Skip to Content

Sam Ash vs Guitar Center: Which Music Store Should You Pick?

Sam Ash vs Guitar Center: Which Music Store Should You Pick?

I practically grew up in music stores. There was a local music shop near me where my brother and I got music lessons and all our instruments. But there were times when the local music store didn’t carry what we needed, so we would have to go to the corporate music stores.

In our area, we had two choices: Sam Ash and Guitar Center. I was always a Sam Ash fan and even worked there at one point. But no one can also deny the notoriety of Guitar Center. I shopped at both extensively throughout the years and realized they have pros and cons.

I decided to put the two music retailer giants head-to-head to see which one is best for musicians of all experience levels. Continue reading my Sam Ash vs Guitar Center guide to decide where to shop and take music lessons!

Bottom Line Up Front

This is a tie, and you should shop at the store that better suits your needs. Guitar Center has a bigger inventory, especially with niche and vintage items. But I’ve always had better customer service experiences at Sam Ash. I also suggest looking for local music stores.

Main Differences Between Sam Ash vs Guitar Center

The main differences between Sam Ash vs Guitar Center are:

  • Sam Ash is family-owned, whereas Guitar Center isn’t
  • Guitar Center usually has a larger inventory, whereas Sam Ash focuses more on niche items
  • Guitar Center has locations nearly everywhere, whereas Sam Ash is limited
  • Guitar Center offers nearly every music brand, whereas Sam Ash specializes in more niche brands
  • Sam Ash is better for repairs, whereas Guitar Center is better to grab the instruments and gear you need
  • Guitar Center is better for playing and testing different instruments, whereas Sam Ash is better if you know what you want

Sam Ash

Sam Ash Store

Coming from a customer and former employee of Sam Ash, I appreciated this company. They not only have a decent selection of instruments and gear but excel in different services such as repairs and lessons.

Even though my school bought band instruments from the local music shop, Sam Ash also has a great selection of brass, wind, and percussion instruments. Plus, they also offered lessons, and I can attest that they hired some of the best players when I worked there.

Sam Ash is family-owned, which has its pros and cons. As a con, they have less brand recognition than Guitar Center and don’t advertise as much as they should.

But Sam Ash still has locations throughout the country. They have flexible payment options, including financing, which is great if you need that new guitar but don’t have the money for it.


  • Better customer service than Guitar Center
  • Family-owned
  • Various services
  • Knowledgeable salespeople, repair technicians, and instructors
  • Financing options


  • Don’t have as big of an inventory

Instruments and Equipment

Instruments and Equipment

While I don’t think Sam Ash has as big of an inventory as Guitar Center, they still had a bigger inventory compared to my local music store. I recommend Sam Ash mainly for guitar and bass, drums/percussion, orchestral, and keyboards. At least where I worked, they weren’t the best option for recording, live sound, lighting, and DJing.

That said, in the departments I mentioned Sam Ash reigns, you can buy various items. They sell instruments for all music levels, high-end models, and even some limited edition and rare pieces. They also have a plethora of accessories, such as strings, picks, drumsticks, cables, and more.

Bottom line: Sam Ash has a decent inventory, though not as big as Guitar Center. They’re still a good option for many instruments and accessories.


Sam Ash carries nearly every major brand you can think of. For guitars, basses, and accessories, I would regularly see Fender, Gibson, Epiphone, Taylor, Martin, Schecter, PRS, Jackson, Ibanez, D’Addario, Ampeg, EMG, Darkglass, Boss, Korg, and so many more.

Drums and percussion also carried nearly every brand you needed. This includes Pearl, Tama, DW, Zildjian, Vic Firth, Meinl, Ludwig, Gretsch, PDP, Gibraltar, Aquarian, Evans, Alesis, and Sonor. The only downside is they don’t carry many niche brands. For example, I searched for Solar Guitars on Sam Ash, and only two guitars came up.

Bottom line: Sam Ash offers a good selection of big-brand products but is lacking with niche brands.

Warranty and Returns

Warranty and Returns

Sam Ash has a 45-day money-back guarantee. If you ordered the product online, the 45 days start the day your product was shipped.

You can return your item to a local Sam Ash store, even if you ordered it online. Sam Ash will give you a return in the form of a refund or store credit.

There are more details with this return policy, but it’s pretty legitimate. Keep in mind that all items must be in original packaging, show no wear and tear, and Sam Ash won’t refund shipping charges unless the product is defective or damaged. Certain items and products purchased from a third-party supplier can’t be refunded.

Their warranty varies, depending on what you buy. If something happens with your item, you may be entitled to a replacement product, free repairs, or a refund. I suggest knowing the warranty before purchasing anything from Sam Ash.

Bottom line: Sam Ash has a pretty fair return and warranty policy, though they largely depend on what you buy. You can return all items to a local Sam Ash store, even items you purchased online.

Customer Service

One thing I noticed about customer service at any of these music stores is it largely varies by store and who you’re talking to. In the store I worked at, there were people I thought handled better customer service than others.

But one thing I can say is Sam Ash won’t hire a novice; even if you get someone who isn’t the friendliest, they will at least be helpful and can point you in the right direction. Their online chat option is always handled by a human, never a robot. That’s a big plus for me since I hate talking to robots on the chat function.

Bottom line: Sam Ash’s customer service quality largely varies between locations. But one thing I remember is they always hire professionals. Plus, humans handle their web chat, never robots.

Music Lessons

Music Lessons

When I was first learning bass, I was deciding between taking lessons from my local music store and Sam Ash. I decided on my local music store, but there’s a reason why I considered Sam Ash.

They’re known for hiring professional musicians with teaching experience. I wish I actually went to Sam Ash for lessons when I was younger since I didn’t have the best experience with the bass teacher at the local music shop.

Sam Ash’s teaching services are flexible. Students can choose between private and group lessons. If you choose private lessons, one class usually lasts 30 minutes, but this may vary by teacher. From guitar to violin, there are various instruments you can learn.

From my experience working there, their teachers had experience teaching all levels of students, so don’t be embarrassed if you’re a beginner.

The only difference between my experience taking lessons at a local music store and Sam Ash is that Sam Ash charges a specific rate for your lesson. When I taught at the local music store, my teacher set his own rates. I like that structure better, but this largely depends on the individual.

Bottom line: Sam Ash offers private and group lessons for various instruments. From my experience, their instructors are all skilled musicians who have experience teaching. Sam Ash charges their own rates for lessons, though I prefer paying the instructor directly.


Sam Ash also offers instrument repairs. Depending on your product warranty, you may get repairs free of charge. But even if you didn’t buy your instrument or gear at Sam Ash, you may still use their repair services.

Just bring your instrument or gear to your local Sam Ash, and explain you need repairs. The tech will inspect and diagnose your problem and will offer a quote for the repair.

If I’m not mistaken, this quote is free, so don’t be afraid to ask around for other quotes (such as from Guitar Center, which I will discuss next). I mainly saw guitars in for repairs, but Sam Ash also offers this service for all string, woodwind, and brass instruments. For percussion, I suggest calling your local Sam Ash first and ensuring they offer repair services.

Bottom line: Sam Ash offers instrument repairs for all string, woodwind, and brass instruments. If you need percussion repairs, I suggest calling your local store first and asking.

Repairs may be included in your warranty for all items purchased from Sam Ash directly, but you can get any instrument or gear repaired at all locations–regardless of where you purchased it.

Buying and Selling Used Gear

Buying and Selling Used Gear

Let’s say you want to buy a new instrument, but you don’t have a lot of money to spend or are unsure if you’ll enjoy playing that instrument (if you’re new). In that case, Sam Ash sells used instruments! You can find nearly any used instrument, from drums to saxophones.

I saw every used instrument imaginable when I worked there. In addition, Sam Ash sells used gear, such as pedals and amps. I actually had friends buy used amps on Sam Ash and got a good deal on them!

I’m on the used portion of their website now. Sam Ash not only carries every used instrument, gear, and accessory you need but also from some of the biggest brands.

On their used drums and percussion section, I see Roland, Ludwig, Sabian, Mapex, Zildjian, Pearl, Paiste, and Tama. Plus, the prices are good. On the used guitar section, the first thing I saw was a Fender Strat for $500!

While you can shop online for used instruments, accessories, and gear, I suggest visiting your local Sam Ash store. All used gear may not get listed online, so it’s worth it to see if your local store has anything better than what’s listed online.

That said, Sam Ash also buys used instruments and gear. From what I’ve heard, they paid a pretty good price for used instruments and gear. I can’t say from my experience because I didn’t handle used instrument sales when I worked there.

Bottom line: Sam Ash sells used gear for a good price. You can find nearly any used instrument, accessory, and gear from Sam Ash. While Sam Ash sells used gear online, I still suggest visiting your local store to see if there’s anything that didn’t get listed online.

Guitar Center

Guitar Center

When it comes to music stores, Guitar Center is usually the first choice for most musicians. There are Guitar Center locations throughout the country, and they have an extensive online catalog.

You can find all instruments and gear here, ranging from guitars to microphones and even studio monitors.

You can find nearly every brand at Guitar Center, including vintage and niche brands. Like Sam Ash, they also offer lessons. I know quite a few teachers at Guitar Center, and they’re all professional musicians with teaching experience. You can also finance your instruments and gear, plus use their repair and maintenance services.


  • Excellent inventory and selection
  • Sells all brands, including high-end and niche companies
  • Financing options


  • Not as good of a return policy as Sam Ash

Instruments and Equipment

There’s a reason why most musicians regard Guitar Center as the most reliable place to buy instruments and gear–Guitar Center carries everything you can imagine.

Unlike Sam Ash, Guitar Center is the best place to buy anything you need. In addition to instruments, Guitar Center is one of the best places to buy amps, DJing equipment, and pro-audio. They also have a good selection of accessories, such as pedals, strings, cases, cables, stands, and drumsticks.

Keep in mind that local stores may be out of stock of what you need. I’ve needed gear before, and the Guitar Center website said the item was available at my local store.

But when I visited, it was out of stock. If you can, just order items from Guitar Center’s online store, and shop in-store for bigger purchases such as a new instrument.

Bottom line: Guitar Center carries every instrument, accessory, and gear you need. Just be mindful that your local store may not carry what you need, so shop online except if you need an instrument or other expensive item.


Guitar Center Brands

Guitar Center reigns over Sam Ash in this department. If you need a niche or vintage-brand instrument, Guitar Center should be your first stop. I used the same example, searching Solar Guitars on Guitar Center. This time, multiple guitars came up, though they’re all used.

Of course, Guitar Center sells gargantuan brands, such as Fender, Gibson, PRS, Epiphone, B.C. Rich, Jackson, and Ibanez. Guitar Center doesn’t only sell major guitar brands.

You can find all major amps and effects, such as Orange, Marshall, Blackstar, Boss, and Line 6. For drums, I see Tama, DW, Roland, Ludwig, Alesis, Zildjian, and Pearl on their website. I also see some big keyword brands, such as Yamaha, Roland, Casio, and Nord.

Bottom line: Guitar Center carries nearly every instrument and gear brand you can imagine. In addition to big names, you can find niche and vintage companies here.

Warranty and Returns

Guitar Center’s return policy is really confusing. While Guitar Center has a 45-day Satisfaction Guarantee, it doesn’t apply to all products. For example, you must return items such as DJ equipment, recording devices, and lighting/fog machines within 14 days.

Vintage instruments are more restrictive–you must return these items within three days of purchase. Some items you can’t return at all, or some come with additional fees. While you will receive a refund, Guitar Center has different pay requirements for larger returns. If your return is over $250, you will receive the return by debit card or check.

What if your instrument or gear is under warranty? They offer a Pro Coverage service, though you may want to compare this to the warranty that the manufacturer includes.

Bottom line: Guitar Center offers a 45-day guarantee, but not all instruments and gear is included in this policy. You can also opt to use Guitar Center’s Pro Coverage service, though I suggest comparing it to the one the manufacturer offers.

Customer Service

Guitar Center Customer Service

As with Sam Ash, customer service at Guitar Center varies by location. I have friends who work at Guitar Center, and I know they offer great service. However, I haven’t always had the best experience. The last time I walked in, I wanted to buy my nephew a drum pad for his birthday.

There wasn’t even a drum guy in the department! Just one of the drum instructors. He didn’t know their inventory and had no idea how to look up products online, so I ordered the drum pad from the manufacturer’s website.

That said, my experience could be different than yours, so I still suggest reaching out if you need anything. You can talk to the people who work at your local store, or you can reach out to corporate by phone, email, or chat. They offer service in both English and Spanish.

One thing I noticed about their chat is it looks like a bot. Instead of typing a query, you select the prompt you want. If you need to talk to a human, select “Request a Callback.” I prefer using a chatbot over the phone, but only if speaking to a human.

Bottom line: I haven’t had the best customer service experience at Guitar Center, but that doesn’t mean you will. Guitar Center’s customer service varies by store location. If you need to talk to corporate, you can find their contact information on the website. However, I wish a human operated their chatbot.

Music Lessons

Like Sam Ash, Guitar Center offers lessons. As I said, I know instructors at Guitar Center, and they play music professionally.

Therefore, you know you’re getting lessons from the best of the best. Guitar Center offers private lessons for guitar, bass, piano, drums, and even DJing. They also offer orchestral lessons at select locations.

Bottom line: Guitar Center offers music lessons for various instruments, and I think it’s cool that DJing is included in this. I know instructors at Guitar Center, and they’re all professional musicians with touring experience.


Guitar Center Repairs

Guitar Center offers repairs, though this service may vary by location. From the website, it seems like stringed instrument repairs make up the bulk of this service.

If you need drum and percussion repair, I suggest calling your local Guitar Center to see if they can help you (though I also suggest calling the drum company). I like how Guitar Center also offers maintenance, but most musicians learn how to do this themselves. For the repair service, Guitar Center hires the most knowledgeable techs that can handle nearly any repair.

Bottom line: Guitar Center offers repairs, though it seems like stringed instruments make up the bulk of their repairs. I still suggest calling your local Guitar Center first to ensure they can help you.

Buying and Selling Used Gear

Guitar Center also sells used instruments and gear, and I think their selection is better than Sam Ash’s. You can buy nearly anything used–guitars, basses, amps, effects, keyboards, drums, DJ, live sound, and even lights. The used gear is all available from major brands–one look at the website and I see used Ibanez and Fender guitars.

You can also sell any used instruments or gear to Guitar Center. You can either get cash for your used gear or use it toward credit on new gear. I like how Guitar Center accepts nearly all used gear, even cymbals.

The downside to selling your used gear to Guitar Center is I’ve been told they don’t always pay what they’re worth. I have a friend who used to work at Guitar Center and told me to just sell my used gear myself instead of going to Guitar Center.

Bottom line: If you want to buy used instruments or gear, Guitar Center has one of the best selections. But if you want to sell your used gear, I’ve been told that Guitar Center won’t pay for what your instrument is worth.


I’ve been introducing some of these alternatives, such as shopping at your local music store, throughout the article. But I wanted to cover this part more in-depth, so musicians know they have different options other than these chain stores.

Local Music Stores

To this day, I always prioritize my local music store. I actually bought a new guitar recently, and the local guitar shop was my first stop.

First, let’s look at the basic facts. Local music stores are, well, local. Local businesses are important to the economy, and you’re supporting the average Joe who wants to make their passion their career. Plus, the corporate chain stores have enough money.

For example, Guitar Center’s revenue is $2.1 billion, so use your hard-earned dollars toward a business that needs it more.

Plus, local music stores are more reliable. People who work there are friendlier and are more willing to work with your needs. If I ever needed anything the store didn’t have, they were always happy to order it for me. Local music stores also offer many of these services, such as lessons and repairs.

Directly From the Brand

If you know what exactly you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to see if you can order directly from the brand. Remember I said I was buying a drum pad for my nephew, and Guitar Center didn’t have it? I went on the Zildjian website and immediately found it. They shipped it directly to my nephew, who was really happy with his present!

Plus, the reps that manufacturers hire are different than customer service professionals at Guitar Center or Sam Ash.

I have friends who work for various guitar and drum companies, all of which bend backward to ensure their customers are satisfied. Since the manufacturer’s warranty covers most instruments, you’ll know who you need to contact if something happens to your gear.

The issue with this is you can’t try out the gear like you can at Guitar Center and Sam Ash, but the benefits outweigh this con, in my opinion.


If all else fails, there’s always Sweetwater. Sweetwater has one retail location in Fort Wayne, IN, but they’re best known for their online store. Like Guitar Center and Sam Ash, they have a huge inventory that varies from guitars and basses to live sound.

Sweetwater offers many of the same services that Guitar Center has, such as repairs, upgrades, and music lessons (though I’m unable to find if Sweetwater offers these services to clients who aren’t based in Fort Wayne).

There is one problem I have with Sweetwater. I ordered something from them years ago, I think a simple purchase like picks and strings. I was getting HOUNDED with phone calls, letters, and emails from their sales professionals.

It came to the point where I answered the phone and told them to stop contacting me. My other musician friends told me they had similar experiences when shopping at Sweetwater.

Read More: Sweetwater vs Guitar Center: Which Is Best for Instruments and Gear?


Question: Is ordering from Guitar Center’s online store a good idea?

Answer: I’ve never had problems. But I will suggest buying major items, such as a new instrument, in stores. While Guitar Center’s online store is fine, you can’t always trust delivery professionals.

I suggest only ordering small stuff like picks, strings, and drumsticks online. Plus, some things are better to try in stores. For example, I wouldn’t buy a new guitar or bass without playing it first.

Question: I want to sell used instruments to Guitar Center, but don’t want to settle on a low price. Can I negotiate?

Answer: It depends. From what my friends have said, Guitar Center can offer anywhere between 50%-60% of the purchase price of your gear, but certain flaws may bring the price down.

I suggest fixing any flaws and selling the instrument yourself. If you’re adamant about selling to Guitar Center, have some expert negotiation skills.

Question: I want to work at a music store! Should I apply to Guitar Center or Sam Ash?

Answer: I suggest applying to both places. Still, the workplace culture varies between locations. I loved everyone I worked with at Sam Ash, and the clientele was great, but Sam Ash in the next city could have had a toxic workplace culture. I never worked at Guitar Center, but have been told it is similar.

The pay wasn’t great, so I recommend taking this as a first job for a musician or if you’re new to a city and want to make connections in the local music scene. The role you apply to also varies. Salespeople get an hourly wage plus a commission. If you’re great at selling gear, you can make decent money.

Don’t forget to apply to local music stores, especially if you’re a teacher. As I said, I discovered my old vocal and bass teachers charged their own rates rather than using the store’s rate. This way, you can make more money. Again, all local shops vary, so make sure you ask about pay before accepting the job.

Sam Ash vs Guitar Center: Bottom Line

This is a tie. Guitar Center and Sam Ash are both reputable music chain stores, but they both have their pros and cons.

If you want a smaller and family-owned chain, I suggest shopping at Sam Ash. If you’re looking for customer service, I suggest shopping at Sam Ash. Plus, I like Sam Ash’s return policy better. But Guitar Center has a bigger inventory, including for niche and vintage brands. Don’t forget to consider shopping at your local music store.

Read More: Guitar Center vs Musician’s Friend: Should You Stick to a Retail or Online Music Shop?