Season of the Witch


You think this is scary? Try spending $20K on a guitar you've never seen.

Seeing as it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, I thought a fright themed post made some sense. You want scary? One of the scariest things you can do is buy an expensive guitar sight unseen. Digital photos make it very easy to get a sense of what’s going to show up at your doorstep but they can be deceptive. Equally deceptive are some sellers who go to great lengths to hide issues and then tell you to “look at the photos” when you question something. I will say that most sellers are eager to please and will go out of their way to answer your questions if they can and even start turning screws in some instances. So here’s a compilation of the really scary things that you have to look out for when you buy a guitar sight unseen. Removed pickup covers: It seemed that everybody removed the pickup covers from their humbuckers in the 70’s. We all believed that the covers were keeping the pickups from their full output so we took ’em off and promptly lost them. The scary part is that, in my experience, at least a third of the pickups that have been opened have had at least one coil rewound or repaired. Play an uncovered humbucker for long enough and your bound to wear through a wire-whether a lead wire or a winding. The other problem is that it’s often impossible to get an inexperienced seller to start taking Grandpa’s old guitar apart. So, you rolls the dice. Funky finish at the neck join: I hate to pass on a guitar just because the glue at he neck join might be getting flaky or the finish is showing some signs of abuse. On the other hand, it could be a sign that the neck was reset or repaired. This is a huge problem on SGs and less of one on 335s. Nonetheless, a less than perfect join is cause for concern. The likelihood of the current non player owner knowing how it got that way is pretty slim. Asking the seller to pull the neck pickup so I can see what’s going on in the neck pocket is dicey as well. Checking at the headstock: This really scares me. It’s sometimes hard to tell a check from a crack when you’re 2 inches away from the guitar. Trying to tell from a photo can be impossible. The best thing to do is try to see if any of the cracks follow a grain line as that’s where they usually crack. Beat up case-perfect guitar. Of course, the idea is that the case protects the guitar but if the case is absolutely beat to hell and there’s barely a scratch on the guitar, my “refin” alarm goes off. There are folks who take impeccable care of their stuff and people who don’t. We all know the guy in the band who would never let you even touch his guitar and wiped it down between sets (or songs) and even cleaned the case if it got scuffed. He would also insist that his guitar ride in the car and not in the van with the rest of the gear.  We also know the guy who, as Mike Bloomfield is reputed to have done, shows up with his guitar without a case covered with snow and leans it up against the radiator until it dries off. Beware of that beater guitar in a perfect “original” case. The case wear and the guitar wear can be pretty far apart but use some common sense. Neck issues: The good news is that Gibson necks are fairly stable and most of the problems you might encounter are fixable-although they may be pretty invasive and expensive. The bad news is that most sellers don’t disclose any neck problems-usually because they don’t know. Most guitars will play even with severe neck trouble but they won’t play well and they won’t play everywhere on the fingerboard.  Perhaps the scariest part of getting a new guitar is taking off the truss rod cover and seeing that the truss is either screwed all the way down or that the nut is loose. Having a backbow and a loose nut is trouble. But even that can be addressed. The solution to all this fright is to make an attempt to see and play the guitar in question in person or have a friend who plays check it out. Finally, if you drive 6 hours to check out a guitar and it isn’t right and you can’t negotiate a new deal, walk away. Get back in the car and drive home. I’ve done it more than once (six hours each way). You’ll feel like you’ve wasted a day but it sure beats feeling like you wasted your hard earned money.

3 Responses to “Season of the Witch”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, that Mike Bloomfield story is scary! I guess that is what too many drugs and no common sense can do to you, eh? The way he “took care” of his Burst was a travesty too seeing how clean it was when he got it from Dan Erlewine…

  2. Jonne says:

    I was always wondering on Mike’s Les Paul how there was a crack on top close to treble stop tailpiece post but now I know

  3. OK Guitars says:

    Probably left it in the street and it got run over by a snowplow.

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