A quick guide to shopping for musical instruments (or anything else) when you are overwhelmed by the options

Did you ever try to research buying a new musical instrument or accessory, then got lost in the variety of options? Something supposedly simple like buying a distortion pedal, a headphones amplifier, or even a guitar cable, can generate hours or days of research and analysis paralysis. I’ve been there.

how to shop for musical instruments

I hate shopping research, so I came up with a process that works for me and enables me to make smart and fast purchases. The method described here uses Amazon, as that is where I normally shop, but:

  • With minor adjustments, this method can fit other shopping platforms
  • You can use the knowledge you get from an Amazon research to shop anywhere else – no other shopping site has a system of reviews as developed as Amazon’s. Once you find the product that is right for you on Amazon, you can go ahead and buy it somewhere else – even in a local store.

So here is my method.

  1. Go to Amazon.com (or your local Amazon store)
  2. Make a query, as specific as possible, in the search bar. For example, I recently looked for a midi controller with a USB connection.
  3. Amazon offers free shipping in some locations, and when you are on a budget, the price of shipping makes a big difference. If free shipping on select items is available where you live, tick the checkbox on the left bar that says free shipping, or, eligible for free shipping.
  1. Also in the left bar – filter results by those that have 4 stars and up. I don’t buy products that have less than 4 stars unless there’s a really good reason for that.
  2. On the right, you will find the sort drop-down. Select sort by price – low to high. At this point, we are left with the products that are eligible for free shipping and have average reviews of 4 stars and up, and they are sorted from the lowest price to the highest.
  3. Begin reviewing the relevant products by order, starting from the cheapest one. Don’t trust the ratings of products that don’t have a significant number of reviews. A product with a score of 4.3 from 967 reviewers is better than a product with a perfect score of 5 from 3 reviewers.
  4. Note: if you have the money/time to experiment with new products, you can get cheap deals for buying new products that have no reviews or very few reviews. I normally prefer to buy products that have a significant number of reviews, especially when the products are in the more expensive range.
  5. Examine the reviews:
    1. Read the product’s worst reviews, just to learn what the possible issues with the product are. This can teach you a lot, for example you might find that the product is not compatible with Windows/Mac etc.
    2. Read the product’s latest reviews, as they are telling of the state of the product now. Bad reviews written 3 years ago about the service or product could have been taken into account, and positive changes may have been made; on the other hand, perhaps the manufacturer is cutting on costs by reducing the quality of the product, and you will see less satisfaction in the latest reviews.
    3. If you have specific concerns, use the “Looking for specific info?” tool, which performs a search in customer Q&A and reviews. Searching for “latency” for example will bring up all reviews mentioning latency. If there are no answers to your concern in the reviews and you can hold off on the purchase, you can add your own question, and the seller/other buyers can provide an answer. Depending on the popularity of the product, an answer may arrive within a few hours!
  6. For most locations, Amazon will calculate customs duty for you and include it in your checkout price. If it doesn’t, check your local regulations so there are no surprises when you receive the product.
  7. Check the return policy if you are concerned. Some stores, Amazon included, offer return shipping paid by them on specific items.
  8. Place your order!

That’s it.

Remember that buying less stuff, in general, is a good idea. If you are looking for accessories, here is my post about the low-budget instruments that work for me. In the meantime, I wish you carefree shopping and good luck!

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