The Benefits Of Buying Used Gear

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This article originally appeared on ProSoundWeb.

Over the course of my life, I have survived as a scavenger.

My own dad, once, called me “the possum king.” A guy who can always find a way to survive. A guy who can live off the stuff nobody else sees value in.

Not a title I want to wear, but it kinda fit.

This played out as I built up my little production company and studio.

When I first started out, I tried to do it the mainstream way. I borrowed a little money, bought a small rig, tried to hire myself out. By the time that system was paid off, I might have gotten three paying gigs with it.

My system wasn’t big enough to do high dollar shows. I honestly didn’t know anything about the business side. I did a lot of free DJ work with it. I got plenty of warm handshakes, but not much cash.

I didn’t know the difference between a business and a hobby back then. I was more interested in mixing and making noise than I was in making money. Believe it or not, I didn’t make any money. Go figure.

The only way my business had any success, in production, was when I went to used gear. Once I figured out the difference in price meant the difference between profit and debt, it looked a lot more attractive.

Not everyone needs to buy used. If you don’t have basic troubleshooting skills it might be a bad idea. If you don’t know good gear from bad gear, you are gambling. You may be taking over someone else’s problems.

It’s also not likely that you will get lucky enough to find a full matching rig of used gear that “looks” like you bought it as a package.

You just need to know what you need to accomplish with whatever gear you buy. Get all that in mind before you go shopping.

If you have the budget and a solid game plan for how it will be used, maybe new is the better way to go. Keep a few things in mind before you go shopping…

Never allow the guy making commission to be the only opinion you hear. That guys is always going to recommend buying new. Unless he has used gear on consignment, then maybe. Salesmen know that most decisions are based on emotions. They want you to need it, love it, feel smarter or better about yourself for having it. You deserve to have the best. Right?

Emotional decisions are, almost always, bad decisions. Take a breath, go home and research the gear you really need. Basically, get a second opinion. Not bashing the sales folks, but I know that side of the fence, too.

If you don’t know whether a certain piece of gear is worth buying, do your homework. There is no excuse for anyone to be uninformed in this day and age. If you are unsure of any gear, google it. Look for reviews. Look for normal prices. Is it something everyone loves or hates?

Honestly. If you don’t know how to buy the right gear at a good price, should you be the one doing it? If you can’t test a speaker or amplifier or microphone and know if it works, why would you buy it anyway? If you aren’t knowledgeable enough to decide on cheaper, used stuff… Why would you spend your money, or the church money, on new stuff?

What’s the word here? Stewardship?

For most of us starting out, used gear is the way to go. Let someone else pay for the depreciation. Find the stuff with that’s worth more than it cost. Get the deals. Not everyone needs to impress clients with the shiny new stuff. The gear rental houses need that, but most of us don’t. Most audiences don’t care anyway. As long as you can mix a solid show through it, go ahead.

So, back to my personal stash. Where did I find the best deals on used gear? From the churches and individuals buying the new gear..

All these churches had old gear stashed away somewhere. I began buying the old stuff when they upgraded. The stuff I needed got repaired, cleaned up and stenciled. The stuff I didn’t need went to eBay. It didn’t take long to accumulate enough equipment to run shows in most of our local venues. Good shows, everyone happy. No overhead, everything paid for with cash.

I couldn’t do that in the beginning. I didn’t know enough about repairs or troubleshooting gear. I couldn’t make cables. I didn’t understand which gear was appropriate for my needs. In the beginning, I didn’t really have any choice, but to buy new gear. Until I learned my trade, and learned how to buy and maintain the used stuff, I never made money, either.

The bottom line is that most folks can do fine with used gear. Just remember the rule of the three ways things are done. Fast, cheap and right. You only get two. Fast and cheap, aren’t usually right. Cheap and right, isn’t going to happen fast. Fast and right, won’t be cheap.

Be patient and do your homework.

Senior editor M. Erik Matlock has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years in live, install, and recording. Read more of his random rants and tirades here.

Also check out my book, Basic Training for the Church Audio Technician.

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