The conventional wisdom when you mention pawn shop instruments is that whatever price you wind up paying, it's more than you should. And if some poor musician puts his axe in hock, it more than likely is presold before it is defaulted on loan. True, pawn brokers like the ones in Ian Hunter's 1973 essential tome Diary of a Rock and Roll Star, who let Gibson Melody Makers and Fender Jazz basses go regularly for less than their market worth, are a thing of the past, much like rock stars. But there are indeed bargains still to be found, particularly outside the six-stringed realm, with keyboards, sound boards, microphones, effects pedals, DJ equipment, and, most of all amplifiers.
We did the legwork so you don't have to. Here are the 10 best pawn shops for used musical gear in Phoenix.
10. USA Pawn & Jewelry Co
3020 W Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85017
"See Love Save" says the sign outside alluding to buying pawn shop engagement rings. Don't know what romantic bad karma is being recirculated there, but USA Pawn does have a vast array of used amplifiers and monitors in addition to its arsenal of cheap guitars. Long ago before people became slaves to credit cards, there was a thing called layaway, which is the way USA Pawn does business. Two clarinets and a flute available on layaway plans of $11 and $12 a week for instruments well under $100 if purchased outright. You can pay 28 dollars a week for a Fender acoustic if you don' t have the $175 asking price now. You can also purchase a set of Ludwig Accent drums for $33 a week that have been priced down now to $183.99. Who knows how cheap it will go if it's still here next month because everything is priced to move. You can see how a 24-channel Spirit studio by Soundcraft mixing board been marked for clearance from $432.99 to $129.
9. TNT Pawn
2511 W. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85017
Is there anything else in TNT Pawn besides musical instruments? We hadn't notice because there's a lot of intriguing inventory to occupy oneself with. This emporium. just west of Black Canyon Freeway. we visited this one seems the best one to take a kid to, mainly because there were an abundance of marching band reeds and woodwinds (including saxes starting from $275 going up to $2000), starter keyboards, and a half-dozen lefty beginner guitars, which are not as abundant in pawn shops as you may think, despite the likelihood of meeting people named Lefty at one. Guitars of note included a Crestwood dobro for $99 and a Washburn camoflage Flying V for $200. There's also a nice selection of gear, ranging from a $40 Danelectro pedal to a $1500 Mackie 24-channel mixing board. And TNT has a selection of musical supplies like strings and such that could rival any Mom and Pop music store. TNT Pawn, dare we say, pretty dynamite.
3922 W. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85019
Some of what makes this pawn shop worthy of the super handle is the variety of instruments on hand that make it perfect for the dabbling musician who wants to stretch his capabilities. Besides the large selection of Casio and Yamaha keyboards (including a standalone Yamaha piano for $500), you can dabble with a marching band xylophone for $169, a Besson trombone for $299, a Donelli accordion for $300 and a Blessing Clarinet for $90. Simmons drums seem to have fallen out of favor but are still great for the practicing drummer and when they come back as coveted vintage gear, you can brag you got one here for $199.
7. Hawkins Desert Pawn
6333 N. 59th Ave. # 1
Glendale, AZ 85301
Sometimes it's the luck of the draw. You never know what you'll get and in a remote pawn shop like this one your odds could conceivably increase. This quiet pawn shop not more than a block from Glendale Pawn also has a friendly staff that doesn't hassle you and really lets you examine stuff. I mooned over a Behringer Eurodesk mixing board or some Denon CD turntables, a lighting rig and a nice violin for over ten minutes (mostly because I couldn't find the price tags). No matter, I'm the kind of shopper that looks things over then goes back when I have questions. And the one item that I might go back for? There was a Budweiser guitar I know several alcoholic musicians would kill for.
6. Glendale Pawn and Jewelry
6548 N. 59th Ave.
Glendale, AZ 85301
Intimidation might be the stock in trade at some pawn shops where you need to be buzzed in and people sit behind glass like bank tellers. Not in Glendale Pawn, located in the heart of Peoria, surrounded by payday loans, check cashing emporiums, and used tire shops. And what could be less intimidating that the guy overseeing the modest musical instrument section allowing to step behind the counter and touch anything I wanted while he left to go the back room! Sure, there were a lot of Peavey guitars and basses in the $129 to $229 range that no one would risk trying to steal (especially since the 30 percent off marked down would almost be stealing). But there was an impressive cello for $500 a pretty decent selection of amps and some good prices on laptops and turntables on the other side.
5. Pawn1st Metro
9825 North Metro Parkway E
Phoenix, AZ 85051
Here's what to like about this Pawn 1st besides the giant stuffed grizzly bear that towers over you when you walk in. Some of the most valuable are actually on the floor where you can pick 'em up and play 'em. A bonafide (re: not Epiphone) Les Paul Standard was on a guitar stand marked down from $1,299 to $1,199. On the other side of that stand was a Gibson Les Paul custom for $1,179. This while worthless Squire guitars hang in the unobtainable wall region for $65 dollars. But you'll also find worthwhile hanging items among the beginner guitars like a Washburn acoustic for $279 and a Fender Jaguar bass for $200.
Also on the floor you usually find a full disassembled drum kit (Pearl the last time we checked), keyboards that won't fit neatly on a shelf and a host of amplifiers. We also spotted some vintage recording gear like old Fostex multi-track recorder for 70 bucks and a Yamaha Promix 01 Sound On Sound digital mixing system for $100. And you may never need a Chauvet Lighting intimidator, but it is good to know you can get one for little over $100.
4. Pawn1st Pawn Shop
234 W. Southern Ave.
Tempe, AZ 85282
Guns. Pawn. Jewelry. In that order. Those seem to be the main attractions here and yet this Pawn1st has a formidable music section that takes up one whole side of this expansive pawn shop. On that wall hangs a nice selection of affordable acoustics, Epiphone Les Paul Customs and Fender Squires, Schecters, Fretlights and BC Rich and one of those Rockstar Energy Drink promotional guitars you see given away but no one is crass (or savvy) enough to gig out with ever gigs out with for a feasible $129. Even if it sounds like wire strung across an empty can, think of the statement you could make with that. Below them you'll find a bountiful selection of selection of DJ equipment, Marshall heads and keyboards.
3. Mo Money Pawn
1152 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85014
The number of musical instruments are dwarfed by the number of lawnmowers, diamond rings, cordless drills and ammo, but sometimes it's quality not quantity. Off to the back there's a glass case that has the mouth-drooling guitars. You can just imagine the once proud owner of a 2003 Gretsch White Falcon selling for 2700 clams was the same guy who owned the 1962 Gretsch Gold sparkletop currently not for sale and tried to get that one back. Other beauties we saw in the glass case included a Gibson 1957 ES 140 for $3000, a 2006 Gibson FIrebird for $1800 and a Gibson ES 225 also $1800. You won't need mo money for the rest of the musical equipment, mostly guitars of the BC Rich, ESP, LTD and Spectrum variety. But there's a whole room off to the side filled with value-priced amplifiers, keyboards and more stringed instruments worth your patronage. Note, you'll have to cross 40 feet of guns and ammunition to get to it.
2. Arrow Pawn & Jewelry
2706 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85017
Arrow Pawn seemed to be designed with a rock and roller's heart. The 20-foot plus walls where the guitar head stocks end and the ceiling begins are plastered with a 12-inch vinyl like some long-lost sock hop or the ghost of Hollywood Alley. The staff on duty the day we visited were young, classic rock music was blasting at a confident volume like this was a music store first and foremost. Any musician here to sell used gear would have no reason to feel intimidated unless they stopped first at the Jewelry section which was covered with over two dozen gold-framed Presidential portraits.
The plentiful guitars are mostly the usual cheapo suspects and crazy non-name brands that you'd want just for the look, like a two-toned lightning bolt of an axe that's both worthless and priceless at the same time.
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The true bargains are the outboard gear, like the Behringer ACX1800 Ultracoustic Acoustic Guitar Amplifier that's over a hundred dollars under the best used price online, a Roland mixing board for $160 and the two turntables and a mixing board combo from American Audio for $450 in its own anvil case. underneath the glass counter we spied an Electric Harmonic Big Muff for 60 bucks and an Ice Blue USB microphone for a cool $45, not a tremendous mark down but on a par with Amazon minus the postage and wait.
All in all, a pretty relaxed vibe for a pawn shop. The close proximity to the Pamper Yourself Massage Center must have rubbed off on it.
1. SuperPawn (a.k.a. Central Music Brokers)
4420 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012
No matter what pawn shop chain pastes its sign on the facade, 4420 North Central is always going to be Music Brokers, the daddy of all music pawn shops, the store that will give any Guitar Center a run for its money. As you're buying guitar strings or tuning pedals and eying upper echelon Fender and Gibsons hanging on the wall, you have to keep reminding yourself that it's a pawn shop and someone is at a counter buying your gold in the next room. About the best thing you can say about any music store is that you go in to look for one thing and you come out coveting something entirely different. Like an autoharp you never considered owning that's only $99. Or a Joe Meek condenser mike for 40 bucks. And if you have a couple of grand there's a ’60s-era Avocado Green Fender Rhodes student model keyboard that looks like something out of the Jetsons — a space age fiberglass body with a big knob that looks like a warp speed control that's actually a metronome. The staff here are always knowledgable about music which is the big plus whether you're buying or selling. Better still, they are there just to geek out with you as you gush over this vintage gear.