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Written by Paul D. Race for , , and

Welcome to Riverboat Music(tm), A "Buyers' Guide" for folks interested in learning and playing acoustic and Americana music.

Paul dressed in period clothes for a event at the Clark County (Ohio) Historical Society.This is Paul Race, proprietor of and several related music pages. Since we started posting our "lessons learned" online, we've become inundated with reader questions about specific musical instruments.

In fact, we've answered so many reader questions that we thought it was time to set up this site just to publish our comparisons and recommendations, rather than letting them continue to accumulate willy-nilly in various places.

Unlike an online catalog, though, many of our pages include detailed breakdowns of the things you should look for or differences between apparently identical products, so you'll stand a better chance of getting what you need.

Furthermore, many of the pages include links back to articles on buying used, setting up, and, in some cases, learning to play the thing.

To be honest, I have not tried every product we discuss in these pages, but I have tried or owned products in almost every category. I have also tried or owned products by almost every manufacturer represented. For instruments I don't play enough to have a worthwhile opinion, I have sought the advice of musicians I trust.

I am still plugging content into a few areas with which I am least familiar. And I am delighted to get feedback, questions, and even corrections from readers, so I expect things to keep getting tweaked indefinitely.

Please keep in mind that the listings in this "Buyers' Guide" are only guidelines - you may come across something you like better in the same price range. But we provide these suggestions largely for the sake of people who don't have access to more than a few instruments in any given category, and would like to see what else is available.

Here are a few rules-of-thumb you might keep in mind while shopping these pages:

  • If you or someone who owes you a favor has the requisite skills to evaluate the condition of a used instrument, and bring it back into playing condition, you may do better shopping the local used market. Just be sure to use our pages to make certain you aren't paying almost as much for a "beater" as you would pay for the same instrument new.

  • Most musical instruments these days are made in China, even the ones from "American" companies. (Deering banjos are the major exception). If you order a Chinese-built instrument, assume that you will spend some time "setting it up," say, tightening the head on banjos, adjusting the neck on guitars, restringing most instruments, and so on. Many of the better Chinese instruments play and sound fine once you've got them set up properly; just don't expect great playability the moment you get them out of the shipping carton.

  • Most of the links we provide go to places like Amazon that post reviews. Read the reviews, but don't be too impressed with 5-star reviews because it's "pretty" or 1-star reviews because it arrived out of tune or some such. Look for patterns, like experienced musicians complaining or raving about the same thing.

  • You may notice that we don't keep insulting your intelligence with paid advertising blocks for products that have nothing to do with our page content, much less inconveniencing you with things like popups that block the screen or demand your e-mail address to read the rest of the article.

    In return for providing useful content on user-friendly pages, I do ask that if these pages steer you to the instrument you decide to buy, you will come back through our page when you make the order. We don't see who ordered what, so we won't be plaguing you with follow-up e-mails or any such. But it helps our advertisers know who is sending them customers and it helps us know what folks are interested in.

In the meantime, please contact us if you have a question that we haven't addressed yet. Also, the following "caveats" should help your efforts to get the instrument you need from a vendor you can trust.

Paul Race playing a banjo. Click to go to Paul's music home page.Whatever else you get out of our pages, I hope you come away with some great ideas for "sharing the joy."

And please stay in touch!

    - Paul Race Click to see Paul's music home page Click to contact Paul through this page. Click to visit the Creek Don't Rise discussion forum. Click to see Paul's music page on Facebook Click to see Paul's music page on SoundCloud Click to see Paul's music blog page Click to learn about our Momma Don't Low Newsletter. Click to see Paul's YouTube Channel. Click to see Paul's Twitter Page.

Note about Suppliers: While we try to help you get the instruments and other products you want by recommending suppliers with a good record of customer service, all transactions between you and the supplier you chose are governed by the published policies on the supplier's web site. So please print off any order confirmation screens and save copies of invoices, etc., so you can contact the appropriate supplier or invoke the product warranty should any problems occur.*

Note about Ordering Musical Instruments Online: Buy only from folks with a reasonable return policy and be sure to have any musical instrument you ordered online checked over by a professional as soon as you receive it. Every musical instrument has the potential for being damaged in shipment, even if the box looks fine when you get it. In addition, musical instruments shipped across the Pacific have a very high percentage of manufacturing defects. If you look at online reviews, a surprising percentage of the one-star reviews say something like "By the time I realized it was damaged (or had a critical manufacturing defect), the period for returns had run out, so now I'm stuck with a useless piece of . . . . " Yes, the manufacturer should have better quality control, and the store should pack things better. But in the end, you are responsible for making certain that an instrument or product will serve your needs while you still have time to return it.

Consider Buying Used: Before you spend $2000 on an instrument that will be worth $800 once you get it home, check out the used market for that sort of instrument in your area. Depending on where you live, or what kind of instrument you're looking for, it may not be an option. But if you can get a used professional instrument for the same price as a new student instrument, it is often worth taking the risk. Especially if you have a knowledgeable friend who can go along and check it out for you. In fact, many of our pages include links to articles on how to shop for used instruments of various types. However, we recognize that many folks have limited access to good used instruments, and everyone needs to see what is available in the various price ranges. So we do list, when possible, live links to real vendors with a good return policy, in case they're your best choice for getting what you want. Again, once you buy something, your satisfaction is between you and the seller.

Note about Availability and Pricing: Although I try to keep an eye on things and to recommend products that are reasonably available, the musical instrument market does fluctuate, and any product on this page may change price or become unavailable without prior notice. If you "click through" to see details on a product, and nothing happens at all, or you are routed to a supplier's home page, please let me know and I will remove the product from the online listing until I can find a replacement or another supplier.

How To Help Our Site for Free: If you find our tips, explanations, and recommendations helpful when picking out a product, and you appreciate that we don't continually inconvenience you with irrelevant ads or obnoxious popups, Please Bookmark This Page and come back through it when you're ready to order. It costs you nothing, and we never see who placed the order, so you don't have to worry about us pestering you with followup e-mails or some such. But it helps us know what pages you find useful, and it helps our advertisers know who to support.

And that, in turn, helps us provide more useful resources. Thank you!

*Here's an irony: every year, I receive about a dozen complaints from folks who have never been to my sites before, angry that a deal between that person and a vendor or manufacturer I recommend went south (in their opinion). They "googled" the product, saw my recommendation or review, then e-mailed me to tell me they were going to sue me or report me to the Better Business Bureau for personally ripping them off by recommending a product they had bought from someone else. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the problem is really because the customer didn't read the whole ad, or ordered the wrong thing, or threw away his paperwork and doesn't know where he bought it from, etc. I'm always polite, and sometimes I can even help them get things straightened out with the vendor, but it's not, technically, my problem.

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All material, illustrations, and content of this web site is copyrighted (c) 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Paul D. Race. All rights reserved.
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