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If you're like me, you probably won't buy a guitar unless you can play it first. Is there an exception? That is: What guitar (or which guitars) would you buy without first taking a test drive (on that exact guitar)?

Some caveats: The guitar is playable and not damaged, but possibly repaired by a skilled luthier. Also, not returnable. Finally, price paid should be considered market value (not overly or under-priced).


Have you ever done it? What were the results?

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Dumb luck I guess, but when my kids hooked this old dinosaur up online, and living too far out in the sticks to be driving an hour or more to the nearest large geetar store, I decided I could basically use my home as a showroom with delivery.  I've never had any interest in instruments newer than 1965, so I knew I was dealing with steady or rising market value and could swap out near even, maybe lose or make a few bucks.  Between small independent traders and Ebay, I've lived that 'bring it here so I can try it' lifestyle for 4 or 5 years.  A great advantage is length of tryout time in your own acoustic setting.  No bringing a guitar home from the store soundroom and finding tonal qualities in your living room muffle or bury the sound.  Too late with new guitars...they devalue like a car as soon as you drive it off the lot.  At least in the short term.

Ask the right questions and you probably won't get stuck with a bad guitar.  I'm also impressed with the love and pride for vintage guitars that seems typical of many traders.  I've probably run 50 or so older guitars through the mill, running a bit in the red as far as trade and resale go, but can justify that in time and travel saved, besides the aforementioned home trial benefits.  It's also hooked me up with interesting characters and given me a growing hands-on knowledge of a variety of sounds and feel for the instruments.  Never been above the $3,000 level, but I'm quite satisfied with my small collection, and play each guitar daily.  Dang...I should be getting better soon. 

I've never been dealt a clunker or disaster that wasn't due to my own lack of knowledge, but I've had an Ebay scare or two with scary sellers and buyers.  If I were shopping new instruments, however, I wouldn't buy before playing.  It'll never happen though because the pool of great vintage acoustics is so freekin' huge, and even more fun.  And I do so hate to travel outside my little valley. 

Haven't .. wouldn't.

I've bought a 2011 Martin OM, 1980 Epiphone PR600, and a 2004 Epiphone DOT and have received each one unscratched and no damage whatsoever.

Maybe I've been lucky. I picked up the Martin at 1/2 of what it was in the store so I took the chance on it.


I have done it, but not with a high-end guitar with one exception: I bought a classical from Kenny Hill for $5K without ever seeing one, let alone play the one I bought. I was lucky, but he builds really nice guitars. I could have returned it.

I bought three lower priced guitars just for their novelty and size. Tone was important, but not the driving factor for these. Again, I was lucky because these all sound great. I did have a problem with one of them (intonation). I contacted the seller; the manufacturer sent a UPS pick-up for the guitar (didn't cost me anything) and I had a brand new guitar within 10 days that I have been completely happy with.

I did get ripped off for several hundred dollars a year or so ago when a Navy guy sold me an old "Gibson" supposedly in really good playable condition. The guitar turned out to be old but was a kid's guitar with an oak top and neck and a fake resonator, painted silver with silver paint on the top underneath. The top was all caved in, frets worn completely down, with fret markers painted on. It was not a Gibson at all and the decal on the headstock is mostly missing.

It's tough these days when there are so many guitars out there and you can't test drive most of them. Some of the larger sellers will order one in (probably by moving stock around) for you to try, but this makes it hard for mom and pop shops to stay in business. What we end up with is a guitar store, run by kids who are mostly into metal or grunge, with Martins, Taylors, and a few Gibsons and dozens of Chinese guitars, but nothing else. What guitars they do have are usually chewed up by belt buckles, spikes from leather jackets, and bracelets from the "customers" who cannot possibly purchase one anyway.

When I take one of the "pre-worn" guitars off the wall to try out, I sometimes expect it to automatically play "Stairway to Heaven" without me touching a string!

But, by the same token, I have made a couple of outstanding purchases this way. If I see a scratch in the headstock, for instance, and the guitar plays well and sounds extremely good, I offer them around 30% lower than the price they have on their tag (which is usually around 25-30% lower than suggested retail). I picked up my Martin D-41 Special and my Martin Eric Clapton OM-28 this way. I wouldn't do this if the guitar was damaged more than a superficial scratch, though.

We read about how, in the old days, guitar makers (especially Gibson) would have travelling salesmen who took inventory all over the country to sell. I think they did it for two reasons: First, to get people interested in playing guitar and, second, to get their instruments out there where people could try them and hopefully buy them.

Nowadays, the first reason is no problem - lots of interest. But how do you get your guitars out there so players can test drive them? Manufacturers of other items sometimes still travel the country and hold seminars so people can try their products, but it doesn't seem to be that way with guitars anymore.

That said, I would buy an N-20 Martin and a couple of different classical guitars - from a trusted source - without first trying them out, just because of what they are and what I am looking for. But after being burned by one of our service men, I am a lot more leary of a supposedly trusted source these days.

What was it the Scots say? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? Maybe this saying didn't originate wih the Scots - perhaps my friend who is fiercely proud of his Scottish heritage misled me...

Thanks all,


I could have sworn I replied to this awhile ago - somehow it was erased/deleted/removed - or I am hallucinating...


With your caveats, I wouldn't do it. However, I have ordered online (my Craviola), as has a friend (Seagull S6 left), and had good results with each. My friend did buy a Seagull 25th Anniversary for a fair price without any problems from this community, and I don't know if he could have returned it...

I'm about to do it again - but I had a local friend whose opinion I respect actually play the guitar for me, so your caveats are once again violated.  And, there is a good return policy...

It'll be a Walden T550 I'm buying for my daughter for her birthday in February - if you go to Walden's website, and see their Florida dealer list, you'll see that they are avoiding my area like the plague - but I found a dealer close to a friend in NC, and he was kind enough to check it out for me.  Based on his evaluation, and my research online, I have decided that this is the best, most cost-effective instrument for my daughter.

But, buying blind is certainly something one should think long and hard about - reduce the risk any way you can...

It's a problem when no one in your area sells the guitar you'd like ot try out and that's why we sometimes buy without trying. It's not very practical to fly all over the country, trying out guitars...

Yep ... I tried for months to find a Seagull Maritime SWS QI locally.  I had cash in hand and was ready to buy, but nobody had one and nobody was willing to stock one.  I finally found a shop that sold Seagull and they had a Maritime SWS without  QI, but by that time, I'd decided that "open mic-ing" was going to be in my future, so long story short, they were also a Martin dealership and they had a nice Martin DCPA-4 with Fishman inside in stock ... I played it ... I bought it ... I love it.  But the sad fact is that I wanted a Seagull Maritime, or even a Seagull Artist and any Seagull dealer could have had my $1,000+ bucks if they'd just stocked what I was after. I'm just not paying 50% up front to order a guitar on spec and waiting weeks to finally get something that I may or may not like when it gets there.  Now thanks to Craiglst, I've got my Martin DCPA-4 and and I've got my Seagull Artist Mosaic QII as well, so it's all good in the end.  PS:  I drove 4 hours round trip to check out the Seagull Artist that was only $300.  It was worth the drive.

Sounds like it ended well.

hey Jud,

Now join us in the Martin Owners Group!

Thanks and congrats!  Edward

Edward ... Already there ...

I've been with you all along! 

Just a quick update:

Bought my daughter's guitar (a Walden T550) unseen/unplayed from "Hole in the Wood", an online Walden dealer in Cary, NC.  No Walden dealers close to me.  Setup perfectly, everything as expected/described.  But...

I DID ask a friend local to the area to go to "Hole in the Wood" and check out the guitar for me - that was key - I might have ordered it anyway, but with greater apprehension...

I truly believe not to buy a guitar unless you test drive it.  However, where I live, sometimes the guitar stores just don't have your model in and you have to take a chance.  I got burnt once.  I bought a BOULDER CREEK ECRM6-N and it was the worse piece of crap I ever bought.  I figured I'd get a cheap Koa.  It was cheap alright.  You get what you pay for.  It wasn't even set up properluy, couldn't stay in tune, was hard to tune, the fretboard and saddle where out of wack when it came to individual strings and set-up.  I played it like 6 times and sold it for $400.00 two months later.  I bought a Taylor Koa.   BIG, BIG DIFFERENCE: both in money and sound. 


I love Taylor's.  Have 4 and that is trul the only guitar I would ever consider buying without a test drive.


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