Yesterday R. asked me via Facebook,
How do you find reviews?
Buying an instrument or gear online can be a scary prospect. It’s hard to know what you’re getting and whether you’ll even like it once it arrives… and that doesn’t even take into account the mishaps that can happen during shipping (that’s another post).
But how do you go about it?
I’ve always insisted on looking at reviews for an item (especially an instrument) before forking over payment. Most online music stores offer some kind of review system, but I also like to hit sites like Amazon, for example, that typically see a high volume of buyers. Basically, I read anything and everything I can get my hands on about the gear I’m interested in. I do a lot of Googling. I read blogs, forums, whatever, so long as it’s written by a player and not the manufacturer. Manufacturers want to sell you something; Musicians are actually using it and forming opinions about it.
Granted, the best, tried and true method for finding the right piece of gear is to try it out in person. By trying something, you’ll get a better perspective on what you like and don’t like. Testing a piece of gear out first isn’t always feasible, though, and it becomes a question of gathering a well-rounded sample of information.
I always like to find negative reviews. A positive review is usually happy-go-lucky and tells you very little: “I liked it, it was awesome.” A negative review tells you a lot about the product in question and the person writing it. When I purchased my Yamaha APX guitar, I read every negative review I could find, looking for any patterns and weighing them against what I knew I was looking for. All of them were written by guys who wanted a bigger-bodied, heavy on the bass, instrument. I knew I wanted a thin, light guitar because of my frame, and I tend to prefer a much more balanced sound.
The other thing to keep in mind is that a few negative reviews are not a deal-breaker. A lot of people want a piece of gear that everyone likes, and that’s just not possible. Not everyone’s needs and tastes are the same, and the truth of the matter is, occasionally manufacturers will make a lemon. It happens. And then sometimes you end up with a reviewer who made up their mind to hate the product and can’t stop spewing vitriol. Ignore that. Look past the language at the content to see if you can figure out why. Were they looking for something else? Were they having a bad day? What prompted them to spew? Weigh it against other constructively negative and mediocre reviews — is it one, lone, example, or are there others who say the same thing?
I steer away from products that have a multitude of negative reviews, especially if they are negative on points of craftsmanship. You want something that will last, not something that will need to be replaced in a year or less. Spend your money on a good product, not junk.
I also look more critically at products that have a multitude of positive reviews. My APX was a good example — 95% of the reviews I looked at were 5 star or higher, and it prompted me to do extra research because very few products have that good of a track record. (Turns out my guitar was one of them.) Even if you have to HUNT, HUNT for those sub-par reviews. You want to know as much about what you’re looking at as possible.
After you have your information, then you can consider your needs and wants, and weigh it all against what you’ve learned. Can you deal with the negative points? Worst case scenario — what would you be looking at? It’s important to remember that buying anything online is a bit of a gamble, but you need to have an answer to your question. Does the product match up with what you’re looking for? I find that if I experience any doubt, that it is helpful to sleep on it, and/or do more looking. You have time (typically). Use it.