I’m a big fan of budget equipment. I honestly enjoy digging around and researching all kinds of lower end gear. It’s really awesome when you manage to find something amazing that does exactly what you need, especially when it doesn’t break the bank. This is how I found the Tascam US-16×08 and the 12 Step.
That being said, there is something that’s even better than new budget equipment: buying second hand.
Over the past little while I’ve been trying to put the brakes on buying brand new stuff. Especially when it comes to music (both playing and recording). It’s easy to get caught up in all the new gear and I’m just as guilty as the next person. The more I think about it, the more I realize that buying new has its downsides, especially if you’re just starting out. And while there are a few arguments against buying new these days (quality isn’t what it used to be, not enough new features, to many new features, where it’s made) there is one major item that is always at the front of most peoples minds…
Money is always the first consideration when buying anything. Stuff costs money and prices go up depending on what you’re looking for and how “pro” you want/need.
To start with, let’s look at guitars. Brand new, decent starter guitars are only a couple of hundred dollars and good amps can be had for about the same. Other than a patch cord, a shoulder strap and a handful of pics, that’s all you need. Sure, guitar equipment can definitely become expensive. Pedals, for instance are a big offender, but you don’t need pedals to when you’re starting out, just like you don’t need a Gibson Les Paul Standard 1958 Reissue when you’re still fumbling around trying to figure out how to change to a second chord without messing it up 1.
Then there are drums. Sure you can buy cheap, new “complete” kits but these start at about $500 and are sometimes not worth the price; I’ve found that cheap guitars are usually a better deal than a cheap beginner drum kit. For example, you’ll most likely end up craving new cymbals. The cheap cymbals that come with budget brand drum kits are paper thin. Not only do they sound like trashcan lids, they bend and break really easily.
As you get better with your instrument, the time comes where want to upgrade and/or add to your equipment. For guitar, now is the time to buy pedals or maybe look at getting a mid-range name brand, or a higher end model from subsidiary brand 2. For drums you’ll maybe want a more responsive kick pedal, better drum skins, more stands and cymbals… the list goes on.
There are also hidden items to consider with such as noise. Most guitar amps have a headphone plug, so that’s ok. Drums, however, don’t have this so you’ll need to put aside some cash for damping pads. Also consider that there are no real hacks with drums; you can’t boil your drum heads in a water/vinegar solution to freshen up the sound when you’re short on cash.
Recording is similar. Microphones can be expensive. Decent interfaces are expensive. Let’s not even get into the computer horsepower you need to record anything more than four or five tracks without everything freezing up. You get the idea.
Don’t get me wrong. Looking at brand new equipment is fun. There is that feeling of buying something that’s shiny, untouched, and comes in its original packaging. You’re the first person to own this. It has a warrantee. It is… whatever else you tell yourself.
You can spend a good amount of money buying anything new. So why not spend that same amount, or a little less, and get something from the next level up? Most all of the equipment you buy second hand is in good condition and you pretty much know what you’re getting.
There are two main avenues: Personal sales like Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace 3 and second hand music stores (this can include pawn shops). Let’s start with the former.
The Local Jam: Kijiji/Facebook Marketplace/Craigslist.
While dealing with local people people selling things can be a mild pain in the ass, there is usually room to haggle. Some sellers are set on whatever price they have listed – and they’re normally the people who are asking absurd amounts for what they’re selling anyway … “Bought new ten years ago for $500. Makes a weird noise when plugged in. Power cord not included. $480 firm!”.
Most people though will negotiate price. For example:
Scenario 1: Someone wanted to learn how to play the drums. So they go out and buy a nice, mid-range shell and hardware pack, a decent cymbal kit, a few pairs of sticks, maybe a cowbell, and so on. This ends up costing them $1500. They try it out for a month or two and then decide to give it up. The drums sit unused, taking up space. Finally they figure it’s to get rid of them and put everything up on Kijiji for $900. Not many people want a drum set in their house so the ad sits there for nearly six months. You can probably haggle them down to $700 (maybe $600 if they’re desperate).
Scenario 2: Someone is already a pretty accomplished drummer. They have an older Zidjian Planet Z ride cymbal they paid $120 for and is in excellent shape. They decide that it’s time to upgrade to an S Medium ride so they put the old ride up on Kijiji for $80. Not a bad deal at all. And you can probably haggle them down to $60 if the ad stays up for a few months.
As an example, I managed to pick up a super budget set of drums for free from someone in the neighbourhood. It’s a 5 piece Intex that they had bought for their son as he wanted to learn to play. He stuck with it so they helped him upgrade to a better kit and simply wanted to get rid of the old kit.
It came with paper thin hi-hats and a crash, which were warped and bent beyond use, and a snare that needed a new strainer. I started out by picking up some new, items (bargain basement straight cymbal stand that was on sale, and a “no box, floor model” hi-hat stand) and the rest was second hand: a snare that Mez was trying to get rid of on Kijiji but getting no bites. A 20″ Zidjian Planet Z ride ($60) and a set of Zildjian ZBT hi-hats ($50). I spent the summer on Kijiji looking for a good, used crash for under $100 but nothing was coming up so I ended up buying a new Sabian B8 18″ that was on sale for $70.
The kit is nowhere near gig ready, but neither am I. It is a great practice kit and I’m using it to learn how to record drums (if I can get a good sound on a shitty kit, then I’m already ahead when Opium Winter decides to record the next batch of tunes). Why spend thousands of dollars on something that I may not even be playing in a years time?
There are, of course, cons to purchasing things from Kijiji. The main one is OMG people are frustrating. For every few items I’ve bought there is one where the seller can’t commit to a date and keeps cancelling. Or where I’ve shown up and they’ve already sold the item. People can be assholes about price; if you even mention a lower price, they lose their minds on you. I could go on and on but I’m sure those of you out there who have tried to buy and sell locally know what I’m talking about.
In short, do your research on the item you’re looking at, be careful, and determined and you can usually find gold.
Kijiji Tip: If you click on an item that seems too good to be true, check to see if the seller has other items and check them out. If that Pearl Sensitone snare drum they have listed for $100 is the only bit of musical equipment they have for sale (in amongst tires, weird ceramic figurines, and kooky oil paintings), then chances are they don’t know what they have and you can talk them down even more. Even if you can’t you just found a Pearl Sensitone for $100
Second Hand Stores.
This bit will be short because there’s not as much to cover. That being said, I do loves me some local second hand music stores. While you can’t really haggle on price, you can sell or trade equipment; you normally get a better return on trade-ins. You can take your time and browse and you can try out a variety of, say, bass guitars before you make a decision. Our local place even offers a 6 month warrantee on store owned goods and a 24 hours “inspection period” for consignment items.
These stores are normally owned by gearheads who know their stuff. For the most part they’re all good people. Sure there is always that one know it all, but the ratio of helpful people to douchebags is better than it is at corporate owned music stores.
Another option are pawn shops but, to be honest, I’ve never purchased anything from them. Hell, I haven’t even been on one in over ten years. Your mileage may vary. You can also check out the local thrift stores, but I’ve never, ever found anything worthwhile music wise in these places.
It’s Good For Everyone
No matter if you call it Used, Second Hard, or Pre-Owned, you should definitely consider this as an option no matter what you’re looking for. While I do mention new budget items, and they do have their place, second hand is what should be seriously considered when purchasing equipment.
In then end, you’re not only saving money, you’re giving an item a new life. You’re also helping others clear out things they don’t want or don’t need. You’re avoiding sending things to the landfill or to some storage space where it will linger and rot.
In the end, everyone wins.
1: Yes, there are those who have to have to have all the best equipment. Experience has shown me that, for the most part, these people don’t know how to play (and simply cannot jam) and are normally trying to imitate someone else’s sound.
2: Example of a good subsidiary would be Epiphone, who are owned by Gibson. The low range models can be pretty junky, but their mid-range and high end offerings are really very decent.
3: I left out Reverb.com and eBay from this post for a few reasons. Fist up, I find Reverb.com to be expensive and more than a little snobby. It seems like a gearhead marketplace where people are trying to unload boutique items while trying to recoup as close to the full purchase price as possible. Second, eBay is eBay. Third, when buying online you don’t get the chance to see, hold, and test the item out and you have to trust the person on the other side isn’t sending you a piece of broken junk. And finally, shipping will drive the price up so much you’ll wonder why you’re ordering second hand in the first place. The only time I’d recommend these sites is if you’re looking for something very specific.