board from the States! After all, I’m only the customer, I should spend my entire life waiting round on the foibles of music shops rather than, oh, I dunno, be in my studio actually making music!


I phoned up yesterday again. The bloke hadn’t sent anything out. But he said he’d get a VX from warehouse stock, take the card out of that and send it to me. Nothing today. If nothing turns up tomorrow morning, I’m going to phone up and try using the magic word again.

These are only three recent examples of music shop-based misery. I could list another ten or twenty incidents quite easily. I hope the above gives you a sense of how wearying and depressing I find the whole business of buying music gear. Now, whenever I order a piece of music gear from a hi-tech shop, I wonder what’s going to go wrong this time. It’s not a feeling you should have when you’re spending thousands of pounds: “Gee, I wonder how they’re going to fuck me over this time? No manual? Missing parts cos it’s demo stock sold as new? Will my hands burst into flames?”

I have to balance the negativity of this post out: I’ve had nothing but great service from music shops in Derby. Rob at Sound Control goes out of his way to demo stuff, match prices and give good advice. The same goes for Foulds but, sadly, they don’t sell any synths or hi-tech gear. I’d love to buy everything locally from good people like these but they just don’t have the items I’m after. So… I have to take my heart into my hands and go to the big players. 🙁

Let me make a final appeal: if you work at a hi-tech music shop and you’d like my £10k+ worth of sales per year, get in touch. In the next year or so, I’m looking to buy new main monitors, soundproofing / acoustic treatments, hardware rack FX (since I’ve stopped using plugins) and probably a few more synths. I would love to find a reliable, honest retailer who could demo gear to me and establish a long-term relationship. A shop that I could trust to deliver exactly what I ordered, when they said they would.

Are there any out there?