Friday, October 9, 2009

Buying Guitars - Inspect inspect inspect!

Sometimes the guitar you see is more than you bargained for when you made your purchase. A lot of guitars are delivered to me and the emphasis is on upgrading the guitar. Inspection of the unit is essential and documentation is paramount. Often I find things lurking under the hood, making build quality questionable at best. There are a lot of good deals out there but there are some fine points that are missed and you would never know if you don’t take your guitar apart. I don’t recommend taking your guitar apart because what you find may not please you. My point is that in order for the manufacturer to keep the price down there are some trick used and some can kill your tone.

Included in this post are pictures are of a guitar similar to a Gibson ES-335 but make no mistake, this guitar is not a Gibson. Upon removing the guitar pickups I found that the wood is not simply one piece of wood. The solid part of the body is surrounded by nice laminated maple but the solid structure of the guitar is a glue up of what most reputable companies would call scrap wood. The pieces are glued using a method similar to making cutting boards. The wood is glued together then planed to a specific thickness. Due to the nature of glues available this method does not really affect the strength of the instrument but it will definitely make the density vary. At the very least it looks rather unprofessional. I’ve found knotted wood and torn pieces which make for a rather ugly site to behold.

Then there is the hidden wiring. Maybe the new guitar feeds back or has a lot of 60 cycle hum. Maybe the guitar is just plain noisy. Maybe both pickups do not work. These hidden mistakes are a nuisance and could ultimately mean that you need to have work done to correct the guitar. If the owner takes the guitar apart, some stores will not honor the warranty. Therefore, doing a thorough test of the guitar and all of its switches and knobs is very important and will save you trouble down the road. If the guitar doesn’t operate well there is no secret mojo or voodoo that will cure it as time goes by. The problem will be harder to correct as the long you have the instrument the less likely the possibility that the retailer will honor the warranty. That is just how it goes. Therefore testing is paramount. This can be intimidating but worth your time. If you cannot play like Van Halen or Andres Segovia it doesn’t matter. Just play the guitar and flip the switches and if the sound stops or the volume or tone switches do not work. GET A DIFFERENT guitar! If the guitar is an electric guitar – Hook it up to an amplifier. Make sure the guitar cord itself is not bad because it too will yield poor results. You don’t have to be loud, just diligent. Test it or be sorry. Bring it to a technician will cost about $40 (or more!) and hour and most shops will not touch it for less.

The some of the following pictures are of instruments that have been in for repair and the customer could have avoided trouble by doing a few tests. All of the following instruments had problems with pickups and such. The wood being frayed would not be found but I’ll advise you that this is the type of workmanship to expect on a low cost instrument. The saying is cliché but ultimately “you get what you pay for” and sometimes you will find these errors on expensive instruments as well. Again, test it or pay the piper later.

Used guitars can present problems. Ebay guitars are bought sight unseen and are a tremendous risk. Ebay in their infinite wisdom provides guides for purchasing guitars through their auction and this tool can be very handy. The red guitar obviously has suffered some tremendous tremolo use and abuse. The body fractures were not apparent with basic inspection but removing the pick guard and tremolo revealed a nightmare. Cliché’ number two – “there is no free lunch.” The person selling the instrument might be doing so for a good reason. The guitar is ruined and you won’t find out until it’s too late. The bridge showing holes is due to poor casting of the bridge. In the case of the bridge the manufacturer was horrified to discover this oversight and promptly replaced the bridge – This was an expensive instrument so might the point is that even if the guitar is expensive – Inspect it and if you are uncertain about the instrument – Pay a technician to do a check. I cannot emphasis this point enough. I think the pictures tell the story better than my best prose.

Be certain to look your guitar over carefully. Bring a friend that is objective. Take the used guitar to a luthier. Be aware that you are probably somewhat emotional about getting the new instrument and this can blind you and cost you later or worse, cause you to suffer buyer’s remorse! Buying a new or used instrument can be a lot of fun so do a little homework about the manufacturer, read reviews on Harmony Central and you will not be sorry.

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