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How to buy quality second hand musical instruments

So you wanna be a rock star? Or have a kid who does? Luckily for you, their Stairway to Heaven doesn’t have be your Highway to Hell. From rookie to maestro, there’s a world of preloved instruments to suit all levels waiting at your local Cashies.

What do you need to know before you shop?

Here's where you’ll need some help. The type of instrument you need depends on the type of music you want to play and how tall or small you are. If you’ve signed up for lessons, ask the teacher for some tips. Research the cost of buying new and the resale value of used models and consider how much you want to spend including any repair or set-up costs.

Does brand matter?

As a general rule, it’s best to stick with well-known brands when buying used instruments. They’re more likely to be made of quality materials and should be easier to repair. Do your research before you go shopping and write up a short list of reputable brands. 

Buying guitars

There are different types of guitars you can purchase but the more well-known types include the acoustic, electric and bass guitar. The process of checking its condition, though, remains fairly the same:

  1. Check the surface – minor scratches won’t affect performance but be wary of stains or deep cracks.
  2. Check the body – for acoustic guitars, check inside and out. Ensure that the glue joints are intact, and braces inside aren’t loose. For electric guitars, plug in, turn the knobs, flip the switches and wiggle the cable. Screeching noises are an indication of poor functionality.
  3. Check the screws and plating – are they intact and in reasonable condition? Is there any rust on the plating?
  4. Check the neck – it should be straight. The neck angle should neither be too high or too low.
  5. Check the functionality – the bridge, saddle pegs, headstock, fretboard and strings should all be stable, and the guitar should be comfortable to hold. Listen to how it holds a note.

Buying drum kits

The drummer is the heartbeat of the band. So how do you choose a used drum kit?

  1. Check that all the drum shells are round – that probably sounded quite obvious. You should be able to take the head on and off easily.
  2. Check what type of wood is being used – it won’t have a huge impact on sound but can dramatically affect price.
  3. Look for pitting – this can be referred to any dents in the hardware, either caused by a drumstick or other external damage. Don’t worry too much about rust, as this can be easily removed.
  4. Check for missing parts – if something's missing, research how much it’ll cost to replace.

Buying stringed instruments

Violins have been around for about five centuries, so there’s no shortage of used models on the market.

  1. Check the body – very carefully. Minor scratches are okay but do be wary of cracks.
  2. Check the fingerboard – it should be straight, and the bridge should be upright, not leaning too far forwards or backwards.
  3. Check the accessories – is the bow straight? Is the case in good condition? How are the strings? Do they need replacing?

Buying brass instruments

Blow your own trumpet at a fraction of the cost. Here’s what to keep in mind when browsing the brass section:

  1. Check for dents – these can affect the sound and are an indication of how the instrument has been treated.
  2. Check the finish – if there are holes in the finish, walk the other way.
  3. Check the accessories – double check the carrying case, and factor in the cost of a replacement mouthpiece, instrument lubricant and cleaning products.

Buying woodwind instruments

From panpipes to bagpipes, woodwind instruments are famous for their good vibrations. What do you need to look for in a used model?

  1. Check the surface – scratches, dents and patchy lacquer.
  2. Check the condition of plating – pitting in silver plating could be a red flag.
  3. Check the parts – make sure they all match.
  4. Do the sniff test – steer clear of instruments with a bad odour.

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