In the 30-plus years I’ve been playing music, I’ve owned dozens of guitars. Sometimes a new guitar is something you’ve been dreaming of for years, sometimes it’s a guitar that scratches an itch, and sometimes it’s a deal that’s too good to pass up. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever owned more than eight guitars at any one time — because I sell guitars all the time to make space (and make money) for new guitars.
Many of us will sell a guitar from time to time, and the difference to your pocket in how and where you list your guitar can decide if you’re looking at American Strat money or Mexican Strat money. With this guide I’m going to walk you through the five main things you need to understand about selling a guitar. This is how you go from losing a little money on every guitar to making a little money — or sometimes a lot of money.
Where to sell a guitar
The first step is to make sure your guitar is available everywhere people buy used guitars in your area. If you want to throw money away, by all means go to Guitar Center and get half or less of what you could get selling it yourself. If you’re trying to get the best money you can, you want to get in touch with buyers directly, and in 2020 it’s never been easier.
This will vary with your local market and your risk/hassle tolerance, but at the very least your guitar should be on Craigslist (or the regional equivalent, e.g. Gumtree in the UK and Australia) as well as Facebook Marketplace. If you feel comfortable mailing your guitar, you should also look to places like Reverb and eBay — oftentimes you can make a little more money, but you’ll also have to deal with the hassle of shipping a guitar, as well as the risk of scammers.
How to photograph your guitar
Probably the biggest differentiator in guitar ads is how well the guitar has been photographed. If you go on Craigslist right now, you’ll see a lot of guitars with only one or two pictures — those people are leaving money on the table. Go look at new guitars on Sweetwater: every angle and every detail is photographed.
Ideally, you’ll want to photograph your guitar outside to get as much natural light on it as possible and make it look as good as it can. If you take the photos indoors, make sure you pick somewhere as bright as possible, such as close to a window or near a lamp. Make sure nothing is in front of the guitar and try to keep the background as free from clutter as you can.
I would suggest aiming to get each of the following pictures at minimum:
- Close up of the front of the body (from the heel to the start of the neck).
- Full length shot of the front of the guitar.
- Close up of the back of the body (from the heel to the start of the neck).
- Full length shot of the back of the guitar.
- Close up of the front of the headstock.
- Close up of the back of the headstock.
- Angled shot of the body to convey depth.
- Close up shots of each pickup.
In addition to the above, every scratch and dent on your guitar should be a separate picture — you really don’t want to meet someone to sell them the guitar and end up haggling because “you didn’t tell me it had a ding on the heel.”
How to write the ad
The key to writing a good guitar ad is to kill the buyer with detail. Start with a brief summary of the guitar and its condition, what kind of use it’s seen, and why you’re selling. For example: “2019 Epiphone Les Paul Standard in super clean condition, some light gigging but mostly a bedroom guitar, selling as upgrading to a Gibson.”
Next you want to give them an idea of the things you can only experience in person. Things like the weight, the feel of the neck, where the action is right now. If you were holding the guitar in your hand and describing it to someone over the phone, what would you tell them? Include all of it.
Tell them a little history if there is any. “Bought it at Guitar Center, had it set up by James at Guitar Factory, swapped out the original pickup selector for a switchcraft.” Lay it all out.
The next thing you want to do is go down the list and give them every detail you can. No stone should be left unturned. Some minor finish issues on the headstock? List them. Some scratches on the scratch plate? List them. One of the pots crackles a little in a full moon? List it.
You want the buyer to look at the pictures, read the listing, and feel they know everything there is to know about this guitar so they’re not expecting any surprises and can feel confident in what they’re getting when it comes to setting a price.
How to price your guitar
The easiest way to price a guitar is to see what that model is already selling for, and then adjust based on how quickly you want to sell it. If you’re in a rush, knock off 5-10%. If you have time, add 5-10%. Reverb has an excellent price guide that covers just about every conceivable model and year of guitar out there. If you’ve taken excellent pictures, written a super detailed ad, and your guitar is in good condition, I personally would shoot about 20% above Reverb and then be ready to haggle for as long as it takes to get a good price.
How to deal with people
Selling a guitar requires patience, but you should also look after yourself. You’re going to get a ton of tire kickers, you’re going to have correspondence go dead for no reason, you’re going to get a ton of lowball offers. Roll with the punches and try to be as helpful and enthusiastic as possible — if you’re difficult to deal with, people won’t want to give you the money you’re asking for.
As far as meeting people, shoot for somewhere public like outside a grocery store that has parking lot cameras — and bail if they don’t show up within 10 minutes. I’ve waited around too many times for people who didn’t show up. If they’re not there in 10 minutes, move on to the next person.
There’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science to selling a guitar, but once you get the hang of it you’ll find yourself making a little money every time, and soon you’ll be picking up badly listed guitars just to sell them at a profit. Have fun!