Why On Earth is That Guitar For Sale???

Bob Leggitt | Thursday, 17 November 2011 |

Ever wondered why drop dead gorgeous guitars come onto the secondhand market? Ever wondered where they came from? Where they’ve been? If they hide any secrets? Whether some nutter has deliberately attacked them with poisonous smoke? Well, in a bid to answer some of those questions (particularly the one about the smoke), I begin this piece with a photo I took in July 1994. I owned all five instruments at the time. But whilst all the guitars in the shot were highly attractive visually, and none were in any way faulty, the only one I still have is the Jazz Bass. I put the others onto the secondhand market for one reason or another. So, assuming there's nothing fundamentally wrong with a drop dead gorgeous secondhand guitar (which of course you should always carefully check), why is it for sale? This piece sets out to explain by real-life example, exactly why S/H guitars might become available, and whether they're as spectacular as they look.

The numbers next to the guitars in the photo correspond to the headings below...

1) All-original mid 1960s Fender Mustang in white. My best guess is that this is a 1966 model - the white finish being one of three standard solid colours for the Mustang at the time (the other two being red and blue). The reason I sold this was a pretty simple equation of rising market value versus the guitar's inability to remain more important to me than the amount of money I could sell it for. When I bought it, all-original Mustangs from the mid 1960s were still very cheap - always well under £300. It was in excellent condition with the usual cracking and yellowing in the lacquer, but very little wear or damage to the paintwork. However well or badly it played I'd have bought it. It was a real vintage Fender guitar which had been looked after exceptionally well, and the history alone was worth buying into at £265. But I didn't go much for the short scale length, and it was a challenge to play, which meant I rarely used it.

Once the prices of good original Mustangs began to sharply rise, I always had an eye on what else I could do with the money. Was I better off keeping a guitar I barely used, or swapping it for a big wad of cash which I could spend on something I would use? Eventually, the wad of cash won the battle. Do I regret selling the white Mustang? No. I regard it as an investment which paid off with a good return. There’s more on the Fender Mustang in my 1965 sunburst Mustang retrospective.

2) Fender USA Vintage Reissue ’52 Telecaster in butterscotch blonde. A rigidly accurate replica of a 1952 Telecaster, complete with cellulose lacquer finish, one-ply bakelite scratchplate, authentic early ‘50s tone circuit and flat-head screws. I’d formerly owned the Squier JV Series version of this guitar, which was a lovely instrument. When I ordered this USA version costing more than three times the price, I expected it to be at least a little better. In fact, it wasn’t as good, and whilst I did hang onto it for some time for nostalgia’s sake, I felt it was too weighty (the only guitar I’ll excuse being heavy is a Les Paul), and inferior in tone to the Squier. As soon as I was able to sell it without losing money, the temptation became too great, and I parted with it. I should stress that it was still a beautifully constructed guitar. It just didn’t live up to my expectations as a musical instrument, as compared with a £205 'copy'.

3) Fender USA Vintage Reissue ’62 Strat in ocean turquoise metallic. This was another USA Fender reissue which was weightier than what I’d consider ideal for a Strat, but the colour (again achieved with genuine cellulose laquer) was stunning. I used the guitar at the live finals of a big guitar contest in 1993, and got eliminated on a head judge’s tiebreak decision in the heat before the grand final, which meant I failed to make the last four and went home a day early. After that I put the guitar back in its case and left it there. It was just a weekend I didn’t particularly want to remember, and the guitar was the main focus of it all. In 1994 I replaced the Strat’s original white plastic scratchplate and pickup covers with a nitrate green plate and an ‘aged’ plastic parts accessory kit, and I started playing it again. But it didn’t have the zingy character of my MIJ reissue Strats, and once more, when I got the chance to sell it without losing out, I did. The early life of the guitar I don’t remember at all. I can’t recall when I bought it, or from where. Very pretty, but it clearly didn't have any great sentimental significance, and I never really 'bonded' with it.

4) Fender Japan (MIJ) Vintage Reissue ’62 dot neck Jaguar in candy apple red metallic with matching headstock. This was a 1990 model, which once again attracted me with its striking appearance. At one stage you could have finished any guitar in candy apple red and I’d have fallen in love with it, but the indie cool of a Jaguar with the added bonus of a matching headstock was a killer.

Off the shelf the guitar had a cold and brittle sound. Not at all like the original ’66 Jag I’d owned in the 1980s. However, I’d transformed brittle guitars in the past using Seymour Duncan pickups, so the plan was to buy the Jaguar reissue based on its fabulous looks, then two or three months later, when I could afford it, get a set of Seymour Vintage Jag pickups to sort out the tone. In February 1991 I added the new pickups, but to my surprise the guitar didn’t sound massively different. It was better, but it wasn’t the significant improvement I was hoping for. Over the next two or three years I added a vintage type green scratchplate to replace the original white one, but much as I wanted some ‘aged’ pickup covers, I couldn’t actually find any. This prompted me to sit out in the verandah for hours on end with packets of fags and a pair of plastic gloves, using the smoke to stain the white covers the typical vintage shade of yellowy-brown. I’ve never smoked, so this was the only time I’ve ever gone into a newsagent’s and asked for cigarettes…

“Certainly Sir, what brand d’you want?”

“Er, whatever’s the most deadly and turns things brown in the shortest space of time”

A long pause and a very funny look later I was homeward bound, with about four packets of Park Drive. It did work. You have to build up the yellowing gradually and be careful not to touch the covers until the staining has properly ‘set’, but as is evident from the photo, it does give the right early ‘60s look. For about a year the guitar stunk of fags when I picked it up. The smell did eventually die away though. I sold this Jag after I found another original '66 model. Like the first '66 I owned, the second had a much fatter and better tone than the still rather cold MIJ reissue. I sold the MIJ for less than I paid for it, as it is in the photo with 'vintage' parts and Seymour Duncan pickups. Someone got a bargain. Despite the way it sounded, I really, really wish I'd kept this Jaguar. The tone's probably filled out quite nicely in the past decade and a half, and what a cracker it was to look at.

5) Fender Japan Vintage Reissue ‘60s Jazz Bass in sonic blue with replacement accessory tortoiseshell scratchplate. I bought this from a shop called Boogie in Denmark Street, London, in the early ’90s. All the MIJ Fender stuff was so cheap in there, and I think the bass cost £285. I haven’t used it much and it’s still mint. I didn’t know whether I’d keep it indefinitely, but about a decade ago I noticed the colour of the body was changing. It was standard sonic blue when I bought it, but it’s heading towards an almost sea foam green colour today. Polyester or polyeurethane finishes don’t normally ‘age’ or change colour, so it’s very odd, but the evolving hue has certainly enforced a ‘Do Not Sell!’ order upon the instrument. I’m fascinated to see what colour it’ll be in another two decades, and I definitely now feel the bass has a unique look. I’ll see if I can do a full retrospective on it in due course.

Naturally, these examples only explore the mindset of one particular guitar fanatic (me), and instruments can become available for many other reasons. A guitar can be on the market through desperation for money, or because someone fancies a change, or because someone's trying to pull a fast one with an instrument which isn't what it seems. But my own experiences of buying and then deciding to trade or sell guitars really have made me think more carefully about why other people put their possessions onto the market, as well as making me realise that it's most likely rarely as simple as the typical "reason for selling" quoted on ebay. I do have some regrets relating to guitars I've sold, but in all four cases described above, there was something I didn't like about the guitar. There might be other issues, but I imagine that the majority of guitars go onto the S/H market because their owners aren't completely happy with them. I suppose selling a guitar has the same dynamics as parting company with an employer. There are thousands of impressive and imaginative "reasons for leaving" denoted on CVs, but in the end, no one leaves a job they really like.

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