Geekageddon II: Ramblings on buying a used Tele

In the last major-geek out 93 Types of Telecaster post, I tried to work out, based on specs, what are the best value guitars in the Squier/Fender Telecaster range. After reviewing that post I created a new category for the blog called ‘geek out’. If you’re not in the throes of a mid-life crisis that sees you spending those last moments before you go to sleep at night obsessing about guitars, you’re likely to find this boring. Even if you do you might find this boring. I don’t promise anything! But I just have to get this stuff off my chest.

But if you’re still with me (fellow guitar geeks) and you’re sitting comfortably, let’s proceed.

In the analysis of the new Telecaster options, my conclusions were (for those that fell asleep at the back):

–          I don’t place particular value on country of origin, although it may well be that the better guitars may be produced in the more ‘expensive’ countries

–          I don’t think I should pay more for ‘better’ pickups. It seems impossible to judge the relative value of Fender stock pickups and it seems that they are easy and relatively inexpensive to upgrade[1]

–          I believe the biggest drivers of value are the body material (needs to be ash/alder) and possibly finish (ideally nitro)

–          Based on the above, the Squiers appear to be poor choices, as do the more expensive Fender USA models

–         Conclusion: On paper at least, the best value guitars seem to be the Fender MIM Standard and the Fender USA Highway One

The above comes with the caveat that I am on a ‘journey of discovery’ (i.e. I don’t really know what I am talking about) and that I know that in the end  I’ll base my choice on buying the guitar I like most within budget.

But in the meantime I’m going to get my geek on.

Used price must in some way be related to new

The last geek out post listed the ‘list’ or ‘street’ price for the guitars in the table and this warrants some explanation as this is neither the manufacturer’s recommended price nor what you should actually pay for a new guitar.

There appear to be three levels of pricing for guitars bought from regular on-line or bricks’n’mortar retailers, at least here in US.

  • MSRP: Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. As quoted on the manufacturer’s website. Always looks really stupidly high. Its function seems to be to allow retailers to quote a lower ‘discounted’ price.
  • List or ‘Street’ Price. This is what a guitar store will put on the hang tag and quote on its website. Always substantially below MSRP. Hey you’re getting a huge discount!
  • What you actually pay. Guitar Center very regularly have coupons which they send out by email which usually give a 15% discount off of list. Of course, on top of that you have to pay sales tax. Where I live that is 9%. So the out-of-the-door price on a guitar is probably about 7% below list. However, you might be able to do better than this, especially on high ticket items[2].

Discount Sites

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s possible to get a new guitar even cheaper. A site called Hello Music buys bulk quantities of musical gear and then offers them as daily deals. They don’t appear to charge sales tax[3] and the charge for shipping is nominal or free. Last year one day they had a Fender American Standard Tele for about $800 if I recall correctly – at least a 20% discount below typical list price. This must be the cheapest way possible to get a new instrument. However, the downsides are that I have no idea when they will next promote a Tele again and when they do they will only offer one type (no choice of options or even colour) plus I won’t be able to play it before I get it.

Used Value

Like anything else, used guitars are worth what the market decides – what people in general are prepared to pay for them. If you buy and sell guitars on a regular basis, you can come to a good understanding of market prices. But what if you’re a noob like me who has never bought a used guitar before[4]?

I don’t want to be a sucker, so I want to try and work out fair value is for a used guitar.

Clearly a used guitar (not vintage!) is worth less than the equivalent new. Even for a guitar in good condition, the manufacturer’s warranty is usually not transferable, the body and neck will collect (hopefully minor) nicks and dings, connections come lose, hardware can corrode, a setup or more drastic repair work may be necessary.

There is also additional risk in buying used. I can’t be 100% sure it’s not a fake or stolen or that critical components or hardware have been swapped out, or that there is some major flaw or damage that will only reveal itself after I get it home.

All of these things reduce the value of the guitar relative to new – but by how much? Looking on Craigslist is not much help as different sellers will have different initial pricing strategies. I could track auctions of used guitars on eBay and may yet still do that, but I don’t have that info to hand right now.

One good reference I do have however is that Guitar Center seems to discount their shopworn guitars (those with a visible ding) by about 20%. Last time I was in, they had a Fender MIM Tele (I forget which type) reduced from $499 to $399. It had a deep ding in the body finish about the size of half a Coke bottle cap. So I’d expect  a used guitar, exhibiting some cosmetic ware (but otherwise in good shape and with all original components and accessories) to be no more expensive than this – 20% below list, i.e. having the same price discount as shop-worn Guitar Center instruments. But then I would also expect the used guitar to be discounted a little further to account for the increased risk relative to buying new. I’m going to use this as a guide to an initial assessment of fair value should be.

I’m going to say 30% below list for a guitar in good condition, with only minor cosmetic ware and no major issues.

So this allows me to update the table with all of this pricing info. Tah-dah!

New vs Used Tele Pricing


List Price (new)[5]

GC out-of-the-door (new)[6]

Hello Music (new)[7]

Fair Value (used)[8]

Squier Affinity





Squier Vintage Modified Special





Squier Classic Vibe 50s





Fender Standard (MIM)





Fender FSR Standard (MIM)





Fender Classic Series ’50s (MIM)





Fender Highway One





Fender Classic Series Baja





Fender American Standard (cheapest)





Fender American Standard (most expensive)





[1] This hunch has been corroborated by a quick discussion on the excellent Telecaster forum

[2] I bought a relatively high end acoustic from Guitar Center last year. I got the 15% coupon and also got them to sweeten the deal still further with some ‘case candy’; spare strings, a stand, a capo, a Snark tuner

[3] You should of course declare that on your tax return to the IRS

[4] This is not strictly true. I bought a used bass in about 1988 and sold it while at university a few years later. I don’t remember how I did on the deal

[5] Guitar Center website

[6] With 15% coupon and 9% tax

[7] Estimate of Hello Music pricing – if and when they offer a Tele as a daily deal. Includes $9 shipping

[8] 30% below list


2 thoughts on “Geekageddon II: Ramblings on buying a used Tele

  1. Pingback: Middle-Aged British Male Succumbs to Guitar Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) in Scottsdale AZ | axestogrind

  2. Pingback: Project Telecaster: Would a Partscaster make sense? | axestogrind

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