Should you buy a used guitar? Or stick to a new one?
You can get some great bargains buying used. Out of all the guitars I own my favorites were bought 2nd hand.
But there’s no denying it’s more risky. There’s no safety net of a manufacturers warranty or being able to replace it if it’s damaged.
And if you don’t know what you’re doing you could buy a used guitar that isn’t what you think. It might be broken, need serious work or even be a fake.
So if you’re unsure which to go for I’ll take you through the pro’s and con’s of buying new vs used. And hopefully help you to make the right choice.
New or Used Guitar Which One Should You Buy?
The quick answer is if you don’t have much experience with guitars then buy new. You will pay more but there are far fewer issues you could run in to.
A new guitar guarantees you get an instrument that is in good condition, hasn’t been messed around with and comes with a warranty in case you have any problems.
If you’ve got some experience with guitars though – bought and owned a few, know what they should sound and feel like etc. – then I believe buying used works out better. You can score amazing bargains and find really interesting guitars if you look hard enough.
As I mentioned, my favorite guitars are the ones I bought 2nd hand. Some were amazing value for money, some were simply unavailable because they were older.
My top guitar – a 2005 USA Standard Telecaster – I got a few years ago but well after 2005. So I couldn’t have bought it new. But even getting it 2nd hand it was in perfect condition, had a neck that felt just ‘right’ in my hands, and is a guitar I will never sell. It’s a keeper! And that’s only one of a few I won’t part with that have been bought ‘preloved’.
So if you’re confident and know what to look for and what to avoid then buying 2nd hand is a great way to get either a bargain or guitar of your dreams.
The Main Differences Between Buying New and Used Guitars
The most obvious difference between a new and used guitar is the condition it’s in. A new guitar will be pristine and never played. A used model could range from having significant wear and previous use through to almost no use at all.
You also get all the ‘case candy’ with a new guitar. So things like a strap, manual, tags, hex keys, proof of build and so on. Used guitars may have some or all of those but often won’t.
New guitars also come with a manufacturer’s warranty, typically 1-2 years. Used guitars won’t have a warranty unless explicitly stated by the seller.
The price is also likely to be different. New guitars will be at full market value. Used guitars are generally sold at a discount since they are pre-owned. How much less will depend on things like age, condition and the brand.
When buying new you can select any model that’s available. With used guitars you’re limited to whatever you find on eBay/Reverb etc. This does mean you can find discontinued models and vintage guitars though.
Why You Should Buy a New Guitar
Peace of Mind
This is the biggest reason. With a new guitar you know the full history and care it has received. There’s no wondering about potential damage or strange modifications made by the previous owners. You get complete peace of mind as to what you’re buying.
A new guitar should be flawless right out of the box. Some new guitars do come with minor imperfections, usually the more budget and cheaper models. And you may get unlucky and find your guitar is damaged in transit.
But generally speaking a new guitar should be without any real blemishes. The wood, hardware, electronics and finishing will be without faults. It also gives you the satisfaction of being the first and only owner.
New guitars come with a manufacturer’s warranty (usually 1-2 years). This covers any defects or issues. If any problems arise during the warranty period you can get a repair or replacement free of charge.
“Fender/Squier 2-Year Limited Electric Guitar and Bass Warranty” – Fenders website
Ibanez, on the other hand, only have a 1 year warranty for electric guitars but a lifetime warranty for acoustic guitars. So as you can see it varies a lot. Which is why it’s important to check the warranty closely before buying.
Latest Models and Technologies
Buying new means you can get the latest models and any new technology that is available. So you’ll get a guitar with premium features that may not exist on older used models.
Newer pickups are a good example of this. Brands are often updating the stock pickups that come with their guitars or certain models. And you might only be able to get them in a new guitar.
If you’re lucky enough to ordering a custom shop model then you have the opportunity to choose things like the hardware and finish. Basically you create your dream guitar.
When buying used you only have the choice of what’s available at the time and won’t be able to do any specific customizing.
Why You Should Buy a Used Guitar
Used guitars can offer great value with prices discounted well below new models. The beauty of this is it allows you to potentially get your hands on high end guitars you may not otherwise have been able to afford.
Or alternatively you can find a mid level guitar for the price of an entry level guitar. Or an entry level guitar for $50! At every point you’ve got the chance of finding any type of guitar for far less than you’d pay if it were brand new.
As an example a quick look on Reverb.com shows a Fender Player Telecaster from 2022 in excellent used condition. It’s listed for $599.99.
If you buy the same guitar new from Sweetwater it will cost $799.99.
So a $200 difference. Which isn’t bad! If you don’t mind taking the risk then you’re saving yourself a significant amount.
A new guitar will immediately lose a chunk of its value as soon as you start using it. A well maintained used guitar already had the depreciation factored in and instead will hold its value well.
So if you want to resell or move it on then it’s likely you’ll be able to get back what you paid for it.
Variety of Models
Used guitars offer you a wider range of models, including rare and discontinued guitars no longer in production. You can pick up that old model your guitar hero or inspiration played. Or find a guitar with certain specifications that suit you.
Modify Without Guilt
Customizing or modifying a used guitar doesn’t impact the value as much. You can experiment without feeling guilty about diminishing a pristine new instrument.
Used guitars, especially older models, are sought after for being vintage. They may have a vintage look and sound, as well as older guitars being consisted better overall by a lot of guitarists.
They’re also the collectible element to older and used guitars. Some being are buying them solely for their collection.
Choosing Between a New or Used Guitar
So how do you choose whether to get a new or used guitar? There are a few areas you should consider before deciding:
- Budget – if you’ve got a tight budget then you may want to explore used options. You will definitely get better value, but the risk factors we’ve been through here will apply.
- Condition Preferences – if your heart is set on a completely pristine and perfect guitar then you should probably go for a new one. If you’re happy with it having some minor wear or it not being 100% flawless then used will be fine. You might prefer used for a bit of ‘character’ as well.
- Importance of Warranty – weigh up the safety of having a new warranty vs the discount you can get from buying used. If you’re concerned you might damage or break your guitar and want the reassurance of knowing it’ll be replaced then a warranty with a new guitar is the way to go.
- Guitar Knowledge – if your knowledge of guitars is limited and you don’t have the skills to evaluate damage or do repairs then buying used will be riskier. You could easily miss a glaring issue with a 2nd hand guitar and then won’t be able to fix it. Which means you either have a broken guitar or have to pay even more on top for a guitar tech or luthier to sort it for you. So be honest about your level of knowledge and skills. And go for a new guitar if in any doubt.
What Else to Consider
Some online stores like Amazon have good return policies. This means you can buy a new guitar, try it out, and then return it for free if you decide it isn’t for you.
This makes buying without playing first much less risky. It also means you can buy new from reputable places without fear of being stuck with a guitar you don’t like.
So check out some of the big retailers like Guitar Center, Musicians Friend, Sweetwater etc. and see if there returns policy gives you those options.
For used guitars things are less straightforward. In my experience eBay tends to favor the buyer ahead of the seller in a lot of cases.
But that is only if the description is inaccurate or the item is damaged. You won’t be able to return the guitar if you don’t like how it feels or plays. You’ll need a better reason than that.
For places like Craigslist or Facebook it would be down to the seller. And most won’t accept returns. So it’s definitely risky.
Check Price History
Simply search for the model of guitar you’re looking at and if there’s enough information you can either get Reverbs price guide or look at the transaction history. This will give you a guide for how much that guitar is selling for and in what condition.
If you want you can even add up all the previous transactions and work out the average. Then you’ll have a better idea if the guitar you’re looking at is fairly priced or good value.
If you decide to buy used it’s always a good idea to inspect the guitar first. If you’re buying new you get the warranty and returns policy that can deal with any damage or problems.
But when you buy used you don’t have anything like that. So you need to spend some time looking over the guitar and making sure it’s in the condition it’s listed as.
You don’t want to get it home and find it’s got damage or problems that weren’t made clear beforehand. Not least because you may have no way to return it or any legal rights backing you up. So you could be stuck with a guitar you don’t want.
Are Used Guitars Lower Quality Than New Guitars?
Not necessarily. A well cared for used guitar can still be top quality and play great. But you have to inspect used guitars closely for any issues.
Where is the Best Place to Buy Used Guitars?
Reputable guitar shops, retailers and resellers who properly inspect and set up used guitars before sale. Online classifieds like Craiglist, eBay etc. can have good deals but will be higher risk.
How Much Should I Pay for a Used Guitar?
It depends on the brand, model, age and condition. Research market prices. Expect to pay roughly 60-70% of a new model’s cost for a used guitar in good shape.
Can Used Electric Guitars Still be Under Warranty?
It’s possible if it was purchased recently and the original warranty period from the manufacturer hasn’t expired. But the vast majority are sold without warranty coverage.
What Should I Inspect on a Used Guitar Before Buying it?
Check for neck straightness, fret wear, working electronics, hardware rust and any structural damage that may affect the sound or playability. Cosmetic flaws can be acceptable if the structure of the guitar is unaffected.