I’ve been asked this question several times over the last couple of months. Variations include, “Can I ask this friend of mine to buy one for me? He’s coming down from (insert US/Dubai/Singapore/UK/Anywhere (but) here)! He’s a musician – so he could check it out too..”
Let’s put it simply. I wouldn’t. Of course, that’s just me. Obsessive-compulsive, fussy, nit-picking, anal, self-absorbed me. If you’re a serious musician and none of these begin to describe you, I don’t know you, man.
I would recommend third-party or remote instrument buying if you’re planning on spending some very small money for a campfire-style instrument that you’d want to use a few times a year, or just to make you look good in your room. But if it’s any kind of serious purchase, with some serious money involved, you’re asking for trouble.
Most players I know have very definite ideas of what would constitute a good musical instrument. And one man’s Gibson is another’s Less Pol. [This is obviously a guitar-based discussion.] Far as I’m concerned, I’d have to play many guitars for many hours before I settle on something I like; then I’d test the crap out of it, run it through everything it’s supposed to do and more; then I’d probably spend a day or two just playing it in. Then I’d probably buy it if the store guys aren’t a) throwing rocks as soon as they catch a glimpse of me, or b) find a sudden need to have a lunch/coffee/just-for-kicks break if they see me up the street. If they stay nice and if I bug them enough, I’d even probably get a discount, just for getting out of their hair. .
Your guitar has to fit around you. There’re so many little things apart from the list of specs and features. If you’re lucky enough to know exactly what you want in terms of sound, then you’ve got to find a piece that’s intonated right, has good action, no funny bends/warps/twists in the neck, as few dead spots/odd bits as possible, the right shape of neck (c/v/d/ibanez-razor/etc), the right access to the higher frets, the right balance, no fiddly electrical/electronics, tuning stability — the list goes on. Whoever you ask to buy a guitar for you, it’s not going to fit around you. Even if that person is a musician, and a good one at that, his/her tastes are not the same as yours, and you’ll eventually have to live with a compromise. And remember if that someone isn’t gifting it to you (hah), it’s not their money: they’re simply not going to be as picky as you are.
I know and understand all the usual reasons why you might think about remote purchase – you can’t get really fine instruments here/you can’t get exactly what you’re looking for/you may not, or simply don’t have a chance to travel abroad in the immediate future, etc etc. Sorry, but belt up and wait. Or settle for second best and no cribbing.
There is a lot of gear available in India now – we recently went in to this place in Delhi called OnStage, and it was crawling with guitarist gear. Good stuff too – all your Ibanez shred axes, Mex Strats and more, cables, strings, accessories, pedals, effects – a regular drool-o-rama it was. (Unfortunately, drummers/basssits/other musical denizens are still not such a favoured lot.) I found some of the stuff very well priced, and some just marked up unreasonably. Ibanez signature-series axes for example. Have a student who recently splurged on a Joe Sat Ibanez (the JS-100 I think); spent 50-odd k for an axe I wouldn’t have paid half as much for.
If none of this gear is to your taste, there’s the ‘custom’ option, which, IMHO, is a good way to go if you can find a luthier that can do the job just right. There ARE a few around, yes there are.
So, if you’re planning to pick up a guitar that’s just right, D-I-Y. It’s the only real way. There will be, of course those exceptions; those happy folk who find the right instrument without all the fuss of having to go get it themselves… ah, you’ll have to cling pretty tight to the lacy petticoats of ole lady luck if you’re wishing for that magic.