Should I buy a second hand guitar?

Let’s be frank, buying a guitar is a difficult task.  Whether it is your first guitar or your fifth there are numerous questions that will be whirling around your head all needing to be answered; should you buy an acoustic or electric guitar, what style, what brand.  However, the question I find myself considering the most is should I buy a second hand guitar?

Perhaps at this point it is worth considering my own guitar purchasing choices so far.

The very first guitar I purchased was a brand new acoustic guitar.  It didn’t cost very much and wasn’t very good.  For my second guitar I found a brilliant second hand Squier Stratocaster.   Now I can’t remember exactly how much it cost me, as it was quite some time ago, but I think I picked it up for around £100.  It was my first experience of buying anything second hand and I have to say I was not sorry.  It was a great guitar in excellent condition and saved me a lot of money when compared to the price of a new one.  I part exchanged that guitar for a newer Squier Strat simply because the new strat was armed with a Floyd Rose Tremolo and a humbucker in the bridge position.  It was a good guitar but it still cost me quite a bit of money on top of my guitar the shop got in part exchange.  I have also purchased a second hand Epiphone Les Paul Standard and a new Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster.  So I have benefitted from buying both new and second hand guitars.

What are the reasons for, and advantages of, buying a second hand guitar.

There are many reasons why you would buy a second hand guitar.  There is often the reason of necessity, for example if the guitar you want is no longer made then the only option is to buy it second-hand.  There are some guitarists who like the aged look of second-hand guitars.  Certainly the look of a guitar will mellow with age and some guitarists actively look for the “vintage” look of second hand guitars.  Then there are those people who have made the buying and selling of second-hand guitars into quite profitable businesses.  However, for me the main advantage of buying a second hand guitar is one of cost.  You can often pick up an expensive guitar at a very good price simply because someone has grown tired of it and wants to buy something different.  But be warned buying second hand can be both a blessing and a curse if you don’t know what you are looking for.

These are some of the main things to consider and to look out for when buying a second hand guitar.

  1. I tend to avoid buying second hand budget guitars.  They are so cheap new that I cannot see that there is any advantage to buying second hand.  I think it is also fair to say that this type of guitar is more likely to show signs of wear due to heavy handed playing.
  2. This for me is a personal thing, and others may disagree, but I will never buy a second hand guitar over the internet and I actively avoid Ebay unless the seller has a good track record.  I would always recommend fully checking the guitar out before you buy it and this is not often possible when buying on-line.
  3. Always give the guitar a good going over.  Check for tell tale signs that the guitar has had a hard life.  You can expect some signs of wear and tear but excessive damage to the paint work are bad signs in my opinion.  I will give the guitar strap fixings a pull just to see that they are properly attached.  The last thing you want is to drop and damage your guitar because the strap has come off.
  4. Look down the neck are all the frets even and free from excessive wear.  If the frets are worn, over time you may have to have them replaced which is going to cost you money.  Take a good look at the neck is it straight, a warped neck can give rise to problems and will need to be straightened.  If you don’t know how to do this yourself then you will have to pay for a professional to do it.
  5. If the guitar is an electric guitar plug it in and play it.  Give the lead a gentle waggle.  Does it fall out easily or does the guitar sound crackle through the amplifier.  If it does it may be that the input jack will need some remedial work.   Try all the tone and volume controls.  Again when you play the guitar make sure that these work properly they should be free of buzzing and crackling.  If there is a tremolo unit give it a bit of action.  Does it move freely and does the guitar quickly de-tune.
  6. If you are a new guitarist and you know someone who plays the guitar ask if they will go with you.  An experienced eye can often point out any issues with a guitar that you may not have spotted.
  7. I often recommend that you buy second hand instruments through reputable music stores.  For example if there is something that you notice that is wrong with the guitar you can often ask the music store to fix it before you buy the guitar.  When I purchased my Epiphone Les Paul there was something wrong with the input jack.  Whilst I was checking the guitar out I noticed that if I moved with the guitar plugged in it would occasionally lose the sound.  Upon further investigation the soldering on one of the wires had weakened causing a loose connection.  The music store replaced the input jack before I parted with my money.  You also have some come back if you notice something wrong with the instrument after you have purchased it.
  8. Finally if in any doubt don’t part with your cash.

I am a strong advocate of looking at buying second hand guitars.  You can often find a really good guitar at a greatly reduced price compared to buying new.  Therefore when asked should I buy a second hand guitar my answer is always yes, give it a go and you may well be pleasantly surprised.


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