I am absolutely gaga over a one-of-a-kind guitar I recently picked up on Reverb. I bought it from the builder who assembled it with a swamp ash body in a Jazzmaster shape, all sorts of fancy performance-enhancing hardware, and a maple neck like a Louisville slugger. I had set out on a quest to find a more gigable replacement for my Harmony Bobkat, and this guitar — with its Bigsby trem and Victory goldfoil — fit the bill and then some.
Built mostly from Warmoth parts, the guitar bares no name on the headstock and is proudly a partscaster. It represents real care and deliberation on the part of the builder who I bought it from and, ultimately, plays and sounds better than any number of name-brand guitars I’ve owned and have cost twice as much.
This experience got me thinking about the secondary market that exists for home-spun guitars and basses. It’s an area we’ve explored in previous posts, and more and more, I’m convinced that there are very real savings awaiting savvy buyers willing to wade into this corner of the Reverb marketplace.
Picking up where someone else left off in the world of custom guitar builds is one of the best ways to find awesome guitar deals on Reverb.”
Undoubtedly, building your own guitar or commissioning one to be built for you is its own worthwhile, rewarding, and potentially cost-saving endeavor.
I would posit, though, that as a related yet distinct exercise, picking up where someone else left off in the world of custom guitar builds is one of the best ways to find awesome guitar deals on Reverb.
It’s not for everyone, and there are certainly attendant risks that come with the territory. It requires patience and research and potentially hours combing the pages of the internet waiting for the right listing to land. But that’s the fun part, right?
Mindset of the Parts Guitar Seller
In my experience, most modded guitars or completed builds that land on Reverb come at the end of a long journey on the part of the builder. They’ve either experimented by swapping pickups and parts on a low-end, factory-made instrument or have cobbled together a body and neck from disparate origins to nail a configuration of their wildest imagining.
I’m generalizing here, of course, but people who build or mod their own guitars tend to enjoy the thrill of the hunt. They love trying out new components and seeing where they land, and the tinkering itself becomes more a hobby in its own right than a one-time pursuit of a final product.
For this reason, when you find a modded or home-built guitar on Reverb, the seller may not be aiming to make any drastic profit, but are mostly just looking to recoup their investment so they can move onto something else.
If you’re a buyer looking for a unique and inspiring instrument, you can likely negotiate and land a fair price from the seller, avoiding the added hours of soldering and assembling that they’ve already endured. It’s a win-win.
Even if the guitar is only 90% the way to what you want, you can always do some more modding yourself when it arrives. Swap those pickups with the DiMarzios you already have on hand, sell the old ones on Reverb, and you’ve already started to recoup your investment in your new guitar.
Now, there is a darker side of this equation. Some amateur builders assume that their work is worth more than anyone else’s, and you’ll no doubt encounter parts builds with asking prices that far outweigh their objective value.
The key is to be able to tell the difference between the aspiring pro and the more casual tinkerer who’s just looking to sustain their hobby. By reading every word of the description and checking their shop for other listings, you can usually get a decent read on where any individual seller falls. There’s nothing wrong with indie builders charging a premium for their service, but it’s just not where the most intriguing deals lie and isn’t our focus today.
Basics of Finding Parts Guitars on Reverb
If the above seems reasonable to you, it’s time to start looking for a parts build that matches your taste and budget.
For starters, I heartily recommend scoping out our ever-popular Partscasters Handpicked Collection, where the Reverb staff lovingly curates our favorite builds.
If looking to broaden your net a bit, try searching generic terms like “modded” or “build” or “project” on Reverb and see what comes up. Searches for common parts brands like “warmouth” will also often yield interesting completed projects.
When entering these searches, be sure to click the link on the left side of the results that says “Electric Guitars” (or “Bass Guitars” if that’s what you’re after) to filter out things like modded pedals and drum projects. Also, click that button at the top of the page that says “used” to remove other potential false positives.
Using Your Feed
As an extension of the searching guidance above, I also strongly recommend using the Reverb Feed.
For those who haven’t used it before, your feed allows you keep tabs on new listings that fall into a number of different parameters of your choosing. Any of the keywords mentioned above (combined with any filters found on the left side of the results page) can be added to your feed along with brands, individual shops, and even our Handpicked Collections.
Using the feed as a tool, you can get first crack at new guitars that hit the site and create a daily digest of gear on your wishlist.
Here’s an example. I have the search the term “mastery” within the electric guitar category in my feed. Mastery Bridges are popular upgrades found on many modded guitars, and this feed selection places any guitar listing with “mastery” in the title right on my Reverb homepage.
You can also set up price filter if you want to stay in a fixed budget. Don’t be afraid to inflate your top price bracket, though, as you can always make offers on listings that might start out a little on the high side.
Asking Questions and Communicating with the Seller
Once you’ve used the tools above to find a guitar you’re interested in, the next step is communicating with the seller. Communication is always crucial with any guitar deal, but doubly so when working with the person who built the instrument. Every Reverb listing has a link that says “contact seller” on the right side, and you should always feel free to ask whatever questions you have.
With a lack of brand reputations in many cases, asking questions about a guitar’s playability, build quality, and history can fill in a lot of blanks and help you decide if it’s the right instrument for you.
I can tell you from my own years of experience that people who are passionate about guitars and gear love talking about it. People who build their own project guitars are among the most passionate gearheads out there. So if you ask someone who poured a year into building their dream guitar for more details, chances are they will be happy to oblige.
Assessing Value: the Sum of Parts
Naturally, individually built and modded guitars don’t have a Price Guide or sales history to establish fair market value. The best you can do is try to figure out the prices other components that make the whole and total those together. This requires guesswork and investigation, but generally you can get in the right ballpark. You should also free to ask the seller for details on parts not specifically in their description.
Once you get a rough idea of the total value of the parts involved, take the margin between the sum of the parts and the asking price and ask yourself if it’s equal to or greater than what it’d cost you to have someone do the assembly or the amount of your own time you’d have to commit to it.
There’s also an interesting subsection of this whole sphere where people will build parts guitars using legitimate vintage body and necks. If you aren’t picky about pedigree, searching for this sort of build is one of the most cost-effects ways to add a vintage vibe to your collection.
You will find a “make an offer” button on most Reverb listings for used guitars, and it’s there for a reason. No one likes a lowballer, but as long as your offer is respectable, it will generate a sale at best and a simple decline at worst.
When negotiating for one-off parts builds especially, leverage the research you’ve done on the value of the parts to your advantage. If you can cite specific costs and compare them to how much it’d cost you to build the very same guitar, it puts you in a strong negotiating position.
Another strategy you can employ when buying direct from a builder is to ask them to keep certain parts, like valuable pickups. If you make an offer with the caveat that they can remove and keep the pickups as you want to select your own, it’s a totally reasonable way to break the ice on the negotiation.
“Maybe I Should Just Build My Own”
If this whole exploration has your wheels spinning about building your own parts guitar, you join the ranks of thousands of guitarists who have invested in soldering irons and awoken to the fact that “new pickup day” can be just as exhilarating as “new pedal day.”
We won’t get into actually building parts guitars today, but I will say that it’s an absolutely commendable endeavor, and while you’re unlikely to nail it on your first go, you will have a lot of fun learning a new set of skills.
Shops like Eden Guitars, Tricked Out Guitar, and The Stratopshere are always stocked with all the bodies and necks you need to get started, and you can also find the same by looking at pages for parts makers like All Parts, Warmoth, or MJT.
For tools, you can’t go wrong with StewMac and you can also check out this article for more on how to set about building your own parts guitar.