Authors Note:This is the third part on my How to buy a second-hand guitar series of articles.

It took me a real while to finally get back to finishing this series.

Anyway, here are my tips on what to look at a guitar. And I mean real nitty-gritty details on the guitar. So you’ve scoped a guitar that you’re interested in. You’ve scheduled a meet-up so you can check the guitar in person. Finally, a chance to examine the guitar. And here’s a checklist of what to check.

  • Scratches, dings, cracks and rust

    These are quite common on second-hand guitars. Eventually you’ll scratch and ding your guitar yourself. And these are quite minor. What you have to be more worried about are real wood cracks and rust. Though some may consider rust minor, it’s the first thing I check. And I advise getting a second-hand guitar with rust (except on the strings, those are quite normal).

  • The neck

    The condition of the guitar neck is probably a cause for real concern. Though some guitars are bolt on necks (which you can adjust through the truss rod) some are set-necked meaning they’re glued on. You’d want a guitar with a straight neck not warped or bowed in any way. Check the place where it’s connected with the body for cracks. Excessive glue on that part may mean a previous repair.

  • Frets

    Check the fret wires. You wouldn’t want them ground down to fretboard. Check them for any deep recesses. You don’t probably want a guitar that needs a refretting.

  • Action and intonation

    Action refers to the distance of the strings from the fret wires. You’d want a guitar with low action if you plan to do some shred licks. Intonation refers to the accuracy of the notes the guitar produces. Usually, this can be perfectly tested if you have a guitar tuner check if a string produces the same note as it does when played on the 12th fret. Anyway, these I consider a bit minor since I always get a guitar intonated and set by a guitar tech which I suggest you do too.

  • Hardware and electronics

    Fiddle with the tuning pegs/machine heads to make sure they work. If it’s an electric guitar, plug it in the amp and try all the settings. Strum a whole chord sounding each string. Sweep the pickup selector switch in all positions to make sure it doesn’t fail. Scratchy sounds may mean that it needs cleaning. Total failure means you’ve got some busted wiring somewhere (or worse, busted pickups).

  • Sound

    Be wary when testing the guitar for sound. So it’s really best to have a knowledgeable friend accompany you. At times a guitar may sound really great just because of the amplifier. If it’s a second-hand store, try our similar models to differentiate which produces a nice sound. A good electric guitar usually sounds nice even if it’s not plugged in.

If the overall look, sound and feel of the guitar didn’t match-up to the seller’s initial description, frankly ask the person why. I, myself, would have serious doubts on the credibility of the seller and the condition of the guitar.

Remember, second-hand guitars don’t really come in mint condition (unless the seller really swears by it). Visit your friendly neighborhood guitar tech for those minor fixes that are pretty much routine for every guitar owner.

Part I | Part II | Part III

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