How exactly is a Meade or Celestron attached to a non-Meade or -Celestron GEM? Most mounts use one of two standard dovetail mounting schemes, Vixen or Los-mandy. There are a few oddities out there, like the proprietary system Takahashi uses, but almost all GEM makers have wisely stuck to one of the two most popular formats. Both systems consist of a dovetail bar that is attached to the underside of the CAT OTA, usually by means of the accessory screw holes found on the corrector and rear mirror cell assemblies. The telescope can then be placed in the corresponding bracket on the GEM head. Caveats? The Vixen system is adequate for tubes up to about 11-inches. Larger, and it is wise to go to the wider and sturdier Losmandy system. Both types of dovetail mounting bars are available from most scope dealers. Celestron ships some of its OTAs complete with preinstalled Vixen or Losmandy format dovetails, depending on the OTA size and model.
Dealing with Dealers: Buying a New CAT
You have read this book from cover to cover, drooled over the Meade and Celestron advertisements in Astronomy and Sky & Telescope for months, and have asked endless questions of the CAT owners at the local astronomy club. You know which telescope you want, but you are not sure how to get it. Unfortunately, Meade and Celestron have not sold directly to the general public for a long time, which means finding a reliable dealer. A lot of people will advise you to patronize a local telescope merchant. You can at least look at a sample telescope in person even if you cannot always walk out the door with one (some models must be drop-shipped to customers from the manufacturer, even if they are paid for in a local store). Most important, if you have problems with that new scope, you have someone local to turn to for advice and help if you buy from a brick-and-mortar scope dealer.
The above might not be bad advice, but for most of us, it is not very practical. Telescope dealers are often few and far between. Amateur astronomers on the West Coast of the United States or in a major European metro area probably do have a telescope dealer within driving distance, but in the American Midwest or South, forget it. There, telescopes are usually bought on the Internet.
This is not always a bad thing. One strike against buying locally is that telescopes cost more that way. In addition to the price displayed in the magazine ads, there will be local sales taxes. Some telescopes (not usually Meade or Celestron) are also often "marked up" by local dealers. And, there are local dealers, and then there are local dealers. It is one thing to buy from the merchant down the street if that happens to be Anacortes, Astronomics, or another major astronomy seller. Often, however, buying locally means buying from a chain "nature store" or gift shop. Having a relationship with a local dealer will not help much if the people there do not know squat about scopes, if the response every time there is a question is, "I do not know. Guess you'd better call Celestron (or Meade)." Buying at these kinds of stores may work out if the scope is DOA (dead on arrival) right out of the box. In that case, it is usually possible to exchange it for a new one locally or at least get a refund, if needed.
DOA scopes are rare, but it does happen. Often, the unfortunates who receive these CATs are instructed by dealers (or the maker) to return them to Meade, Celestron, or whomever for repair, which often takes weeks. Insist on an immediate exchange from the dealer's or manufacturer's stock or a refund instead. If you brought a new television set home from a chain store and it was dead when you plugged it in, would you agree to ship it to Panasonic for repair? Not likely!
The best bet for most of us is to buy from a major national astroseller. Which one? I have listed some of the most prominent and reliable in Appendix 1, but a good way to decide on a dealer is to ask around at the astronomy club. Who do your buddies buy from? How have they been treated?
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