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Last Updated: June 30, 2019
I just returned from a very successful outing where I traded-in an old Classical guitar to a local music store. I’m very happy with how the deal turned out–which I’ll detail down in the “My Actual Deal” section at the end of this post if you’re interested.
While sitting here congratulating myself, it occurred to me: the way I handled this transaction might be useful for those of you who might be considering trading in or selling a guitar to a music store. I take this knowledge for granted because I’ve done it before, but some of you out there might really benefit from this experience.
Why Trade-In or Sell Your Guitar to a Music Store?
Fact is, you will rarely (if ever) get as much money by trading-in your guitar to a music store as you would by selling it yourself. So, why the heck would you ever want to trade-in or sell your guitar to a music store rather than sell it privately?
If you’re like me, you’d do it because the speed, convenience, safety, etc. of trading-in is literally worth money to you. You get to skip dealing with flaky or shady buyers, and skip the hassle, expense, and risk of packing and shipping the guitar. Nowadays, I simply don’t have the time to take pictures, create for-sale ads, haggle with potential buyers, and pack and ship guitars. And god-forbid the guitar is damaged in shipping–which is a whole other adventure you do NOT want to deal with.
So, if you plan to trade-in or sell that old axe to a music store, here’s what you need to know and how you do it.
The Process – How to do it Right
1. Do some price research on your guitar
Before you do anything else, get on sites like eBay, Reverb, Craigslist, and others and see if you can find your exact model being sold elsewhere. Better yet, don’t focus on how much sellers currently have it listed for, but instead try to find ones that have successfully sold in the past. On ebay, there’s a filter to show only guitars that have actually sold, and for how much:
If eBay isn’t returning any useful results for you, Reverb.com offers a handy Price Guide at https://reverb.com/price-guide:
You can also search for your guitar on Guitarcenter.com/Used. They don’t list guitars that have already sold, but you could get lucky and find your model currently being sold at one or more locations. This is especially useful if Guitar Center is where you’re planning to take your axe for a trade-in:
Regardless of whether you sell a guitar yourself to a private party or trade it in to a music store, what matters is how much people are actually willing to pay for it, and there’s no better way to know than by looking at actual, completed sales.
You have to put your personal feelings aside here. The guitar might have sentimental value to you, but music stores don’t care about that. Their only concern is how much they will be able to sell the guitar for after taking it off your hands.
2. Before you go to the music store, decide on the rock-bottom amount you’ll accept
After doing your research, you should have a ballpark idea of how much you could realistically sell the guitar for if you tried to actually sell it yourself to a private party. Now, decide how much less than that amount you’d be willing to accept from the music store. What is the rock-bottom amount you’d feel good walking out of that store with without feeling like you were taken advantage of? To take some of the emotion out of all this, math comes to our rescue.
For our example here, let’s say you’ve come to the conclusion that you’d be able to sell the guitar for $350 if you went to the trouble of selling it privately (to an actual person, not a music store).
Now, you need to do some soul-searching and decide how much less than $350 you’d be happy with. Music stores will generally offer about 50% – 60% (if you’re lucky) of what they think they can sell the guitar for. An optimistic assumption is that they’ll arrive at roughly the same final-sales-value that you did: $350. So, in a best-case-scenario where they offer 60% of that amount, you’d only get $210 for your $350 guitar. Confused? The math looks like this:
$350 x 0.6 = $210
You need to not only be okay with this amount ($210), but be prepared to be offered less. This is where your rock-bottom price comes in handy. Decide how much lower you’d be willing to go and still feel good about the whole transaction.
Got your rock-bottom price? Great. Do NOT tell that number to the music store when you go in. That number is your little secret.
3. Clean and prep the guitar (and case)
Now, thoroughly and carefully clean the guitar and the case (if you’re including the case). Clean it first, then polish it, then install a fresh set of guitar strings. Last, stretch the strings thoroughly and be sure the guitar is in perfect tune before you take it in. They should be able to pull the guitar out and immediately start playing and evaluating it without having to tune.
I don’t care if your guitar is beat all to hell, do your best to clean it and make it look as good as possible. This applies to the case too. Wipe the case down and remove any scuffs if you can, and vacuum the inside. If you hand them a dusty, dirty guitar that has old, out-of-tune strings, you’re just screwing yourself. The guitar store might take one look at your dirty piece-of-junk and say “no thanks, not interested.”
4. Make sure the store accepts trade-ins or buys used guitars
If you have a particular guitar store in mind, first call and ask them if they normally accept trade-ins or buy used guitars outright (whichever you’re planning to do). If the answer is yes, then proceed to the next step. Otherwise, continue calling till you find a store that does. You don’t want to drive all the way to the store and then find out they don’t buy used guitars or accept trade-ins.
5. Go to the music store and tell them you’d like their estimate on the guitar’s purchase or trade-in value
This is it. Showtime.
With your rock-bottom price in mind (remember: never divulge this) and your clean, shiny axe, go up to the counter and tell them you have a guitar you’d like to have appraised. Let them know whether you want to trade it in toward purchasing something else in their store, or if you’re simply wanting them to buy the guitar outright. Some stores may only do one or the other. Sometimes you’ll get a slightly better price if you say you plan to use it as a trade-in toward something else in the store.
Resist the temptation to be overly-helpful and start pointing out cosmetic issues or other minor flaws with the guitar. Let them find those things during their evaluation, and if they don’t, just keep quiet.
However, please do disclose any serious past damage/repairs that may not be obvious. These are things like headstock breaks or refrets.
At this point, they might ask “how much you lookin’ to get for it?” If you can avoid it, don’t give them a number (or a range) even if they press you for one. Instead, say something like “I didn’t have anything specific in mind, I’m just curious to see what you think it’s worth.” They may badger you a bit–perhaps even ask how much you paid for it.
Now, some people are seriously averse to negotiating. Believe me, I get it.
So, if you get too uncomfortable and find that you simply don’t have the willpower to resist giving a number, then be sure what you say is well above your absolute lowest number. This happened to me the first time I traded-in a guitar. However, I was mentally prepared to be interrogated and therefore inflated my “range” slightly above what I knew the guitar was worth (based on the research I did in Step 1 above).
So, using our example and knowing you could sell the guitar yourself for $350, say “oh… around $350 – $400.” They might huff dismissively or act like you’re insane, but that’s perfectly okay. It’s all part of the game.
In general though, resist the pressure to throw out the first number, if you can.
6. They’ll make you an offer. You’ll act like it’s low (even if it’s not).
Let’s consider a best-case scenario and assume they make you a totally fair offer of $210 (for our $350 guitar). In fact, that’s a really good offer from a music store, because it’s 60% of $350–at the top end of what we were hoping to get for the guitar.
Even if this happens, you’re not going to smile and enthusiastically accept. You’re going to furrow your brow a bit and act like it’s a number you weren’t quite expecting–like it’s a bit low. Don’t act like a total a-hole or act insulted, because (in this case) they know it’s a good offer. Just pause and look introspective for a bit, and decide what you’d like to do next:
- If you were planning to buy something else in the store that day (e.g. the guitar was a trade-in), ask them if they’d be willing to discount something in the store. Most of the time they’ll be glad to do so… sometimes up to 10%. So, you not only get a fair price for your guitar, you score a little bonus cash. Or…
- If you were planning to sell the guitar outright to the store, you can simply accept their offer if you’re not comfortable negotiating. Or…
- If you were planning to sell the guitar outright to the store and you are comfortable negotiating, go for it. If you’re going this route, I’ll assume you know what you’re doing, so I’m not going to try and give negotiating tips in this blog post.
- Don’t accept the offer and walk away. I’m not sure why you’d do this though after getting a fair offer, unless you had a last-minute change of heart.
That’s really all there is to it–this doesn’t need to be stressful or complicated. For this example, I used a fictional guitar valued at a fictional $350, but here’s a secret: it’s not actually fictional. This whole article is based on the exact trade-in experience I just had.
My Actual Deal
As promised at the beginning, here are the details of the actual transaction I just made a few hours ago.
After doing the kind of research I outlined above, I’d decided I could probably sell my 1999 Alvarez Yairi CY116 Classical acoustic guitar myself for about $350 (with hardshell case). However, I didn’t have the time nor energy to deal with private buyers, packing, shipping, etc.
So, I decided to trade it in at a local music store instead.
First, I decided that the rock-bottom price I’d accept was $180. Best-case, I was hoping to get as much as $210 for it (60% of $350 = $210). So, I was thrilled when the store offered me $270! Regardless, I furrowed my brow, looked a little pensive, and (politely) said “Hmm, that’s a little lower than I was hoping for.” Since I needed a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 for my studio I asked, “If I bought an audio interface today, would you be willing to knock a little off the listed price?” Sure enough, they said they’ve give me 10% off any interface that’s not already on sale.
So, on top of $270 cash (for the guitar) I got a Scarlett 2i4 interface for only $179 (discounted from $199). After all was said and done, I walked out with a new audio interface and a about $74 in excess cash. Bad ass!
Have you ever traded-in or sold a guitar to a music store? How did it go? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section down below.