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Tips for going to look at a used guitar


uncle fester
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Hi all - I'm potentially planning a trip to a shop about 4 1/2 hours away to look at a used Gibson with an asking price north of $3500. I'm going to bring my J45 to compare it to. I'm a serious buyer, may not buy right there on the spot, although I may, or maybe look to trade against my J45, but also may go home, mull it over and order it, or not.

 

I'm wondering what's etiquette in respect to asking the shop to prep the guitar. Since it's such a long trip, I want to make sure I do what I can to have a good experience trying out the guitar. I was going to ask for a new set of strings to my spec put on a couple days ahead, and see if someone can put an hour or two of playing time on it each day over the next couple days. (I feel this takes the chimey-ness out of the strings, but still leaves a nice new sound, and will do the same on my J45 to give a decent reference point to compare guitars... any input on this.)

 

In folks opinion is this a reasonable request, and any other tips?

 

Rgds - billroy

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....I'm wondering what's etiquette in respect to asking the shop to prep the guitar.... In folks opinion is this a reasonable request, and any other tips?

I'd say it's questionable whether that's a reasonable request. I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask.

 

Tips? Take an 18" steel straightedge to lay on the fretboard and see where it hits the bridge. If it hits right at the top of the bridge, then the neck angle is good. Check the height of the saddle. A low saddle means a poor break angle, which robs the tone. Check the action. Check for any cracks (especially on the neck), splits, dings... For that kind of money, it must be a heck of a guitar. Best of luck!

 

Traveling that distance just to check it out, I'd suggest first talking to the owner when he has it in hand, ask lots of questions, and if everything sounds OK.... go for it!

Edited by Cougar
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Buying a guitar is such a personal thing, ain't it? One man's treasure.......

 

Perhaps they would do the string play-in thang for you, perhaps not, but my suggestion is, aside from aesthetics, cosmetic appointments and other things subjective like what strings are on it, you settle on a couple or three things that are make or break conditions for a potential purchase. Rarely, very rarely, is an acoustic guitar setup what a player wants it to be when trying out a new/used instrument.......for me this is a subjective issue that is considered only from the can this be adjusted to my liking perspective. It may not play as well as I might like as it is, but a considered evaluation of other factors will determine if this can be made so. Playability is number one on my list, and this being the case, I look for the things that can make this possible, assuming the setup is not right for me at the moment. Neck set is the most critical geometry on an acoustic guitar.......this must be right or the instrument is not considered any further, regardless of how appealing it may be otherwise. Second on my list is feel, a very subjective issue, certainly varying widely from player to player and nearly impossible to describe..........but you know it when it's there. Stellar tone? Last on my list of qualifiers.......who gives a shite. I'm not a professional studio player that requires golden sound from a guitar........balanced, warm and solid works for me. It need not sound like angels singing.......just good.

 

Since my guitars are always tuned down a half step, I take a tuner. Since I use a capo extensively, I take a capo. And a Blue Chip TPR-50 pick. And then I let my hands, eyes and mind settle the matter.

 

Happy hunting.

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First thing I suggest is doing an internet search or purchase a Vintage Guitar Price Guide to determine the price range a used guitar should be selling for depending on its condition.

 

I wouldn’t rule out a guitar in less than mint condition if it’s tone and playability is really good and connects with you.

 

Thirdly, bring a new set of good strings with you and ask the store to put them on for you. Bring yer own strings, but remember it’s still their guitar until you buy it. Worth a try.

 

And, fourth, as is always important when testing an instrument, don’t let them only steer you to a room where the acoustics are great. It’s okay to use their great acoustics room, but, then also ask if you can go to different areas of the store to try it out where the sound acoustics are not so good. All guitars sound great in a great sound room with great acoustics. Try it elsewhere so there are no surprises when you get it home and play it in a room without good acoustics.

 

Also, if it has electronics, try it out amp’d with an amp comparable to the one you have at home, not some amp with great effects and electronics that your amp at home doesn’t come close to having.

 

Hope this helps.

 

QM aka Jazzman Jeff

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Always check neck angle and saddle height, as others have said. I tend to look at the saddle before I even think about playing a store guitar. I've been burned in the past with underset necks and now every single guitar I own has an excellent neck angle...as Cougar said, a shallow saddle really robs tone and playability, and neck resets are horrible procedures, both financially and personally.

 

Other than that, pick it up and hold it, see how the neck falls into your hand and how it rattles your ribcage and your soul...let it come to you and choose you, not the other way around.

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Thank you all, good input and good food for thought. Will take it all in and plan accordingly. The guitar I'm going to look at is a Jumbo Reissue, which I'm hoping has very similar characteristics to my J45, but it has a 1.75 nut I'm coveting. Hoping for a good experience trying to A/B them, and see where I go from there.

 

For future purchases, I think it will be better for the pocketbook to see what's available and fall in love with a bargain instead of settling on something specific and then looking for that.

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I'd say it's questionable whether that's a reasonable request. I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask.

 

Tips? Take an 18" steel straightedge to lay on the fretboard and see where it hits the bridge. If it hits right at the top of the bridge, then the neck angle is good. Check the height of the saddle. A low saddle means a poor break angle, which robs the tone. Check the action. Check for any cracks (especially on the neck), splits, dings... For that kind of money, it must be a heck of a guitar. Best of luck!

 

Traveling that distance just to check it out, I'd suggest first talking to the owner when he has it in hand, ask lots of questions, and if everything sounds OK.... go for it!

 

Thank you for this, I'll have a conversation with the folks, asking all these questions and then verify if I make the trip. Again, I really do appreciate it.

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Cannot speak for the big stores but the Mom & Pop places I deal with are always willing to swap out strings if I ask. They want my business and will pretty much do what it takes to make me happy.

 

While I get bringing your J-45 along for the ride in case a trade is in the realm of possibility I do not get why would you want to A/B them?

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Good luck Bill

 

one thing to consider, about a trade,, I'm sure you will know this..

 

If you try a trade, just know what the numbers are.. Chances are good you will get seriously low balled to what your "J" is really worth. The store wants to sell first and foremost, they'll take the trade for sure, but you're paying for their risk for losing money on it. And of course they always want to make sure they get their margins. (Worked as a teacher in one for a # of years, and knew well the owners..)

 

Personally, I wouldn't do it. If your time with your J45 is ending, you are most surely better off selling out right.

Edited by kidblast
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If your time with your J45 is ending...

 

 

I'm expecting the J45 is here for the long haul (really do love it), but just in case I play the Jumbo and then all of a sudden I'm underwhelmed with the J45 was thinking the trade route, but good input on how to recoup value if I tend in that direction.

 

Rgds - billroy

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Trading off guitars have been some of the worst mistakes I have ever made. There are at least four I have let go of that in retrospect I should have kept close to me. But at the time trading was the best way for me to get something else I wanted. While you generally do take a bath it is still a no fuss, no muss means to an end.

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I don’t want to whine about my own personal experience, so please don’t take that I’m whining about Gibson here. I’m just going to tell a quick story about the J45-Mahogany I recently bought.

It’s at Russo’s getting refretted. It’s not under warranty, and I didn’t buy it new. So the cost is on me.

It’s getting refretted because the new models have “enhance playability”, where the frets are beveled off on each side ...to the side of the neck. It’s a great idea, except when the bevels are too aggressive. That results in the low and high E slipping off the neck when fretted more than You May like.

The bottom line is I love the guitar and think it’s special, which is why I am paying for what I think it needs to make it right: a refret. Cutting a new bone nut wasn’t going to do it. I don’t want to return it, and chance another on e that may not sound like this one does.

Anyways in the end it’s only money, and I’ll get back a guitar I want that I like. However if I spent more time at the getgo playing it I would have caught the fret issues.

So, my advice is make sure the neck is right. And that the frets are not too beveled. Pay attention that when you thumb wrap or shift chords quickly, if strings slide off the side.

And Merry Christmas!

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There was a rime when Gibson used to run the neck binding on guitars that had it over the ends of the frets. My 1856 SJ gad that feature. They were the only company I can think of that did that.

 

 

Both my Fuller's 1943 SJ re-issue from 2006 (which has a bound fretboard, unlike the original 1943 SJ, but is otherwise a good repro) and my Nashville-built 1959 ES 335 Historic from 2010 have the ends of the frets covered by the white nibs of the fretboard binding, so Gibson still does that from time to time.

 

It's all well and good until you have to re-fret, at which time those nibs are probably gone unless the person doing the work is willing to take on a lot of aggro, and you're willing to pay for it.

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Both my Fuller's 1943 SJ re-issue from 2006 (which has a bound fretboard, unlike the original 1943 SJ, but is otherwise a good repro) and my Nashville-built 1959 ES 335 Historic from 2010 have the ends of the frets covered by the white nibs of the fretboard binding, so Gibson still does that from time to time.

 

It's all well and good until you have to re-fret, at which time those nibs are probably gone unless the person doing the work is willing to take on a lot of aggro, and you're willing to pay for it.

 

The luthier I use does these at no extra charge. He's done a few for me.

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