My Grandfather has an Old Guitar in the Closet: Good Dealers and Bad Dealers

This is a subject that has generated a lot of controversy in the forums and around the blogs. You have this old guitar and you take it to a vintage guitar dealer to get some needed advice. How do you know if he’s (or she)  legit? How do you know if he’s honest? How do you know if he’s knowledgeable? There are a few things you can do to better equip yourself for the tricky task of selling a vintage guitar. First, you can always list it on Ebay and let the buyers figure out what you have. You may get market value for it but it’s hard to list it if you don’t know what it is you’re selling. You can certainly do some research-starting with the brand name on the headstock. Most manufacturers have serial number information on their sites that will help you date the guitar and identify the model.  Unfortunately, Gibson re-used serial numbers over and over again, making it hard to find an accurate date without a lot of exhaustive (and exhausting) research.  There are books (The Blue Book) that can give you a sense of what a guitar is worth, but again, you need to know what model and what year. Any vintage dealer should be able to tell you all of that. What they may not tell you is what it’s worth-or even what they’ll pay.  Here’s a simple rule: If you walk into a dealer and they look over the guitar and say “How much do you want for it?”, head for the door. That is NOT an appropriate way for a vintage dealer to act. Do you actually think that if you say $3,000 (and the guitars worth $10,000) that they’ll tell you your asking too little?  If so, I have a bridge to sell you (and its not for a guitar). The dealer should tell you what you have and how much he is willing to pay you for it. It won’t be the amount in the Blue Book. Those are retail prices (and not always accurate). The dealer will offer you somewhat less because he’s in business to make a profit and everything has a wholesale and retail price. The difference is that the dealer will give you the wholesale price today. He may have to wait weeks or months to find a buyer and he has money tied up in his inventory and that costs him money. The guitar may need some parts replaced or repairs and that costs the dealer money as well. So, if you want retail, do the research and sell it yourself.  You won’t get it from any dealer.  There are unscrupulous dealers and there are totally honest dealers. Unless, you know who are dealing with, don’t leave your guitar with the dealer. A dishonest dealer may swap parts and you won’t know it until you try to sell it. A real 50’s switch tip from a Les Paul is worth around $175. A good reproduction is $16. You won’t know the difference if it gets swapped but I will and your buyer probably will. A PAF pickup can be worth $4,000. A reproduction can be had for a little over $100. With a little time and a soldering iron, your guitar could lose 50% or more of its value if left with a dishonest dealer. I will relate another story that happened recently to someone I know. He took his Grandfather’s guitar to a dealer in the Midwest. the dealer wasn’t sure if the pickups were legitimate PAFs so he took off the covers to check. That simple (dumb) action just cost the owner $1000 or so. Why? Because unopened PAFs are worth more than those that have been unsoldered. There are ways to tell if a PAF is legit without opening them up. So, here’s a simple and basic list of what to look for in a dealer: Find a dealer who will tell you what you have, will point out the valuable parts to you, will offer you a price without asking how much you want and will not ask to keep the guitar for a few days to check it out. If you know the dealer or you know people who have had good experiences with the dealer, these rules still apply. Perhaps the last rule could be ignored if you know the dealer to be trustworthy. Fortunately, there are way more honest dealers than there are dishonest dealers. This is simply because the dishonest ones don’t generally stay in business very long. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. If you’ve gotten screwed by a dealer, tell your friends. If you’ve had a good experience, tell your friends that as well.

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