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Russ’s Second-Hand Guitar Buying Guide

It’s no secret that the prices of new guitars are steadily on the rise, for example – 10 years ago an American made Stratocaster was half as much as a near identical model at today’s value and that rise doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. As a result of this trend a lot of manufactures are creating more mid price-budget level guitars like never before, but there is another option.. Buy second hand!

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A diamond in the rough instrument can be strum away..

It’s a potentially daunting experience buying a 2nd hand instrument but it can be absolutely worth it as you could genuinely pickup an incredible instrument at a price that’s a steal, granted it may take a little time but part of thrill of the quest is not knowing what will fall in front of you and the satisfaction of finding something at a price you are willing to pay is quite the buzz. Here are my best tips for finding your own Excalibur in the rough.

Where Do I Start?

There are plenty of great places to begin your journey and a lot of them for the most part are online, Gumtree, Reverb and dedicated Facebook/social media groups are great as they give you an idea of what an item is worth on the secondary market as well as what is trending in terms of popularity. In addition to these you can also have a look in dedicated 2nd hand music stores or shops with a significant second hand section, something that is rising in popularity across the country in response to the price increases.

Know Your Stuff (Or At The Least Google It)  

Knowing what an item that you’re looking for is worth in terms of its new and second hand value is SO important, the nearest analogy I can make is that a guitar is like a car in as much as after its bought and played it will lose a fair amount of value (sometimes as much as 50%!), the higher the quality of the instrument however the more a guitar holds its value as will always have a fan-base. Some sellers may also overestimate the value of a model due to brand or sentimental value so be careful out there and if you’re not familiar with the market value of certain models then simply Google it, it takes seconds and can save you hundreds (and in rare cases thousands) of pounds.


Getting your hands on the instrument that you’ve laboured to track down is absolutely crucial as photos tend to hide a cardinal of sins and until you get to see the instrument with your naked eye you have no idea what condition it will truly be in. Always without fail check the neck and headstock for any breakages or subtle warping as these can affect value dramatically and you don’t really want to have to fork out for a guitar tech or luthier to repair the instrument right out of the gate (or it may give you clout to at least haggle the price down to supplement that substantial expense). In addition to this it’s advised to check for any damages that weren’t listed in its item description and that the models serial number matches any certification that they should have (especially on the more expensive ranges). Finally if the instrument is an electric guitar or an acoustic with a pre-amp always test it plugged in to an amp, not necessarily to check its sound although that’s also advised but more importantly to check to see if the electronics are in one piece i.e. If there is a crackling noise when turning the volume or tone controls, a volume jump between pickup selection or a silent pickup then you may need to take the instrument to get repaired (another cost). Once again being savvy at this stage can save you a lot of money and even more heartache.

Does It “Feel” Right?

Finally always ask yourself at every stage of the process if it all “feels” right, does the seller seem reputable? Do you really want the instrument? Are you buying it for the right reasons? Do you like how it sounds or feels? And always and I mean ALWAYS trust your gut, as buying anything second hand requires a fair amount of faith but the rewards are potentially huge as you could literally find the guitar of your dreams and even models that are no longer part of the catalogues of current manufactures.

Good luck with your searches! The Journey to Axe heaven is certainly worth your patience and time but the road isn’t always a clear one, just be patient and always follow your gut.

To see the stock of second hand instruments that we have at Hickies Reading click here

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How to Choose the Perfect Electric Guitar Strings

Choosing the right guitar strings for you can sometimes prove to be an impossible task among a never ending sea of brands and competition, every type of material, gauge and coating is thrown at you but is it all a marketing ploy? Or is there something in the hype of crazy formulas or string innovation? Read on and find out.


Ah the subject gauge, many a guitarist has had fierce debates in guitar stores across the world over gauge and it all comes down to the great payoff of Play-ability VS. Sound. Essentially the thicker the string (gauge) the stronger the signal is fed into in the instruments pickups (or sound hole) and the “bigger” or “fatter” the sound but with great power comes great responsibility as with this increased string thickness comes greater tension and thus difficulty to play. Extreme famous examples of the great gauge debate include Stevie Ray Vaughn who used an eye watering 13 gauge set compared to ZZ Tops own Billy Gibbons who only uses 7’s but still gets a fab tone. Gauge is very subjective and despite my own personal experience and ideas on the subject (the thicker the better for me, but saying that I’m entering the process of trimming down) you should always use whichever gauge feels the most natural yet sounds as good or rich as you need.

Famous Manufactures:

Strings are THE most purchased guitar related item and accessory currently on the market today, and its stands to reason that there would be a multitude of string brands fighting hard with each other to earn your well earned cash, but is there really a difference between them?

The short answer is yes!

There is indeed a huge amount of difference between string makes, both in terms of feel and sound. I can’t really be objective in this as I do have a preferred string brand by quite a large margin but I will do my best to write a fair overview.

Ernie Ball:

Ernie Ball are the most common strings available and due to a fantastic combination of A* marketing and accessibility they have become a monolith in the industry and are arguably the most popular string maker. What sets Ernie’s part from the competition is their eye popping gauge colours and iconic eagle mascot and a string feel that is incredibly easy to play (or “slinky”) under the fingers. The only negative aspect of Ernie’s as far as I can tell is their longevity as they are not known for lasting long and that they are prone to snapping over time (especially on the thinner gauges) this of course is counterpointed by their cheaper price but it can sometimes be extremely frustrating to snap a string while practicing let alone a live performance or session.


D’Addario are often regarded as the second place string manufacturer in terms of widespread popularity but the quality of their strings are anything but runner-up. The consistency and quality of D’Addario is superb and they tend to be at the cutting edge of string ingenuity and design, a recent breakthrough hit was the NYXL range of near unbreakable and long lasting strings that really set the string world ablaze and forced competitors to create similar string styles. D’Addario’s on the whole tend to be a little more tense to play than their Ernie rivals but to some that feeling is reassuring, In addition to this slightly stiffer feel they have a signature brightness which contrasts well against the competition. If you haven’t already guessed I have a particular fondness for D’Addario strings as I made the change from Ernie Ball to D’Addario around 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back since. If you’ve always played Ernie Ball’s out of pure habit or association then you should give D’Addario’s a try.


The only British string manufacture of any note or popularity is Rotosound, a classic string brand that rose to prominence in the 60’s British invasion period as Rotosound worked closely with bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and The Who to develop a range of strings with the modern player (at the time) in mind. Rotosound have filled the 3rd place spot in the string guitar industry for years and are still very popular today and are comparatively cost effective compared to their competitors, plus Roto’s always come with a spare top E string (which is the string most prone to snapping) which has proven to be incredibly useful to Roto enthusiasts as Roto’s (like Ernie’s) tend to have a habit of breaking with constant use. The sound of Roto’s are similar to that of Ernie Ball’s but with a slight metallic tone which some players really like or adamantly dislike (depending on preference). The only tiny criticism that I have against Roto’s is the fact that they let go of their lion iconography and packaging design only to be replaced with something rather generic as the lion was a great contrast mascot to the Ernie Ball eagle.

Coatings and String Formulas:

All string companies have more expensive or premium string types available on the market including various string coatings (Elixir Nanowebs) for increased longevity or different string formulas such as pure nickels, cobalt’s and stainless steel wound which have different tonal characteristics then a standard string range. Some of these variants are purely marketing but there are some notable exceptions that are genuinely innovative such as the NYXL range from D’Addario or the various coated string sets from Elixir. These types of strings are perfect for experimentation and discussion with fellow gear hounds but be prepared for the occasional miss for every hit that you make along your string journey.

In Conclusion:

Finding the right string for you can take awhile and it really is worth doing as anything that makes you feel more comfortable on your instrument is hugely liberating, plus experimenting with how you can alter your tone even subtly via strings is part of the evolution/identity process of being a guitarist. We are always tinkering with our gear and its surprising just how much of difference strings make to both your playing style and tone. Which are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.

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The £500 Electric Guitar Challenge!

I was recently asked by a student to recommend a solid yet affordable electric guitar for around 500 pounds and to find an instrument that was significantly better quality from that of any entry level guitar but still within the budget given (or just below). I found three which I thought would be suitable and was actually incredibly surprised and happy with their quality for the price point, they are the: Fender Player Series Stratocaster (£499), Godin Session (£499) and the PRS SE Standard 24 £449. Let me know which is your favourite in the comments below.

Godin, PRS and Fender have really delivered the goods this time.

First impressions:

The first impressions for all three models is very good indeed, putting aside the knowledge that all of these instruments are under 500 pounds they feel and look way more expensive than they actually are, with excellent finishes and zero cosmetic blemishes. Not one of the instruments at this point has any advantage over the others; it’s just purely based on subjective taste in terms of how they look to your eye. For me the Stratocaster and PRS Custom look more iconic at first glance with the Strat looking the more classic out of the two for various historic reasons and associations. The Godin by contrast although being of a similar appearance to that of a Strat looks ever so slightly uncanny to the point that it feels like a cheaper clone rather than an upgrade (despite the exact same price) and the fact that both the PRS and the Strat comes in such gorgeous colour options means that the Godin (only just) is flagging behind a bit for this round. But it’s a close call despite the Godins slightly unusual looks.

Godin Session: 7/10

Fender Player Series: 9/10

PRS Standard 24: 8/10


This where things start to get really, really interesting. Putting these instruments under brutal scrutiny means that I’m being generally quite picky with tone, which is somewhat unjustified as all three sound fab. The PRS sounds incredibly warm and powerful with an optional pull-push pickup setting, but out of the three has a more limited scope of tone, excelling in the areas of gain and warmth but that’s about it (something that could be easily rectified by replacing the pickups to a set of Seymour Duncan’s/Bare Knuckles). The Strat by contrast sounds much more diverse and vocational, able to create a host of single coil themed tones from the light and springy, to warm and fat, to driven and strong and although the Strat can handle higher gain better than any of its predecessors it lacks a true tonal definition and voice all of its own. This is the category that the Godin cleans up in however, as due to its SSH custom pickup configuration it’s incredibly diverse tonally and combines the best elements of both the PRS and Stratocaster in one package. The pickup quality of the Godin is also significantly better than the other two with a wider frequency spectrum at your fingertips with a natural dynamic breakup that responds beautifully to your pick attack. The Clear winner of this category is the Godin.

Godin Session: 10/10

Fender Player Series: 8/10

PRS Standard 24: 7/10


Like tone the playability preferences of a guitar can be hugely subjective and all three of these instruments play amazingly well right out of the Box. The Player series Stratocaster certainly feels the slinkiest and easiest to play as the back of the neck comes with a thin almost sanded down satin finish as standard which is a huge bonus (especially as a sanded down neck is one of the most common after market modifications for a Strat). The tremolo on the Player series Strat however although more modern in design feels slightly weedy, especially under the use of a heavy hand. The PRS can vary based on the finish chosen but the Satin model feels reassuring under the hand and the neck although chunky never feels too big to wrap your hand around. Plus the 24 fret cutaway makes the PRS incredibly easy to play and hugely rewarding, throw in an improved and sturdy tremolo and there is a lot to love about playing the PRS SE custom. The Godin to me felt a tad cumbersome under the fingers and despite its similarities in design to that of the Strat everything just felt a tad off, such as the position of the volume control and the fatness of the neck etc. That being said the Godin had by far the best tremolo system out of the three so the hardware looks built for the professional and experienced in mind.

Godin Session: 6/10

Fender Player Series: 8/10

PRS Standard 24: 7/10

Bonus Features:

This is quite a simple category to consider as only one of these 3 models in question actually comes with any bonuses, as the Godin comes as standard with a pretty fantastic gigbag for easy transportation. The PRS gets a pass in this category for being the cheapest of the 3 (and with the savings you can buy a gigbag). The Strat gets the harshest mark but in all fairness we are dealing with a genuine and iconic Fender instrument for just short of £500, a bargain really.

Godin Session: 9/10

Fender Player Series: 3/10

PRS Standard 24: 6/10

Closing Thoughts:

All three of these models are truly awe inspiring for the money; I genuinely believe we are in the golden age of the mid-range classic where instruments of increasing quality are being sold for cheaper than they ever have been in the last 10 years. With manufactures such as PRS, Sterling, Ibanez and Godin taking business away from titans like Gibson who have not learned as much from the mistakes of the past and create instruments that are simply out of the price range of the majority of guitarists. Fender however are an example of a classic brand that even today innovate their product catalogue to fulfill the needs of everyone at every price point. The Godin Session however came out on top here, combining a quality and high class sound with useful features at a price that can’t really be topped by the other two (both of which are tied as it all comes down to subjective taste which out of the two you would prefer). The Godin brand may not be the most recognisable compared the others but with the session they have proven to be real contenders on the in the mid-range guitar market. If you haven’t tried one out and you’re looking for a guitar around this price point you may be pleasantly surprised by what the Godin Session has to offer!

Final Scores:

Godin Session: 32/40

Fender Player Series: 28/40

PRS Standard 24: 28/40