Judging an acoustic guitar sight unseen

Buying a guitar on e-bay
I’m in the market for a new, mid-priced acoustic guitar. (Something around $1,000)

Since I’m not buying before November or December, I have plenty of time to shop around.

A co-worker recently mentioned that she had bought her guitar on e-bay and got a nice instrument for a good price.

My question— and this may be better suited to GQ— is: How do I judge a guitar I can’t see or play?
What is the equivalent to the blue book for guitars, if any?
Are there good websites for finding out how a make and model measure up against other types of guitars in general?

I guess the final question is, given that there are four music stores within walking distance of my house and that many again with biking distance, is e-bay a good option for buying a nice guitar? (I’d almost prefer avoiding the salespeople and the inevitable condescension that go with buying in a brick-and-mortar shop.)

Again, this may be a GQish question, but feel free to opine to your hearts content.

I can’t possibly say this forcefully enough, especially about a $1K acoustic: DO NOT EVER BUY A GUITAR SIGHT UNSEEN, unless it’s something like a $100 project guitar. Connecting with a guitar is something that takes picking lots of them up and playing. It’s remarkable how, regardless of the price point, many guitars just won’t seem quite right, and then bam, you pick one up, and it just fits. I know guitar salesmen can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but it’s perfectly acceptable to walk up to the counter and say, “do you mind if I play a few acoustics?” and then when they ask if they can help, simply say, “No. I’d prefer to be left alone.”

To me, choosing a guitar is personal, you might even say intimate, and should be done in person, but free from outside influence (unless you have a particular question, then feel free to approach the sales people.)

Also, a note about guitar salesmen: do not be intimidated. These people do not hold some high, exalted status in the music world. They’re mostly wage slaves who have to listen to 15-year-olds grind through “Smoke on the Water” on cranked Marshalls all day, and are forced to smile about it. In other words, take no guff. Be polite, but firm.

NOBODY is qualified to tell you which is a “better” guitar. It’s all about a rather magical, Harry Potter-esque “the guitar chooses the guitarist” process.

I wouldn’t buy an acoustic guitar unless I could play it first. The only distinction you can make is between manufacturers. I find wide disparity between the same models of guitars that cost nearly $2000 made by Gibson.

In this instance its better to put up with the sales experience in my opinion. But if you’re a novice and are just looking for a playable guitar without big concerns over tonal characteristics that you may not even be able to discern. Taylor Guitars are very consistent in overall quality. A less expensive brand that seems decent is Seagull.

Mr. Athena is in the process of buying a new guitar. As we don’t have any decent stores in our area, he’s doing it entirely via the web.

He’s found that quite a lot of guitar stores will allow you to purchase a guitar and play it for a few days before committing to it. He’s also found the used market to be quite robust. So he’s purchased guitars, tested them out, and sent them back. For the places that won’t take them back, or the private parties he’s purchased from, he just turns around and sells them himself.

I wouldn’t say that this is the most inexpensive way of doing it. If nothing else, he’s out the shipping costs. But we chalk that up to the cost of doing business while living in the middle of nowhere.

Hm, I’d say if the guitar on ebay is a good brand name, like Martin or Gibson, it may be worth it. But if I was to spend a thousand on a nice acoustic, I’d go to a good music store and try the guitars with my own hands. After all, you’re looking for an instrument that is going to feel and sound good to you - and the only way to get that is to lay your own paws on them.

Unfortunately, I’m an eternal novice. It’s become almost impossible to find people to play with anymore, even just for jams. What I most enjoy is learning new songs. I try to play a lot of different types of music and I also write my own music.

If it gives you any idea of my style and level, I recently learned Cemetery Gates, Pantera; Don’t Fence Me In, Cole Porter; Lenny, Stevie Ray Vaughn; Operator, Jim Croce and I’m planning to work on Sunspots, Bob Mould next. I usually learn some classical pieces once a year or so, and if nothing else, I enjoy just playing scales or AC/DC licks in front of the TV.

I have recommended Seagull guitars to others, too. I think they are great, low price guitars with good sound. But, the last time I was in a guitar store, I just happened to pluck the low E string of a ~$900 guitar; I didn’t even take it down from the wall. There was bass! Real bass! I’m mean, it shook! I barely plucked it and it sounded great!

I mentioned a co-worker who bought her Gibson online… she let me play her guitar and it was like I had never played one before! I have played decent guitars, but I decided then that I wanted a guitar for me, if that makes any sense. (My last guitar gave up the ghost some time ago and I’ve been making due for months and months.)

Anyway, thanks for the advice so far. I was hoping to get some great deal on e-bay and I didn’t want to count on just getting lucky.

The other thing to consider about buying from eBay is the shipping process can destroy a guitar. You have no control over how it’s packed, what shippers might do to it and even if it’s insured, no one in their right mind wants to deal with a claim especially with UPS or FedEx.

Since you are a self-described “novice” I have to agree with the other posters who recommend trying a guitar before buying.

I have bought a lot of guitars on line and done very well - but I have invested a ton of time learning exactly what I like and, more importantly, how to describe what I like. I spend a lot of time asking the seller open-ended questions to understand: a) if they know what they are talking about; b) if they can describe the guitar well; c) if they seem trustworthy and like a good seller.

I typically negotiate a 3-day tryout and return, where I cover the shipping - but so far, my questioning process weeds things out and I have done pretty well.

You are not likely to get a great deal for a standard acoustic guitar on eBay - any $$ you save would be worth paying a local dealer or seller if you get to try the guitar and know for sure you like it. eBay is better for obscure, harder-to-find guitars or ones that are no longer made…

Buy a Seagull.


Did you check craig’s list? Not the best stuff on there but at least you can go check it out in person.

Good Idea!

The only web site that I would absolutely trust for sight unseen purchases would be Folk of the Wood.

I have NO affiliation with them, just several instruments (mando, banjo, couple guitars) I’ve purchased through them and I’ve never had the slightest issue.

Mickey Cochrane (site/shop owner) has a rock-solid lifetime guarantee and they set up everything up by hand immediately prior to shipping. They also offer a
‘trade-up’ plan for when you are ready to upgrade your instrument to a higher-end model down the road.

Of course, if you happen to live in New Mexico, they’ve also got a brick and mortar store.
professional picker, teacher and guitar tech with 18 years exp.

Well fuck you, too.

What, do you personally handmake Seagulls out of pieces of your dead dog’s doghouse or something?

You need to drag your butt into a music store and play a few before you get ready to spend that kind of scratch on an axe. Just the fact that your asking how much to spend tells me you have not a clue. I have a Fender that I spent 300 on and it outplays a Washburn my brother spent 800 on. Every single I axe ever touched plays just a wee shade different than one just like it. I’m not Stevie Ray or anybody at all but I’ve cut a scratch on many an axe and deciding what you will spend is wise, but untill you touch each and every one your choices are a wild guess at best. Dude, dont be afraid to get busy in a music store. I have witnessed some of the most horrible sounds available to the human ear in such places. Don’t be afraid to cut full shreds in the pursuit of your perfect axe. My best axe is Kramer Focus. A knockoff for sure. But with a couple of Humbuckers and a Floyd Rose that geasy scumbag could burn down the Empire State building. OOPS! I forgot the Yamaha 50 watt with a scary fuckin tremolo. So put your wallet away and let your fingers do the talkin’

Judge not, lest ye be judged. Beotch!

Personal insults are forbidden outside the Pit. You’ve been here 27 days; I suspect you know this.

Do anyone have experience with the various guitars that Esteban hawks on QVCSN? Are they beginner guitars, or better/worse?

If it’s the same guitar featured in this package


it’s probably a beginner model, at the $200 price point. They note it’s an $800 value, but that’s an assertion, not an objective fact. Also, it’s hard to know how they assign value within the package, but you apparently get an amp, 5 DVDs, some sort of music stand. Say DVDs are $1.00 to stamp, maybe $5.00 with very fancy packaging. The amp might run $50.00. So you’re getting a guitar for something less than $150. That’s a beginner/student price point, and my guess is that the brand name isn’t recognizable outside of an Esteban infomercial. The web page notes that the guitar is “all wood,” but then there’s furniture from Ikea that can meet that standard.

Not to do to much of a hijack, but I just started learning to play - picked up a Taylor Big Baby (it just felt right) and have been trying to learn a few things - I’m still working on the basics (chords, switches, basic stuff like that) but I have no idea how to go from “strum this chord 4 times, switch to that chord, repeat” to actually playing something …

For the most part, I understand tab and basic musical constructs (been a long time since High School orchestra.

My question for you, if you dont mind - what books, dvd’s or online resources do you recomend for the beginner?