When someone is buying a new guitar, especially for the first time, the task might seem, and actually is, quite daunting. You have to be aware of so many details and specifications, you have to learn what you should be looking for and then sieve through dozens and dozens of models, weight out price vs. quality ratio and decide on the best guitar for you. That is a very general and simplified version of the new guitar buying process. BUT buying a USED guitar takes twice as much research and time. That is if you want to buy a used guitar that will last you for a long time and will not come with hidden problems that you will realize only when it is too late.
First of all, the decision of whether you should go for a used guitar or not is multifaceted. There are several major factors to keep in mind. Now, before I go into some of the cons of buying a used guitar one huge advantage of used guitars is obviously the price. A used guitar will cost you a lot less. Like a LOT less and I guess it is the major reason because apart from collectors I do not really know why you would choose a used guitar over a fresh one in mint condition. Another factor that is quite often overlooked is the wood of the guitar. New guitars have new wood and it takes years for it to “mature”. With new guitars, you have to pay special attention to curing the guitar so that it does not dry out or is exposed to too much humidity. If you are getting an old guitar with nicely cured wood you are getting so much more for a lot less money that you are if you pay full price for a new guitar.
And now, let’s talk about some issues that you need to keep in mind, sort of a “cons” list, which does not have to be a cons list if you try to avoid these problems. First of all, there a lot of different places to buy a used guitar. There is eBay, Craigslist, and some of the major online stores that have resellers or you can try your luck at actual brick-and-mortar stores. The obvious disadvantage when you are buying online is that you will not be able to see the guitar in real life or try to play it until you buy it and it gets delivered to your door (well, you can do that with Craigslist sometimes). To compensate for that you have to research the guitar for an extra long time. I mean you should know everything about it, every single detail and try to find out how it stands the test of time from some reviews. You will not be able to understand the playability and the sound of the guitar before you actually get it in the mail. If you have found a model that you like, the first thing to do is always ALWAYS ALWAYS look at the seller’s rating. Ebay always has ratings and I would say, just to be on the safe side, go for sellers that rate over 95%. I would not want to risk paying a guitar from a mediocre seller and then dealing with them if there is something wrong with my guitar. Maybe you want a return or need more details about the item, when you ask them and they are not responsive or you notice that they are being even a little bit shady or uncooperative, RUN as fast as you can. If you have found a good seller with the model that you want, ask them for more pictures of the guitar if there are only a couple of them available and all of them are sort of taken from afar. Ask for close up pictures so that you can see every detail from every side in order to see if there are minor scratches and damages. I always prefer buying from eBay or websites that have some sort of customer/seller policy that protects you in case you want to return a product. If you buy something from, say, Craigslist you will not have a guarantee of quality or return in most cases. Now if you are buying a used guitar from an actual store, the process of checking it becomes a lot easier. You can go into a store check the sound and the construction of the guitar and ask the actual sellers some questions about it. You should always pay extra attention to machine heads because if you are buying older models machine heads are usually harder to tune. Do not make a mistake of concentrating only on well-renowned brands. Being well known does not mean that all of their products are up to par and will fit your requirements, especially when it comes to used guitars. Another thing that you should pay attention to is the neck, it should not be warped and bent and when you try to move it from side to side it should not move and has to stay intact.
I know, I know, one of the best feelings in the world is buying something new and unpacking it and taking in the new smell and beautiful look of it. But you should try to let go of that desire and concentrate on what actually matters because the unpacking and the sense that your guitar is brand new and the feeling that you want to stare at it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week will soon go away and you will stay with what you actually bought. So make sure that you are buying a guitar for its features, sound and playability rather than the feel of “oh my god I got a new guitar, look how cool it looks”.
I tried to provide as much information and overview of what to look for in used guitars but you will, of course, have to do the heavy lifting. Take your time, research, try playing the guitar or seeing it beforehand, if possible. Try to get to know the person (if you are buying from an individual) a little bit more so that they are more responsive to questions and you can find out more about the past of the guitar. And only after a long period of consideration, decide whether you want to buy it or not because unlike with guitars on sales you probably have some time to do more research. Good Luck!