You’ve met them too. The ‘salespeople’ in most of the shops in Denmark Street. The primary qualification for these positions seems to be a loathing of potential customers and a deep-seated reluctance to know anything about what’s being sold.
Over many years, I’ve been pitched so much rubbish, invariably delivered in an overheated and impatient ‘look, pond life, you’re lucky I’m wasting my time talking to you. I know what you want and I’m right, ok, just get out of my hair so I can get back to showing off my latest riff to the passing trade’.
Outright wrong descriptions of materials and components leavened with an overdose of misinformed prejudice are commonplace. I remember a lengthy diatribe from one such ‘gentleman’, delivered staccato between between bursts of fast widdlywiddly, about why humbuckers had single coils and were better. Or another, in an acoustic specialist’s, completely misinformed rehearsal of soundhole pickups.
I don’t doubt that the pay is derisory, but that’s no reason to abuse or wilfully mislead customers, and anyway the job has its perks. You can learn more than these people know in five minutes on the web, so why do they do it? I guess they’re just bored, bitter and take pleasure in misleading the less knowledgeable with a sneer. It wasn’t always this way – the old Top Gear shop, now occupied by Rockers, used to indulge me for hours as a schoolkid/student. When I started earning, I paid them back in spades, buying many fine instruments from them.
And now the cowboys are moving in on ‘vintage’ gear, you have to watch the merchandise as well as the staff. There’s some very interesting reading if you Google ‘fake vintage music ground’. The same company, having now Phoenixed itself out of various liabilities, owns most of the shops on the street, which is a pretty good indication of what you should expect. And it’s being prosecuted for allegedly fencing stolen gear – lots of it.
There are two exceptions – Vintage & Rare, which is straight and carries decent but stupidly expensive gear, though it is downright reluctant to actually sell anything worthwhile; and Angel Music, where Andy has some nice mid-range stiff and is also pretty straight.
Go to any guitar shop almost anywhere else and you will have an excellent chance of meeting knowledgeable, attentive shop staff who will guide you skilfully towards a good purchase (if always just over your budget!). But avoid Denmark Street unless you’re desperate.
Ps has anyone ever seen the guys in Ivor Mairants even clock, let alone serve, a customer? It’s a mystery how that place pays the rent while the the staff seem to run it as their private practice room!
You do get some nice chaps on Denmark Street – Wunjo’s staff are usually cool, and are fine with letting a scruffy longhair in a Decapitated t-shirt pick up a Jazzmaster and noodle for a bit (one even clocked my t-shirt and chatted to me for a while about the merits of Pig Destroyer’s new album!). Westside Distribution is a newer one, which is also great – they’re never anything but happy to plug a top-end Schecter into a Dual Rec half-stack and let me have a blast – but I’ve had my share of bad experiences too…
I remember a few years ago (I was 14 or 15, I think), I walked into Rockers and saw an LTD seven-string on the wall. I asked the bloke if I could have a quick play on it, to see how I’d cope with an extra string (had never played a 7 before, y’see)… I believe his exact words were “Are you going to buy it?”, to which I wanted to reply “Look mate, I’m 15 – do I look like I carry £800 on me for impulse guitar purchases?”
Instead, I said “no, sorry”. What he might have said was “OK, have a go anyway to see what you think”, like you might get from many other guitar shop staff, but what really happened was that the chap simply turned his head and I was flatly ignored from then on.
I eventually collared another staff member and asked to play it, and with some evident reluctance he got it off the wall, walked me past the gleaming half-stacks and plugged me into a 15-watt practice amp. I had a go on it… and it was crap. Not least because the setup was embarrassingly bad and the strings were likely older than I was… you’d think taking a little pride in their expensive products would be the least they could do, but clearly not.
I walked out, bitterly disappointed. Then about a year later I played an Ibanez 7-string in the brilliant Wembley Guitar Centre, which is notable for being nowhere near Denmark Street. They were only too happy to let me have a go on that guitar, and I now own one and love it. Does that say anything?
Lol! If only I had read this sooner. I give advice to many musicians on buyin a good first instrument and will never advise going to a place with rude or condescending staff. There are currently two bloody fantastic staff at Wunjo in 2016, but one of them actually looked at me and my student and just walked out (black hair, tatoos). My student felt awful as did I.
Top of the awful list though, is a high end store at the top right of Drnmark St (?) only employig rich older men who judge you on entry and then ignore you. Thier phone manner is not better but once in the shop, money in hand youre not allowed to actually try anything, so over the year, we went and spent hundreds With Wunjo, much dosh wih the brilliant staff at Brick Lane Vintage guitar, just over a grand at Guitar Guitar (Epsom) and a further grand at DV247.
I remember going to Andy’s Guitars years ago & upstairs( deep body guitars I seem to remember) being invited to try anything I fancied,with no hard sell).
My cousin did some youth experience there, working under Top Topham I believe.Don’t think I’d recognise what’s left of Denmark St now.
Is it true the legendary Did Bishop’s writing a book covering his West End guitar trading days?
My experience of Andy’s was unfortunately always the opposite. “Beautiful plumage”, if you get my reference.
Now Top Topham, there’s a chap. Nice fellow according to mutual friends but I haven’t met him yet. Great pedigree but a bit like Davy O’List, one of the almost men of rock.
I believe Sid is writing said book – I just he completes and publishes before the inevitable.
All the best ?