As we all experience from time to time, we guitar players get over certain instruments. We all have our reasons why it’s time to part ways and I could make a huge list about that topic alone. But one thing is for certain: When the need arises to sell our used gear, we want to get the job done in a way that ideally favors our priorities most.
Since we’re all different between likes, dislikes, backgrounds, personalities, geographic regions, etc, our motivations and ideal end results will differ. Sometimes people just want something gone and don’t care about the price. Other times, the seller may demand that the buyer “better pay top dollar for this guitar I loved so much.” With all that out of the way, where does one begin to look for the value of the item? Where is the absolute best place to sell it? So lets explore some unspoken rules about buying and selling your used musical equipment.
The more information, the better
If one wants to collect top dollar, they should always put in the work and do extensive research on the item they’re selling. It’s wise to prepare yourself to answer as many questions as possible. If you’re getting ready to sell something, you should answer these questions for yourself if you’re able to:
- What brand, model, year, and color is this?
- Is the used market over-saturated with like items?
- How much are other people trying to sell the same item for on the site you want to sell it through?
- How much has it sold for in the past? (check eBay Completed Listings & Reverb’s Price Guide)
- How long have similar listings remained available on the market?
- How quickly do I need to sell it?
There’s a common enough misconception that the used market revolves around the asking prices of other listings. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you believe your guitar is worth $200 used, and you see twenty-five other similar guitars listed at $150 without any sign of movement, it’s likely not anywhere near worth your projected value at all. What people are willing to pay for this particular item is what the used market revolves around. Adding to that, the available pool of shoppers narrows the higher your asking price is. So if your goal is to sell it quickly, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and sell your item way under the average closing price. When you price your item low, your target audience grows exponentially to attract those who may not really even want the item, but can’t ignore your asking price. That tactic will help you move items fast, which is how I’ve personally acquired some amazing gear (as well as some stinkers).
Another reason to sell under market value is if you don’t want to do the homework and/or provide relevant and detailed information to shoppers. Basically, the less time and work you put in will earn you little in return. This idea is almost expected from buyers as your pictures might rope them in, but your lack of information provides them with a mystery grab bag of unknown specs and components. Which, honestly, this is totally fine if you’re willing to make that financial sacrifice. Just don’t expect to put little to no effort to then receive larger payouts.
Better descriptions trigger people’s saved search alerts. Many sites and services offer shoppers the ability to save search words or terms to notify them when something new shows ups that matches their criteria. If you get too loosey-goosey with your listing titles and descriptions, you might miss out on attracting the perfect buyer.
- “Fender Strat” as your title, let alone in the description is way too vague.
- It’s a good idea to be specific about what you have. A Fender Stratocaster is a broad range of models, with many countries of manufacture. Depending on what exactly it is, these can sell used anywhere from $25-$50,000, depending on what year, model, condition, and originality it is.
- Is it verified as rare? How old is it? Is it authentic? Is it all original parts? Has it ever been modified? Is it missing parts? What condition is it in?
To give an example using one of my personal Stratocasters that I’m the original owner of, I’d list it as:
Fender 1996 American Standard Stratocaster Red w/ Maple Fingerboard – Modified
In the description/body of my listing, I’d mention that the pickups and wiring harness were replaced with a set of Arcane’s 1961 Experience pickups, CTS potentiometers with vintage cloth wire, a push/push pot for the 7-way mod, and locking Fender tuning machines. I’d also outline any wear and tear, damage, and other abnormalities to my guitar. Doing all this can trigger search alerts (depending on the listing service), including people looking for “Arcane” pickups. I’m sure if I spent more time, I could polish the above title better. But you get the point as at least my descrption above is better than “Fender Strat”.
And while this should go without saying, proper spelling is vital to your listing. If your “Squirt Start” isn’t getting much attention, it likely didn’t trigger anyone’s “Squier Strat,” “Squier,” or “Strat” search alerts. This is a common enough error I see on all classifieds services.
No, your guitar is not new
So you bought something for your kid, significant other, or yourself but unfortunately it never got any playtime by human fingers. For whatever reason, no one ever took to it and you’re well outside the store’s return policy. Naturally, you want to sell it to hopefully recoup as much of your investment as possible. “Since it was never played, it’s still new,” you tell yourself. But no, this is an invalid way to frame your listing. It isn’t new. Unless you’re an authorized reseller of a brand advertising a freshly unboxed instrument, the best one could say is the instrument is like new, excellent, or mint depending on the service and their chosen vernacular for condition.
“But it is new because it’s never been played!” If you truly believe this, you now need to ask yourself if you yourself would buy an item that’s claimed to be new from a private seller (eg: not a store). Chances are that you wouldn’t, and would be about as skeptical as everyone else looking at your “new” listing. The only exception to what most players would accept as “new” is what’s called new old stock (NOS). NOS goods may be a long lost item found in storage brought forward to sell to its first owner. If the item is prestigious, then you have something that will sell for as much if not more than when it was current on the market (…likely a lot more). But chances of that happening is extremely rare, and likely will not happen.
“Why is it not new then? It’s hardly ever been played! Where’s your logic there?” That’s easy. Your item is not new because:
- You’re not a store who offers returns or guarantees.
- A manufacturer only warrants products sold from their official dealers, which is not you.
- The warranty is already in motion or is expired and cannot be reset.
- Private sellers are excempt from most commerce laws.
- No product support is expected.
- There’s no guarantee that the item has a clean serial number. (eg: not lost or stolen)
At best, a like new item can be listed for the highest used closing price of the identical model, color, and hopefully the condition. One also has to consider that many dealers put these new items on sale and maybe also have coupons for the discount. So you listing it at 10-20% off the price you paid is likely not going to cut it, as a person might be able to score a new one with a return policy, warranty, and other goodies for the same price after a discount. Which ultimately means that in most cases you’ll never get anywhere near the same price you paid as new. It’s time to let that concept go.
Listing a price & expecting low-ballers
Nothing irks me more than seeing listings for $0, $1, or whatever then say, “it’s not free,” “make an offer,” or, “best offer takes it.” If you’ve ever sold gear to a store or pawnbroker before or seen this take place in person or on TV, they’ll always ask the seller first, “how much do you want for it,” or some variant of the phrase. This allows negotiations to either begin immediately or prevent any wasted time by negotiating against a seller’s unrealistic expectations, likely upsetting one or both parties involved.
Same goes for privately selling used gear. If I see a listing for $1 with “highest offer takes it,” you can count me out. Would you want to be part of someone else’s unregulated silent auction where they hold all the cards? I sure don’t. Especially if they believe my offer is a low-ball against whatever unspoken number they have in their head. Best thing is to list a price so people know where your head is at with the listing. I will always engage with a seller who at least listed a price so I know where we can potentially start talks.
Speaking of low-balling, this is a very subjective term that changes from person to person. For example, if a shopper sees a used Gibson Les Paul Tribute being sold for $1100 but knows they’re sold brand new for $1299 from official dealers, that shopper likely won’t agree that the $1100 is its fair market value (fmv), especially if they see similar or same Tributes listed for $800 obo on the same or similar service. So a fair offer might be $700-$750 to see if one of those $800 listings agrees. But the person listing their Tribute at $1100 might see a $700 offer as a low-ball, insulted and angry at the shopper’s ask for a $400 discount. But it’s really not a low-ball offer if the seller’s listing is way over FMV. So, with that in mind, some people place their own fmv on their gear and offer little to no wiggle room on their price. Thus, their idea of what a low-ball is differs from the masses. Point being, don’t condemn low-ballers in your description as it might deter the right buyer for your listing simply because they don’t know how you yourself define “low-ball”.
Even if you’re price widely accepted by damn near everyone as fair, expect low-ballers anyway. It’s okay. I get that it can be annoying and feel like a waste of your time. But you also have to acknowledge that these people exist, they’re not going anywhere, and you’re well within your control to respond politely. It’s not difficult to respond with, “thanks for the offer, but I’ve received higher offers already.” If they’re trying to have fun with you by asking, “what’s your lowest price,” you can simply withhold a response altogether or give a slight discount if you’re comfortable. Or, you can honestly just give any number you’re most comfortable with. That’s entirely up to you.
For what it’s worth as this read like I’m defending the practice of low-balling; I’m not. I personally never offer if the price isn’t anywhere near what I’d pay. If the price is spot on, I’m one of the first to offer full asking. I do not engage in the practice of low-balling. I just accept that there are certain cultures, upbringings, backgrounds, and other variables where that’s considered acceptable.
Be a Jane, not a Dick
Nothing repels shoppers more than aggressive sellers who define specific rules over how you are to communicate with them. These are things like:
- “Lowballers will be ignored”
- “Don’t waste my time.”
- “Don’t ask if it’s still available.”
- “I know what I have.”
For me, when I see this, it’s a red flag to steer clear of these sellers, because I don’t want to risk hurting my average reviews by dealing with someone who appears to be a surly, unhappy person. They’re likely not going to be very fun to deal with as it’s perceived that they lack the temperament to engage with other people in a civil manner, even if you adhere to that seller’s rules. If this is how you feel, it’s best to simply embrace the environment you’re posting your used gear to and choose to be a cool person over the opposite. Because you never know what bridge you might be burning through your choice of strict, shutdown phrases.
A fun personality goes a long way
Your listing doesn’t have to be a novel like this page is. But it should give a little backstory to add some history to what you’re selling, and its journey through life so far. Was it a bedroom only amp? Was the pedal used on a published album? Has this guitar traveled the world? Obviously you should be honest here. I’m not at all suggesting you fabricate a bogus backstory. But a story, significant or minor, will help move the item as shoppers have the opportunity to emotionally invest in what you’re selling. This is a good thing.
That said, it’s not uncommon for people to fabricate their own stories. I don’t condone this practice, but it happens and will continue to happen. Usually, these are sellers commonly known as flippers. Flippers buy something cheap, then aim to resell at a profit. I’ve seen guitars I’ve personally sold for cheap, to then be relisted a week later at a higher price with their own fabricated backstory. I don’t mind if a flipper aims to make a profit on something I sold them. But fabricating its history is outright dishonest.
Photos can be more important than the description
Not everyone has a great camera, nor are they expected to. But most people have at least a decent one in their phones these days. It’s okay that you don’t even have any kind of background in photography, but I’m sure you cannot deny the value of good pictures while seeing any advertisement. Taking detailed photos of your listing is vital as this is how potential buyers window shop. Posting 1 or 2 photos isn’t enough. 10 blurry and/or low-lit photos isn’t going to cut it either. Chances are that you have a good enough camera to capture the item you’re selling. But, as I routinely see on classifieds sites, the lighting in your living room might not work for capturing a clear image. If snapping pictures outside during the day is an option for you, weather permitting, use the outdoors in front of a clean wall or garden if you can. If not, anywhere outside is likely better than your dim den. There’s no better DIY lighting than the sun above. Low lit environments will equate to slower shutter speeds, added grain, and likely some motion blur from the natural wiggle in your hand. Bad photos can lead to disinterest from shoppers, and potentially some significantly lower offers should they want to take the risk on buying from you.
My personal rule for photos of a guitar is roughly 8-12 good shots. I might take 2 or 3 of every anticipated angle to make sure I don’t have to set the item up for photos again due to a poor shot. I personally aim to take photos as follows:
- Full front (Cover photo candidate)
- Full back
- Body front (Cover photo candidate)
- Body back
- Neck fingerboard
- Neck back (fingerboard length)
- Headstock front
- Headstock back
- The case/bag, Mods or Damage (if applicable)
- In its case, Mods or Damage (if applicable)
- Mods or Damage (if applicable)
- Mods or Damage (if applicable)
If it’s something like a pedal, amp, or pretty much anything else for that matter, I usually adhere to as much of the photo rules as I listed above, capturing a full photo of every angle followed by any mods and/or damages if applicable.
It’s also important to take good photos of any possible damages. You mentioned the damage(s) in your description, so now it’s time to show prospective buyers as best you can what you’re talking about so they can determine if this is something they can live with or not. If you modified the instrument, also show proof of the mods done. This might include taking pictures of harder to reach components like the bottomside of the replacement pickups, or the neck’s heel. However, any respectiable used guitar dealer will do this to back up their claims. And you, as a shopper, want sellers to do this so you know what you’re potentially buying. Your shoppers will definitely look at you the same way. So put the effort in.
Bundles & accessories add value, not raise the price
This isn’t always the case as some vintage items are valued higher with its original case than without. But, for the most part, things like cases, straps, strings, capos, stands and the like only add value to your listing.
“Why doesn’t it increase the price?” This is due to the idea that these accessories are very specific to your needs, your preferences, your tastes. So adding these into a guitar purchase is a nice thing that elevates the appeal towards your listing above others. But it doesn’t necessarily raise the price as most people only care about the one core thing you’re selling. If they see your listing amongst others selling the same guitar, amp, pedal, or whatever, yours will likely win out at the standard going rate because you’ve added value, or “perks” to buying from you over them. No one wants to pay more for things they don’t need, but may happily accept them to try them out later or to give as gifts to friends.
This includes bundles that might include a starter setup like a guitar and amp package. Many shoppers might want only the guitar, or only the amp but not both at a price they’re not willing to pay. In these cases, it’s best to break the items out into separate listings to reach a broader audience. If you still want to offer a bundle price, you can mention that option in the description of all applicable listings. That said, I strongly discourage a person putting everything they’re selling all in one listing.
One final note about adding value: Having a recent professional setup on the guitar, changing the strings, giving it a good a cleaning and all that stuff is not a reason to raise the price. That’s basic maintenance on your instrument to help keep it in its best possible condition. Charging more for a guitar that recently had a setup is like someone charging more for their used car due to all their oil changes and tune-ups.
If it’s a “simple fix,” fix it before listing.
If the guitar isn’t functioning, the pedal switch isn’t clicking, or your amp isn’t powering on, do not claim to your shoppers that it’s “a simple fix.” If it was that simple, you could and should fix it yourself. I see statements like these as either pure laziness or a bold faced lie, masking a deeper issue that sellers don’t wish to disclose to you.
An item that’s anything less than complete and/or functional should be sold in non-working order. If it’s not working, shoppers deserve a considerable price cut to account for any sizable repairs that may follow. They know this, and now you know it too.
Broken gear happens to the best of musicians. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But knowingly being dishonest about its true condition is nothing other than shameful.
Partscasters and modded instruments depreciate rapidly
With as many iconic partscasters that have changed the music industry, you’d thing there’d be some kind of prestige to these instruments. But there’s a reason these are both horrible losses for sellers, and potentially excellent finds for buyers. When someone is looking into purchasing a boutique instrument from companies like Suhr, Friedman, Tom Anderson, or even from a Fender Masterbuilder, the buyer already has baked-in faith this is going to be an outstanding instrument because they’re aware of the established and outstanding reputation the company has and the luthiers working there. But when it comes to a partscaster, these instruments are almost always shrouded in mystery.
“But my partscaster is a Warmoth!” I love Warmoth probably more than any other company. The very first house I was brought home into as a baby is located in Puyallup, WA not far from where Warmoth is. Warmoth is a hometown company to me that builds outstanding components. However, one must still assemble the guitar themselves, and the prestige of the luthier is what a lot of what people want to pay top dollar for. A neck can still be set incorrectly. Amateur accidents can still happen from bad drilling, faulty wiring, or crooked machine heads. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong on the build if someone with little to no experience is putting it together. So sure, you might have thrown down $1500 in parts to assemble your dream, USA made, personalized guitar. But if and possibly when that honeymoon is over and it’s time to move on, you’ll be lucky to get pennies on the dollar for your project.
The reason is that no one has any clue over who you are, let alone your qualifications. If you have no established name in the industry, no one gives a crap about your build. Worse yet, some sellers abuse the Warmoth name when using cheap, imported no-name parts instead. Because out of all these variables, Partscasters have literally little to no credibility behind the build. Without much credibility comes some extremely high risk to a buyer for potentially purchasing generic or counterfeit parts, and/or a guitar with a poor assembly that could require significant and potentially costly corrections. When there’s high risk, the expected closing price from buyers plummets.
If you’re adamant that your partscaster is worth more than the market commands, then you’ll really need to give the listing the ol’ college try by not only listing every single part, but also photographing the logos, any spec markings, product labels, etc on every part used. Much like a résumé, it’s also important to add some prestige to you, as the builder, by talking the luthier talk. List absolutely everything part used, list every spec from pickups to fingerboard radius, and every detail about your instrument. If you can’t do that, you will absolutely take a sizable financial hit on the instrument in the end. More often than not, the best way to sell a partscaster is to to part it out and sell the components separately. Granted, this method will likely take more time, but may get you more money back in the end.
Heavily modified guitars (eg: “upgraded”) fall under this same unfortunate fate. Meaning that if you think your $290 Squier Affinity Stratocaster is worth $500 because it has new pickups, a better bridge, new tuning machines, and a better wiring harness, you’d be sorely mistaken. To you, it’s worth that much because of your investment in parts and time. But the reality is that these modifications were for you and only you. No shopper is going to care what you did to it, because any prospective buyer will still see it as a used Squier Affinity Strat bought new at $290. Not many will care who modded it, and many will question the quality of the mods performed to not pay anywhere near your $500 asking price. As I always tell people, your budget instrument will always be a budget instrument no matter what mods you’ve done to it. Unfortunately for you, if you sell a budget guitar loaded with pricey mods, you’re going to take a bath in your investment. It’s better to restore the guitar to factory and hold onto the better parts for another build or to sell separately, assuming you didn’t get rid of the original parts.
So where is the best place to sell?
This answer varies depending on your geographic region. Different countries have different companies who provide these services. In the United States where 11th Fret is located, we have a wealth of options. However, the popularity between available classifieds services differs between states, counties, cities and sometimes neighborhoods. Certain services might also be more popular in one category but not in another. Meaning that used furniture might have the best array of shoppers on 5Miles, but not on OfferUp. Whereas a used guitar might be the exact opposite. Every market and category is different across the country. So I cannot say which is best for you as we likely live in different parts of the country, if not the world. This is something you will have to explore on your own to discover the best answer.
However, there are a wealth of companies who offer classifieds services to choose from, some better than others. Some services may also foster significant risk, where other services do their best to minimize that. If you want to avoid fees to get the most money, you’ll have to do so by meeting a buyer face-to-face and accepting cash. Services good for that are, but aren’t limited to:
- Facebook Marketplace
Benefits to using the above services is a simple transaction: No packing and shipping required, no credit card transactions necessary, no fees if cash based, and an immediate cash payment. Some disadvantages to selling local is any possible risk of being victimized, either by accepting a fraudulent payment (fake bills, accepting an unprotected digital payment, etc) or by getting ambushed by people baiting you into stealing your instrument (or stealing your cash if you’re the buyer). So it’s always advisable to meet up in the parking lot of your local law enforcement building. Or, at a busy, respectable, and unrelated place of business like a Starbucks at the very least. That said, related businesses like Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or other musical instrument stores have an interest in selling used gear. So these businesses usually don’t want people meeting in their stores to do a transaction for this reason, and may have very strict policies against it.
Another disadvantage to selling local is a limited audience. If you possess something rare or unique, your ideal buyer might not live anywhere near you. So reposting your prestigous guitar over and over to the same 300ish (give or take) local shoppers isn’t going to motivate anyone to buy your item. By giving yourself these boundaries, you’re missing out on the audience out there lusting after your gear. Of course, potential buyers might become more excited if the price comes way down from its FMV. So dropping the price significantly is a viable option to keep the listing local. Ultimately, if no one is talking to you about your listing but you notice that lots of people are viewing it (eg: OfferUp), then you might be barking up the wrong tree.
To wrap up the local aspect of the face-to-face classifieds market, I personally expect the price to be lower than that of online marketplaces. The reason is that as a buyer, I’ll get no mediary support, no fraud protection, no guarantees, and no authenticity. I’ll also have to spend my time and gas to go pick it up, and take on any associated risk of the meetup going sour. With those variables, I expect to pay less as do other shoppers. Basically, if a person is selling their gear locally for the same asking prices found on Reverb, I believe then that the local item is priced too high to not account for a buyer’s added risks.
If you have something that isn’t getting any local interest, then consider using listing services like:
Sure, these companies charge various fees for using their services to keep their lights on and servers running. But the advantage is a much larger audience, giving your gear the exposure to the right people who may live much further away, outside of your local market. You’ll also be responsible for packing up and shipping the instrument to get it to the buyer in the same condition you advertised it as. Of course, this can be a hassle in itself for some sellers.
It really is up to you in deciding where the best place to sell is. If you engage in cross-posting (eg: X-post), make sure you’ve noted each service your instrument is listed to. That way, if you sold it on one service, you’ll know you need to go to the other noted services to immediately remove your listings before a shopper uses any kind of “buy it now” (or similar) function for an item you sold to someone else. You don’t want to have any kind of customer service nightmare to deal with between a company’s support team, the buyer, and you.
Side note: As of January 1st, 2022, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) for the United States of America requires sellers who exceed $600 in received payments to file a 1099-K tax form, impacting that seller’s tax filing on the following year. The 11th Fret cannot provide advice or guidance around this law other than to follow it. The best advice we can share is to make sure that the price you accept from a buyer matches the price of your listing before marking it as “sold”. Services such as OfferUp will report your sold listings, as advertised, to the IRS for the entire calendar year. Companies like OfferUp do not let you change the listing’s price after being marked “sold”.
To those who are overwhelmed and just want it gone…
It’s totally understandable if you’re a parent who’s selling your child’s old guitar after they went off to college or are handling a deceased loved-one’s item, but have never played a note in your life. How do you research all this stuff? The good news is that you can figure all this out on your own if you put in the time. Believe it or not, many people in the industry aren’t even musicians, including dealers. They just really know their stuff. Even Leo Fender himself couldn’t play guitar. But then there’s those people who aren’t interested in investing any of that kind of time and truly need an easier solution.
Big box chains like Guitar Center, Sam Ash Music or nationally exposed companies like Sweetwater, and CME are happy to purchase your used gear for you. There are also various local music shops and pawn brokers to explore. But I hightly recommend avoiding a pawn broker as they’re goal is to sell low and fast to move inventory, which can usually mean they’ll pay you less. Musical Instrument shops specifically attract musicians, and have a positive reputation to try and uphold. Offering used gear to their customers is vital to their business model as it provides expanded options, unique gear, and customer support. Without taking care of you as someone selling their unwanted guitar to them, they’ll miss out on good used gear to sell.
The average price a music shop might pay you for your gear is 50-60% of its current fair-market-value (eg: average closing prices), based around its condition, authenticity/originalty, and rarity. That means if they anticipate they can sell it in their stores for $1,000, they might pay you $600 for it. The $400 difference is used for refurbishment costs including parts, materials, labor, property rent/taxes, utility bills, wall space, a small profit for their investment, etc. Now, it’s not unheard of that a dealer may pay an even smaller percentage of the FMV if the item is known to be a slower resale or if they have already too much in stock used. Meaning, if they’ve had a few similar used guitars that sat on their shelves for years, they’re not going to be too excited about adding another slow mover to the pile (if they’re even willing to at all). After all, time is money. The faster an item can be sold is in the best interest of the business. A tied up investment is not.
Going to a music shop to sell your gear is fast, getting you money in hand that day. It might not be as much as you originally hoped to get, but the deed is at least done where you can move on with your life. You know what else? Sometimes stores might actually pay you more than you anticipated getting should there be something about it that’s rare, valuable, or in high demand.
If you want top dollar, you have to put the time in and do your homework. Take notes, add in some fun personality, and look professional in your listing with a detailed description and excellent photos. Be a cool, approachable person who’s nice to all people inquiring. It’s also important to learn where your audience is lurking. Don’t be dishonest with anyone, including yourself which includes being deliberately vague to shoppers.
Without most of the aforementioned summary, the alternative is to accept your lack of effort and price way under the fair market value (FMV) or sell it to a local music shop. Either is fine at the end of the day.
But most importantly: Be safe and have fun.
Disclaimer: The 11th Fret and any representative within is not responsible for transactions that did not go as expected. Nor are we responsible for any scams, assault/battery, theft, or other related occurances as a result of buying and selling. All private transactions are done at your own risk. Additionally, the 11th Fret does not condone any kind of tax evasion which could result in formal charges filed against a seller. The 11th Fret is not a source of legal council. For questions about taxes, please consult with the internal revenue service, an accountant, or an actively practicing attorney.