To Shop (Vintage) Online, Or Not To Shop (Vintage) Online … That Is The Question

By Gabriel J. Hernandez

When it comes to buying a new guitar, walking into any music instrument chain store should more than satisfy your craving for a brand-spanking new six-string. Whether it’s Guitar Center, Sam Ash, or any other major retailer, they all have at least 10-to-15 examples of your desired brand, make, and model hanging on their respective guitar walls. You can sit there for as long as you want and try them all until you find the one that best suits your style and needs.

Buying vintage guitars, however, is an entirely different animal.

It really is.

When it comes to buying a vintage guitar – especially online – most players and collectors will say they need to physically hold the guitar, inspect it, and play it in order to make a decision on whether or not to buy it … which would seem a difficult task if you’re trying to do it through the screen of your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Well, fret no more (pun intended), because it CAN be done, and quite successfully. In fact, people do it every day. Literally thousands of guitars change hands every single day via the Internet, and sales – like those of just about any other product or commodity – are continuing to rise year after year as the Internet continues to grow. In other words, get used to it … Internet guitar sales are here to stay, and more and more land-based stores – small or large – are turning to the Internet to keep their sales numbers climbing.

So if you find yourself reluctant to pull the trigger on a guitar simply because you can’t hold it, inspect it, and/or play it before you buy it, then keep reading because all you really need are a few pointers on what to look for, and how to spot a few “red flags” that should help ease your mind and help push you toward finally taking that leap and making your first online guitar purchase.

Below are a few personal observations and tips on buying a used and/or vintage guitar online:

- READ THE ENTIRE DESCRIPTION – This is a no-brainer. And don’t just read the first few paragraphs, either. Read the WHOLE thing! The more you know about the guitar you’re thinking about buying, the better. And read it twice, too, because you may miss something that first time around. This is basic “Guitar Buying Online 101”. I honestly don’t get the people that say they can’t make it past the first few sentences of an in-depth description. Granted, I totally understand that not everyone writes like James Joyce. But if you’re going to spend half-a-month’s salary on a vintage guitar, and you don’t want any problems with it after it arrives, then take the time to read the ENTIRE description. In the long run it’ll save you – and the retailer you buy it from – more than a few headaches.

- ASK QUESTIONS – Unless you’re looking at a bona-fide pre-war Martin that someone only wants $1,500 for (in which case you should immediately stop reading and buy it before someone else does), then you ask questions. Depending on who you’re dealing with, or on what platform you’re buying on (Gbase, Craigslist, eBay, Reverb, etc.), many descriptions are usually not that long. Yes, some are longer than others, and thankfully there are plenty of online retailers that do tell you everything there is to know about their guitars (and this is GREAT!!!). But there are also those that give you only the basics – or very minimal information – at best. Frankly, this baffles me. If there’s a phone number to call, CALL IT! Or if you have a simple inquiry that can be answered with a quick email message, then SEND IT!

- DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH – Doing your own research on the guitar you’re coveting – including its potential value and pricing – can save you a lot of time, and could end up saving you big in the wallet, too. Think about this: going into buying a vintage guitar online puts pressure on you to be educated as to the value of the instrument you’re looking for, and this will go a long way towards avoiding those strange guessing games and awkward price-talk situations that can happen between a dealer and a potential customer. Trust me … as much as I hate to say it, there are plenty of ruthless dealers out there that will take advantage of an uneducated buyer. Don’t let yourself become a victim … DO SOME RESEARCH!

- LOOK AT ANY PICTURES VERY CAREFULLY – Any online retailer selling expensive used guitars better have a ton of pictures, or at the very least have them available in case someone (like you) requests additional angles or wants to see something specific close-up. You’ve heard the old saying, “Every picture tells a story?” Well, nothing could be truer when considering a vintage guitar that you can’t hold or play before buying. And be wary of a seller that can’t (or won’t) provide them.

- READ THE FINE PRINT – Last, but certainly not least, you should definitely take the time and read the fine print regarding a dealer’s shipping and refund policies. There are many online retailers that don’t have a return policy, and the wrong time to find out is when you receive a guitar that’s not as described and you want your money back. There are ways to protect yourself against these types of situations (keep reading), but you can save yourself a lot of time and headaches by simply familiarizing yourself with a dealer’s policies BEFORE you make the purchase. And if you don’t like their policies then DON’T BUY THE GUITAR! Most reputable dealers do accept returns and are reasonable about it. But there those that cringe at the thought of a return, and the best way to protect yourself against such dealers (if you insist on buying from them) is to use a credit card that protects YOU … not them. Most online retailers (especially eBay) take PayPal, and PayPal allows you to pay using your credit cards. This is a MUCH better option than paying someone straight from your bank account. Why? Because credit card companies protect their customers a whole lot better than anybody else will. If you’ve been legitimately wronged in the purchase of a vintage guitar from an online retailer and used a bank-issued credit card for the purchase, the chances of you receiving a full refund in a dispute over a return are much better than if you rely on, say, PayPal or some of the other online payment options. No offense to PayPal, but their “buyer protection” policies just don’t compare to those of the big bank-issued credit cards (especially American Express).

So there you have it. Now go out and take that “leap” … buy a guitar online. If you want, start small. Test the waters, first. Because eventually – especially as fast as technology is advancing – online purchasing will be as commonplace in our society as computers are in the home and workplace.

For instance, anyone remember the typewriter?

I rest my case.

Gabriel J. Hernandez is the owner of Blues Vintage Guitars, Inc., a shop in Nashville, Tennessee, specializing in the buying and selling of vintage and newer high-end guitars and gear. He is also an accomplished writer, having earned a B.S. in Journalism from The University of Florida in 1988. Over a 25-year career he has worked as an investigative journalist for several news organizations and publishing companies, as a staff sports writer for The Palm Beach Post, and most recently as the Web Editor for Gibson Guitars at the company’s worldwide headquarters in Nashville. Hernandez has played guitar since the age of six, and been fascinated (some say obsessed) by the instrument – and music in general – ever since. You can reach him any time at 1-615-613-1389, or visit his company’s web site at

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