Generally speaking, guitar forums are good places for all kinds of information about guitars and playing. Experience with a particular model of guitar, information about tweaks to guitars and sound systems that make the playing experience feel better and sound better, mini reviews of shows attended or albums and artists discovered and much more. I’ve discovered plenty of artists who I might not have otherwise heard thanks to the forums. It’s also good to hear some opinions of various guitars before taking the plunge on a big purchase.
But like all online forums no matter the area of interest, you have to take everything you read with a few grains of salt. In other words, you have to make a guess about the person writing an entry and what their motivation might be. It all comes back to the anonymity of most internet forums. When a person is hiding behind a screen name they sometimes feel they can post pretty much whatever they want and sometimes comments can contain false information or even be downright nasty. On fishing forums I visit this is especially true so I never post anything on those sites because it kind of feels like I’m putting a big target on my back.
For the most part, guitar forums are much more benign and friendly. Yes, you get certain members who want the world to know they are experts on the minutia of all things guitar related. What their posts usually do – and are often unintentionally funny to read – is bring out other self-styled experts and arguments ensue. Fortunately, the forums I look at the most (The Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum and The Acoustic Guitar Forum) are vigorously moderated and nastiness is not tolerated.
Then there is the issue of repeated subjects in threads. Sometimes that’s OK, such as the frequent ones about experiences travelling on airlines with guitars where rules may change and good tips can often be found. But others are tedious. How many times do we need to debate the relative merits of bone vs. plastic saddles, nuts and bridge pins? Ultimately, it must be remembered that almost all opinions are based on anecdotal experience and not cold, hard fact. And geez, I sometimes think people don’t know how a “search” button works!
There is no question that some members of the guitar forums are truly experts in things like guitar construction, electronics, professional experiences and the retail world. This is the real value of those forums. Pre-internet you had to read a lot, visit music stores or be fortunate enough to know professionals in those fields to glean relevant information. Now, between the forums and YouTube you can find good information on just about anything guitar-related with a few clicks. In fact, there can be almost too much information and some of it is conflicting. In subjects such as guitar repair I still think it makes sense to let a true expert do what needs to be done in all but the simplest repairs rather than take the advice you find on a forum or try to replicate a repair you see on YouTube.
In the best cases you can develop life-long friendships with other guitarists who frequent the forums. You can also learn about gatherings of guitarists in your area where you can have some fun playing with others, gatherings that you would have no knowledge about without the forums. I have become friendly with a few players who live far from me but I hope someday to meet and play with. I have the advantage of living in a very well-known and popular tourist destination so once or twice I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from the forums when they come to Cape Cod on vacation.
Buying and selling guitars on the forums is a huge subject, one that I wrote about a while back but probably merits a revisit in the near future. In short, you have to have a good degree of trust. The forums I mentioned have a stated policy of a 48-hour try-out period before the sale is final but ultimately, short of a protracted battle on Pay Pal or via your credit card company, there is no way to get your money back if a guitar turns out to be less than what was presented on a guitar forum and the seller refuses to refund your money. I’ve only been burned once on a buy in the 15 or so years I’ve been buying and selling on the forums but that was kind of my own fault. The buyer wanted USPS money orders for the guitar (supposedly he didn’t have or like a Pay Pal account and I wasn’t savvy enough to pay with a credit card), which was just like sending cash. The guitar in question was in much, much worse condition than his pictures or description indicated and he refused to take it back and refund my money. I called him out on the forum but the damage was done. I took a $500 hit on that guitar when I sold it a year or so later. Lesson learned. Bottom line here is you must have as much knowledge as you can about a particular model you’re considering and LOTS of communication with the seller, even phone calls to “feel him out” are absolutely essential. Go with your gut. If something just doesn’t feel right, walk away.
But overall the buying and selling experiences have been very positive for me. In some cases I’ve scored guitars at considerable savings, too. Just….do your homework!!!
The guy who emailed me today sounds like a great person who’s passionate about his playing. He made a comment that my students are lucky to have me as their teacher. Even an old dog likes to have his head scratched once in a while.
Peace & good music,