AUCTIONS: TEN TIPS FOR BIDDING
SAFELY ON YOUR DREAM GUITAR
© 1999 Jon Spear. All rights reserved
is changing the way a lot of folks do business, and the sale of musical
instruments is no exception. On-line auctions of musical equipment
and gear, in particular, could be the greatest thing since frets.
The variety of musical instruments available through on-line auctions
-- from rare vintage instruments to cheapo Asian knock-offs -- is
astonishing. But if youve spent more time toggling between pickups
than you have switching between websites, you may want to do some
homework before you start bidding.
enter the world of on-line auctions, it is important that you keep
in mind that most auction sites do nothing more than provide a forum
for individuals to sell items. Unlike a traditional auction house,
on-line auction companies usually dont take any steps to verify
that the item is accurately described or that it even exists. (Gibsons
auctions are a notable exception, with Gibsons luthiers inspecting
and authenticating each instrument).
had largely positive experiences with on-line purchases and auctions,
and have found some fabulous bargains but I know of others
who have not been as fortunate. Sometimes sellers have misrepresented
items (out of ignorance or by stretching the truth to the breaking
point), while bidders have sometimes flaked off and ignored their
legal obligation to make good on their bid. In fact, internet fraud
is serious and growing problem. According to the National Consumers
League, the number of reported internet fraud cases has leaped from
fewer than 1,000 in 1996 to nearly 8,000 in 1998 -- the overwhelming
majority of which (68%) involved internet auctions.
you make your first on-line bid, one web site you should definitely
visit is maintained by the National
Fraud Information Center (NFIC), which has a number of useful
steps you can take to avoid being the victim of internet fraud. One
of the points made by NFIC is that many consumer protection laws apply
only to businesses, NOT to sales between individuals. This makes it
even more important for you learn about protecting yourself before
something happens, rather than doing damage control later.
are some of my suggestions for avoiding problems while doing business
on the internet:
your time before bidding and be prepared to honor your bid.
Remember, once you bid, you are legally obligated to follow through
with the purchase. Failing to honor a bid is very unfair to the
seller and to the next-highest bidders, and it may also result in
your being on the wrong end of a legal action. The same is true
if you offer an item at auction and later renege on the high bidder.
One denizen of eBay who has bought and sold hundreds of instruments
online wrote me that he actually called a local police department
to deal with one party who delayed and made excuses about completing
a transaction as promised.
sure you understand the sellers return policies.
Is the product sold "as is" or does the description say
"all sales final"? If you want to be able to inspect the
item and return it if it does not meet your expectations, be sure
you reach this understanding with the seller. If you are buying
a new item, find out the warranty policy.
for your purchase by the safest way possible. -- Most people
who sell by auction want a cashiers check or money order, but some
will take credit cards. Your credit card company can reverse the
charge if you have a valid reason and the seller wont cooperate
in solving the problem. If you cant pay by credit card, try
using C.O.D. if it is convenient. Another alternative is to use
the escrow service now provided by a number of on-line auction sites,
under which the auction web site holds the payment and doesnt
release it to the seller until the buyer is satisfied. The National
Fraud Information Center says that when a seller demands cash, it
is a sure sign of fraud.
who youre dealing with. Some on-line auctions have
a system that allows buyers to rate sellers (and vice versa). This
way, you can see what others have said about a buyer or seller before
dealing with him or her. You may wish to avoid doing business with
people who have an unacceptable amount of "negative" feedback.
(Beware, however, that favorable feedback can be orchestrated and
faked!) Once you win a bid, make sure you get the name, actual street
address and telephone number of your seller. Dont deal with
people who wont provide this information. Dont get stuck
with canceled post box number. Check out merchants with the Better
common sense in dealing with first-time sellers. One common
scam is to open up one of those free 30-day trial internet accounts,
auction something off, get the money and then close the account.
Several auction sites have taken steps to prevent this scam by providing
information about how long a seller has been a "member"
and whether they have had previous sales. Amazon.com requires a
valid credit card number from anyone who wants to buy or sell via
their online auction site. You may want to consider using an escrow
system with first time sellers who have no feedback.
be afraid to ask the seller lots of questions. If a "new"
guitar seems surprisingly inexpensive, perhaps it is a factory second
or has a problem. Pictures can be tricky -- a guitar may be smaller
than standard, or a blurry photo may not reveal all the detail that
you need. Sometimes you will come across a seller who is selling
a guitar but professes to "know nothing about guitars"
or who is "selling this item for a neighbor." If sellers
are not able to answer my questions, I pass the item by no matter
how tantalizing it may seem unless they agree to an escrow arrangement
or make the sale subject to a satisfactory inspection.
buying from someone nearby Some auction sites identify
the geographic location of a seller, which may give you an opportunity
to prefer a seller who is close by as opposed to a distant one.
If you are comfortable doing business with a seller face-to-face,
you can avoid shipping costs (and the risk of a shipper committing
mayhem on your new-found prize!), and you will also have a chance
to inspect the item first-hand before you pay for it. If you have
a good relationship with a local music store where you regularly
do business, you could ask the seller to meet you there to get an
expert second opinion.
at what similar items have sold for in previous auctions. eBay
and several other auction sites have a feature where you can also
look at items that have been auctioned off in the past 30 days.
So, for example, you are interested in an Epiphone Sheraton or a
Gibson Blueshawk, you can search previous auctions to see how much
other successful bidders had to pay for similar items. You might
also see that a seller is re-auctioning the same item, which may
indicate a problem with the previous sale.
help if you think you are a victim of fraud. Auction sites have
significant expertise in dealing with con artists and may be able
to help. Amazon.com will reimburse you up to $250 if you are defrauded
on their auction sitean excellent safeguard. If the U.S. mail
was involved in any way in the fraudulent transaction, you can complete
Form 8165, Mail Fraud Complaint Questionnaire, which is available
at all post offices.
yourself on the products you are interested in. If youre
not an expert in older instruments or different models that have
been marketed over the years, you can increase the odds of making
a good purchase by educating yourself before bidding on vintage
or esoteric models. Several books I read to educate myself are:
The Ultimate Guitar Book (by Tony Bacon), The Electric
Guitar -- An Illustrated History (Paul Trynka, Editor); Classic
Guitars of the Fifties (introduction by Tony Bacon); and Amps!--The
Other Half of Rock n Roll (by Ritchie Fliegler).
is certainly no foolproof way of doing business on the internet, and
you may be hit by a scam despite your best efforts to be careful.
But your odds of avoiding trouble will be improved if you do your
homework and take a few, simple precautions.
the Author: Jon Spear (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
grew up during the 50s and 60s in Port Chester, New York,
where he taught himself how to play guitar. Early influences include
Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Duane Eddy, Link Wray and James Brown. His
teenage band opened for national groups such as the Isley Brothers
(Twist & Shout), the Angels (My Boyfriends Back) and Nino
and the Ebbtides (Juke Box Saturday Night). Gear at that time included
a Fender Jazzmaster and Showman he wishes he still had. He put aside
musical aspirations to attend college and law school in Washington,
D.C. where he worked as a senior congressional aide for over 20 years
(and couldnt resist an occasional open mic night). Today he
lives the Philadelphia area and works in Public Affairs for a major
pharmaceutical manufacturer. His current group -- known as Lost Coin
-- plays eclectic rock, and donates its services to worthy causes
and charitable fundraisers in the Cenral Jersey, SE Pennsylvania area.
In an effort to unlearn 40 years of bad guitar playing habits, Jon
is currently taking lessons from another onlinerock contributor, Harry