I bought a guitar off Craigslist the other day, like I do all the time. Nice young fellow was selling it. I asked him, like I always do, if he was giving up on guitar or had just upgraded.
He’s giving it up. “It’s just way harder than I thought and I found out you have to spend a lot of money for a decent guitar.”
Well, he was selling a Fender Squier Affinity. A pretty red one. He’d kept it in good shape – it almost looked like new. But the string height was a bit too high all over the fretboard.
The nut slots were a bit too high. The relief looked to be about twice what it should have been and it was uncomfortable to play not just because of the high action but the fret ends were sharp as knives!
Not only would the nut have prevented notes and chords from being in-tune, but I could see the saddles were perfectly aligned, meaning the instrument almost certainly wasn’t intonated.
“It’s just way harder than I thought and I found out you have to spend a lot of money for a decent guitar.”
So this guitar, like many in the sub-five-hundred dollar range and like some even above that range, was both uncomfortable to play and would not play in tune. That’s a combination almost guaranteed to discourage a new player!
Does this mean that Squiers and most inexpensive guitars aren’t any good? Absolutely not!
You can get new, inexpensive guitars right off the racks at Sam Ash or Guitar Center that are close enough to being properly setup, and maybe even with the intonation being fairly close. But you have to know what to look for.
Your odds of buying a used guitar with a decent setup and intonation are very low! But you have at least a few choices for fighting those odds –
- Buy a lottery ticket with your guitar money and use your winnings to buy a decent guitar.
- Buy a used guitar from someone who buys guitars, gives them a proper setup, then resells them at a small profit.
- Watch lots of YouTubes and buy proper guitar tools for setups.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience that guitar box stores do not take the time to do setups on used guitars – especially not inexpensive ones like Squiers, Ibanez and Epiphones. They don’t even spend that much effort on the new ones!
I haven’t had any luck with option #1 (above), but I can tell you that there are a couple people like me in the Tampa / St Pete area who buy guitars to fix up and setup then resell as well-setup, properly-intonated, really good instruments.
I have lots of nice Squier Stratocaster guitars right now, cleaned, polished, new strings (top-brand and proper size for the guitar), properly setup, filed fret ends, tuned and intonated for just $99.
I sell guitar amps from $29, nice Fender gig bags for $10, straps for $5. So, you could go home with a great guitar and amplifier for just $130. We’re talking about a guitar that is comfortable to play and will sound right when it’s fretted.
To be honest, there are a lot of really good guitar players – some have been playing for decades, who don’t really know what to look for when buying a used guitar.
Used guitar dealers like myself, tend to buy well below the sellers’ asking price, then after doing all the work to make it a good used guitar, we often sell it for the same price the original seller was asking.
So you’re likely to save little to nothing when buying from Craigslist or a garage sale and taking a very high risk as opposed to buying from a dealer who wants to look out for his customers and has a reputation at stake.
If I haven’t convinced you to buy from a used guitar dealer yet, then please stay tuned because an upcoming article will give you some tools to push the odds a bit more toward your side.
I’ll show you how to check nut slot height, relief and string height; how to check for a stripped truss nut and how to check intonation – and much more – coming soon!