You know, most guitarists out there overlook the best sounding and playing guitars for the ones with flawless finishes. They search out ones without nicks, chips, symbol strikes, scratches or even honest playwear. Barring any of my niche PRS, 10 Tops and Parker Fly’s, my personal best sounding and playing guitars, were and are, usually my smarmiest bar-find yellowed binding, sticky and smoke smelling instruments out there. I have bought and sold over 500 guitars in the five years that I was involved in the business, plus the 35 years that I have been playing.
I know most of you are reeling in disgust from that description but it’s certainly true, at least in my case. For example, I receive a Fender Stratocaster delivered by UPS one day, a while back; it was a non-typical Surf Green body, maple necked guitar, which I snagged off EBay for a song and a dance. The pictures were terrible as well as the description. I noticed right away that there was an intense smokey odor emanating from the cardboard box. As I freed the old- acoustic style aftermarket case from the box, I couldn’t help but notice that it quite possibly had every sticker on earth decoupaged on it. It was gorgeous and could have easily hung on my wall as art if it didn’t smell so bad.
I unlatched the four large buckles on this low budget cardboard case; opened it to see this lovely and well-worn American Fender Stratocaster delivered in an acoustic case. I knew right then and there that I had struck gold. It was a worn green standard. The glossy maple neck was naturally amber to light orange in tone with fat round frets that appeared to be in great shape or recently redone. The pick guard was single ply with a light green patina. No nicks or cuts in the frets at all. Oh and it had the typical cigarette burn under the low E string on the headstock.
I could feel the adrenalin pumping through my veins as I plugged her into my 2/12 Vox combo Amp. I strummed her strings for the first time. That strat was chimey with bell tones, clicked then popped at low volume, then squealed with overtones when I increased the volume on the 250k pot. It intuitively connected to my bluesy creative right side brain and suddenly started reading my mind note for note. Not many guitars out there can say they fill the sight, touch and sound sensory requirements needed to complete such a purchase. Needless to say it was an online EBay purchase.
The neck felt perfect for my hands and the fatty frets sung out for the blues. It was the easiest guitar to play plus the inaudible mojo alarms were deafening. At that point in time I decided that my experience and “love of guitar niche” was in finding these distinguished, overlooked and undervalued guitar finds and providing my customers with a significant personalized product purchase. Nonetheless, buying and selling cookie cutter off the shelf Gibson’s and Fenders was still the meat and potatoes as far as my profit margin was concerned.
Historically, most musicians starting out, and even some better-established ones, do or have use their instruments as a form of currency, whether trading up or selling outright, extra equipment has a cash value . Furthermore, that shiny Gibson Les Paul that you just had to have, you know, the one you would give your left big toe for, as expensive as it is, is an impulse buy to a musician. Like a kid in a candy store; Sam Ash, Guitar Center, plus EBay are the candy stores. So when the market discovered that used EBay guitars were more personalized, less cookie cutter, already broken in, and definitely less expensive, it fueled the EBay guitar market and help allay some of the anxiety involved in buying a guitar without actually playing it. Hell, even tons of mom and pop guitar dealers buy off of EBay; I know because I’ve sold guitars to many of them.
EBay is my first go to source to value or purchase a used guitar with one caveat; buyers should already know what they really want in a guitar and then educate themselves on past EBay sales and values for that specific guitar. Many of the best sounding and playing guitars with great necks, and frets, do have chips, dings and finish crazing. These guitars shouldn’t be overlooked for the experienced buyer as honest playwear doesn’t always diminish true value on non-cookie cutter guitars unless one is a purist. The EBay guitar market provides the best opportunity to snatch a deal on a dream guitar at a great price.