I have bought two used guitars through eBay. Both experiences I regret. I seriously doubt I will ever buy another, but if I do it would have to be:
1.) from a seller who clearly states the he/she knows guitars and can represent the item in words in photographs very accurately,
2.) has a return policy that is fair,
3.) has a stellar rating, and
4.) has a product that is valuable enough that making repairs to it would be feasible (if the item arrived in poor condition and I was unable to return it).
I have bought many items through eBay with very good results. In particular, I have bought several trumpets, cornets, mouthpieces, assorted parts, etc. and had no problems, but guitars are another matter. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is that photographs of guitars tend to hide the problems and it is easy for the seller to play dumb and say that he didn't know there was a problem. For example, it's hard to tell when a guitar has been seriously dehydrated. The second reason is that I think the trumpet / band instrument community is generally more respectable. Remember, I play guitar too, but there are some pretty unscrupulous guitar sellers out there. Craigslist has not been a problem for me, just eBay.
I've had good experiences with Musician's Friend. Bought a ukulele and much later an amp. No problems. These were new items, of course. Not sure I'd buy anything used online unless the price was so low there was no practical risk.
I purchased all prior guitars via ebay (all used). Never a problem. All came as advertised and not a mark on them.
I used to buy/ sell via internet a lot with audio equipment. I would estimate at least 1000 transactions (buying and selling). Only had 3 transactions that I had to do some work on. I used paypal on each of these and was covered for the purchases. Some purchases were extremely expensive. More than anything I have spent on a guitar. As far as guitars, I purchased an used 1994 Fender American Strat with upgraded pickups and a Garrison Acoustic Electric. Paid about 40% retail on the Fender and 25% on the Garrison. Both arrived as new. Owned them for 7 years and sold them in December for more than I paid 7 years ago.
If you purchase through ebay, they have buyer protection. If they did not arrive as advertised, you should have input a claim. I did three times and was paid off in full in all three instances. It does not matter if the seller indicates it's "no returns" or "as is". I was able to be paid on all of them as they did not arrive in the condition the seller indicated. Ebay is very fussy on sellers. Ensuring that the buyers are looked after. If they did not, their site would die a quick death. Also, if a seller has a number of complaints as these, they lose their right to sell on ebay. Ebay will take legal action against sellers to reimburse them for the funds.
I have never had to refund a sale as my auctions were always accurate and I pack them well.
I probably buy more on the internet than I do in person other than staples and clothes. I purchase all my electronics on line and other than my Norman, all my instruments.
Musician's Friend sells all the time on ebay. They are listed on ebay as being Music 123.
I am very close to buying a LH Larrivee on ebay at present. It's new and far less than what I have found at any store. It's from a dealer in Florida. I have no reservations purchasing on line.
I just purchased some books on line. They sell for $30 at the book stores, they were listed as used. Paid $2 for each of them. Could not find a crease on any book. They were new.
I have no reservations purchasing online. I like the convenience.
I have bought several instruments (guitars, mandolin family, banjos from eBay and also unseen from other places in the net). Most of the deals have been ok. However, I think it is always better if you can play and test the particular instrument before you buy. Living in Finland, this is not always possible, so you have to take the risk, if you want something, which is not available on shelf here.
buying a guitar without being able to play it is normal procedure for a LH guitarist. I had been looking at a Martin DCPA4, could not find one (or a Martin period) that was LH locally, I mentioned that to the Manager at Long & McQuade. He told me that he knew it was tough being LH and being able to try a good quality acoustic guitar. He knew there was a market as he had a lot of requests. So he offered to order one and let me try it. If I liked it, I could buy it. If not, he would have no problem selling it.
I waited a week and got back to him as he indicated it would take about that long to receive it from Martin. He apologized to me that it was Long & McQuade's management in Toronto that cancelled the order. I had to commit to the purchase before they would order it. No refunds.
My Norman was purchased the same way. I had to commit to it and NO returns. There was NO trying models to see which I would like (it's a moot point which model from Godin as it is slim pickings at best).
So to me. A local purchase is over-rated. A local purchase to one is an internet purchase to another. I have found better return policies with internet sellers than NON. Most internet providers are providing free shipping on their guitars and you are able to return. Left handed or Right handed. So I don't see why the hesitance to purchase.
Plus most of the same sellers are on ebay and offer returns. Like I said, Musicians friend is on there and have countless guitars on there at all times. Same return policies as via their website. PLUS if you don't receive it or it's not as advertised, you make a claim under ebay's buyer protection plan and you get your funds back. Every time I needed it, it worked and I have lost NOT one dime on ebay or other websites.
Just having gone through the LH process, I can attest to what Gord is saying. I would have much preferred to walk into a local shop and audition the guitars I was interested in. Most had just one or two leftys, and none of the models I was looking for. I called a local shop listed by Walden as a dealer. The owner apologized for not having any left hands, but assured me she could have the one I wanted in a few days. The catch was, I had to buy it. She would not order it on spec (and the price was significantly higher than the online shop I ultimately bought from.)
Even the local GC had only two leftys, a $200 Fender (no thanks) and something else that I was equally uninterested in. Not even any used guitars, though the employee assured me that "new stuff comes in all the time." Last week I saw that Fender has released a new model called the Tim Armstrong Hellcat, based on the '60s vintage the Rancid guitarist used. Looked cool, solid mahogany top, cool inlays, AND it's a lefty because Armstrong is. So I went to GC, they had one, and guess what? Yep, it was right handed! I asked the clerk about it, and he said they could order one for me. Of course, I had to buy it.
So, I am currently waiting for delivery of the Walden D600L I ordered from Saint Fishy in Tennessee. They are waiting for it to be delivered to them, they will inspect it, set it up, and ship it to me. And it was $50 less than the best local price. But, it is from a real shop, run by a real family, not some huge warehouse or humanless corporation, so I feel better about that.
Craig. Glad you were able to find a good guitar for your son. Thank goodness for these online retailers. We tend to get better service and more reasonable terms than local shops. After having to sign on the dotted line for the Norman, I refuse to do that further. I regret it as I could have purchased the same guitar (as it turns out) via the internet and been given the option to return it. I should have done that. Miss my solid wood acoustic guitar. That was a dumb move on my part when I sold my solid wood guitar.
more hatin' on leftys, that's all!