Top Tips for Buying Pre-Owned Guitars

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I’m on a music shop’s website is to go straight to the Pre-Owned section. It’s by far the most interesting part of any music shop’s collection! The possibility of a great deal and to trawl through the weird and wonderful stuff that people have traded in is always good fun.

However, I feel there is sometimes apprehension when buying a previously loved item. What if everything isn’t as it seems? Could there be a problem ‘under the hood’? What if I get ripped off and left stranded with a piece of junk?!?! All are valid anxieties. 

Generally speaking, if a music store has purchased a second-hand instrument, the item will have been checked over and tested before the deal was done. Regardless, this may not stop things from falling through the cracks. So let me alleviate some of your worries, consider this a checklist of things to tick off whilst shopping in the Pre-Owned section.

Let’s dive in… 

Fret Wear

The first thing I like to check is the frets. This will give you a good idea of how much the guitar has been played. If the frets are looking worn out and dented, then a fret polish may be quite close on the horizon. Worn frets can cause string buzzing and intonation issues depending on how worn they are, so it is definitely worth paying attention to. If the frets are extra worn and there is not enough material for a fret polish to be effective, then a re-fret may be needed. A re-fret is a relatively expensive procedure, so check those frets! If they are looking worn and tired, a trip to the guitar tech may be looming.

This is quite an extreme example of fret wear, but it gives you an idea of what to look out for!

Check the Action 

Have a look at the guitar’s action. If it is excessively high, you will want to make sure that it can be lowered. If the neck is really flat, or if there is a bow in the neck then a truss rod adjustment could potentially solve the problem. If the truss road has been fully maxed out and the action on the guitar is still very high, you may need to take it to a guitar tech as there may be other underlying issues that need to be addressed. So when looking at a Pre-Owned guitar, double-check the action and, if possible, check to see that there is plenty of room for movement of the truss rod. 

Bridge lifting 

If you are on the market for an acoustic guitar, double-check that the bridge is still fully stuck to the body. This isn’t always easy to see with the naked eye, so a little tip is to take a piece of paper and run it along the bridge where it meets the guitar top. If the bridge is lifting, the paper will disappear under the bridge where it has lifted. This is particularly important on 12-string acoustic guitars since there is so much tension pulling the bridge. We have had to knock back quite a few lovely old resonant 12-strings due to the bridge lifting. The last thing you want is the bridge to come flying off under the tension of 12 strings pulling at it! Although you can get the bridge re-stuck to the guitar, it will cost quite a lot to be repaired by a guitar tech, so proceed with caution! 

This is a good method for checking if the bridge is lifting

Belly Up 

This one is often found alongside the bridge lifting. There are other reasons why a guitar going belly up can happen, it doesn’t just happen to 12-strings.  We have seen a lot of people wanting to trade-in or sell an old acoustic guitar that has been hiding in the loft for the last 10 years. At the shop, we refer to the loft as ‘the guitar cemetery’ because it’s where guitars go to die (sorry for the morbidness). The loft in your house is often exposed to big changes in temperature and humidity throughout the year which will seriously affect a guitar. Since guitars are hunks of wood with moisture in their pores, changes in temperature and humidity will expand and contract a guitar’s wood which will degrade its strength and structure. If a guitar’s structure has been compromised, the belly of the guitar may get warped under the tension of the strings and go belly up. If your guitar goes belly up, it’s basically time to arrange a guitar funeral. 

Pickup Selector 

It may sound obvious, but if you have the chance to test a Pre-Owned guitar before buying it, make sure to cycle through the pickups with the pickup selector. Check that there is no crackling when cycling through the pickups, as this may indicate loose wiring or a corroded connector. If you do hear crackling, persevere and keep moving the pickup selector backwards and forwards as it may just be some dust on the contact. By wiggling the selector quite quickly, it should get rid of any dust or dirt that is impeding a clean connection through the contact. If there is still a crackling noise then there may be something more sinister. 

Buying with a Retailer

Chances are, if you are buying a Pre-Owned item through a retailer, they will have done all the necessary checks when buying or trading in an item. However, it is always good to be equipped with the knowledge to do a few customary checks yourself. I can’t speak for other retailers, but here at Kenny’s Music we warranty all Pre-Owned goods for 3 months from the date of purchase, so you can always buy with confidence. 

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