Buying Used Equipment
Used music equipment can represent good value for money, but how sure can you be that what you are getting is actually good value and not junk? Buying used equipment can be a risk, but it’s possible to reduce that risk by taking a few precautions.
Of course, used equipment can be bought either at shops or through private sales, with each having its own advantages and disadvantages. Buying from a shop you’re often given a guarantee. This may only be three months, but even a one-month guarantee gives you some peace of mind. If a piece of electronic equipment already has a fault it’s probably going to manifest itself quite soon, so provided you use the device you have bought frequently, within the guarantee period, you’re going to know if it’s working exactly as it should or not.
Naturally, a shop wants to make a profit on everything it sells, so this is factored into the price, along with sales tax, which shops in the UK have to pay even on second-hand items. Buying privately it’s often possible to get a better deal, even a bargain. So, what should we look for when buying second hand?
Look at the general condition of the item
If an item looks well used, with scratches and dings in the casing, be wary. Obviously the equipment hasn’t been treated with care, which in turn increases the likelihood of faults developing. The only way to minimize the risk, if you really want to go ahead with the purchase, is to negotiate as low a price as possible, so that even if the equipment turns out to be junk you won’t have lost too much.
Get to know the history of the item
A piece of equipment that has stayed in someone’s home is probably going to be in much better condition than a piece of equipment that has been gigged regularly. Ask the seller how much and where the equipment has been used.
Assess the seller
Does the seller seem a bit too eager to sell? If so I would exercise extreme caution by either giving the piece of equipment an even more thorough examination than I normally would, or possibly not buying at all.
If the seller knows nothing about the item being sold, or if they are selling it for ‘someone else’, alarm bells should start ringing. Why would someone have an expensive piece of musical equipment if they don’t know the slightest thing about it? It’s not like buying a second hand car, where the owner could be excused for knowing little more than the colour and engine size. A musician will know something about the equipment they have bought. Ask appropriate questions. If the seller is clueless, and isn’t able to answer even the simplest of questions, then those alarm bells should be ringing even louder.
Try out the item being sold
Everything should work. On older equipment knobs and sliders are likely to be looser or slacker, but this isn’t necessarily a problem. Bad crackles coming from potentiometers (the technical word for volume controls and the like) can sometimes be fixed simply be squirting on propriety contact cleaner. The key word here is ‘sometimes’. The only way to know for sure is to try. In my experience, even if it doesn’t eliminate the crackle completely, contact cleaner will at least make an improvement.
Don’t assume the seller is able to effectively demonstrate the item. Take along whatever you need in order to hear the equipment working. For example, if you are buying a guitar pedal, take along your own guitar and amplifier (the seller may have already sold his/hers).
Negotiating the Price
With a private sale it’s reasonable to expect at least a small reduction in price, but I always think it's strange when people try to negotiate a price over the phone before they’ve even seen the actual item that’s being sold. A better way is to go and inspect the goods, and if you like what you see, and the price is roughly what you’re willing to pay, make an offer by saying something like, ‘Would you accept £…?’ But don’t be offended if the seller refuses your offer. If the seller doesn’t make a counter offer you could either up your offer a little, or say that you’ll have to give it some more thought. At this point the seller has to decide whether to accept your offer, make a counter offer, or risk you walking away and not making a sale. If you feel the seller is going to let you walk away, you know you either have to pay the asking price or leave it. The choice is yours.
Buying from eBay
Making purchases through eBay gives you certain safeguards, especially if you pay with PayPal. You will have opportunity to assess the seller by looking at his/her feedback from other buyers, and many sellers accept returns. In fact a good seller knows that if the item they are selling is described accurately, there should be no reason for its return. The last thing a seller wants is to tarnish their good reputation by giving misleading information and having a buyer leave negative feedback. If you are not familiar with eBay it’s certainly worth finding out more.
Never buy anything you suspected as being stolen. Leaving aside the ethical arguments, buying stolen goods fuels the stolen goods market, and at some point in the future it could easily be gear that has been stolen from you being sold! How do we spot stolen goods? Again, my advice would be to assess the seller.
Where is the sales transaction going to take place? If someone is going to the trouble of bringing the goods to your house then your suspicions should be aroused. Also, if the seller is selling something from a pub, or car park, again, those same alarm bells should be sounding.
Look for security marks, or signs that any security marks have been scratched off. This includes the serial number. There is absolutely no reason to erase a serial number, unless it is a stolen item.
I’ve heard stories of sellers and buyers living at opposite ends of the country and meeting halfway for the transaction to take place. This arrangement is fraught with risk. However, if you do this don’t forget to factor in the petrol cost to the price you will be paying. Unless it’s a particularly rare piece of equipment you’re buying, it’s probably better to wait for the item to be put on sale by someone living closer to home, or look for a seller on eBay.
With a little care it’s possible to get good deals buying used equipment. The best deals, however, are always the ones where both the seller and buyer are happy.
See the related article: Buying a Used Piano.