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Sam Ash vs Guitar Center (Here’s the Overall WINNER!)

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When it comes to purchasing a musical instrument, nothing beats an in-store experience—that is, walking into an actual shop and buying it. This has the unique advantage of allowing you to physically examine the instrument you want to buy.

This way, you most likely will never make the mistake of choosing an instrument with very obvious defects or physical deficiencies. It is very common for musical instrument buyers to make returns and demand changes or refunds after purchasing instruments online. 

Obviously, when you buy online, there are things and aspects you will never get to examine until the instrument arrives. For example, you cannot tell how high a guitar action is by merely looking at photos online or tell how well-aligned the guitar neck is. You only hope for the best. 

On that note, although Sam Ash and Guitar Centre both offer in-store and online options for buying musical instruments, they are mostly known for their in-store options. Apart from having a very massive stock of musical instruments, this also makes them better than solely-online stores like Amazon. 

The battle between Sam Ash and Guitar Center has been and will remain a pretty tough one. The truth is that both of these stores are amazing in both their service and musical instrument stocks. 

The shopping experience you get by patronizing both are pretty much the same. On the other hand, they both boast quite a massive collection of top-quality musical instruments. 

However, some people are of the opinion that Guitar Centre has a larger and broader collection of vintage musical instruments when compared to Sam Ash. In other aspects, they are pretty much evenly matched. 

In this article, we will compare and contrast both Guitar Centre and Sam Ash and decide which is best for you. We will carry out this comparison under several separate headings in order to have a better and more levelled battleground. 

If you have been wondering which is the best between these two or which to use for your next in-store or online musical instrument purchase, then all you have to do is read on!

All About Sam Ash

Sam Ash is one of the oldest, if not the oldest still-operating, music instrument retailers in America. This business was founded by Samuel Ashkynase in 1924 when he opened up the first retail store in Brooklyn, New York. 

Ashkynase was professionally a violin teacher and also a gigging musician. He wanted to supplement his income by opening up a business of his own. Initially, Sam Ash focussed on the sale and repair of percussion instruments, especially the Jazz drums. 

Over time, Sam Ash started growing its product range and soon took the form of a fully equipped music store. 

Currently, Sam Ash operates over 45 stores across America with a presence in several states including New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, Texas, and many more. 

In the early years, Sam Ash expanded exponentially in New York, opening up many branches in the area. Sam Ash still operates its flagship physical location at 333 W 34th Street NY. Today, they are known for having a very broad selection of musical instruments, audio equipment, and accessories. 

Sam Ash is a one-stop music store today where you can find percussion instruments, drums, guitars (acoustic, electrics and hybrids), keyboards, pianos, wind instruments, orchestral instruments (cellos, trumpets, violins and other classical instruments), bass guitars, etc. 

You will also find a selection of brass instruments, a great selection of DJ equipment and several kinds of accessories including strings, cables, cases, pedals, OEM parts, music literature and also a very capable repair shop where you can get all kinds of instruments repaired. 

Sam Ash caters to a diverse spectrum of customers with all kinds of skill levels and interests ranging from hobbyists to professional musicians to audio professionals, DJs, orchestras, enthusiasts and just about anyone who needs some kind of music-related product or service. 

In addition to music equipment, they also deal in instrument repairs, music lessons, workshops, and instrument rentals. In fact, instrument repairs are a very important area of their business with their technicians being some of the best in the country. 

Currently, Sam Ash caters to both in-store and online customers. 

All About Guitar Centre

Guitar Center was founded in 1959 by Wayne Mitchell in Hollywood, California. Initially, it was called The Organ Center as the business focussed on selling organs for home and church use. 

However, in 1964, one of his organ suppliers informed Mitchell that he would also need to stock Vox guitar amplifiers if he wanted to continue receiving organs. Upon hearing this he renamed the business to The Vox Center and added the Vox amp to his stock. 

At the time, The Beatles were incredibly popular and were associated with the Vox Brand and Mitchell benefited from the scenario. In the following decade, the business expanded to a few more locations in California operating a total of 8 stores. 

By the late 1960s, other brands such as Marshal and Fender were also becoming incredibly popular so Mitchel once again changed the name to The Guitar Center. After this, the business went through a lot of changes but the name stuck and has remained till today. 

In these different phases of evolution, there was also the addition of more equipment, more products and an overall diversification of inventory. What started off as just an organ shop soon became a music store where you could get anything related to music production. 

Today, Guitar Center still specializes in selling guitar-related equipment but they also have an excellent selection of keyboards, pianos, drums, wind instruments, wood instruments, orchestral instruments, DJ gear and electrical musical equipment, and instrument accessories. 

Currently, Guitar Center is headquartered in Westlake Village, California and operates over 300 stores across the United States. In 2014, Guitar Center opened a flagship 28000-square foot store in Madison, New York; after the pandemic of 2020, it has been permanently closed. 

Also, Guitar Center is popular for the Guitar Center Legends Collection. This is a collection of some of the most popular guitars in history that were used by musicians such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray

These are the actual instruments that these musicians used. These guitars are installed in a special display and they tour the world visiting different events and functions where people can view them. 

In 1996, Guitar Center went public (when it had 30 locations) and since then, has seen several changes in ownership as well as many acquisitions. Currently, Guitar Center has parent companies Areas Management and Guitar Center Holdings Inc. 

Currently, Guitar Center caters to both in-store and online customers. 

Sam Ash vs Guitar Centre

Choosing the best retailer to source your music gear from can be a challenging question. There are a number of factors that you should consider to not only get the most value for the money you spend but also to ensure convenience during the purchase. 

Apart from convenience during the purchase, peace of mind after the purchase is also quite important, too. 

In this section, we look at some of the most important things you should consider when buying music gear and how each of these two competitors stack up against each other in these areas.

In-store Service  

Sam Ash has a more personalized and homely kind of service. It is a smaller business and it is a family-owned business which is currently owned and operated by the third and fourth generations of the family. 

At least, at the stores that are run by the owners directly you will get a unique experience where you get to talk to people who have been around music and musical instruments for several decades. 

Of course, there are hundreds of employees managing the stores; however, it is still a more close-knit environment. 

Guitar Center certainly has a more commercial feel to it. If you are looking to go into a store and you already know what you want, then there is no problem with that. However, if you want to do business with an institution where you can have a personal relationship, this is not ideal. 

However, the kind of staff you engage with will vary depending on the specific people you meet. This is not to say that the in-store services at Guitar Center are bad, they just aren’t as intimate as Sam Ash. 

Selling Environment

Some people are of the view that because Sam Ash has a personalized and close-knit environment the atmosphere is more laid back, more personal and more easygoing. 

The environment at Guitar Center is more upbeat, energetic and flashy. Of course, differences will exist depending on which location you visit. 

Stock (Musical Instruments)

This is where both stores can differ quite a bit and then there is even more variation depending on which store you visit. Overall, Guitar Center will have a bigger selection of instruments to choose from no matter which category you consider (drums, guitars, keyboards, etc). 

Sam Ash doesn’t stock as many products as Guitar Center nor does it have the same level of variety. Moreover, both retailers vary in which product line they promote for certain brands. 

For instance, at Guitar Center, for higher-end guitars, you will find plenty of Martins while Sam Ash will have plenty of Taylors. Similarly, the overall variety is greater at Guitar Center. 

When you walk into a Guitar Center branch, you can find a certain model of guitar in all of its colour combinations, finishes, setups and variations. 

Whereas, at Sam Ash, you will only see the main versions of that guitar, or maybe even just a single version, and you will need to have your particular kind specially ordered if it isn’t available. 

However, differences do exist from one location to another. If you are looking for variety, generally, any Guitar Center location will be good but if you want to explore variety at Sam Ash, try visiting the biggest location near you. 

Customer Service

Both Sam Ash and Guitar Center have dedicated customer service departments. These are the departments you would be in contact with when it comes to handling, returns, online transactions, general customer services, inquiries, exchanges, and all other CS needs. 

However, since this is something that really depends on the specific customer service representative that you are dealing with, it is hard to say whether one is better than the other. 

Overall, both companies have dedicated departments so there is at least a base level of service that you can expect since all staff do receive some basic training and there are some checks and balances in place. 

However, individual experiences will vary depending on the service provided by the specific professional that you are in contact with. 

Payment Methods

One of the biggest challenges for both online sellers and online buyers is payment gateways. Luckily, both Sam Ash and Guitar Center support a variety of online payment solutions including credit cards and debit cards as well as financing where applicable. 

However, payment solutions can vary from product to product and certain in-store locations may support different payment solutions. 

You will have to verify from their official site for the particular product you need or check at an outlet to see what payment options are available for the products you need.

Shipping (for online buyers)

If you are in the United States, then buying products from either of these stores online and getting them shipped will not be a problem. 

Using local couriers you can get your product delivered on the same day, the next day or within regular ground shipping days (typically 2-5 days). Both vendors support multiple shipping options so you can choose delivery based on your preferences. 

International shipping varies for each vendor. Guitar Center currently supports international shipping to over 100 countries while Sam Ash does not disclose which countries they currently ship to or which products they can ship due to supplier obligations. 

Also, shipping prices for international deliveries can vary significantly depending on the destination country, the product, the shipping options used and applicable taxes and import/export duties.

It’s important to note that not all products can be shipped internationally. Sam Ash also supports international shipping but you will have to check with their support team to see whether or not a certain product can be shipped to a certain location and how much it will cost. 

Deals and Promotions

Both these companies regularly feature deals and promotions on various products and even on entire product lines. They usually have sale events around special times of the year such as Black Friday sales or Christmas sales. 

Then they also have clearance items, bundle offers and special financing options. Sale prices and discounts on certain products can vary significantly between the two companies.

On that note, it is best to look at the specific product that you need and find out what kinds of deals both companies are offering at that particular time of year. 

Overall, since Guitar Center has a larger inventory, you are more likely to find products and sales at discounted values with Guitar Center. 

Also, both companies deal in used products which also go up for sale at different times of the year. If you are looking for something at a discount, it’s best to check both retailers to see where you can get a better deal. 


Pricing is a challenging subject. For some products, prices can vary significantly while for other products, both retailers have the same prices. Also, there are certain products that are unique to each seller so pricing for those products cannot be compared to the other.

If you are looking for used products, again the pricing will be unique since these are one-off items and each is priced accordingly. Overall, both of these retailers offer good prices but they still might be a bit pricier than online stores. 

Music Education Programs

Both these retailers provide music education services. However, the course curriculum, the instructors and even which courses are available can vary significantly according to location. 

Get in touch with the specific outlet that you want to visit for music education to see what they are offering and what they charge for classes.


Both retailers also offer equipment on a rental basis. These are typically short-term rentals lasting a few days or at most a couple of weeks. 

Overall, Guitar Center has a larger offering of rental goods since they hold a bigger and more diverse inventory than Sam Ash. 

Pricing for instruments on rent will also vary depending on the instrument you want, the condition of the instrument, the duration of the rental agreement, and other factors. It is best to talk to your local outlet to see how rentals will work for you.


Both these retailers provide technical services as well such as instrument repairs and instrument servicing. 

Sam Ash is very well known among music professionals for high-quality work when it comes to repairs but this is not to say that Guitar Center is not competent. 

Overall, Sam Ash has a better market value when it comes to repairs but Guitar Center also offers repair services along with general instrument maintenance services. 

Online Resources

If you want to learn about music, instruments, playing certain instruments, or even get a historical perspective on any aspect of music, both these retailers have excellent online knowledge platforms. 

This includes blogs and videos covering product reviews, How-Tos, informational content and general content about music, artists, genres, and other subjects.

Store Atmosphere

When you walk into Guitar Center, you are surrounded by instruments. There are different sections for different instrument groups and you have the option to comfortably sit down, try out instruments at your own pace and see what fits your bill. 

Sam Ash, on the other hand, also has a good store atmosphere but their stores are usually much smaller, they aren’t always custom-built for displaying instruments and it can sometimes be difficult to get a good feel for the instrument just because they’re not easily accessible or the acoustics of the space don’t give you a good idea of the instrument. 

In this category, Guitar Center takes the lead with its purpose-built and well-organized stores. 

Private Brands 

If you are in the market for something that isn’t too pricey but is also brand new and you can be sure that it will be of decent quality then both Sam Ash and Guitar Center have their own brands that you can look into. 

Sam Ash has their own line of products that are known as Sam Ash Gear, whereas, Guitar Center has various house brands such as Mitchell and Williams. 

Overall, these private brands present good value products and you can find a lot of instruments at more affordable price points. 

Community Engagement 

Both these retailers have active community engagement programs. They frequently conduct workshops, training seminars, community events and music clinics in different cities across the US. 

If you are a new musician, or even a seasoned professional, and you want to be a part of a larger music community these events are a great place to network and meet new people. Certain store locations do tend to have more events than others. 

Trade-In Used Gear

As both these retailers sell used products, they both also offer the option to trade in used gear. Usually, these goods can be adjusted for something you buy in the store or you can just sell gear for cash. 

Prices for the gear you want to trade in will vary on factors such as the condition of the product and the price of the product itself. 

However, prices can also vary from one location to the next so there is no harm in getting a valuation from a couple of different stores to make sure you are getting the best price possible.

Return Policy 

Both these stores have return policies but there are some differences. Usually, return policies will also vary depending on the product, whether you are buying online or offline, whether you are getting it shipped locally or internationally, and many other factors. 

To get a better idea of the return policy, read the specific policy for the instrument, or product class of goods you want to get. 

Loyalty Programs 

If you regularly need to buy instruments or audio gear it would be good to look into the loyalty programs these two retailers offer. Sam Ash has a loyalty program known as Preferred Player Rewards and Guitar Center has a similar program by the name of Guitar Center Gear Card. 

In both programs, you are able to earn loyalty points on each purchase which can later be used for discounts, special financing options, or rewards. 

Sam Ash Guitar Center
In-store ServiceExcellentExcellent
Selling EnvironmentExcellentExcellent
Stock (musical instruments)GoodExcellent
Customer ServiceGoodGood
Payment MethodsAll major payment solutions supportedAll major payment solutions supported
Shipping (for online buyers)YesYes
Deals and PromotionsYesFrequent
PricesCompetitive but will vary depending on productCompetitive but will vary depending on product
Music Education ProgramsYesYes
Online ResourcesYesYes
Store AtmosphereGood but varies depending on locationVery good
Private BrandsYesYes
Community EngagementYesYes
Trade-In used gearYesYes
Return PolicyReturns are possible but it varies depending on the productReturns are possible but it varies depending on the product
Loyalty ProgramPreferred Player RewardsGuitar Center Gear Card

Alternatives to Sam Ash and Guitar Centre

There are both physical stores and online stores that are alternatives to Sam Ash and Guitar Center. Here are some options for you to explore. 

Local Music Stores – Sam Ash and Guitar Center are popular big-box stores however there are a lot of other smaller music stores that still exist. This includes the small neighbourhood music stores or the one-off stores you find at local markets and malls. 

These are great places to get instruments and you can even run into some rare equipment. These smaller stores may not always have the best prices but there is no harm in having a look and maybe you can strike a deal. 

Sweetwater – If you want to buy online then the best resource will be sweetwater.com. This is a United States-based online retailer so shipping will be convenient and delivery will be quick. 

Sweetwater has a massive selection of products so you will most likely be able to find what you are looking for. You can also get used gear and you can also buy, sell or trade through Sweetwater. 

Official Stores – If you are in the market for a very specific product from a certain manufacturer have a look at their official site. Chances are that you may be able to buy directly from the manufacturer. 

This will give you a good price and you can be confident that it is a genuine product. 

General Marketplaces – Places like Amazon and eBay are also good options when you want to buy gear. On Amazon, you can get a good price and also benefit from quick Amazon delivery. 

eBay also has a large selection of private sellers who are selling both brand-new and used equipment. 

Specialized Marketplaces – There are also certain marketplaces that are specially for buying, selling or trading musical instruments. One such example is Reverb which is an online marketplace where you can buy and sell instruments. 

However, there are also many physical marketplaces that you can visit where such trades are possible. 

If you are looking for a used instrument then these marketplaces will be a great place to look since you can buy directly from the owner and save yourself from commissions that brokers usually charge. 

International Sellers – There are also a number of international marketplaces and manufacturers that you can buy from. One such prominent example is Thomann which is an online retailer based in Germany that easily ships goods to the US. 

There are many other manufacturers located all around the globe and many similar marketplaces where you can buy internationally and have the goods shipped to the US. 

Sam Ash vs Guitar Centre – Which is Better?

If you want to try out an instrument in person then consider visiting Guitar Center. You will have access to a large selection, you will be in a good environment to test the instrument; you will be able to buy at competitive prices. 

If you want to explore musical gear and you want to go to a good shop but don’t want to go to any old shop in the neighbourhood then Sam Ash is a great place to visit. 

You will get a good selection of products, the prices are good, and it has a unique atmosphere which is an experience in itself. 

The fact is that your experience with either of these two retailers can vary tremendously depending on where you are and exactly which store you visit. 

This is why it is highly recommended that you visit more than one store of each brand to get a good idea of what they offer in terms of products and services. 

If you are buying online and you don’t really need to inspect the instruments in person then buying from both these stores is a good idea. Just look for where you can get a better deal and also look for things like shipping and after-sales services. 

Alternatively, there are other online retailers that can also offer good prices, if not better than these two stores. When buying online it’s advisable to explore as many options as possible. 


When buying any kind of music gear it is important to do your research to really understand the instrument. You want to make sure it will suit your needs, it will work like how you expect it to, and it is actually the right investment for your situation. 

However, before buying, always try to get hands-on experience. Something that may sound great in theory may not perform very well in real life, or it may just not be a great match for you based on style, performance, or any other number of individual characteristics. 

Also, keep an eye on factors such as after-sales services, support, and convenience when buying instruments. Price is not the only thing you need to look out for.