Forbidden Guitar Riffs: What not to play in a guitar store

Is it true that some riffs are forbidden in guitar stores?

Does playing the intro to Stairway to Heaven or Smoke on The Water result in people getting kicked out of guitar stores?

These riffs are typically performed by beginner guitarists, and while the store owner may grow tired of hearing them over and over again, no one in their right mind is going to lose a sale because the kid who is trying out the guitar is the 20th person of the day who is playing the intro to Stairway to Heaven.

The idea that particular riffs or songs are forbidden became popular following a scene in Wayne’s World where protagonist Wayne Campbell is shown a label stating: No Stairway To Heaven at a guitar store as soon as he tries a guitar.

Apart from Stairway to Heaven, other riffs that are allegedly forbidden from guitar stores include Smoke on the Water, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Enter Sandman and Sweet Child of Mine.

It goes without saying that, while no one believes that certain songs are actually banned from guitar stores, a large number of guitarists of various skill levels are confused about what to play in a guitar store.

Although this article does not contain a list of riffs or songs that should or should not be played in a guitar store, it does provide guidelines for proper behavior when at a guitar store. This will assist you in determining what you should play.

Your behavior in a guitar store determines not only your image (which may be more important than vanity if you want to make it as a professional; you may be teaching at the store one day, or you may meet someone who becomes a band member), but also in making the best choice when buying a guitar.

What you should never play in a guitar store

It is not a forbidden guitar riff, lick or song that you should never play at a guitar store, but rather the following:

Anything intended to impress.

There’s nothing wrong with impressing your friends, your band mates, or any other type of audience with the latest technique you’ve learned, or by how fast you can play – as long as they’re genuinely interested in what you’re playing.

But customers at a guitar store are there to purchase an instrument or gear for themselves. Not to listen to you play.

And the employees at the guitar store are more concerned with making sales than with discovering new potential.

Trying to impress others in a guitar store not only irritates them, but it also reveals something about you to the more experienced among them: your focus is not on what matters, which is that you get the greatest guitar you can afford, but on impressing others.

What to do when trying a guitar in a store

Now that you know what you should never do in a guitar store, here’s what you should:

Anything that allows you to determine whether or not the guitar you’re trying is a good fit for your needs.

Here are some suggestions to assist you in making the best decision possible while trying a guitar.

  1. Decide on what you’re going to play in the store beforehand

Prepare your favorite (but not the most difficult) guitar riffs and licks in advance (nothing is forbidden). The less you need to worry about your playing, the more you can concentrate on the instrument, which is why it’s important to know what you’re going to play before you start.

  1. What is the feeling of the guitar in your body?

You’ll be holding this instrument in your hands for a long period of time, so be sure it’s comfortable for your fingers, your hands and your overall body. 

  1. Make sure the action is right

The gap between the strings and the fretboard is referred to as action. The wider it is, the more force you will have to exert to press the strings.

Try playing a barre chord. Does it feel harder to execute than usual?

If the action is too wide, practicing the guitar is going to be unnecessarily hard.

  1. Play around with the volume levels

Play the guitar at different volumes to get an idea how each sounds.

  1. Play different styles of music

Despite the fact that I primarily play Rock and Metal guitar, whenever I pick up a guitar at a store, I play some Funk too.

Playing Funk Riffs shows me how chords sound when they are played cleanly and in different registers.

The guitar-trying process does not have to include all guitar genres; nonetheless, stepping outside of your comfort zone can help you learn more about the instrument you intend to purchase.

  1. Try more than one guitar

Even if a guitar appears to be a match at first sight, it’s still good to try another guitar or two. This will give you perspective on the difference between a guitar and another.

  1. Alternate pickup selections

Listen to how the guitar sounds in all pickup selections, clean and with distortion

Conclusion: Why are you buying the guitar?

As a result of this discussion, I hope you have come to the conclusion that your attention should be focused on the instrument rather than on the other individuals in the store.

Not only will this provide you with the best value for your money, but it also looks professional because it is what professionals do!

The other question you should keep in mind is the reason why you’re buying the guitar.

As a beginner guitarist looking for a guitar that can be played comfortably, your priorities may differ from those of an intermediate player preparing for his first performance.

A newcomer may give more value to price than appearance when buying a guitar. What does it matter if the guitar looks unsightly if you’re only going to use it in your bedroom?

The intermediate player preparing for his first performance is likely to be more concerned with the guitar’s appearance.

Alternatively, a professional performing his 1000th performance may be less concerned with pricing or appearance and instead more focused on the feel and the tone.

This is all hypothetical stuff of course, the point is, that the most important thing you need to focus on at the store is how the guitar you’re going to buy is going to meet your needs.


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