Used and vintage acoustic guitars can be your best friend or worst enemy. Obviously nothing is more important than how the guitar sounds and feels in your hands, but here are a few tips to make sure the guitar is in good structural shape.
Bridge and Saddle – The first thing I look at when I am considering buying a guitar for my shop is the bridge. I make sure that it’s flush against the top of the guitar and not lifting or cracked. There should be no space anywhere between the bottom of the bridge and the top of the guitar. Use a metro card, and try to slide it under the bridge if you are not sure. Once you’ve made sure the bridge is in good shape, check the saddle to make sure that there is some room to lower it if you want to. If the saddle is all the way down, it can be a sign that the neck angle may be a problem.
Neck Angle & Neck Joint – The neck angle on any guitar is very important, and will determine if the guitar can be properly set up. Sight the guitar from the headstock to the bridge. The top of the fret board should make a straight line to the top of the bridge and the bottom and the saddle. The neck should be straight or mostly straight with just a slight amount of relief. Check the neck joint, and make sure the neck is tightly glued into the body. Any space between the neck and body is a big problem.
Braces – Forgetting to check the braces can be a costly mistake. Tap the top and back of the guitar lightly with your knuckle. A loose brace will rattle if you tap the wood above it.
Frets – Make sure that the frets are smooth and level, and don’t have indentations or divots in them, and that there’s enough height to the frets to grind and polish the divots if you need to. Usually, you can tell if the frets need work just by playing the guitar. Play a chromatic scale up the neck on every string, and make sure every fret sounds clean without buzzing or fretting out.
Cracks – Look the guitar over for open cracks. Old acoustic guitars can often have cracks in the body. In general, if the cracks are properly repaired, there isn’t much to worry about. If the guitar has any cracks, gently push down on the crack, and make sure that there is no movement. In general, body cracks are much less worrisome than neck cracks. If the guitar has a neck or headstock crack, just make sure it was repaired well, and ask for $100 off the price because it affects the value. – Sam Taylor (Southside Guitars, Brooklyn)