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Why do we (keyboardists) have to suffer?


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What is it with chain stores and keyboards departments? Since I canceled my week in Florida I decided to take a vacation day in Nashville. Goal, Sennheiser HD600 headphones and possibly an 88 note hammer action controller. I want to go somewhere that I can compare the action of all the major brands and make a good decision. I get up early, drive three and a half hours, and finally arrive at the North side of Nashville and track down my first destination. One of the two big chain dealers in Nashville.


When I walk in a nice lady asked is she can help me. I tell her I am looking for headphones. She pointed to a wall on the opposite side of the store and told me to go that direction. Well, there were a few cheap types but no HD600s. With all the studios in Music City I figure they must have them somewhere. While waiting for help I go into the keyboard department. I wanted to compare the action on the Roland RD700 with a Yamaha Motif 8, Triton Studio 88, Yamaha P120, and Kurzweil 2600X. There was no Motif 8. The Triton non-studio X had been dropped and was severely bowed in the middle. No Kurz 2600 to be found. After 30 minutes of walking around wondering how all the Tritons got so cruddy looking I gave up any hope of being waited on and left.


Next stop, south side and the other big store. This store was quite a bit bigger and had a huge number of workers. I felt much better as I entered the room dedicated to digital pianos. Everything looked well cared fore. I tried a Yamaha P-80. Nice. P-120 and 200. Very nice. Step to the next room, WOW, Alesis 8.1 for $899. I found my controller and planned to walk out with it unless something else I saw was really worth the extra money. I set out to find the 88 note versions of Triton and Motif. Nothing. The next area did reveal a Kurzweil 2600X for $2600. Hmmmm. I could swing this if I use a card and go in debt. I wanted to ask a couple of questions such as, how much to add sampling and effects? 10 minutes on the Kurzweil and no one shows up. I leave to look for the headphones. I find a bunch, but not what I am looking for, and no assistance. Back to the Kurzweil. Someone is playing it. Hey, that is not a customer, it is a worker. When I walk up he takes off. So for the next 30 minutes I walk back and forth between the Kurzweil in the main area and the Alesis in the next room, trying them both over and over. Then I try the door.


I noticed something in both stores. Guitar customers were being waited on. PA customers were being served. Drum customers, well, drummers do not get up that early. Keyboard customers were standing around waiting for help. In the past two months I have visited 9 different chain stores between Cincinnati and Florida and the keyboard departments are always a mess. Either the keyboards have been trashed and no one cares enough to clean them up, or as in the case in one store, no one knew how to do anything but change presets. Is it this way on either coast? Am I spoiled because I am used to a salesman that knows his products and always asks if he can help me? I just wish the one good store I have found sold more than Roland, Emu and Nord.



This post edited for speling.
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Rabid, you've made some great points. While I can't comment on must chain stores because I haven't done quite so much shopping as other people may have (I'm a newbie with no money, what can I say?), I can still say I've noticed some of the same faults at the local Guitar Center. Often times I'll go into the keyboard department, and maybe two or three workers are in there. This is how it looks: One worker is helping someone in the DJ room (which is a branch off and shouldn't really be counted in the keyboard department) and spends most of his time there. Another is behind the register, and the only thing THAT worker knows about is Cubase...And one other worker, who is showing his "skill" on the groove machines :rolleyes: ..which gets loud and annoying when trying to evaluated boards (groove machines/boards are in the same room). Well, ONCE when I walked in there, a knowledgable guy showed me a Fantom, which I didn't show too much interest (I played a few songs, but was just mainly comparing its piano sounds to Yamaha at the time). He went on from how great Roland is to how his life developed into playing music-over 15 or so years. Great. Show me this Kurzweil....oh, what??? Why don't I sell you this nice looking Cubase thing...hmmmmmm....Well, fortunately I CAN say that there's little sign of mis-treatment EXCEPT for:some black markings on a Triton where it looks like to me someone used it as an ashtray (so polite), and the bloody speakers keep on getting blown (it's happened three times: play a note lower than C4 on a Triton, XV-88, or K-station and you get an annoying pop, crackle, or sometimes a loud distortion). Other than that, it's fairly managable. I can understand how it would happen (I've seen young kids come in and bang on the keys with the volume all the way up) but a few weeks from now when I go back, I can of course expect it to be fixed..Also, I must commend GC for carrying three devices from your "finer" synth makers. "More rare", anyway. They recently got a Novation A-station, K-station, and a Waldorf Q-Rack. They've got all the other standard stuff too, by the way, as well as a healthy selection of used boards in good condition. But, no, there are hardly no knowledgable workers in the keyboard department.

I have found (in one case, anyway) Small stores that aren't chain stores (can't think of a better name) are often better. I was vacationing in Albuquerque, NM one month and found the best music store I've ever been in: a place called Grandma's Music and Sound, I believe. It had a nice selection of boards, and of used boards, and the department was staffed with a knowledgable worker. At least it seemed impressive to ME, a few years ago. I'd reccommend it, though, if you're going to Albuquerque, and I'll be making a trip back next month, so I'll report if you want me to.

Maybe us keyboard players are just too "complex" for those others out there....

"Bach is ever new"-Glenn Gould
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I would agree that it is always a drag when they don't have something in stock, but I would have to disagree with your frustration about not receiving any assistance. Most of the employees in the keyboard department that I have run into either are only marginal competent, or want to sell you on all of the fancy features, but not the "meat and potatoes" things that make you want to purchase a board. I would rather have time to poke around myself and make my own judgement rather than being told what it "good." Of the major stores I have always had the best luck with Sam Ash (in my experience, I know that many peole might disagree), because they tend to have everything hooked up so that you can help yourself to the equipment.
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Originally posted by Striker1080:

Maybe us keyboard players are just too "complex" for those others out there....

That's why we have the most visited Forum, regarding an specific intrument... :D



Músico, Productor, Ingeniero, Tecnólogo

Senior Product Manager, América Latina y Caribe - PreSonus

at Fender Musical Instruments Company


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Facebook: Lozada - Música y Tecnología



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It gets worse in small rural towns. The music stores here are almost barren when it comes to quality, professional level keyboards. If I wanted to get a Casio or some other board to mess with at home, that would be no problem. But no so-called music stores here carry the newer model keys. I might be able to find some ancient models or some home models. A Triton? A Motif? I'd have to travel over 60 miles to find a store that may carry a professional quality board and then its an outside shot they would have one of those.


Even the Organ/Piano distributor only carries home models (they always have a Hammond or two though to play with!)


Its one thing to have trouble getting water in a pool---trying getting some water in the desert!



"With the help of God and true friends I've come to realize, I still have two strong legs and even wings to fly" Gregg Allman from "Ain't Wastin Time No More"
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Let me guess............. Sam Ash and Mars?


Did you try Corner Music? Not that they'd be that much better as far as keyboards go.


The reason the guitar customers were waited on was that it's a state law that you have to play a stringed instrument if you live in Tennessee............................


- David

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Even big-box M.I. retailers cater mainly to aspirants, not working pros, especially when it comes to keyboards. This is even more true of smaller stores in anything but major metro areas. Margins in the keyboard (and computer-based recording) business are also at all-time lows, and manufacturers often want a dealer to order a minimum number of units as a condition of stocking a given product line at all. So the store manager is put in the position of asking him- or herself "What the heck am I going to do with six Tritons? Ten K2600's?"


More liberal policies on the supply end don't necessarily help. Suppose, indeed, that most makers allowed smaller stores to buy, say, one unit at a time of the higher-end stuff. Picture this conversation between a forum-reading, tech-savvy, price-sensitive potential Keyboard Buyer and music store SalesPerson:


KB: All right, I think I like A better than B.


SP: Great! Can we box that up for you, then?


KB: You don't have more new in the box in back?


SP: No, we're a small store. It only makes sense to sell one at a time. But we have the box, manuals, and of course full warran-


KB: Well, I'd certainly take the floor model at a discount.


SP: We're not really in a position to do that, but we try to keep our prices competitive as possible. If you really want one that's unopened, we can special-order it.


KB: How long'll that take?


SP: (crossing fingers behind back) Should be about a couple of weeks.


KB: Hell! If I have to wait that long, I'll order it off the 'Net from someone who'll beat your price, and save the sales tax. Have a good one, though.


I've been this customer, more than I care to admit. And a friend of mine who owns a chain of three stores in my area told me that conversations like this one are the reason that he, for example, stocks the Yammy S-03 but not the Motif. a couple of Roland VS boxes but not the complete line of MOTU gear, etc.


As far as finding knowledgable sales staff goes, there is just so much more to know about keyboards, from the standpoint of the minimum required to sell effectively to pros, than about guitars and drums. We ask pickier questions: "So which one has faster SCSI implementation?"; "Can voices on an expansion card be used alongside internal voices in a multi?" etc Someone who knows enough to hold their own here is likely to be out for better than making six bucks an hour plus commission standing on their feet all day.


Sorry this is turning into a rant. Why does the gear-buying experience of the keyboard player tend to suck? In a word, economics.

Stephen Fortner

Principal, Fortner Media

Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Digital Piano Consultant, Piano Buyer Magazine


Industry affiliations: Antares, Arturia, Giles Communications, MS Media, Polyverse



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