Used Instruments: A Buyer’s Guide

May 3, 2023

The benefits of playing music are valuable for both yourself and your children, but the price of new instruments can be a big hurdle. Thankfully, buying a second-hand or used instrument doesn’t have to be stressful, and doesn’t have to drain your bank account. And to make it even easier, we’ve got a few tips to help you find the right instrument for you.

What to Look For When Shopping for Used Instruments

One of the biggest difficulties with shopping for used instruments is that what you need to keep an eye out for depends on what the instrument is. With that in mind, we’ve broken down our advice by instrument:

Acoustic Guitar

The sound of an acoustic guitar comes from the instrument’s body, so that’s a great place to begin. Look over the body and neck to make sure there is no cracking or warping. Hold the guitar by the head and look down the neck to see if the wood has twisted. If there is any sign of warping, pass on the instrument.

Next, you’ll want to check on the tuners. You’ll want them to be solid, without any wobble. If they’re not strong enough you could be in for issues later on.

Next, inspect the frets for damage. You’ll be pushing down on their with a fair amount of force, so you’ll want to make sure there’s no chips or broken frets.

Electric Guitar/Bass

Most of the previous tips for acoustic guitars still apply here, but here you’ll want to pay special attention to the electronics.

The most important thing to look into when shopping for a used electric guitar or bass is that the pick-ups are working. These are the metallic circles that pick up the vibrations of the strings. If these aren’t working, the instrument isn’t working. You’ll need to plug the guitar into an amplifier to test the pick-ups.

Once you’ve got it hooked up to an amp, you’ll also want to check the jack, volume pots and switches, and listen for the changes. If there is a crackling sound when you turn the pots, or a continuous crackle as you move around while the cord is plugged in – or worse yet, there’s no sound at all – the electronics may need repair.


When it comes to used violins, finding the right size is important. For any student aged 12 and up, the standard 4/4 size should be fine. However, for anyone under 12 you may need some assistance to find the proper fit.

Assuming you’ve found something in the right size, you’ll next want to look for cracks in the wood. Keep an eye out for even the smallest cracks, as these can grow over time and degrade the sound of the instrument. From the body, move to the neck. Like with a guitar, it’s important to make sure there is no warping of the wood.

Next, look at the tuning pegs to see how easily they move. A violin that hasn’t been used in a while might be either stiff, or too easy to adjust. If they don’t improve after a few plays they may need to be looked at by a professional.

Finally, check that the included bow can be adjusted for tightness.


One of the benefits of the cello is that a well-built and -maintained one can last for decades! That means buying a used one can be just as good as a new one, at a hugely reduced cost.

Much of the advice for cellos mirrors our advice for violins, including checking the body and neck for warping, as well as checking the tuning pegs. Also just like violins, cellos come in a variety of sizes to best fit the player, so that’s a great place to start. Once you have the proper size, try playing it a little in the store. While some cellos may take a while to “warm up,” this will still offer you a chance to see how it sounds and feels.


The brass section, like trumpets, are a little easier to assess than stringed instruments. In fact, the main thing to look for is damage to the instrument. Rust, dents, and cracks can all be a big problem, and any brass instrument damaged in this way will be more trouble than it’s worth.

Scratches, on the other hand, do not affect the sound, so if you don’t mind a little damage to the finish, you should be good to go.


When it comes to woodwinds, the key element is the keys. You’ll want to make sure they can all close completely over their holes. If they don’t you wont have a strong sound. Check the pads for tears as well.

Look out for damage to the body of the instrument as well. Small dents and imperfections are usually okay, but larger ones will impact how the instrument sounds.


Start by testing out any drums you hope to buy. Some drums may need to be tuned, but even so, you ought to be able to hear any odd sounds that could prove the drums aren’t round. Drums that aren’t round can have issues with both sound and tuning.

When it comes to rust on the drums, a little is okay, but a lot is bad, so use your best judgement.

Finally, take note of any missing parts. You’ll almost certainly be able to replace anything that’s missing, but some parts are more expensive to replace than others.

In Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the kinds of things to look out for when shopping for used instruments – but it is a good starting place. Do your own research and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Another great place to begin is with your music teacher! All the instructors at The Music Studio are professional musicians with a wealth of first-hand knowledge! If you’re looking for a place to either begin, or continue a musical journey, consider The Music Studio’s programs for adults and children.