I'll bet many of you wonder where to find gear for your studio or home recording setup.  Even if you live in a decent sized city it's hard to find blank tape, microphones, headphones and other necessities at decent prices.  

  First off, I heartily endorse scanning the classifieds for used gear.  Try your local daily (though I'm sick of wading through the used piano ads) or any free Nickel Trader/Bargain Hunter thing.  Make sure you have a good idea of the "new" price of the items you're looking for by checking out music shops or catalogs, and try not to pay more than 2/3 of that.  Remember, you're not getting a warranty and you can't (usually) take it back.  

You can buy reels of tape used, but I've had one disintegrate all over my tape heads before (no, I didn't try "baking" it first) and it took days to clean off.  One of the best prices I've found for tape is through a local cassette duplicating and CD brokerage company (Northwestern, Inc).  It turns out they have a catalog of recording supplies at inexpensive prices and you just call up, order stuff, and pick it up at the front desk.  The cost for a ½" Ampex 456 reel is $37.85, a full $8.15 less than other shops in town!  It's even cheaper than most mail order catalogs, unless you order in large quantities.  

Speaking of catalogs, some of the best-priced ones I've found are:

  • Thoroughbred has a brief but fine studio section plus lots of music gear and smart sales folks 1-800-800-4654
  • Full Compass features a wide selection of audio gear.  They supply A/V (audio/video) people and have lots of cables at good prices, tons of mics, etc. 1-800-356-5844
  • Pro Sound and Stage Lighting is geared toward live sound and DJ stuff but has cheap mic prices and some good, affordable monitor amps. 1-800-945-9300
  • Polyline, the place for tape, CDR, and any tape related supplies.  They actually have the lowest reel prices I know of.  1-847-357-1259 (East/Midwest) or 1-818-969-8555 (West Coast)--ask for catalog 96A3
  • Markertek carries a lot of A/V gear but has such an extensive collection of pro-audio goodies that I had to mention it.  Plus it's the biggest catalog I've got.  1-800-522-2025.  
  • American Musical Supply has the best prices on instrument and recording cables and some of the DAT machines seem pretty reasonable. 1-800-458-4076
  • PAIA  makes these great kits you can get and build stuff for your studio at low prices.  Theremins, headphone amps, tube mic preamps, spring reverbs, compressors and a cool looking stereo mic are just some of the neat things they have.  1-405-340-6300

You can just call these companies and they'll gladly send you a catalog.  The prices on most stuff is comparable but you'll notice that one place may price  certain items quite a bit higher than the other companies.  I'm all for supporting local businesses, but when I walk into some noisy store and a mullet-head tries to convince me that a Shure SM57 is worth $130  it's time to try mail order!  If you've got a great source of gear and supplies let me know, even if it's regional, and I'll mention it here for others to use.  It's taken me a few years, and a few extra bucks, to figure this stuff out and I'm here to help others out.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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