5 Things to Know Before Buying a Used Guitar

130674346_b0b161761f_oIf you’re in the market for an inexpensive guitar, you’ve probably noticed there are many, many used guitars for sale. How do you find a great guitar and avoid the lemons? Follow this guide from guitar teacher James W. and you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect new-used guitar…

Buying a used guitar can be a fun and rewarding experience if you know what to look for and what to avoid. Let’s delve into the details in a step-by-step way that makes sense. First off, what kind of guitar do you wish to own? Since buying is the pain and owning is the pleasure, it is good to know what to look for.

1. Let Me Give You A Hand

Are your hands big or small? I recommend that you choose a guitar based on your ability to wrap your hand all the way around the neck. This is not just personal taste, it’s a physical thing. There’s no point in making things harder by picking a neck that is too big to play comfortably, with strings too high off the fretboard to play a chord or two.

Search for the kind of guitar you love to play and check it to see if the setup was done recently. If you are not sure, ask the owner. Chances are they bought this guitar used or new and had to have the strings lowered and the intonation set for it to play in tune. Are the tuners looking new? Were they an upgrade? Good tuners will keep the strings in tune longer, and a good setup means the guitar will be easier for you to play.

2. Tonewoods

Mahogany, maple, rosewood, spruce, alder, ash, and basswood.  Ah the wonderful phrase: “That guitar has good tonewoods.” Most good acoustics have a spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Some use maple for the top or other laminated woods for the back and sides of the guitar. I do not recommend buying a guitar with laminated back and sides. Laminate guitars can be too easily damaged and dinged or dented. Stick with quality solid woods. Something else to consider: Tonewoods have warm aural qualities and improve in sound with age.

3. Pickups

Look for guitars for sale with stock pickups by Fender,Fishman, Gibson, Godin, Dimarzio, EMG, or Seymour Duncan, as these are all quality makers. Today there are as many types of guitar pickups as there are musical genres. If you listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn play blues you may say single coil is the way to go. Both single coil and humbuckers are passive and rely on magnets to work. Listen to them and compare the tone of each one through a good amp like a Marshall all tube( valve) amp or a Fender Champ Amp. Then decide what you prefer. Remember to keep it simple and put good strings on that guitar once you get it home. Ernie Ball Slinkys (0.10’s) for electric guitars and Elxirs for acoustic guitars are good choices. I also like EVH Premium electric guitar strings.

4. To Coil Tap or Not to Coil Tap

Coil tapping is simply rewiring the guitar tone and volume knobs (a.k.a. pots) to “push and pull” so you can get more variety of sounds out of one guitar. In the case of my Telecaster, coil tapping has given me the sound of up to 7 guitars in one. If you see an electric guitar with this built into it and everything else looks good including the price then you may have found your prize. Snap it up!

5. Invest in a Hard Shell Case

A hard shell case can keep your pride and joy safe from just about every calamity known to man. It may be a used guitar but you still invested your hard earned dollars in it, so it’s wise to protect it. A hard shell case will cost more than a gig bag, but it will pay for itself in peace of mind. Trust me on this. I cannot express the trauma you feel when a baggage handler at the airport throws your guitar on the conveyer belt!

It’s good to understand the choices and maybe even be a bit picky. Educate yourself by going into your local guitar store and trying out several of their guitars for sale to see what makes you smile- “I like that one but I don’t like that one” and so on. Always buy trusted brands like Fender and Gibson and Martin with quality parts built right in. Look for a guitar that has been maintained in good shape by the previous owner. Guitars are like cars; they must be maintained and cared for. And remember, if you have any questions along the way, your guitar teacher will be happy to help!


james-walsh-150x150Post Author: James W.
James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!


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