Here are a few tips and guidelines in case you ever find yourself buying used synthesizers (or general music gear):

1. Beware of the tell tale dodgy synth seller signs. If he/she says “I’m selling this for a friend so I don’t know much about it” – stay away. If the ‘buy it now’ price is suspiciously low – stay away. Likewise, remember all the standard seller checks – such as feedback and payment options (in the case of eBay), and check the seller out by searching for his username on the net, and asking around for his reputation.

2. Get to know the seller before hand. Ask him questions such as how long he’s had it, what does he think of it, where did it come from. Ask him to post photo’s if he hasn’t already (actual photos that is – standard promo pictures are not useful), ask him to post sound samples, even ask him to post a video of it in action – this is a practice more and more synth sellers are doing due to the advent of technology such as YouTube.

3. Watch out for all the usual technical problems with old analogue synths. Time is not kind to synthesizers, and many synths have been gigged around and passed between hands many times. Dodgy soldering and clumsy work on the circuit boards are common problems, as well as the knobs and buttons on keyboards becoming rusty or filled with dust and dirt causing them to be sticky or unresponsive. Likewise, the keybed can be damaged – which is often an expensive repair job. If you’re buying new gear, make sure it has the manufacturer’s warranty still covering it for a while.

4. Know the reputation of the specific gear you’re buying. Juno 106’s are well known to actually be Juno 105’s when you get them, as one of the voice chips in them has a good chance of failing. Likewise, the Korg Polysix tends to have ‘leaky battery syndrome’ which can destroy the PCB and render the synth useless. Always check these common problems related to your synth before buying – ask the seller direct questions.

5. If the synth is local, always go and try it out. Sellers are happy to have a potential buyer come over and try it out – and if they’re not then don’t buy from them. Trying out the synth means you’ll know it works just fine (or not), it allows you to pick it up and take it home easily if you do decide to buy it, and you’ll make a new friend and probably get a free cup of coffee too.

6. Some synths just aren’t practical to mail around. The size of certain keyboards such as the Prophet T8 and Yamaha CS-80 or DX-1 are simply too big to safely mail halfway around the world. Don’t take risks with your money just because you want the synth now – wait however long it takes and find one local – rent a large van or truck if you want to be extra safe it reaches you safely.

7. Gear should be packaged properly. Too many times sellers fail to insulate the synth in the box with some sort of padding. This can be anything – old magazines and paper, foam, bubble wrap, just make sure it fits nicely so it won’t move about in the box. Don’t forget that your poor little synthesizer will be thrown in and out trucks and depots with extreme force by the delivery guys, and the last thing you want is it being broken while in transit.

8. When you receive the package, it’s a good idea to take the synthesizer out of the box before the delivery person leaves, so if it’s damaged you can write it on the delivery form or even refuse delivery. If this isn’t possible, check the ‘unchecked’ box on the form – if there isn’t one there to tick, just write it on the sheet.

Bearing all this in mind, it can seem scary to plunge into the world of second-hand synths. Do not fear though, as most of the sellers you will encounter are generally honest, genuine, pleasant folk who do care about making the transaction as smooth as possible. With time and experience you will soon be able to sniff out scams and bad sellers before its too late, providing you with many years of happy synth buying!


  • Laura

    Thank you for this advice which saved me from being tricked out of £750. I wrote to an ad for an Elka Synthex. I asked questions about it and asked for a video or sound samples but never got any. No info about the synth, service history etc. He said he’d meet me, then that he’d gone to Italy and his brother had it but no details for him, then that he’d post it for a £750 down payment with Western Union. No arrangements made about courier, postage, packing etc, no sounds or film despite asking again. I was told to pay up with no proof he had one. When I refused, he got very aggressive and accused me of not having the funds and being a “timewaster” whatever that is!

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