Why I won’t be working at Guitar Center:

At the end of August I met with the Guitar Center representative in charge of hiring instructors for their private lesson studios.  Though the course of our discussion I was able to learn the following:

Guitar Center receives $25.00 in advance for every half hour lesson scheduled.  Guitar Center pays their instructors a base pay of $8.00 an hour.  If your student shows up for a scheduled half hour lesson, you will receive an additional $6.00.  If your second half hour lesson shows up, you will receive another $6.00 for a total $20.00 of gross income possible in one hour.  If the student cancels and wishes to reschedule a lesson, the student is charged an additional $12.50.  The instructor earns nothing when the student cancels the lesson or does not show up for the lesson.  The instructor will receive the $6.00 if he teaches the make up lesson.  The instructor could arrive expecting to teach two half hour lessons.  If the students do not show, or they cancel at the last minute, the teacher will only receive the $8.00 base pay, even though Guitar Center has been paid $50.00 in advance for the hour.

In terms of benefits, instructors are able to purchase gear at cost.  This perk was stressed a couple of times during our conversation.  The instructor can qualify for health insurance if he or she is able to maintain a consistent 30+ hours a week teaching lessons.  I did not push for further details about the policy however, I wonder how quickly G.C. will drop the insurance coverage once school vacations enter the picture.

Guitar Center has struck a deal with the Hal Leonard Publishing company.  The student is required to purchase ‘a lesson pack’ with a minimum cost of $6.99 + tax to work on with the private instructor.  The pack contains 2-3 lessons worth of material.  For drum instructors, this is drum set material.  It does not cover snare drum, mallets or timpani.  (Guitar center wants to sell drum sets).   The instructor is required to spend 20 minutes of the 30 minute lesson on this material.  If the student wants to work on something like the Vermont All State audition solo, then that material may be covered in the remaining 10 minutes.  The main focus of the lesson must be spent on the Hal Leonard material, so that another lesson pack will be sold.

One of the big advertising points for GC Studios is:  “Learn to play on your schedule, not someone else’s.” Lessons are scheduled with the store’s assistant manager.  They are not scheduled directly with the instructor.  If the students “Normal Teacher” is unavailable for a lesson slot, another teacher will be assigned.  Since the student is working out of the Hal Leonard Lesson Pack, it will be ‘easy’ for substitute teacher to step in and give the lesson.  This does not take into account student/teacher personalities or established relationships.  As a student, if you wish to rent out the studio room to practice, you may do so at $9.00 an hour.

I was offered a job immediately.   I told them I would get back to them on their offer.  A few days later I sent an email thanking them for the opportunity, but I declined the offer given the pay structure outlined above.  No counter offer was made.

A couple of weeks later, I received a phone message from the store’s manager.  He asked me to come in to “the location where you had your interview” and fill out paper work for the instructor’s position, in order to begin employment at the studio.  The fact that I had declined their offer never made it to the store’s management team.  It makes me wonder how well the communication will flow between the student, the scheduling manager, and the instructor.

I appreciate a sale as much as the next person.  But I do not believe in teaching music lessons to students in order to perpetuate the sale of equipment and “lesson packs”.  Guitar Center is the Walmart of music retailers.  It is owned by Bain Capital.  They are part of the multi-billion dollar family of companies that include online retailers Musician’s Friend, Woodwind and Brasswind, Music 123, along with the instrument rental company, Music and Arts and online instrument review site, Harmony Central.  Even though some sales seem too good to pass up, please check with your locally owned music store before making a purchase.  They will often happily match online pricing.  You will be keeping local dollars local instead of loading Bain up with more capital!  That’s more important than $1.00 drumsticks.

We live in a box store country.  I miss the days of being able to shop at the locally owned Ben Franklin’s, the mom and pop drugstore, or even the department store chain Woolworth’s.  In every town we visit, the retail choices are the same: Walmart, Dick’s, Staples, Barnes and Noble, Home Depot, and now, Guitar Center.    Retail is one thing.  Music (or Art, or Sports, etc.) lessons are another.  I urge you to seek out the best teacher you can find.  You will know when they are the right match for you.  Pay them fairly for what they teach you.  Remember the years of dedication and hard work that many of them have committed to their craft.

I’ve been teaching drums and percussion privately as my main source of income since 2000.  I have worked with hundreds of students with ages ranging from 5 to 65.  I have never charged a registration fee.  I have always been fair in my pricing, if not on the low side of the scale.  Missed lessons are rescheduled with my students at no additional cost.  I focus on the goals that the student has regarding what he or she wants to accomplish.  I don’t teach out of one book or out of “lesson packs” in order to sell more product.  I want my students to be happy in what they are learning and I want them to see the progress they make due to their own hard work.  I am their coach and guide.  I am thrilled to watch my students to grow as players, as musicians and as human beings.  I would not be able to accomplish any of this at a box store.


71 thoughts on “Why I won’t be working at Guitar Center:

    • The curriculum sucks, the same curriculum is forced on 7 year old 2nd graders through 70 year old university graduates! it works equally well on all, in other words, it doesnt work.
      Tom Hemphill, the leader of gc studios arrogantly claims that the curriculum ai “sacred”
      Not to mention the noisy poorly lit rooms.

  1. Thanks for the warning Rich. I guess this business will fall in the Walmart category for me–boycott. I did not know that Woodwind Brasswind was part of Bain and must admit that they are my go to company for woodwind supplies that can’t be found locally. I will need to rethink that. Gotta feel sorry for all the folks paying good money for cookie cutter lessons. No two people learn the same way especially in music and this approach is just wrong and dishonest.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I worked for GC many years ago. I left because the bloodthirsty quest for the almighty dollar made me want to puke on a daily basis. I now own a music store in Sandpoint and love to take deals away from them. Whenever I can, I beat GC and Musician’s Friend prices. And I don’t charge my instructors a dime for teaching in my store.
    Dan Wallace
    Sandpoint Music
    208 610 3650

  3. I support everything that is said in this article. GC treats its teachers AND salespeople like dirt. Sales staff are treated worse than the worst used car lot. Most centers routinely fire the salesperson with the lowest sales for the month, sometimes walking them out the door seconds after completing a transaction. This is in full view of the other sales staff , to “provide an example to the others, and to serve as an incentive”. Disgusting.

  4. No kidding. Here’s a shock: musician/teachers are not expendable cogs in the machinery. Teachers differ from one another in their approaches to playing and teaching; and of course, chemistry develops between teacher and student. GC’s selling point of being able to easily replace your teacher if it is not convenient for your schedule this particular week insults the work, skills, and professionalism of musicians and encourages the parents to see them as expendable and replaceable, too.

  5. This is a weird article. Nothing like my experience at all.I’ve never heard of Guitar Center offering on-site lessons. I worked for Music And Arts (which is a subsidiary of GC) as a guitar instructor and TOOK HOME $40/hr. they did the advertising, the booking…all I did was show up. This was ’08 and ’09. Weird.

    • 2013 ……now its $24 / hr if student shows. ……..and……….$8 / hr if student doesn’t show , guitar center pockets the remaining $51 and justifies this by blaming teacher for “not inspiring” student to show up! This is a conflict of interest as GC gains by no-shows.

      Pure greed

  6. As a retailer let me say we don’t “happily” match the starvation-margin online price, but we appreciate the opportunity to take the loss for the dedicated chiseler who absolutely insists that life is that cheap. I do wonder how some of these bargain hunters would feel if they were constantly asked to take a pay cut. But then 99% of us have been taking pay cuts and 47% of us are useless parasites, right?

  7. It does not surprise me to hear this is how the treat employees. I have never been a fan of the GC and for that matter, Sam Ash, for the simple reason they treat left handed guitarists as if they were lepers. Every store has quality, not your beginner guitar stock of Martins, Taylors, Gibsons, etc, but try to find one decent left hand guitar in any of them that is not a cheap Chinese made intro model ,and you might as well be on Moon looking for the public library. The fact they treat employees worse than customers comes as no surprise. Spend your money when you can locally, from the man or woman in your small town or neighborhood and you not only have a store, but a human being, you build a relationship with over the course of time.

  8. If GC is the Walmart of the retail Music Store industry, its little sister Music and Arts is the McDonalds of of it! We can do a lot better than the Vulture Cattle Car approach of GC and M&A!

  9. I bought my final purchase from Guitar Center in Brea, CA about three years ago and i got a good deal, When i went in to make an inquiry about an 8-string bass i had just picked up through a private party, I was treated like I was there to burn down the store. Rude is about the nicest thing I have to say about the service there and now that I am to understand that they and ‘Musicians’s Friend’ are part of “Bain Capital’, I will not spend another dime of my money to aid them in their lameness.
    This post was an eye opener and i am going to share it – I encourage others to do the same.

    ~James Stutsman~

    • Thanks, James.
      I once walked into a GC in Nashua, NH and the sales clerk seemed annoyed that he had to put down his magazine to answer a question for me.
      Then… he couldn’t answer the question anyway. No product knowledge.

  10. Rich, education is clearly not GC’s strong suit. If GC cares so much about the bottom line, they might at least think about a business model that will create repeat customers for the future. Teachers are not allowed to customize their lessons, students won’t learn the music they care about, and longevity is just not in the cards. The payment arrangement is clearly a ripoff for the teacher, and it also undercuts other teachers who are providing a quality music education. The Bain connection makes sense. If they could outsource music lessons and pay teachers even less, I’m sure they would!

  11. I too looked at teaching guitar there…I have a wealth of fret board and theory background, but as soon as I heard they used method books I walked away… Bain capitol…hmmm…Romney…hmmm….the ruin of good small educated business, in favor if cheap offshore product…NAFTA…hmmm…. And we…lose…

  12. Great article. I was nodding in full agreement by the close of the second paragraph. Thanks for keeping quality instruction out of the big box environment. Those seeking a real education on their instrument will seek out the real instructors!

  13. I worked for Guitar Center for a little while. It was the most awful company that I have ever worked for. They do not teach their managers how to manage or their sales associates even how to sell. Before Guitar Center I managed a store for Radio Shack. At least there the “manager training” was actually manager training. I’ve recently graduated with a degree in business and everything that I learned in my management and psychology classes was what Radio Shack taught me on how to be a manager, which all was coincidentally the opposite of what the managers at Guitar Center would do. It’s no wonder the turn-over rate at Guitar Center is better than 95%. They also were dishonest on the pay structure, made promises that they couldn’t keep, and outright lied to customers about products, warranties, or anything else that would make them more money.

  14. Pingback: Why I won’t be working at Guitar Center: | DygytalRecordz

  15. I currently teach at GC. I agree with all of the points above; the cancellation fee is ridiculous! But after not teaching drums for almost 5 years I wanted to get my feet wet so I took the position. I should mention that I live in the bay area where there are many many many drum teachers, so having the help of GC to get me some students has been helpful. My biggest complaint so far has to be the Hal Leonard Curriculum it is just awful for a beginning student to work through….the gear discount is nice though but I dont think I will be sticking this out mostly because of that Hal guy.

    • Propriety teaching methods are just a cancer and the Hal Leonard stuff ‘forced’ is no exception as is the ‘Mel Bay’ material. As a teacher, I approach every student by what their experiences are and not some ‘just add water’ program. I prefer that my students think outside the box – they tend to be happier and more open minded for it. 🙂

  16. The units are $9.99 ea. The first chapter is using 16th note and 8th & 16th note combos for FILLS! Which I feel is way to far beyond that of a beginning student. My preference has always been the Carmine Appice Realistic Rock book because it is very easy to read and the kids can really dig into it. Plus there are no mention of rudiments in the Hal Leonard book! Oh, and here is the kicker, teachers are not allowed to take the book out of the store so I find myself having to sight read in front of my students. I’ve only been there a month and a half and nobody has completed a unit…by the way teacher is graded on how many units they sell.

    • Thanks so much for leaving this, Charles.
      I hope you get what you need out of your relationship with GC and I hope you can incorporate more into your lessons then what Hal L. has to offer!

  17. As “trouble in River City” goes, this is much worse than pool. It has been said that corporations are made of people. So is Soylent Green!

  18. Thanks for the essay, Rich. Makes me really glad the places where I teach leave me completely alone. Every student is different. You have to be able to adapt to their learning styles and tastes in music. Trying to standardize lessons with some Hal Leonard crap is ridiculous.

    Didn’t know about Bain Capital, so thanks for that, too.

  19. You all have left very thoughtful comments, and I thank you for them.
    Thru an email, someone sent me this – and it is my favorite comment thus far.

    “Fantastic, Rich. You are indeed onto something, a little something I like to call…the truth. Amazing how compelling that can be. Proud to know you.”

  20. … you think their instructional practices are ugly, just have a look at their repair system and how they treat that service field.

  21. Pingback: GUITAR CENTER ≠ GUITAR HERO « The Guitar Cave

  22. Hi Rich,
    As the owner and teacher of a small school in the Houston area who has been in business for 13 years and going strong. I appreciate your article. I would like nothing better than GC to go belly up. They are highly leveraged at this point and I see a good possibilty of them going the way Mars music went. I am saddened that many of the mom and pop stores folded when they first got started and since they were bought by Bain there poor service and poor treatment of employees has gotten worse. I personally can’t see them doing well with the lessons. I treat and pay my teachers well and all of them have been with me for 13 years. I charge them only enough to cover the expenses as I teach full time myself.
    Best of luck to you.

  23. The gc-curriculum sucks, shoddily cut and pasted with lots of ommissions, typos and wrong info. Also NO ear training nor audible examples. (Rock, blues, and partly jazz are NOT written languages, most players learn by listening) the same curriculum is forced on 7 year old 2nd graders through 70 year old university graduates! It works equally well on all. In other words, it doesnt work. STUDENTS hate it!!!!!
    Tom Hemphill, the leader of gc studios arrogantly claims that the curriculum is “sacred”
    and not to be ammended or added to.
    Not to mention the noisy poorly lit rooms.
    GC studios could have been a good idea, but totally wrecked by corporate greed.

    2013 …… Teacher pay is now $24 / hr if student shows. ……..and……….$8 / hr if student doesn’t show. Guitar center pockets the remaining $51 and justifies this by blaming teacher for “not inspiring” student to show up! This is a conflict of interest as GC gains by no-shows.

    Pure greed

  24. I was just contacted by an GC rep regarding the application I filed online to teach guitar for them. I will not teach for less than 60% of what the student pays for the lesson. That is a standard bottom line at least in my area. At $25.00 per half hour lesson I expect $15.00 pay. That is $30.00 an hour. I’m wondering if I should keep my appointment and see what the guy has to say face to face or call him back and ask about this pay scale now and ultimately cancel my meeting with him.

    • Sorry to reply so late, but I’m just seeing this comment.
      I would always keep an interview appointment. Hear them out and ask questions.
      Then make up your mind as to where you want to work! Good luck!

  25. It’s definitely a shame how Guitar Center gets referrals from some small businesses that provide lessons in order for students to obtain affordable instruments, yet at the same time Guitar Center mocks the entire profession. Granted, there are many students that come and go, and are there for all the wrong reasons. But the reason why dangerous jobs in law enforcement and heavy labor pay so well is the same reason why teachers are more than entitled to at half the lesson’s price, usually $25-35/hr. . .because there’s a big chance that these people will make a huge difference and long-lasting impression on someone’s life. Success that comes as a result of the profound and productive relationship between teacher and student is being compromised into a retail transaction by Guitar Center. It’s a disgrace to the art and its education. A majority of private students are mentored via private lessons in order to advance into very respectable positions in the performance industry and complete the highest education available in the arts, along with obtaining deep knowledge of music theory, etc. How Guitar Center can sabotage a well-earned, rightfully expected pay scale simply because you work for them is again, a shame. Furthermore, Guitar Center shouldn’t pride themselves on their $2billion yearly profits when posting job ads if a portion of those profits are due to music lessons treated as a commodity.

  26. Ok.
    With 2 degrees in music – one being a Master. I had been teaching at a mom and pop store for years. My family moved to a new town so my wife can work on her Phd.
    After 3 years GC moves into town. I apply; they hire.
    OK for awhile but I receive 2 1/2 times less pay and am told what to teach. Ha!
    I recently was written up for non compliance to company policy. Not for lack of teaching.
    As long as I make money for them I can hang but offer any advice from your 30+ years of teaching and Watch Out. You are labeled a trouble maker.
    My days there are numbered. I’m very dissatisfied with the overall experience.
    I used to carry 50-60 students at my old store but since I get whatever. They think this goes unnoticed on my part.
    The word on the street is that GC is Wal-Mart. Go buy your strings there. But forget the rest.

    • I won’t do business with them and a big shame – not that I have alot of money but I was treated so horrid the last time I was in the store in Brea. You are correct indeed….As a guy who can’t read well but has what they call perfect pitch , I won’t even buy bass strings from them. As with any business – treat folks well and they will always come back.

  27. Thanks for a great article. I just purchased a guitar and one month of lessons from GC. My instructor is nice and very knowledgeable and experienced. However, something tells me that these $50 per hour lessons, with Hal’s curriculum, just aren’t going to be a good fit for me. That is why I’ve spent all morning on the web trying to find a path that works for me, starting with the definition for a chord. 🙂 After reading what you wrote, I’m going to try to find an independent individual for lessons. Thanks!

  28. Rich, your article is an inspiration to music teachers everywhere. As another poster stated, GC is on the same list as Walmart for me: complete boycott! Despite close proximity, I will not go there, even for cheap strings.

    I’ve been teaching guitar privately for over 30 years. I’m still an active live and session performer. I’ve been honing my skills as an audio engineer and producer for 25 years. GC is teaching parents that my expertise isn’t worth anything.

    I refuse to play the “race to the bottom” game. My fee for private lessons is at the top of the scale in my region, and it’s going to remain there. If a student wants to pick apart a jazz standard, or learn a Megadeth solo, or work toward a State Ensemble seat, I can go there with them. Ask your underpaid GC worker to do that and you’re out of luck!

    Although GC is making my job much more difficult right now, they won’t be able to sustain the lessons business with this cookie-cutter approach. In the end, they will create more demand for independent, experienced teachers. So, thanks, Bain Capital/Mitt Romney/Walmart! Your anti-American philosophy of strip-mining our country in pursuit of higher bonuses for the 1%, will shine a spotlight on a universal truth: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!

    Thanks, Rich. You summed it up perfectly.

    Dan P.

  29. Rich, thanks for the insights. I recently reopened my own lesson studio and it`s been far more of a struggle to find students than it used to be. I was thinking about getting on with GC to help supplement but it looks like it`ll be as big of a nightmare as my 9 to 5 was. Here it is, 18 years after getting my degree, finally whittling my student loans down the last few hundred bucks and hearing that they are effectively devaluing what I do for a living kinda sucks. There are at least 8 GC stores in my area. Fortunately I don`t have to buy strings, and there are a few indie stores still in business that I`ve dealt with for 20+ years for bigger purchases.

  30. I was hired as a salesman to open the Manhattan store and learned what a scummy corporation Guitar Center is. I was lied to in my interview about the pay structure, employee hours were rounded down with GC pocketing the change, and many new hires were fired after having built the store from the ground up for 6.50 an hour. After leaving GC 10 years ago I’ve been teaching private lessons. Things were great for 7 years and then slowly starting going down after the recession. I’m considering going back to GC as an instructor just to survive but I feel terrible about it because I know what a crooked company they are.

  31. I’ll be lone detractor here, so please hold your fire. : )

    I’m 47 years old and starting giving guitar lessons at a local music shop in 1985 when I was 19. (This company is still in business and has grown to three stores.) The lesson rooms were tiny, unventilated storage rooms… literally, closets. Many times the floors were covered in cigarette butts from the prior teacher, who evidently smoked during the lessons. Some days, the room was packed with boxes so I had to move them out myself to make room for two folding chairs and a music stand.

    And I did that, happily, for about 6 six years.

    I was one of the only teachers to use a book to teach out of. I didn’t use it exclusively, but I wanted the students to learn how to read. (Even if it was just a little.) Most of the other teachers were metal-heads who just showed up with a boom box and a cassette tape. They’d tried to teach the kids “songs” even though it was painfully obvious that they weren’t advanced enough to learn them. Of course, most of their students struggled or gave up.

    Almost all of my students either bought or rented from the store. I didn’t receive any credit or commission for that. While did receive a small “break” on gear, it was NEVER at cost. They always made money on me when I purchased equipment.

    Regarding benefits… Benefits?? Are you kidding??? HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! We didn’t get benefits!

    If a student canceled, I didn’t get paid. Period. It was my responsibility to call students to reschedule. While the store manager would schedule new students, I had to coordinate and reschedule them if they had to cancel.

    So, I think you’re getting my drift here?

    I’m not a big fan of Guitar Center. Nor do I like the direction our country is going with the Walmarts and the mega-stores. I really don’t. However, the situation that you have described is VASTLY SUPERIOR to what most of older music teachers experienced. The idea that you get paid anything at all when you don’t teach, or that you’re able to get benefits and great discounts, is really cool.

    I am truly bothered by the fact that they push the Hal Leonard rubbish on the teachers. That’s not right. Teachers should be able to choose their own methods, or write their own like I did. However, I’d rather GC push the HL method books than to see teacher use nothing, show up unprepared, or just try and teach kids to learn a song that they’re not yet ready to learn.

    Bottom line: I appreciate your article and you make some excellent points. There is certainly room for improvement and GC would be wise to listen to the complaints from their employees. However, the physical environment, pay scale, and benefits that you describe are a HUGE improvement over the way things used to be not that long ago.


  32. I just cancelled my first lesson. The vibe did not feel right when I was in the store and now reading this I know the vibe I felt was correct.

  33. I had a friend who worked for GC. got fired because his manager overheard him telling a customer where he could get a drastically better price on the same product. all right, then!

    I will admit I used to visit GC quite often, though I haven’t been there in a long time now. I loved going in with pick in hand, spending a couple hours on different guitars, basses, and amps, and leaving with a smile on my face and all my dollars in my pocket. believe it or, well, believe it, I was once chastised by management for my routine. as if their profit margin doesn’t allow it! haven’t been back since.

  34. I know this is an old post, but thought I’d contribute. I worked at GC lessons for a year and change. I had moved to a new town and needed to establish myself. I used the curriculum to supplement and never received flak. The pay did kill me. I was told the pay was low because GC was doing all of the marketing, and supplied the facilities. In other words, I should be grateful for what I get and they were doing me a big favor. I left after that conversation because they showed what the company REALLY thinks of me and I wasn’t making enough to live.

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