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Sounding Off

Make trade fair... and bag a bargain!

I love to buy second-hand gear, especially synths. If I'm patient, I can pick up a classic for a fraction of the cost of buying when it was new. Admittedly, it's possible to get caught out and end up with an Emu that makes sounds like, well, an Emu. But most of the time good deals can be found.

About The AuthorPhil Goodall was a member of the Adventure Babies, the last band signed to the legendary Manchester record label, Factory. He has worked with U2 producer Steve Lillywhite and has supported acts including the Pet Shop Boys and Pulp. Phil now has a modest home studio and enters the Eurovision Song Contest for fun (

A major benefit of buying second-hand is that you can afford to make a mistake! For example, if you've desired a piece of gear, but were not sure you really needed it ("Hmm, I fancy getting a fifth virtual analogue synth, I wonder if it will improve my sound and get me an instant record deal..."), you can buy it and try it, but when you find out that it makes no difference (because, actually, the problem is that your songs are and always have been crap), you can sell it on without much of a loss. You may even make a profit if you buy shrewdly.

The main places to buy your second-hand gear these days are on the Internet. First, there is the wonderful Sound On Sound Synth Supermarket, commonly known as the Readers Ads ( Then, of course, there's eBay. There may be other sites out there, but the ones I've come across are pretty poor compared to these two leviathans.

The irrepressible rise of the web-based auction and classified sites has been a boon for people looking to buy hi-tech gear. I, for instance, have managed to get a Yamaha FS1R and a Kawai K5000R, both for a reasonable price, from the aforementioned Internet rummage sales. In the dark days, before eBay or Readers Ads, I would probably never have found either of those units, let alone bought them!

In general, my experience of the second-hand market has been fairly positive so far. But, let's face it, there's no point writing in to Sounding Off unless you have something to say, so what's my problem with eBay and Readers Ads? Well, put simply, it's you, out there in Readerland, and you know who you are! You're the one who puts buzzwords like 'phatt', 'vintage' and 'analogue' in your advert for a Yamaha DJX! You're the person that puts an asking price on your five-year-old Korg Electribe that is higher than its original retail price; it's not a TB303 yet, you know! You're the eBayer that wants £25 to package a "really nice compressor" — jeepers, what are you packing it with, saffron or something? Another word used in adverts that really ticks me off is 'rare'. For example, "rare 1980s Casio CZ101 for sale, £500". Is this the synth that was so rare that Vince Clarke had 16 of them — one for each MIDI channel?

I suppose it can be quite entertaining, though. I sometimes laugh out loud as I scan the Readers Ads, exclaiming, "I can't believe it! Someone wants three hundred quid for a circuit-bent Speak 'n' Spell." But seriously, some of the rubbish posted on these sites makes me fume. At the end of the day, you look through the Readers Ads to pick up a bargain, not to pay more than you would in a shop.

I still keep seeing TB303s listed for about £600, with TR909s for £800! Are there really people out there who would pay so much for this rickety old gear? OK, about 15 years ago, when alternatives were scarce, I can believe that they may have (sort of) been worth the money to some acid-crazed loon with too much cash. Aficionados of these Roland classics often get really uppity if you claim that modern gear sounds as good. They often weigh in with some silly, generalised defence of their beloved geriatric gear, like "samples just don't capture the constantly changing character of the 909 snare." Or "there's such a groovy instability to the original unit that just can't be created in a software sequencer." Software doesn't usually capture the sound of the scratchy pots, or mains hum from the power supply either!

This brings me on to something else: sometimes us bargain-hunters are our own worst enemies! Words and phrases such as 'classic', 'russian', 'beautiful evolving pads', 'analogue' and 'tight bottom end' do seduce into paying over the odds for gear that is, frankly, not worth it.

So do me a favour: if you are selling gear, be honest and ask a price that is at least a third less than retail. If you are buying, walk away rather than pay over the odds. If we all follow these simple requests, an Aladdin's cave of bargains awaits!