Let the record show that the period spanning July 15 to July 17th (informally known as “a while back” or “earlier this month”) was a particularly good weekend for picking up used musical equipment. My haul: Twelve guitar effect pedals, a 61- key MIDi keyboard, and a DIY guitar kit that included a black Fender Stratocaster-styled body, a maple neck, pickguard and tuners. All for just over $100.
“American Pickers”, eat your heart out.
Long story short: I’m a gear connoisseur. Most musicians I know are. Guitarists like myself generally fall into to more intense “gear freak” category. I’m constantly trading, selling, and buying new hardware (and software) in search of what fellow player Brad Carlton once called’ that ‘perfect sound’. Preamps, compressors, space modulators, phase shifters, overdrive screamers, pitch shifters – anything that will enable my axe, in my wife’s words to “make some weird comic-book noise when people are trying to sleep” sets me to beaming like a couch potato with a new remote. But since I don’t have an unlimited budget, I’m always looking out for a bargain, or better yet, a steal. Both of which seem to be popping up more and more frequently recently – see my recent haul. So is it just me, or is it a lot easier to get used stuff nowadays? Well, yeah, for a lot of different reasons.
If you’re charting trends over the past decade or so, the first factor is the internet, said Marc Petrulis, sales manager at Mad Music in St. Petersburg. A lot of gear had always been available; people just didn’t know how to get it out there. “Before sites like E-Bay and Craigslist showed up, you might wait 10 years to find a buyer for your stuff. Now you put it online, and somebody is on the phone with you the next day. “ The downside is that, unless you are a knowledgeable buyer, you run the risk of getting a lemon, since sometimes even the seller doesn’t know what he’s selling. I remember trying to sell a G&L Legacy guitar to a buyer who claimed my $800 asking price was too steep. The reason? He had a friend who sold one for $200, since they were, in his friend’s words ‘just a cheap Fender knockoff’ (which is kind of like calling Victor Wooten a cheap Larry Graham knockoff…stupid, in other words). On the other hand,Johnny Greenwell of the late, great Johnny’s House of guitars, had dozens of stories about customers trying to sell him ‘vintage’ E-Bay-bought gear that turned out to be, well, cheap knockoffs.
And ‘play guitar in a rock and roll band” has been on every other fortysomething’s bucket list for more than 20 years. The ones who rushed to the music stores in the 90s and beyond now find themselves with garages full of unused gear, and strict orders to “get that stuff out of here or move out here with it’. I’ve gotten some stuff at nearly one-third price for no other reason than “It’s just taking up space, and I need to get it out of the house”.
But the biggest factor in the uptick in the used gear market? The economy. Times are tough, said Seminole Music’s Jeff Bain, and “people are hurting”. That Paul Reed Smith in the corner loses its “heirloom” status real quick when you’re two months back on your car payment. I personally witnessed such a situation at Guitar Center some months ago, as a guy offered an $800 Stratocaster to the store for half price because the rent was due at five that evening.
“We’ve had people come in here every other day, with hardship cases,” said Vinnie Granese of Stevie B’s in Clearwater. “There is some gear that is hanging on to its worth, and some other items that people are just getting rid of for a song because the bills are due, and they don’t have the time to put it online and wait a day or so.”
But even when (if) the economy picks up, there will still be plenty of used stuff to pick up. We’re talking about musicians after all. Speaking of which, there’sz this cool distortion pedal I’ve been meaning to get rid of….