I haven’t been buying too many higher end guitars lately for students or for resale. This is because for some reason the prices on the used guitar market seems to be at an all-time high. I don’t really have any idea why this is. I’ve written about the volatility of the used guitar market in the past and have no reason to change much of what I said. In many cases people have unreasonable expectations of what their used guitar is worth. Even when offering a nice instrument from one of the premium, large output builders such as Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Guild or Larrivee it is not reasonable to expect a 90% return on what a person paid for that guitar if the model is one that’s common and readily available.
There are dozens of retailers who offer brand new guitars by those makers at 40% off list price, although they often can’t advertise at those prices. The retailers must adhere to MAP rules (minimum advertised price) but a quick phone call or email will result in finding out the real price. The advantages of buying from a legitimate, authorized dealer are many, beginning with the warranty. Let’s say a certain Martin has a list price of $2000. At 40% off, you pay $1200. At that price, this most likely is one of the common but quite fine, run-of-the-mill Martin models (if there is such a thing – you can be pretty certain it will be a great guitar).
On the used guitar market that guitar should sell for about $800, give or take. But I often see people trying to sell such a guitar for $1000 – or more. This just doesn’t make sense. For only a few dollars more the buyer could get a new instrument, with Martin’s famous Limited Lifetime Warranty (to the original owner only). Plus, buying that new guitar from a reputable dealer means the buyer has the certainty that the dealer will stand behind their sale.
Wait a minute, Gene. Are you saying I should buy a premium guitar without playing it first?!
Well, the short answer is – yes. These days the major manufacturers are remarkably consistent in the quality of their builds. A Martin D-15 or a Taylor 314 is going to sound and play great, especially if purchased from a dealer like Maury’s Music, My Favorite Guitars, Elderly Instruments or Gruhn where all guitars are “set up” to ensure the little things like tweaking the action and a visual inspection are done before the sale. Yes, you are taking a bit of a chance, especially if you have no experience with a particular model. But if for any reason you don’t like your new guitar, all the above mentioned dealers offer a short period of time (days or perhaps a week) when you can return that guitar for another or even a refund. You will have to pay the return shipping but in my opinion that is a risk worth taking.
With imported guitars the return on investment is less. You would be fortunate to get 50% of what you paid for just about any Ibanez, Alvarez, Yamaha, Recording King or many other of the good quality imports. Even if that guitar is in perfect condition, the fact is there are tens of thousands of those guitars on the used market at any time. Also, the things that may go wrong with even higher quality imports are many compared to American and Canadian made guitars. A buyer who has, say, $300 to spend on a used import most likely does not have the knowledge to recognize things like a guitar in need of a neck re-set, sloppy tuning machines or poor sounding electronics. You usually don’t find new imports at 40% off list but the big mega retailers usually offer free shipping, which can save you quite a bit. Also, the “big two” (Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend – actually the same company) offer a 30-day, no questions asked return policy, assuming the guitar is returned in the condition it was when purchased. I have taken advantage of this with things like amps and I think it outweighs the slightly higher prices they charge for most of their offerings.
So why are guitar prices so high right now? The allegedly improved economy? The ever-increasing popularity of the guitar, which I believe has a lot to do with the acoustic guitar being so prevalent in today’s music? Older Baby Boomers who have decided to take up the guitar after having dabbled in playing in their younger days?
Probably those things and others. As with most consumer items in this country, where you live does have an effect on guitar prices – higher in urban areas, less in rural areas. Just be aware that there is no justification or reason to pay close to retail price for most used guitars.
Peace & good music,