Generally speaking if you buy a brand new guitar then your choice and the quality of the instrument SHOULD be looked after by the retailer you choose to buy it from. If you are buying a new guitar then you are really looking for a reputable dealer to help you buy the guitar.
So here I’m primarily concerned with the assessment of used guitars, although much of the information contained may apply to shopping for new toys too!
When I first pickup a guitar for assessment, whether it be to purchase, to help someone else purchase or as an insurance appraisal I will first run through the assessment ABC that I developed when I first started working in the guitar industry. It’s a systematic approach to evaluating the worth and condition of a guitar, methodical and simple:
- A for Authenticity. Can you determine beyond all doubt if the guitar being assessed is genuinely what it is advertised to be? Can you be certain that all parts are genuine and were added by the manufacturer at time of construction? If the guitar itself is genuine but some or all parts are replacement are they suitable for the guitar and of a similar quality and has this been reflected in the price of the instrument? If you believe the guitar may not be genuine then, unless you are mental, the next parts of the ABC does not apply and you should walk away.
- B is for Build quality. Is the guitar’s quality of construction what you would expect from the company who built it. By that I mean you can’t judge the build quality of a Squire Stratocaster by the build standards of the Fender Custom Shop, you have to remain realistic when appraising the build quality of a guitar. When assessing build quality you will be checking for solid glue joints, tight screw fixtures, neat and parallel neck to body joints, fret work including well polished and well seated frets with no sharp ends and bevels cut and dressed at the correct angle, finish quality including colour coat and clear coat, placement and fit of hardware including tail and bridge assemblies and machine heads, fit and finish of string nut and string slots. If the guitar has build quality issues then you need to work out if these problems are just cosmetic or if they will have an effect on the guitar’s tone or playability. Are the build quality issues reflected in the advertised price of the instrument? If any build quality issues render the guitar useless then the next part of the ABC does not apply and you should walk away!
- C is for Condition. It may sound bizarre to some but for me this is the last thing to consider unless it is obviously beyond the condition you would want to buy a guitar in. The reason this assessment comes last is that so often I have seen people so caught up in the guitars condition or lack there of that they completely forget about the other two things I have mentioned that are, arguably, way more critical. By condition we mean how the guitar has aged either by its natural environment and/or its previous owner(s).
Once you have been through the initial ABC style appraisal of the instrument and you are happy that it might be of interest it’s then, and only then that you can check the guitar for functionality, playability and tone.When assessing the guitar further we are looking for the condition of the serviceable parts of the guitar, probably the most critical thing to check on a guitar is if the truss rod works or not.
Now I understand that not everyone is going to be confident enough to get involved in such things but trust me it’s worth learning, if a guitars trust rod does not work, is stuck fast or even sheared then in all but very rare situations the guitar can be considered fire wood!
When I check truss rods I will remove the truss rod nut and check, where possible, the threads of both mating surfaces and also check that by removing the nut that the neck has pulled into a forward bow as expected under string tension. I will then put the nut back on and gently tighten it and check that this action is gently pulling the neck towards a back bow with no concerning pops, clicks or cracks. We also need to check if the neck is “true” ie without twist, warp, hump or dip. To do this you can sight down the neck from the headstock end of the guitar using the strings as a straight edge. You are looking for any disparity between the two fret board edges of the neck and also looking for any dips or humps in the neck. Also check the condition of the fret surfaces to make sure they are not too pitted or worn down flat and if they are then can the flat spots or pits be removed with a fret dress or will the guitar require a re-fret. Have the nut slots been worn down by the “sawing” action of the strings so that the strings have dropped too low to the first fret. Are all metal hardware parts still functioning and serviceable or are they worn and rusted solid.
There will be a guide for checking all these things added to the main menu of the blog soon and it will go a little deeper into the topics raised here. People selling guitars are finding sneaky ways to hide faults with them but trust your instinct….if it looks wrong, tastes wrong and smells wrong…it’s probably wrong!
If anyone has any worries or questions regarding a guitar they are looking to buy or a guitar they already own then shoot me a comment or message and I’ll see if i can shed any light!