Bulletin Board: My thoughts on cracked instruments from eBay Close Window   

Original Post By: NinaC Date: 10/7/2007 9:58:23 AM   (Updated: 10/7/2007 10:10:07 AM)
Hokeypokey's experience with unexpectedly getting a cracked instrument made me think about sharing some tips with the board about my own experiences buying vintage instruments on eBay over the last year and a half. Just a few basics:
1. Some sellers honestly don't know how to detect cracks or evaluate how serious they are.
2. It's not uncommon to get a vintage instrument with cracks that was advertised as crack-free. In fact, I'd say it's about 50/50 or more, in my own experience and in that of friends.
3. Some unscrupulous sellers advertise as crack-free and then try to blame shipping for the cracks. Good luck trying to resolve issues with these sellers, it's often fruitless and frustrating.
4. Many if not most cracks are no big deal and can be fixed.

My advice:
1. Assume that any vintage instrument you buy from eBay will probably have some issues and tailor your bid price accordingly.
2. Be very wary of sellers who offer poor quality pictures. Ask for more pictures and better pictures if possible.
3. Sellers inexperienced in instruments often don't know enough to evaluate flaws correctly. Many make honest mistakes.
4. Find out if a seller has a return policy/offers an evaluation period.
5. Buy from known reputable sources if you can.

Four of the nicest vintage ukes I own all have cracks that were unreported or underreported on eBay, but I got great deals on them and they play beautifully. I recently bought a nice old Gibson that was advertised as having one minor back hairline crack. In fact, it has two major cracks, one so big you can see sunlight through it. It can be fixed...the top is minty and crack-free and the ukulele otherwise is great. But it was not the bargain I anticipated in that I now have to fix a cracked back and add that to the price I paid. It was still a good deal, but once I add the price of fixing these back cracks to what I paid, it might have been just as good to find a nice issue-free or repaired instrument from a dealer.

Vintage instruments are a lot like vintage cars in that they are deceptively tempting for the coolness factor, but often have problems under the hood. I think if someone wants to be guaranteed a minty vintage instrument without big issues, or an instrument described honestly and as accurately as possible, they'll need to buy from reputable dealers or from players we know here on FMM, and sometimes that carries a modest premium. Or, you can roll the dice on eBay and take your chances. Just know that you can just as easily roll snakeyes as a seven, even if you buy a lot of instruments online.
Posted By: Hipster44 Date: 10/7/2007 11:09:16 AM
Nancy, thanks for the great advice. I know I'm
always leery of the ukes I see on eBay and from
the feedback from others it's got to be a
concern for everyone. LOL...at least I don't
feel all alone.:)
Posted By: Diesel Date: 10/7/2007 11:57:14 AM
Good advice for anyone, anytime and any(Market)place - not just Ebay.
Posted By: shawn Date: 10/7/2007 1:04:33 PM
Aloha NinaC,

I coudn't agree with you more. Ebay can be a great place to shop but sometimes the rarity of the instrument gets the better of me and I bid nonetheless but if there are poor photos I usually too try to request some better ones as well.

Upon occasion we've all come across those sellers who opts not to take some new shots and send them over before the auction ends. That's where the tough choices come in. I, personally, try to steer clear of bidding on these auctions. It's one thing for the sellers to know about the relative condition of an instrument and be able to communicate that to the interested ebay parties but an entirely seperate thing to not comply with follow-up photos. You need not be a professional to get some clean shots. In cases like these it's sometimes better to shut down your computer and walk away.

Takes a bit of discipline though and sometimes I too can't help myself.....

Posted By: NinaC Date: 10/7/2007 1:41:31 PM   (Updated: 10/7/2007 1:42:10 PM)
It is hard, Shawn. In most cases, I've found that even if it's something I really want, there will likely be another coming along at some point, so it's better to walk away and try again later when the odds look better.

Another couple things I forgot to mention: pay attention to the seller's communication. If they are difficult or blow you off, then you can't expect much better if you have an issue. And also, definitely read feedback. Don't rely on the percentage (unless it's 100), read why the person got bad feedback, and just scan the feedback for the past six months to see if there are positive marks yet tactfully constructive comments. A lot of times if a seller has a tendency to pack badly or misrepresent condition, it will often show up in the feedback more than once.
Posted By: allenhopkins Date: 10/7/2007 2:10:11 PM
A few (possibly relevant) experiences:
[1] Polk-A-Lay-Lee: for those who don't know, it's a nearly four-foot-long "surfer uke," with a serpentine neck extension ending in a point. Bought one on eBay for a reasonable price, but the point of the neck broke off in shipping. Got a repair estimate, contacted the seller, and they sent me a check to cover repairs. A-1!
[2] Howe-Orme mandolinetto (small uke-shaped mandolin): serious issues described by the eBay seller, who said it would never be more than a "wall hanger." Bought if for $150 or so, spent $200 geting it restored (neck reset, etc.), and now it plays very well, thank you, and is worth substantially more than purchase price plus repairs.
[3] Regal Octofone (large mandolin-type instrument): bought from Bernunzio for less than $200, "on sale." I was told it had a headstock repair. The repair came apart, and fixing it cost another $100. Now it's right about market value.

When an instrument is rare, there's a great temptation to snap up the first one available. If you know the market, and can guesstimate whether you'd be financially OK if you had to drop a couple hundred into getting the instrument into shape, then taking a flier on a sight-unseen eBay purchase may be the only way to get your Polk-A-Lay-Lee. But I concur fully with Nancy's points above -- and, whenever possible, I buy locally and try to keep my friends at Rochester's music stores in business.
Posted By: Neil A Date: 10/7/2007 2:25:14 PM
Excellent advice, NinaC. This should be required reading for online shoppers for vintage instruments. Perhaps these observations should be saved someplace like the FMM FAQ so that others can be directed there and possibly saved from making unwise purchases.
Posted By: Dave in Petaluma Date: 10/7/2007 3:16:15 PM
I look for issues on ebay items so that I may be able to win a bid. I have got some great deals on ukuleles because of a muddy piucture, although none recently. Digital cameras are much better now. I did pick up a 1920s Kamaka Pineapple that was misssing the decal and some of its rope bindings plus the usual koa cracks for arround $50. Haven't worked on it yet as I'm unsure about how to remove and remount the interior paper lable that is very fragile. I also got a very nice Truetone that had a horrible picture. Its fate and replacement are an other nice ukulele story. You always remember the good one and the mistakes are often forgotten. I know I will be reminded when I clean out the shop for an up-and-coming move.
In general I sence eBay is not as much fun as it used to be. The FMM list is still the most personal and interesting way to shop on line.
Posted By: Grandpa Jim Date: 10/7/2007 3:42:29 PM
I've gotten many good deals on ukes and other items on eBay. It takes diligence in examining the descriptions, especially the photos, for clues about the condition. Reading the seller feedback is essential. They you need to put it all together and use your intuition well. My best deals were ones where I detected a bit of information which probably was not apparent to other bidders.

I've only been truly scammed once and it was my fault for forgetting to look at feedback. I should never have done business with that seller. Fortunately I was only out for about $20.00 and it taught me a lesson.

Verbal descriptions of subjective factors such as condition are always to be taken with a grain of salt. "Mint except for..." is practically meaningless. Even "mint" is suspect, unless confirmed by several sharp photos.

Shopping for bargains on eBay can be a fun sport.

Posted By: hokeypokey Date: 10/7/2007 4:31:24 PM   (Updated: 10/9/2007 6:19:34 PM)
Nina a very good post and much appreciated. Good to know I'm not alone. And the advice is certainly spot on in terms of my general knowledge about ebay, and very informative in terms of ukes, of which this was my first vintage purchase.

I consider myself a pretty saavy ebayer. Admittedly, I did something I rarely do, which is put in a last minute bid on an auction that I hadn't been following closely and that I noticed just as it was ending (so I couldn't ask any questions). I knew I was taking a risk.

The seller did have superb 100% positive feedback on over 200 transactions. My guess that he knew about the crack but also knew it wasn't a very big deal. So he didn't want to take the hit in price, and he knew that the purchaser ultimately wouldn't make a stink about it because it's not worth the trouble. In other words, a pretty slimy seller.

Posted By: dsr101 Date: 10/7/2007 9:35:05 PM
I think you can be carefull and minimise your risk on ebay but just remember it's a risk and don't spend more than you can afford to loose. I've gotten a lot of good deals. I've had few not so good but figure I'm still pretty far ahead. Of course there are those dealers you can trust which are worth a few bucks more. Sometimes it's just worth paying a far price and getting the good product.
Posted By: ChefJeff Date: 10/8/2007 10:42:41 AM   (Updated: 10/8/2007 10:43:21 AM)
Nancy, what you so aptly describe isn't limited to vintage ukes. Despite my mania for humidification, I've discovered a crack in two new ukes months after I bought them. In one case I'm certain it happened here but in the other, photos suggest the crack might have been there when I bought it. I'm quite willing to give the seller the benefit of the doubt though, because it didn't affect the way it played and I never saw it myself until I felt it grab a polishing rag just slightly. Once I knew where it was, I could tilt the ukulele "just so" and see it but before that I never even noticed it.
Posted By: DougD Date: 10/8/2007 10:51:06 AM
Dave in Petaluma - There's some info on removing and remounting labels here http://www.frets.com/FRETSPages/Luthier/Technique/Ukulele/UkeCrack/ukecrack.html that might be helpful.
I agree with you that ebay isn't as much fun as it used to be.
Posted By: Treetop Date: 10/9/2007 2:08:33 AM
The only thing I can add is to ask questions.

How and/or if the seller responds can tell you something about them as well, even if they don't know much about what they are selling. If they act bothered about it, move on.

I bought some eyeglass frames on Ebay from a store there and must have sent and received about 5 emails about them, but ended up saving about $90 on what they would have cost me at the optician and also bargained for extra screws and nose pieces made specifically for the frames, as the opticians often use anything they have lying around that might fit to repair these things.
Posted By: hokeypokey Date: 10/9/2007 6:19:08 PM
The seller has posted a Martin Baritone on marketplace.

Please login to contribute to this post.