Buying a Pawnshop Guitar

My Pawn shop guitar

Several years ago as I often do, I ventured into a local pawn shop to look for low hanging fruit or a diamond in the rough. I look for the best pawn shop guitars. It is always an adventure and buyer beware.

It was early December and I should have been shopping for family and friends. At this particular time, they were featuring two acoustic guitars. They were on guitar stands on the counter. Two pretty pawn shop guitars for sale.

The first one I tried out was a nice looking acoustic with a glossy finish. I looked it over carefully for cracks in the wood, fingerboard, neck, body, and headstock. I played different strings in various positions to see if any of the frets were pulled up and causing a buzz.

I picked it up and looked down the neck as if siteing a gun to make sure the neck was straight. I looked for glued joints to see if any were pulling apart. I picked the harmonic at the twelfth fret and then pressed the string and played it. If the note is much higher it would indicate a high action. I looked inside to see if the grain on the inside matched the outside grain. This would indicate laminated or solid wood. Laminated wood in the body of a guitar does not mean it is a bad guitar and actually is stronger and more crack-resistant. The soundboard should be solid wood and can be detected by looking for a paint strip on the inside of the sound hole used to cover the laminate.

Everything checked out so I just did some picking and enjoyed the pawn shop guitar. After some time I decided to check the other guitar. It was jumbo size with a matte finish. I went through the same process of checking things out and outside of a couple of what seemed to be water spots, it checked out well also.

I started to play and it had a slim neck, the fingering was easy and the sound was rich. The large body gave a nice deep sound to the base notes. They said it was mahogany but I said to myself this is Indian rosewood, both sought after but rosewood a little
more. They were asking $500 and I couldn’t spend that much on myself at Christmas time.
NickFreeths-directory-of-guitarsThey said they would negotiate but I decided as much as I liked the pawn shop guitar, that I would go home. When I got home I decided to look in my copy of Nick Freeth’s” Illustrated Directory of Guitars” to see what I could find.

Much to my surprise “Wechter” was in the book. He had been a luthier for Gibson before he went on his own. He is dedicated to get quality guitars in the hands of the people that play guitar. My best guess is that this guitar was $800 new and it was lightly used.

The next day I went back to the pawn shop to buy my “pawn shop guitar”. I would not let them know how much I wanted it. I was glad to see it was still there. The lady had told me that all the guitar players start with the glossy guitar and then go to “my Jumbo” and they don’t go back. She said make me an offer I said the best I could do was $300. She countered with $400 and I said I just couldn’t, it would be taking gifts away from my kids. She said let me go in the back and see what I can do.

I waited with baited breath. She came back and said the lowest we’ll go is $350 and I took the deal. Pawn shop guitar prices vary and you can find some “low hanging fruit”, but buyer beware and look it over. Unless you pay extra at this pawn shop there are no returns.

I have now had this guitar for several years and it is my main acoustic. For two years I used it in a church worship band. When I bought it the electric pickup wasn’t working and I thought it was a bad battery. I didn’t check it out because I thought it was a good deal without a pickup. It turned out it was a low battery and the pickup works fine. It took many trips to find this pawn shop guitar but I always enjoy the experience.

Keep on Picken,

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4 thoughts on “Buying a Pawnshop Guitar

  • December 5, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    It’s true that you do need to be aware of whether the pawn shop has a return policy or not. It could be a pretty costly mistake to buy something that is totally broken and you can’t take it back. I’ll have to remember your tips the next time I buy something from the pawn shop.

    • December 5, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      Hi Sam, when shopping at a pawn shop it is buyer beware but if you do your own due diligence you can find a gem for a good price. The tips I gave are good for new guitar shops also. Thank you for commenting.

  • March 29, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for telling the story of your pawn shop guitar Marty.

    Not only is it an interesting tale, you have given us some great tips on how to check out a used instrument. Not only in pawn shops but in guitar shops and places like Graigslist too. Very good information!

    Could you explain exactly what a “high action” is and how it effects playability? I saw it mentioned in the post but I don’t really understand the term.

    Thank you,

    • March 29, 2016 at 10:27 am

      Hi Tom, thanks for stopping by. The action on guitar refers to the distance between the strings and the fretboard. The ideal action would be to have the strings as low as possible without buzzing or getting fret noise. On acoustic guitars, the action can be changed at the bridge and the nut. High action makes it more difficult to play and can cause hand problems. Often this is caused by a bowed neck. If the neck is not bowed too much and it has an adjustable neck it can be corrected. An adjustable neck has a metal rod that runs through it. Inside the soundhole where the neck meets the guitar the is a bolt that can be turned to adjust the lengthen the rod and straighten the neck. You must be careful to not crack the neck. This should probably be done by an experienced repair person.

      I play slide as well as regular guitar, so my action is a little higher to prevent the slide from “fretting out” (when the slide hits the frets making noise). My Dean resonator guitar is used more with the slide and the action is a little higher than normal.


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