Lee Anderton, also known as 'The Captain', runs one of the biggest music stores in the UK. Here, he gives his behind-the-counter view on how to find the right guitar...
What was the first guitar you ever lusted after in a shop window?
“I grew up in my father’s music store, so I probably lusted after everything at one point or another. My first ‘it will be mine’ memory was for a bright red Fender Strat - would have been a mid-to-late 80s Japanese one. I’m pretty sure I did actually buy it, but I can’t have had it for long as I have no recollection of actually using it!”
What are the most frequent questions that customers ask about guitars?
“Why is ‘Guitar X’ 10 times the price of ‘Guitar Y’ and is it worth it? I spend a lot of time discussing the law of diminishing returns! And, to be honest, it all boils down to playing it yourself again and deciding for yourself how much you want something.”
What is your best advice for trying and buying a guitar in store?
“For all the wonderful things that the internet has delivered, my biggest bugbear is the player who’s decided they’re going to like or dislike something because ‘they read it on a forum’.
“It feels to me that the more I play, the less I know. By that I just mean that it’s so important not to form an opinion on what you think you’ll like or dislike until you’ve tried it. You really don’t need to worry about Alnico this and ceramic that, or nitro vs poly, or thick vs thin etc… You just need to try it.”
How do you help someone who can’t decide between two guitars?
“Ironically, it doesn’t happen a great deal - normally in a toss up between two guitars, one will speak to you just a little bit more than the other, whether that be feel, tone or looks. There’s always something that edges it. You do get the head vs heart dilemma sometimes: head says brand X and heart says brand Y.
“For me, heart always wins, but again, each customer is different and I just encourage them to think about other things they’ve bought and decide what they’ve been most happy with - a head purchase or a heart purchase.”
Does anyone try to haggle these days?
“I think the old-fashioned haggle has largely disappeared. Back in the old days, there was always a bit of fat in the pricing that was there simply to allow the haggle to take place, but online sales have eroded that flexibility. Nowadays, the price on the item is the price you really need to sell at.
“As long as our prices are competitive, I think customers are happy to pay them without a haggle, and I think most customers would rather not haggle as it can all get a bit embarrassing, really! Price-matching is quite common and we’re always happy to look at doing something if the same item is available from a competitor for less.”
Are there classic ‘types’ of guitar buyer?
“There are all sorts, from total impulse buyers through to people who’ll research everything to the nth degree. I don’t really mind what a customer wants to do before making a decision.
“I have a really lovely customer who’s about the same age as me and has been buying from Andertons since we were both in our teens - he’ll know who he is. He will literally decide he wants something at 10 in the morning, buy it by 10.30 - or go off the idea by 11am - and then it’ll be on eBay within four weeks when he decides he wants something else.
“It’s been like this for so many years now that we actually have a laugh about it every time he buys something new. I’ve even banned him from buying certain things when I absolutely know he’s going to regret it.”
What riffs get played most in the store these days?
“There are so many great guitar bands now that we hear a huge variety of riffs coming from the demo rooms. Sweet Child O’ Mine still raises an eyebrow from the guitar team! Personally, the sound I hate the most in the store is the sound of silence.”