The Broke Guitarist: Episode #2
Used Gear? New Gear?
So I’ve been lucky enough to have two whole snow days in a row here in Rochester, New York so I figured I could pump out another one of these for y’alls. Today I want to tackle the discussion of why, when, and how I go about buying used and/or new gear. This isn’t a very entertaining topic but I’ve found it’s something super important that a surprisingly small amount of guitar players take the time to think about or take advantage of.
I’ve found over and over that the used market for guitar gear is somewhat unique compared to any other market out there. It’s often the smart decision to buy new TVs and electronics from a store for their warranties and longer lasting quality. Most of these things require lots of knowledge to fix and can be very costly to do so — they also usually have a pretty low resale value depending on what you’re selling and the value of a new TV, phone, or computer will always be dropping significantly the longer you have it. Same goes for buying a car; as soon as you have the keys and start driving it around the value drops significantly. Especially when it comes to electronics, they become obsolete very quickly and lose tons of value often within a year of them becoming available to the public — and that’s before you even buy it!
Used guitar gear on the other hand, depending on what it is, will actually usually either a) go up in value the longer you have it (especially if it’s already considered “vintage”) or b) stay exactly the same value. Of course if you buy a new guitar pedal from Guitar Center the value will go down from its “new” price, but once it gets there it doesn’t really fluctuate. The thing about guitar gear is that whether it’s “vintage” or not means quite a bit, and it has a sizeable “cool factor” to it, so it’s not uncommon that your gear will go up in value over time. Even if you buy something that is still relatively “new” the value to tends to be static compared to that of a used car or used electronics, both which depreciate heavily over time.
Obsolete is not often a word used when describing guitar gear because it’s often super easy to get good tones out of vintage gear. This changes when you get more into the electronic or modelling side of things such as Kemper, Axe FX or even VST’s (such as Line 6’s POD farm software) but for the most part the demand for vintage amps, guitars and even pedals will always be high. Tube amps hold their value especially well because they are an “obsolete” technology that just happens to work very well for guitar. No one uses vacuum tubes to power PA systems or radios anymore, but they happen to work especially well for guitar because of how they sound when overdriven.
For example, I’ve owned a 73' Silverface Bassman 50 for almost 3 years now and it has seen heavy use as one of my main guitar amps. I bought it for $350 off of craigslist, which is great deal in itself, but not far from what I estimated the cost to be, which was around $400 dollars at the time. I recently found something a little better to replace it with and lo’ and behold the median cost seems to have gone up to a little above $500 (as evidenced by a quick search of the “completed” listings on eBay, which you can see here). If I sell the amp right now I’m making $150 for essentially doing nothing. This was a good used purchase because its demand will always be high as a) it’s a well sought after sound and b) there is only so much vintage gear to go around — and it will become more scarce as time goes on.
My situation is an especially good example and it’s not too common to have a “profit” margin that big, but very rarely will you ever lose money if stay smart and patient with your buying/selling and your trades. This is my biggest reason for buying used.
I can buy a pedal off of craigslist and try it out for as long as I want and either sell it for as much, or more, then I paid for — or if I really like it, end up keeping it for a long period of time — which usually results in a small increase in value. If I buy that same pedal from Guitar Center I get a manufacturers warranty and possibly even a Guitar Center warranty if I pay extra. However, I’m spending more and depending on what you’re buying, the value will decrease dramatically.
To break things down: If I spent $100 on a guitar pedal from Guitar Center (with only the manufacturers warranty) and I want to resell it later on because I don’t like it or want something else, I will be reselling it for a decreased price since it is now “used”— lets say $65 is it’s current resale value. You instantly lose $35 dollars of value as soon as you buy it and start using it. Now if I buy that pedal used — for $65 — then I can resell it… for $65. Sometimes with the right amount of patience I could sell it again on eBay or craigslist for a little more.
Using this method, 90% of the time your gear will not lose value or even go up in value. In case real life ever seriously kicks me in the ass I could sell my entire rig for the same or much more then I bought it for. Often the only thing left to discuss is the value of the warranty you could have with new gear — and a lot of times it is not costly nor as difficult to make small fixes on your own or to find an inexpensive way to outsource your maintenance (I have a great amp and guitar tech who do great work and don’t overcharge). The right products will usually last for a long time anyway. Guitar gear can be expensive to fix sometimes and you are taking a slight risk in buying used gear without a warranty, but I can only think of one instance in the last 4–5 years of selling/trading where I really got screwed by something breaking (and this involved a DL4… of course).
Granted, this strategy won’t work for everyone, but I’ve found it to be very cost effective when you’re trying to find your sound or try new things. There are a lot of specifics involved but once you start learning the common values of gear you can make out pretty good with certain deals. There are definitely positives to buying new gear, but I’ve found that with my gear turnover rate and the amount that I have — it is much cheaper and cost effective to buy just about everything used.
How do I buy used?
To me and many others this is obvious, but there are certain places on the web that very few people know about that are great places to find used gear.
Craigslist is by far my number one spot for buying, selling and trading used gear. It has a bit of a social stigma but for the most part it can be very safe as long as you know how to avoid scammers (it’s usually obvious). If you really want to make sure a craigslist deal doesn’t get weird — just bring a friend or two. Buying off craigslist also means that everything is local and sellers will almost always be cool with you trying their gear out before you buy it to make sure it works/it sounds the way you want it to. It’s easy, you can use cold hard cash, you can see/hear everything you want to buy or trade, and you don’t have to wait for it in the mail which appeases to my impatience. Cool beans.
eBay is without a doubt a sellers market. If I’m having trouble moving something I always stick it on eBay because you can sometimes get more money out of whatever you’re selling and you can reach infinitely more people who may want to buy your gear. The only real annoyance with this is the amount of hoops you have to jump through setting up an account and you usually won’t see your money immediately when you sell something.
What I’ve also used to great effect is social media. Much of my friends stick gear they’re trying to move up on Facebook, Instagram or even Twitter. There are also usually select groups for moving gear locally as an alternative to craigslist. In my home state of New Jersey there’s a page called the “New Jersey Gear Exchange” which has over 3,000 members and I see consistent good deals on well made, vintage, cost effective gear. My current city of Rochester has one as well (started by yours truly) that has been steadily growing over the course of a few months.
There are also Facebook groups such as the “Gear Talk Classifieds” which have a much larger user base that is spread across the country. While you do run the risk of being scammed there is a very strong community that I have seen chase down and shame/discipline anyone who abuses their system and it acts as a great deterrent to scammers. It’s also strictly moderated and monitored heavily — so the chance of getting ripped off is very low and if you are — posts calling out scammers are not taken lightly.
The last method I’ve used to some success is more gear oriented websites such as The Gear Page or Reverb.com. I’ve only made a few transactions on these websites but you can find good prices here and there and they tend to be somewhat easy to use, but this can be hit or miss. Guitar Center also has a used section on its website that sometimes has some good deals. I’ve also seen some real unicorns pop up when employees don’t know what they’re looking at and price things way below their actual value. I personally have had more luck with social media oriented groups mostly because it provides faster and easier ways to communicate with your buyer or seller.
When I was at the height of my buying and selling I was checking craigslist and the GT classifieds daily looking for good prices and I’ve gotten some really good deals. I just recently I purchased an old 68' Sunn Spectrum II for $300 from an old rocker dude who had it sitting in his basement for 30 years. I’ve bought DL4’s for only $80 on the Gear Talk classifieds section and even a Strymon Blue Sky from someone I knew on Facebook for only $200 dollars (almost $60-$70 dollars less then you would normally pay for one used) which I later traded for the more recent Strymon Flint. It also helps to save a certain amount of cash “just in case” something really good pops up. There’s nothing worse then being the first person to catch a really good deal — but not having any capital to purchase it with.
So there you have it. In my opinion — buying used guitar gear is much more cost efficient then almost any other used market out there because of how guitar gear rarely goes obsolete. This is especially true when you’re talking about more “vintage” gear from 20+ years ago and there is a lot of it out there that is still somewhat inexpensive. Take advantage of this and you’ll immediately find yourself spending way less money and sometimes even getting a return on your investment for something you have used consistently over a period of time. So instead of swiping through Tinder when you have some downtime on your phone, download a craigslist app or scour the GT classifieds and you never know what you’ll find.