Guide To Purchasing A Used Guitar

Learn where to look and what to look for when purchasing a used electric or acoustic guitar.

While looking for a used guitar, there are many factors to consider, such as condition, personal preference, cost, and location. A used guitar can be a blessing to a person on a tight budget. If you know where to look for a used guitar and what to look for in a used guitar, you can save some money and obtain an instrument that will last a lifetime.

What should one look for while purchasing a used guitar?

The first thing you should do when you spy a guitar that you might be interested in is to give the instrument a thorough visual inspection. Look for absent tone and volume knobs, missing tuning heads, nonexistent bridge pieces, removed pickups, loose or hanging outputs, and missing plastic covers. These are all signs of abuse. They may also indicate that the previous owner had tried a little handy work of their own, which might mean that the guitar has been rewired, thus rendering it useless.

Most importantly, check the neck of the guitar to make sure that it is not warped. A warped guitar neck will most certainly leave the guitar incapable of being played. How well a guitar plays is referred to as its action, which can be either high or low. If a guitar has low action it means that the strings are closer to the fretboard, whereas a guitar with high action has strings that are high off of the fingerboard. Generally, a guitar with low action is easier to play. A warped neck will make the action way too high. You can check this by holding the guitar in the playing position and looking down onto the neck. Make note of the distance between the bottom of the strings and the top of the frets. Also keep in mind that the action of a guitar can be changed by adjusting the truss rod and adjusting the bridge. While the setting of the action is a preference issue amongst players, you should still be able to tell whether or not the guitar is actually inoperable by noting the distance between the strings and the frets. If the strings look like they are over one fourth of an inch from the fretboard, then that might be a sign of a warped neck.

Once you give the guitar an examination, you will need to play it unplugged. It is important to play every note and listen for what is commonly referred to as "fret buzz." If you hear a buzzing noise at any of the frets it means that the fret is bad. Even worse is if you hear the buzzing at several frets. This indicates that the guitar probably needs a fret job, which can be rather costly.

After you check for fret buzz, grab the tuning heads on the headstock, turn them, and make sure that they are not stripped and the guitar is able to be tuned. If you can not tune the guitar, you will not be able to play it. Remember that the tuning heads can be replaced.

Also make sure that the bridge seems to be in working order. You have already checked for missing bridge pieces, so now you should make sure that the bridge is operable. Most salesmen are not going to hand you an Allen wrench and let you start adjusting a guitar in the store. Give the bridge another look. Check for missing screws, springs, stop pieces, and saddles. Give the guitar a very slight shake and pay attention to the sounds coming from the bridge area. If you hear rattling, the bridge pieces may be loose. This can usually can be adjusted. Bridges can also be replaced.

The next thing to do is to plug the guitar into an amplifier. Listen for any crackles or pops while the instrument is plugged in. If you do hear any crackles, pops, or if there is no sound at all, ask a salesperson for a different instrument cable. A faulty cable does not mean that the guitar is useless. If you switch cables and still hear crackling, popping, or if you do not hear anything, it could be a sign of an internal problem with the guitar.

With the guitar plugged into the amp, give the pickups a slight tap with your fingertips and listen. If you hear a popping noise, that means that the pickups are active and they are working. Pickups can also be replaced. Some are rather costly, while many pickups are quite affordable.

Finally, play the guitar. Listen for tones that are suitable to your tastes. Pay attention to the action of the guitar. Make sure the guitar feels right. There is no need to purchase a guitar that is uncomfortable to play just because it works properly. Also remember that the strings on a used guitar are old. You can buy a new set of strings, in many different gauges, for an affordable price.

While purchasing an acoustic guitar, most of the same steps apply. Check the neck, the frets, the bridge, and the tuning heads for any faults. In addition, check the body and neck for cracks. Acoustic guitars with cracks in the body and neck should be avoided at all costs. Cracks in the body severely hinder the tone of an acoustic guitar.

A used guitar usually costs a fraction of the price of a brand new guitar. If you know what to look for you can purchase a quality instrument and avoid paying a hefty price. Once you find a used guitar that you are interested in purchasing, check a musician's catalog and find out the retail price of the instrument. You should never pay over the list price for a used guitar.

Where should one look for a used guitar?

Now that you know what to look for in a used guitar, you will need to know where to search. There are three prime places to explore in order to find a quality used guitar: pawn shops, music shops, and online auctions. Pawns shops and music shops usually have a variety of used guitars and, more than likely, a player will be able to find a guitar to fit his or her needs in either of these two locations. Keep in mind that most of the time a sales person has room to come down on the price, so come prepared to haggle. More often than not, you do not have to pay the price that is written across the sales tag.

While an online auction might net you a superb deal on an excellent guitar, it does have its disadvantages. First of all, you can not actually play the guitar. Playing the instrument is an essential aspect of choosing a used guitar. Secondly, a description of an instrument online might be misleading. A small nick to one person might be an enormous gouge to another. Lastly, you will have to pay for shipping when buying a guitar online. Some guitars can be quite weighty and you might end up spending more than you had originally planned in order to have the guitar delivered.

If you do find that special guitar online in an auction and decide to make a purchase, do the following:

1. Check a seller's feedback. Make sure their other customers are satisfied. If a person is making a habit out of not providing their customers with satisfactory transactions, you will be able to find out.

2. E-mail the seller with any questions you might have about the instrument. Ask about the neck, pickups, body, condition, etc., etc. A seller will be happy to answer questions because they want to make a sale.

3. Ask the seller for additional pictures. The more pictures that you are able to view of the guitar, the more informed you will be about the instrument's condition. As stated before, one person may view a cosmetic inaccuracy as a major flaw, while another person might not think twice about it.

By following the aforementioned steps and searching in the right places, you should be able to find and purchase a used guitar that will last a long, long time.

© High Speed Ventures 2011