Search Lobsterland

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Too Good to Be True?

I can get why someone would think I have no business shopping for a guitar. I've been playing a bit more lately, but I already have two nice guitars, guitars that rightly belong in the hands of a professional musician, that spend far too much time in the case.

I've regretted pretty much every guitar I ever parted with. The Skylark I got when I was 12 or 13 might be the exception, after I bought a Gibson RD Artist out of the classifieds for $350 in 9th grade, I never really had any use for that one, and sold it to a friend for, if memory serves, $150.

I bought a cheap archtop when I got into jazz, but mainly I played that Gibson RD Artist, it was an excellent instrument except being a solid body electric more suited to rock & roll than to jazz. My parents enforced a savings regime on me from a pretty early age, and one day in high school I realized that this was my money. I'd been coveting this Yamaha archtop at a music store and after some haggling and discussions with a sales guy, I sent and emptied my savings by $600 (almost all of it), and traded the Gibson and the $600 for the Yamaha AE1200S.

Until my Uncle built me my dream guitar in 2002, a Cremona-inspired beauty that's acoustically superior to the Yamaha, playable as hell, and personalized with all sorts of inlays of my own design. At which point, my nice Yamaha became an also-ran.

But getting rid of guitars, when I got into a cover band a few years ago, I sure wished I still had that RD Artist. And I went on Ebay looking for one and found out it's collectible as all get out, you can touch one for maybe $2200. A few years before that I was planning a camping trip and thought of that old Harmony archtop I'd only paid $50 or $100 for, called the guy I'd sold it to to see about buying it back.

'I had it signed by the Cramps,' he told me. The entire band had signed it, he was planning to be buried with it someday I think.

So okay, never sell a guitar, I learned that lesson. But acquiring new ones? Can you afford it? Will you play it? Is it stolen?

My habitual Craigslist trolling yielded a solidbody electric just about perfect for my needs. Not the model I always wanted, but a similar one. An axe that sells new for around $800, and the guy is asking $250.

General rule of thumb, I always figure a used instrument is probably about half of retail. That's not iron-clad, if it's collectible all bets are off, if it's damaged it depreciates far more, but an electric guitar in good condition that retails for $800 or so probably ought to be $400. Buyers will often try to get $500 or $600, but they're dreaming.

I emailed the guy and got no reply, but the ad was still there after a couple of weeks so I tried calling him. Yes, he still had it for sale, though he seemed vague about what it was that he had except that he knew it sold new for around $800 and he said he'd paid $480 for it. Now if he's a wannabe player who buys things he can't really use and then tries to rescue some money back, I'm an idiot if I don't take advantage. But why did he pay almost $500 for a guitar he barely understands?

He said he was heading to 'his shop' and I said I'd meet him there, and he gave me an address. Not to sound racist, but he sounded black on the phone and I wasn't at all surprised when his shop turned out to be in Kansas City's edition of 'the hood.' I guess I decided I would be racist if I judged the deal as hinky on that basis alone, and off I went to see about this underpriced guitar.

The seller turned out to be white, and his 'shop turned out to be a sort of auto body shop full of cars and motorcycles of various stages of repair. He pulled the guitar from the back seat of a car I thought might be there for repairs but realized must be his daily driver. No case.

I inquired about the case and he mumbled and said for the price, and that he'd tried to find a case for it but really it would only take the case that was made for it.

I could tell the guitar hadn't been fully tuned for a long time and I got to thinking, a guitar of this quality, it doesn't come new without the case. And being an oddly shaped instrument, it's case isn't useful to anyone but the owner of this make and model guitar. Breaking up the set would never, as far as I can tell, be in the interest of the rightful owner. Buy them together, sell them together.

If one of my guitars was stolen, it would rip my heart out. My bike, same thing. My car, been there, done that, got the shirt, and the car was a piece of shit, still terrible. Priced at least $150 under market, inexplicably without a case, I'm not sure that's enough to call the cops but it's too much for me to risk receiving stolen property.

No comments: