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The Buyers Dilemma

 

This was supposed to be an original 64 blonde ES-355. Unfortunately, the neck had been replaced and nobody told the seller (and he didn't tell me)

This was supposed to be an original 64 blonde ES-355. Unfortunately, the neck had been replaced and nobody told the seller (and he didn’t tell me)

Let me take off my guitar sellers hat and put on my guitar buyers hat. They are different, I assure you. As a buyer of vintage guitars, you have a fairly broad range of options. You can, of course, buy from a vintage dealer but all vintage dealers aren’t created equal. More on that later. Then there’s the usual open market venues like eBay and Craigslist. beyond that, you can go to guitar shows where there are, of course, plenty of dealers but also walk-ins who have their personal guitar to sell. You can also look in local newspapers but don’t hold your breath-the want ad is pretty much dead. You can get a great deal on a vintage 335 or the like from any of these places but, unless you’re buying from a reputable dealer with a return policy, you are taking a risk. Not necessarily a big risk but you’d better know what you’re looking for. The reason I started this blog-besides the obvious reason of getting you to buy a guitar from me, was to educate you so you don’t have to (buy from me, that is). That said, you might ask where I buy guitars. I buy them pretty much everywhere. I always like buying from a fellow dealer-there are fewer problems with authenticity, packing, shipping and, especially, changed parts. That’s not to say I don’t get guitars from dealers that aren’t as described. I do and more often than I’d like but I’ve never had a problem with a dealer taking back a guitar that wasn’t as described. Sure, they’ll grumble about it and try to get me to keep it but they are usually pretty good about it. Not so with private sellers. I ask a lot of questions. Questions that uneducated sellers can’t reasonably answer. Therein lies the big problem with buying from Craigslist and eBay. It’s not that the sellers are dishonest (although some are). The problem is that most sellers aren’t experts; in fact most of them don’t seem to know anything about the guitar they are selling other than what they can learn from a simple eBay search of the same model. Most sellers can get close on the year by using the serial number PDF that is available but since Gibson re-used so many serial numbers in the 60’s, they are left with a choice and they always pick the oldest year. I can’t tell you how many 68-69 335’s are advertised as 65’s. Fully 90% of the guitars I’ve bought through Ebay have some undisclosed issue that couldn’t be discerned from the photos. Most are pretty benign, like a changed bridge or replaced knobs but sometimes it’s serious. Necks with back bows, rewound pickups, headstock cracks and the like. These things don’t always photograph well and a seller with limited knowledge won’t know what to look for. Since most eBay guitars are overpriced anyway, I don’t buy very many that way. I don’t buy that many through Craigslist either and I’m even more careful than I am with eBay. At least with eBay purchases, you get some level of protection from Paypal. It’s not ideal but I’ve used the service and it has worked for me. Craigslist offers no protection at all. It’s caveat emptor and I’m really careful. Most times, I’m buying expensive guitars and it makes sense to go and see them in person and that’s what I normally do. Buying a guitar from an individual who, say, got the guitar from a deceased relative, isn’t a low risk operation and usually requires a trip. Buying from a player who knows his stuff is a little different and a little more trust is usually warranted. A phone call and a frank Q&A session can be pretty productive and I’ve bought a fair number of guitars from Craigslist without making the often long trip required to make the deal in person. Finally, a quick trip to Gbase or, if you’re in Europe, Vintage and Rare┬áis a good place to start looking for a dealer selling the guitar you want. My advice? Ask a lot of questions, don’t over pay (check my prices to compare) and make absolutely sure there is a return policy. Just because you’re buying from a dealer doesn’t guarantee you that you’ll get the guitar you think you’re getting. The chances, however, are better that you will and that’s worth a few extra bucks.

I love old Epiphones and I buy a few every year just so I can play one for awhile. This wasn't the actual one with the problem-but I can still make the point. I bought a 62 Epi Crestwood, just like this one, off of Ebay. I owned it for 3 months when I took it to my repair guy for some neck adjustment. It took him five seconds to find the crack in the headstock that I had completely missed. After three months, I was out of luck.

I love old Epiphones and I buy a few every year just so I can play one for awhile. This wasn’t the actual one with the problem-but I can still make the point. I bought a 62 Epi Crestwood, just like this one, off of Ebay. I owned it for 3 months when I took it to my repair guy for some neck adjustment. It took him five seconds to find the crack in the headstock that I had completely missed. After three months, I was out of luck.

 

5 Responses to “The Buyers Dilemma”

  1. Rob says:

    Some years ago I sold my 1969 Les Paul Custom—“Black Beauty”–“Fretless Wonder”– to a local dealer. We met up at a local used guitar shop whose proprietor had put us together and the dealer had a portable black light and wooden box with curtains into which he put my guitar and inspected it with the black light. He said that the UV spectrum light would illuminate any non-original parts and cracks. Is this true?

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, sound advise as always…yes, buyer beware and seller seek to disclose all information. Issues with vintage Fender guitars (including refins and outright fakes) can be even harder to spot even for someone who knows about old Fender guitars. For example, how many of the highly prized (and high cost, selling for multiples of a standard sunburst version) custom color pre-CBS Strats and Teles are truly original? The state of the art of relic finishes makes one very difficult to distinguish from original! Fortunately it is harder to do an outright fake of an ES model!

  3. Danny says:

    I agree with everything you said, EXCEPT that it costs “a few bucks more.” It usually costs 25%-75% more, so finding a good one locally and then bringing it to an expert within a refusal period (or bringing the expert to the sale) seems to be an excellent bet. Your prices are certainly WAY fairer than most, so I’d exclude you from that.

    Of course, it makes perfect sense for dealers to be more expensive, since they’re doing this for a profit and have a lot of expenses, while most guitarists often only want to get back what they paid for the instrument – and would often accept a little less.

    Your solution is ideal, though: find a reasonable, trustworthy dealer.

  4. cgelber says:

    Absolutely. That’s why I don’t do Fenders as a rule.

  5. cgelber says:

    UV will usually reveal any touch up or refinish, although there are apparently ways around this using aging techniques on newer lacquer. I’m not a finish guy so I don’t know the finer details. Cracks are often easier to see under UV as well. A blacklight won’t tell you if the hardware is original or not.

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