Online Upcycling of Musical Instruments
By Amaan Khan
If you’re a music enthusiast and want to take to playing an instrument but don’t have sufficient funds or believe it’s only a fleeting passion to invest large chunks of money, then you could turn to the second hand market for musical instruments. Here’s whom and why!
Buying a musical instrument can be a tricky choice in three different situations – first, for a young buyer who’s grappling with deficient pocket money; second, a relatively older buyer who feels that his/her infatuation for playing music is transient in nature and not worth their money; or third, a veteran who needs a specific instrument temporarily for a gig or an experiment. Like every product of technology, instruments too present similar dilemmas of newer models coming into the market to add to the chaos of the buying process. So how does one fight the ambivalence? You then shift your gaze to second hand instruments, from either friends or acquaintances. But what are the odds of good quality? Which brand will prove the most economical? What if you don’t get your value for money, considering it’s a second hand good anyway? The questions can turn the conundrum into a complex mesh until you either end up buying a very expensive instrument in the hope that money promises quality or you’ll buy a make-shift guitar, keyboard or drum set with a guiding thought that once you make some money off small-time gigs you can further invest in better equipment.
The paranoia for online buying rests within most of us. It’s not very common in the West though, where sizeable proportions get transacted through credit cards. Notwithstanding, with pushy, compelling and intrusive advertising and word of mouth, the trust for the intangible, or goods bought online, is on the rise in our country. From buying phones on Flipkart to buying shoes on Myntra, e-commerce is a trend that’s building momentum. Within the same breadth is the market for musical instruments. But does the idea of second hand musical instruments seem implausible? In fact, with Facebook’s global reach and second hand online stores like Quikr and OLX, musical instruments getting transacted are seeing a visible growth. According to OLX.in’s CEO, Amarjit Batra, “From January 2013 to January 2014 the new listings for the musical instruments category on OLX.in grew at 127%. This demonstrates how rapidly people are finding value on OLX for this category.” He also goes on to explain how the process of learning an instrument is becoming far easier online, thereby eliminating the need for an actual coach. Apart from the usual guitar-drum-keyboard instruments, OLX even sees violins and harmoniums as the other popular items sold.
Besides new learners, Amarjit also highlighted a set of vital adopters who use second hand musical instruments. “For music classes as well, schools and teachers prefer to buy used musical instruments than new ones.” Perhaps, to avoid wear and tear of new pieces caused by untamed hands. Although being a consumer-to-consumer website, OLX does not screen products listed on their site. It strictly allows the deals to move from seller to buyer, interference-free. The identity of the consumer is kept completely transparent thereby assuring a democratic and relatively safe buying process.
Of all the cities OLX covers, Delhi and West Bengal have maximum posts and transactions. “Art and culture is an important part of life in West Bengal, which could explain the interest in musical instruments there. Delhi is a big city, very cosmopolitan, with numerous avenues for learning a musical instrument.” A drift towards culture and music in particular sees a strong inflection in these cities.
Other than OLX, a Facebook page called AM Used Musical instrument Gear (see page here) has been busy with traffic and posts for selling and buying second hand items. Alberto Dias, founder of Alberto Music (a full-fledged musical store) and admin of the AM Used Musical Instrument Gear page, opened his store for first hand musical instruments. But then on request from his friends he started the AM page for second hand instruments that suddenly saw more traffic than imagined. “The reason I started this page was because there were many of my friends and customers (from Alberto Music) who wanted to buy some instruments but needed to sell the current (ones) and that’s what made me create this page. So they could sell it easily without a hassle. This has also benefitted a lot of stores all around the country.”
The AM page sees a host of items being transacted including acoustic guitars, electric guitars, drum kits, pedals, power amps, guitar cases, and djembes. But Alberto says, “Mostly guitar related (items) like pedals, guitars themselves and miscellaneous items (get sold).” He feels there is no competition as such when it comes to the market of used musical gear. In fact it benefits traditional stores that sell first hand gear around the country.
As a value act, Alberto Music (the first hand store) even produces custom-made instruments depending on the order. The store opened doors nearly three years ago when Alberto decided to provide bespoke instruments depending on individual tastes held by musicians. While Alberto believes in maintaining an international-standard of quality, he also experiments with items that catch his fancy. He says, “On-and-off we order small batches of guitars and bass guitars from a custom shop in Korea that are pretty interesting.”
Now, on scouring the market for a traditional store that sells second hand instruments, we made a curious-call to established music store Bharat Music House in Delhi to find out if they sold second hand instruments. The person on the other end of the phone explained the futility of selling second hand instruments in an actual shop setup. “A guitar has a life of 8-10 years. Once someone has used it for 5-6 years what remains of it? You might as well buy a new one. The hassle is not worth it.” He politely hung up saying that people have trust issues when buying a second hand musical instrument. When it comes to second hand goods, Indians will only buy them if they run into few tens of thousands or lakhs. Perhaps like a car, or a laptop for argument’s sake. This is where the internet has played a resourceful role for musical instruments.
However if one is adamant on first hand products, then grey/wholesale markets are your best bet. In Delhi, Rajasthan Musical Emporium (Irfan Ali: 8882392234) at Paharganj will sell a brand new acoustic guitar for nearly Rs. 1600. Mumbai’s Bhargava’s Musik and Bangalore’s N. Lewis and Son fall in more or less similar price categories, though slightly on the upper end when compared to Rajasthan Emporium.
Despite a fear of being looted, young musicians are still choosing or looking for safe ways to buy musical instruments online. But more importantly, the second hand market is serving as a first-time buy for many upcoming musicians. If it’s your first time, seek advice from a knowledgeable friend. You know what they say about first times!