Most of the guitar-related search queries which direct people to this site include nothing more than the name of the product, or perhaps the name of the product and a year: “Fender MIJ Standard Stratocaster” or “1986 Fender MIJ Standard Stratocaster”, for example. But of the queries which do include additional information, a particularly common keyword is “value”. It’s clear from the search statistics that a lot of site visitors want to know how much money their guitars are worth.
Much as I’d love to be able to include a precise quote for every guitar on the site, there really wouldn’t be any point. I can cite the original recommended retail prices for old guitars – and most of the time I do. But when it comes to the guitars’ prices today on the secondhand market, there are three main reasons why it would be a futile exercise for me to start providing exact figures…
1) Prices change over time, and that’s incompatible with articles which are set to remain online in the long term.
2) This is a UK-based site, and the UK market is different from the markets in other countries. So any prices given – even if they were 100% indisputable here in England – would be inaccurate for people visiting from the many other countries of the world.
3) Prices are not 100% indisputable. Far from it. Different people will interpret the value of the same guitar differently – even in the same part of the world. Two guitars, virtually identical, can be put up for sale online: one at £500, and one at £350. The £500 guitar sells straight away, whilst the £350 guitar is still kicking around a month later. Why? Because of the way the instruments are being sold, and the perception in the minds of the would-be buyers. Say and do the right things when selling a guitar, and find the right buyer, and a spend of £500 seems justified. Get it wrong, and a spend of £350 can seem like a rip-off. Ultimately, any guitar is worth whatever the potential buyer is prepared to pay. And not only are some buyers prepared to pay more than others for the same thing, but also, some sellers are able to justify a higher spend than others. This article is focused heavily around those principles. Your guitar does not have an absolute value. It all depends how much someone wants it, and what you can do to make them want it more.
A BALLPARK TO START
You may need a rough idea of what a guitar has sold for in the recent past, and finding that ‘ballpark’ price is often as simple as searching the instrument on eBay, via Google. I’d normally do this by entering a line like the following into the Google search box…
Rickenbacker 330 "see original listing" site:ebay.com
The ‘site:ebay.com’ bit restricts the results to ebay, and “see original listing” in inverted commas should eliminate live auctions from the results, so you’ll mostly get guitars which have sold. Actual sale prices are a lot more helpful, I feel, than projected ‘Buy It Now’ prices, which may be wildly over-ambitious. Typing “see original listing” seems to work better for me than simply typing “sold”, but it has to be in inverted commas to force Google to search for that exact phrase, and not just the individual words.
To search for previous sale prices on your own guitar, you can just change the product name, but keep the rest of my example search line the same.
Don’t feel you have to charge what other people have charged for a guitar, or that just because someone else only managed to get £800, that’s all you can get. There’s one dealer site (and I’m certainly not going to publicise it on here) which sells some very mediocre guitars for what I’d describe as extortionate prices. The sales pitches are typically very disingenuous, and sometimes complete works of fiction, but the guitars evidently sell – most often, it seems, for way above the usual eBay prices. Sometimes even two or three times the amount. Clearly, in the case of that ‘rogue’ site, buyers’ lack of knowledge is being cynically exploited, and people are being ripped off. It would be a lot harder for someone to perpetrate a similar rip-off regime through a site like eBay. But if a dealer has his/her own site, negative feedback can be censored, and an army of disgruntled customers can be made to look like they don’t exist.
I’d obviously never condone dishonesty when selling a guitar, but the above does demonstrate that the way you sell an instrument can have a serious impact on the amount of money it fetches. And it’s quite possible to inflate the perceived value of your guitar through entirely honest means…
Start by looking at what your guitar offers. I don’t really mean what bridge it has, or the brand of machineheads… Look at who might want it, and why. Would it make more sense to aim it at a collector, or maybe at a hard-gigging guitarist? Does the guitar have connections with famous musicians? If you don’t already know, go onto a search engine and see what you can find out. Dig deep! If any really famous musicians have used your exact guitar, that ‘product association’ is really going to add weight to your sales pitch. Big businesses get spectacular results when they associate their products with someone famous, and the dynamics are just the same for individuals selling on the secondhand market. The more you can find out about your guitar’s history and associations, the better you should be able to identify your buyer. And once you know who your buyer is, you can start to use keywords which will potentially attract that person to your sale.
In connection with any associations your guitar might have, try to isolate and focus on the ones which the buyer would not necessarily get if he/she bought from someone else. For example, is your guitar the same colour as a famous musician’s guitar? Was it made the same year?… Look really carefully. Finding an ISP (irresistible selling point) might net you an extra £300, and for half an hour’s research that’s a pretty good return. It won’t always be possible to find that irresistible selling point (and of course no selling point will be irresistible to everyone), but it’s worth looking. Knowledge and information is power. The more you know, the more you can say to entice and tempt.
Positivity is vital when you’re talking about the guitar you’re selling, but it’s easily possible to go too far and put buyers off. I look at some pitches, and after one paragraph of cliches: “plays like a dream”, “neck to die for”, “awesome tone”, “this one is the real deal”, etc… I just think to myself: “Okay, so the seller either doesn’t know anything about what he/she is selling, or this is a cut and paste pitch which would be exactly the same whatever the guitar was like. Either way, I don’t feel it’s telling me anything about the specific instrument, and it’s certainly not the kind of pitch I’d trust.
The most impressive pitches are factual and informative. Sounding like you know a lot about the guitar is really important, because if a buyer gets a hint that you know less than he/she does, he/she will very possibly try to take advantage. But don’t bluff it – establish the facts, isolate the positive ones, and use them.
THE POWER OF IMAGE
The power of image can add £hundreds to the eventual selling price of your guitar. Ask anyone in marketing and they’ll tell you that the photography is one of the most important elements in a campaign.
Rather than using the first photo or photos you take, experiment with different shooting points, different relationships to the lighting, different camera settings, and even different types of lighting if necessary. That skanky, home-lit yellowish-brown hue in a photo never does a product any favours in my opinion. Aim for a neutral lighting with no colour cast (use Auto-White-Balance on the camera), and try to avoid ugly reflections or shadows. If you’ve got unsightly reflections, glare or shadows, change the position of the camera or the instrument, or both. Remember that the colour of the lighting (or how the camera renders the lighting) can change the way the potential buyer perceives the colour of the guitar. Make sure the colour looks stunning, and that the picture is well exposed for a bright, eyecatching impact.
Use the best camera you can get your hands on, and if you’re shooting indoors, use a tripod, or rest the camera on something stable to prevent camera shake. Camera shake not only looks like you don’t care – it can also potentially lead people to believe you’re trying to disguise or hide something.
Be honest about any flaws on the instrument, but don’t make a meal of them. My view is that it’s better to keep the photos looking as attractive as possible, and refer to any flaws in the text. As long as you let people know about any issues, you don’t need to depict them in glorious close-up – unless a potential buyer specifically asks you to.
Fundamentally, you should never be told by someone else what your guitar is worth. Look at the market (eBay, etc.) as a guide to what’s realistic, but don’t underestimate the power of marketing and its potential to inflame a buyer’s desire. There will always be people who’ll pay way over the odds for a guitar, just as there’ll always be those who’ll never buy anything unless it’s priced way below general expectations. So no guitar really has an absolute value. You may have to wait for the right buyer to come along, and you may have to wait a long time, but value is flexible, and if you want more rather than less for your guitar, just do your research, be confident but realistic, and hold out. To a fair extent, what your guitar is worth is up to you.
Posted by: Bob Leggitt