10 Tips: Buying Used Musical Instruments
Musicians amaze us. They might not have a car, home or food (Top Ramen doesn’t count), but check out their gear i.e.: an amazing vintage amp, deluxe pedals, an incredible axe. One thing musicians rarely cheap out on is musical instruments.
Why spend decades practicing your musicianship only to play on sub-par equipment? The secret that most musicians know is that you don’t have to buy gear brand new. Much like a car, it loses too much value when you “play it off the lot”. Also, for vintage gear, often times the only place to find it is on the used market. Here are 10 tips for buying used gear. Are we missing anything?
1) STAY SAFE
The most important tip before we get started is always keep yourself safe. When going to meet someone off the internet, always bring a buddy, and let someone know where you are going to be. A terrifying story recently happened in a San Diego Craigslist scam – http://www.sandiego6.com/news/local/story/Craigslist-Murder-Suspects-Identified-in-Court/GOX3gdx6qkGtzi9ulIEKvg.cspx. Also, remember the old adage, if it is too good to be true it probably is. In other words, if someone says they are giving away a Ludwig kick drum for free, be very suspicious!
2) DO YOUR RESEARCH
Before you even think about going to the store or online, do your research on what you actually want to buy. Pick several pieces of gear that may interest you and read everything you can on them. The internet has an amazing wealth of information for this kind of stuff. There are forums dedicated to Vintage fender amps, Moog synths, old pedals– you name it. Try to get the exact name of the piece of gear and get to work on Google. Start to get familiar with price range. Ebay’s “Completed Listings” section is great for this. Knowledge is power musicians.
Craigslist has been the premier used gear source. For you lucky LA Music Academy students, you can have access to LA, Orange County, Inland Empire and San Diego gear which will double your chances of finding a great deal. Everybody will put the piece of gear’s best info in the ad but the true test will be when you play it in person, which you can read more about below. Be wary of anything that may sound like a scam! Craigslist works best when you pick one piece of gear you want, search for it, bookmark the page and check it several times a day.
Ebay has one thing going for it — accountability! And when you are dealing with used gear, this is a huge plus. Negatives involve high shipping prices, and in most cases, not getting to play the gear before you buy it. The best perk is that Ebay runs on a user feedback system so if a seller sells something that isn’t great, you will hear about it. Also, it is connected with Paypal, so if something does not go right, you can bring down the might of Paypal and your credit card on them.
5) CHAIN STORES
Similar to how car dealerships got into the used car market, large chain music stores are turning to used gear to boost profit. Guitar Center Used (http://used.guitarcenter.com/usedGear/index.cfm) is the premier store doing this sort of thing. They update their website with lots and lots of new gear. One really cool function is that if you see an amp you like in Wisconsin they will ship it for free to the Guitar Center closest to you. And you get a 30-day return policy! It may be cooler to say you traveled the earth looking for that used vintage gear, but going to a chain store is way safer.
6) PAWN SHOPS
Some of the coolest and rarest used instruments and
stolen gear can be found in pawn shops. People either sell or pawn their items for cash and have a month or two to buy it back before it gets sold. You never know who might be hard up for cash and have to pawn a great piece of gear. Visit a pawn shop and if you are looking for anything specific, let the people at the store know to call you. Be safe! Pawn shops often attract a “seedy” clientele so go during the day and bring a friend.
7) PLAY IT IN PERSON
Actually playing the gear in person is a great way to test out gear. If possible bring some of your own equipment; if you are checking out an amp, bring your own guitar in; if you are buying a keyboard bring in the keyboard amp it will be attached to; make sure to play at different volume levels…Turn it to 11, pound on that snare. You want to hear every possible flaw that might be there. Don’t feel like you need to make a quick decision either, spend hours with the piece of gear really thinking it over. Be considerate of the seller however…probably don’t want to overstay your welcome!
While playing gear in person is important, remember that same person can also sell you faulty equipment. And, good luck trying to find them again! With sites like Ebay and Guitar Center you have accountability that does not exist on Craigslist (unless of course you are familiar with the seller).
9) BRING AN EXPERT
As stated earlier, we suggested that you always bring a buddy with you when buying used gear to stay safe. Why not bring someone who knows more about gear than you do? Especially with electronics, this can be a great idea. Someone who really understands vintage bass amplifiers, for instance, could simply unscrew the back and within in a few minutes tell you if it is worth the asking price.
10) THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE
You never truly own music gear, you borrow it, until you sell it again for something new (or when you need rent money). This is important! Consider whether the item has maintained its value over a long period of time or whether it is just something hot right now. There is nothing worse than losing 50% of its value when you try to sell it in a few years.
So there you have it musicians! Get calling, emailing and visiting. Remember: just because you go and play a piece of gear, it doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Feel free to say you need to think about it for a day and go home. If it gets sold, there will always be another one the next week. Stay safe, stay cheap, stay knowledgeable — and you will succeed.