I have a Takamine dreadnought that I bought used, and it has been a trusted companion for the past ten years. I like it because it was affordable when I was just learning, and it sounds good. It’s become harder and harder to play in the last six months, so I took it to my local repair shop to be assessed. The tech there told me that it needed a lot—a bridge reglue, a neck reset, and some brace-ends glued down—and that it wasn’t worth it to do the work! I was pretty bummed out and wanted to ask you—do you think it’s worth fixing a guitar like mine? I really like it, but maybe it’s just time to hang it on the wall.
—Robbie, New York City
I’m sure that was some hard news to hear! After all, this instrument had been just right for you—it was in your price range when you were a new player, you liked how it sounded, and it gave you years of service. In this way, I would say your relationship with this guitar has so far been a resounding success.
I sometimes have to deliver this same news to a client. Of course, I can only advise, and I encourage people to get a second opinion if they disagree with me or just want more feedback. There are a couple of things I take into account when I think about this. First, does the cost of the repair exceed the resale value of the instrument? If a guitar just like yours but in great shape could reasonably sell for $700, I would advise against putting $750 worth of repairs into it. If you really do have that much to spend, you will be better served putting that cash towards a guitar that doesn’t have major issues. We can all count on putting money into our instruments to maintain them and keep them strumming, but it’s worth it to be judicious about when you spend that money.
The second thing I take into account is what a guitar means to a client. If it’s a family piece, a beloved working instrument, or carries a heavy sentimental meaning to someone, it may not matter that the decision isn’t the safest from a financial standpoint—the instrument’s value lies somewhere other than how much it’s worth to sell. In this case, and if it’s possible, I might offer to do the repair they need on a guitar whose resale value is lower than its repair bill.
For example, I have a client with a beat-up Yamaha “red label” guitar from the ’70s that he absolutely loves. I’ve reglued the bridge and braces, given it a refret, replaced the tuners, and cut a compensated saddle. Over the years, I think he’s put 400 percent of the fair-market value back into the guitar in repairs. I agreed to do these things for him because it’s made well enough that it can be fixed, and because he loves the guitar. He understands that we are exceeding its resale value—and he still wants to do it.
Of course, some very cheap guitars aren’t really possible to repair, and in this case, I don’t offer that option. Sometimes even if the guitar is a beloved object, it may have been made so cheaply that it isn’t really fixable. One of the weird paradoxes of guitar repair is that the cheaper an instrument is, the more expensive, or time-consuming, it can be to fix.
If you do make the tough choice to finally hang this guitar on the wall instead of repairing it, I’d like you to think of it as an empowered decision. You know the facts, and can decide how you’d prefer to spend your money. Maybe you’ll make this choice because you wisely wanted to spend your budget on a new guitar that doesn’t need work. Either way, you can thank your Takamine for years of efficient, affordable service—and know that you were a good pair!
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Mamie Minch is the co-owner of Brooklyn Lutherie and an active blues performer. brooklynlutherie.com
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.