Studio gear can be expensive, but it can also be quite addictive. So with so many vintage pieces out there and bargains galore to be had, the secondhand route can be a great way to get deals. But it does have problems – or not, if you follow these tips…
1. Maybe buy new!
Come on, let’s face it, we all like buying studio gear – but it can be (and usually is) more expensive than we’d like it to be. The first thing to determine before you buy secondhand is that the gear you are looking for is really a used bargain. That is: can you actually get it, or its equivalent new, for not a lot more (or even less) money? In the music-production world there are some great pieces of vintage gear to be had, often at extortionate prices. This has meant that many companies are now producing great hardware emulations of this classic gear at a fraction of the cost of the secondhand originals, meaning buying new is probably a better route. So there are some superb hardware emulations of classic gear from companies including Warm Audio and Lindell, while companies such as Neumann have started production of their classic mics again so you can buy the vintage gear… new!
2. Consider the software alternative
Got a vintage hardware synth or compressor on your mind? Want to slot it in your studio? Well, how’s about getting its software equivalent instead? Pretty much every piece of classic studio hardware (and a load of gear that will never considered classic, for that matter) can be had in software. Okay, it’s not the same thing as holding and using a piece of vintage loveliness… but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper and the results are often as good as the real thing.
3. Set a budget
Okay, we hear you, you want the real thing, and software is not an option. In that case, set yourself a budget. Find out how much your target item sells for in a variety of stores – that is by private seller, by shop, by online retailer or by online auction site – and fix a budget based on the prices you’re prepared to pay. Try and stick to this budget when visiting specialist stores. Prepare to haggle to stay within your budget when you are face-to-face in a shop (secondhand often has a higher margin, which the retailer can play with) and when bidding online, stick to your guns. You will eventually get what you want, within a reasonable budget (unless you’re after a Yamaha CS-80, that is – in which case, prepare to sell your house or kids…)
“Not all people are criminals and you will get a bargain”
4. Ask to see and ask again
It’s always good to ask questions about specific items on auction sites before buying. Are all the keys and pots in good condition? Are there any scratches? Can you see photos if this is the case? Generally, sellers are only too pleased to be honest about something like this, in order to avoid returns issues down the line – but do ask the question if it’s not been made clear. First, though, check to see if the same question has been asked before – sellers can get frustrated by people asking the same question before checking. And, of course, there’s nothing better than actually trying so…
5. Try it out before buying
Probably the most important tip here is to try something out before buying it. In a specialist shop, this is easy, as you are right there in front of it. With an online auction site, it’s considerably less straightforward. If the buyer lives close by, of course you should ask to try the gear out. If they’re far away, ask for a demo over Skype, or a video of it in use. If you part with your cash and your gear doesn’t work down the line, you may not be covered. Which leads us nicely to…
6. Check out the returns policy
Successfully returning gear if it doesn’t work and getting a refund can be hit-and-miss affair, particularly if you’re buying it from an ad placed in a local paper or a shop window and then said item goes wrong a day or two later. Buy a piece of old gear from a shop and you’ll often get some kind of timed guarantee, often three months rather than the year you will get as standard for something new. Buying through sites such as Amazon is also easy, as they tend to favour the buyer and refunds are simple. Specialist gear sites like reverb.com have very comprehensive rules for both buyers and sellers that should keep returns difficulties to a minimum. Whatever your buying outlet, check its returns policy.
7. Get to know the gear and the buyer
Researching the gear you are buying is essential. What does it tend to sell for? What problems are associated with it secondhand? But also, take time to get to know the history of the actual item you’re considering in a shop or auction. How much has it been used? Has it been gigged? Or just used in a studio or (hopefully) hardly used at all? By getting to know the gear, you’ll get to know the seller a little too, and hopefully gain a level of trust. An obvious point: be sure that they have a good reputation, too – most sites like Amazon and eBay have seller ratings, so you can gauge their selling history.
“You’ll have an awkward goodbye to deal with, but you’ll save money in the long run”
8. Get the gear in person… if you can
If you’re buying certain items – that CS-80 again – you’ll need to check shipping details carefully, as it might be impossible to have it sent by conventional means. Sending gear can be costly, too, so make sure that it’s clear who is paying. The best solution is to go and pick the gear up yourself, as it allows you to try it out before parting with your cash, although if something’s wrong with it, you’ll have a wasted journey on your hands and a slightly awkward goodbye to deal with. But what the heck, you’ll have saved in the long run…
9. Get the transit insured… and check it
Not enough sellers make the most of the option to get gear insured while in transit betwixt seller and buyer, or at least they don’t make it clear whether this is covered in the shipping price. So make sure it’s clear who is paying for it, as insurance cover is essential for a lot of the more fragile secondhand items. If insurance is not included in the seller’s shipping fee, then ask to go halves or for them to pay. And when the gear arrives, check the packaging for item damage while the courier is with you. You can make claims later, but if the item turn up in a few pieces, refuse to accept it.
10. Don’t worry, count your savings
There will always be nightmare stories that circulate about buying secondhand gear – unfortunately, stolen goods are all-too common and there are always going to be scammers out there – but try and proceed with honesty and dignity. Be friendly, be open and you’ll get the same back. Not all people are criminals, and you will end up with a bargain if you’re persistent and follow the rest of the tips here. Make the effort to be just as good when you’re selling your item on, and you’ll find that what goes comes around and the world will be a happier place. Oh yes it will…