Kids Toys sold as Instruments?

Recently, my sister bought a “child’s guitar” from Target.

This product was $80, and sold not as a toy, but as an instrument, with “song book”.

I looked this over before it was to be given to her young son, and what I found is that it is simply not a “guitar”. It is a “toy that looks like a guitar”.

There is no way that this toy could actually make music, because the components on it are placed so “roughly” that it can’t be tuned. Van Halen himself couldn’t make this toy sound good.

It is a similar situation to taking a tube of metal and drilling some holes in it and calling it a flute.

My question is whether Target should be allowed to sell this kind of product as a “guitar” in the “instrument” section of it’s shop?

(Note: I have no doubt they will accept it as a return with the receipt - that isn’t really the point).


As dodgy as it seems, I have to go with “yes”. To do otherwise would require a legal definition of what is and what is not an instrument (or any other product) as well as policing shops for compliance. Further, Target is not exactly a musical instrument shop so expectations would be different than at a guitar shop.

Assuming it were to be done anyway, would that arbiter be a novice, virtuoso, teacher, or more likely a public servant that may or may not be musically inclined, or even a self appointed pollie. Each would be subjective in different ways. This seems a case where consumers should complain directly to the shop and see how that goes.

1 Like

Yeah - caveat emptor in this case eh? I think you are right.

The problem is that many people buying a musical instrument are not yet trained sufficiently to tell if it is a genuine instrument. Even after purchasing it they are unlikely to have the confidence to invoke the fit for purpose consumer law.

The line between an instrument and a toy should be drawn on its range and ability to be tuned. Tuning is an art form and some slack must be given on a per family basis. Not an easy task, but very worthwhile to do.

Giving a child a toy instead of an instrument can make them think they have no ability and kill their musical future. The exact opposite of the intention of the gift. Unfortunately there does not appear to be an ISO standard for instruments.


While you make many good points, try putting that in writing as a process so it works as intended, all the time, for just a single type instrument, the guitar. How is range measured? What constitutes an acceptable range? Does the tuning need to last for more than a minute? How many minutes? Do all the strings need to maintain tune at the same time? How about tonal quality? Who defines all that? Who is the certifying agency? Who polices the accuracy at point of sale?

s/Once an ISO9001 Management Representative

Not wanting to have a go at you, but absolutely it is caveat emptor, with liberal helping of common sense.

If it is in the childrens’ toy section of a shop like Target, that should give a strong indication of whether it is a toy or an instrument.

If your sister wants a real instrument for a child (be it guitar, or recorder, or anything else), you would need to go to a music shop.

If you need a tent for the kids, you go to a camping store. You don’t expect a toy tent to be weather-proof. etc. etc.

I think buying an instrument from target most would see as a toy I think if you want a proper guitar either buy from a music store or perhaps buy second hand. I know $80 is to many people a lot of money but I think $80 would fall under a toy, I would take it back and explain the situation that it was purchased as a musical instrument and if your not given a refund ask for targets head office number and put in a complaint you will I’m sure get satisfaction.

Exactly. Range on a guitar is not so bad. Even one octave makes a playable instrument even though two is typical. So I’d require at least one octave. Tone is impossible to be objective about so I sidestepped it. Almost, thanks. Again with guitar, (or ukulele in my experience) how long tuning lasts can be an issue with bad strings. Another complication is time can’t be measured without a mark for what is out of tune.

With range on a toy recorder, tin whistle or similar, it must have at least half of the second octave to play most folk tunes. A great many of these ‘toy’ instruments fail to achieve that, and fail to make a noise at their lowest note position.

Defining it for every instrument in a way that doesn’t push the price of instruments out of access for the curious and the hobbyist is really hard. Turning that into a certified, enforced and valuable service, when the whole point of that end of the market is accessible pricing, may be impossible. Fortunately that is not the only approach and I’m working on a more general proposal to put forward to Choice at the moment.

I was once a QA manager and certified ISO9001 auditor, so I know where you’re coming from. Thanks for considering my input.

I looked at the item on the Target web site. It seems to be “Electric Guitar 32” MEG3202PAK".
The product description on the site states:-
“Rock your world with our 32” electric guitar. Become the rock star you always dreamt of being.Includes 2W amplifier, strap and songbook. Ages: 6+ years."
As many children start their musical education at this age the implication and image would lead any reasonable person to asume that it it was a proper instrument, not a toy. It is listed on their web site under Musical Instruments>Guitars and quite clearly a musical instrument must perform the following functions:-
a) It must be musical
b)It must be an instrument.
If it can’t be played and/or tuned as a musical instrument this renders the item “not fit for purpose”. Nothing on the web site indicates that it is in the childrens toy section, and the size of the item at 32" would suggest that a range of people could use it.
If the item is as poor as “GreenAsJade” says it is, then the product should be clearly marked as a toy with the additional wording that it cannot be tuned.


This is the point that concerned me: the fact that although Target is clearly an el-cheapo shop, they are representing these products as instruments, not toys.

What I don’t know is whether we should expect “consumer protection” in this case.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that says “caveat emptor: what do you expect from Target?”

On the other hand, I think the answer to that is “I expect reasonable advertising/product representation”.

For example, if I buy a bike helmet from Target, I expect it to be an actual protective device, not just a toy that looks like one.

In respect of instruments in particular, eltimbalino’s point is the crucial one:

"Giving a child a toy instead of an instrument can make them think they have no ability and kill their musical future. "

The challenge for my sister in this case is real: she is a musical person (piano) and understands the implications of it just being a toy. No-one can make a musical sound with it, her child might be put off. Her husband doesn’t appreciate this so well, and sees Target offering an instrument for his child that he can afford… seems “wrong”.

1 Like

I think you all miss the point: Will this “guitar” entertain the child? If so then it is fit for its purpose. If the idea or intent was to give the child a musical intrument then return the item to Target and go and make a purchase form a guitar or music shop instead. You may even be able to purchase a second hand one.Even Cash Converters have heaps of second hand guitars. A guitar tuner can be in a s mall battery operated devise. I think the important thing to contemplate here- the age of the child and purpose of the guitar - is it to entertain or to create music?

Rather than missing the point, I think this is the exact difference that we are disussing.

Something that entertains, only, is a “toy”.

Something that can make music is an “instrument”.

Is it legitimate for Target to sell a toy by labelling it as an “instrument”, when it is not fit for purpose for making music?

I agree with you, it is misinformation to call it a proper instrument. I am sure you can get a real guitar for at least that much or less. Your local music shop or music dept. at primary school would surely give you good advice.

Sounds like a clear case of buyer beware . What I can’t work out here is the 'Guitar" made of wood and has strings like a traditional instrument or is it made of plastic etc which would make it a model of a guitar but not a playable instrument . $80 seems a bit dear too .Should have looked around . Monterey make good “Real” guitars for about that price . Check online

Is this what you mean, which costs three times the price?

Check out this link to JB HiFi and you will see a list of Monterey instruments . Scroll down and you will see electric guitars for $98 . I have seen them cheaper elsewhere . They have accoustic guitars , 3/4 size for arround $80 .

Thanks for offering this alternative - it genuinely is good to know about.

However, if you follow the link that I shared, you will see that the $250 product is described as utter junk. So it doesn’t take much imagination to deduce what the $90 product will be like.

That said, at least it is an instrument - it wasn’t described as “unplayable”, which the Target one is.

Yes I must admit being a one time music teacher you would certainly get what you pay for . I would not recommend these instruments at all .

Indeed. This brings us back to the original question - should vendors like Target be allowed to sell toys as instruments, if no music teacher or musician would actually call them “instruments”.

Note that the problem for my sister, which triggered this, wasn’t that they woudn’t take it back - I’m sure they will - the problem is the damage it does to people who don’t even know that what they have in their child’s hands is in no way musical.

Junk instruments are enough to put kids off learning music. Difficult to tune, don’t stay in tune, Get used to the fact that a used instrument of good quality, is better than new cheap rubbish. Violins eg are a prime example. Ask a music teacher - particularly if that teacher will have to deal with the fall out when the student can’t get a good sound out of the thing.