Questions Regarding the Mechanics of Buying a Vintage Guitar

Discussion in 'Vintage Tele Discussion Forum (pre-1974)' started by DaveGo, Sep 22, 2020.

  1. DaveGo

    DaveGo Tele-Meister

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    I haven't seen this aspect of buying a vintage guitar addressed as a single issue, but I apologize if this has been discussed at some point in past. This is not a discussion about the relative merits of vintage guitars vs. modern production, boutique, or partscasters. And likewise it isn't about the cost of vintage or the investment potential or lack of. It's literally about how you go about selecting a vintage guitar to buy.

    When buying a guitar, any guitar, one of the frequent comments on the forum is "I wouldn't buy a guitar without first playing it." Assuming you're more of a collector than a player that might not be as important as long as the guitar has no issues of originality and you trust the seller. But if you intend to actually play the guitar with some regularity hoping it might become your number one, I would think the sound and feel of a guitar is especially important when buying vintage - the bond factor. So, if you are looking for a vintage guitar the only sources are dealers locally and across the globe, auctions, online sources (gbase, reverb, etc.), guitar shows (not currently much of an option, and it's possible even in the best of times there are none close to where you live). I live in Texas and maybe a guitar is in Massachusetts or Illinois or Los Angeles. Do I fly and try or take a leap of faith? How do most vintage guitar transactions take place. What is usual and customary? If you've bought vintage guitars how have you done it? If you are currently looking to buy a vintage guitar how are you doing it? I'd appreciate your thoughts.

    Dave
     
  2. Antoon

    Antoon Tele-Afflicted

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    I checked as many specs of the guitar as possible before I bought it.
    -Close up pics of details and parts (including neck/pickguard removal, soldering work, pots, neck stamps/dates etc.)
    -Guarantee of a straight neck and working truss rod
    -Weight
    -Neck measurements (thickness, shape, width)
    -Pickups specs (close up pics of the bottom, sides and top, and ohms reading)
    -Finish: Wear marks, neck pocket

    If if it all checks out, or is at least what it is claimed to be and priced accordingly, then if I could return the instrument if necessary, I would not have a problem buying without having the guitar in hand. Pics are the most important for me, but that is because I know what it is supposed to look like.
     
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  3. naveed211

    naveed211 Tele-Afflicted

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    Depends how much money you’re talking. If I had the cash to purchase a, say, $12,000-$20,000 vintage guitar, I’d either take a road trip or a plane to go play the thing first (wouldn’t buy from overseas in any case for a purchase like this, but that’s another story).

    In any case really, I’d want to play the thing first. It’d be a prerequisite for a guitar of a certain price and vintage. If it’s more than $2000 and the store doesn’t have a very generous return policy, I’d need to play it first. Just too big a purchase to take a chance.

    I’m blessed to have about five or six really good used/vintage stores within reasonable driving distance. I can usually find something I really want at one of them. Any further out, they need to have a clear and generous return policy.

    I’m rambling. If it’s REALLY expensive like what I initially mentioned, I’m going there in person. For sure.
     
  4. DaveGo

    DaveGo Tele-Meister

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    Antoon and Naveed211 thanks for your comments. Nice to hear both of your perspectives.

    Dave
     
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  5. Danman

    Danman Tele-Meister

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    When I buy a vintage guitar it is because I want to play it. I’m not a collector just for collecting, even though I have a nice collection. I want the guitar to be good and I have to love playing it.

    So in my case that means that I need to try it out first. And like you mention, this can be a problem. There just aren’t that many good vintage guitars around here. And the only guitar I bought without trying it first I didn’t like and I sold it.

    Obviously I would go through all the specs first, looking at pictures or taking them and sharing them with several friends who know a lot about vintage guitars. More people know and see more than one…

    And then I would sit and play it. And I will travel to try a guitar, if I know that the specs are good and it might be worth it. Last year I was ready to fly from Amsterdam to the UK to try out a guitar. I was too late but I would have if it still was there….
     
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  6. Chuckboy

    Chuckboy TDPRI Member

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    For me it would depend on the seller.
    If it were Norm's Vintage Guitars in the LA area I would have a long chat with one of their knowledgeable employees and then I would take a shot with a generous return policy. Same thing if it were Carter's in Nashville. There are others.

    I agree it would depend on the volume of $$. And these days, getting on a plane is out of the question, with the virus.
     
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  7. myteleplaysjazz

    myteleplaysjazz Tele-Meister

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    I see you're in Austin. I'm close by in Lakeway.
    Have you picked through everything at Austin Vintage Guitars? Or Guitar Resurrection?
    I'm not sure I'd get on a plane and go to the expense of checking out a guitar. But if you could plan a vacay around it, it might take the sting out a bit.
    On a not too recent trip to NYC, I was able to go to "Rudy's" in SoHo. Lots of nice (expensive) guitars there. Super nice people too, but I didn't buy anything.
    I think it just comes down to a leap of faith when considering guitars out of your local market.
     
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  8. DaveGo

    DaveGo Tele-Meister

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    Thanks. Yes I keep up with the local shops, at least their online offerings. Many of the better known dealers are pretty dismissive when you contact them and I wouldn't have to contact them if they would put the basic information in their descriptions. You know, unimportant stuff like neck dates, weight, modifications, etc. to go along with the four photos in the listing. My current favorite is a dealer who's asking $15k for a '67 Tele and putting in the description "don't ask me to take off the neck because everything is correct". Aside from the arrogance, it's not very helpful. I hate myself for wanting a vintage Tele, especially since I owned several vintage guitars back when they were just used guitars. No matter what the collectible genre is - muscle cars, antique firearms, art, et al., there's a certain attitude/mindset that is pervasive among those who deal in high end collectibles that really turns me off. Thanks for everyone's insights.

    Dave
     
  9. Antoon

    Antoon Tele-Afflicted

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    There is basically the question whether the guitar is what it is claimed to be, has no defects and priced okay, and whether I like the feel and sound. The latter is always a bit of a gamble when buying online
     
  10. EsquireOK

    EsquireOK Friend of Leo's

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    People make too much of the differences between electric guitars, IMO.

    I have literally played thousands of guitars in my life. I've ben a browser and shopper of them for 30+ years, playing hundreds per year, at least (well, except this year, maybe). I've truly encountered very few "dogs" in my life. If they are dogs, it's due to easily visible build quality issues, or irreparable flaws or damage.

    I've been buying guitars online for about 20 years now (and in person for 30 or more). We're talking probably 60 or 80 instruments via mail order in my life. In that time, I've sent back one for being poorly made (a Gibson), and two others for being damaged in shipping.

    Buy from someone with a good return policy, and as much documentation as you can get. Buy from a reputable brick and mortar business if at all possible. Get the guitar professionally authenticated and appraised at Norman's, Elderly, or Gruhn's immediately after purchasing it.

    Do not buy without a good return policy. You want 30 days return window for inspection and authentication, and you also want someone who will allow you at least a week's trial period, during which you can return the guitar for any reason – including if you simply don't like it or simply changed your mind.

    I have bought an expensive vintage guitar from a private party, and it was a hairy process until I actually got the thing in my hand. I didn't like it at all. it was complex, nerve-racking, and I paid hundreds of dollars in Pay-Pal fees just to help me feel more secure. Several hundred more on FULLY insured UPS shipping. Tens of hours spent on the phone discussing things with the seller. If I had been screwed on the deal, there would not have been a TON I could do, because the Pay-Pal payment had to be split into two transactions. You can't make two claims for the same item, even if it was paid for with two payments. I hope to never again buy that way.
     
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  11. Buckaroo

    Buckaroo Tele-Meister

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    When I buy a vintage guitar I buy from a reputable dealer with a long established history. A dealer as described will allow reasonable recourse in the event of a "legit issue" emerging with the transaction. Often these dealers have the best quantity of inventory too.

    Yes you pay more for the guitar. But just like a first class airline seat the experience is a bit improved. In normal times I would visit dealer (fly or drive) and spend the night to experience the guitars over two days. Often buying the "best for me" specimen. Sometimes you can avoid taxes by having the guitar shipped to you rather than walking out of the store with it.

    That is how I have done it many times...so that is my advice. Keep an open mind, and "be willing not to buy" if you don't find the guitar that speaks to you. Maybe try another dealer's stock on another trip.

    In Covid 19 times, you are restrained to having a guitar shipped for a "demo". Make sure you understand all aspects of that transaction including returns and details about how the shipping "damage/loss" works on the insurance. Uncertainty and lack of a written agreement regarding shipping insurance details is a deal breaker for me. You have to ask for it and consider it part of the premium being paid for employing a well known dealer. Get it all in writing up front. A good dealer is used to this and accommodates...part of that premium price.

    Expect to pay either via wire transfer or "sometimes" a credit card. Most dealers will take a card but the fees will be reflected in the price. Paying cash provides leverage on price, but you risk a bit more up front. Choose what is comfortable for you.

    Good luck, buy smart.

    Buck
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2020
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  12. Bill

    Bill Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    I've usually bought at the store, guitar show, or seller's house. But I've bought guitars online twice. Once was a '56 Tele on eBay. When the guitar arrived, it had an extra hole in the peghead (yes, it had been converted to a 7-string guitar!) and the bridge pickup was a gonner. I told them immediately I was sending it back, but the guy had already spent my money. Took months to get my money back from them. Another was a '52 Tele from Elderly. That worked out pretty well. Though many years later I had a couple places tell me they though the neck had been reshaped.
     
  13. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    For playing, I'd say online guitars I buy are only "keepers" 1/10th of the time or less. You just can't tell if it suits you, feels good etc from any picture. One way to help with that is find one in a store etc locally and check it out. So make sure there is a return policy.
    Reputation of seller is important.
    If it's an acoustic guitar, you need good clear pics of the saddle and string/fret relationship. Many vintage acoustics have the saddle filed down and really need a neck reset.
     
  14. Bob M

    Bob M Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    As others have noted if you can’t travel buy from a reputable dealer. I’ve bought 3 guitars from Elderly-one vintage-and each instrument was exactly as described. I think I paid a little more but it’s worth it. Private party sales can work but you need to examine the guitar carefully.
     
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  15. Boreas

    Boreas Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    I have bought most of my vintage guitars online - both by reputable dealers and private parties. Before that, I bought from dealer catalogs (remember those??). Never ran into a problem that couldn't be corrected with an email and perhaps partial refund if something was incorrectly advertised.

    I live in the sticks hundreds of miles from any of the major vintage dealers. These same vintage dealers recognize this and generally have reasonable return policies, whether shipped or in-store. How many people can really assess a guitar in a noisy dealership when under duress? ALWAYS try to deal with a reputable person or dealer. They only become reputable by advertising truthfully and dealing fairly. You may pay a little more for that protection, but you get what you pay for - peace of mind that if you can't live with the purchase after you play it in your living room for a couple days, that you can return it for at least most of your investment returned possibly minus shipping charges. Dealers stay dealers by making happy customers.
     
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  16. Masmus

    Masmus Tele-Meister

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    I buy mostly vintage players, I've used ebay and reverb with great success but i stopped because at some point I know I would run out of luck. Like others have said if you are spending a lot of money I'd have to play it first. The last one I bought was a less expensive pre CBS fender from a Guitar Center store that didn't know what they had. I bought it and had it shipped to a GC where I lived for $25 and if it wasn't what I thought it was or damaged I would be able to return it minus the $25. GC usually takes one bad picture.
     
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  17. zeke54

    zeke54 Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    I have bought a few guitars online , none vintage , a couple on Ebay from private individuals , a couple from GC , no issues for those . Between 1969 and 1978 I bought 3 vintage guitars ( they were called used in those days ) all from private individuals , but I bought them in person , so no surprises . In 1981 I bought a '62 strat from a mail order store called Rainbow Music , I knew it was a refin , and it was a good deal , no problems . In 1989 I bought a '76 LP Custom ( yeah I know about Norlin products ! ) from Dave's Guitars , again , no issues . But times have changed , I would never put out big bucks for a vintage guitar sight unseen . The purchases I spoke of here were at a time when there were many fewer fakes on the market , so you need to be very cautious of what you buy , and stick to the reputable dealers the others mentioned here . I long for the good ol' days , and good ol' deals !
     
  18. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    I've stopped buying from eBay and Reverb because they collect sales tax.
    I cruise Craigslist, Facebook marketplace and guitar bulletin board classifieds.
    I try to buy below market and take my chances with playability, etc.
    If I don't like it, I've bought right and can flip pretty easily.
    I never buy from dealers. I dislike the rules many of them play by and I prefer to educate myself and not pay a premium for somebody else's knowledge.
    I've been a gigging musician for over 35 years and know what I like, but, frankly, I'm just not that picky. Heavy, light, fat neck, skinny neck....it's all good with me. The only thing I've not been able to live with is the tiny frets on a couple 50s guitars and a 60s Rick.
    I have some great amps and anything I plug into them sounds great.
    Playability issues are very easily taken care of.
    The caveat is, possibly, although I have a nice handful of vintage guitars, none were over $3k.
    If I were to be dropping 15-20k, I might do things differently.
     
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  19. Wildeman

    Wildeman Tele-Meister

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    Yeah, that's not good business. Someone selling a guitar like that should at least take it apart once and take alot of very detailed pictures imo, then you can refuse to do it again.
     
  20. Musekatcher

    Musekatcher Friend of Leo's

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    You buy from a retailer with a return policy. Ebay, Reverb, Gbase all have return policies available. Dodge the auctions where the buyer doesn't offer a return policy, unless its so cheap, you can fund all the anticipated repairs and value killers, and still come out. Its all about homework.
     
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