Monday, June 25, 2012

Gear Up: Buy used, but don't get burned

It's a fact of life that, if you're a musician, there's a never ending list of instruments, accessories, equipment and gear that you need to buy. While many of your purchases need to be new, you can save a significant amount of money if you can find good, well-maintained, used gear.

That being said, some of the worst purchases I've ever made were, "Too good to pass up." If it's cheap, there may be a reason, and you should know it before you plunk down the cash.

Here are five questions I wish I'd asked before I bought every piece of used gear.

  1. How old is it? With a little help from Google, this can be a game changer. You may stumble across a rarity or find a certain model year or era that had serious problems. This can also help you determine where the item was originally manufactured, or if the company was bought/sold before or after the date. All good information if you're trying to get parts or compatible items.
  2. How has it been stored and transported? You'll probably have a few follow up questions here, but this will give you an idea as to how the current owner cares for gear, and what the likelihood for significant wear and tear might be.
  3. What modifications and repairs has it had? Some people just can't leave it alone (which can be a good thing), but you definitely want to know what's been altered, replaced or repaired. This question can also reveal an accident or weather incident.
  4. Why are you selling it? Again, keep asking this question until you get a few answers. "I just need the money," may be true, but that's usually just the default response. Turn the question around and when they tell you how great it is, you can say, "It does seem like a great deal. Why aren't you keeping it?" Get to the bottom line.
  5. Is that the best price you can give me? I'm not about taking advantage of people or being dishonest in any way, but that doesn't mean you can't negotiate the price. Also, as I've said before, see if you have anything the seller may want to trade for. At any rate, get the very best price you can, and don't pay it if it doesn't make sense for your needs and budget.
Again, there are more questions you could ask - feel free to suggest some in the comments - but these should give you a fair view of what you're buying.

And I know that gear is not cars (for the most part, at least!) but there are two more quick things I like to keep in mind. 

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." As I've said before, you can find many a great deal buying from someone who simply doesn't have a use for the item or needs quick cash, but...

"Don't buy someone else's problems." As is often the case with cars, there may be a very good reason that the item is such a good deal, and you may find it out the first time you have to use the thing on stage or in the studio.

Happy shopping!


  1. As a percussion teacher, I can echoe that this is sound advice. I've gotten tons of equipment that is very high end that I wouldn't be able to afford at full retail price. A few thoughts myself.

    Don't let a badly tuned kit turn you away. A new set of drum heads with proper foaming and tuning can make an old kit sound amazing and new.

    Don't be a brand snob- but be careful too. While you definitely want to stay away from known duds (like First Act etc.) I have found there are many good options outside of the industries standard. For example, Pacific drums are designed by DW, but assembled in Korea. That makes them often more than half the price but still a good product. Wuhan makes some fantastic splash cymbals for very reasonable rates just to name a couple. In fact some "good brands" make a very low end version of their cymbals or equipment that are not anywhere near the standards of their high end gear. Beware of just buying the name.

    Avoid acquiring stuff just to be the guy who has a big kit. When I was learning percussion, I kept expanding and expanding my set just because it was fun. But as you do so, your technique has to change, and in many ways you become dependent on a large kit to give you the sound you like. This leads to a huge headache for gigs and limits the players potential. The truth is, the best drummers can get the sound they want on as little a kit as possible.

    1. Thanks, Mike! All excellent points. I hate to sound too much like somebody's grandpa, but I've always felt like a drummer should be able to fluently and musically get his/her point across on a four-piece kit before they start morphing into Terry Bozzio.

      And I completely agree that brand names can be deceiving. If it sounds good and plays well, it doesn't matter what's printed (or not!) on it. Likewise if it doesn't sound good or play well.

      Many thanks for stopping by.


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