This series examines typical guitars purchased off online ad sites like Craigslist, Marketplace, LetGo and OfferUp.

Like you, I buy used guitars from online ads. (Does anyone read newspaper “classified ads” any more?) Often, I’m not even invited inside and must decide based on a quick examiniation of the guitar from the seller’s porch, or from a parking lot.

In EVERY case, I’ll discover problems with the guitar on my workbench that were either overlooked or I failed to realize the severity of the issues. There is a certain motivation of “The Hunt” and elation in “winning the prize” that can make a buyer blind to product problems.

So follow along and learn what “wicked gotchas” might be lurking in that guitar whose ad you’re drooling over today!

I bought this guitar from a Craigslist ad, and after a quick “look-over”, deemed it a good deal. Let’s put in on the bench and examine it more closely as I go through my process of preparing a guitar to sell..

First, I plugged the guitar into an amp and verified that all three pickups worked, the 5-way switch worked in each position and both tone controls and the volume control all worked as expected.

I noticed some “scratchiness” in the volume control and used contact cleaner on all three pots, vigorously twisting knobs back and forth to get the contacts clean.

Next, I checked the nut slot heights. These are often too high on low-end guitars, making the first several frets play sharp, but every string measured at just 0.02 inches over the first fret with saddles at normal height and strings unfretted.

setting relief for guitar neck
Checking guitar neck

Relief was double what it should have been, so I adjusted the truss rod nut until strings were just under 0.01 inch at the 7th fret. This nut is a 3/16″ and not the usual 4mm. Failing to notice that could cause someone to strip the nut.

Action was uncomfortably high with string heights measuring from 0.11 (E) to 0.08 (e), and I adjusted so that each string was well under 0.07, allowing a bit more clearance for the wound strings.

Pickup poles were too low beneath the strings forcing players to compensate by turning up the volume and muddying the sound, so I adjusted those to Fender specs.

Neck angle was great, no fret wear was visible but the fret ends were pretty sharp, which is normal in sub-$500 guitars. I dressed (filed & sanded) the fret ends so the neck feels like a “real Fender” guitar.

Polishing guitar frets
Polishing frets

I cleaned the fretboard with Naptha and 0000 steel wool, wiped that off and used a magnet to collect the steel wool bits, then conditioned the board with lemon oil and followed that up by polishing the frets.

Once you have built up lots of fine scratches on frets, they’ll wear a lot faster and since it isn’t economically feasible to refret a $99 guitar, it makes sense to keep the frets polished and smooth.

Polished frets slows wear

No loose tuners and each one had a good solid feel – a nice surprise! I’m going to sell this guitar at a low $99, so I didn’t bother shielding the control cavity.

The bridge was properly grounded and the output jack worked ok, but the jack was badly rusted, so I replaced it. The bridge was filthy and had rust also, but it was surface rust which cleaned off under an assault of naval jelly and an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner.

Guitar bridges get a lot of tension (well over 80#’s with just #9 strings!), vibration and abuse – all of which can create wear in the screw holes. Even if you don’t believe in “tone wood” you have to admit that having a solid connection between the bridge and the body is important to your sound! So I fill the bridge mounting screw holes with hardwood toothpicks and Titebond wood glue before remounting.

Forgot to mention how badly the strings were corroded, but even if they look new, I always replace them with new D’Addario #9 strings (#9 is the size that Fender Squiers come with new), which I lightly oil, then wipe clean, to help fight corrosion in our humid Florida air.

Fighting friction

A bit of Chapstick in the string tree grooves will help with tuning stability.

Finally, it was time to tune and float the tremolo bridge which should sit about 3/32nds of an inch off the guitar body. This involves fine-tuning the tension between the guitar strings and the tremolo springs to get just the right height.

At last it was time to intonate the guitar (ensure that you get the right notes wherever you fret each string), and polish one more time. As usual, intonation wasn’t even close when I bought the guitar. It took quite a bit of adjusting to get things right, but in the end, it intonated beautifully.

So, I got a bit lucky with this guitar – not too many bad surprises. Why try your luck on a Craigslist guitar when you can get a solid instrument from me?

used squier bullet guitar for sale
Finally fit for my customers!

Click on the “Used Gear” link on my website menu bar or drop by in person and try out a few guitars and amps.