Here is an article that was published in Vintage Guitar magazine. It is important enough that I have asked for and received permission to put it on the Analog Man web pages. Eric brings up many valid points on vintage guitar dealings. I think that he is a very neutral party and shows how both dealers and customers can work together to help make this hobby more enjoyable. Enjoy!!!
That first guitar show in 1991 certainly wasn't my introduction to vintage guitars. In fact, I fit the demographics for this magazine very closely: I'll be forty next year, I've been playing guitar for over 20 years, and I was involved with "used" instruments before realizing that there were some better used (read vintage) instruments than others since sometime around the early-1980s. I presently own about 25 guitars, both acoustic and electric and both vintage and recently produced. My big collecting bug is lap steel guitars and I have over 50 of those, several with matching amps. They are a lot of fun and are still quite affordable as collectibles (they probably always will be so don't rush out and buy one now) and they make wonderful wall hangers and conversation pieces. My enthusiasm for old guitars has grown since I began writing for VG and my own coverage in the magazine has grown as well. I am amazed at the number of books which are being published about vintage guitars. In five years I have seldom had to worry about whether I would have any new books to review, and the quality of the publications keeps getting better. I have contributed a variety of other articles to the magazine: interviews, dealer profiles, show reports, updates on our Internet activities, even a couple of "how-to" pieces. It is my way of making a contribution to the knowledge of guitar collectors and dealers.
I have never been a guitar dealer. I've sold guitars before, sometimes for a profit, but that was usually when I had lost interest and wanted something else or was just upgrading in condition on a vintage piece. I have a full-time job so I think of myself as a customer when interacting with dealers and I do have some opinions about the "selling dealer/buying customer relationship" which I will share with you. I have never used my column space in the magazine for opinion and I don't plan on doing it again. Of course the old saying that "opinions are like noses, everyone has one and most of them smell" does apply so I hope this is taken at face value. My opinions of the dealer/buyer relationship have evolved over time and are the result of observations I have made from guitar shows, in-store transactions, and telephone conversations.
1. Dealers often get a bad rap from customers but for the most part they have brought it on themselves. I find that most often dealers want to "sell to" rather than "work with" customers. Instead of selling someone an instrument whose "tone will change their life," it would be nice to see dealers focus on the customer's needs and sell them an instrument they can be happy with. This sort of true satisfaction versus manufactured (non-lasting) satisfaction will certainly lead to future transactions and goodwill. Too many dealers seem to focus on today instead of trying to build on-going relationships with the buyers. There are also a surprising number of "vintage" dealers who have not educated themselves about vintage instruments or their history and this is readily apparent when talking to them and often just from reading their advertisements. Inaccurate information, puffery, and a "they are all like that" attitude about obscure and not so obscure instruments only serves to lower the dealer to the level of a used car salesman. George Gruhn, a person I have a lot of respect for, has for years talked about an "educable" guitar buying public and he has certainly done his part in the education process by authoring books on the subject of vintage guitars and writing articles for this and a variety of other magazines. He shares freely the knowledge which took him years to acquire. But dealers must also be educated about their wares in order to present them in the proper context. For the guitar collecting hobby to thrive there must be an interested and informed buying public and it falls to dealers to assist in educating buyers so that they can become better consumers. Unfortunately, this is less often the case and misinformation the norm. For those full-time dealers who like what they do for a living, I would suggest that they rethink emphasizing short-term sales and profits for longer term relationships with customers who can be educated about historically important guitars. Be informed and share your knowledge. One thing I've never seen at a guitar show is a lack of enthusiasm for the instruments. Share your enthusiasm with your customers and they will reward you with their dollars once they are ready to buy.
2. The guitar-buying public often gets a bad rap from dealers but for the most part they have brought it on themselves. Just as dealers ought to be knowledgeable, so also the buying public should be educated about the guitars they want to buy. The Gibson Byrdland is an attractive and desirable instrument but if you as a customer don't like a small neck and short scale length there is no need to even pick one up. As a member of the buying public know your instruments, when they were manufactured, what production changes were made at what times, and which are the more desirable years and features. Read the books!! There are over 100 titles available now devoted to vintage guitars. Don't waste a dealer's time by asking for the "best price" until you are ready to buy. Don't try to trade an instrument the dealer can't use or doesn't want just because you feel it has value. Don't accuse the dealer of trying to "rip you off with high prices." If you don't want to buy an instrument keep your dollars in your pocket and vote with your feet by walking away. Full-time dealers are businessmen and you can't expect them to sell you an instrument, or amp, or pedal without making a profit. Profits on sales do much more than go into a dealer's pocket. They pay for rent, utilities, advertising, interest, and maybe if there is anything left they pay for food and shelter for the dealer. I have bought guitars from dealers and paid well for what I wanted. I prefer to think of the profit I pay to a dealer as a "finders fee." My full-time job prevents me from going out and beating the bushes for good deals on instruments whether in pawn shops or from little old ladies. To acquire one of those instruments I pay the dealer to compensate him for his time and effort expended in acquiring the item I want. Just like everyone else I would like to spend as little as possible for a guitar I want, but I have bought from more than one dealer who advertises in this magazine and have never been unhappy with a transaction. It seems to bother the public that vintage guitar dealers buy used guitars then try to sell them for more than they paid. Yet when the public goes to buy a sofa, or television, or other consumable product they pay the dealer more than their cost of the product was without complaint, in fact the cost to the dealer almost never comes up. While there will never be total agreement about pricing of vintage instruments, the customer has the ultimate choice of not buying and that is perhaps a greater tool than anyone realizes. Too expensive? Don't buy it. One last thing: don't be insulted when a dealer doesn't offer you retail value for your used guitar when it comes time to sell. If you want retail then sell yourself. The dealer can't offer you retail then price it higher because it probably won't sell. He has to offer you less so he can make a profit. Dealers have to put up with a lot and many of them do simply because they love the guitar business. Customers should do their best to make any transaction enjoyable for both themselves and the dealer.
3. Prices will continue to rise. That fact has little to do with guitars but more with the economy in general. Both dealers and customers should stop complaining about it. Those who know me will probably say that I should stop complaining about it too. Pay an amount you are comfortable with for a piece you really want or don't buy it at all.
4. This magazine is a good thing. I have
encountered an attitude more than once that VG creates an atmosphere of
high prices. I have even been told that we should "keep them stupid" by
not publicizing the magazine, "them" in this instance being those owning
old guitars who don't have any idea about their value. I have known
dealers who refused to sell the magazine in their store because they
felt it tipped customers to high prices just I have known other dealers
to use the magazine to justify their own pricing. I see VG as an
information tool. While some use advertisements printed here to compare
dealer asking prices on guitars, I believe it makes more sense to use
our Price Guide. Instead of focusing on the advertising, I like to
think our readers are trying an amp mod offered by Dan Torres or Gerald
Weber, or reading an interview by Willie Moseley or Dave Kyle, or
learning about the law from John Huerlin. Maybe they are reading the
book and record reviews, Q&A with George Gruhn, Riley "Gigmeister"
Wilson's column, or a dealer profile, or Michael "Different Strummer"
Wright latest opus. I am sure they read the ads too, but there is so
much more to this magazine than that. We are attempting to educate and
inform, to entertain and evaluate. To maintain a buying base for
vintage guitars there needs to be an entity such as
5. One thing that has changed is the amount of mail order business in the guitar trade, which has increased greatly. While buying a guitar through the mail can be as easy as flipping through the pages of VG until you see something you like, it has raised concerns about issues relating to condition descriptions. I don't want to jump completely into the debate because my personal feeling is that the best way to buy a guitar is in-person, but I will share one observation: there is no such thing as a condition of Excellent minus. "Exc -" is always a guitar in VG+ condition that is a little nicer than the other VG+ guitars. The problem is that the buyer of an Exc- guitar expects more than he gets in nearly every case. What he expects is an instrument perhaps a couple of dings away from excellent. What he usually gets is an instrument with neck and fret wear, heavy checking, and lots of nicks and scratches. Oh, but the finish is still shiny hence the Exc- description. I thing the proliferation of plusses and minuses in condition descriptions is not a good thing. But potential buyers can avoid problems by one of two means: either attend a guitar show where you can inspect the instrument in person, or only buy those through mail order which are said to be in "Mint" condition. And buy from someone you can trust.
6. There have been reports recently about unethical practices in the vintage instrument trade. Incidents like this are often isolated but receive an inordinate amount of attention. Instead of finger-pointing, every one should simply be more circumspect in their dealings. Know who you are dealing with and be sure both parties are clear about the proceedings of the transaction. 90% of the concerns we here could have been avoided with clear communication. Keep in mind that any market has its share of unethical persons.
7. Guitar collecting will continue regardless of what I have written above. Treat everyone as you would want to be treated. It works!
Eric C. Shoaf works at Brown University Library
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