You’ve been shopping on Craigslist, Marketplace, OfferUp and who knows where else! You found a beautiful guitar and the price is right. You’ve met the buyer at Micky D’s and the guitar looks as good as its photos.

This series covers big, bad problems – most of which are hidden to the untrained eye. This story is about one of those problems.

But there’s just one little issue – the action (string height) is pretty high. “No problem.”, you say to yourself. “I can fix that with a 1/16″ allen wrench in five minutes or less!”

You hand over the money and race home with the guitar that you’ve bought at a heck of a bargain – the guitar that’s going to win you some great gigs!

You lower the saddles to optimal height and strum open strings. Everything’s great. Now you try a chord. “What was that? A buzz saw??” Two strings are buzzing (E & A) and the D string is doornail dead.

What just happened?

You got took!

If fretted fret is lower than the next, it will buzz

The seller hid the fact that the guitar badly needs leveling and crowning by raising the saddles high enough to hide the buzzing. Too high to comfortably play, but an unseasoned buyer just “kicking tires” isn’t likely to make a big deal out of a bit of high action.

After leveling and crowning, it’ll need a setup also. Heck, most guitars need a setup anyway, but a level and crown job is going to just about double the expense. Add that cost to what you paid for the guitar and it doesn’t look like such a great deal now, does it?

And is there even enough fret height to allow for a level and crown? 0.025″ is the absolute bare minimum fret height in my opinion – and the opinion of most experts. So if your frets vary by 0.010″, you’ll need the highest fret to be at least 0.035″ high before the leveling begins.

And if you don’t have enough fret height for leveling? Well, you’re looking at either a refret job (probably $200 give or take) or a new neck.

How’s that “bargain” looking now?

If you can do your own setups, leveling, nut filing, etc., and if you know what to look for, then you can take care of yourself in the guitar market jungle. Otherwise, paying just a little more and buying from a dealer can save you time, money and frustration.