How To Buy Guitars At Auction
About 3 or 4 times each year, I go to a specialist guitar auction. It’s always a great experience, and so I’d thought it would be worth talking about how to buy guitars at auction.
Research Before The Guitar Auction
A typical musical instrument auction will have around 400 or so lots. While it’s impossible to research each lot, you really should have some knowledge on the lots you might bid on.
By research I mean a few things. You will want to try to understand how the auction house has arrived at the guide price. You’ll also want to know something about the current market price is for the guitar, fx pedal, or amp, you might bid on. Plus you’ll want to work on your ego.
An item’s guide price is usually affected by three things. Firstly, what the seller is hoping to achieve as a cash value. This is often the biggest determining factor both in the starting price and whether an item sells or not.
Secondly, the auction house may want to start at a lower price and work up as items are more likely to sell if they seem cheap. Most auction houses work on commission only and therefore need to sell items to stay in business.
Lastly where the market is for that peculiar item. As interest rate remain low, people who are sat on some cash are looking for other ways to make a return. Some are investing in classic cars – a market which keeps getting pricier by the day. While others are investing in classic guitars as the market will keep rising as certain years of guitars are no longer made and are in short supply.
Current guitar market
Even if you plan on purchasing a squire guitar or a Boss pedal, you will need to have an appreciation of where the market is. This will help you to pay a fair value for the item and ensure that if you have to resell in the near future that you don’t lose money. I know some of you will be saying, but Ashley, My guitar is worth x – sorry but it’s worth whatever someone will pay for it!
I’ve personally held on to vintage pedals in the belief that they are worth twice what they ended up sell for. Of course, it’s ignorance on my part and bad judging where the market is for those pedals. You can learn more about the demand for an item by seeing how many are for sale and the price at which they are for sale on eBay, facebook, reverb and more.
Now me talking about ego might seem a little weird but hang in there. Ego in an auction situation can be the difference between getting a good deal and overpaying massively. Keeping your ego under control is vital. If you’ve done your homework on the items which take your fancy and you know what they’re worth, and you control your ego then it’s likely you’ll walk away with a good deal or save yourself from ruin.
What To Look For
If you attend specialist musical instrument auctions, chances are they’ll have a website with super large images which will show an accurate the condition of the finish, hardware, marks, etc. This is really helpful, as you’ll be able to see if it’s worth doing the research into the current market price or not based on the condition presented in the photos.
So with your rough idea of what to look for on the day, you’ll know where to start looking in order to maximise your time. It’s advisable to get to the auction at least an hour before. This will give you plenty of time to try, inspect and start to read the room.
Do look at all the guitars you’d like to purchase, don’t get too overly excited as you might start a pricing war with someone who has deeper pockets. Do check the condition of each item, does it match their description? Is the paint finish better or worse than the picture? Will it require a tech to work on it – if so how much will you have to spend on it?
Auction Bidding (aka holding your breath)
While this ties into what we talked about with ego, there are a few practical things to consider. Firstly, know your limits – if a guitar is only worth $200 then learn to sit on your hands. Also, don’t place the first bid unless the auctioneer has reduced the price and no one looks like they will bid. If your too quick to place the first bid, then someone might come in and have some fun pushing up the price for you. If it looks like no one will bid then be a little cheeky and shout what you think is a fair price. I recently did this and got a great deal on two EHX pedals.
The golden rule really is, unless what you are bidding on is rare or unique, you can usually find something similar at a more reasonable price after some research. Don’t over pay because your ego got in the way!
What you’ll actually pay
You’ve just got the deal of the century. A guitar you’ve wanted your whole life will be yours. You go to pay but the price is way more than the hammer price. What’s happened?!
Here’s the thing, you will pay commission and in some cases tax on the hammer price. At the specialist auction I attend, this adds up to 22%. This is split 20% on the auction houses’ commission and 2% sales tax (well, VAT in the UK). So as a rule of thumb, if you purchase a guitar for $100, you’ll actually pay $122. This figure is usually stated in promotional material and at the start of the auction.
A few dos and some don’ts. Do check out who’s there and try to read the room. Are they collectors with a lot of cash and therefore will only be looking at the really expensive stuff. Are they traders, who have a shop or sell on eBay? With these folk, they are likely to bid on cheaper items, control their ego and purchase at a fair price to lock in their eventual profit.
Do get involved in the social aspect. Not everyone at a guitar auction will buy, some are just there to meet other players. Don’t irritate anyone, especially the auctioneer!
Hidden auction gems
If you’ve read about my Peavey Rockingham guitar then you’ll know my student found the guitar at auction. He got it for an amazing deal for a few reason. Firstly that auction house isn’t online and so you have to turn up to see what’s there and bid. This decreases the amount of potential buyers. Secondly they are a general auction and not a specialist musical instrument auction. You can usually find hidden gems at auction if you’re smart and look where the majority of people won’t! Happy Bidding!