Buying a Used Guitar: Avoid These Mistakes

buying a used guitar

This article reveals the art of buying a used guitar and what red flags to look for on your journey.

There is something romantic about a used guitar.

People who have written or played songs on it seem to live within the spirit of the guitar itself.

For many guitarists, their first love is an old guitar.

Just look at Willie Nelson, and you can see the allure of a well-worn instrument.

So what should you look for when purchasing a used guitar?

Where should you draw the line on dings, scratches, faded colors, and slight problems?

Is it better to buy one from a music shop or through a forum such as Craigslist?

Let’s dive in and break down the details of what to look for when buying a used guitar!

What to look for when buying a used guitar.

Some details are paramount to keep in mind while buying a used guitar. Make sure you aren’t wearing rose-colored glasses while looking at guitars. Just because you want an Epiphone Joe Pass hollow body archtop electric and it appears on the Facebook marketplace doesn’t mean it’s the one.

It’s exciting buying a guitar, so make sure that you thoroughly go through every part of the guitar before you purchase.

One major detail to look out for is what shape of the neck is in. Hold the guitar up in front of you, flat to the floor, and look straight down the neck from the bridge and the headstock. You probably want to look for a different guitar if you notice it warped in either direction.

Acoustic Guitar

  1. Look at the state of the bridge. On an acoustic guitar, look at where the bridge is attached to the body. If it is slightly protruding or there looks to be a slight bubble on the guitar body around the bridge, the guitar body is likely compromised.

    The last thing you want is to get home with what you hope is your perfect guitar only to have the bridge break loose, requiring considerable money to repair.
  1. Tuning machines on the headstock. Are they in good condition? Spin them in both directions to ensure that there are no issues. Check for telltale signs of neglect, such as grime or rust on the gears and pegs. If rust is present, this likely isn’t the guitar for you.
  2. Check for dings, scratches, or damage to the body. If they are superficial and it doesn’t bother you based on the aesthetic of the guitar, use them as a bargaining chip to get the price down.
  3. Check the EQ. If the guitar is acoustic-electric, pay particular attention to the onboard EQ and battery system. While playing the guitar plugged into an amplifier, move every knob and slider to their maximum and minimum positions several times. The EQ may be broken or require cleaning if you hear a crackle.

    Pull the EQ and battery out of the guitar to inspect it. This happens regularly to replace batteries, so make sure there aren’t any issues. Are there any loose wires? Does it slide in and out with ease? If not, haggle the price or find another used guitar to buy.

Never be afraid to walk away if you see any signs of issues with the guitar. There is always another used guitar just waiting for you to find it.

buying a used guitar

Electric Guitar

Buying a used electric guitar can be the best day of a guitarist’s life or the beginning of a serious headache. Four significant things need to be examined on the electric guitar.

  1. Are all of the pickups working properly? While plugged into an amplifier, move the pickup selector into each position. There are usually between three and five positions on the pickup selector. 

    These should select the pickup closest to the bridge in the lowest position, the neck and bridge pickup in the middle position, and the neck pickup in the top position. If they don’t, something is wrong.

    The same applies to the second and third-position blending pickups if the guitar has three pickups.

    If you notice that one of these channels sounds off, weak, or doesn’t work—then either the selector has an issue, or one of the pickups does. This guitar is likely not for you unless you are fine with spending money repairing it.
  2. Use all of the tonal knobs and see if they work. The tonal knob must be cleaned or replaced if there is a crackle. The same goes for the pickup selector—if there is a crackle, it needs attention.
  3. Are all of the hardware originals? Sadly, many guitar techs swap parts from several guitars to make one complete guitar with all the original parts. If everything works and you don’t care that the guitar is original, it doesn’t matter.
  4. Check the tuning machines, bridge, and neck. Electric guitars with a Floyd Rose bridge are amazing but can also hide issues with tuning. Is the neck straight? Are the frets dirty or rusty? All of this needs to be taken into account before buying.


Play every note on the guitar neck individually to ensure no dead frets or buzzing. If there is, this guitar needs work to get up to snuff. Feel the frets. Are they rough? If so, prepare yourself for frequent string replacement.

Pros & Cons of buying a used guitar.

Second-hand guitars can be a fantastic investment. However, they can also bring a lot of stress and headaches into your life as a guitarist.

When buying a new guitar, you can bring it back under warranty and fix any issues. That isn’t the same when you buy a used guitar.

Used guitars can have hidden issues that the seller knew about beforehand but decided not to divulge. 

The tone of a used guitar is already set. With a new guitar, it takes time for it to find its tone. Out of the box, a new guitar can feel rigid and soulless. Of course, that allows you to give it one.

Rarely a responsible owner who knows how to take care of the instrument is selling their used guitar. So if you are lucky enough to find one, then buying it is probably a good idea.

Tips to help you make the right choice.

Discovering where to buy a used guitar previously looked over by a guitar tech is your best option—especially if you are a beginner. Why put yourself through the struggle of attempting to identify issues when you are not an expert?

There are plenty of reputable guitar shops out there. Search online for a local guitar shop, and read the reviews. If it all looks good, take the trip down, ask what used guitars they have in-house, and play as many of them as possible.

Many beginning guitarists make the mistake of falling in love with a specific brand, make, or model. Just because your favorite guitarist plays an Ibanez JEM7VP Steve Vai Signature doesn’t mean it’s the right guitar for you.

Try not to attach to a specific model when searching for a used guitar. This opens up your options for a better chance at finding the right guitar.

Best websites for buying a used guitar.

If you aren’t finding what you are looking for in local guitar shops or around town, sometimes the best place to buy a used guitar is online. Here is a list of the best websites to find a quality used guitar.

1. Guitar Center

Guitar Center is likely the most famous guitar shop in the United States for new guitars and equipment. But did you know that they also sell used guitars online?

Buying a used guitar through Guitar Center is a good idea because you know it’s been looked over by a professional guitar tech.

Their website is easy to use, just navigate to the “Used and Vintage” page and look around.

2. Sweetwater Used Gear Marketplace

Sweetwater is one of the leaders in North America when it comes to buying gear. They also have a handy marketplace that connects people selling a used guitar with buyers.

Search for Sweetwater used gear marketplace and click on the shop gear button. On the left-hand side of the page, select guitar, and you are off to the races.

3. Craigslist

It’s hard to imagine how many used guitars have been bought and sold on Craigslist. You will likely find precisely what you want in a used guitar on this platform.

Remember to be careful when buying a guitar–thoroughly look the guitar over for the issues mentioned in this article.

4. Sam Ash

This platform is excellent for higher-end used guitars. A guitar tech looks them over like Guitar Center, so nothing should be wrong with their collection.

Search for Sam Ash used guitars and click the link. The website is pretty straightforward, but the selection is limited.

5. Musicians Friend

One of the most famous guitar mags out there also sells used guitars. Selection varies, and you may not find as many guitars as on Craigslist, but this is still a solid option for finding a good used guitar.

6. Reverb

This website specializes in high-end used and vintage guitars. If you are looking for something like Eastman Archtop or a Gretsch, this is the place to find it.

7. eBay

The classic auction site is a good place to find a used guitar, but you have no way to tell if there is an issue with the guitar before purchasing.

Before deciding, read through the reviews (and not just the good ones).

Getting the most out of your used guitar.

Buying a used guitar can be amazing. Once a guitar is broken in and finds its tone, you know what you are getting. With a new guitar, it takes time to reveal its personality to you.

Keep in mind that there may be hidden issues that only a guitar tech can identify. If the seller is willing, go with them to a local shop to have it looked over. Now get out there and find the used guitar of your dreams!
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