The Fine Art of Not Selling a Mandolin

A couple of months ago, a customer came in with one of the cleanest Gibson A model mandolins I'd seen. Perfect like the day it first left the factory in 1916. He came in to sell it. I'm always curious why folks decide to sell their instruments, particularly vintage pieces and I make a point of finding out the details before negotiating a deal. Here are some reasons I've heard in no particular order:

  • I don't play it anymore. It just sits around gathering dust
  • I'm bored with it. I think there's something better out there.
  • I need the money (very common these days and always hard to hear)
  • My husband/wife (95% the latter) says I have too many. One has to go
  • Found it at a garage sale and heard they're worth a lot of money

This particular customer gave me the first on the list, gathering dust. I just don't use it anymore, he said, and I feel like someone out there should play it.  I gladly negotiated a deal with him, he left with a nice check and I had a fine mandolin to sell, which I promptly did the following day. A nice turnaround and exceptionally quick. I wish they were all that easy. However, this one had an interesting twist.

A couple of days later, the seller came back in the store and rather sheepishly asked if I still had his mandolin. He regretted selling it and asked if I would reverse the deal and return it to him. Uh oh. He explained how he had first acquired the mandolin, some 20 years prior, what he had paid (peanuts) and how fond he was of the memory of that purchase. My heart went out to him and it was with great difficulty that I told him of its sale the previous day. Naturally, he was completely dumbstruck by this news, but there was nothing I could do.

The gentleman who purchased the mandolin was a long-time customer with whom I'd done a lot of business. He'd been looking for just such a piece and happened to walk in the day I was cleaning it up on my bench. He didn't even bat an eye when I gave him the price. It was a very satisfying transaction, not so much for the profit gained but the thrill on the his face when he found the mandolin of his dreams. Clearly not something I was about to undo with a request for the mandolin's return. In the end, the original seller left, quite dejected, and I went back to my business of facilitating matches between buyers and sellers, somewhat sobered by the exchange.


This brings me, rather belatedly, to the point of this article: never sell an instrument unless you absolutely have to. And before you decide to sell a piece out of boredom, do the following first: 

  • Change the strings. Fresh strings inject sparkle and life into any instrument, no matter the quality.
  • Consider having it set up by your local repairman. Poor action can diminish an instrument's musical returns.
  • Put the instrument away for a few days. A certain day's mood can temporarily dull the enjoyment derived from what has been up to that point a favorite guitar or mandolin. 
  • Have a friend play it. Note his reaction and listen to how it sounds out in front. In short, get a second opinion.
If you still feel like it's time to move on, come on in to the shop. I'll be there to offer a final consult.
Happy picking!

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