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A music store or musical instrument store is a retail business that sells musical instruments and related equipment and accessories. In United States and Canada, most music stores in the 2010s sell a range of electric instruments (e.g., electric guitars), instrument amplifiers (e.g., guitar amplifiers); electronic instruments (e.g., synthesizers); drum kits (including drums, cymbals and percussion instruments) and acoustic classical, concert band and jazz musical instruments such as saxophones, trumpets and violins. In addition, stores typically sell (and sometimes rent) the sound reinforcement system and PA system gear used in live concert performances and the sound recording equipment used to record music, such as microphones and digital recorders.
In the 2010s, music stores can be "bricks and mortar" stores (either individual small businesses or chain stores, which may be a regional or national chain); online musical instrument stores, which consist of a website describing the merchandise, various online payment systems, and shipping or delivery systems; or hybrid stores that have both "bricks and mortar" stores and an online store. Some "bricks and mortar" music stores also provide services for a fee, such as music lessons, musical instrument repair and guitar amplifier repair.
In the 2010s, general music stores typically carry a range of instruments used in popular music and traditional music such as the electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, guitar strings, instrument amplifiers (guitar amplifier, bass amplifier and keyboard amplifier), electronic effects (e.g., distortion pedals), electronic keyboards (including digital pianos, stage pianos, clonewheel organs and synthesizers), drum kit components, which include drums, cymbals, drum and cymbal stands and drum accessories (drum sticks, drum heads, etc.) and percussion instruments (e.g., tambourine, shakers, etc.). Some stores carry other types of stringed instruments, such as mandolins and ukuleles.
General music stores also typically carry sound reinforcement system gear such as microphones, small-to mid-sized mixing consoles designed for live sound, speaker enclosures, PA systems, power amplifiers and mic stands and sound recording equipment such as studio microphones, recording-oriented mixing consoles, digital recording systems, digital audio workstations and digital audio software (e.g., softsynths, virtual instruments, ProTools, etc.).
General music stores may also sell brass instruments (e.g., trombone, trumpet, etc.), woodwind instruments (flute, clarinet, saxophone, etc.) and instruments from the violin family (violin, viola, cello and bass), but there is usually a smaller selection of these instruments, as compared with the guitar, bass and drum sections.
Some music stores also sell sheet music, including popular music, traditional music and Broadway songs, movie soundtrack scores, classical music pieces and instrument methods and studies ("etudes"). In the 2010s, some stores also sell instructional music DVDs and play-along CDs, which typically contain sheet music with the written melodies, which the performer can play or sing while a recording of each song or piece's accompaniment plays on a CD player.
Some music stores also provide services to customers for a fee, such as instrument maintenance and repair, amplifier and sound gear repairs, and/or music lessons. Some music stores rent guitars, basses, amplifiers, stage pianos and PA system equipment.
Larger cities may have a large enough population to support both general music stores and specialized music stores. Music stores in smaller towns tend to be general music stores, because there is not enough of a customer base to support specialized music stores. In the 2010s, general music stores have had to face competition from online music stores, which offer a huge selection of instruments and equipment.
Electric guitars started appearing in the 1930s and are one of the most popular musical instruments to buy from a music store. Electric guitars can be heard in all types of music from pop, rock, blues, jazz, heavy metal, funk, hip hop. Mainstream electric guitars stores sell well-known brands like Gibson, Fender and Ibanez. Most guitar stores sell six-string models, bass guitars, left handed guitars and electric guitar packages for beginners, which typically include a budget-priced electric guitar, a small practice amplifier, a strap and picks.
Guitar World magazine states that since guitar stores require patrons to try out guitars and amplifiers in the premises, some guitar players are nervous about playing in front of the store staff and other patrons. The columnist, Tyler Larson, states that apart from playing too loud, which is avoided, patrons should feel confident to test out the guitars and amplifiers in the guitar stores, because "...real musicians never look down on anybody for being at a different skill level". A University Press of Kentucky book on women in music states that customers did not treat a woman who worked at a guitar store like she knew anything about guitars until she would use special guitar terms. Indie folk singer-songwriter/guitarist Ani di Franco states that for women, in the past, even entering a guitar store was an "act of courage" because it felt like a "boys' club".
One common specialty store is the piano store, which typically sells a range of upright pianos and grand pianos. In the 2010s, some piano shops also sell grand pianos equipped with a digital player piano mechanism that can play back a recorded performance by activating the hammers. In the 2010s, some piano stores sell high-end digital pianos.
In 2015, The Guardian reported that in the US, piano stores have been closing, "...as kids snub lessons for other activities" such as amateur sports, as people taking piano lessons opt for much less costly "electronic keyboards or used pianos" and as children in the 2010s shift their interests away from traditional activities like piano lessons and towards newer computer-oriented activities.
Another challenge for piano stores selling new instruments is that there are piano technicians who repair good-quality used pianos and sell them at much less than the cost of a new instrument. Some piano stores offer rental of new pianos; as well, some piano stores sell used pianos. In 2015, it was reported that historic Detroit piano stores were closing. As well, in 2015, it was reported that "...US piano stores [are being] forced to close as recession, new technology [such as electronic keyboards] and cultural change take their toll." Another factor in the declining sales of pianos in the US is that pianos last a long time; high-quality, properly-maintained pianos can remain playable for 60 to 80 years after their original purchase. The high price of pianos is one factor that is causing the closing of piano stores: "A good grand piano from a respected name costs about as much as a luxury automobile", and as such, children (and their parents) are choosing less expensive instruments, such as electronic keyboards or stringed instruments.
However, in China, "piano sales are booming", with most of these piano sales being intended for home use; this rise in sales is in part because the costly instruments are viewed as a status symbol in China.
In the basement below the Steinway piano showroom in New York City, a selection of professional grand pianos are available, so that visiting piano performers playing a recital or doing a sound recording can select the instrument with their preferred sound.
Another specialty shop is the "violin shop", which, despite its name, often sells various violin family instruments (violin, viola, cello and often double bass, and the bows, strings, rosin, chinrests, and other accessories used with these instruments). Violin shops are often operated by luthiers (violinmakers) who make violin family instruments and bows for sale. Luthiers also do maintenance and repairs on violin family instruments and bows.
According to PBS Newshour, one US violinmaker who sells his instruments is combining his extensive knowledge of centuries-old violin-building techniques with 2010s-era technology such as "CT scans" and "3D lasers", which are giving him new insights into his violin design and construction approaches.
Sheet music stores sell printed classical music for songs, instrumental solo pieces, chamber music, and scores for major symphonies and choral works, along with instrumental method books, "etudes" (studies) and graded musical exercises. Many sheet music stores also carry printed music songs for popular music genres such as rock, pop and musical theatre including individual songs and collections of songs grouped by artist, musical, or genre. Music for guitarists or electric bass players may be in tabulature notation, which depicts where on the instrument the performer should play a line. In the 2010s, sheet music stores often sell legal, copyright-compliant jazz fake books. Sheet music stores often carry some practice accessories, such as metronomes, music stands and tuning forks.
Specialized music stores that sell only guitars, only basses or only drums are more likely to be found in major cities. Guitar and bass-focused stores typically sell instruments and the amplifiers and effects pedals used with these instruments.
Pro audio stores sell and in many cases, rent sound reinforcement system components, PA systems, microphones and other audio gear. Some stores also rent "backline" musical gear, such as stage pianos and bass amps.
Prior to the widespread availability of lightweight electronic clonewheel organs in the 1980s and 1990s that emulate the sound of a heavy, electromechanical Hammond organ, many cities had organ stores which sold large electric and electronic theatre organs and spinet organs made by Hammond, Lowrey and other manufacturers. These organs were sold for use in private homes and in churches; electric and electronic organs were popular for churches, because they cost significantly less than a pipe organ.
Some music stores sell used, vintage or collectible instruments and sound gear, often using a consignment model, in which the store only pays the seller for her instrument when it is sold. Even though there has been a major shift towards the use of electronic and digital instruments and sound gear in the 2000s, there is still a strong interest in vintage instruments amongst musicians who play blues, roots rock, Americana and indie rock. Vintage instruments that are sought out include 1950s and 1960s Hammond organs, Fender Bassman amps and electric guitars, 1970s Fender Rhodes electric pianos and old analog effects, such as 1970s and 1980s stompbox pedals. Stores that mostly sell used equipment may also sell some new merchandise, such as new guitar strings, patch cords and mic cables. Conversely, some stores that mostly sell new equipment may also sell some vintage, used equipment (typically a small number of high-priced collectible instruments).
In the 2000s, some music stores sell their instruments and sound gear through a website that contains digital photos of the equipment, which are grouped into categories (e.g., electric guitars, amplifiers, PA gear). Each photo of a product is accompanied by the name and model number of each item, a description of each product's features and the price. The sophistication of online music stores varies. Some online music stores have a single photo of the item, the product name and price, and a few bullets about the features. On the other hand, some online music stores have interactive Web 2.0 features, such as 360-degree virtual reality-style images of the products, in which the viewer can "turn" the product around to see the back and sides, online comments sections where customers can review their purchases and additional music-related content, such as articles on musical instruments or sound gear written by store staff. Patrons pay electronically at online music stores using a credit card, PayPal or other electronic payment systems. The goods are shipped through the mail or by express delivery companies such as FedEx. Some music stores sell their products solely online. In other cases, some stores operate both a "bricks and mortar" store (or chain) and an online store.
When Jim Foster opened his piano store 30 years ago, he had 10 competitors selling just pianos. When he closed Foster Family Music in late December, not one was still selling pianos in the Quad-Cities area of Iowa and Illinois. "We did try hard to find a buyer," Foster said. There were no takers. Stores dedicated to selling pianos like Foster's are dwindling across the country as fewer people take up the instrument and those who do often opt for a less expensive electronic keyboard or a used piano. Some blame computers and others note the high cost of new pianos, but what's clear is that a long-term decline in sales has accelerated. The best year for new piano sales in the US was 1909, when more than 364,500 were sold. But after gently falling over the years, piano sales have plunged more recently to between 30,000 and 40,000 annually.
All across the country, there's a sad epidemic spreading much like the annual winter curse of the flu that sidelines scores of people each year. This sickness, though, is one of the heart, and of the soul, as many historic piano stores across the nation are closing their doors as interest in the once-immensely popular instrument fades in the modern era. It's no secret that pianos are becoming less and less popular in today's modern home, as reported by new statistics released this week. Nowhere is that more evident than in Detroit, with piano sales plummeting here in the Motor City. With so many homes in foreclosure and many other buildings, such as schools, dilapidated and awaiting to be torn down, pianos are a much more common sight to see backed away into the corner of a dusty garage or left behind after a hasty foreclosure from the bank. In short, pianos are a luxury that Detroiters simply seem to be able to no longer afford.
Steinway plans to use the space beneath the showroom the way it has long used the basement on 57th Street, as a destination for concert pianists who can try different instruments and choose one for their recitals or recording sessions.