You want to get a new guitar. Congrats!
Fewer things get a guitarist more excited than the prospect of purchasing a new instrument. After all, new is better right?
Today I am going to give you my top tips for buying a USED electric guitar, and why it just might be the right choice for your next guitar purchase.
Why Would You Want To Buy Used Guitars?
There are many pros to buying a used electric guitar. Perhaps the most obvious is that you could save hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars depending on what caliber of guitar you are looking for.
Sellers could be trying to get rid of some old gear as fast as possible, and in order to do so they may be listing quality gear at a price that can’t be ignored. Or maybe the seller isn’t aware of the value of their guitar and will list it for bargain prices unknowingly.
The bottom line is that the biggest advantage the used market has over the new market is price, so you’re almost guaranteed to get gear at a discount when you go used.
That is unless the guitar can be included in the next point…
Rarity / Vintage
My band Lumet‘s other guitarist, Eric Berliner, had a great example when I talked to him about his experiences buying used.
“Some gear is so rare, your only choice is to go used. If I want a Dumble amplifier, or a ’58 Fender Stratocaster, nobody is going to have that gear new.”
I think this is an important point to discuss. The used market is not just for those who are trying to save money. It’s also the ideal place to search for rare or vintage items. If they are in perfect working order, rare guitars won’t come cheap, but there’s a possibility of at least finding them. Chances are vintage guitars have been played over the decades, so there’s no choice but to get them used. Some would even argue that this adds to the tone or “mojo” of the instrument.
You Can Sell
Sometimes the electric guitars you order isn’t as good in your hands as it seemed online. The good news is that if any of this happens and you aren’t satisfied, you can turn around and sell it to the right person. Not only could you be giving someone their dream guitar, but you can also make your money back.
I highly recommend Reverb.com if you need to sell (or buy) a used guitar. Reverb has an advantage over eBay or other sites because they specialize in musical instruments. They do a great job of looking out for both the buyer and the seller, with warranty options available.
Safest Way To Buy Used Guitars
So you’re convinced that buying used or second hand electric guitars is the right way to go, but you don’t know how to go about navigating the used market. There are some inherent risks to buying used, but with the following tips you can score a fantastic used instrument.
Tip #1: Try Before You Buy, If Possible
My first tip when buying used electric guitars may not always be an option, especially if you are buying the guitar from someone far away. However, if it is an option, always try to play the guitar first before buying.
I am a firm believer that the most important aspect of buying any guitar is its feel. Even if a guitar looks cool, if the instrument doesn’t resonate with you or feel good when you are playing it, you won’t be inspired to play it beyond that instant.
You can save yourself a lot of head and heart ache by making sure you like the guitar before purchasing. If this is as important to you as it is to me, then I would recommend by starting off looking in local vintage shops. Not only will you be supporting a small business, but you can ask for help in making your choice and have the opportunity to play the guitar before buying it.
If you don’t have any small local shops around, you can also go to Guitar Center. Or, if you are buying online and the seller happens to be within reasonable driving distance, it couldn’t hurt to ask them if you can come over and play if first. At the very least, ask the buyer to send a video of the guitar being played. This leads me to my next tip:
Tip #2: Communicate With the Seller
My second tip for buying used guitars is applicable no matter what your circumstances are: always communicate and ask questions of the seller. Even if you are confident in what you are buying, there are some simple questions that can be asked to make sure you are making a good purchase.
- Why are you selling this guitar?
- How much was it played and what was it used for? Was it kept under the bed for years, or taken out gigging every night?
- Are there any issues with the guitar? Can I play it comfortably right out of the box?
- Will it come with new strings?
- Were you the only owner of the instrument?
- Do you have a Certification of Authenticity from the manufacturer?
Asking these kinds of questions helps make sure that you know exactly what you are getting for your money. What good is a guitar if the action is all messed up? Are you willing to pay the money to have someone fix it up, or spend the time to do it yourself? Maybe you are looking at buying a vintage guitar for thousands of dollars. Best to make sure the guitar is what the seller says it is.
Tip #3: Ship the Guitar in a Case
Something that often gets overlooked when it comes to used guitars is the case. Ideally, the guitar will come in a hard case.
Another pro to buying used is that used guitars sometimes come with extras free of charge, such as guitar straps, cables, even cases. Ask your buyer what kind of case comes with your guitar, as it not only affects the safety of your instrument as it gets delivered, but also its storage long term.
Where you buy the guitar from will determine how much protection you have as a buyer should the item be damaged in transit. For example, Facebook market has no kind of protection plan in place because they don’t make any money off the sales. Reverb and Sweetwater, on the other hand, do have protection plans in place.
Who wants to deal with that anyway? No matter where you buy it from, the best thing you can do to ensure that your guitar will be shipped safely is to look for guitars that come with a hard shell case.
Tip #4: Do Your Research
From 2014-2019 my mission was to find the perfect Stratocaster style guitar. I ended up making a custom order from Suhr, but I came to that conclusion because I spent five years researching Strats, including playing used ones in stores. My situation may be a bit extreme for most, but I got the guitar that I wanted. The easiest way to avoid getting scammed while searching for used guitars is to know exactly what you are looking for.
If you don’t have any idea what you are looking for, a good place to start is by going to guitar shops and trying out a bunch of guitars. Write down the things that you liked or disliked about each guitar. Feel the neck. Listen to the pickups. Look the guitar over from top to bottom. Then take that knowledge and search the used market for guitars that have the specs you are looking for.
Guitar forums are another good place to get guitarist’s opinions on certain models of guitars. For the most part, they are all on the forums because they want to help one another out. If you have any questions about comparing guitar parts that you don’t have, asking those who already have it can help you out.
Do your research. It’ll save you time and money, as well as get you a guitar closer to the one you want.
Tip #5: Avoid Listings Without Real Images
This is a quick way to identify if someone is trying to pull a fast one on you. A seller who has something to hide may try to use a stock photo of the guitar, especially if it is a popular model where such photos are easy to find. Then when it shows up on your doorstep you find that it has a broken headstock.
Even if the listing has photos, it never hurts to ask for more if there are any angles that you find are missing. You could also ask the seller to send a clear video showing all parts of the guitar.
Just because you are buying a used guitar doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to see what you are getting. The more you know about how the guitar looks can give you an idea of how it was taken care of and what kind of modifications (if any) will be needed.
Tip #6: Pay Attention to Upgrades/Modifications
Plenty of guitarists modify their guitars in search of the perfect tone, then decide to sell their guitar. It’s important to pay attention to the upgrades because it may change an aspect of the guitar to or against your liking. It also could mean that you are getting an upgraded guitar at a discounted price!
Another benefit of buying used is that the savings you get can be put towards modifying/upgrading some of the parts on your guitar. If you have searched high and low, but are only able to find a guitar that fits 90% of what you’re looking for, maybe it’s worth pulling the trigger and getting it anyway so that you can carry out the last 10% on your own.
You also need to pay attention to whether the previous owner did the work themselves, or had a professional do it. It never hurts to ask. If the seller is on top of their game, they might even be able to provide receipts for any professional work done.
When it comes to buying used vintage gear, modifications can be a serious game changer. Vintage guitars are worth the most when they are in their original state. For instance, a pre-CBS Fender Strat could be worth between $25,000-$50,000. However, if the original pickups were swapped out for modern ones, the value of the guitar could drop nearly in half!
Tip #7: Choose the Right Store
I use the word “store” lightly here, because the sources in which you can buy used guitars is extremely diverse, each with their own pros and cons. Here are some of the most common places to look for used guitars:
I touched on this briefly earlier, but it’s worth elaborating upon further. Guitar shops are by far my favorite place to search for used guitars. Even Guitar Center is a solid choice. The most important reason why I think guitar shops are the best is that you get to actually try the guitar in person.
Most shops have dedicated, sound proof rooms where you can play the guitar and get a sense if it’s right for you. Some stores will even let you bring in your rig so that you can hear the instrument through your own gear.
Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa calls his search for used vintage guitars the “Guitar Safari“, in which he goes out in search of wild and rare guitars. It’s a pretty funny term, but I like it because it sums up the excitement one feels when they go out to guitar shops. You never know exactly what the store is going to have at any one point in time.
This may not be ideal for someone who knows exactly what they are looking for, but for those who are looking for some adventure, local guitar shops are the way to go. You’re much more likely to come out of the experience with a story (a good one anyway) searching in a store than online.
P.S. you get to support local businesses!
I am a fan of Reverb when it comes to finding used guitars, or any used music gear for that matter. They are a website built by musicians for musicians. You may be less likely to find a crazy deal, considering that most musicians know the worth of their instrument. However, you are much more likely to have a trustworthy experience when buying gear from them.
The selection is impressive and you can compare similar items to one another with ease. Each of the sellers have the opportunity to be ranked by their buyers after each transaction, so you can easily determine which sellers are worth interacting with. Reverb also offers demo videos for common guitars and other gear so that you can get an idea of what your guitar will sound like.
Finally, I would also recommend Reverb if you ever need to sell a guitar. Their commission is fair, and they offer conveniences such as pre-made shipping labels to save you money at the post office.
The biggest difference between eBay and other music dedicated sites like Reverb or Sweetwater is that eBay doesn’t specialize in guitars. As a result the people who sell on Reverb may not be musicians and you may be more likely to find gear at severely discounted prices.
That being said, you could be taking more of a gamble on the quality of instrument you get. I would suggest eBay if you are looking for a real bargain and you don’t mind the possibility of doing some extra work on your guitar. If you used the tips mentioned above, you may be able to get a pretty good experience out of eBay nonetheless.
FB Market is a newcomer as far as platforms for buying used guitars go, and it isn’t one I would recommend primarily because there’s no buyer protection. Because Facebook doesn’t get anything from the sale, they don’t offer any kind of service to remedy problems should they occur.
The good thing about FB Market is that you can limit your search to areas around you and then go try instruments out for yourself, which I think is always a good thing. That being said I think that the other options above offer better buying experiences and I would only recommend FB Market if you find the exact guitar you are looking for and you are 100% confident in the integrity of the person selling the guitar to you.
Buying a used electric guitar that you will want to keep around for a lifetime can be challenging. It has its pros and its cons without a doubt and it takes a certain amount of skill and research to navigate the market successfully. If you are looking to get the best new electric guitar you can check out our electric guitar buying guide.
With that in mind, anyone can learn how to do it with some patience and attention to detail. I think the pros outweigh the cons if you know what you are doing and you could easily end up with your dream guitar at a fraction of the price.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.