Buying Second Hand Guitars

Seen a Ad in the classifieds, And you want to Buy it. But How do you know it's Good? This Guide will Help you.

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Often cheaper than a new guitar and just as ready to rock out, a secondhand guitar could be the perfect addition to your collection or the perfect thing to start you off, but how do you know that your potential purchase isn't a potential dud? The truth is that some fantastic guitars, while expensive when new, are relatively cheap secondhand. Sometimes you can find a custom or a limited edition guitar that someone is selling quickly for the cash and you can often get a real bargain if you know what you are looking for. It really pays to do the research before thinking about buying a second hand guitar as some sellers will push their price up to cash in, especially if they know they are selling to a beginner who may not know much about guitars. So, as a beginner who may not know much about guitars, what should you look for when inspecting a secondhand guitar? Let's just say that you have found a secondhand guitar in the musical instrument section of the weekly classifieds and you are quite keen to go and take a look at it. Below is a list of hints that will help you when inspecting the guitar and talking to the seller: When talking to the seller, ask them the following: The make and model of the guitar - It is best if you can do some research on the guitar model to find out the asking price elsewhere, both new and used, and whether or not other people are experiencing problems with it. You can find reviews for almost any guitar submitted at Harmony-central.com/Guitar or you can go and ask at your local music store. About the condition of the guitar - If they are honest, the seller may tell you about any damage that is undetectable upon rough inspection. How long they have had the guitar - If they have had it for a long time, they should have a good knowledge of its history of use, repairs and maintenance etc. If they are not forthcoming with that sort of information, they may be trying to pull one over you. When inspecting the guitar, check the following: The overall condition - Look the guitar over and make note of any obvious damage - guitars often take a bit of wear and tear and if its just small scrapes and scratches then the guitar will probably be fine. Look for rust also , not on the strings, but on the hardware that is holding the strings and the pickups. If there is any rust in these places run! It's not worth it. What good is a guitar that may fall apart on you in the near future? Trust me - leave it alone. The neck of the guitar - the neck is really important. Here are some areas to look at: Make sure that the neck is not warped or out of shape in any way. Check the area where the neck joins to the body of the guitar - look for cracks where it may have been broken in the past. In the same fashion, check the area where the neck joins the head of the guitar. Check the action. Action is a word that describes how close the strings are to the fret board starting at the head of the guitar all the way down to the bridge. It is preferable to have the strings very close to the fret board as to make it easier to press them down (not so close that they are touching of course). If the strings are nice and close to the fret board all the way along, you would say that the guitar has a good action. Pictured right is a guitar with poor action. Notice that the strings sit quite far off the fret board. Guitars with poor action are harder to play and don't sound very good. You can fix the action on your guitar by taking it to a guitar technician, but it will cost you between $20 and $50. The Intonation of the strings. Intonation is a word that describes the accuracy of each individual note that the guitar can produce on any string. If the intonation is correct, every note on the guitar will be the correct pitch - If it is out, the guitar will be impossible to tune and it will sound horrible. To roughly check the intonation, play the E shape barre chord on each fret of the guitar. As you move towards the bridge of the guitar, you should hear the chord keeping its pitch - if not, the intonation is out and you will need to get a guitar technician to work on the problem. If the guitar you are looking at is an electric, you must plug it in and see how it sounds through an amp. Ask the seller if you can play it through your amp and if you don't have one, ask someone if you can borrow theirs. Try the following when testing an electric guitar through an amp: Turn the amp up to a fair volume level and then play with the volume and tone controls by turning them to full and then back to zero. Test the pickup selector by flicking its switch back and forth. Carefully listen to any sounds that are being made while doing these things. You are looking for scratchy sounds or clicks that might indicate old or worn electrics. Strum a single chord and while the chord is ringing start playing with the controls like before, still listening for scratches or clicks or any other nasty sounds. Guitar technicians can fix these problems and most guitars need to be done about once every 5 - 10 years. Just be aware of this fact or you could find yourself spending more money than you first intended. Check the sound of the guitar - Before you buy, you want to know that the guitar sounds like it should? Once you have tested the guitar sound, go to a music store and ask to play on a new model of that guitar. If at all possible, use a similar amplifier to the one that you tested the second hand guitar on, and see if you notice any BIG differences. There is a simple rule that I like to follow: If you're not happy with the guitar sound Don't buy it! The most important thing to remember when shopping for any guitar is... Don't shop impulsively. A guitar is a major purchase and you want to get the right one. Leave yourself time to go away and think about the purchase. If you have doubts when checking out a guitar, you are probably better to leave it and hold out for something that better suits you. If you are new to the guitar and a little worried about testing guitar in public - don't worry. It is important to remember that you are not there to showcase your playing ability - you are there to discern whether your proposed buy is a good deal or not so just go for it. If you are still worried, take an experienced guitarist along with you when you are looking at a possible purchase. See if you can persuade a teacher or a friend - most musicians love to help newbies. Not only will they be able to offe helpful advice - they will be good moral support when it's time to pick up the guitar and test it out in public.

68 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Johnny Quest
    i never bought a second hand guitar, i love playing new guitars in and i like a clean fretboard. second hand guitars sometimes have dirty fretboards.
    HighFlyingGuita
    Basically, this article told me "When buying a second hand guitar, use common sense." Which is something I already knew.
    Some of that information isn't common sense for most people. For example, Turn the amp up to a fair volume level and then play with the volume and tone controls by turning them to full and then back to zero. Test the pickup selector by flicking its switch back and forth. Carefully listen to any sounds that are being made while doing these things. You are looking for scratchy sounds or clicks that might indicate old or worn electrics. Some people wouldn't have know that could be worn out electronics.
    Aaronrockstar15
    Great article with great tips I bought my bass and electric second hand and it was way more than worth it i got a Washburn G-2V older modle but perfect condition along with a duel 12in amplifier all just for 250. and the bass for 75 bucks i got A washburn lyon and an older create amp but for 75 bucks i can say i got way more than i spent. again great seconhand guitars for a great price
    mkg813
    Should have known it was plagiarized.. It says something about the picture to the right, but there is no picture. However, there is a picture in Aaron_Yeo's link...
    strat0blaster
    Basically, this article told me "When buying a second hand guitar, use common sense." Which is something I already knew.
    High_o
    one time I saw a guitar and the action was an inch off the fretboard. No joke. he got the neck off an old squire and did a homemade transplant. Shittiest thing to play. Did NOT make bending easier, you crazy fool. A lower string gauge will help you bend better. But that's all I can think of.
    dude, within limits. a really low action mean it is easier to press the strings down, but harder to "scoop" under the strings when bending. also, really low actions will fret out when bending on the higher frets. higher actions also generally have better sustain than guitars with low actions, and you can adjust this kind of thing really easily, particularly if you have a TOM bridge
    deknisely
    well, even though this is supposedly plagiarised, it's helped me...so idc. lol.
    cjimil419
    good article but just so you know, anyone can adjust their action with an allen wrench.. thats not to say theyll know what theyre doing but its pretty simple
    urik
    cap'n curry wrote: Lefty7Stringer wrote: great article, but is intonation and action that big a deal? you don't need a tech to do that, thats like inspecting a guiar and saying"i wont buy it because ts out of tune, or because the volume knob isnt all the way up" completely adjustable haha great arcticle though intonation is a big deal, i don't think your understanding it completely. The guitar may be in tune when its open strings, but you want each fret to be in tune as you go up the neck. had a crappy first guitar and it had horibble intonation, so if i tried to solo, it would sound horrible. But luckily i bought a better guitar before i started all that
    Most intonation problems can easily be fixed by yourself and a setup tutorial. Same with the guitar action.
    Rogue Hermit
    i bought a close to 20 year old peavey impact guitar a few years back. it only required some minor adjustments but plays better than many new guitars i've played. i prefer playing it over gibsons and fenders, and sounds great through my marshall. i see no problem buying a used guitar as long as i make sure it's not made in china and falling apart.
    chillrock
    i saw an ad for a Gibson 1959 Les Paul. 300,000 British Pounds. i didnt buy it
    Fecaco
    that's a good article im gonna buy a second hand guitar and that gave a clue thanks
    Hentsik
    So I bought a second hand LTD EC-1000 for about 530 Euros instead of 999 Euros. Im happy with it. Otherwise i would had got an Epi Lp Custom, but I liked the LTD more even when I saw that it was a little worn. Some frets aren't as nice as new and there's some buzz, but im still happy. Also 2 day's ago I got a Crybaby 535Q for 100 Euros instead of 200 Euros. Im happy with that too. Im convinced that ur able to get a good condition item for a good price when you get it used.
    AbbeyRoad33
    very well written, personally all of my guitars are second hand, i'm a big beliver in the concept good work all around
    VanTheKraut
    I think this guy is the kind of guitarist who doesnt want to hardly touch his guitar cuz he "might mess it up" go to a technician for action and intonation issues, WTF? theres these insane things called tuning pegs!
    adamjowens
    Johnny Quest wrote: i never bought a second hand guitar, i love playing new guitars in and i like a clean fretboard. second hand guitars sometimes have dirty fretboards.
    you could always clean them up with lemon oil
    Bringroftorture
    anothershredder wrote: Lame. A blatant cut and paste job from guitarchordsmagic.com It's not the article that's lame, it's the author who doesn't cite his reference and thus, takes it as his own. Blatant plagiarism. Lame.
    Thanks for cutting and pasting then, I'd never find it otherwise lol
    FenderStRaT RS
    2nd hands are great if u know what u are getting.I got me a 13year old richie sambora sig stratocaster just for USD$440
    shinedown98
    yea good article, i was impulsive when i bought a used jackson dinky that had no strings on it, haha. However unlike MOST times, this guitar ended up being perfect for me and i love it, I did however clean it up a bit, i put new strings on it, and i also changed out the stock pickups for a new set of seymour duncans (jazz neck, 59 bridge), but for the 145 i paid for the guitar cuz the kid was tryin to ditch it, i took the chance on it, and it turned out good, and its the one i always grab....THIS TIME.
    JessicaGonzo
    I got an epiphone Les paul standard for $250. Just needs to be set up and some new knobs.
    anothershredder
    Lame. A blatant cut and paste job from guitarchordsmagic.com It's not the article that's lame, it's the author who doesn't cite his reference and thus, takes it as his own. Blatant plagiarism. Lame.
    ultrablue
    maybe check the fret wear. re-fretting costs upwards of 100, so add that onto the price before you think you're getting a bargain
    qotsa1998
    Nice article. Getting a guitar second-hand is a great idea. I got a very nice, discontinued DeArmond Starfire second-hand. It retailed for around $1,029, and i got it for about $150. With a case, too. What a steal!
    nemayasleads
    Lefty7Stringer wrote: thats like inspecting a guiar and saying"i wont buy it because ts out of tune, or because the volume knob isnt all the way up" completely adjustable haha great arcticle though
    You gotta remember though, some guitars tend to fall out of tune very easily while playing even simple licks. If you don't want to spend a whole lot of money off the bat, this guitar may not be the one for you, and therefore resulting in intonation being a problem.
    Lefty7Stringer
    great article, but is intonation and action that big a deal? you don't need a tech to do that, thats like inspecting a guiar and saying"i wont buy it because ts out of tune, or because the volume knob isnt all the way up" completely adjustable haha great arcticle though
    cap'n curry
    Lefty7Stringer wrote: great article, but is intonation and action that big a deal? you don't need a tech to do that, thats like inspecting a guiar and saying"i wont buy it because ts out of tune, or because the volume knob isnt all the way up" completely adjustable haha great arcticle though
    intonation is a big deal, i don't think your understanding it completely. The guitar may be in tune when its open strings, but you want each fret to be in tune as you go up the neck. had a crappy first guitar and it had horibble intonation, so if i tried to solo, it would sound horrible. But luckily i bought a better guitar before i started all that
    Cuddrow
    Good article! There's one thing, however. Using your ear to check intonation is hard, especially for a beginner. I would not recommend ANYONE to check the intonation by ear, as even a skilled musician will not be able to make out the few cents it might be off(unless you have perfect pitch). Use a tuner for checking the intonation. Except for that, it's all good.
    Bobbito315
    PimpedOutSquier wrote: cap'n curry wrote: intonation is a big deal, i don't think your understanding it completely. The guitar may be in tune when its open strings, but you want each fret to be in tune as you go up the neck. had a crappy first guitar and it had horibble intonation, so if i tried to solo, it would sound horrible. But luckily i bought a better guitar before i started all that I don't think you understand intonation. With a hex key or a screwdriver (depending on your bridge) you can correct all but the most severe intonation problems.
    I think you DO understand intonation.
    PimpedOutSquier
    cap'n curry wrote: intonation is a big deal, i don't think your understanding it completely. The guitar may be in tune when its open strings, but you want each fret to be in tune as you go up the neck. had a crappy first guitar and it had horibble intonation, so if i tried to solo, it would sound horrible. But luckily i bought a better guitar before i started all that
    I don't think you understand intonation. With a hex key or a screwdriver (depending on your bridge) you can correct all but the most severe intonation problems.
    CobbZ
    To "Hentsik", the point of this article is to show you WHAT a good deal is. Surely you can work this out for yourself? By the way, EXCELLENT article.
    linus.d
    Great timing, dude.. I was right about to go test a 2:nd hand guitar before I saw this Thanks!
    batiboy06
    was planning to buy a second hand guitar for my second axe. thanks man nice article
    Realturka
    I figured most of these out by myself and VOILA! I have a scratchless ESP Ltd F-250 sitting in my room
    Hentsik
    Im going to try and maybe buy a second-hand LTD EC-1000 tomorrow. The price is about 530 Euros while the new one is 999 Euros. Its 4 years old and some of the gold plating is worn off from the TOM and a little from the knobs. Do you think its a good deal or not?