Prices of new guitars keep going up. A used guitar can be a great value. Use this ten point guide to evaluate your used guitar or bass purchase before buying.
You can find used instruments online on Ebay, Craigslist, or the used section of your favorite internet music store. Private sales by individuals, second hand stores, or your local music shops. Before you buy familiarize yourself with this handy guide.
- Is the neck straight? This is a key factor to evaluate when looking at a used guitar or bass. In person you can check this yourself, by eye. Sight down the neck from the peg head toward the body. The frets should be even with the top aligned without individual frets appearing higher or lower than the rest. A smooth sweep is what you are looking for with the slightest bow, without humps, waviness or twisting. Additionally you can hold a string down at the 1st fret and also a fret close to where the neck meets the body to evaluate the relief, the bow should be very slight. Also find out of the neck’s truss-rod is adjustable. Sometimes the truss-rod nut can be stripped or the neck bowed or twisted so much that it cannot be adjusted properly.
- Are the frets worn? A well played instrument will show some signs of fret wear, particularly closer to the nut. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Very deep pits or groves in the frets can indicate a neck that may have a limited time before it will require at the least a fret level, dress and polish job, and at the most a total refret. Deeply worn frets my also cause the strings to buzz when played.
- Are there deep scratches or dents in the finish? Minor surface scratches in the finish can usually be rubbed out, as long as they are not so deep that they have gone through the top coat of finish. Normal wear and tear and surface scratches are expected in used instruments and can even lend character to older instruments. Acoustics and instruments with lacquer finishes are typically thinner and may have less finish to buff out to remove scratches.
- 4. Is the hardware clean and rust/tarnish free? Normal playing can put a film on metal and plastic parts. This can be cleaned up with a combination of denatured alcohol and a modern wax to make them seem like new. However, blue/green tarnish, pitting or rust is permanent damage, so make sure you can live with the appearance.
- Are all the parts included? You may find used instruments with missing screws, knobs, strap buttons tremolo arms, etc. Consider if you will be able to find replacement parts if needed.
- Do all the knobs and switches work? If you are able, be sure to try an electric guitar plugged into an amplifier to make sure all the switch positions work, and the volume and/or tone controls function. These things can always be fixed or replaced, but that will be an additional cost to you.
- Check the condition of the pick-ups. Are they clean? If they are uncovered, is the wrapping tape intact? Are there any visible loose strands of copper coil winding wire visible? This may indicate a pick-up replacement will be necessary. Also while plugged into an amp, make sure all the pickups are working. If the instrument is lacking strings a coin or other metal object tapped on the selected pick-up will be picked up and amplified.
- 8. Are all the tuning pegs installed, and do they all match? They should turn easily, and be securely fastened to the peg head with metal nuts and/or the back of the headstock with small metal screws. Missing tuners can sometimes be bought individually.
- Is the nut in good shape without cracks or chips? A nut can be replaced if needed.
- Is the bridge in good condition and adjustable? This is important for maintaining the intonation of the guitar or bass. There shouldn’t be missing nuts bolts or string saddles.
Wrapping it up
We hope this guide helps you select a used instrument. Most of the key points are simply things to be aware of when evaluating a used instrument, to help you determine if the price is right. In the case of missing screws or other parts most American and modern imports there are parts available as replacements.
The only real deal breaker is a twisted or overly bowed neck. Everything else can be repaired, replaced, or polished to bring your latest used guitar find to an almost new state.