Buying a new or secondhand acoustic guitar if you’re a beginner?

As a beginner faced with the prospect of purchasing a new guitar, there can understandably be some apprehension involved. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know, which makes it difficult to feel confident that you’re taking everything into consideration and making the best choice for your needs.

The first thing to get out of the way is, don’t worry! it’s not as hard as it seems. For many guitarists shopping for new instruments is their favorite activity in the world, (#newguitarday) and if it didn’t draw so much ire from spouses we’d do it even more!

One of the earlier decisions you will need to make during the buying process is whether you should buy new or secondhand.

So today we’re going to talk about the pros and cons of both buying used and new so you can help make an informed decision about what’s right for you.

A quick note about safety

So before we get into the pros and cons, I’d like to address what is most people’s big concern, and that is the safety and reliability when buying secondhand.

Of course, it’s completely understandable that people might have fears of getting scammed out of their hard-earned money, the guitar being faulty, fake, or damaged and now you can’t get your money back!

The thing to remember is the used market is extremely active, with tens of thousands of transactions going on per day on any given online marketplace. So you can bet there are quite robust systems in place to keep you safe and protected

Just ensure you buy your equipment from a reputable marketplace and always use a payment platform with buyer’s protection.

Bang for your buck

So this one’s pretty obvious. The primary draw of the used market is that products are generally offered much cheaper than brand new from a retail store.

The second you leave a store with an instrument it immediately goes down in value, so there are plenty of opportunities to buy ‘as new’ guitars and equipment that have barely been touched by the previous owner for an affordable price.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to every type of guitar out there, some of them go up in value as time goes on. But these are usually either rare or less affordable high-end instruments. The average work-horse guitar that you’d be eyeing as a beginner almost always goes down in value.

Lower barrier to entry

There are a few benefits to trying to get your guitar at a cheaper-than-retail price, firstly it lowers the barrier to entry. 

Many beginners aren’t even sure if they will pursue the instrument on a longer-term basis. So being able to get your hands on an instrument that plays a little better than a brand new one would at a given price point can make that early experience on the acoustic guitar better.

A cheap guitar with frets that slice up your hand and has action so high playing some basic chords gives you a forearm pump is not ideal, you need an instrument that makes you want to pick it up and play anytime you see it!

This idea of punching above your weight and making your budget stretch further is extra important in the $500-$700 dollar range as mid-tier guitars can benefit from an excellent price to performance boost. 

So that slightly more expensive guitar that you could get within budget by buying secondhand will translate into a noticeably better playing experience.

Discontinued and rare products

Perhaps there’s a particular model that your favorite guitarist uses and you have your heart set on. But alas, the company only produced it for a few years only to discontinue production.

One of the biggest strengths of getting a secondhand guitar is that the range of products available to you is far, far greater than what you’d find buying new.

This is because stores tend to only keep the most popular models and that current year’s line of new instruments in stock. But if you go second-hand, you’ll be able to pick a model from any year of production you’d like! 

This is also where luck comes into play as sometimes you’ll be browsing the used market and just stumble across the perfect guitar at the perfect price, which can feel extremely rewarding.

Experimentation

As much as we try to tell ourselves 1 guitar will suffice sooner or later the itch comes to want to try something new.

Getting familiar with buying (and selling) secondhand guitars really allows you to flex that desire for experimentation. Particularly as a beginner when you haven’t fully developed your preferences yet in terms of exactly what kind of wood and body shape combination you like.

By being open to buying second-hand guitars and becoming comfortable with navigating the used market you’ll be able to buy/sell/trade instruments far more frequently and at a much lower cost.

This allows you to get your hands on a lot of different instruments to really discover what works best for you.

Fashion vs function

But of course, there is a reason why second-hand guitars are valued lower, and that’s simply because they’re used. 

No matter how careful and meticulous anyone is with cleaning their instrument after use, wiping it down, and packing it away nicely. Sooner or later it’s going to take a few dings and scratches, that’s just the nature of the beast if you play an instrument a lot.

For some, buying a guitar that has a few dings and scratches is great! It adds character and personality to the instrument, showing that it’s been played and loved. For others, it’s an abomination, and the idea of spending money on something that’s a bit bruised up is a huge turn-off.

The main thing to remember is unless it’s the kind of damage that compromises the structure of the instrument, the normal wear and tear we associate with secondhand instruments is purely cosmetic. Surface dings, some finish wear around where you pick, or maybe a little ‘buckle rash’ on the back of the body isn’t going to affect how the guitar plays, or sounds.

These do not compromise the playability of the instrument in any way, so if all you need is an instrument that can do its job. A secondhand instrument will do that job every bit as good as a new one.

Setup and maintenance

If a secondhand guitar is generally cheaper and plays just as well, why bother ever buying new? 

Well, there are some quite good pros to buying from a retail store too! 

One of the big ones (and this is doubly important for a beginner who might not have the ability to do this themselves) is that retail stores will give their instruments a full QA, setup, and maintenance pass before selling it in their shop.

Over time guitars can essentially get a little out of whack, from wear on the nut or bridge causing string buzz, or worn frets taking your intonation and pitch-off.

These are things that most guitarists don’t learn to address themselves, so there’s a high chance that when you buy a guitar second-hand and aren’t familiar with these kinds of problems, it might not be playing its’ best.

But with a new guitar, you can generally assume it will have had a setup beforehand. Stores are often more than happy to share some maintenance tips with you too, don’t be afraid to ask!

Addressing issues

This also follows on from the topic of issues. Guitars are unfortunately not perfect instruments, even straight from the factory they can have problems from finish defects, a random low fret, or a screw that’s worked itself loose.

A retail store will usually have a fairly robust returns policy that adheres to government law, to where if the guitar is not up to standard, they will need to fix it for you. Whether that’s replacing it with a new working instrument or fixing yours up. As long as it’s their fault, you’re covered. 

After all, it’s their company’s entire reputation on the line, they don’t want you to be an unhappy customer.

I’m not saying second-hand guitars with issues can never be addressed, but it’s definitely more challenging to navigate that communication with a seller. If you’ve been shipped a damaged item you are protected by your payment platform, and generally, the seller should have to accept a return if you’re unhappy. 

Chasing up on any issues is considerably more challenging on a used instrument.

Sparkjoy

For some, this is a complete non-factor when purchasing a guitar. But I know many players who are specifically looking for that ‘new guitar feeling’ you get when a brand new, immaculate, full-price instrument turns up at your home. 

You’re the first to unwrap it, there’s been no previous owner, and simply put that makes you happy.

That joyful feeling is not something to be dismissed. For many it’s what gives them positive feelings towards the instrument, it makes them want to pick up and play it every time they can. Which in turn makes them practice, play, and write more music.

It’s well worth seriously asking yourself if the simple act of feeling good because you’ve bought a new instrument means something to you. 

And if that does matter to you, however logical it might seem to buy the same guitar 15% cheaper you’re just going to be happier buying new, and that’s totally fine!

Final thoughts

There is absolutely no right or wrong choice when it comes to going new or secondhand. The most important thing is you inform yourself as best as you can, listen to your preferences and desires honestly, and make a purchasing decision based on that. In my experience, if you really don’t know how to inspect a used guitar, buying a new guitar will limit your risk, but the chances of snagging a great deal are more remote.

We hope this article has helped you along with the buying process, and hope that your new instrument serves you well for many years to come! regardless of if you buy new or secondhand.

Marty

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My name’s Marty. I’ve been into guitars, songwriting, and home recording for over 30 years. Theacousticguitarist.com is my blog where I write about everything I have learned along the way.