I noticed today that the 'Costco Effect' has gone to new levels, much to my chagrin and ultimate frustration. The 'Costco Effect' is known in the musical instrument trade as essentially the raping of the marketplace with poorly constructed, mass produced, readily available musical instruments of all types, priced so low as to singlehandedly adjust the marketplace pricing of the low end instruments to new lows. In all, bad news for the entire market - lower threshholds for pricing, poor quality instruments (which can encourage or develop frustration in the player), uneducated sellers, poor fitment and/or setup, and lack of support.
Previously, I noticed that only ultra-low end, ultra-low priced stringed instruments were offered, complete with "factory setup" (read: not setup to even the most remedial playing standards). Even from the photos you can see poorly fitted pegs, maligned bridges, cheap thin steel strings, and low quality wood, all finished off with a layer of lacquer. Frankly, I don't see any need for such low quality instruments in the marketplace and they do more harm than good - those looking at a budget can find used instruments of quality priced similarly or rent their instruments to stay budget-conscious. There is no need to have your child (or adult student) suffer through a poorly made, and extremely poorly setup instrument. Little does the uneducated consumer know that a stringed instrument (or just about any musical instrument) is NOT a commodity that is given a UPC code, put on the shelf, bought from a box, taken home and used - at least it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, the Costco Effect (also known as the Wal-Mart Effect - same issue) doesn't reveal this to the consumer, likely since it remains unknown to them as well.
Today I noticed that Costco is selling some sort of limited edition, special violin priced at roughly $2,000.00. To me, this goes from frustrating to ridiculous, and now Costco enters a whole new world of incompetence and ignorance. When you are talking about a $150 violin outfit, some leeway can be granted for general lack of quality, setup, and support. When you move to this pricing level, where there exists any number of fantastic, handmade instrument sporting fantastic tone, beautifully done individual setup and play testing, and generations of tradition, it is ludicrous to assume that spending this amount of money on an instrument from the warehouses of Costco is worthwhile. Still, I'm sure that many violin shops and music stores will lose customers, albeit uneducated ones, who will not realize what a serious, tactile, educated framework surrounds a purchase of such an instrument.
Costco is a friend to many of us - their warehouse pricing of products with brand names saves families a lot of money year after year, and it has proven its worth many times over with electronics, food products, and even lawn furniture. Musical instruments are not electronics (in most cases, mind you), food products, or lawn furniture. Stringed instruments in particular require expert development, execution, setup, and distribution - I wish Costco would recognize this, and stop robbing the hard-working violin shops and music stores of the business they SHOULD be getting.
I'm stepping off my soapbox now. Probably have to shop at Costco this weekend anyway...hope they don't read my blog or my membership may be revoked.